Product evaluation: Volvo VNL 670

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CCJ‘s evaluators check out the latest VN from Volvo and find plenty of good ideas wrapped in a great-looking package.

It’s been six years since the last VN, over-the-road tractor debuted. That vehicle was “new from the ground up,” according to Volvo. Now the company has refined the design with its newest offering – the VNL670.

“It sure doesn’t look like anything else on the road,” said one evaluator while taking in the VN’s swoopy fenders and sculpted headlight and foglight assemblies. All agreed that the styling is a nice departure from typical truck front ends.

In addition to looking good, “these headlights put 30 percent to 35 percent more light on the road than the old VN’s,” Mike Cantwell, Volvo’s senior product application manager, told the team. Responding to a question about the cost of headlight damage, he added that the entire assembly costs $160, but that the bulbs can be replaced individually, without tools.

Headlight-aim adjustments are easily made through access ports on the side of the clear housing.

Working their way around the truck, evaluators noted that the side fairing, steps and all, can be quickly tilted out or removed altogether, providing easy access to the batteries and air tanks. In fact, they may come off a little too easily. A locking feature, said Cantwell, is in the works.

Moving rearward, one evaluator noticed the raised rear deck plate, and said he’d prefer one that’s flush with the frame rails, which would make it easier and safer for drivers to climb up. He’s in luck. A flush rear deck plate is available.

When it comes to safety and comfort, Volvos usually excel, and the VN doesn’t disappoint. Evaluators were pleased with the ease of entry and egress. The door openings are 37 inches wide, and the doors open 60 degrees. Hinges are internally mounted to keep them out of the weather. Grab handles are well positioned, inside the door, to ensure a clean, dry grip, with no need to seek extra help from the steering wheel when climbing up the wide, self-clearing steps.

Once inside, evaluators gave high marks to the spacious, passenger-car-like interior and, especially, to the infinitely adjustable, pedal-operated, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, with buttons for radio and marker-light control. “If you can’t get comfortable in here, you can’t get comfortable anywhere,” remarked one evaluator.

While forward visibility is good through the 2,092-square-inch, one-piece windshield, two evaluators would have preferred a split windshield, citing replacement cost for a large, single piece of glass. Rearward visibility is also good, thanks to flat and convex breakaway mirrors, which reduce the chance of damage from minor impacts with tree limbs and tight shop entrances.

On the road, our team was impressed by the VN’s smooth ride – a lightweight front air suspension is standard on sleeper models; rear air suspension is standard on sleepers and daycabs. They also appreciated the quiet cab, made so by generous noise-dampening insulation.

“They’ve done a lot to reduce maintenance requirements,” said one evaluator. Note well-secured wiring and hoses, and simple access to wiper motor and linkage, shown at center of firewall.

Even with a loaded trailer (64,080-pound GCW), “you don’t feel the speed,” observed an evaluator as he took us down the interstate. “I just looked down at the speedometer, and found that we’re going a lot faster than I thought.” The others credited the VN’s 500-hp Cummins ISX, mated to a 10-speed Eaton Fuller AutoShift transmission, for the easy acceleration.

All praised the solid feel of the VN’s high-strength steel cab, which Volvo claims is impervious to corrosion.

While assessing the VN for ease of maintenance, evaluators learned that the hood releases from inside the cab. In the event of release-cable breakage, small panels in the inner fenders can be removed by loosening four screws and speednuts to access the locking mechanism. Once released, tilting the hood is a one-handed job, thanks to a tilt spring, gas-assist cylinders and an ergonomically correct handhold.

Underhood, evaluators found no unpleasant surprises. Fluid fill and check points are all on the cool side of the engine, reachable from ground level. The front third of the inner fenders tilts away with the hood. The remaining pieces can be easily removed to improve access to the engine and drive accessories. Also, a snap-away doghouse cover removes from inside the cab, without pulling the floor mat or seats, for access to the engine’s rear.

Both the air filter and drop-in fresh air filter are also easily replaced from ground level. Even the infamous wiper motor and linkage, which can be tricky to access on some trucks, are out in the open, in the center of the firewall.

According to Volvo, great attention was paid to hose and wire routing to minimize chaffing. Firewall pass-through locations have been minimized and use sealed fittings, clearly labeled on both sides.

Evaluators praised the use of a self-tensioning serpentine drive belt, and Volvo’s signature, engine-mounted fan shroud. The latter allows a 1/4-inch fan-tip-to-shroud clearance, for improved cooling without the risk of the fan and shroud coming into contact with each other as the engine twists in its mounts.

“They’ve done a lot to reduce maintenance requirements,” said one evaluator – including the use of rubber front suspension bushings, which require no lubrication. “Of course, you’ve got to run a truck for a while to really know what’s under the skin, but at first scan, it looks really good.”

“I do have some concerns about the longevity of the bumper,” he continued, “and I wish there were a sturdier screen behind the lower air intake to prevent rock damage to the charge air cooler.” To address such concerns, Volvo uses a new, more durable bumper material. Also, charge air protection plates are provided at the lower lip of the bumper.

“I’m a little troubled by the proprietary keys,” added another evaluator. “With most trucks, I can go to any hardware store and have keys made for $1.50 each, while Volvo keys are laser-cut at Volvo dealerships, and cost several times that amount.” To reduce cost, Volvo uses the same high-security key system globally. Also, the company furnishes customers with extra keys and, for larger accounts, can make a key-cutting machine available.

“I’m somewhat concerned about replacement parts and pricing in the event that I spec a Volvo engine,” said another evaluator. But Volvo says the fill rate for its competitively priced parts is 98 percent at its more than 234 North American dealers and several hundred service dealers. In addition, some parts and services are available at Petro outlets. If a part is not available, it can be obtained, next day, through Volvo’s Memphis facility.

Such criticisms aside, evaluators agreed that Volvo has taken an already good product, lightened it, improved the styling, and removed some maintenance items. “They’ve really cleaned it up,” summarized one evaluator. “I think I’d consider buying some.”

The Volvo VNL670 Product Evaluation Team (left to right):
Joe Samford, vice president, maintenance, Epes Carriers, Greensboro, N.C.;
Frank Wrenn, area maintenance manager, Old Dominion Freight Line, Thomasville, N.C.;
Russ Myers, shop supervisor, Southeastern Freight Lines, Greensboro, N.C.
Also, special thanks to Jim McNamara, senior manager, Communications, and Tom Ballantine, shop technician, Volvo Trucks North America.

The fleet operator’s opinion
CCJ Product Evaluations are not performed by CCJ editors. They are done by a team of fleet equipment managers, chosen for their experience with the type of product being evaluated. Editors report evaluators’ opinions, not their own.

An evaluation is based on a drive test and design assessment (which sometimes involves some disassembly of the vehicle), followed by a discussion among the evaluators and manufacturer’s representative(s).

Volvo VNL670 basic specs (as tested)
Wheelbase: 219 inches
Engine: Cummins ISX, 500 hp @ 2000 rpm, 1,850 lb-ft torque @ 1200 rpm
Transmission: Eaton Fuller RTO-18910B-AS2 10-speed
Clutch: Eaton 15.5-inch HD Solo with hydraulic assist
Fuel tanks: 125-gallon, 26-inch diameter, aluminum x 2
Front axle: Hendrickson Steertek, 12,500 pounds
Rear axle: ArvinMeritor MT-40-143A, 40,000 pounds
Brakes: ArvinMeritor Q+
Wheels: Accuride aluminum, 24.5 x 8.25
Tires: Michelin XZA2, 275/80R24.5