Why Kenworth’s T880 Won the ATD Truck of the Year Competition

Jan. 26, 2015

There was only one thing certain as judging for the ATD Commercial Truck of the Year began last week in Hayward, Calif. The winner would be a blue dumper. That’s because the cabs and noses of all three entries – International’s WorkStar 7600, Kenworth’s T880 and Peterbilt’s 567 -- were coincidentally painted blue, and each was outfitted with a dump body. As it turned out, the blue Kenworth won, and I’ll get into why in a bit.

First some background: This is the seventh competition, each one coordinated and supervised by Barbara Robinson, American Truck Dealers’ executive director, in various parts of the country. All were judges by truck writers like me, and I’ve been on the jury from the start. This year she arranged use of Manheim Auto Auction’s facility as our base in Hayward.

Each truck had to be new or have something new added in the previous year. International’s WorkStar 7600 had an N13 diesel whose exhaust had Cummins-sourced selective catalytic reduction equipment, which replaced the non-SCR MaxxForce 13; Kenworth’s T880 and Peterbilt’s 567 are both new vocational models that entered production at the end of 2013.

The score sheet this year included 39 topics, from power and ride quality and instrument readability to brake feel and in-cab storage. We rated each on a scale of 1 (lousy) to 10 (excellent). These were all good trucks, so I doubt that anybody scored anything very low. I did include some 5s for various things, but most of my numbers were between there and 9, with a few 10s.

For the previous three contests I was the chief judge and tallied up all the score sheets, then kept the winner secret until the announcement was made at the American Truck Dealers’ annual convention. This time the chief judge was Jack Roberts, formerly of Equipment World and now of Commercial Carrier Journal.

Altogether, six judges were on the jury this year, and we were all a little surprised that only three builders entered trucks. We guessed it was because others were discouraged that they hadn’t won anything in previous years. Those who did enter – Navistar International, Kenworth and Peterbilt—have each won more than once, so evidently feel their chances of winning again were good.

The KW’s win verified what I was thinking and how I scored it and the two competitors. I didn’t know the score tallies and still don’t; only Roberts and ATD’s executive director, Barbara Robinson, do. And only a handful of convention-production people knew before the announcement last Saturday at the ATD meeting across the bay in San Francisco.

The Kenworth’s win also jibed with what a few of us briefly discussed in the break room after we had driven all three trucks and finished our individual, and confidential, scoring: The Kenworth’s smooth, strong powertrain, good ride and functional, attractive trim package simply made it “a nicer truck to drive,” as one of the other guys remarked. I’ve driven and written about all three of those models in the past, and here are my impressions of the ones entered:

  • The Kenworth had a 500-hp Paccar MX-13, Allison automatic transmission, and chassis equipment appropriate for the intended use: the carrying and delivering of construction-related materials on and off road. It had an upscale interior in its 2.1-meter-wide cab (introduced in 2013 on two KW models), which was nice to look at. The truck carried a modest, 10-ton load which settled down its firm ride and garnered a few extra points on my score sheet. A load was suggested but not mandatory, and the other two were empty.
  • The Peterbilt 567 also had an Allison, but under its hood was a 400-hp Cummins Westport ISX12 G, a gas engine fed by tanks in a cabinet behind the cab. My initial thought as we began was that the gas engine is high-tech and might contribute to the Pete’s winning. But its lesser power output and more noise (surprising because gas engines are often quieter than diesels) made it less enjoyable to drive. The Pete’s interior (also in the Paccar aluminum cab shared with KW and also unveiled in ’13) was plainer and less pleasing to my eyes.
  • The International WorkStar had a 475-hp Navistar N13 and an Eaton UltraShift automated mechanical transmission. The UltraShift was far easier to drive than a manual but not as smooth as the Allisons, especially at low speeds (though I preferred the UltraShift for its solid power-delivery feel at higher speeds). The International’s roomy steel cab (from the DuraStar medium-duty on-road series) was nicely trimmed and I liked its automotive design (an approach also used by the other two builders in its models, but to a lesser extent).

One of the many scoring categories was ease of daily servicing, and here I gave high scores to the KW and Pete because, once their hoods were tilted, their engines were easy to get at. Their dipsticks and oil filler necks were low and close at hand, and other items – belts, hoses and fluid reservoirs – readily visible. The International’s diesel hid behind splash shields, and its dipstick and filler were mounted high and were a much longer reach, especially for short guys like me. And the reservoirs seemed likewise less accessible. I gave the WorkStar fewer points for that.

I hasten to say that I liked all three trucks and would be happy to spend long days driving any of them. It’s just that compared side-by-side and driven on the same freeway segment and city streets, the Kenworth was the nicest.

About the Author

Tom Berg

Tom Berg is widely acknowleged as one of the top truck writers in the industry. He has covered construction for more than 34 years, and has test-driven well over 150 trucks for Construction Equipment.