Feature Articles

Event Horizon

During our previous drive of the latest Mercedes-Benz Actros back in 2019, we were mainly focused (pun intended) on the innovative MirrorCam feature for the obvious reasons of it improving safety and fuel efficiency.

But there is much more to this latest big German truck than its technically advanced rear vision system so during a more recent drive we drag our attention away from the virtual mirrors and take in some of the many other features that the latest Actros has to offer.

Whereas during our initial foray in a MirrorCam Merc it took 15 or 20 minutes to lose our fascination with the vertical television screens mounted on the insides of the A pillars, on this occasion the use of MirrorCam immediately feels natural when travelling in a forward direction. It is only when we need to reverse the combination that the realisation occurs of just how good this system is.

Typically, the trucks involved in media and operator road tests have been loaded up with most of the available options in order to showcase what the vehicles can offer, and in the case of the Actros it can be expected that most purchasers will be availing themselves particularly to the safety-related features which may not be included as standard offerings.

Of most interest during this drive is what Mercedes-Benz calls Predictive Powertrain Control (PPC) which operates by establishing a ‘digital horizon’ using 3D imaging and satellite tracking in real time.

The PPC actually plans for what the truck will be doing up to two kilometres in advance by knowing the topography of the road plus the vehicle combination’s weight. This information enables PPC to plan ahead so that it can maximise momentum and optimise gear selection.

In practice, it may even drop a gear earlier than what might ordinarily be expected to enable the truck to climb a hill in the most time efficient manner and all the while obtaining the maximum possible fuel economy.

A conventional cruise control may tend to hold a truck in a higher gear because it isn’t aware of the extent of the hill being negotiated. PPC may accelerate the truck at the bottom of a climb to improve momentum and result in less overall gear changes which will translate into saving fuel.

Drivers operating trucks equipped with basic cruise control learn how to maximise fuel efficiency by manually suspending the operation of the cruise control at strategic points of the journey, especially when approaching, or passing, over hill crests.

Driver trainers for some time have explained this as being because ‘the truck doesn’t know where the top of the hill is.’ Well, with PPC, now the truck does!

From the driver’s standpoint the operation of the PPC is very subtle as it integrates various optimised operations of the engine and the Powershift 3 transmission and harvests the truck’s kinetic energy to reduce unnecessary acceleration, gear shifts and braking to result in maximum fuel efficiency without sacrificing point to point times.

PPC operates in conjunction with the cruise control at speeds between 25 and 100 km/h and an indicator light is illuminated on the dash when PPC is in action.

As with MirrorCam, it takes a little while to get used to the different experience that PPC brings with it, such as backing off the throttle or even upshifting back into a higher gear slightly before the actual apex of a crest.

The opportunities for the PPC’s active interventions are not restricted to gradients as the mapping takes note of approaching intersections and roundabouts and the system anticipates and makes adjustments accordingly.

Many of the features of the new Actros’s Multimedia cockpit can be operated from the smart steering wheel which has now become even smarter with controls similar to smartphone touch screens and only requiring a light stroke to activate their various functions.

The buttons on the right hand side operate the cruise control and the primary instrument display which is immediately in front of the driver, and the left hand controls are for the audio and phone systems as well as for the touch screen secondary display mounted to the left of the dash.

The screens are clear and sharp and can be custom configured from being as simple as a speedo and tacho, to multiple readouts of various vehicle functions and metrics. ‘Soft’ and ‘hard’ switches can be configured to operate functions such as driving lights and tipper switches.

Now with an electronic parking brake, which releases when the driver applies the accelerator, its automatically applied if driver’s door opens while the Actros is stationary with the engine running to avoid the hazardous situation of a driver leaving the cab without manually applying the brakes.

When the engine is switched off the park brake also applies itself automatically. In a crossover feature from passenger vehicles, the Actros’s key fob only needs to be anywhere inside the cab to enable a push button keyless start. The fob can also initiate a sequential lighting check function as part of the pre-drive checks.

The intelligence extends to the lights themselves which feature Bi Xenon and LED bulbs in the headlights which also incorporate cornering lights. Automatic headlamps and rain sensitive wipers are among the available options.
                                                                             
Our test truck has the optional inductive charging pad for smartphones on top of the dash which incorporates a handy clamp to keep the phone in place.

Safety is enhanced by Mercedes-Benz Active Brake Assist 5 which is the latest development of the Autonomous Emergency Braking system and utilises radar and high definition cameras to identify other vehicles and moving pedestrians and calculates if a collision in imminent.

In conjunction with visible and audible warnings the system can autonomously apply partial or full emergency braking to prevent, or reduce the severity of, a potential collision.

The Actros is available with 14 cabin variants, with two roof shapes and three engine tunnel configurations (320mm, 170mm, and a level floor).

Modern drivers’ seats are expected to be comfortable with plenty of adjustments, and Mercedes-Benz have taken things even further with the optional SoloStar Concept which features a reclining armchair and foot-rest in the space where a traditional passenger seat would be located.

Its intention is to provide a very comfortable area in which the driver can relax and stretch out between stints at the wheel.

Considerable effort has gone into the design and function of the cab’s interior lighting which can be adjusted to suit driving, resting or sleeping.  The bunk is equipped with a locally-sourced 110mm inner-spring mattress instead of the European foam item.

In the typical 6×4 prime mover configuration the Actros is available with the Euro VI 13 litre engine in a 390kW (530hp) specification, and the 16 litre (also Euro VI) can be had in either 425kW (578hp) or 460kW (625hp) outputs.

Mercedes-Benz has performed an outstanding job of integrating the various electronic systems into this new Actros, and in a parallel with modern aircraft, the intelligence found in today’s trucks undoubtedly makes them safer, more fuel efficient and easier to drive.

A consequence of this abundance of electronics is the absolute requirement for drivers to be properly educated and made familiar with the methods of coaxing the optimum operation from what are increasingly complex vehicles.

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