7.5-tonners still have a role to play, even if fewer people can drive them on a car licence. The best-seller is DAF’s LF, and we took a high-powered LF210 out on the roads of Oxfordshire

If you did a family tree of the DAF LF, you could probably argue its roots started with the Leyland Roadrunner launched in 1984. While the LF’s cab – which is actually a Renault design – is not the same as the Roadrunner, it’s pretty similar.

For many years, the 7.5-tonner was exceptionally popular because it was the biggest vehicle that could be driven on a car licence. The ‘general public’ could hire them and still drive them. That was popular with people moving house who didn’t want to employ an established removals firm.

But in 1997 the law changed, and from then on, those passing their car test had no such entitlement – 3.5 tonnes was the maximum weight vehicle they could drive. However, those who’d passed their test before 1997 retained grandfather rights, so could still legally drive a 7.5-tonner.

Now that an HGV licence was required to drive a truck of this weight, manufacturers started to plug the merits of 12-tonners. They were similar in size to a 7.5-tonner, but had an obvious payload advantage. For many, it was a no-brainer. That is also proved by the fact Volvo only offers 12-tonners and not 7.5-tonners.

But talk of the end of the 7.5-tonner is premature, and for those who want a vehicle of this GVW still have plenty of choice as DAF, Iveco, Fuso, Mercedes-Benz, MAN and Renault all still offer trucks in this weight category.

The most popular 7.5-tonner in the UK is DAF’s LF, which retains the feel of a proper ‘big truck’ running at ‘little truck’ weight. Trucking was offered the chance to take an LF210 out for a decent drive around Oxfordshire – and as we don’t get behind the wheel of too many 7.5-tonners these days, it was an offer too good to turn down.

Technical overview

The truck in the DAF press fleet was an attractive silver LF210 FA 4×2. It was fitted with a box body, including a tail-lift; ideal truck for town deliveries where forklift trucks are not available. Due to social distancing we didn’t have DAF’s trainer, Mandy Wannerton, joining us in the cab, so instead we followed her for the whole route.

The LF210 had the standard Day Cab, although you can specify a sleeper cab. Back in the 1970s, sleepers on 7.5-tonners were almost unheard of, but that changed in the 1980s when Mercedes, Ford and finally Leyland (in its 45 series) offered the option.

There are three seats in the cab, and the middle seat can be folded down when not in use to act as a useful tray for storing day-to-day bits and pieces like paperwork, pens, snacks or phones.

There’s a range of power options on offer, and our truck was fitted with the PACCAR PX-5 4.5-litre four-cylinder Euro 6d engine delivering 213 bhp. That’s quite powerful for a truck of this class, and operators might prefer the same engine in its 184 bhp form as the LF180. If you really need it, there is the option to have the PX7 6.7-litre six-cylinder 234 bhp LF230 as a 7.5-tonner – although the weight differential will really eat into payload potential.

DAF also offers the smaller 3.8-litre PX4 engine in the LF, which it markets as the LF City model. This is rated at 156 and 172 bhp – pretty much ideal for 7.5 tonnes. The only thing to bear in mind with the LF City is it’s only available with a manual gearbox; so if that’s not your thing, then you need the PX5-engined versions. As an aside, you can have a manual gearbox as an option on the PX5 and PX7-engine LFs.

The LF210 delivers a hefty 850 Nm of torque between 1200-1500 rpm (the lower output of 184 bhp is 750 Nm at 1100-1600 rpm, so bear that in mind when ordering).

That said, 213 bhp at this weight is definitely a luxury, and we would argue it’s unnecessary. We know you can’t read too much into bhp per tonnes, especially at lower weights, but at 28.4 bhp per tonne the LF210 has power aplenty! An LF170 or LF180, or even an LF150, is possibly a better bet for this weight class.

The PX-5 features an idle shutdown, which kicks in after five minutes. Safety features included Lane Departure Warning System, Vehicle Stability Control and Reverse Warning.

Our truck had the six-speed AS-Tronic 6AS800 OF gearbox with a ratio range from 6.58-0.78. The rear axle ratio was 1:3.73 and the vehicle was fitted with an exhaust brake and park brake control. 

