Mack’s new Anthem tractor took me completely by surprise. I wasn’t expecting it to look the way it does. Mack has traditionally been pretty conservative with its styling, but the Anthem puts boots to that notion.
Not since Navistar tapped into the retro vein with its LoneStar back in 2008 has a truck maker put forward such a highly styled and striking truck. Mack says it’s hoping to regain a larger share of the highway market, lost because of its aging Pinnacle model. Comparatively speaking, the Pinnacle is vanilla pudding compared to the Anthem’s New York Italian-style cheesecake.
With many of today’s highway tractors taking on a similar and familiar shape, albeit with styling cues unique to each OEM, Mack’s Anthem stands out from the crowd. With its bright metal accents around the headlights and the grille, the large squared-off fenders and the iconic bulldog hood ornament, it goes unabashedly against the jelly-bean grain. I’m sure when Mack’s designers conducted their driver interviews they must have heard time and time again that customers wanted a truck that looks like a truck. Mack has delivered big-time on that wish.
“We are definitely an American brand. We were born here, we were raised here, and we literally helped build this country,” said John Walsh, vice president of marketing and global brand for Mack Trucks. “We wanted to make sure that the truck we rolled out is unmistakably Mack, unmistakably American. The name Anthem speaks to that American spirit, and I think we have captured that very well.”
Drivers will take to this truck because of its looks, but once they are in the door, so to speak, they’ll find that the interior has been totally revamped as well, with a new dash layout, new trim options, a few new control interfaces and equally bold styling. The sleepers are all new, too, and Mack for the first time offers a stand-up area within the dimensions of the cab. Drivers no longer need to duck when sliding out of the driver’s seat and heading for the bunk.
Despite its decidedly non-aerodynamic appearance, Mack says the Anthem is actually 3% more aerodynamically efficient than the Pinnacle model it replaces. Mack says the improved aerodynamics coupled with new downsped powertrain packages and turbo compounding provide up to 11.8% better fuel efficiency compared to baseline Mack models with previous-generation GHG ’14 engines.
The Anthem features the latest 2017 engine innovations, including the wave piston, common-rail fuel injection, and turbo compounding on some models. Engine ratings go from 325-425 hp and 1,260-1,560 lb-ft on the MP7, while the MP8 ratings go from 415-505 hp with 1,460-1,860 lb-ft. Ratings for the MP8-TC are 385-445 hp and 1,460-1,860 lb-ft. All engines are available with Mack’s Maxidyne, Maxicruise, Econodyne and SuperEconodyne power profiles.
The updated mDrive automated transmissions offered with the Anthem include the optional 13- and 14-speed variations – which add one or two low-ratio creeper gears for heavier hauling – as well as the “reinforced and ruggedized” HD version, which is designed to handle the more frequent shifts that come with heavy loads.
The Anthem comes three years into Mack’s extensive rebranding crusade. While the Granite model remains the top-selling conventional straight truck in the U.S., Mack says, it admits its long-haul market share has been hurting. Roy Horton, director of product strategy, says the focus over the past three years has been to deliver products that bring value to customers’ top concerns, including fuel economy, driver recruitment and retention, uptime, and total cost of ownership.
Anthem addresses those design imperatives with flashy styling that will certainly appeal to a good chunk of the driver population, along with an efficient powertrain, significant gains in aerodynamic efficiency, and new connectivity packages intended to improve fleet uptime and lower operating costs. Mack stayed with a tried-and-true chassis and driveline for the Anthem, and the basic cab structure and doors haven’t changed. What has changed is blindingly obvious, and it will certainly help put Mack back on the long-haul radar screen.
New inside and out
The five-year design project that became the Anthem began with the premise that the truck had to look like a Mack and it had to be aerodynamic. You can see hints of the CH model in the frontal shape, some RD and maybe a little SuperLiner, too, says Mack’s highway product manager, Stu Russoli.
“There are lots of vertical and horizontal lines,” he says. “It’s very structural, very strong looking. Very Mack.”
We’ll have to take Mack’s word on the aero efficiency improvement number, but 3% is pretty significant these days. If you look closely, you can see where some of those gains might come from. The big square fenders are swept back at the front. The headlights nestle into a roughly 45-degree cut, and they are swept back quite far, allowing for a smoother transition between the front and the sides of the truck. The hood contour is more steeply sloped than the Pinnacle’s, and the top rear edge has a flair on it to help sweep the air up the windshield and around onto the doors. The bumper includes covered tow-hook ports, a lower air dam, and a close-out flange between it and the hood for better air flow. An optional sun visor is aerodynamically neutral, and the tall roof on the 70-inch sleeper model is smooth and includes a tab at the back to help guide the airflow over the front edge of the trailer.
It’s all pretty subtle, aerodynamically speaking, but Mack says it works. There’s little else you can call subtle about the Anthem.
The hood and bumper are each three-piece designs for ease of repair, and the hood and side mirrors are both breakaway-style. The placement of the optional hood mirrors seems a bit odd when you’re standing outside looking at them, but they are in just the right place when viewed from the driver’s seat. Mack says they are designed like that to help with the airflow around the main mirrors.
