Big-hearted performance

13 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineSeptember 5, 2016

Small trucks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, powerful and comfortable. The road transport industry is also asking more from them. New Zealand Trucking checks out an Iveco offering.

Except for the number of wheels, Iveco‘s ML120E25P doesn‘t look like a small truck. Especially the demonstrator we picked up from Iveco‘s Auckland headquarters; the day cab isn‘t small and it has a fullheight seven-metre curtainsider mounted on its frame. 
The 4×2 ML120 is the smallest of the Eurocargo models available in New Zealand. It has a 12-tonne GVM, although a smaller model is available and has been brought in on occasion; the model peaks as a 6×2 with up to a 22.5-tonne GVM. Iveco is flexible with their range of Eurocargo GVMs and various options can be supplied. The demonstrator does not have a GCM, but Iveco can provide the Eurocargo with towing capability too. 

While the GVM indicates it‘s a small truck, Iveco has built the ML range with the intention of it being a serious tool for the transport industry; it‘s not aimed at the vocational market. 

The cab is comfortable and driver friendly, the brakes are full air discs and the rear suspension is air, the sort of features that were not seen in regular 4-wheelers until recently. 

The Iveco is no mechanical lightweight either. The Tector F4A E25 engine puts out 251hp and 627lb/ft of torque, significant figures for a maximum GVM of 12 tonne. It meets Euro 5 through SCR and has a 25-litre DEF tank. The larger models have the same size engine, but the output is rated at 279hp. 

The demonstrator has a ZF 6-speed manual gearbox, but Iveco has all bases covered; the same transmission is available as an automated manual transmission (AMT), or a full auto Allison is available. The larger model is fitted with a 9-speed ZF or one of the auto options. 

The interior is good looking and comfortable. Mirrors are aerodynamic, easy to clean and look good. Check out the new rev counter, this engine is comfortable at 1100rpm or over 2000rpm.

The rear axle is from international heavyweight Meritor and it ‘s fitted with a diff lock. The rear suspension is twin air bags; the heavier GVM models have four bag systems, although steel parabolic springs are available on some models as an option. 
When we picked up the truck it had less than 100 kilometres on the clock; its first task was moving a load of office furniture and magazine archives from New Zealand Trucking‘s former premises close to central Auckland to a storage facility in Penrose. The curtainside body with its Zepro tail lift is ideal for this type of work and Iveco see the truck as a perfect metro delivery unit capable of handling most general freight in the city environment. We agree that it was a superb vehicle for this role; it ‘s easy to drive, is responsive to throttle application, handles well, turns tight and stops quickly and smoothly. 

Although the cab is relatively high, the climb up the three steps is easy and with a bum in the designer upholstered Isringhausen air seat it immediately feels like a driver‘s truck. 

There‘s an engine cover through the middle of the cab, which is large enough to indicate there‘s a purposeful engine underneath, without dominating the cab, and leaving room for three seats. Things like the gear lever and park brake control are intuitively positioned and there‘s heaps of adjustment on the steering column. The height and width of the day cab are more than expected, but unlike the majority of modern cabs, there‘s no space behind the seats. Deck space is more important and there‘s plenty of in-cab storage available. 

Vision is generally excellent, but a typical issue with modern trucks are the large A pillars that mean drivers have to move around a bit to ensure other vehicles are not concealed behind the pillars. The massive, but neatly shaped aerodynamic mirrors on the left side of the Iveco don‘t leave a gap between the mirrors and pillar, effectively increasing the size of the blind spot. The wide-angle and normal mirrors have power adjustments; they‘re supplemented by down spotters over the passenger door and above the windscreen. 

Unlike most European trucks, Iveco have put a large interior lamp in the centre of the cab above the windscreen, to help when filling in logbooks and paperwork in the dark. They have retained the small lights each side, providing excellent interior lighting. 
A wet, dark trip to Hamilton with an empty truck gave us a feel for the Eurocargo and allowed some experimentation with the cruise control, wipers and lights. It is extremely comfortable and handles well empty, although the big body catches wind and does move the 5175mm wheelbase chassis around a bit. 

To experience the Eurocargo with a decent load, we borrowed some timber from Max Birt Sawmills in Pokeno. The load brought the truck up to about 10 tonne, still a couple of tonne below its maximum. 

The engine likes revs and the green line starts at 1200rpm and goes through to 2100rpm, although it‘s governed at 2700rpm; the red line doesn‘t kick in until it ‘s above the 3000rpm mark. With the extra weight on board, acceleration was slightly down, but it was only on the steepest hills that the speed was reduced, and even then only slightly. It was never necessary to drop a gear lower than when it was empty. The truck has an impressive power-to-weight ratio – 250hp to move 12 tonne is more than most 24-tonne 6-wheelers were graced with not that long ago. It is a great little truck on the open road with or without a load. Even down at 1000rpm the engine was happy to pull away as long as the slope wasn‘t too steep, but it was singing happily at 2500rpm charging up hills too. 

Purists could complain that a 9-speed would be more efficient, but it would probably only complicate the driving ease of the Eurocargo. The torque band is so wide that the truck easily remains in the green section even when gear changes are slow. Having said that, with a load on the driver can‘t skip gears unless it ‘s a pretty decent downhill slope. The gear change is nice to operate; it‘s brand new and a cable remote unit that will free up with a bit of use and probably feel even better. 

The brakes are a real pleasure, full air ventilated discs provide powerful smooth braking. The pedal is soft, but it‘s progressive and predictable, and easy to get used to. The service brake is supported by a two-stage exhaust brake; in the first stage it blends with the service brake as soon as the pedal is depressed, in the second stage it comes on as soon as the accelerator is released. It‘s not vicious, but it‘s very effective and holds the loaded truck back on long downhill stretches comfortably. We found it effective on a couple of steep winding descents, where the truck‘s speed was controlled simply through dropping to fifth gear and operating the exhaust brake. 

The truck is devoid of a hill start aid, but we consider them of limited value, especially when the clutch is smooth and it‘s easy to coordinate the clutch, accelerator and park brake on steep hills. 

The cruise control is also excellent, easy to use and the speed is displayed on the digital dash, making it easy to fix the speed accurately. Pushing the right-hand column stalk down sets the maximum speed and no matter how hard the accelerator is depressed the truck won‘t exceed the set speed until it‘s released by pushing it down again. This is a feature that would probably be handy in some situations such as roadworks or towns to avoid speed creep. 

The ride is excellent empty or laden, probably due to the rear air suspension and decent cab suspension. The ECAS (electronically controlled air suspension) is fully adjustable and a couple of dock heights can be programmed into the system to save time getting the height right at regularly visited sites. It‘s on 265/70R19.5 inch tyres, which provide a good footprint and responsive steering. 

According to the dash readout we were getting between four to five kilometres per litre, or about 22 litres per 100 kilometres, out of the Tector Euro 5 engine. The fluid level in the DEF tank hardly moved; Iveco sales consultant Kerry Webb says the Eurocargo is particularly light on DEF consumption and typically uses about three litres for every 100 litres of diesel burnt. 

The Iveco Eurocargo is a versatile truck, it would probably make a good tipper or mini tanker, and it does make an excellent flatdeck curtainsider. It‘s equally suitable for long hauls and short runs; and it performs well on highways, narrow country roads and city streets. While it ticks most boxes, its strongest point may well be its driver appeal. 

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