Product evaluation: Freightliner Business Class M2

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Wheelbase: 136-280 inches
Engine: 170-450-hp Mercedes-Benz or 190-430-hp Caterpillar diesels
Transmission: Mercedes 6-speed synchronized; Eaton Fuller 5-, 6-, 7-, 9-. 10-, 11- and 13-speed manuals; 10-speed Eaton AutoShift; Allison 1000/2000/2400 MD and HD automatics
Clutch: Various, from Eaton and Sachs (through ArvinMeritor)
Fuel tanks: Left, right or dual, 30-120 gal., aluminum
Front axle: Freightliner
Rear axle: ArvinMeritor
Brakes: Hydraulic, full air
Wheels: 22.5 x 8.25
Tires: Michelin 11R22.5

When a CCJ Product Evaluation team looked at the first-generation Business Class some 10 years ago, it found a solid, medium-duty truck with few weaknesses. The M2 team agreed that, in the current edition, previous concerns have been all but eliminated, while original strengths have been taken to the next level. Chief among these is versatility.

The chaMeleon
With a toy box full of GVWRs, wheelbases, BBCs, powertrains, and axle and cab configurations, “this thing can be just about anything you want it to be,” remarked one evaluator.

He’s right – there’s really no such thing as a standard spec for the M2. GVWRs range from 16,000 pounds to more than 66,000 pounds; wheelbases stretch from 136 to 280 inches on a variety of frame rail widths and thicknesses; and BBCs come in 100-, 106- and 112-inch lengths, as a day cab, a 26-inch extended cab and a 48-inch crew cab. M2 is also available as a tractor, and drive options include 4 x 2, 6 x 4 and, soon, even 8 x 4.

Even the overall cab height can be varied – a fact that should be appreciated by operators who routinely fit overhead equipment. “When it comes to road height,” said an evaluator, “the lower the better for us.”

M2 engine choices include 170-450-hp Mercedes-Benz or 190-430-hp Caterpillar diesels, and most folks will be able to find a transmission they like, with a Mercedes 6-speed synchro, Eaton Fuller 5-, 6-, 7-, 9-. 10-, 11- and 13-speed manuals, a 10-speed Eaton AutoShift, and Allison 1000/2000/2400 MD and HD automatics available. Brakes can be hydraulic or air, and suspension options include leaf spring, AirLiner or vocational TufTrac or Hendrickson setups.

M for Multiplexing?
Further adding to the M2’s flexibility is a fully multiplexed electrical system that makes for simplified wiring and easy accessory add-ons, through the use of expandable, smart dash switches and modules that can be programmed to control any load without cutting and splicing wires.

According to Pat Leitner, sales manager, DaimlerChrysler components, the system has reduced the number of wires onboard from 650 to 350. “I like that there’s only a handful of wires passing through the firewall,” said one evaluator. “When you reduce wiring and connectors,

The evaluation team liked the three-piece bumper, noting that, not only does it make for easier engine access when an outboard section is removed, but it reduces cost in case of damage, since the entire assembly doesn’t need to be replaced.

you reduce possible problem-initiation sites.” Also popular with evaluators were good, solid chassis ground points and battery-mounted power taps that eliminate makeshift battery-terminal connections when high-load accessories are added.

Evaluators were further pleased to note that all wires are numbered by circuit, and color-coded, per international standards, by system, and that all aft-of-cab wires and lines are secured by dedicated tie-off points along the left frame rail, keeping the right rail “clean.”

“We’ve had our share of electrical gremlins,” said an evaluator who has operated previous-generation Business Class trucks. “It looks like Freightliner has gone a long way toward bullet-proofing the electrical system.”

Or is it for Maintenance ease?
After an easy tilt of the spring-assisted hood – which is also damped to prevent damage from being slammed closed – evaluators agreed that “everything is pretty much where it should be,” for maintenance access. Brake and windshield washer fluid reservoirs, for example, are easily visible in the left door jamb and the right rocker area. On noticing that the radiator cap and coolant fill point are at shoulder height near the cowl, an evaluator said, “That’s much better than the old way of having to climb up to reach the top of the radiator.”

Evaluators were split, however, on the top-mounted, cartridge-type oil filter. “It’s probably a great idea,” said one, “and it’s bound to prevent oil spillage, but I guess I’m just used to the good old spin-on type.”

And when another evaluator spotted the rear-of-engine-mounted air compressor, he questioned the ease of service. “Surprisingly, it’s not too hard,” said Leitner. “It’s held in place by

Underneath the vehicle, evaluators noted the same, careful attention to wire and hose routing as found elsewhere.

swivel-head Allen screws, so you don’t even need a perfectly straight shot with a long ratchet extension. Loosen ’em up, and it comes right out.”

Moving around the truck, the team commented positively on the three-piece bumper, noting that not only does it make for easier engine access when an outboard section is removed, but it also reduces cost in case of damage, in that the entire assembly doesn’t need to be replaced.

Underneath the vehicle, evaluators noted the same careful attention to wire and hose routing as found elsewhere and were pleased with the open location of the automatic transmission oil filter. Also, “I really like the small, lightweight starter,” one commented. “No wrestling or heavy lifting to get that one out.”

Evaluators revealed that a perennial source of trouble on any truck is damage to door hinges and latches – almost always from driver abuse. They felt Freightliner was moving in the right direction by adding reinforcing steel braces inside doors and jambs, and behind handles, latches and hinges. “I guess a driver could still break it,” mused an evaluator, “but he’d have to work harder at it.”

Driver environMent
“This is one roomy, comfortable cab,” observed an evaluator. “I like how wide it is inside, with all sorts of room for auxiliary equipment controls.” “The visibility is great,” added another. “There are really no blind spots.”

Favorable comments were plentiful, as evaluators praised the ease of entry and egress, the comfortable seats, the tilt and telescoping wheel that’s available in most versions, power window and locks, abundant storage space, the red overhead light for reading maps at night, the well laid out controls and clear, uncluttered instrumentation. And further kudos went to the M2’s smooth ride and outstanding maneuverability, afforded, in large part, by a true 50-degree wheel cut.

Evaluators were also glad to learn that the old-style, cable-operated HVAC controls have been nixed in favor of an electronically controlled, blend-air system.

“It doesn’t matter what’s under the hood, or behind the cab,” summed up one, “as long as the driver is comfortable so he can be productive. Freightliner definitely seems to be paying more attention to the people who drive and work on their trucks.”

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 driving test and design assessment (which sometimes involves some disassembly of the vehicle), followed by a discussion among the evaluators and manufacturer’s representatives. Manufacturers are given ample opportunity to respond to any criticisms.The Freightliner Business Class M2 Product Evaluation Team: Dave Pilaro, regional maintenance manager, Dunbar Armored Co., Hunt Valley, Md.; Don Gettle, director, maintenance, Lentz Milling Co., Reading, Pa.; Bruce Grankowski, maintenance superintendent, Middlesex County Utility Authority, E. Brunswick, N.J.; John Ejsmont, technical trainer, and Frank Cummins, fleet procurement foreman, PECO Energy (formerly Philadelphia Electric Co.)