Grey Hound

In Short Story October 2022, October 20229 MinutesBy Dave McCoidNovember 26, 2022

Step inside the Anthem and it’s a whole new world, that’s for real. Well, sort of. This is likely the last hurrah for the base cab shell. Even under Volvo ownership, Mack has continued its trait of getting max ROI from product development. After the R-Model’s 40-odd year trot, this replacement shell, first encountered on the CH, is well into decade three. Cabs in 2022 play a more dynamic role in survival, well beyond impact management, and change in the form of ‘platformisation’ is coming. In a world this costly, with the need to satisfy that North American market in not just productivity but now safety at a level matching the all-conquering Freightliner Cascadia, it can’t not. The great irony has always been that Volvo has had all the safety arrows; it just lacked a quiver in its Mack brand in which to put them. Although a step in the right direction, Bendix Wingman Fusion won’t keep the safety wolves from the door forever. Collision mitigation is no longer the end game.

It has, however, allowed the brand to remain in situ at one of its more famous national homes. “Following a fatal accident involving a group company vehicle about five years ago, we pretty much made an overnight decision that, where possible, all heavy trucks going forward must have autonomous emergency braking at a minimum,” says Dale Cocker, HW Richardson Group general manager, specialist transport. “The ‘where possible’ was about the concrete mixers – you couldn’t get that technology on them then, but you can now. At the time, safety packs added about $10,000 to $12,000 to the cost; now it’s just in the price you get.

“The Anthem trim doesn’t have the plushness I guess you’d say that was available previously, so we added the buttoned hood lining at Palmerston North, just to retain some of that.”

While certainly a step forward on technological offerings, there’s no question Mack’s gone for a more utilitarian look in the new cab over the rugged individualism of the red Ultra Leather and Elite interiors of generations past. We do hope you like what you see because this is it from Metro Liner to Titan. There are lots of black, silver, and grey, plastic and composite materials… a lot like the base T410. No woodgrain, and apart from what the MTD crew added, no buttoned vinyl. It’s very angular and ‘sci-fi’. There’s no question the design language points to a new demographic.

Looks are only skin-deep, of course, and trucking is about driving. Anthem is not a wide cab obviously – only International had that sorted back in the early 1990s – so there’s far less cat-swinging room than in Kenworth’s 2.1m jobby. Like all US bonneted day cabs, it lacks storage so the centre caddy between the seats, added in the Manawatu, is a godsend. There are coffee-cup holders, and some stows in and around the dash, with additional cubbies above the windscreen as well as the usual door pockets.

Sitting in the pilot possie, square is in, with all dashboard regions framed in square or rectangular sections. The binnacle adheres to a crowd of offerings nowadays, with two four-gauge clusters separated by Mack’s Co-Pilot diagnostics and telematics screen. All exterior light controls run from a switch bank on the right of the binnacle, and to the left, there’s still a lovely wrap that even ‘Wee Man’ could reach from the helm. Brake valves and climate matters find their home in the bottom of the wrap, and working from inside out, there’s mDRIVE, entertainment, and comms; and on the left of them, new rocker switches in a handy cluster with another gauge set above. The gaping omission in a 2021 truck is infotainment.

The left steering column wand houses the high beam and turn signals, and the right, engine braking and Co-Pilot. The Anthem’s tiller has now joined the smart ranks, no longer the domain of mere directional control, with cruise and phone on the left spoke, and volume/ entertainment controls on the right. Pity that it doesn’t also work the telematics.

If you’re interested, the steering wheel also gives you an idea on how well the US is doing at controlling obesity. The clue therein? Not that good. The Anthem’s wheel sports a cut-off base radius, straight-lining it from about 5pm to 7pm on the imaginary clock face. There’ll be all sorts of PC excuses for it, like ‘always knowing where the bottom of the wheel is’, but we’re sure it’s a case of, if the humans won’t give, the trucks have to.

Access on the driver’s flank is superb; the passenger side, not so. Bonnet-flipping is controlled via a canny latch mechanism under the front of the grille – gone are the side latches. Once up, the MP8 is perched there and easy to get to for the necessaries.

Time for another game of ‘how snub is my bonnet’. Remember it’s an experiment fraught with flaws, but it’s fun. Sitting in his International ProStar, Brian Aitcheson could see the ground just on 4m in front of the bonnet, and Brad McKee in the McNulty’s Cascadia came in at an impressive 3.75m. Bear in mind, Brad’s a tall young punter and Brian, while not short, is not in Brad’s league. Remember also that the ProStar packs big iron. We haven’t done the T410 yet, but the Anthem, with Nick in the go position and topping out at 178cm, could see terra firma at 5.5m.

In the bumper-to-back-of- cab measure-ups, Anthem came in at 2995mm, Cascadia 2946mm, T410 2850mm, and ProStar 2870mm. If BBC is your everything (as well as grunt) then the Western Star 4884 at 2271mm might be your jam.

What you glean from all that is visibility in the Anthem is as good as any, and the West Coast mirrors do what they’ve always done well, although again, things are moving on when you look at T410 and Cascadia.

Although for a brief moment, we were gripped with fear and anxiety at not being able to locate the famous Custom Built for Southern Transport badge. National sales manager at MTD, Stu Wynd, dabbed our sweaty foreheads with the damp cloth of reassurance, saying it was on the way.

That’s Anthem inside out on the first visit. It will be interesting to look back in 20 years and see just what role the Anthem played in Volvo’s North American class-8 aspirations.