There’s no doubt the Japanese are the dominant players in the medium-duty truck market, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look at the alternatives.
One alternative comes from the U.S. and although yet to make a big impact in Australia it offers a number of attributes that make it worth a consideration.
We’re talking the Western Star 2800SS.
Landing in the Australian market in 2015, the rigid offering is sold in North America under the Freightliner brand.
Here you can have a Western Star 2800SS with a day-cab and in either 4×2 or 6×2 configuration.
My test truck had the optional Meritor Fuelite tandem axle for the 6×2 set-up.
There’s just the one engine on offer – Cummins ISB 6.7 litre with ratings available between 280 and 325hp, the test truck was rated at 325hp.
That maximum power output comes on @2600rpm, while 976Nm of torque is available between 1600 – 1800 rpm.
The transmission available in the Western Star rigid is an Allison 3000 six-speed auto.
This truck tested, including the hydraulic tailgate lift, weighed in at just under 10 tonnes and has a GVM of 23.5 tonnes.
This isn’t a bad thing, especially because the take-up of the steering in this vehicle was very impressive.
I don’t like a lot of free play off centre and this truck, I believe, was set up just right (especially for a vehicle designed to operate in the city/suburbs).
The truck was empty, so that’s always a little deceiving in regard to performance, however the Cummins and the Allison seemed to work really well together.
It’s a willing performer, especially from 60km/h, and it chewed up the hills well too.
I would have to say the Cummins is also a sweet-sounding engine, most enjoyable.
The Cummins exhaust brake is just an on/off proposition (some trucks, including the Iveco, have a couple of different settings) – but it worked really well and minimized using the brake pedal a fair bit.
The service brakes, when they were needed, performed really well too.
Western Star say this truck has the best turning circle in its class, I can’t confirm or deny that, however I did feel that the vehicle could have turned into tight corners a bit better, particularly when turning left.
The seating position is one of the Western Star’s trump cards.
Yes, you’re sitting a bit lower than most of the medium-duty rivals, but I reckon this is an advantage in this type of truck.
It makes the truck feel less intimidating and less bulky.
The windscreen is large and the visibility from the steering seat is generally very good – however the ‘A’ pillars are chunky and require you to take that bit of extra care when approaching intersections.
Unfortunately, the Western Star is a little behind most of the competition with only manual adjustment external mirrors.
While a bonnet-mounted mirror to allow for a view of the very front of the truck would be a handy addition for parking etc.
The gauges are the traditional round type and are easy to read on the go, while the info screen is basic and gives you only odometer, temp and voltage info on the main screen.
There’s a flat floor and seating for two, however you can see this was a truck designed for left-hand drive with seat controls featuring on the inside edge (left-hand side) of the seat.
It’s a nice driver’s seat though, and you get fold down arm rests on both sides – though the right-hand arm rest might get a little in the way sometimes.
Full marks too for the hefty cup holders on the dash – Big Gulp ready!
Another sign that this is a North America product is that the passenger gets an ‘A’ pillar mounted grab handle.
There are screws/screw holes on the right-hand pillar where a handle should be, but it appears the left-hand handle is a different size.
Despite this, this is one easy truck cab to get into.
Already a little lower than the others, the huge side steps (as seen below) are possible because of the cab-over design.
If you’re getting in and out of a truck all day this is the layout you want.
This includes the placement of the Allison control box – it is somewhat hidden behind the steering wheel.
Also, there are automatic window control buttons located closer to you than key controls like the exhaust brake control switch.
This is more frustrating because there are window controls on the doors that you’re probably more likely to use.
The roof-mounted storage areas are also extremely tiny, while the door pockets could perhaps be a more usable size and the front doors don’t both lock at the turn of the key in the driver’s door.
Full marks though for the placement of and the easy function of the heater/air-conditioning controls.
Modern is not that first word that comes to mind when describing the Western Star’s cab – but the general feel/overall layout is acceptable.
Up front you will find a proper chromed steel bumper and a solid steel under-run section below – full marks here.
While the bonnet is easy to lift, and all your key check points are easily located on the right-hand side of the engine.
Summing it up; this truck isn’t quite as cutting-edge as some of the competition, particularly those from a couple of the Japanese brands, however the lower and easy to access cab and impressive powertrain make it an offering that’s well worth investigating.