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On the Road

By on January 4, 2011
RoadKing Mag

Peterbilt got my attention at the 2010 Mid America Trucking Show when they unveiled their all-new Model 587. That’s right; it’s a 5-series. After years of learning the “code” of the 3-series of trucks, Peterbilt chose to make this the flagship of a whole new series. They could have called it the 397, but the truck is new, so it deserves its own series.

It’s designed to accept either the Cummins ISX15 or the new PACCAR MX engine. The platform for the 587 is also the first designed from the ground-up to house all three technologies that PACCAR uses to reduce diesel emissions by more than 99 percent from 1988.

The cooling system and radiator can handle the extra heat from exhaust gas recirculation (EGR). There is space for the diesel particulate filter, and both PACCAR companies (Kenworth and Peterbilt) use the new-for-2010 selective catalytic reduction (SCR) device.

The 587 is about more than emissions control. It keeps the well-accepted architecture of the 387 and 389, while adding new features like SmartNav touch-screen navigation, and improved Peterbilt UltraRide seats.

The new front end, with a smoother shape and molded aerodynamic bumper, contributes to aerodynamic efficiency that makes this one of the most fuel-efficient class 8 trucks available. The styling is a good blend of both traditional and modern, with a large bright radiator up front subtly blending into the cab. Modern aerodynamically shaped headlamp covers blend smoothly into the fenders. Beneath the covers sit halogen lamps that improve brightness 35 percent or, as an extra cost option, high intensity discharge lamps that more than double light output.

For purists who want vertical exhaust stacks, both single and dual stacks are available. They sit behind the cab’s aerodynamic fairing, so much of the impact of the old dual vertical pipes is lost. For weight savings if nothing else, I would opt for the horizontal exhaust under the cab.

Under the hood
I’ve driven Cummins-powered Petes before, so I was most interested in getting behind the new PACCAR MX engine, standard in the 587. We had a “classroom” session on this new engine, tearing it apart and reassembling it system by system, learning many of the features that make the engine unique, including “Fractured Cap” technology that provides each connecting rod and main bearing cap with its own unique mating surfaces that hold torque better, the gear train at the rear of the engine that is quieter and away from radiator heat, and the “floating” oil pan that eliminates much of the drumming that amplifies engine noise. Coupled with a tight, well-sealed cab, the engine contributes to what might be the quietest cab I’ve ever driven.

Other engine features that help the MX achieve excellent fuel economy are its compacted graphite iron block and cylinder heads that bring total weight for this 12.9 liter engine to only 2,640 pounds, and a fuel injection system that fires the injectors at more than 36,000 psi. That high pressure more completely atomizes the fuel to improve combustion across the full range of engine rpm. In fact, with governed speed of 2,200 rpm, the MX’s useful power band is more than 54 percent of maximum rpm, compared with just 33 percent for typical class 8 engines. That’s because most engines’ peak torque is at 1,200 rpm and rated power is at 1800. The MX’s torque peaks at 1,100, with the higher power ratings providing more than 1,500 lb-ft of torque at only 1,000 rpm.

The net effect is a quiet and a forgiving low rpm engine that pulls smoothly from as low as 1,000 rpm. Mated to an Eaton Fuller Ultra Shift Plus, the versatility of the power train is outstanding. Mated to the standard Fuller 10-speed, the forgiving nature of the engine really comes through.

Behind the wheel
I drove two 587s, one with the 13-speed UltraShift Plus behind a 485 hp/1,650 lb-ft MX; the other in a more typical fleet spec 430 hp with 1,550/1,750 lb-ft and a 10-speed. When driving at lower speeds, it’s torque that does the work. That’s why the lower horsepower engine felt as powerful as the higher-rated one. It gave up only 100 lb-ft in low range (getting to the Interstate) but gained 100 lb-ft for hill climbing once on the big road.

Engine power is only one-half of the driving equation. Stopping is the other half, and the 587 excels here, too. My test rides had optional air disc brakes. Coupled with extra wide drums on the drive axles, the 587 should meet the 245-foot stopping requirements due later this year. There was no side-to-side pull.

Both trucks shared the Peterbilt air ride drive axle suspension and the proprietary Front Air Leaf Suspension. I’m not sure how they measure, but Peterbilt laims a 20 percent improvement in ride quality over taper leaf front suspensions. What I am sure of is that the ride is pillow-soft going over a few rough spots in the road and going over railroad tracks, I did find this front end as soft as other front air ride suspensions, but with far less sway and wander that contributed to their uncertain feeling.

Before heading south on I-35 from the Denton, Texas, Peterbilt factory, there is an extremely tight left, then a tight right turn heading to the entrance ramp. On the return, there’s another tight right-hander. The 587 handled all with room to spare, thanks to the tight front wheel cut. The new steering geometry cuts the curb-to-curb turning circle by 12 percent. Out on the road, there was enough feedback to provide a good feel for the road, but without the harsh ride typical of earlier trucks.

The sleeper has all the usual amenities one expects from Peterbilt in a well-proven layout. The refrigerator is behind the driver’s seat, but raised off of the floor. A horizontal rollout model is available. The TV shelf on the passenger’s side has a cutout to take a 20-inch set, or even a 32-inch. There is a 30-inch walk-through between the seats.

Available, but not in the trucks I drove, the SmartNav system is billed as an in-dash telematics and infotainment system. Initial options on the 7-inch touch screen are Truck, Telematics, Navigation, Utilities, Phone, Audio and Configure. Truck provides six virtual gauges, including cumulative idle time and fuel and current fuel consumption rate in gallons per hour. My favorites are dial gauges for percents of horsepower and percent of torque. Navigation starts with a Garmin truck-specific system that includes weight and size restrictions as well as bridge and overpass heights. I would have liked to play with the system, but it wasn’t there, and the truck still moved down the road without it.

And that, after all, is where the revenue lies, moving freight down the road. As far as the essentials are concerned, the power train, suspension, brakes and interior, the Peterbilt 587 has all you’ll need to do the job well.

Peterbilt 587 Specs

Engine: PACCAR MX, Cummins ISX15
Transmission — Manual: Fuller 9, 10, 13, 15 or 18 speed
Transmission — Auto: Fuller 10, 13 or 18 speed
Front Brakes: Air Cam Drum 15” x 4” or 16.5 x 5” or Air Disc
Rear Brakes: Air Cam Drum 16.5” x 7” or 16.5” x 8.6” or Air Disc
Fuel Tanks: 120 gallon or 150 gallon
Fifth Wheel: Jost or Holland
Tires: Bridgestone or Michelin
Wheels: Steel or Aluminum, 22.5 or 24.5
Other Goodies: SmartNav touch-screen navigation available, black molded or stainless steel quarter fenders, tool box, mid-length mid-height or premium length premium height sleeper, SmartWay certified

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  1. Mo

    February 6, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    What gets me is you guys hype up this new paccar truck when you fail to report about how cheap and flimsy the interior panels are and how they degrade the “Peterbilt” badge. This 387 and T700 are more reminiscent to GM’s badge engineering with dashboard and sleeper configuration differences but still share one major flaw. Cheap plastic interiors that rattle and squeak.

    Stop hyping up this garbage and start truthfully criticizing because the consumer is getting shafted with shoddy materials put in crappy trucks. Consumers pay big money for old technology that has a pretty exterior. In other words, were not getting our money’s worth.

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