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Test Drive
Feelin’ out the Freightliner
Test drive of the Cascadia reveals a fleet truck with new-found comfort

By Suzanne Stempinksi
field editor

Don’t you just love the smell of a new truck? And how about the way it looks and feels –
all fresh and ready for adventure?

I was excited about the introduction of the newest addition to the Freightliner family, which turned out to be the Cascadia. Anticipation is sometimes the best part – before real life, rock chips and disillusion set in. I really didn’t know what to expect, so I set out with an open mind to see for myself.

With more than $400 million invested in development and upward of 2,500 hours of testing in Freightliner’s very own wind tunnel, this truck is positioned to replace both the Columbia and the Century. With more than 36 percent of the trucks on the road today being Freightliners, they hold a powerful place in the industry.

There was a lot of hype and hoopla and a few fireworks, and then the Cascadia rolled out. It looked just like a Freightliner, but like it had been tweaked. I was curious to take a closer look, kick the tires, climb inside and take it for a ride.

In addition to the engineers, technicians and internal designers, the folks at Freightliner went out and talked to truck drivers and truck owners – people who actually make their living behind the wheel. They researched and listened.

No more nets in the Cascadia – the cabinets have doors that hold stuff in. There’s new and better lighting, strategically positioned. No big overhead skylight or window. Why? Because all that sun beating down makes the cab too hot, and if you’re behind the wheel, you can’t make adjustments or put a sunshade down without making an extra stop. So, in its place, there’s more storage up front.

The cab of the Cascadia is bigger and wider. The average truck driver has grown – my how they’ve grown. In 1983, the average truck driver weighed 190 pounds. Today, that average driver weighs 230 pounds – a 17-percent increase.

So, Freightliner built the doorframes 29 percent larger. Seats are 2 inches wider, longer and taller. There’s more space between the seats – now 24 inches. And, a steering wheel with additional features that tilts and telescopes to accommodate extra girth.

Time in the wind tunnel and attention to detail resulted in a design that achieves a 3-percent increase in fuel economy, according to the Freightliner folks. With increasingly restrictive requirements from the EPA and skyrocketing fuel prices, every bit of fuel economy counts.
This truck is designed to require less maintenance, and when repairs are needed, access and replacement should be easier – resulting in less downtime.

For example, the two-piece, roped-in windshield will require less installation time than a glued-in windshield. This will be nice when a bunch of gravel rocks your view. The three-piece bumper and three-piece hood can be replaced in sections as necessary. The batteries are farther forward. The instrument panels are easy access to improve service or make it simpler to add gauges.

The electrical system takes advantage of new diagnostic tools, yet blends the best of traditional systems as well. This dual functioning system gives techs increased diagnostics and easier parameter changes.

The front-of-the-hood mounted mirrors are on substantial stalks, and they can be folded down to go through the truck wash. They offer an improved view toward the back of the truck – those bumper-mounted rookie sticks might not be needed any more.

One of the biggest improvements is a significant decrease in the amount of noise inside. New seals on the exterior of the doors and interior of the door wells result in a solid thunk when you shut the doors. There’s insulation in the roof for the first time. There’s also insulation in the front wall, sidewalls, engine tunnel and gear shift lever area. The result? Quieter ride on the inside.

There’s no breeze ruffling your hair with the windows up and the doors closed. Add improved cab and engine mounts and rack-and-pinion steering, and they may have just taken the shake out of “Freightshaker.”

Two Cascadia trucks had my name on them. One was a daycab and the other a 125-inch BBC with a 72-inch raised-roof sleeper. A creature of habit, even when checking out trucks, I opted to ride in one and drive the other. I picked the daycab for my ride.

This was a fleet truck ordered by and spec’d for a big customer.

My seat was on a box – no air-ride for me. That was actually OK. It brought back memories of much earlier days when my husband and I drove from Chicago to Florida in a daycab under a load that absolutely had to be there even though our truck was in the shop. I stuck the memories back in the file and paid attention to the ride at hand.

A 10-speed, manual transmission and no frills were the orders of the fleet manager. They had not ordered the upgraded insulation option. Grossing about 65,000 pounds with a loaded trailer, we headed down the road.

In spite of the box, the ride was smoother than I expected. If I were a city driver, however, I wouldn’t be happy with that truck. It was very noisy inside. We had to elevate our voices to carry on a conversation – not much, but enough that I noticed. As a driver, I wouldn’t care that the fleet saved money through improved truck maintenance. I’d want them to care about driver maintenance, too.

Roughly 40 minutes later, we pulled into a rest area to meet up with our colleagues and switch trucks. I hopped out and watched the other trucks roll in, filling the rest stop with a parade of Cascadias, drawing attention from drivers wondering about the new ride.

I strolled around my sleeper cab truck, doing a quick pre-trip and climbed aboard – two passengers in the sleeper and an engineer up front with me. I buckled up, checked my mirrors and pulled out.

The UltraShift transmission was smooth, the hum of the Detroit Diesel was barely evident. This was the Cascadia they had been promising.

It was very quiet, almost hushed. We carried on a conversation in the front, and my counterparts in back didn’t hear a thing. They chatted quietly in back. We heard nothing. Visibility through the split windshield was a wide view of the world.

A vibration came through the steering column that affected the power. It felt like maybe the timing needed some adjustment, but, beyond that, it was very, very good.

My cohorts in back insisted that the ride from the sleeper was smooth and sweet – had they not been chatting, they could easily have been napping. Not fancy, but very functional.

So, what’s the Cascadia all about and who is it designed for? It is a truck designed to get the job done

in an attractive and economical package. When sufficiently insulated, it puts Freightliner right where it wants to be – a strong contender in the fleet and economy-oriented owner-operator market.

Suzanne Stempinski may be reached at