FUNCTION BEGETS FORM
Under-hood air baffles contribute greatly to improved air flow, and mitigate the aero loses associated with the larger hood opening.
"Cascadia's appearance is counter-intuitive," admits Markstaller. "It may look chunky and less-than-aerodynamic to the eye, but wind tunnel testing tells us otherwise. It's all about how we channel the air through the rad and under the hood. It's much better aerodynamically than the visual cues might suggest."
The big gain is silence. It's a real plus not having the fan roaring away under the hood – even with the A/C on. When the fan did come on, it was barely perceptible. In fact, there was less than a two dB difference in cab noise levels with and without the fan. Freightliner also gets away with a much less aggressive fan. So, with reduced fan-on time and a fan that draws less horsepower, there are fuel savings to be had here too. Big fans can draw as much as 40 horsepower in some instances.
Clearly, excessive fan-on time isn't something the industry will have to get used to. Freightliner has solved that problem rather deftly. It remains to be seen whether the others will follow its example.
Cascadia's mirrors and glass surfaces got a lot of design attention as well. First, the mirrors are smaller than some, but the visibility is exceptional. They're door-mounted and positioned lower than many mirrors, and they're set back slightly from the A pillar. This, Freightliner say, lessens aerodynamic drag, while improving airflow around the windshield and side windows. The result, they promise, is windows and mirror glass that won't accumulate dirt.
Engineers tested this using a spray of water in the wind tunnel containing fluorescent dye, recorded under UV lighting so the path of the water rivulets could be traced and recorded. Modifications we made to the design, optimizing water flow to minimize the adherence of dirty water to the glass. That improvement won't go unnoticed by drivers.
And so goes the list. Some big dramatic changes in appearance, lots of smaller tweaks asked for by customers, and a whole lot of engineering and design expertise brought to bear on the challenge. The truck is pretty well 2010-ready too, so the next hurdle won't hurt so much.
STEERING AND GEARING
Twenty miles of stop-and-go traffic is enough to annoy anyone, but that's Portland, Ore., for you at 4 p.m. Surprisingly, I was still smiling when I hauled it into the Flying J at Troutdale for an axle-weight and a coffee on the first leg of the trip. The sweet throttle response of the Cat and the tight gear steps of the Eaton Fuller 18-speed made all that shifting fun. The gear stick comes straight up through the floor, and tips left toward the driver, making it a nice, tight, easy-to-use shifter.
The hydraulic clutch linkage took a bit of getting used to. It doesn't have quite the same engagement feel as a direct-linked clutch pedal, so it feels a little dead at engagement. Drivers will get used to it quickly, and come to like it. The engineers tell me the hydraulic linkage keeps a lot of unpleasant noise and vibration out of the cab.
Armed with my scale ticket and a really nasty cup of coffee, I hit I-84 west, headed for Biggs where I'd turn south on U.S. 97, headed for Bend. As Interstate highways go, that stretch of I-84 has to be among the nicest in the land, with loads of twists and turns and modest grades. The Cat made short work of the hills, and the TRW steering gear, mated with the one-and-a-half-leaf front suspension, took the curves like a cat with sticky feet.
Rack and pinion steering is an option on Cascadia, but this truck wasn't so equipped. I drove a different one the following day with the rack-and-pinion setup, and brother, let me tell you, no matter what it costs, it's worth it. Cascadia was a dream to steer with the TRW setup, and something close to ecstatic with the rack-and-pinion gear. If you like to drive – really get in there and work the truck – Cascadia with rack-and-pinion steering will make you very, very happy.
Even in the last moments of the drive the following day, a little tired and facing Portland's stupid traffic, I was looking forward to the urban portion of the test so I could shift more gears and turn more corners. I like to drive, and I found this truck very satisfying.
After a pleasant dinner at Cousins Restaurant in The Dalles – a great place to eat if you're ever up that way (trucks can park on the shoulder in front of the place) – I hit the big hill at the top of U.S. 97. It's a long climb but the Cat wasn't even sweating. Upshifting in a climb can be risky, but not with the C15. Notably, during the climb, the fan never came on. In fact, I hardly ever heard the fan come on.
It was dark by the time I'd hit the top of the hill at Biggs, so without the usual distractions of the splendid Oregon scenery, I was free to focus on how the truck felt and sounded. While the noise damping job they'd done on Cascadia was admirable, they left enough room for a bit of engine noise to infiltrate the cab, and frankly, that's just fine. Various stretches of 97 get pretty hilly, so managing the gears was a priority. A little engine noise is helpful in this regard.
A note or two about the headlights is in order here. The low beams were a little weak at the knees, but the high beams were spectacular. I don't ever recall that kind of nighttime visibility before. Al Pearson, director of vehicle testing, told me it might have been an adjustment issue, because I found the low beams just a little too tight to the front of the truck for my taste. I suppose I could have adjusted them – I'm told tools are not required for that task – but there was nowhere to pull over on 97.
Visibility in the Cascadia is remarkable. Big windows, fine mirrors, low hood crown. What's not to like?
I spent the night in the truck in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Bend. I like to sleep in a new truck to see where I bump my head in the dark, or how hard it is to turn off the reading lights at nap time. The Cascadia sleeper gets full marks for convenience and comfort, though the sliding windows in the sleeper still need a little work. The latches are awkward, and require two hands to get them open.
The fridge sits about 16 inches off the floor, making it easy to reach into without bending over. The bunk lighting sets a nice mood, and it's fine for reading. The occupant of the upper bunk has just as much room as the lower, though the mattress is some 10 inches narrower. The climb up there isn't difficult, but the first step is a little tall. Lighting up there is good too, and so is the air circulation in the whole bunk area.
Getting in and out of the driver's seat is a cinch, though I'd omit the cup holder mounted on the floor aft of the gear shifter. I tripped over that a couple of times. The position of the gear shifter didn't obstruct egress from the seat at all. And with 21 inches between the armrests, and 38.5 inches between the cabinets in the bunk, there's no shortage of room inside the cab and sleeper.
Cascadia is a truck that drivers will take to. It's big and roomy, it's quiet, and it rides and handles like a charm.