Volvo’s new VNX heavy-haul tractor blends the company's cutting edge tech with tough equipment. Photo: Jack Roberts

Volvo’s new VNX heavy-haul tractor blends the company's cutting edge tech with tough equipment. Photo: Jack Roberts

For all the technology coming into trucking today, the trucks themselves still lead hard lives and have to be built tough. And no truck has it harder than those special machines destined for heavy-haul and other severe-service applications.

Volvo’s new VNX heavy-haul tractor is a perfect example of the trend to blend cutting edge tech with tough. It’s a truck that leverages all of Volvo’s latest technologies, such as advanced telematics and over-the-air powertrain updates, with an incredibly robust frame, high-horsepower diesel engines, and a whopping 125,000 GCWR.

The new VNX is the last of a trio of new truck launches that Volvo began last year with the rollout of the VNR regional-haul tractor, followed closely by the VNL long-haul tractor. The VNX clearly shares the same design DNA as its two stablemates — both inside and out — but in a beefier, more robust package. It’s a truck with modern, aerodynamic lines that is as home on a sloppy jobsite as it is hauling a fully laden B-train up a steep, twisting mountain highway.

The VNX is being offered initially as a tractor only, in 3 different models: a day cab, a flat-roof, and a mid-roof/sleeper configuration. The official VNX launch took place on March 14 at Volvo’s new Customer Center in Dublin, Virginia, on the heels of a freak snowstorm followed hard by a brutal cold snap.  All of the trucks were decked out in a deliciously malicious black-on-black paint scheme that really popped against the deep snowbanks flanking the test track looping around the back portion of theVolvo Customer Center property.

Thanks to the sharply slanted nose and the aerodynamic lines it shares with its stablemates, the truck doesn’t seem much larger than a VNL or VNR at first glance. But, as you walk closer, you realize that it has a much broader, wide-shouldered stance punctuated by a stout, reinforced front bumper and frame rail capable of towing 60,000 pounds and wide front fenders, carefully sculpted to help keep mud and spray away from the steps leading up into the cab. It also boasts a higher ground clearance to help the truck deal with obstacles in off-road working conditions.

If you’ve had the chance to drive either a new VNL or VNX, then you’ll feel right at home sliding behind the steering wheel of a VNX tractor. Standard features include Volvo’s slick, infinitely adjustable “Position Perfect” steering wheel, ergonomic dash and instrument layout, comfortable seats, and ample storage spaces. Views down the nose of the truck are outstanding, as are views to the rear using both the standard door-mounted, and hood-mounted hockey stick mirrors.

A B-Train on the Track

The VNX is being in three different models: a day cab, a flat-roof, and a mid-roof/sleeper configuration. Photo: Volvo Trucks

The VNX is being in three different models: a day cab, a flat-roof, and a mid-roof/sleeper configuration. Photo: Volvo Trucks

You can spec a new VNX with an Eaton heavy-duty manual gearbox if you like. But all the demo trucks on the test track the day I drove were fitted with either the Volvo I-Shift or Eaton UltraShift heavy-duty automated manual transmission. Volvo has been working its I-Shift AMTs hard in vocational applications in Europe for almost two decades now, and company engineers were quick to note that this latest version in the VNX features crawler gears to aid in moving heavy loads precisely at slow speeds while still delivering optimal fuel economy and performance when the throttle is kicked in at highway speeds. The I-Shift’s fully integrated engine brake is also a nice touch, particularly when it’s time to slow down the heavy loads the VNX excels at hauling.

Under the hood, you’ve got a couple of choices, starting with Volvo’s D13 diesel engine, which churns out 500 horsepower and 1,850 lbs.-ft. of torque, or a Cummins X15 Performance Series engine, with horsepower options ranging from 505 to 605. I drove both engines around the test track, and both delivered impressive low-end power that easily got the heavily loaded trucks moving surprisingly fast. And, as with the VNR and VNH, Volvo designers have worked hard to make sure both engines are amazingly quiet inside the cab all through their respective power curves.

I’d only driven a Canadian-spec B-train once, years before, and it was a pretty miserable experience. So I was curious to see how a Cummins X15 and UltraShift equipped VNX would handle it in comparison — and I wasn’t disappointed. The 565-horsepower Cummins easily got the 115,000 lbs of timber behind me up and moving quickly, and the UltraShift Plus handled all the shift points easily with absolutely no parasitic loss of power.

Given the size and weight of the loads we were hauling, public roads were a no-no during our day with Volvo. And due to ice and snow on the ground, we weren’t allowed to get up much more than 35 or 40 mph on the test track. But, even within those limited operating parameters, it was obvious that the VNX handles crisply and is more than capable of getting a severe-service payload up and moving quickly, and keeping it moving efficiently once you got up to road speeds. To be honest, the truck accelerates so smoothly and effortlessly, it’s not an exaggeration to say that you wouldn’t know right off that you had a B-train and 115,000 pounds behind you if you didn’t know it when you climbed up into the cab.

All told, the Volvo VNX is a thoroughly modern truck that is big, robust, powerful, and nimble. Up in the cab, it’s comfortable, quiet, and safe. These are all key features that Volvo engineers have been cooking into their truck designs for decades now. So it’s no surprise to see first-hand how well their new heavy-haul tractor performs on all these fronts.

The new Volvo VNX is available for order now.

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