Freightliner is not a name that everybody associates with dump trucks or mixers, probably due to the sheer number of its freight-hauling highway tractors that are on the road everywhere you go. The name came from the old Consolidated Freightways, which founded the firm in 1940 because it couldn’t obtain a lightweight truck from existing manufacturers. It designed an entirely new vehicle by substituting aluminum for many steel parts, starting a trend in the industry and establishing what grew to be the dominant brand in North America.
But its vocational trucks have become nearly as popular, both on and off the road, especially since Daimler Trucks North America, Freightliner’s corporate parent, shut down Sterling during the last recession. Sterling was Daimler’s designated vocational brand, even though Freightliner had its own line of such trucks and was developing specific components, such as the Tuff Track tandem-axle suspension. With Sterling gone, Freightliner put more emphasis on its own vocational line. When the recession was gone, it was ready with a new series that included the 114SD, which came out in 2011.
The 114 denotes its bumper-to-back of cab measurement in inches, and SD means severe duty. A driver will find much to like about it, inside and out. External styling almost screams “work truck,” with blocky lines and a no-nonsense black composite grille sporting small chrome accents, and the hood is easy to tilt for servicing. The styling theme is echoed in its ride and driving qualities, as I found with the one you see here. Fyda Freightliner in Columbus, Ohio, graciously set up a drive for me. My guide was sales representative Jonah Schneider, who rode shotgun on a jaunt over nearby streets and highways.
An easy climb into the cab revealed interior trim that was on the plain side, with expanses of gray plastic on the doors and dashboard, but cheerfully accented with panels of faux burl wood. Cloth seat covers were practical and breathable. The cab was roomy without being overly large, and its structure and skin are aluminum for corrosion resistance and light weight, in keeping with the Freightliner tradition. Outward visibility was excellent through a sizable windshield and over a sloping hood, plus good-size side windows and mirrors that were nicely placed and remotely operated.
Seating position was fine after I made quick seat and steering column adjustments; I noticed that the correct column placement for me put the upper edge of the bulky wheel hub just below the speedometer and tachometer in the instrument cluster ahead. The speedo and tach were beneath a pane of clear plastic in an area that also housed panels for warning lights and the driver information display, plus several engine-condition gauges. The wheel hub and spokes were wisely devoid of switches for cruise control or anything else; these were on the dashboard where they belong, in my opinion, because wheel switches require a driver to look down and away from the road to operate, at least until he can do it by feel.
Truck: Freightliner 114SD, severe-duty conventional-cab straight chassis w/ C-channel frame inserts, BBC 114 in., set-forward steer axle, GVW 66,000 lb. (plus lift axles)
Engine: Detroit DD13, 12.8 liters (782 cu. in.), 470 hp @ 1,625 rpm, 1,650 lb.-ft. @ 975 rpm
Transmission: Allison 4500 RDS (rugged duty series), 6-speed torque converter automatic
Front axle: 20,000-lb. Meritor MFS-20-133A w/ TRW THP-60 hydraulic power assist, on 20,000-lb. taperleafs
Lift axles: 10,000-lb. Hendrickson
Rear axles: 46,000-lb. Meritor RT-46-160 w/ 3.91 ratio, on 46,000-lb. Hendrickson HaulMaxx mechanical suspension
Wheelbase: 280 in.
Brakes: Meritor Q+ S-cam w/ Wabco ABS
Front tires & wheels: Michelin XZY-3 426/65R22.5 on Alcoa polished aluminum discs
Rear tires & wheels: Michelin XDE M/S 11R24.5, on Accuride Accu-Lite polished aluminum discs
Fuel tank: 110-gal. polished aluminum
Body: Bibeau 18-ft. steel dump, 18-ton capacity
Gauges were clearly legible with white markings on black faces, and switches and controls were right at hand. Heater and air conditioning controls were the familiar rotary knobs, a feature all heavy-truck builders stick with because they’re easy to operate: Just glance at them and twist as necessary. Most other controls were rocker switches placed conveniently along the right half of the curving dash, and a box mounted on the floor between the seats had controls for the Buckeye dump box. A keypad selector for the Allison automatic was on the dashboard immediately to the right, and for this run, the only buttons I needed were Drive, Reverse, and Neutral.
As I’ve experienced with other Allisons in other trucks, the engine seemed to labor a bit upon launch, then lit up as it overcame inertia and the torque converter sent increasing power and torque to 1st gear, then the other five; up- and downshifts were smooth. As with any full automatic, ratios are almost infinite and propulsion is available no matter what the speed or condition. Cruising at 60 mph had the engine revving at about 1,400 rpm. The Allison made the truck easy to drive, which is a great benefit these days. More than 90 percent of the vocational trucks Fyda sells have self-shifting transmissions, primarily Allisons but also Eaton automated gearboxes, Schneider said, because “young people today have never driven manual transmissions. They grew up with automatics. So fleets can’t get drivers for their trucks,” but now they can.
TRW hydraulic power steering was weighted just enough to remove most arm effort but firm enough to transmit a decent feel of the road. The Meritor steer axle, rated for 20,000 pounds, was shod with wide tires that somewhat limited wheel cut, yet the truck turned normal corners easily. Fyda reps balked at putting a load in the dump body because the truck was brand new, and a prospective buyer wants it to look that way when he takes delivery. Without a load the ride was a bit stiff for me and especially Schneider, whose passenger seat was rigidly mounted. The engine was a 12.8-liter Detroit DD13 that made more than adequate power and no doubt still would have if dirt or gravel had been piled into the box. It also made pleasant growling sounds.
Much of our travel at highway speeds was west of Columbus along U.S. 40, the old National Road originally constructed in the early to mid-1800s and the first highway commissioned by Congress. It started in Cumberland, Maryland, and went across the Appalachians to Wheeling, West Virginia, and later into Ohio and beyond. Modernization in the 1900s included widening to four lanes in some stretches. That was before the building of nearby Interstate 70, which now carries most traffic and leaves 40 only lightly traveled; a pleasant way to go if you can spare the time.
Along U.S. 40 we found a large job site where a former farmer’s field had been leveled and bared to make way for what looked like a warehouse or distribution center. I backed the truck into a position suitable for photos, and when I got out, I looked up to see a big yellow Cat scraper that had stopped and whose driver stared at me as if to say, “Would you mind getting out of my way?” I waved, hopped back in and quickly moved the Freightliner to another location. It occurred to me that Old 40 would be seeing more truck traffic after this and other projects were completed and working. You can bet that a lot of the road tractors pulling the van trailers carrying products in and out of these logistical facilities will be Freightliners, and an increasing number of the dump and mixer trucks involved in construction projects like this will also carry that badge.
The 114SD looks and feels tough, and is evidently quite capable of severe-duty tasks because I see a lot of them here in central Ohio, where I live.