Coronado Has Premium Written All Over It

Oct. 14, 2010

Freightliner's Coronado has been a premium product since its unveiling as a road tractor more than nine years ago. Stiff pricing and serious competition has kept it rare, though maybe that adds to its appeal. Now there's a vocational version that's every bit as nice and probably as pricey, and discriminating truckers sooner or later will take a hard look at it.

Freightliner's Coronado has been a premium product since its unveiling as a road tractor more than nine years ago. Stiff pricing and serious competition has kept it rare, though maybe that adds to its appeal. Now there's a vocational version that's every bit as nice and probably as pricey, and discriminating truckers sooner or later will take a hard look at it.

What they'll see in the severe-duty Coronado SD is modernized traditional styling with lots of bright-metal trim: a "large car" without a sleeper. What drivers will feel as they motor down the road and trundle over job sites is poshness and solidness that implies quality.

The Coronado SD, available as a truck or tractor, replaces Freightliner's FLD-SD that went out of production in December. Although the on-highway FLD was once the most popular road tractor out there, the SD version didn't sell that well, partly because Freightliner let Sterling, its sister company, go after vocational sales more vigorously. With Sterling gone, Freightliner is putting renewed emphasis on construction and other specialty applications.

For them, planners could have expanded the M2V (for vocational) line with a long-nose, big-engine version to take over for the FLD-SD. But customers wouldn't see it as a premium truck, they figured, so they toughened the existing Coronado.

The new SD can be ordered with extra-tough main frame, axles, suspensions, and other chassis options to gird it against the rigors of on/off-road running while toting concentrated loads. Its steel cab comes from the Century Class tractors, and it is the same one used on a Coronado road tractor that, by the way, has been freshened and reintroduced. This dump truck, built for show and painted a bronzy gold, was waiting on a wet morning at Charlotte Truck Center, the Freightliner dealer in western North Carolina.

I climbed into its cab and saw an appropriately deluxe interior that was trimmed in plastic and fabric and dominated by a large two-panel dashboard. Chrome-ringed gauges now have cream-white faces instead of black in the original Coronado. Flanking the speedometer and tachometer were a dozen engine-, axle- and transmission-condition gauges; they looked purposeful and told a lot of tales which the run-of-the-mill driver doesn't need but the real trucker wants.

Those gauges were somewhat redundant because an LCD information display above the speedo and tach can provide much of the same information if the driver punches it up, while any abnormal condition triggers an automatic warning. As with any modern motor vehicle, a bunch of icons light up for testing when the ignition key is turned on, and you hope you never see them while running down the road.

Rocker switches were about where they should be, and that includes those for headlights, engine brake and cruise control­: all on the dash to the right of the leather-and-simulated-wood steering wheel. Happily, Freightliner designers stayed with good ol' easy-to-use rotary switches to control the HVAC system.

Quiet powerplant

The truck had a 505-horsepower Detroit DD15, a seriously modern Big Power motor with two turbochargers. The high-pressure one pumps air into the cylinders and a low-pressure fraternal twin is geared to the flywheel to boost power and torque—turbocompounding, it's called. The two turbos muffled the exhaust, and because Detroit Diesel uses selective catalytic reduction for 2010, exhaust sound was further muted by a fluid-dosing chamber and a particulate filter. So the DD15 sadly lacked the pleasant growl that is characteristic of the no-longer-available Series 60.

The truck also lacked a "real" gearbox, and instead had an Allison automatic. I was almost disappointed, but soon was reminded how much work an Allison does for a driver: about 80 percent, especially during maneuvering, when all a guy or gal has to do is punch D-for-Drive or R-for-Reverse and steer. Yes, you can use the M (Manual) and L (Low) buttons, and I did to effect some engine braking on freeway off-ramps, but usually the transmission will do fine on its own. The truck accelerated briskly and cruised easily, and I just watched where the truck is in relation to traffic and kept road speeds reasonable. This is still a hefty truck, I told myself.

The 20,000-pound steer axle made turns a bit of a chore, as wheel cut was limited by wide rims and 425-series tires. Ahead of the tandem were a pair of Hendrickson self-steering lift axles, which could be raised and lowered by flipping toggle switches on a box between the seats. There was a moderate load of sand in the Rogers body, so the ride was work-like. As with all multi-axle dump trucks I've driven, the air bags on the pusher axles gave a be-careful-or-you'll-tip-over sensation to the inclinometer in the seat of my pants. So I cautiously entered corners and looping freeway ramps, sometimes tapping the brake pedal to be sure I wouldn't put this beautiful truck on its side.

I had noticed that the fuel gauge's needle was close to empty, so I found a gas station that sold diesel and pumped 50 bucks worth of ultra-low-sulfur fuel into the aluminum tank. I also putzed around with blue cap on the plastic tank holding diesel exhaust fluid. An LED bar-indicator on the fuel gauge said the DEF tank was three-quarters full, but I wanted to see what it smelled like. Hmm—just like ammonia, as though I had opened a bottle of household cleaner. Not a big deal. Hmm again—what's that exhaust smell in the cab? That shouldn't happen with a 2010 diesel or even an '07 because the odor-making NOx is pretty much wrung out of the pipes. Maybe there was a leak from the pipe just upstream of the aftertreatment equipment.

Otherwise the Allison-equipped truck really was a special pleasure. With no clutch pedal to reach for, I could position the seat further back and stretch my legs. And with no gearshift lever to worry about I was able to watch traffic and the passing sights, and observe the tach needle swinging as the tranny changed gears and locked and unlocked its torque converter to suit conditions as its electronic brain perceived them, all with no work from me except to modulate the foot feed.

Although automatics and automated mechanical transmissions are gaining popularity, most customers still order manuals, and they'll be probably pleased with how gearshifts are set up in Coronados. I also drove a tractor, a long-and-tall machine with an integrated 70-inch raised-roof sleeper and another 505-horse Detroit DD15. It had an Eaton Fuller 13-speed Roadranger which made for some pleasurable double-clutchin'. An LL-type tranny in the test truck would've been just as nice, but it was too late: I was spoiled by the automatic.

And I was spoiled by the Coronado, to where I only reluctantly returned it to the dealer. Assuming it proves to be as reliable and economical in the long run as it is pleasant, I'm guessing folks who buy Freightliner's top-of-the-line machine will feel good about it, as well.