Freightliner means business in trucks, which is why its redesigned Business Class M2 Series has just grown from a single model to three. Each has possibilities in construction, but the new 112-inch-BBC version featured here is the heaviest and therefore most "serious" truck.
The M2-112 can be ordered with medium- or heavy-duty diesels and appropriate drive train and chassis components. Its two shorter brothers—the also-new M2-100 and the original M2-106 unveiled early last year—share cabs, but come only with midrange power and lesser weight ratings.
The M2-112 can be outfitted for severe-duty jobs or, in the case of our featured rig, as a short-range highway tractor. As such, it is competent and comfortable, as we'll see. We posed it with a heavily laden dropdeck trailer at the Bosch Proving Grounds near South Bend, Ind., to illustrate its potential in construction-support tasks. "We" included Gary Holse, the engineer who manages Freightliner's activities at the facility, and his capable assistants, plus colleague Steve Sturgess, whom you may remember as the former author of this Hands-On Trucking feature.
Sturgess and I collaborated on this visit to what once was the Studebaker test track, where we drove a total of four vehicles. Two were "large-car" highway tractors, and the third was the unusual Mercedes-Benz Unimog 4×4, which I'll write about in an upcoming issue.
The 48-foot-long Wilson dropdeck was not licensed for highway travel, so for a trip outside the proving grounds, the M2-112 pulled a 53-foot Strick cargo van. The tractor's tight turning radius whipped the long trailer around corners; while making one right turn I joked that I might be able to T-bone the trailer with the tractor's nose.
Holse said the trailer was ballasted with concrete blocks, so the combined rig weighed 70,520 pounds. Adding to the load was wind resistance: The tall trailer's front wall towered over the tractor's bare roof, and pushed a lot of air at highway speeds.
The Mercedes-Benz 4000 diesel under the hood didn't seem to care. It propelled us very properly at 65 mph and more on two- and four-lane roads. Mostly I cruised at 60, as I didn't wish to collect any citations. At any speed, the gutsy German-made diesel was quiet and unassuming.
Sturgess used his decibel meter to measure in-cab noise. He does this at about 45 mph, with full throttle at two-thirds rated engine speed. Held near the driver's (my) ear, the meter said 74 dB(A)—plenty quiet enough for us to casually converse or listen to the radio. In fact, all four trucks we drove on this visit, including the Unimog, measured about the same, at 74 to 75 dB(A).
Fifteen years ago, when he and I did road test articles for the old American Trucker magazine, we regularly got readings in the mid 80s—noisier by several magnitudes, and with deluxe sleeper-cab rigs meant to be lived in. Here we had a "work truck," and it was almost as quiet as a limousine. Truck builders have come a long way.
Much of the credit for the M2's quietness must go to the designers of its modern aluminum cab. Among its features are double rubber door seals; these, plus good sealing of the window glass, reduces wind noise to almost nothing. Even with the driver's window rolled down, smooth cab contours took the roar out of the wind.
Visibility in all directions is great, especially through the huge windshield and over the sloped hood. The cab is easy to get in and out of. It's wide enough for three-person seating, and long enough for long-legged guys to stretch out. If not, order the extended cab or the four-door crew cab.
The truck's automotive-style instrument panel has highly readable and usable gauges and controls. It's less "Euro" in looks than the dashboard in the soon-to-be-discontinued original Business Class cab.
Good suspension design, including air bags under the cab's rear and the tandem's air suspension, made the ride impressively smooth, even with a short wheelbase. A driver could get to like this rig in short order, as we both did.
Freightliner people say that the 12.8-liter MBE4000, like the one under the hood of this tractor, is catching on in all of its Class 8 vehicles. Buyers are attracted by its lower price—$4,500 to $6,500 less than a comparable Caterpillar C-12—and the idea that's it's not burdened with exhaust-gas recirculation, as is Detroit's Series 60.
Come Jan. 1 and lower exhaust emissions limits, Mercedes will have to use EGR like builders of domestic diesels now do. But EGR won't wipe out all the price advantage, executives say. Standard in the M2 series, and the only type available in the M2-100, is the mid-range MBE900.
Freightliner is pushing Mercedes engines. But in the M2-112, Cat medium and heavy engines, topping out later this year with the ACERT C13, are optional. The FL112, which this new model will replace, was once available with Detroit's unusual four-cylinder Series 50. But neither it nor the six-cylinder S60 is offered in the M2-112.
Comparing the MBE4000 with Cat's current and popular C-12 is apt because it's what the MBE4000 feels most like—definitely gutsy, but slightly quieter. Whether that would show on a decibel meter I can't say, as there was no Cat-powered 112 on the premises to check.
This MBE4000's 410 horses were more than enough for any truck or tractor working in mostly level country, as in Indiana. The C13 will go to 505 horsepower, so guys in hilly or mountainous territory will have plenty of power to scoot up the hills.
Also more than adequate was this tractor's Fuller 10-speed transmission. Being brand new, it was a little stiff. But it had plenty of ratios for the road, and 1st gear was low enough that I used it only when starting on slight upgrades, and even there it was more to baby the clutch than to actually get us moving.
This tractor had rib-type tires, but slap on some lug-treaded rubber and it will go about anywhere a loaded equipment trailer needs to be. Stouter components, including frame reinforcements and higher-rated suspensions and axles, are available for tougher duty.
So the M2-112 is an almost do-anything vehicle, and one that all but the most die-hard large-car devotees should like.