Its wheelbase was 4300 mm with a rear overhang of 2320 mm. The plastic fuel tank could hold 185 litres, while AdBlue capacity was 25 litres. The body was 6100 mm long and 2480 mm wide.

Front axle capacity was 3200 kg and the rear was 5000 kg, with parabolic springs on the front and air suspension on the rear. Tyres were 215/75R17.5 all round.

As you expected from a press demo truck, all the option boxes were ticked such as a black leather steering wheel, pneumatically adjustable steering column, driver’s air bag, luxury air-suspended seat and air conditioning. Some of those are nice to have; others are probably unnecessary – and we can’t see parcels companies going for leather-clad steering wheels!

On the road 

Sadly the truck was unladen, so we couldn’t get a full representation of how it was likely to perform in the real world. But with 213 bhp on tap and no load, it’s no surprise it was very lively. If you are doing multi-drop deliveries, such power could be an asset as it enables much quicker acceleration – be it for deliveries or for traffic lights and hold-ups in town.

We picked the LF210 up at a DAF dealer in north Oxford and headed north, through the outskirts of the city – we avoided going into the centre as we didn’t want to waste time being stuck in traffic – and then headed towards the town of Aylesbury for a bit more town driving, then to Haddenham for a break.

This gave us a full range of road types: dual-carriageway, A-roads, B-roads and of course town roads. We encountered all traffic types as well: nose-to-tail congestion, stop-start town driving, a plethora of roundabouts, junctions and traffic lights – just about everything the majority of 7.5-tonne drivers will experience in their daily work.

With all that power in reserve, this truck accelerated exceptionally well and the automated six-speed gearbox was smooth and effortless. No lurching as it changed up or down a ratio.

The little truck was sure and assertive when it came to braking, although the exhaust brake was a little awkward and mildly ineffective to use. We found it was better just to use the footbrake.

The LF handled superbly well, performed exceptionally and gave a laid-back, relaxing and pleasurable drive whatever the traffic. The cab was well laid out and the seats were comfortable; the driving position was excellent and the visibility spot-on – both front and rear. Three big men can comfortably sit in the cab going to jobs if they need to – ideal for removals firms, for example – and there’s no feeling of claustrophobia.

Because this will be used as a town truck for most operators, the demo LF had an extra window in the passenger door to keep cyclists in view. As we know, the downside of that feature is you can’t have an electric wind-down window; instead you have a sliding window on the passenger side, which no one really likes, but we have to tolerate it.

Entry and exit is also very easy, with just one step and a wide door that opens fully. The dash is very similar to CF and XF, so there is a lot of familiarity there – which is no bad thing if you have a mixed-weight DAF fleet.

VERDICT

While we would have preferred to be hauling a load, our lengthy unladen run still demonstrated the capabilities of this truck. It is more than up to the standard required for the jobs it will do.

In all honesty, the 210 bhp engine over the top. For just about all 7.5-tonne applications, this truck has power you simply don’t need. The LF180 is a better bet, and if you don’t mind a manual ’box then the LF170 City is also a perfect fit.

One area where a 210 might be worth acquiring is if you regularly haul drawbar trailers as the sheer size of the truck may increase the drag, so necessitating the need for a bit more power.

The biggest question is whether a 7.5-tonner is what you really need. Given this weight class needs an HGV licence (unless you have grandfather rights on your car licence), then you might be better off with a 12-tonne LF – which will be dimensionally similar, yet offers a boost in payload.

There is an argument the cab LF cab is a bit aged now, but it remains absolutely fit for purpose. Build quality on DAFs is generally excellent and back-up is still widely regarded as the best of the bunch.

It remains clear why the LF is still the market-leader in this sector. We like the LF at this weight: it’s not perfect, but it’s certainly one of the best.

Specifications

Model: DAF LF210 FT
• Design GVW/GCW: 8200 kg
• Chassis: 4300 mm wheelbase
Front axle: 3200 kg capacity.
Rear axle: 5500 kg. 1:3.73 ratio. 215/75R 17.5 tyres.
• Gearbox: AS Tronic 6AS800 OF 6-Speed Automated manual
• Engine: Paccar PX5, Euro 6d, 4.5-litre, four-cylinder
• Max power: 213 hp @ 2300 rpm
• Max torque: 850 Nm @ 1200-1500 rpm
• Cab: All-steel Day cab

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