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Iveco’s all-new Stralis NP460 with uprated natural gas engine and Hi-Tronix automated gearbox make a compelling case for the “post-diesel era”.

“The post-diesel ere is here.” This is how Iveco’s brand president, Pierre Lahutte, introduced the new higher-powered version of the Italian manufacturer’s gas-powered NP (Natural Power) commercial vehicle engine to us at its premiere in Ulm, Germany in October 2017.

On paper, you can see how he makes such a boast. The brand new engine targets the 460 bhp sweet spot at the core of European truck market and can be specified for a full range of applications, from low tractor units to swap bodies, ADR tankers to Iveco’s new X-WAY construction chassis (Trucking, January). It’s a versatile power bracket – and crucially, the engine’s torque characteristics are equally impressive at 2000 Nm between 1100-1600 rpm. But does it all hold up out on the road?

Top to bottom

Regular readers will recall our lengthy drive in the 9-litre, 400 bhp Stralis NP tractor unit back in April 2017, in which we took the truck from John O’Groats to Land’s End to test its suitability for long-haul operations. The truck managed the journey fully freighted on only one fill of LNG (liquified natural gas), backing up its claim to be able to make a trip of 1500 km on a full tank.

Our overall impressions were very positive, though we did put forward two main reservations. First, the NP400 demonstrator we drove was running with an older Eurotronic automated transmission, which seemed to hamstring the truck with sluggish gearchanges and lethargic pull-away performance. Second, the UK’s lacklustre coverage of suitable LNG-equipped fuelling stations meant the last stage of our journey was incredibly tense, as we reached Land’s End with the fuel needle well into the red – and the nearest gas station was in Bridgwater!

Sadly, the latter issue has not got much better since our initial test, with the UK still lagging behind Europe with LNG availability – though the situation is slowly improving. But with a boosted range of up to 1600 km for the new 4×2 NP460 when packing two gas tanks (one on either side of the chassis), operators could achieve two or three shifts per fill, which helps soften the blow.

However, we can safely say the former niggle has been pretty much sorted with the combination of the higher-power lump and new Hi-Tronix gearbox.

Solid progress

Our test drive of the new Stralis NP460 would take us from Iveco’s manufacturing plant in Ulm, Germany on a 116 km route along A-roads and autobahns, taking in a mixture of flat and hilly terrain. After quickly getting comfortable in the XP cab (though we still find the seat a bit hard), we were off into the afternoon rush-hour traffic on our way to the main highway.

Unfortunately, we were beset with a huge traffic jam almost as soon as we hit motorway, which meant we were in slow-moving stop-start queue for best part of an hour as we crawled towards the exit. Not the most exciting of starts, but at least we had plenty of opportunity to sample the truck’s low-geared performance.

Back in April, we noted the NP400 with EuroTronic ’box felt jerky when inching forward in traffic and manoeuvring around truck parks at our various stops, with not much subtlety in its behaviour. But this has been fixed with the new transmission. What’s more, the three-or-four second pause between pressing your foot on the gas pedal and power being delivered to the drivetrain is also much improved, with the new truck responding much quicker to our right foot (though there’s still a slight lag).

Free running

Once we’d escaped the queues and circumvented the problem (car accident), we were back on the highway and properly cruising at 90 kmh. With Hi-Tronix’s Eco mode engaged and predictive cruise control on, Stralis makes for an effortless and comfortable drive. Gearchanges are super-smooth, with the silky transmission working its way up and down the range as the truck automatically maintaining a safe distance from the vehicles ahead, leaving us free to concentrate on the road and the frustrated drivers hurtling past at break-neck speed, eager to make up time lost in the jam.

Loaded to 33 tonnes, Stralis NP460 put its 2000 Nm to good use on the hillier parts of our journey, with the truck barely breaking a sweat as we slowly threaded our way up some tight A-road inclines as we spun around to begin the return leg of our test drive. The cab 

At the end of what turned out to be a lengthy three-hour stint in the higher-powered NP, we arrived back at the factory feeling pretty fresh.

Verdict

With the higher-powered NP, you soon completely forget you’re driving a truck powered by LNG – the on-road characteristics really are almost indistinguishable from the diesel Stralis. Better than diesel? From a driver’s perspective, not quite – but once you start to factor in fuel savings (and assuming you route the vehicle to ensure it can be filled up when required), the story begins to look quite compelling for cost-conscious and environmentally aware operators.

Iveco reckons NP460 can offer up to nine per cent TCO savings over diesel. It also produces 60 per cent less NOx and 99 per cent fewer particulates than diesel equivalents, with CO2 figures 10 per cent better if using fossil gas or 95 per cent better with biomethane. Iveco said its objective is to get 600 LNG trucks on the road by 2018 – and we think it could well be in many operators’ interests to consider putting one to the test.

More information: https://www.iveco.com/uk