The International LoneStar is one of those trucks that incites passion both for and against it. The drivers and fleet executives I’ve talked to over the years either love the truck or loathe it. There’s seemingly no middle ground when it comes to the retro design – and no looking away when one's comes down the highway, either.
Through one of those weird little quirks that befall all of us from time to time, I’d never had the opportunity to drive a LoneStar all these years. So when International offered me a chance to take its latest iteration for a spin following the North American Commercial Vehicle Show, I jumped at the chance – even though it meant another drive back to Atlanta.
For the record, count me as one of LoneStar’s fans. If you follow me on Twitter – and you should, @By_JackRoberts – you know that I’m always posting pictures of classic cars and trucks. So I find the LoneStar’s overt, throwback styling highly appealing.
The LoneStar’s exterior lines borrow heavily from the Art Deco styling that was prevalent in the 1930s and into the ‘40s. Those lines remain some of the most evocative in the entire history of the automotive age. But the fact that those lines were inspired by early attempts at streamlining both cars and trucks is often overlooked. International engineers were able to build on those early design efforts and leverage modern computer design to produce a truck that is both striking to look at and capable of holding its own in today's race toward 10 mpg. It’s one reason some fleets are perfectly happy to offer LoneStars as prestige trucks for valued drivers: Good looks and good fuel economy in one complete package.
Still, with almost a decade under its belt, International knew it was time to freshen things up a bit for the LoneStar. And with its defining exterior look nailed down, it’s not surprising that the bulk of these new upgrades are focused inside the cab or under the hood.
A Touch of Technology
The bulk of LoneStar’s upgrades are focused in the all-new, “driver-centric” cab. The first thing I noticed climbing into the truck was the solid feel the steps, ladder, and doors all have. The overall arrangement of steps and grab-handles is logical, and the door slams shut with a nice, hearty thump.
A quick scan around the cab reveals a thoroughly modern interior with a well-lit sleeper behind. Everything is tamped down nice and tight, and the door seals do an excellent job of minimizing outside noise. I’m a fan of the new dashboard and instrument panel. The layout allows for a quick scan of all gauges, and the graphic display is easy to read even in bright, mid-day sunlight. All switches and knobs are within easy reach and clearly marked for quick identification. The dash has a sort of terraced design, which provides lots of handy ledges and storage pads for phones, tablets, billfolds and all the other stuff we carry around with us.
October in Georgia can be hot. And the interior of the truck was pretty warm when I climbed up inside. But the newly upgraded HVAC system was more than up to the challenge. Even in 90-degree heat, the AC was so effective I had to cut the fan speed down and divert the air vents after only a couple of minutes.
Getting down to business, the views over LoneStar’s dramatically narrowed hood are outstanding. The powered rear-view mirrors adjust quickly. And mirrors themselves are solidly mounted to the cab, which means there’s almost no vibration evident as you’re cruising down the highway.
A couple quick adjustments to the highly comfortable driver’s seat and steering wheel, and I was set to go. My test truck was equipped with an Eaton Fuller 18-speed manual transmission and a 605-hp Cummins X15 engine rumbling away up front. That’s a lot of old-school power on hand, and the LoneStar doesn’t disappoint if you decide to put the hammer down. The truck has plenty of low-end grunt and accelerates nicely once you flip into High Range on the manual gearbox.
Truck cabs are getting quieter these days. And International clearly wants in on that trend. Its engineers focused on reducing cab noise levels with this refresh effort. And overall, the effort seems to have paid off: There’s almost no road or wind noise evident inside the cab at cruising speeds. The predominant sound is the big Cummins diesel lugging away in front of you. But even the sound levels on a big-bore like the Cummins X15 have been tamped down to levels where conversation in a normal tone of voice is possible.
Laterally and longitudinally speaking, the LoneStar is one stable tractor at highway speeds. This is a truck that doesn’t float around on you or feel top-heavy during lane changes or on freeway ramps. It’s also an extremely comfortable truck to drive thanks to the interior layout – notably the perfectly sculpted elbow ledge on the driver-side door.
If you’re a LoneStar fan, there’s a lot to like with this recent slate of upgrades. The truck is comfortable, quiet with an interior totally centered on driver comfort and productivity. It’s a modern truck in every sense of the word with a style and stance that sets it apart from the crowd. The LoneStar isn’t a truck for everyone. But, then again, it was never meant to be a truck for everyone.