Lighter Western Star Shines

June 20, 2012

It took Western Star Trucks a while to actually bring out its 4700 series after announcing it at the Work Truck Show in March of 2011, as production didn’t start until December and test drives weren’t available for another five months. It turns out that executives knew there’d be a delay, but nothing brings attention to a brand like proclaiming a new model.

It took Western Star Trucks a while to actually bring out its 4700 series after announcing it at the Work Truck Show in March of 2011, as production didn’t start until December and test drives weren’t available for another five months. It turns out that executives knew there’d be a delay, but nothing brings attention to a brand like proclaiming a new model.

The 4700 is a slightly downsized version of the long-running 4900 and more recent 4800 Class 8 models. The new truck, and a tractor version brought out in May, are all built at Daimler Trucks North America’s plant in Portland, Ore., to exacting standards. They are the only heavy truck models I know of that are assembled completely right-side-up, starting with the frame rails; all others begin upside down. The idea is that Western Star workers are less likely to make mistakes if they can properly see the trucks from the very start.

Western Star 4700 Specifications

Truck: Western Star 4700SB conventional-cab straight truck, BBC 110 inches, GVW 86,000 pounds
Engine: 8.9-liter ( Cummins ISL9, 380 hp @ 2,100 rpm, 1,300 lb-ft. @ 1,150 rpm
Transmission: Eaton Fuller FO-14E309ALL-VMS UltraShift Plus, 9-speed automated mechanical
Steer axle: 20,000-lb. Detroit DA-F-20.0-5 on 20,000-lb. flatleafs
Lift axle: 13,200-lb. Hendrickson self-steer pusher
Tandem: 46,000-lb. Meritor RT-46-160 w/ 4.30 ratio, on 46,000-lb. Freightliner TufTrac 2-stage mechanical
Wheelbase: 220 inches
Tires, wheels: 425/65R22.5 Goodyear M296 front, 11R/22.5 Goodyear M287 rear, on Alcoa polished aluminum discs
Brakes: Meritor Q+ S-cam, 16.5X6-in. front, 16.5X8.62-in. rear, w/ Meritor Wabco ABS
Fuel tank: 80-gal. aluminum
Body: 10.5-cubic-yard Kimble K-1900 w/ 200-gal. steel water tank

Whereas heavier ’Stars all have big-bore diesels, the new series uses smaller engines, and chassis components are adjusted to accommodate aimed-for weight ratings that aren’t as high. The division’s people refer to the 4700 as a Baby 8, which it is when outfitted with medium-displacement engines. But stand next to one and the 4700 looks plenty big enough.

Trade press writers had multiple chances to do this during an outing that ’Star people arranged at the Las Vegas Speedway. This was in early May, when temperatures were pleasantly warm and dry; in another month we’d have been baking in oppressive desert heat. In one corner of the massive speedway complex there were about a dozen trucks at three stations, and we were encouraged to drive as many as we could. 

Though I sampled probably half of the available trucks, I zeroed in on this dark metallic-red mixer-equipped rig because of its obvious construction orientation and because it’s one of the most likely types to be outfitted with a smaller, lighter engine. The truck had a setback steer axle and a single lift axle ahead of its tandem, making it suitable for axle-weight states like Pennsylvania, where it could gross as much as 73,280 pounds.

It was three big steps up and into the cab, which from the driver’s seat looked as big as those on heavier ’Stars. That’s because it’s the exact same one, something that our hosts emphasized. It’s made of steel that’s galvanealed, a process where the zinc coating is attached through dipping, as with galvanizing, then heat-treated so it chemically bonds with the steel. This makes it more resistant to corrosion from aggressive road salts and less likely to be chipped off by flying rocks and such. That’s among the truck’s premium details, executives point out.

