ACTROS in action
ACTROS in action

Actros thrives on high country test

THE beautiful rolling hills outside Holbrook couldn’t be more different to the Ford stamping plant in the Victorian city of Geelong. Daniel Paponjak can attest to that.

Ten years ago, Daniel was the Production Co-ordinator at the industrial facility stamping plant that pounded steel sheets into panels for Falcon and Territory models.

His brother Mick was a supervisor next door at the engine plant that produced the iconic 4.0-litre Barra six-cylinder engine.

But this morning, the two brothers are making their way along a rugged path on the way to a logging coupe just before the sun breaks over the hills in two matching trucks. The cows in adjoining paddocks continue to graze, paying no attention to the visitors.

The Mercedes-Benz Actros 2663s pass through a creek and climb up the rough dirt track, which leads to breathtaking views of a range that seems to stretch on forever. It’s a much nicer view than the inside of a factory in Geelong.

Daniel lives in Lovely Banks, on the outskirts of Geelong, and leaves home for the Holbrook site at about midnight. After his night shift work at Ford, it suits him perfectly.

“I love driving on the roads when there is no traffic and it’s nice and quiet,” he says.

Not that it is all quiet inside the truck.

When Whitehorse Trucks was taking his order, Daniel specified that he wanted a seriously good sound system.

The $3500 system has six speakers, a 1500w amp and a subwoofer.

“It sounds so good,” says Daniel.

“I love to listen to music and also podcasts when I am driving, so it has very much been worth it.”

Daniel arrives at the logging site near Holbrook just before daybreak. He turns off the main road and through a creek crossing before hitting an up-and-down winding track that he describes as a ‘ball-breaker’.

“This is the roughest track I have ever seen in my eight years in the logging industry,” he explains.

“It is just so rough,” he adds.

Daniel didn’t tick the box for optional Central Tyre Inflation on his trucks, which allows the driver to reduce tyre pressures for increased traction in slippery surfaces and reduce the harshness of bumpy roads on the truck.

This logging coupe track has been tough on tyres, but not the truck itself.

He would probably go for CTI next time around, but both Actros trucks handle the challenge easily and Daniel has not had any issues, much to the surprise of some other log truck drivers.

“Everyone at our sites is running Kenworths and maybe the odd Mack and they thought the Mercedes-Benz wouldn’t last in these conditions, but it hasn’t missed a beat,” Daniel says.

He says that he decided to go with the Actros because he had heard about the fuel economy and reliability and was interested in the five-years of free servicing. But he also admits that he really liked the look of the truck.

Brothers Mick, left and Daniel.
Brothers Mick, left and Daniel.

He chose the grey and decided to trick it up with some stainless steel and a neat bull bar with a LED light bar. Daniel also had the Freighter trailer sets painted in a matching grey colour to really finish off the look.

Daniel says he gets feedback from a lot of drivers that it is a really good-looking set-up.

He says the biggest thing he has noticed since owning the truck is the fuel economy it achieves as it runs at 65 tonnes hauling the logs back to a yard in Lara. “I’m saving at least 50 to 70 litres a day compared to the ‘traditional’ logging trucks and that really does add up over a period of time,” he says.

The engine still has plenty of grunt. The last two letters of the 2663 badge hint that the 16-litre in-line six-cylinder engine pumps out a handy 630 horsepower. There is also more torque, available much lower in the rev range, thanks to modern turbocharging and the latest high pressure injection.

The Actros is only available with an automated transmission, so there is no option of an 18-speed manual RoadRanger. But Daniel wouldn’t want anything other than the 12-speed Powershift 3 AMT that is bolted to the engine in his Benz. The positives include comfort and fuel economy as well as not having to work a manual box all day long.

Hard at work.
Hard at work.

“The automatic transmission is just brilliant,” Daniel says.

“One of our runs is to Orbost, in Gippsland and when you are coming down the Monash in the afternoon dealing with the stop-start traffic it can be a long day (without having to work a manual). So, it really is a no brainer to have it,” he says.

He also feels that the advanced Safety Pack, which uses radar and camera technology and is standard on the Actros, is a must-have.

“The technology in the Benz is what puts it apart from the others,” he says.

“I use the adaptive cruise control on the highway and it works brilliantly and the Autonomous Emergency Braking is something that all trucks should have,” Daniel adds.

Daniel and his brother are still hauling logs during the crisis and helping to keep the economy moving, although Daniel did spend two weeks in isolation after a trip to Bali that was cut short due to the COVID-19 crisis. “It wasn’t great, but I was happy to do it to protect vulnerable people in the community,” he says. “I am happy to be back in the truck now though, that’s for sure.”

MERCEDES-BENZ ACTROS 2663

•ENGINE: OM473 16-litre in-line six-cylinder diesel with asymmetrical turbo and high pressure common rail fuel injection

•OUTPUT: 630hp and 1213lb-ft (3000Nm)

•T RANSMISSION: 12-speed Automated Manual Transmission with crawl function

•SAFETY: Autonomous Emergency Braking, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning are standard.

•COMBINATION: B-double log-truck running at 68.5 tonnes (on mass management) in Victoria and at 65 tonnes in New South Wales

•TRAILERS: Freighter

•WORK: Hauling plantation timber from Victoria and NSW back to Lara, near Geelong for export