Volvo hasn’t rested on its fairly substantial laurels in recent years and, following the launch of the new FH/FM range a few years back and, even more recently, the FH16, the Swedish brand has continued to develop its heavy truck lineup
In early August, Volvo Trucks’ New Zealand distributor Titan Plant Services put together a roadshow around New Zealand to showcase the arrival of two new Volvo products – a 12.8-litre engine and the latest generation of the I-Shift automated transmission.
To really show off the new products, Titan had three trucks painted in a special gold launch colour – two FH models with the new engine and transmission packages, and an FM Globetrotter tractor unit with a 480hp engine, the first Globetrotter of that model in New Zealand.
However, it was – without doubt – the two new FHs that were the leading lights of the roadshow. Despite their star status, the new models have lost something in the evolution process from the previous model; they no longer feature a number designation on the front of the cab and are now known primarily as FH or FM model rather than the FH12 or FM12 that previously indicated the model.
Both the new FH models on the nationwide tour featured the new 12.8-litre engine in its most powerful 520hp form, but they were featured in considerably different applications. One was a 6x4 Globetrotter hauling a low-loader trailer complete with a Volvo ECR58 excavator and a Volvo L30B pro compact wheel loader, totaling around 33 tonne. The second was an 8x4 curtainsider, hauling a four-axle Roadmaster trailer, loaded with IBC containers of water, for a total weight of around 43 tonne.
However, it’s not just the engine that makes the new model so impressive. The new I-Shift transmission has a fair bit to do with that as well. Volvo has also future-proofed the technology, engineering it to accept a potential 60 tonne gross combination weight, up 15 tonne from the previous 45 tonne limit.
Driving the package is simple. Once you’re ready to move off, the little shift lever on the left hand side of the driver just needs to be pulled back into the "A" position (for Automatic) to allow the truck to move smoothly away. In the case of the launch model 8x4, it selects second gear to move off and then easily slips up through the gearbox as road speed increases. A driver display on the dash shows exactly which gear the truck is in at any given time and arrow icons on either side show how many gears up or down the driver can manually "force" the truck to shift if he or she wishes to. This is done through a switch on the shift lever. One click up or down shifts one gear up or down and, if you try and shift more than that, the transmission will just refuse to comply.
Even in Manual mode (where the driver can take full control of the gear-shifting process), the transmission has a protection system built in and it won’t shift into a gear if it considers the parameters may be detrimental to the longevity of the system.
In reality, the transmission in Manual mode is pretty driver-friendly but, after driving the I-Shift in Automatic mode for some time, changing back to the Manual setting seemed like more work than it was worth, especially as it had already demonstrated just how savvy it was when selecting the gears for itself.
Cab choices are as extensive as ever on the new FH/FM range. In the FM range, you have the option of an extended day cab, a sleeper cab or a Globetrotter cab while the FH offers a Globetrotter XL high roof and an extended Globetrotter XL high roof in addition to the extended day cab and sleeper cab options.