The cab is roomy, with enough lateral space for three-person seating, though most trucks will have just two seats and some will have just one for the driver. The cab is tight and rattle-free, and its doors slam shut with a solid thunk! With windows up, the cab’s interior is very quiet while underway, though there is some wind noise from the mirrors if you crank down the driver’s glass. While getting out I noticed that the top step, although wide, stops about a foot short of the fender, leaving a gap that a careless driver’s left foot could fall into. That’s one of my few nitpicks with this truck.

The instrument panel is also the same as on other ’Stars, with a full range of gauges to keep a driver informed, plus an information display to alert him if something has gone wrong that he might not have noticed. Today’s trucks are complicated, with engines and subsystems wired like pieces of a spaceship, much of it routed through electronic control modules and a lot of it coming together behind the dash. The gauges’ traditional styling makes them appear oblivious to all the complexity. Gauges are legible but small, an oddity on a large truck.

Under the big hood of our test truck was an 8.9-liter (544-cubic-inch) Cummins ISL9, the midrange-size heavy-duty diesel that for its size makes a lot of horsepower and torque—in this case 380 and 1,300 lb.-ft., respectively. Several other builders have embraced the ISL as a way to cut cost and weight from a heavy-duty truck. The ISL is based on the medium-duty ISC8.3, which weighs a bit less and is used by some operators who want to hold down tare weight in favor of payload. In the 4700, the ISC will be an option until Cummins phases it out at the end of this year, with the ISL taking on lower power/torque ratings while also keeping the stronger ones.

A third available engine is Detroit’s DD13, a heavy diesel that brings the 4700 out of Baby 8 status, though from outside, a truck or tractor looks the same. With the DD13, the line between a 4700 and a 4800 or 4900 blurs because they can also be had with this engine. I did drive a 4700 tractor that had the DD13, and it was saddled with a heavily loaded semitrailer that required every bit of its 470 horsepower as I took it upgrade on nearby Interstate 15. At higher speeds out there on the super slab is where I quickly came to appreciate the Western Star cab’s quietness and evident stoutness.

Construction vehicles that were part of this demo were confined to a quarter-mile dirt track, where our test truck and several others were parked to one side. I latched onto this red mixer and climbed in, started the engine and prepared to move out. I hadn’t bothered to look at the specs sheet lying on the dash, but a push-button selector told me this truck had an automatic transmission—an Allison, no doubt. So I hit D for drive, pushed in the yellow valve to release the parking brakes, then eased into the accelerator.

With the first gear change I sensed something different, and with the second solid-feeling upshift I knew that it was not an Allison at all, but an Eaton automated mechanical tranny. It continued quickly upshifting at moderate engine speeds—1,500 and 1,600 rpm, instead of near the rev limiter as with previous UltraShifts I had driven. Well, I’ll be! Here’s an UltraShift Plus that’s been programmed right, I thought. Then I forgot about it as I headed out onto the track, kicking up big clouds of dust.

The track’s infield had been graded with short trails and a modest but steep hill that we could assault. The first time up the hump I showed some caution until I learned its side-to-side limits. Then I sped around the track once more and again stormed the hill, roaring up and bounding over the peak and back down the other side. The ’Star rode well over numerous ruts and bumps, and seemed as strong as iron and as solid as the stone it’ll later carry.

Stone will be among the ingredients of the concrete that will fill the barrel of the Kimble mixer body behind the cab. The drum rotated slowly as I moved around the track and through a course marked by orange cones. I adjusted the drum’s speed to keep its support rings moving over the rollers to avoid flat-spotting anything from the pounding the truck was getting. There was some banging back there, but nothing fell off. Other trucks were also roaming the area, sending fog-like dust billowing into the air and coating our machines with grime. It was rather work-site-like, in other words.

Through it all the red ’Star proved itself a sprightly performer, even if I wished there had been some crushed rock or even water in the barrel to give it some realistic loaded weight. But it was a good test of its suspensions and ride quality, which was rather good, as I said. Add in the other features, and the 4700 seems a good choice for anyone wanting serious quality to handle tough jobs.