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Test drive: new Volvo Trucks range for MENA region

James Morgan heads to the Yas Marina Circuit to test Volvo's new range

The new Volvo FH at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
The new Volvo FH at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
Volvo's latest FMX trucks prepare to take on the specially constructed off-road course.
Volvo's latest FMX trucks prepare to take on the specially constructed off-road course.

Yesterday, ConstructionWeekOnline.com reported on the launch of Volvo Trucks’ brand new range for the MENA region. Today, James Morgan offers his first impressions of the Swedish manufacturer’s latest models: the Volvo FH, the Volvo FM, and the Volvo FMX.

In an event billed as ‘the biggest truck launch ever held in the MENA region’, Volvo Trucks booked Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit and built an off-road test course next door to show off exactly what its new range can do. As you can imagine, it’s not every day that I’m invited to do laps around a bona fide Formula 1 track, but when I am, I like to take full advantage.

Yas Marina Circuit: Volvo FH and Volvo FM
For my first lap, I decided to hop into a Volvo FH. The first thing that strikes you when you climb aboard is just how much space has been made available for the driver. The redesigned seats feature slimmer back rests to allow for greater adjustability, extra storage compartments have been integrated for personal effects, and a rather roomy bunk sits neatly towards the rear of the cab. Of course, I didn’t travel to the Yas Island to catch up on my beauty sleep, so I buckled up and hit the track.

The Euro 3 D13A440 engine is quick off the mark. From the moment you push down on the accelerator, you can feel the truck’s 440HP kick in. Whilst the vehicle makes a satisfying grunt in its lower gears, it’s surprising how quickly and smoothly Volvo’s I-Shift gearbox moves through its transitions to get you moving.

Within seconds, I was on top of the first corner and my instructor was strongly advising me to brake. I duly followed his guidance and began steering the FH into the bend. Although this particular truck hadn’t been fitted with Volvo’s Dynamic Steering System, the wheel was still easy to turn.

 

The FH’s brisk engine and light steering is testament to the improvements that Volvo has made to the MENA range as a whole. In fact, it wasn’t until half way through the lap that my instructor revealed the FH 440 was fully laden. It turns out that the Volvo crew had added ballast to all of the trucks to demonstrate just how capable the latest models are when loaded.

Next, I opted for the Volvo FH 400 with Dynamic Steering. Whilst the Euro 3 D13A400 engine is the baby of the FH range, it is no slouch. With maximum torque of 2,000Nm and 400HP, we soon gained momentum, and fortunately for my second passenger, I was ready for that sneaky first corner.

As the instructor pointed out, a silky smooth Formula 1 track isn’t exactly the most difficult of challenges for Volvo’s proprietary Dynamic Steering system. Even so, it was easy to forget that I was driving a truck. Luckily for me, you don’t need to be muscular to drive one of the new Volvos. Indeed, it’s so easy, even a hamster can do it.

For my final lap of the circuit, I jumped into the cab of a Volvo FM 480. With 2,400Nm of torque and 480HP, the Euro 3 D13A480 engine was noticeably the most powerful of the bunch. Whereas the FH excels at long-haul motorway driving and the FMX has been honed to deal with unforgiving terrains, the FM might be described as Volvo’s all-rounder.

With only essential controls and a basic interior, this particular version was a stripped-down offering for the MENA region. Even so, the cab was spacious and comfortable and the drive technology much the same as that included in its higher-spec counterparts.

 

Off-road course: Volvo FMX
Whilst the Volvo FMX would no doubt have performed admirably on the tarmac, to take it around a race track would have been – in some ways – to do it a disservice. This is Volvo’s tough guy; it’s a truck that has been built to go anywhere.

As such, the manufacturer decided to provide the FMX with an environment befitting its hardiness. Volvo Trucks had constructed its own off-road track right on the doorstep of the Yas Marina Circuit.

Essentially, two distinct courses comprised this desert playground. The first was a relatively linear, smooth and open circuit designed to demonstrate the FMX’s ability to cope with off-road conditions typical across the region. The second, meanwhile, had clearly been designed to push the vehicle to its limits. A tighter and altogether more hazardous affair, the latter circuit ran within the boundaries of the former, and offered inclines and mounds aplenty.

To get the measure of my Volvo FMX 480, I started out with the less challenging of the two. Somewhat disappointingly, the truck was able to navigate this course without breaking a sweat. The resultant confidence boost made me decide to immediately take on the ‘extreme’ circuit, and whilst I was scared half to death, the FMX overcame the various obstacles with relative ease.

I’m not ashamed to admit that it was somewhat disconcerting to look out of the cab windscreen and see nothing but open sky, but in the words of my instructor, I trusted the truck. It was even more nerve wracking to drive down the other side of the incline, staring at what seemed like a sheer drop. Even so, the FMX’s heavy-duty chassis was more than equipped for the challenge.

My colleague James Henderson had a similar experience when he got behind the wheel of Volvo Trucks’ European offering at a Gothenburg quarry last year. In summary, I think that both he and I would agree: if you’re looking for a truck that can cope with just about anything you care to throw at it, you won’t go far wrong with the new Volvo FMX.

For in-depth analysis of the new range, including full interviews with Volvo Trucks’ executives, check out the March 2014 issue of PMV Middle East.

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