Changing rooms

In Short Story July 202311 MinutesBy Dave McCoidAugust 21, 2023

The Ramsey machine sports MAN’s GM mid-roof cab. There is a bigger ‘jobbie’ – rarely seen in these parts – dubbed the GX, the equivalent of a Highline Scania, AS cab S-Way, Globetrotter According to the literature, it is available to us, confirmed by sales engineer on this machine, Mitch James. It’s odd we don’t see GX more often, however many MANs are bought ex-stock, and Penske obviously doesn’t see the need to take a punt on a big bopper. Oh, and yes, I hear you, isn’t it confusing? You have to have your wits about you deciphering MAN chassis and cab nomenclature, don’t you?

The MAN is not a flat-floor wagon, and even with a 120mm engine tunnel, it still has a four-step entry, meaning even Danny DeVito could leap in without a climbing plan.

Once in, it’s a frontline Euro ambience rig, with the healthy dose of German austerity you’d expect. Although the big Euro marques keep each other honest in terms of quality, materials and fit, I sometimes wonder if it also stalls their inner mavericks. Are there talented cab designers throughout the European commercial vehicle industry who go home each night and scream into the abyss of conservatism, or are they all retrained dentists? It seems everyone’s too scared to step away and give us something uber-cool. I guess that’s the role of the RVEs of the world.

Choice of materials is first-rate: hard-wearing, easily maintained vinyl compounds and plastics in a browny/ gunmetal hue for high-traffic areas and MAN’s regular fawn affording colour breaks around the dash and on wall panels. There’s a few brushed alloy flashes, and the passenger fascia has a carbon-fibre panel. In the real world, the fawn encroaches a little too far into the high traffic areas for me, and too far down the sleeper walls. If you’ve got a slob at the helm of your beautiful new TGX, you’ll need to ‘keep up them’. Mike Ramsey won’t have that issue on his worry list.

Aside from one tiny rough panel cut on the rear sleeper wall inducing an Austin Powers ‘Moley moley’ moment for me, the fit was impeccably German.

The GM cab is not in any way shy on storage or room and it’s a ‘connected’ residence at every turn. There are lockers and stows in the overhead, pelmet stows, rear wall stows, and external lockers accessible from the inside. The fridge and drawer combo are now an industry standard in trucks of this league, and there’s a pull- out table on the passenger side. The cascade of storage drawers and cup holders in the main central console are now a lot tidier and in synch with the overall interior design language. The MAN has the smallest ‘clutter’ tray sitting atop that drawer stack, which is great. Cab clutter’s annoying, and flat vinyl areas attract it like fly shit to a painting.

With 1860mm of headroom above the engine tunnel, I could certainly stand, but would need the GX in order to execute a full stretch. The bunkhouse is ample, with reading lights and a remote for those things you’re just too comfy to get up and do.

All-round visibility from the tiller is fine, and as we’ve said previously, MAN has significantly improved the left/right clearance visibility past the A-pillar and mirror. Obviously, someone else other than Mercedes-Benz will land their mirrorless rear-view tech in New Zealand soon; the ultimate solution to that particular issue.

At a time in history when OEMs would love the luxury of committing their entire R&D budgets to propulsion issues, we’re also seeing a general revamp of the driver interface in cabs. The truth is, they’re a hand-in-hand thing and digital interfaces are inherently more reliable on account of their simplicity. Looking further into the crystal ball, drivers will need less information on what will be a simplified vehicle mechically, but more data on managing the safety of themselves and those around them, as well as the commercial dynamics of the consignments in their keep.

The New Gen Lion’s den replaces a cab well past its use-by date. In its latest incarnation MAN has brought the interior bang up to date, and in some respects it now sets the pace. In keeping with the rest of the truck, there’s plenty of unseen stuff going on beneath the surface; what is seen, however, is slick. Like the outside, you instantly know the origins of the interior and huge amounts were spent on the cockpit, now with an intergraded binnacle and wrap you might argue has a Traton ‘family’ resemblance in the macro sense.

A car-like physical design, the big 12.3in digital binnacle is configured in the normal way, with two-gauge odometer and tachograph – actually it’s a ‘TSU’ – ‘tachograph simulation unit’ – separated by data for trip, driver, truck and load info. Fuel and DEF in ribbon gauge format sit at the bottom, and warnings above. What stands out is how crisp and sharp the resolution is, the whole thing incredibly clear.

The steering wheel is ‘smart’, of course, but MAN said at the launch that functionality had been kept to a minimum to increase hands-on-wheel time. That said, it doesn’t look much different from others, with cruise and phone on the left spoke; menu flipping and music on the right. Column stalks fit the modern mould too, with indicator, dip and wiper control on the left, and direction, transmission and auxiliary brake on the right.

To the right of the binnacle is the headlight switch, and on the left, between it and the totally integrated wrap, is the park control with some switchgear beneath that. The wrap is home to another lovely big 12.3” infotainment display – again beautifully crisp. There are ventilation outlets, a wee stow with data outlets, switchgear and climate control.

And now for the angels in the room. It’s an oft-heard pitch at the launch of a new vehicle, be it car or truck: ‘We consulted drivers to see what it was they wanted.’ Trouble is ,when you get in a look around you realise drivers must have wanted the seatbelt anchor points moved 3mm up the B-pillar, or the driver’s seat mounted 2mm back. In other words, it’s often difficult to spot what it was the throng waved their flaming torches of desire over. Not so, MAN New Generation. There’s some real evidence of what was asked for by the claimed 300 customers and 700 drivers consulted in the cab redesign. Let’s start with the biggy.

Managing the infotainment in trucks has been an evolving thing, and in keeping with what we do on our personal phones and tablets, touch and swipe has been the natural go-to, with knobs and voice optional alternatives. MAN has taken a different route, introducing its SmartSelect system. They say it’s designed specifically for commercial vehicles, however a deep dive into Traton’s ‘brands and bits box’ reveals its concept roots in the Audi car brand, with Dr Fredrik Zohm, member of the board of R&D, saying there was “an intensive exchange of ideas with these colleagues”.

With its fold-out wrist rest doubling as an accidental bump protector, the SmartSelect wheel is a turn-and-press dual tumbler that allows easy – and clean – navigation without ever going near the screen. In fact, without budging from the optimal seated driving position. It is a superb solution and one I think sets the bar. There’s never any finger grub on the screen, there’s less chance of missing your mark, and less need to look at the screen. In a short time you’ll be able to navigate around without looking. 10/10.

The proof is always in the real world and when quizzed, Colin said, “It’s bloody brilliant.”

Second item. Low down on the inside of the driver’s door is a series of configurable buttons that come pre-programmed with loading lights, hazards, windows up and down, and passenger door lock. The idea here is giving drivers access to key functions without having to leap into the cab when they’re busy loading and unloading. Brilliant!

Last is the functions remote in the sleeper. It’s on a cord rather than Bluetooth. Reason? To stop it going home in your pants pocket and heading through the wringer with your undies.