Ford DA1611 urban artic at 16 tons gcw
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THREE YEARS ago Commercial Motor tested one of the earliest model urban artics to enter service with Bass Charrington. Since then Bass has been continually improving the specification and the latest result is the Ford DA1611 urban artic that we have just tested.
With all the big manufacturers vying for a share of Bass Charrington's new vehicle fleet intake, the company seems to be able to play one manufacturer against the other to get down to the spedfication it wants. The original urban test was based on a Bedford unit and now Bass Charrington seem to be swinging over to Ford.
Over CM's Midlands test route the Ford, coupled to a Crane Fruehauf all-aluminium urban semi-trailer, proved to be a versatile performer achieving an even balance between fuel consumption and performance. The outfit can carry a maximum 11.2-tonne (11-ton) payload and the cab provides comfortable accommodation for a three-man crew. From the driver's viewpoint the outfit is also easily handled and all the controls are within convenient reach.
In determining the specification for the urban vehicle Bass Charrington looked for a 7.6m (25ft) platform length machine with the manoeuvring versatility to reach the loading points at each delivery and the ability to blend in with town traffic.
In line with this, Bass Charrington is also aiming for a specification which will not fall foul of the Heavy Vehicles Control Act. This gives local authorities the power to ban certain weight vehicles from town centres and other busy areas.
A third factor in the design is the lowering of the vehicle platform height to ease loading and unloading.
Compared to a rigid, the artic offered close-quarter handling and the axle configuration is such that individual axles are not overloaded as the fully laden vehicle is progressively unloaded.
Unladen weight of the unit is quoted on the chassis at 2.895 tonnes (2.8 tons) though in test trim the unit tipped the scales at 3.1 tonnes (3.0 tons). The all-aluminium trailer has an unladen weight of 2.2 tonnes (2.0 tons).
The DA1611 is in fact an urbanised version of the standard DA1610 tractive unit. Bass Charrington has opted for the improved output of the 6.2litre (380cuin) rather than the 6.0-litre (363cu.in) engine and has specified a Turner fivespeed gearbox in favour of the Ford unit, the latter saving around 90kg (2001b) in unladen weight.
The unit is shod with 7.50-16 tyres and the trailer with 8.25-16 tyres and the trailer platform is just over one metre from the ground.
Ideally, Bass Charrington would have preferred a sixspeed with overdrive top gearbox to provide the widest performance range. However, it has had to settle for a fivespeed with direct top unit, though this does not unduly impair performance.
Maximum vehicle speed is 82km/h (51mph) and on a motorway the Ford will run comfortably between 45 and 50mph with only a moderate fuel thirst.
At the other. extreme the fully laden vehicle will restart on a 1 in 6 gradient. A restart on the 1 in 5 gradient was not quite on—mainly, says Ford, because the clutch had been roughly treated during the previous week.
Although the overall ratio spread in the gearbox was satisfactory there was a frustratingly wide gap between third and fourth. When changing down through the box, say on a gradient, the change from fourth to third would ideally be completed at around 48km/h (30mph). But with a maximum speed in third of just 37km/h (23mph) it was necessary to hang on and watch the speedo needle drop down to 37km/h (23mph).
The converse applied to acceleration with the upchange from third to fourth being punctuated with a flat spot in fourth while the engine gathered power.
On undulating A roads the Ford rolled comfortably and quietly at the legal limit with top gear engaged. On slight gradients it was convenient to drop into fourth to maintain optimum speeds.
Second gear is adequate to restart the vehicle on the flat and was typically selected for the steep climbs on the test route. On the long hard climb out of Broadway up Fish Hill, an average 1 in 13 gradient running for 1.3 miles, the Ford dropped to a lowest speed of 18km/h (11mph) with second gear engaged for all but a few seconds of the total 6min 4.5sec total climb time.
Ride and handling
With the trailer kingpin just 114mm (4.5in) in front of the tractive unit rear axle I fully expected a choppy ride. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Apart from one isolated case when moving over a badly surfaced road the ride was very good. There was no tendency to chop or bounce and the cab was pleasantly vibration free. On the roughly surfaced road the nodding of the trailer on the fifth-wheel appeared to lift weight off the front axle and give rise to a momentary steering vagueness. Lifting off the throttle restored the steering to normal.
Speaking to Bass Charrington about the trailer nod syndrome, I was told that reports from the drivers of Fords already in service give the suspension full marks with no hint of any steering problem.
With low unladen weight being high on the design priority list, Bass Charrington has stuck to steering without power assistance. Though not as smooth as power-assisted, the steering on the Ford was light, and weaving the artic through the narrow roads and traffic met on the route was effortless.
The gate arrangement of the six-speed gearbox is unusual with second, third, fourth and fifth gears being laid out in the conventional 1 to 4 sequence of a floor change arrangement. First and reverse positions are adjacent to the driver at the opposite end of the neutral gate to second and third. However, first is treated as a " crawler " gear and so the problem of a swift change from first across the gate to second rarely arises.
The D-Series cab is supplied in standard trim with a few added extras from the Custom cab to reduce engine noise.
The Ford is very quiet, making for easy across-cab conversation and it would certainly be worth while fitting a radio.
The D-Series cab is already well known and there is little new that anyone can add to the countless road test comments that have already been made of it. I had only one minor criticism and that concerned the position of the seat relative to the brake and throttle pedal. I prefer to sit up to the wheel and above the pedals, but I was prevented from raising the seat to my liking because my thighs caught on the steering wheel.
As tested the Ford DAI611 costs £5,904.55, the price includes £230.15 for the 24V electrical system, £165.90 for the automatic chassis lubricating equipment, and £8.85 for the in-cab document box.