Daimler turns to drivers, technicians to take the Cascadia to the next level

By Jami Jones, managing editor

Colorado Springs, Colo. - The next generation of Freightliners sports a wide array of improvements ranging from small, thoughtful ones to gigantic - driven largely from driver and technician input.

"We wanted to have the truck of choice," Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America, told the trucking media at the unveiling of the 2018 Cascadia. "We wanted to have the best truck on the market and to do it over and over again."

To achieve that goal in developing the 2018 Freightliner Cascadia, rather than rely solely on engineers, Daimler Trucks North America turned to not only the men and women behind the wheel, but also the technicians who work on the trucks.

Kary Schaefer, general manager of product and marketing strategy for Daimler, said the 2018 Cascadia's driver experience was designed to "wow."

Continuing to build and grow on the industry-wide trend of vertical integration, the 2018 Cascadia in its "best spec" package boasts an 8 percent fuel economy improvement over the 2016 Cascadia Evolution.

The efficiency gain contributors range from improvement and additional aerodynamic options, to fuel efficiency improvements in the powertrain.

The integrated powertrain can be spec'd with Detroit's DD13 or DD15 engines with 400 horsepower and 1,750 lb-ft of torque. The heavy-duty DD15 has been manufactured to be lighter and can go longer between routine service appointments, according to Daimler execs.

The DT12 features additional updates to improve fuel efficiency by reducing friction and using low-viscosity transmission oils. Finally, on the powertrain, the Detroit rear axles were also designed to reduce friction, contributing to the fuel economy. The rear drive axles come in 2.28 and 2.16 ratios.

Long gone are the days of mechanical engines, and this next generation of the Detroit powertrain relies heavily on electronics to help drivers spend more time in the sweet spot.

Features like adaptive cruise control and predictive cruise control reduce the amount of time of the brake adjusting not only to the flow of traffic, but to the terrain.

Adaptive cruise control can have following distances set by the driver. On a ride-and-drive, Daimler's team showcased a 2.8-second following distance setting.

As heavy traffic around Colorado Springs merged in and out of the lane in front of the Cascadia members of the media rode in, the truck's navigation system detected whether the merging car was not just infringing on the set following distance but still pulling ahead. If the car was not slowing down, neither did the Cascadia. The adaptive cruise control system maintained speed and allowed the cars to continue to pull away.

Active brake assist can engage if the merging vehicle is slowing. The system can reduce acceleration, and apply foundation brakes or the engine brakes. In the situations experienced on the ride-along, no hard braking events were encountered. And when the truck did slow down it did so smoothly. Most of the times active brake assist engaged, it was nearly physically undetectable to the passengers.

The predictive cruise control evaluates the upcoming terrain and can adjust speeds accordingly, like slowing acceleration as a truck crests a hill or picking up steam before climbing an upcoming grade.

The interior of the truck got a thoughtful overhaul where driver input is as evident as the modifications made in coordination with Teague, a company who is known for designing Boeing aircraft interiors.

The ergonomically designed wrap-around dashboard puts all switches and controls within arm's reach of any driver. The telescoping and tilting steering wheel paired with high-performance adjustable seats makes it even easier to find a comfortable fit for people of all sizes.

The notoriously quiet Cascadia was taken to the next level with the addition of optional Thinsulate insulation from 3M. Reducing noise even further than previous models, the 2018 Cascadia was so quiet that even with the engine brake engaged conversation inside the truck never rose above normal speaking levels.

The "loft" sleeper's amount of space in the new Cascadia is mind-blowing. A two-person dinette where two adults can sit comfortably and not kick each other under the table collapses in seconds to allow for a fold-down Murphy bed-style bed.

When the dinette is set up, three adults were able to move around in the sleeper without bumping into each other. Every nook and cranny is used. Roomy and plentiful storage cabinets were designed by Teague with the snap and locking mechanisms similar to jet plane overhead storage.

Taking a ride in the Cascadia was impressive, comfortable and relaxing. The real test will be next when Daimler Trucks North America provides 2018 Cascadias to members of the trucking media for test drives. Land Line's Contributing Field Editor Suzanne Stempinski will follow up once she's had a chance to get behind the wheel and see how all the driver assist systems work for someone with a million or so safe miles under her belt. LL