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Making the Grade

By on May 1, 2009
RoadKing Mag

Big! That was my first impression when Dave McKenna, Mack Trucks’ manager of powertrain sales and marketing, brought us into the yard at Orlando Mack Sales where the Titan was waiting. Dave was to be my tour guide and navigator for the test drive.

The Titan, built to do big jobs requiring big power, is a big truck. It was originally developed to run the Australian Outback, where triple trailers are all full size, and the roads are often rough and unimproved.

The Titan is tall, raised to provide ground clearance for off-road operations, with the cab raised to improve both underhood cooling and visibility.

The day cab was well appointed with a slate gray “Champion” interior, lots of chrome and bright finish accessories including Mack’s “Growler” air intakes, as attractive as and far more aerodynamic than traditional canister-type air cleaners.

Our load was a Volvo wheel loader destined for a construction site. It sat on a lowboy trailer with tridem rear axles. The Mack was powered by the new MP10 16-liter engine rated at 605 horsepower with a massive 2,060 lb-ft of torque. Power went through an Eaton Fuller RTLO 20918B 18-speed transmission.

The engine’s performance matched its specifications, as I found when we got out onto streets and highways. The 16-liter (984 cu-in) engine produces at least 1,600 lb-ft from just over 1,000 rpm all the way through 1,900. Its recommended operating range is from 1,200, where torque peaks, to 1,950 rpm. Torque is flat to 1,500 rpm and stays strong to 2,000 rpm.

Starting is a breeze with 900 lb-ft at the 800 rpm clutch engagement speed. Even though we grossed more than 78,000 lbs., the truck started easily in third gear on level ground.

Our tractor was built for heavy hauling. The chassis was made of 11.8-inch high strength steel rails 11.1-in thick. Its wheelbase of 255-in provides plenty of room for the sliders to fine-tune weight distribution and a deck to work on. Mack’s 46,000 lb rated SS462 Multileaf steel spring suspension held up the rear. My test drive had tall rubber in back, 11R24.5 Bridgestones, and fat rubber up front, 425/65R 22.5 Bridgestone steers.

The Mack Engine Brake develops 575 retarding horsepower, which, I discovered, really slows the rig down in a hurry. We had a few incidents on the test drive where the Titan’s brakes kept us out of trouble.

And now for the unexpected
After our walk-around, partly for description (thanks, Dave) and partly for inspection, it was time to get on the road. I had anticipated a fairly rough ride from the 46K spring suspension, but the cab air suspension with its lateral stabilizer, and the Bostrom Talladega 915 mid-back air suspended driver’s seat, worked together to smooth the ride considerably. I worried about Dave because his passenger seat was not suspended. He had no complaints. We’ve known each other long enough that I was able to separate his company public relations from reality. The cab suspension did its job, I’m sure.

We made our way carefully around some tight corners, so even though the 50-degree wheel cut helped me maneuver in town it was a relief to finally reach the ramp onto I-4.

Dave navigated, but no matter how good the navigator is, if the driver can’t follow directions, exits get missed. Sure enough, I missed ours and decided to take the next one. No problem until I came to a 100 degree right turn onto a two lane road. I took it only because the sign pointed to the Interstate.

I had to wait for traffic to go through the intersection. When I started the turn, I had to wait until the next car finally realized how much room I needed to get the rig around. Once he backed up, it was easy — sort of. Luckily, there was grass right up to the pavement because the trailer’s third axle went where a curb would have been.

A few more turns and we were back on the freeway. I was in the second lane getting ready to shift over for my exit a mile away. I wasn’t concerned about the 20-year-old Toyota pulling out from behind and passing me on the left, as he should have. The problem arose when he realized he was at his exit, so he floored it, whipped around in front of me, crossed the right lane and the dip separating the exit lane (missing the exit sign’s posts by inches) and regained control just before skidding onto the grass. It didn’t bother me (not much, anyway) but Dave kept muttering for the next five miles about people who didn’t know how to behave around trucks.

One last trial before getting home
We finally got to the last turn, a left that would take us back to Orlando Mack. When I got my green light, I swung as far over as I could, knowing how the long trailer would off-track. Evidently, the pickup waiting on my left to enter the intersection when I would complete my turn didn’t realize how much room I’d need, and he didn’t understand why his stop line was so far from the intersection. He kept creeping forward while I got farther into the turn. Dave couldn’t see him in his mirror and was surprised when I slammed on the brakes. The pickup’s bumper was less than a foot from my trailer.

I sat, waiting for maneuvering room, blocking him and the cars building up behind him. Finally, he got a clue and started backing. One by one, the cars in line backed up until I finally had room to finish the turn.

All-in-all, it was an interesting drive, putting the new Titan to more of a test than I could have imagined. Overall, the truck was impressive. The power was as awesome as the specifications would indicate. When I missed an occasional shift, the MP10 easily pulled from only 900 rpm. With the load we had on, the ride was smooth and comfortable, even over some badly worn stretches. Handling was precise, and the truck proved it could help me get out of whatever trouble I could get into by myself.

The Titan passed the test, but I’m not sure I did.

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