Mack has fitted some nice textured grab handles on the transition panel between the cab and the sleeper. They are solid as a rock, and just where I like them. You can grab hold of the bar before you even lift a foot off the ground.
The Anthem comes with two styling choices: lots of chrome and bright trim around the grille, fenders and headlights, or none at all. I like the black trim, as, to my eye anyway, it makes the truck look sleeker. There’s even a trim option available called “Black Dog” that features a black paint scheme, black wheels, half-fenders for the drive wheels and black “MACK” across the front of the grille. That particular truck seemed to be the most popular with the folks who stopped to look at the trucks while we were journeying between Allentown, Pennsylvania, and the North American Commercial Vehicle Show in Atlanta on a two-day, 800-mile test drive.
The interior has been vastly modernized, and like the outside, very boldly styled. Among the changes from the old Pinnacle dash is a repositioned mDrive selector. It’s now much closer to the driver and lower on the dash. There are DIN-ports in the dash for various bits of equipment like the 7-inch infotainment touchscreen display, an ELD, or storage slots. Atop the dash is a clever smartphone holder that keeps the phone in place on a horizontal axis, with a neat little cable trough and a nearby USB power port so you won’t have wires dangling all over the dash. There are about half a dozen USB ports around the truck, so finding a power outlet should be much less of a problem than with earlier models.
The A-panel is all-new too. While quite striking, it’s functional and very easy to look at. It features large tach and speedo displays with crisp white lettering and LED back light for a sharp white appearance. The six standard gauges, oil and water temp, fuel and DEF levels and primary and secondary air pressure gauges, have a distinctly automotive look to them. Between the tach and the speedo is nestled the 5-inch Mack Co-Pilot display. It’s home to dozens of driver-programmable screens with everything the driver needs to know about the truck, the trip and maybe even the price of tomatoes.
There are two sleeper options for the Anthem: 42-inch flat-top and a 70-inch stand-up model with optional upper bunk for team operations. The interior height directly behind the driver’s seat is just shy of 7 feet. The stand-up model is one of the nicest sleepers Mack has ever offered, with tons of storage, up to 27 cubic feet in the premium model. There are cupboards, cubby holes, cabinets and shelves everywhere you look, from right above the driver’s head and all the way across the back wall of the sleeper. And there’s still room for a fridge, a desk, a flat-screen TV mount, a 52-quart capacity fridge with a slide-out drawer, and a microwave oven cabinet.
The sleeper interior is a roomy and airy space that’s not the slightest bit claustrophobic. A pair of side windows helps with that, along with some tasteful accent lighting and reading lamps.
In what’s becoming a bit of a rarity these days, a group of trucking journalists had two full days in the truck. We covered 800-some miles from Allentown to the Nextran Mack dealership in Duluth, Georgia. There were 10 trucks in the convoy and only seven reporters, so we did a fair bit of slip-seating to get a taste of all Mack had to offer.
I spent the majority of the time in a pair of day cabs, first the premium-spec 6x2 model with an MP7-425e 425 hp, 1,560/1360 lb-ft engine pulling a tank loaded to very close or even a little over 79,000 pounds. The other was the “economy” model, with the lower-end interior, likely destined for work in a city P&D or local operation. It had the same engine, but taller gears and a much lighter load.
The 425-hp MP7 did a yeoman’s job on the steep and longer grades on the Virginia I-81 section of the route. The mDrive had the Economy/Performance option, and it did a better job on the hills in P mode than in E, but not that much better.
When you can spend 500 miles in a day cab a still feel like you want more, the truck maker did something right. It’s spectacularly quiet inside, for one thing, and the new premium seating Mack is using is butt-huggingly comfortable. The standard-level seating in the other day cab was very nice as well. Certainly a huge step up from what drivers used to find in their city trucks.
I found the new dash layout functional and easy to navigate, with all the stuff I needed within easy reach. It was nearly dark by the time we pulled into Greensboro at the end of the first leg of the trip, so I got to see the dash in night-lighting trim, and I got to see how good the new LED headlights are. Winners, both.
There’s a new hood latch to mention; it’s under the grille at the center of the hood. It’s a bit tricky to find at first, but one yank and the hood all but pops up by itself. It’s on a counter spring to help with the lifting. Because there are cables and latches involved, one hopes they will last the life of the truck. Under the hood, the driver checkpoints are all pretty easy to get at, and the splash guards don’t get in the way at all.
Since many of the changes to the Anthem are cosmetic, it’s hard to say that they impacted the ride and handling of the truck, which was up to Mack’s previous high standards.
I think Mack has produced a truck that will have broad driver and fleet appeal. The styling is certainly a departure for Mack. Judging by the crowds that gathered each time the convoy pulled into a truck stop or rest area, I’d say Mack has tapped nicely into the American drivers’ sense of style. I think it’s fair to say that Mack will soon see its long-haul market share start to grow.