Test drive of Kenworth T700: lean, mean and yellow

Test drive of Kenworth T700: lean, mean and yellow

Leaner times demand leaner trucks. That seems to be the overarching theme of Kenworth’s T700, introduced in March as the replacement to the T2000, a popular 14-year-old model that borrowed some of its styling cues from the Pillsbury Doughboy.

The T700 is sculpted and angular in places where the “T2” was rounded and bulky. The changes are more than merely aesthetic, say Kenworth executives. Each of the lines is intended to minimize turbulence at highway speeds. Together, they reportedly compose the manufacturer’s most aerodynamic truck—said to be 3% more slippery than the brand’s other fully aero model, the T660. To further quell wind resistance, engineers included no exterior sun visor on the new cab, and they submerged the clearance lights so they’d be flush with surrounding surfaces.

But, to quote a tag line from one of the truck’s marketing brochures, “aerodynamics is just the beginning.” The T700’s artfully chiseled body is also about a foot taller than that of its predecessor, providing 96 in. of vertical interior clearance. This additional space will be helpful to very tall drivers or anyone who wants to sit up while occupying the sleeper’s upper bunk.

Kenworth officials say the new model is particularly well-suited for teams in regional and longhaul operations. The focus on this sector of the market is apparent, from the RV-like living space to options such as a top-loading refrigerator and flat-panel-television mount (capable of accommodating a 16-in. screen). The T700 also has a bumper and side fairings—painted or non-painted—crafted from thermoplastic olefin. The outer surfaces are “texturized” to reduce the visibility of minor damage.

Although the “T7” is much more than a revised T2, it does feature many of the technological advances initially deployed on the manufacturer’s first wide-body conventional during the past two years. The handsome, informative multiplex-wired dash has been carried over, as has the chassis and front and rear suspensions, both standard and optional. Not surprisingly, these components lend a familiar driving experience to anyone who’s spent time behind the wheel of a late-model T2.

To demonstrate the new model’s road manners, Kenworth hosted customer and media events at the PACCAR Technical Center outside Mt. Vernon, Wash., earlier this year. The company’s full line of on-highway trucks was available for ride-and-drive testing, each hitched to some type of loaded trailer. The fleet included a pair of canary-yellow T700s, one powered by a Cummins ISX15 (rated at 425 HP), the other by a PACCAR MX (rated at 485 HP). Both of the brightly-painted T7s were geared through Eaton UltraShift Plus transmissions and Dana Spicer rears.

Threading a full-width Class 8 tractor and trailer along the narrow two-lane asphalt roads surrounding the Technical Center requires almost single-minded concentration, especially from non-professional drivers who happen to write for magazines. Still, the T700’s rolling qualities were quickly apparent to all involved. It’s a quiet ride—more so, even, than the model it replaced.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, Kenworth engineers seemingly eliminated the upper door-jamb wind noise that had bedeviled the T2 for years. Second, the diesel particulate filters required on today’s heavy-truck engines curb some tailpipe resonance before it can seep into the cabs above. The result is a hushed interior similar to that of most any modern pickup truck.

The T7’s ride characteristics also seem quite good; however, in the interest of full disclosure it must be pointed out that the highways used for the drives were disappointingly smooth, and each of the T7 test units was fitted with Kenworth’s pavement-taming AG130 front air-ride suspension. It’s safe to say, though, that truckers who liked the stable, cushioned ride of the T2 will like the T7 just as much.

As one might expect, the vista from the helm of a T7 is panoramic, with an unobstructed (2,225-sq. in.) windshield stretching across the front of the broad cab, meeting fairly narrow A pillars abutted by large deep-dip side windows on each door. Sturdy single-arm PACCAR-styled aero mirrors offer ample push-button-adjusted rear views. The term “blind spot” has little meaning in a cockpit surrounded by such glassy abundance.

Kenworth officials say the weight of a T7 is nearly identical to that of a similarly spec’ed T2. (It’s actually a tad lighter.) That means the company’s engineering department was able to expand the living space—it’s now 255 cubic ft. versus 222 cubic ft. in a T2—and, at the same time shave off a few pounds. Carriers will no doubt be pleased, but their pleasure shouldn’t stop with vehicular tonnage.

It would be difficult, in fact, to find anything about the T7 that might displease potential buyers. The truck is solidly built and loaded with components designed to reduce maintenance and improve uptime; its styling is both attractive and energy-efficient; it sports the latest instrumentation and diagnostic technology; it’s roomy, comfortable and quiet; its hood emblem all but ensures a high resale value.

Plus, as if this wasn’t already enough, it’s also available in canary yellow.

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