The Kaeng Krachan Circuit on the outskirts of Hua Hin, Thailand is a wonderful place to be driving anything. It is about 3.2km in length and has tight turns and undulations. It has nicely cambered corners, dips and crests that one can play with whilst driving on it.
Volvo Trucks let me drive one of their prime movers on this race track. I would have liked a nice hot hatch but beggars can't be choosers. So thank you so very, very much whilst we are at it. The Volvo Truck in question was the latest Volvo FH 440 Sleeper Cab. The 440 means 440hp and about 2200nm torque from a Volvo D13A 13,000cc in-line 6 cylinder turbocharged engine. It runs the power it makes through a Volvo I-shift automated transmission unit that has 12 forward speeds. There are a heck of a lot of power and drivetrain configurations for the Volvo FH, from the 13liter 400hp engine to a 16liter 610hp /2800nm trucker's dream machine special coupled with either the I-shift automatic, a 12 speed and a 14speed manual transmissions to play around with.
Other stuff are good too. With extra low to high riding chassis heights, axle reduction gear setups, fuel tank sizes from 150liters to 900liters (600 seems to be the norm), Volvo Dynamic steering, Electronic controlled Brake System (EBS), Stretch Brake (trailer brake), hydraulic retarder and automatic park brake release (on the I-Shift gearbox only). All in all, the tech inside these FH series trucks are impressive.
Inside the FH series is also a nice place to be if you are a long haul driver. We Malaysians do not get the FH series officially at the moment and only the FM and FMX ranges for now. I suppose this is because the FH are the full monty long haul trucks that are great for intercontinental distances or cross border transport. The FM trucks are good enough for use within Peninsular Malaysia or Sabah - Sarawak routes. But a fully specific long haul truck offers much more in terms of driver comfort that it even makes sense for companies to use the Volvo FH on all trips that criss-cross the Malaysian Peninsular or that cross Sabah and Sarawak. The added height of the FH's cabin offers better driver mobility and usable space as well as more visibility outside. More comfort means less fatigue. Better for those trips anywhere.
Trucks and lorries have come a long way since the days where you see them using wooden cabins, doors without windows and makeshift steel framed, rubber strands casual recliners as their driver's seat. Everything is now done in comfort for long hauls. You only need to climb up three steps into the FH 440 and you're the king of the road. Everything is automated. The I-shift is very intelligent as its namesake. The Volvo Dynamic Steering is really dynamic and as per their advertisements, a hamster could actually turn the steering wheel. Effort is minimised so that the driver can pay more attention to the surroundings.
Speaking of visibility from the cabin, the view from the driver's seat is excellent. It offers a clear view of things and all the wing mirrors that allows you to keep an eye on the tanker trailer that sits behind you. And rest of the interior is well thought of. This is my first time getting into a Volvo FH as well as driving it and everything easily falls into place. The instrument cluster is very legible with all important information clear to see (this is somehow better than Volvo Truck's closest competitor actually). Everything is ergonomically sound once you're in the driver's seat. Dig those red seatbelts too. Funky. So long haul should be far less stressful in my opinion.
The Kaeng Krachan Circuit is tight and meant for smaller vehicles. So it was not a place for speeding especially with a truck pulling a loaded trailer. But you can feel that 10 tons of water out back is a walk in the park for something with over 2,000Nm of torque. The shifts are quite smooth once you press the accelerator and get underway. Without the trailer in tow this could be ballistic. And very scary too. Or powahhhhhhhhhhh down the straight. Hmm...ideas... And here we were in Thailand for the Volvo Trucks Asia Pacific Fuelwatch Challenge 2015. Oh well, safety first. And half a million Ringgit worth of truck to think about too. So instead of aiming for the apex, you don't. When you drive a truck pulling a trailer it is wide, wide, wide and make sure that the trailer stays on the tarmac instead of eating grass. Or barrier. Or cone. Or...
So if you get into a situation, the brakes on this Volvo FH work well. On a downhill stretch of the circuit the EBS working in tandem with the truck's ABS would safety modulate the truck I was driving with a ten ton load of water (simulating load carried whilst on a commute). Steering is light and responsive and it is easy to place the truck and its trailer with ease on the tight race track (thanks to the properly positioned wing mirrors - always remember you are driving something with a trailer out back as well as your width, girth and center of gravity).
If you were driving this rig on the highways of Malaysia or Thailand it would be quite nice in something like this. Something that all truckers should aspire for. A drive in a well equipped long haul specced truck. Now go lobby your bosses for something like this as I heard that Volvo Trucks is thinking of bringing in the FH into Malaysia soon (especially if the open border trade agreements regarding AFTA comes into play).
I really dig the red seatbelts!!!!
Instead of hitting the apex you have to go wide, wide, wide so that the trailer can have enough room to turn!!!