My first social media posts about the new Mercedes-Benz Actros attract a barrage of questions from interested UK drivers and operators. Everyone seems pleased by the Multimedia Cockpit and Active Brake Assist 5 emergency braking technology, but the burning questions for Commercial Motor readers are focused upon the MirrorCam and Active Drive Assist. "Do the screens create a blind spot?", "Can the driver have a kip?" and most importantly, "Are all drivers about to lose their jobs?". It's time to get some answers, so I climb into the cab, to find out for myself.
So much about this new truck is impressive. There's a key which comes with its own app - both can illuminate the lights, aiding the drivers with their walk-around checks - while the replacement of conventional switches with digital versions on the interactive touch screen contributes to the cab's clean, fresh and uncluttered appearance. The team at Mercedes-Benz Trucks have raised the bar with this updated interior.
Of all the new functions, though, the one that excites me the most is the MirrorCam. Instead of main and wide-angle mirrors outside the truck, a pair of 15-inch screens are mounted on the A-pillars. These are fed by a pair of heated cameras, located high up on the sides of the cab. The screens can be adjusted in the same way as conventional glass mirrors, using controls on the top of the driver's door panel. Although the brightness automatically adjusts according to the time of day, they can also be changed manually. While the screens do make the A-pillars slightly thicker, this is a small price to pay for the vastly improved visibility the driver gets from the side windows.
You don't realise how much of a blind spot mirrors create until they're no longer there. Manoeuvring, both forwards and backwards, is a breeze. However tight a turn I make, the end of the trailer always remains dead centre of the screen. As I select reverse on the steering column-mounted Mercedes PowerShift 3 transmission control, the display changes. A line depicting the end of the trailer allows me to back up to an imaginary loading bay with absolute precision. That has to be a first for me!
Driving forwards, a pair of lines appear on the bottom of the screen, the lowest of which indicates a safe distance to pull in after overtaking a slower vehicle. I had assumed it would take weeks to get used to MirrorCam, but instead I take to it instantly. It surely won't be long until mirrorless trucks are on the norm, flashing headlights to passing HGV's becomes a thing of the past.
Venturing onto an autobahn I get to experience Active Brake Assist 5 in action, albeit from the passenger seat. The system accelerates, brakes and steers the truck semi-autonomously.
While I'm sure it's capable of driving itself for long periods, current legislation requires drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times. If the sensor in the steering column detects a lack of human interaction, it sounds frequent audible alerts, and disengages after a minute. Another sensor in the seat prevents drivers from walking around the cab, or from having a kip on the bunk. I think it's safe to say that driver's jobs are going to be safe for the time being.
We're now venturing onto rural roads, to see the latest version of Predictive Powertrain Control in operation. Mercedes-Benz is claiming fuel savings of 3-5% for its new model, with developments to the Predictive Powertrain Control technology accounting for a significant proportion of this improvement. The system employs digital 3D mapping GPS data to scan the road ahead, and uses this topographical information to manage gear changes and vehicle speed, making full use of the truck's EcoRoll function to restrict diesel consumption and CO2 emissions. More efficient than ever, PRedictve Powertrain Control not only knows the legal HGV speed limit everywhere we travel but even advises us on what it considers to be a safe speed. On one occasion it warns of a turn 450 metres ahead, suggesting we slow to 21 kph. It sounds excessive, but proves to be the perfect speed for what transpires to be a particularly sharp bend. What a very clever bit of kit this is.
Mercedes-Benz is calling the new Actros the most advanced truck in the world, and I have to agree. In fact, I'd go one step further. I reckon this vehicle is a total game-changer.
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Tuesday 12th March 2019