Kenworth T800's Short, but Long On Comfort

Sept. 28, 2010


Front-engine PTO provisions include 19-inch frame extension and high-mount radiator, hood and cab. Wide wheels and tires still cut enough for decent turning ability.
All '06 KWs have new interior trim, and this truck has base-level Splendor package in gray. Four other colors are available.
The cab sits 3.5 inches higher than on other T800s, so each step's a legful. But grab handles outside and inside help.
A polished metal threshold plate welcomes drivers aboard, and the new suspended accelerator is easy to modulate.
The Cummins ISL growls nicely and makes good power. It has no EGR and won't until 2007.
Test Set


Truck: Kenworth T800, short-hood conventional daycab, BBC 114 in., w/front-engine power take-off provisions, GVW 60,000 lbs., tare weight w/body 20,030 lbs.

Engine: Cummins ISL, 8.9 liters, 350 hp @ 2,100 rpm, 1,250 lbs.-ft. @ 1,400 rpm, w/Jacobs Engine Brake

Transmission: Eaton Fuller RTO14908LL 11-speed

Front axle: 20,000-lb. Dana Spicer EFA-20F4 on 22,000-lb. 3-stage taperleafs

Rear axles: 40,000 Dana Spicer DSH40 w/4.33 ratio, on 40,000-lb. Chalmers 854-40-H walking beam

Wheelbase: 188 inches

Tires & wheels: Bridgestone 425/65R22.5 M844F front, 11R22.5 M711 rear, on Alcoa New Generation discs

Brakes: Dana Extended Service S-cam w/Meritor Wabco ABS

Fuel capacity: 100 gallons

Body: Heil 14-foot steel tub

In this story:

What's big and tall and short at the same time? This Kenworth T800 10-wheel dump truck. It's a hefty Class 8 vehicle, but its cab sits high off the frame, and its hood slopes steeply to join the cowl and grill. That rakish angle, along with this vehicle's short wheelbase, make it look especially squat.

What's it doing in this article? It's got provisions for a front-engine power take-off, or FEPTO, a newly available option for T800s, plus KW's attractively redesigned interior trim. Those features are worth remarking on, and it has been more than a year since I drove a T8, so I took up PR manager Jeff Parietti's offer of a test drive just after the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas.

"Just after" meant first thing on a Sunday morning, which was fine because afternoon temperatures there had reached 100 degrees, with humidity in the 90s, and starting out early avoided the worst of the heat. On the other hand, the truck had just come off the show floor and its box was empty, and where on a Sunday morning do you find a load of stone or gravel to provide some realistic weight? You don't, so I can't say much about engine power or ride quality under load.

The morning drive

Of course, half a dump truck's miles are empty ones, and I can say that the T8 rode fairly well considering its 22,000-pound front end and not much distance to the rear tandems. Yes, it bounced over the bowed and occasionally broken concrete which covers so many miles of Texas highways, but not enough for me to complain about because the air-ride seat soaked up much of what the truck's various suspensions couldn't.

Even with no weight to give it a workout, the 350-hp Cummins ISL growled nicely when accelerating, just as big-bore Cummins models do. In fact, I thought it was an ISM until Parietti pointed it out in the specs list. The ISL is a heavy-duty, midrange-displacement diesel that doesn't use exhaust-gas recirculation and won't until 2007. Thus, it possesses simplicity that's highly desirable in these days of complex and expensive emissions-legal diesels.

The engine was mated to an Eaton Fuller 8LL transmission, which is fun to shift in most trucks and especially so in a Kenworth because the gearbox, lever and linkage between them are set up so well. Other builders should look at how KW does this and copy it. With no load, I ignored Low-Low range and Low gear, and usually started out in 2nd, 3rd or 4th, then used all four ratios in High range. Most of the time I could float-shift without the clutch.

This 10-wheeler was built for the Northeast, where most states allow high axle loads with little "bridge" between axles. It'll probably be bought by an operator who plows snow in winter, as its FEPTO provisions allow access to the front of the engine crank for a power take-off's drive shaft, done by mounting the radiator a few inches higher than usual. The 19-inch front frame extension provides room for a hydraulic pump, and the high-capacity front axle and suspension can carry a heavy plow and its mounts. That extra length from the frame extension is somewhat mitigated by a hood seven inches shorter than on other T800s.

Maneuvering with or without a plow should be fairly easy because while the hefty front axle had wide "duplex" tires, the wheels still turned rather sharply. That and a 188-inch wheelbase made this truck's turning radius reasonably tight. The wheel cut is an advantage of the setback axle, which was mounted 47 inches behind the nose and 66 inches behind the bumper.

I had to keep that extended bumper in mind when I encountered obstacles to the front-right, as I couldn't see the bumper even over the steeply sloped hood. I wish the steering wheel were an old-fashioned type with a thin rim and spokes because they'd look right with the truck's traditional styling, but they're thick and modern instead. Well, the wheel would probably be easier on a driver's belly and chest in a wreck.

The high-mounted radiator required raising the grill and hood, and the cab, too, so its cowl can line up properly with the hood's rear. The cab therefore sits 3.5 inches higher on the frame than on other T800s, KW says. It's noticeable as you climb the steps because each one is a legful. Grab handles outside and inside the cab helped me pull myself up. One handle is up near the end of the dashboard, but it was just as easy to grab the steering wheel.

Take a look inside

New interiors grace all of Kenworth's 2006 models, and this T8's surroundings were nicer than most dump truckers are accustomed to, even though it had the base trim called Splendor. Doors, dashboard, ceiling and walls were covered with nice grades of plastic and fabric. This interior was Slate Gray, which goes well with many exterior colors, including this truck's Concord Blue. Although product planners dropped tan for lack of orders, other available colors are Steel Blue, Bordeaux Red and Jet Black. KW's private-branded seats were bucket style with nice bolsters to keep the driver's and passenger's legs and upper body in place during turns. The driver's seat had multiple adjustments, but all I had to do was set the height and fore-aft position to be comfortable. If I were going to work in this truck, I'd figure out all the adjustments; surveys have shown that most drivers' complaints about seats can be traced to their ignorance of how they can be adjusted.

Pedals in the T8 were easy to reach, and a new suspended accelerator was easy to modulate as I could steady my foot against the floor or console while I pressed on the pedal. In previous Kenworths, the accelerator sits on the floor with its top surface uncomfortably high. The old accelerator is also shaped like the brake pedal and, while driving earlier KWs, I often found myself tapping the "gas" instead of the brake, or vice versa. So the new, lower-positioned, pad-shaped accelerator is a big improvement.

Gauges are recessed slightly and are set off with bright-metal rims, which add class without glaring in the sun. Gauge faces continue the same good basic design of black faces, white numerals and red pointers — nice looking and legible. It was too bright a day to see how they'd be illuminated, but it's probably effective. Switches are all rounded rockers that are also easy to use, though some are marked with unfamiliar international symbols instead of clearly worded labels. This is an auto-industry standard and supposedly bridges the language barrier. A regular driver quickly learns what each symbol means, but I wish I didn't have to.

Heater and air-conditioning controls use intuitively clear rotary switches, and I turned on the A/C as the morning progressed and the outside temps climbed. I didn't have to wish I could escape the heat because I knew I'd soon be on an airplane out of town, and meanwhile the Kenworth's A/C was powerful and the vents well positioned to let the chilled air blow comfortably over my body.

Life can be good, and it would've been had I spent all day in the KW. I was a bit reluctant to turn it in, and envy the person who'll be driving it for a living.