Premium is as premium does, and at least for the driver, Freightliner's Coronado does things very well.
Reshaping of some exterior trim and a 2010-legal engine are among features of the latest Coronado tractor (left), which debuted as a 2001 model but has re-emerged as Freightliner's premium road tractor. (Photo by Tom Berg)
Reshaping of some exterior trim and a 2010-legal engine are among features of the latest Coronado tractor (left), which debuted as a 2001 model but has re-emerged as Freightliner's premium road tractor. (Photo by Tom Berg)
In both vocational and highway forms, a revised heavy truck and tractor series presents itself dramatically and attractively, and it welcomes you aboard and treats you nicely while you're there.

That can be said for a lot of upscale rigs, but the handsomeness and rarity of a Coronado makes it special.

The Coronado first appeared as a premium road tractor in 2000, yet you seldom see one. That's due to stiff pricing, economic recessions and management emphasis on other models, including the less costly but still distinctive FLD Classic. For a time the Coronado seemed to disappear. But here it is again, with a fresh interior and slight exterior revisions. And with the Classic gone, Freightliner and its dealers can sell it more seriously. In the order of things, it's superior to all other Freightliner highway models: the Cascadia, the Century S/T and Columbia.

Severe duty

The Coronado SD (for severe duty) is brand new. It replaces the venerable FLD-SD, which went out of production in December. Coronado SD is available as a truck or tractor, with extra-tough main frame, axles, suspensions, and other chassis options to gird it against the rigors of on/off-road running while toting concentrated loads. The Century-based cab is the same as the on-road version, because it's considered strong enough as it is.

Coronado SD becomes Freightliner's top-of-the-line work-truck offering above medium- and short-nose versions of the Business Class M2-V (for vocational). Expanding the M2 line with a long-nose, big-engine version to take over for the FLD-SD wouldn't do, because customers wouldn't see it as a premium truck. (But in Daimler Trucks' two-brand strategy, Western Star's 4900 series, for vocational or highway, is a cut above even the Coronado.)

The trucks

The 2010 Coronado's styling remains a blend of traditional and modern, with a bold, upright nose, long hood, visually separate fenders, dual air intakes and exhaust stacks, saddle-mounted boxes and tanks, and many pieces of mirror-like chrome and bright metal. Designers reshaped the chromed air-intake covers and headlamp bezels so they look more squarish. So do the lower trailing edges of the fenders, because the motorcycle-style rearward sweep that merged with the lower steps - a subtle, graceful detail of the original 2001 Coronado - were chopped off (too bad, in this writer's opinion).

Climb up and into a Coronado's big cab and you'll see an appropriately deluxe interior trimmed in plastic and fabric and dominated by a large two-panel dashboard. Chrome-ringed gauges now have white faces instead of black. Flanking the speedometer and tachometer in each test truck were a dozen engine-, axle- and transmission-condition gauges; they looked purposeful and told a lot of tales which the run-of-the-mill driver doesn't need but the real trucker wants.

Those gauges were somewhat redundant, because an LCD information display above the speedo and tach can provide much of the same information if the driver punches it up. An abnormal condition triggers an automatic warning on the screen. As with any modern motor vehicle, a bunch of icons light up for testing when the ignition key is turned on, and you hope you never see them while running down the road.

Rocker switches were about where they should be, and that includes those for headlights, engine brake and cruise control - all on the dash to the right of the leather and simulated wood steering wheel. Some guys and gals might like the more automotive-style placement of control buttons on the wheel's spokes, but to me they're of no convenience because I've got to drop my eyes from the road to use 'em. Freightliner designers stayed with easy-to-use rotary switches to control the HVAC system.

The highway tractor

My driving of two Coronados was done in and near Charlotte, N.C., not far from the builder's marketing headquarters in Fort Mill, S.C. First up was the tractor, a long-and-tall machine with an integrated 70-inch raised-roof sleeper and a host of appearance and comfort and convenience items. The sleeper had large storage cabinets and a built-in refrigerator, plus an optional "driver's lounge" with a breakfast nook-size table and bench seats that convert to form a 40-inch-wide lower bunk. There was also a swing-down upper buck.

My helpful hosts at the Charlotte Truck Center had backed the tractor onto a 40-foot Mac Maxi-miser end-dump trailer, whose floating kingpin mount required them to first block the tractor's oscillating fifth wheel, otherwise a floppy experience would've ensued. The trailer was empty, but was heavy enough by itself to load the tractor's rear end for an appraisal of ride quality that was halfway realistic, because trailers that haul sand, gravel, rock and dirt and the tractors that pull them spend half their running lives empty.

The air-ride seat was very comfortable, but its controls were not intuitive; I had to open the door and look down at the switches to see which did what - something true of any modern seat with many adjustment features. Freightliner's 40,000-pound Airliner rear suspension and 12,000-pound front taperleaf springs provided a smooth ride. Through the huge windshield I noted that the long hood slopes downward slightly to aid forward vision, and large side windows and large mirrors with flat and convex glass gave a good view of traffic alongside and to the rear.

The hood housed a Detroit DD15 whose 505 horsepower and 1,650 pounds-feet worked through an Eaton Fuller 13-speed transmission to move the rig smartly from a standstill and at any highway speed. With care I could float-shift without the clutch fairly easily, but I usually used the clutch so as not to damage anything. I seldom needed to split the high-range gears but did so a lot just for the fun of it.

The DD15 has two turbochargers, which help quiet the exhaust. Because Detroit Diesel uses selective catalytic reduction for 2010, exhaust was further muted by a fluid-dosing chamber plus a particulate filter. So the DD15 lacked the pleasant growl that is characteristic of the no-longer-available Series 60.

In spite of the steer axle's forward placement, the tractor turned reasonably sharp, and I never had any problems dragging the trailer around city street corners on Charlotte's northeast side. Steering feel was precise, noise was very low and overall comfort was very nice, and I'd have been happy to take this rig to Alaska. But my hosts asked me to keep the miles low and I did, returning the rig to the dealer in not much more than an hour.

Driving the SD

Then I piled into the heavy-looking Coronado SD dumper. The truck was set up with a pair of Hendrickson self-steering lift axles ahead of the tandem and had a moderate load of sand in its Rogers body. I fired up the engine - another 505-horse DD15 - popped the toggles on the between-seats control box to lower the pusher axles, released the parking brakes and punched the tranny into D for Drive. Yes, the truck had an Allison, almost a disappointment because I was in a shifty mood, but I decided to relax and enjoy the ride.

The truck's 20,000-pound steer axle made turns more of a chore, as wheel cut was limited by wide rims and 425-series tires. But with the Allison it was easy to punch Reverse, spin the wheel in the correct direction while watching the mirrors (and trying to ignore the annoying beep-beep-beep of the OSHA-required alarm), then punch Drive and spin the wheel in the opposite direction to resume forward movement. I did that a few times while maneuvering on the dealer's lot, mostly to position the truck for photographs, and then in a filling station as I found and approached the diesel pump.

I had noticed the fuel gauge's needle was close to empty while its DEF needle read three-quarters full. So I adde