What's on your bucket list?
For some, it's going to places like Mount Everest, swimming the Great Barrier Reef or some extreme sport like skydiving. My list is more rooted in machines ranging from driving things like a tank, sounding the horn on a locomotive, flying a plane (or at least holding the yoke to an airliner while in flight, something I was able to do as a 6 year old) or, the ultimate fantasy for any car nut taking the wheel of a Formula One car.
Well, thanks to CATS Motors, I can now scratch one off that list as I've now driven a truck... and not just any truck, but Mercedes-Benz's new line of Actros heavy duty semis.
So, judging by the photos we posted, you can see that we're on a racetrack, the Batangas Racing Circuit to be exact. You must be wondering what we're doing, driving 10 and 6 wheeler Actros models on a track. The math doesn't really add up, at first.
You see, holding an event like this on a racetrack allows us to get a feel for the trucks in a safe environment with plenty of room for error... a wide berth, so to speak. I just hope I won't need it.
Mercedes-Benz launched their Actros trucks at the end of 2011, kicking off a new range of models for corporate clients such as logistics and trucking companies. Personally, I haven't had a desire to drive a truck... maybe if we were in the U.S. where they have those big rigs or down under where they have the awesome road trains.
Safe, comfortable, and extremely luxurious by current -local- truck standards, the Actros raises the bar for trucks in the country. Significantly so, in fact, that the assigned drivers of these trucks don't want to rotate to a different model.
The 2012 Actros is an all new model for the brand, having undergone a full generational change. Engine choices range from a V6 to a V8, and incorporate many of the brand's latest technologies. BlueTec is standard, and the new generation also gets the brand's PowerShift automated gearbox, avoiding the need to shift almost endlessly over the course of a drive... as trucks tend to have gears in the 'teens.
CATS Motors arranged for two models of the Actros to take part in the test drive: a 6-wheeler (2 axle) and a 10 wheeler (3-axle). The 6-wheel Actros, model 2031 S, has a 12 liter V6 that produces 310 horsepower and a gross vehicle weight of 20 tons. The 10-wheel Actros, model 2636, has the same engine but produces 350 horsepower and weighs 26 tons.
Getting up the cabin is a challenge in itself; they even outlined the proper way of getting up there. Once on the driver's seat, I realized this was going to be more complicated just putting it in gear and step on it.
For one, the seat has its own air suspension system that allows it to be adjusted by height and has quite a bit of bounce. There are a lot more controls and buttons that you have to take note of that you wouldn't see in a normal car. In typical Mercedes fashion, the driver also gets a Bluetooth handsfree system and controls for the audio system. The high vantage point and the abundance of mirrors really give you a unique and commanding point of view.
After a little familiarization, the cabin proved less daunting, and is actually quite easy than what I would imagine other trucks must be to drive. The Actros has an automatic gearbox, so no issue there; just flick the toggle for the shifter and you're good to go. Out on the main straight, I give it a little gas, and realize it's more fun than I thought. The V8 engine produces plenty of power and gobs of torque, though I wish we had a trailer out back to really see what this can do.
It was also unusually nimble. I know, I know, it's weird but oddly true, and the Actros can even demonstrate its full turning radius within the confines of the main straight of BRC in one move. A strange experience for sure, but when they told us that the objective was for us not to step on the brakes upon entering a corner, we were all in a bit of shock.
You see, the Actros actually has 3 braking systems. The first is engaged by depressing the brake pedal; the standard by which we all drive by. The other two are unique to the Actros, as it makes use of an engine braking system and an air brake system, and we promptly turned them on. Once I took my foot off the throttle, both the engine brake and air brake immediately kicked in, slowing the Actros down to a manageable speed for the corner.
We were told not to exceed 60 km/h on the track, and let the other two braking systems work for us. Handling is, well, nothing like I've ever driven before. The steering is surprisingly light, though it takes numerous turns to make a hairpin. The lap went by much more quickly than I expected.
I've never had so much fun in something so unusual. Judging by the long lines to have a second or third go at the Actros, as well as the smiles on many of our faces, everyone else seems to agree.
But it's not all fun and games.
By bringing in the new Mercedes-Benz Actros, CATS Motors is out to prove that they mean business.,, serious business. It's a truck that's aimed squarely at corporate customers that need a vehicle that will get their cargo and merchandise where it needs to go, at the time it needs to get there.
For me, well, now I can scratch something off that long bucket list of things I've always wanted to drive.
Now if I can only find a tank... with the keys in it.