Jack Roberts

One tough medium-duty truck

Jack Untitled 12Navistar’s TerraStar handles like its light-duty brethren

When Sterling and General Motors both announced they were leaving the North American medium-duty truck market, Navistar wasted no time producing a new truck to help fill the hole left by their departures. The TerraStar, Navistar’s new Class 4 and 5 model, was brought to life in a stunningly short period of time. Navistar engineers borrowed heavily from existing truck components to craft the overall vehicle while concentrating their efforts on specific features – such as the truck’s all-new dropdown frame – to ensure that it would perform well in tough vocational applications. The streamlined production process worked. TerraStar was unveiled earlier this year at The Work Truck Show in St. Louis, with production models slated to begin appearing on dealer lots before Christmas.

The Navistar folks clearly are proud of the TerraStar, and they ought to be. It’s a fine-looking truck – deceptively small when you get up close to one. But it takes its design cues from Navistar’s larger trucks – most notably the DuraStar – and that gives TerraStar a decidedly tough, brawny appearance when viewed from a distance. That big-body stance is more than just a visual cue: Navistar says the TerraStar features the largest production cab in its vehicle segment. And the spacious interior is obvious as soon as you slide into the driver’s seat.

Navistar’s TerraStar takes its design cues from the company’s larger trucks – most notably the DuraStar – giving it a decidedly tough, brawny appearance.Navistar’s TerraStar takes its design cues from the company’s larger trucks – most notably the DuraStar – giving it a decidedly tough, brawny appearance.

Getting in and out of the truck is a breeze, thanks to the intelligently placed steps and grab handles outside the cab. Once you’re behind the wheel, your first impression is that you’re sitting in a large pickup truck. Although TerraStar will compete with Ford F-Series and GM heavy-duty pickup trucks, Navistar will not be offering luxury trim interiors as do the high-end versions of those trucks. “We understand there is a large customer base out there that wants leather seats and wood-grain dashboards,” says Tom Schmitt, Navistar sales training project manager. “But TerraStar is not that kind of truck. This is a commercial-grade work truck. It’s very comfortable, but it’s designed for the type of buyer who doesn’t see the tough rubber floor mats, instead of carpet, as a negative, but as a positive feature that’s going to make the interior clean and productive for his work crews.”

That said, the cab interior is a nice blend of commercial-grade toughness combined with production-pickup style and comfort. The instrument layout evokes that of a pickup truck – from the crisp easy-to-read dials and gauges to the shift lever and steering-wheel controls for cruise and the air horn.

The TerraStar isn’t light on power, either. My test truck was equipped with the new MaxxForce 7 diesel engine. It’s a quiet engine, but its 300-horsepower output really gives the TerraStar some serious pep. Granted, my test truck wasn’t loaded, but I found the TerraStar’s acceleration on a straightaway to be impressive. As with any 2010 Navistar product, the MaxxForce engine features the company’s exhaust gas recirculation-only answer to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 diesel emissions regulations.

I was equally pleased to discover the truck’s nimbleness. I was able to maneuver the TerraStar easily through an orange-cone road course with only one hand on the steering wheel. The five-speed Allison 1000 automatic transmission also was a nice touch; there’s no need to worry about clutching or shifting as you’re handling tight corners.

Navistar believes the TerraStar will be a natural fit for fleets running construction, landscaping, pickup-and-delivery or a wide array of medium-duty applications. A four-wheel-drive option will appear next year, and the frame is designed to accommodate a wide range of body choices. n

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