This intelligence allows the transmission to work with the engine to keep the rpms in the "sweet spot" during driving. The driver display and software keep track, with a couple of $$ symbols in the display showing that the truck is running in its efficient combination of throttle position and engine speed. Stray outside that and one $ symbol will disappear, get too far adrift and both disappear. If you spend enough time in the sweet spot, the software rewards this careful driving with a bonus of additional top speed. Stay away from it long enough like I did, and it will punish you by cutting your bonus.
Features unique to the I-Shift are the Eco-Roll and the integration with the engine brake that effectively gives a downhill cruise. Eco-Roll allows the engine to drop down to idle on slight downgrades, effectively giving back about 30 horsepower to the truck. Another cool feature is the idle governor driving mode, which allows for fully engaged clutch at idle speeds, especially useful in backing maneuvers and in crawling traffic.
Other features include a manual hold position and a driver-selectable economy or performance mode (when enabled). These are selectable on the neat, seat-mounted shifter. The unit is unobtrusive in its normal position, but it can be lowered to make getting out of the driver seat and back to the sleeper even easier.
The base transmission is a 12-speed range and splitter Volvo and the "O" in the number indicates this is a 0.78 to one overdrive box. With the axle ratio of 3.21 and 22.5-inch Bridgestone rubber, the truck is geared to run 1,270 rpm at 60 mph, smack in the middle of the tachometer's green band between 1,000 and 1,600 rpm. Incidentally, the red band starts at 2,200 rpm, where the engine can be run at the Volvo Engine Brake's peak performance of 600 retarding horsepower.
Another technology feature incorporated in to the VT – and all new Volvos with 2007 engines – is Volvo Link Sentry, a full communications package tied into the truck's databus that brings a wealth of truck management and uptime tools that I'll touch on in operational factors.
As far as the rest of the chassis is concerned, the VT is fairly conventional, with heavy-duty Meritor drive axles to live with the engine's massive torque, a tight-turning Volvo steer axle powered by a TRW steering gear. The tandem suspension is interesting, because this is the first time we have tested a truck with the Hendrickson PriMaax setup. It is a heavy-duty parallelogram air suspension that maintains drive pinion angle throughout the suspension travel. This minimizes driveline vibration and also provides good reaction to the engine torque without the rise and squat of a trailing arm suspension.
IN THE CAB
A neat feature of the Volvos is the way the steps are organized, tapering in toward the top so you can see them clearly going up or down. Also, there are excellent grab handles both sides of the door opening for that three-point safety climb up to the driving seat.
From the driving seat, high relative to the dash and the window line, the view out is spectacular. And because of the relatively low beltline, the view to the passenger side is still good even with the wide cab. The hood does intrude just a little more than the VN's, which is almost invisible from the driver seat. But the sight to the ground at 24 feet is still very good on the VT.
Mirrors are great, too. Easily adjustable from the driver's seat, they incorporate the turn signals reminders.
The look and feel of the interior also commands admiration. The trim is stylish and comfortable and very much like a high-end automobile. The dash is complete, yet integrated into a single panel clearly visible through the wheel. The center is dominated by the driver information panel with its selectable displays. Because so much information is available, it pays to spend time becoming familiar with the selection, and a day was not enough. Suffice to say that this display is one of the keys to driving the Volvo in the most economical fashion.
In fact, at one point in the more mountainous section of the test, I managed to exceed the out-of-sweet-spot driving and blew the bonus built in to the history. This meant that additional top speed that had been programmed into the unit was no longer available until I had re-earned it. In a real-world situation, other driver benefits could also be built in to the bonus recorded in-dash, promoting a very driver-aware economy program.
Column stalks control the display function, turn signals (obviously) and windshield wipers and the level of retardation for the Volvo engine brake (VEB). As with the display, these are all multi-function and require a level of interaction that will likely take a driver some time to learn. But once learned – for instance, setting the downhill cruise mode on the VEB – they pay off handsomely.
The shifter is a similar control. It sits on the edge of the seat, less for convenience since there needs to be little driver involvement, than for keeping it off the floor or dash where it would be in the way. Driver controls include a manual shift, achieved by nudging the lever to the left or right; a shift-hold button; and an economy or performance mode selector. Again, experience will dictate which a driver will select (and it can be overridden – or not – depending on fleet preference) in the pursuit of the best economy, I left in the E mode.
As we have noted before, the cab is wide so that armrests can be specified for both sides of the leather-faced seats. The floor is totally uncluttered, with a really low profile shifter. The only impediment to getting up from the driver seat and moving around the cab is the huge cup holder that extends out from the dash. It is not particularly attractive, but is infinitely preferable to the previous arrangement of a flip-out holder built in to the far right of the panel. Also included with the big-gulp holder is an under dash bin that would handily double as a trash receptacle.
Storage has always been the long suit of the VN cab, with generous cabinets overhead in the cab and big door pockets.
IN THE SLEEPER
Back in the sleeper, the storage seemed less generous than of old. To be sure, large bins over the unbelievably comfortable full double pillow-top mattress provided lots of room, but there was no hanging storage, which is always very useful. This may be a consequence of the extra-large bunk. Also, it's time the cabinets were reconfigured to get away from the conventional bulky TV and accommodate a flat screen. That would open up more cabinet space. To be fair, this VT was equipped with a microwave and a TV, which robbed it of some storage. But the custom refrigerator by Norcold made up for some with its narrow but deep profile.
The sleeper curtains were doubled, with one for the bunk area and another to sweep around the side glass and windshield, giving a couple of options for a single or team-driven truck.
The various control panels for the sleeper were in several locations that again deliver great functionality once they are mastered. I was confused by the Cummins Comfort Pro and Dometic control panels for the APU climate control, but then I spent only a day with the VT and there was a lot to see and discover. I don't doubt the climate control would be very effective with its dedicated air-conditioning outlets at the foot of the bunk. Also the Cummins Comfort Pro is one of the new generation of APUs that will conform to California's upcoming emissions legislation set for January.
Throughout, the sleeper and the cab, the trim level of the Premium spec is nicely highlighted by wood trim. I found the dark fabric of the rear wall a little at odds with the remainder of the tan hard trim and the blue of the cab. A little more coordination might add to the appeal of a very comfortable cab.