Kenworth T680’s modern design aids driving experience
Trucking is a dynamic industry; there’s always something happening for journalists to cover. But if it does have a drawback – and this is from a purely selfish point of view – it’s that there’s not a lot of new trucks to cover and review on a year-in year-out basis. Sometimes at a pickup truck launch, I’ll run into the automotive magazine guys, and all they seem to do is rush around the world to see and test new cars and trucks. Let’s not dwell on that fact that sometimes those new cars are Ferraris, Porsches or Corvettes. Jealous? Who, me?
It’s the nature of the beast. On the four-wheeler scene, new vehicles appear with startling regularity, while on the heavy-duty side, that’s not the case: Truck models last for years and years – and they’re expensive to design and build. So once you’ve got a winning design, you tweak it and improve it and wring every last possible innovation and mile out of it before consigning it to the boneyard.
That’s why it’s such a treat to get three all-new truck platforms unveiled at the same time. In late March, Paccar and International both chose Louisville, Ky., as the venue to showcase three new trucks. I actually got a preview of Peterbilt’s new Model 579 tractor beforehand when I flew to Denton, Texas, for an exclusive test drive (see review, page 28). International also launched its LoadStar low-cab-forward vocational truck (see page 30). And Kenworth gave me the opportunity to take its new aerodynamic T680 tractor for a spin.
No matter how rounded the sleek design, it’s obvious this is a Kenworth.
The truck’s front end builds on the company’s aerodynamic heritage with a smooth sculpted look, but no matter how rounded the design, it’s obvious this is a Kenworth. No sharp or protruding edges are evident, making this the sleekest design the company has ever produced, says Brian Lindgren, manager of research and development.
Kenworth engineers spent five years working on the T680.
Simple design. Everything in the cab is laid out logically and ergonomically.
Kenworth focused on sound-dampening qualities.
I drove a regional-cab tractor with a 13-liter Paccar MX engine and an Eaton 10-speed manual gearbox. Settling into the cab was a delight thanks to Kenworth’s new seat design featuring an advanced air-suspension system and multiple lumbar and recline adjustments. Combined with the new tilt/telescoping steering wheel, the overall design makes it easy to get comfortable quickly.
Another nice touch is the redesigned dashboard. If there’s a theme here, it has to be simplicity; Kenworth engineers determined that truck dashes were becoming crammed with competing information systems that all too often prove to be difficult and distracting to operate. Here, critical engine and vehicle data is arranged in the “A” cluster directly in front of the driver, with auxiliary controls and switches within easy reach. Toggle switches glow green when activated to allow drivers to tell at a glance if they’re on.
Pulling out of the Peterson Kenworth lot in Louisville with a partially loaded 53-foot trailer behind was a snap thanks to the company’s new clutch. Most comparable clutches demand about 55 pounds of down force from the driver’s left leg to actuate, but Kenworth’s new clutch has a hydraulic-assist feature that dramatically reduces the amount of force needed – down to about 30 pounds of pressure. The result is a truck that is noticeably less fatiguing to drive, even in heavy traffic.
Once out on the Interstate 264 bypass, the T680 accelerated smoothly. But even in lower gears, the cab’s sound quality was amazing. In the new chassis and cab design, Kenworth focused on sound-dampening qualities from the ground up. “With the T680, we made sound dampening a priority from the get-go and managed to achieve an impressively quiet cab without adding a lot of sound insulation materials,” says Lindgren.
Drivers also will appreciate the commanding views from the T680 driver seat. The tall windshield features a new A pillar design – thinner and less intrusive but just as strong – for a wider field of view. The new rearview mirror design also contributes to overall awareness.
The truck displayed no bad habits or quirks cruising on the highway. Overall handling characteristics – in both heavy traffic and at highway speeds – were straightforward.
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