Only a couple of days after announcing its new T880 at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., in March, Kenworth had a couple of trucks for us press people to drive. Equipment Editor Jim Park and I were pleased to be among the scribes who got their hands on the just-minted vocational and regional-haul vehicles.
We found that the T880 is a smoother, more advanced and nicer-looking companion to the venerable and versatile T800. The 880 is a nicer ride in that it's roomier. Whether it drives more nicely will depend on a buyer's specifications and what he and his drivers think about the new model's automo-tively styled interior vs. the old-school look and feel of the long-running (since 1986) “T8.”
The T880 is to the T800 as the T680 highway tractor is to the T660 (and before it, the T600A and B). Kenworth product specialists say the T880 is in fact based on the T680, using the same cab and interior components, as well as basic frame design and other refinements, though of course heavier frame components and running gear are among items on the options list.
The T880 can be outfitted to fill a variety of roles, and the two demonstrators — a heavy dump truck and daycab tractor — were examples of that diverse intent.
Obvious differences from a T8 are the T880's wider cabin and a smoother-looking nose. The cabin is about 8 inches wider than the “narrow” cab long used in many of the T series and the traditionally styled W900 trucks and highway tractors.
The hood retains a steep slope but is 2.5 inches shorter than the 680's, and is made in five sections, including bolt-on fenders, so the sections can be replaced piecemeal in the event of damage.
Optional fender extensions will cover wide-base flotation tires used on high-capacity steer axles up to 22,000 pounds.
The headlamps are “complex reflector” beams whose halogen bulbs are inexpensive and easily replaceable. The lenses are smartly blended into the fenders instead of protruding like squinty frog's eyes, as with the T8's quad rectangular halogen sealed beams.
Those new headlamps are very effective at night, said Brian Lindgren, KW's research & development manager who rode shotgun in the dump truck.
Taking the dump for a drive
Park and I had to take his word for it because we did our driving on a bright, sunny and mild morning. The sunshine at times blotted out whatever was on the NavPlus screen in the truck's dashboard, which cost one demerit, I told Lindgren. I concentrated on the dumper, while Jim spent more time in the T880 tractor, which he writes about in the accompanying story.
The dumper toted a mound of aggregates that pushed gross weight to about 70,000 pounds. That's realistic for a four-axle configuration, including one liftable, steerable pusher, common in a number of axle-weight states.
Actually, the truck was built for use in the Pacific Northwest, where state bridge-formula laws are rather liberal. It had a pintle hitch, gladhands for air brakes and a seven-way electrical connector at the rear to pull a long-tongued pup trailer. This would add 35,000 pounds, for a gross combined weight rating of 105,000, Lindgren said.
That heavy GCW is one reason the truck's standard Paccar MX-13 had the top rating of 500 horsepower and 1,850 pounds-feet, which ably got this wagon rolling. The dumper also had an Eaton Fuller 18-speed transmission, where a straight-only truck might've had an 8LL with a low-low range box.
I never needed Low gear in the 18, which had wide ratio coverage with overdrive top ratios, running through stump-pulling 4.10 gearing in the tandem's diffs.
What I did need was patience and a bit of learning time with the transmission, both with the 18 in the dumper and the 13-speed in the tractor, because their gearshift levers seemed mounted in molasses. What's worse, they sometimes stuck in gear.
It happened less when I learned to switch their range boxes into Low before trying to pull them into neutral prior to a low-speed downshift. The tranny in the dumper still occasionally stuck in 8th-direct (the transmission's 17th ratio) at highway speeds, but I banged it out with the heel of my hand. The transmission's precisely machined and tightly meshing gears probably needed more miles to wear in.
Both truck and tractor were commendably easy to put through sharp turns, due to sharp wheelcut — a stated design goal. But slightly mushy steering was present on the tractor, with Sheppard power gear, and rather annoying on the dumper, which had Ross TAS gear. It had to be almost herded down the road.
Yes, the truck had large 385-series front tires that wander a bit, while a pusher axle tends to produce a disconcertingly buoyant sensation. And yes, a regular driver will get used to this and find, as I did after not many miles, that a steady hand on the helm (as sailors say) compensates.
Alan Fennimore, KW's vocational marketing manager, later said that subsequent pre-production T880s all got Sheppard gear, which seems the better choice.
Ride quality was good, though there was some jouncing on the sometimes-bowed concrete of Interstate 264 south and west of Loo'vull (as the locals say), and on I-64 in southern Indiana. I cruised at 65 mph or so, where engine revs were at about 1,500 rpm and the cab's interior remained quiet.
We had left Peterson Kenworth, where the 880s were staged, and were headed across the Ohio River to Floyd Knobs. There Keith Redden, owner of K. Redden Trucking, let us use his yard as a turnaround and place to pose the dumper for photos. He happily runs 23 T8s and was curious about this 880 dumper because he ordered one almost sight-unseen.
Three of his drivers drifted in and gathered to eyeball the new model. They seemed to like the 2.1-meter-wide cab (that's 82.7 inches for us old guys), which adds lateral spaciousness even if it's not absolutely needed in dumpers and concrete mixers. The cab will be robotically assembled from stamped aluminum panels when the 880 goes into production this summer. Fennimore said the cab from the T680 was originally designed and validated for vocational use, so should hold up well in the 880.
The 880's doors are hung on modern high-strength double hinges instead of the old-style but durable piano-style hinges like those on the T8. Triple sealing keeps out noise while a relief valve makes them easy to close when windows are up, though I found they still needed slamming.
The new dashboard is more graceful, with a single, slightly curved instrument panel in place of the T8's two flat panels. Rocker switches are still used, and gauges remain a simple, legible, white-on-black design.
It seems logical that the T880 will replace the T800, but there are no plans to do that, Lindgren said. The T8 will remain in the lineup as long as enough customers want it. Meanwhile, I'm making a note to call Keith Redden, the happy T800 owner, in a few months and ask him how he likes his first T880. I'm betting he'll be pleased.
To read Equipment Editor Jim Park's article on the Kenworth T880 Day-cab Tractor click here.