The sloped hood on International's WorkStar 7600 was first shown off at the World of Concrete show in 2010, but with vocational-truck business seriously down during the recession, it only went into production last fall. That's when I got my hands on it, at a “boot camp” for Navistar's dealer principals and sales people.

Curiously, the sloped hood is not obvious when viewed alone or even alongside a regular WorkStar. You can see it head-on, though. The chromed grille is squatter and the edge of the hood sits nearly 4 inches lower. Get behind the wheel and look through the windshield, and the difference is more striking. The hood all but disappears and you can see things on the ground much closer to the truck.

That was my experience as I drove it on a specially prepared site in the Utah desert, across the road from the Miller Motorsports Park west of Salt Lake City. Sloped hoods are valuable on highway trucks, too, but they're really handy as a truck trundles through rough terrain.

Better visibility in this conventional-cab model is one positive, and there are many in a WorkStar, no matter what hood it has: a tough steel cab, easy entry and ‘ exit, handsome instrument panel and dashboard design, nice big switches and knobs, plenty of leg and foot room, and large windows for good outward visibility.

The chassis is purpose-built for severe service, and powertrains are matched to the job. The cab comes from the medium-duty and relatively high-volume DuraStar line, so economies of scale enter into pricing.

A WorkStar costs a couple of thousand less than a comparable PayStar with its aluminum cab.

Self-shifting transmission

This WorkStar had a 475-horsepower MaxxForce 13 linked to an Eaton UltraShift Plus automated transmission, so it was both quick and easy to drive. We stayed on a course graded into a large field across from the Miller Motorsports Park. “We” included Michael Lamlech, Navistar's vocational sales manager, who was along as a guide and resource in case I had any questions. Actually, he asked more questions of me, like, “Which would you rather have in this truck — an Allison automatic or the Ultra-Shift?”

I told him that for a lot of off-roading I'd probably prefer the Allison, but the Eaton was fine, too, especially since it's now available with more programming that allows quicker upshifts.

This one seldom revved the engine beyond 1,700 rpm or 1,800 rpm, and with a light foot it was more like 1,500 rpm at gear-changing time. That's about how an intelligent driver would shift, because there's no good reason to overly rev the engine, which is what earlier UltraShifts and the old AutoShifts used to do. Eaton has made a lot of strides in this, which should serve everyone well.

What's on the inside

The Eagle interior package included leather-covered seats and burl wood trim on the dashboard, which was pretty nice. This truck also had power windows and locks, with buttons conveniently located toward the front of the armrest on the driver's door. The dash's style was “automotive” — inspired by what's found in automobiles and light trucks. But while so many auto makers these days are touting touch-screen controls that must be looked at to comprehend, Navistar s designers have stuck to equipment that's logical and simple to use with just a glance.

In this WorkStar, an array of gauges covered the panel around the speedometer and tachometer. A few more were on a wing panel to the right, where the air brake valves were. Further down was a simple radio and the HVAC controls, which were large, clear rotary knobs. At the base was the push-button selector for the UltraShift.

A lot of thought had gone into all this. The result was a pleasant and sensible place to work.

There was a big doghouse that protruded into the cab, but it wasn't so wide that it cramped my feet or lower legs. The housing can be disassembled to get at the rear of the engine, which sits back in the frame, though most was accessible when the hood was tilted.

However, there's a lot of stuff hanging on the engine, starting with splash guards that must be detached for anything beyond daily checks. Underhood clutter is the price that must be paid to get a compact nose like that found on the WorkStar.

The drive and the dropped radiator

Out on the course, I pushed the go pedal as much as I could along the bumpy course, causing Lamlech to hang on as we dipped into gullies scooped out of the earth for our driving fun and hit the bottoms with muffled crashes that pushed my seat bottom to its stops. Soon I eased up to give him a break and apologized for the rough ride. “Next time you'll have to pay for an air-ride passenger seat,” I told him.

But there's no extra charge for the sloped nose, so it is something that every buyer can painlessly consider. However, there's a tradeoff: The lowered hood is made possible by dropping the radiator down between the frame rails and mounting it on a “megabracket.” The low-slung radiator blocks a driveshaft from a front-engine power take-off, so that's not available. I wondered: Why not use a pass-through radiator?

“We feel that the pass-through radiators have a tendency to compromise longevity, especially in a vocational applications such as the WorkStar, and therefore we aren't exploring this design,” answered Steve Gilligan, Navistar's vice president for vocational and product marketing, in an e-mail.

That's too bad, because snow plowing is among the applications that could really use the extra visibility, and many plow mechanisms are run from front-engine PTOs. But a rear-engine or transmission PTO also could drive a pump with long lines to the plow hoist. I would sure look into that, because the sloped hood is such a boost to visibility.

Then again, the standard higher hood is something a driver gets accustomed to right away, and will compensate for by visually feeling his or her way around. The higher radiator would be better if a lot of off-road travel over uneven terrain requires high ground clearance.

Life's full of choices, and the new WorkStar with the sloped hood gives a vocational buyer a few more choices to think about.


Truck: 2010 International WorkStar 7600 SBA (setback axle) daycab, BBC 113 in., GVW 79,200 lbs., w/outside C-channel frame reinforcement

Engine: Navistar MaxxForce 13, 12.4 liters (758 cu. in.), 475 hp @ 2,100 rpm, 1,700 lb-ft @ 1,000 rpm

Transmission: Eaton Ultrashift Plus FO-17E308LL 10-speed automated

Front axle: 20,000-lb. Meritor MFS-20-133A w/Sheppard M-100/M-80 dual hydraulic power steering, on parabolic taperleafs

Lift axle: 13,200-lb. Watson & Chalin SL 1190 Tru-Track Aluminite self-steering

Drive axles: 46,000-lb. Meritor RT46-170HP, w/4.78 ratio and locking diffs, on Hendrickson HMX-460-54 walking beam

Wheelbase: 226 inches

Brakes: Meritor Q+ S-cam w/Haldex brake adjusters and long-stroke chambers, w/Bendix ABS and traction control

Tires and wheels: 385/65R22.5 Michelin XZY-3 front, 11R24.5 XDA-5 rear, on Accuride polished aluminum discs

Fuel tank: Single 100-gal. aluminum

Body: 18-foot Goodwin Hybrid, steel frame/aluminum panels