Test Drive: Volvo VT830

This heavy truck is a complex and integrated vehicle that has so many more features the deeper you delve into it.

October 2007, - Test Drives

by Steve Sturgess, Executive Editor

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The new model's distinguishing features were the availability of big power – up to 625 horsepower of Volvo 16-liter and a commanding hood and grille to appeal to the individual who wants status.

The big hood and grille were partly to cool the 600+ horsepower engines, of course, including the Volvo D16 engine with 2,250 pounds-feet of torque.

That was then. For 2007, the rating of the D16 is a little more conservative: It goes 600 horsepower and 2,050 pounds-feet, but still is one of the most powerful truck engines in the world.

In fact, the D16 is the standard power in the VT, available from 500 horsepower. Optional is the Cummins ISX from 425 horsepower, which gives a slight weight advantage on the front axle because the Volvo engine is a hefty chunk of iron. But it is robust, reliable and fuel efficient – as 16-liter Volvos around the world consistently prove.

Here it is teamed with the VT830, the mid-rise roof version of the model. It was introduced in 2006 to round out the VT range with a tractor that could pull a flatbed, grain trailer, stake & rack or tank with better air penetration than the tall VT880, yet offer no compromise in interior room. In this test we are coupled with an unbaffled tank and loaded to 74,000 pounds to give the 830 something to work against.

The tank was also there to demonstrate the intelligence of the I-Shift transmission, Volvo's automated 12-speed that incorporates a number of unique features that differentiates it from the Eaton Ultrashift and the Meritor FreedomLine (aka ZF AS Tronic).

The unbaffled tank allows the product – water in this test case – to slosh from end to end under acceleration. That presents some very peculiar timing problems for shifting – accelerating in the middle of a low-range shift, for instance. Working around this could be a task for an automated transmission, so we were anxious to see how it would perform.

The test was based out of Volvo Trucks North America headquarters in Greensboro, N.C., We drove from Greensboro to Roanoke on Routes 68-220 northwest across the mountains and then north on I-81 to White's truck Stop in Raphine, Va. (205 mile marker) and return.

The 325-mile trip was accomplished in just one day, but I took a small jaunt on Day Two to finish up the various measurements and put the sound level meter on this incredibly quiet truck.

We didn't take time to physically weigh the tractor but according to Volvo, the weight with 300 gallons of fuel was almost 21,000 pounds. But if it was heavy, it included the 18-inch ring gear heavy-duty Meritor RT-40-160 drive axle and the mating heavy PriMaax suspension. The weight slip in the truck was around 73,500.


According to the line-set ticket, this unit was specified as a show truck and looked every inch the part. The purple metallic paint was complemented by a slew of Panelite bright parts outlining the cab and sleeper, with lighted accents along the lower edges. A nice touch were the polished stainless steel winglets high up on the sleeper cap.

A quick walkaround showed a few changes to the VT, including a new light stack in the bumper that continues the angular line through the headlamps and it gives a strong styling tie to the cabover FH models sold elsewhere in the world.

Other differences included a change to the steps that allows quick access behind. The tea-kettle diesel particulate filter occupies this space on the passenger side, the air tanks and four batteries are on the driver side.

With its 274-inch wheelbase, there's frame real estate to accommodate twin 150-gallon fuel tanks and still leave space for a toolbox on one side and a Cummins Comfort Pro diesel auxiliary power unit on the other. No side skirts are available.

In fact, with the exception of those winglets, there's precious little added aero aid for the smooth cab profile. Even the exhaust stacks sit outboard at the corners of the cab where they add to the brightwork that distinguishes the VT models.

Also adding bling are big chrome mirrors on each side. New this year is a repeater turn signal in the mirror glass that is another signal of intent to four wheelers, and serves as a reminder to the driver if the turn signal is left on.

The cab is the familiar VN in its longest version at 77 inches for the sleeper. The 830 has the mid-rise roof, which allows for full standing height inside, with only a small rise externally to suit the profile of lower trailer configurations. It's worth noting that the VT is also available as the day cab VT800, ideal for heavy-haul applications with the D16.

The cab is highly tooled and manufactured from high-strength steel, giving it renowned Volvo crash survivability. The cab is able to withstand the Swedish series of crash tests – more stringent than ECE29, Europe's cab test criteria that most trucks these days are designed to withstand. In addition, the front end is designed to let the engine and transmission package slide down and backwards under the cab in a head-on accident.

In this truck, the engine and transmission package is an example of the best of vertical integration: an intelligent engine coupled to an equally intelligent transmission, both optimized for each other.

The D16 was the first of the new Volvo AB engines to appear, coming on the scene in Europe in 2003 with its back-to-front – or rather front-to-back – camshaft and accessory drive.

The engine featured a rear drive for the camshaft – not the first time it has ever been done, but something of a revolution, nevertheless. It is at the rear for a very specific reason: to pass the camshaft torsional vibrations as directly as possible into the flywheel to dampen them out. These torsional become increasingly problematic as injection pressures rise with each emissions step.

In the case of the new Volvo engines, the pressure is generated from the fuel cam for each cylinder that has to do more work building pressure to 35,000 psi. And this pressure and the associated rear drive location are now common across the three Volvo (and Mack) engines for 2007 – the 11-, 13- and 16-liter diesels.

All feature the latest high-flow exhaust gas recirculation and diesel particulate filter with uniquely Volvo features, like enhanced back-pressure warm-up through electronic variable turbocharger control. Another is the cute bypass that recirculates inlet around the turbo during DPF regeneration, raising exhaust temperature and minimizing fuel used.

Peak power from the 16-liter is steady at 600 between 1,500 and 1,800 rpm. Peak torque, though, is where it's at, and it's flat between 1,200 and 1,500 rpm, with a whopping 2,050 pounds-feet. But it's over 1,850 pounds-feet from 1,100 to 1,700 rpm, making it enormously flexible and it's still making 1,550 pounds-feet at 1,000 rpm, meaning it'll really lug down if necessary.

But with the I-Shift it doesn't need to. The transmission is watching what is happening and takes over engine control function.

Ed Saxman, Volvo's powertrain marketing manager explained it this way as I pulled away at the start of the test: "It's not the throttle telling the engine to speed up. It's the I-Shift saying'I want to go now.' "

You can see that in the built-in abuse protection. Saxman told me to rev the engine to 1,800 rpms, then drop the transmission into Drive. Nothing happens but a smooth take off of the truck. No drama, no gears spread all over the road.

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