Test drive: Renault Trucks' latest C and K ranges
PMV takes Renault Trucks' latest Middle Eastern offerings around Losail International Circuit, Qatar
Renault Trucks’ Doha range unveiling was certainly a spectacle, but how did the French giant’s latest models perform on the asphalt? James Morgan reports from Qatar’s Losail International Circuit.
As fans of the sport will know, MotoGP bikes are monstrous affairs, purpose-built to hurl their riders around perilous tracks at breakneck speeds. With terrifying acceleration and the ability to turn on a sixpence, these machines are built for one thing and one thing only: speed.
With this in mind, I have to concede that I was a little surprised when the folks at Renault Trucks invited me to test drive their latest models around Losail International Circuit. It’s hard to imagine a vehicle class farther removed from the aforementioned motorcycles.
After all, trucks are designed for economical, long-haul driving, and – with the best will in the world – they’re not renowned for their minute turning circles. Nevertheless, intrigued by the proposition, I travelled to Qatar to see how the French firm’s haulers would cope with Losail’s alluring – but unforgiving – curves.
Disappointingly, but understandably, I soon learned that the track’s custodians were more than a little wary about the damage that a mistimed turn in an eighteen-wheeler might inflict on their pristine kerbs.
Consequently, a series of cautionary planks had been arranged to guide us from the straights, over the turf, and safely around the outer edges of the circuit’s corners.
With my apex-kissing dreams dashed, I got down to business and climbed into the cab of a Renault K 440. Although lacking many of the bells and whistles boasted by its highfalutin Euro 6 cousins, this heavy-duty workhorse is not as basic as you might expect – either in terms of technology or performance.
The unit’s 11-litre, Euro 3 DXi 11 engine generates an admirable 440 hp, meaning that it’s certainly no slouch from a standing start. It’s safe to say that drivers won’t find this truck wanting at roundabouts or traffic lights.
Whilst Losail’s straights weren’t quite sufficient to test the full range of the K 440’s 14-speed manual gearbox (the 60km/h speed limit might also have been a factor), there was sufficient room to put the transmission through its paces.
Even for a layman like me, gear shifts proved simple to execute; the switches required to move up and down are intuitively and ergonomically situated. The pneumatic hiss that can be heard as you shift up is also surprisingly satisfying.
Visibility from the cab is just as you’d expect from a modern truck. The panoramic, top-down view provides a reassuring feeling of control, and it’s easy to judge the outer parameters of your vehicle.
As for the dash, it’s sensibly laid out with an array visual aids. An easy-to-see green zone signposts the 1,000 rpm-to-1,500-rpm, economic sweet spot. The maximum torque of the DXi 11, meanwhile, is reached at 1,800 rpm.
In terms of driver assists, the K 440 sports an exhaust brake, an engine brake, a rotary switch for simple diff-lock adjustment, and even a digitally-tweakable accelerator designed to traverse rough terrain and challenging inclines in the smoothest possible manner.
With all of these gadgets to play with, it seemed like no time at all before I arrived back at the paddock. Luckily, a Euro 6-engine K 480 pulled up behind me. Sure, this model isn’t yet available in the Middle East, but it seemed churlish not to take it out for a spin.
In terms of gadgetry, the 13-litre, 480 hp vehicle was on another level. The cockpit’s digital display was alight with all manner of information. Whilst it was certainly busier than the K 440’s cab, it was by no means distracting.
The K 480 boasts an automated (not automatic) Optidriver transmission system, and in addition to the braking aids featured on its Euro 3 counterpart, the model sports a Voith retarder for extra assistance when coming to a halt.
If the K 440’s manual B14 gearbox makes novice drivers look good, the K 480’s Optidriver system spoils us.
The model’s extra 40 hp might have helped matters, but the truck’s acceleration certainly didn’t suffer from a lack of oomph. A seasoned professional with manual transmission might be able to beat Optidriver off the mark in terms of speed, but efficiency is an entirely different matter.
Historically, the cost of diesel has not been the number-one concern for Middle Eastern fleet owners, but this situation is gradually shifting. If the automated gearbox is an option in your territory, the $2,500 premium (approx) is a price worth paying, in this editor’s opinion.
Sadly, there wasn’t time to try the C range models, but if the K 440 and K 480 are anything to go by, you won’t be disappointed. Even Renault’s ‘back-to-basics’ units are awash with technology, supporting drivers and – ultimately – reducing the total cost of ownership (TCO).
Renault Trucks might well pull off an impressive feat with these ranges. If local end users come along for the ride, the French truck maker could bring the Middle East’s haulage sector into the 21st Century – and without it even noticing.