Jack Roberts

Tomorrow’s tractor

Jack Untitled 1Kenworth’s T700 showcases engineering, driver empathy

tractor is a combination of many traits and components – often with contradictory intentions. It needs to be powerful while still providing a smooth ride. It needs to be utilitarian, but driver comfort – both on and off the clock – also is important. It needs to gobble up hundreds of road miles efficiently in a day’s time, yet have the agility to maneuver in congested urban areas. It needs to deliver loads to customers in time – but safety never can be compromised.

It’s a lot to demand from design engineers. Kenworth, like all manufacturers, works hard to bring these contrasting demands together in a single package. And for the company’s longhaul customers, the T700 is the height of that engineering effort.

Designers succeeded in unifying longhaul demands.

In mid-June, several industry journalists were given the opportunity to drive Kenworth tractors and trucks through the countryside surrounding Paccar’s Technology Center on Puget Sound near Mount Vernon, Wash. Before we arrived, we were asked to name our top picks for test drives, and the T700 was at the top of my list. It’s safe to say that every lesson Kenworth has learned in 87 years of building trucks has found its way onto or into the T700 – from the powerful new Paccar MX engine to its sleek, aerodynamic nose and the outstanding field of view it gives the driver; to its smooth ride, quiet cab and understatedly plush sleeper.

The Kenworth T700’s 485-hp Paccar MX engine gets a fully-loaded 53-foot trailer moving with minimal fuss.The Kenworth T700’s 485-hp Paccar MX engine gets a fully-loaded 53-foot trailer moving with minimal fuss.

The Kenworth PR folks had laid out several road courses in the area, each of which would give drivers a taste of their trucks’ highway hauling, back-road handling and small-town maneuverability characteristics. In each distinct environment, the T700 behaved exactly as advertised.

On the open road, the tractor’s 485-hp MX engine got the fully-loaded 53-foot trailer moving with minimal fuss. It was helped along by the outstanding Eaton-Fuller UltraShift Plus 10-speed automated transmission. I’ve driven UltraShift-equipped trucks before and knew what to expect: Its precisely timed computer-controlled shifts worked in perfect conjunction with the MX engine, delivering smooth, consistent acceleration regardless of the terrain.

One pleasant surprise was how well the T700 handled on both the interstate and lonely two-lane back roads. On the highway, steering is crisp and precise for this tight tractor, which handles like a much smaller truck. The same holds true at slow speeds and in congested areas: I was able to rack the big rig through a narrow roundabout easily with minimal curb contact.

Inside, the T700’s cab is well-designed, and everything – from instrumentation, switches and controls to cabinet space and living amenities in the sleeper – has been laid out thoughtfully. It’s quiet in the cab, whether on the highway or at rest; Kenworth engineers have done a tremendous job dampening road and engine noises. Moreover, interior fit-and-finish is quite good, which means the driver is spared irritating rattles and vibration sounds while moving down the road.

Standing behind the driver and passenger seats, the T700’s 8-foot-tall cathedral ceiling rises high above, so even the tallest drivers could move about without bumping their head. Interior appointments are tasteful, including wood-grain accents throughout the sleeper, wall-to-wall carpeting and Xenon incandescent lighting for mellow yet clear illumination. To really go deluxe, Kenworth has options such as a drawer-style refrigerator and an adjustable flat-panel TV mount for securing and viewing up to a 16-inch flatscreen TV.

The T700 is a fine truck and fun to drive, but the thought process and the craftsmanship behind its design show that Kenworth has looked hard at the realities of life on the road and addressed them meaningfully with this truck. n

JACK ROBERTS is Executive Editor, Trucking of Commercial Carrier Journal. E-mail jroberts@ccjmagazine.com or call (205) 248-1358.