After the launch of Merc’s Actros 5 in Berlin back in September, the big question was: is this really a ‘new’ truck?

The issue was the ‘new’ Actros looked exactly the same as the model it was replacing – except for the lack of mirrors. Merc was keen to tell us there were over a 100 changes, but new truck launches – even if they are just facelifts – tend to have something visible to set them apart.

But the truth is Merc has made many very important alterations under the hood. While there are no changes to the cabs or drivelines, there are monumental upgrades to the safety equipment on the new vehicles.

At the Berlin launch last year, we had the briefest of drives – but in May we finally got to sample one on the road. Our test drive was in Spain, so the vehicle was left-hand drive and at 40 tonnes. It was a good taster, but what we really wanted was a British-spec Actros with a GVW of 44 tonnes, six axles and the wheel on the right side of the cab.

Finally, in July, we got to take out a top-of-the-range 2563 GigaSpace with all the bells and whistles – and we got to drive it for nearly three hours, at maximum weight and on a decent, demanding route. So how did it fare?

Technical overview

Before we get into that, let’s look at our test vehicle. Underneath the 2563LS’s impressive GigaSpace cab was Merc’s biggest engine: the OM473, 15.6-litre straight-six in its most powerful 625 bhp output, which delivers 3000 Nm of torque. 

While anything over 500 bhp is a luxury for 44-tonne work, that does not stop there being 18 different engine options across the seven manufacturers that break the 500-plus horses barrier.

The beefy engine is coupled to Merc’s 12-speed Powershift 3 automated gearbox. The axle ratings are nine tonnes on the front, 7.5 tonnes for the midlift pusher and 13 tonnes on the rear drive axle. The wheelbase is 4000 mm, and the truck was shod with 385/65R22.5 tyres throughout on Alcoa Dura-Bright aluminium wheels.

New Actros can be ordered with all manner of cab options, but the BigSpace and StreamSpace are realistically the only other cabs likely to appeal to purchasers of such a top-spec truck. It’s primarily aimed at long-distance haulage, and especially at owner-drivers and small prestige fleets where image is important.

The standard equipment included is Active Brake Assist 5, Merc’s excellent autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian recognition; Mirrorcam with two cameras and digital screens; two USB-C ports; dual Bluetooth connectivity and inductive (wireless) charging tray; Traffic Sign Assist; Attention Assist; Lane Keeping Assist; Stability Control Assist; Keyless Go with Remote Central Locking and Light Check functions; Tyre Pressure Monitoring and Electronic Handbrake.

Additionally, the truck also has Mercedes-Benz Uptime (a preventative maintenance system which works via tele-diagnosis), Fleetboard and Truck App Portal and Predictive Powertrain Control.

Air-suspended leather seats are included for added driver comfort, and the driver’s seat comes with a massage function. Behind those seats is a luxury bed with Premium Comfort mattress and pull-out fridge underneath, and there is automatic climate control.

On top of this impressive host of standard features, the truck had a number of optional extras, including the Interactive Multimedia Cockpit with a 12 inch instrument panel and a 10 inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, truck satellite navigation system with dynamic route guidance and live traffic information, and the high-performance engine brake.

Merc’s Active Drive Assist is currently not an option on the 6×2 mid-lift tractor chassis. It is hoped this will be available ‘sometime soon’, but our experience of it in Spain make us think it might be a bit ‘Marmitey’ and may gain as many critics as plaudits.

Digital set-up

For this test drive, our route began at Wentworth Park, near Barnsley, and took the A616 towards Huddersfield before turning left and taking the A628 over the scenic, but not especially truck-friendly Woodhead Pass. On the outskirts of Manchester we avoided going to the city itself and instead skirted round, heading first towards Stalybridge and then on through Greenfield.

After that, it was the tough climb to Saddleworth Moor before continuing via Holmfirth and Barnsley, and then back to Wentworth Park. All in, it afforded us a shade under three hours behind the wheel – although sadly there was not the time to do any motorway driving.

Before a driver gets going in a new Actros with the MultiMedia Cockpit, they need to set up the screens how they want them. There are choices to make both in the information relaid to the driver, and how it is displayed. Merc has made some of the screen options ‘traditional’ with graphics to represent an ‘old-school’ speedometer dial, while others include a rev counter as a dial – or you can have that incorporated in the speedometer. One thing is for sure, the new displays are very flexible.

But for all their wizardry, the new dashes will require training. This is not really a truck you can expect a driver to jump into and be able to drive it immediately, because there is a mass of technology that can be a bit baffling. Older hands especially might find it a bit daunting, though youngsters will likely jump at the chance to get their hand on the wheel.

But it means any company taking New Actros into their fleet will need a proper dealer-led handover. You simply cannot ask a driver, even if they have held their licence for 20 or 30 years, to take charge of this truck without getting moans and groans when they get back to the yard, probably combined with a less than satisfactory driver score and fuel return. They will need training. If you take several into your fleet, you will need to train a trainer to give all your staff a good understanding of how to get the best out of both the dash and the truck’s handling as well.

The new cockpit can be set to suit each driver’s preference, but the good news is they don’t need to reset it every time they get in a similar truck, as the preferences for up to six drivers can be stored so the dash will revert to that set-up when the driver puts in their card and gets ready to set off. This will be useful for big fleets with a mix of drivers. And remember, even the supermarkets are going for this new set up!

On the road

Once happy with our screen set-up, we used the Predictive Powertrain Control (PPC) and the Proximity Control Assist (PCA) as much as possible to keep the truck a safe distance from the vehicle in front, therefore using the brakes much less and in turn saving fuel. PPC’s acceleration away from any drop in speed is steady, so the truck is not busting a gut to get back to its pre-set speed – thereby boosting fuel economy.

Mirrorcam is a real step forward and we think digital mirrors will become the norm on most trucks soon. Some manufacturers are saying they won’t adopt them, but we can’t see why they wouldn’t. It’s a much better system than the standard wing mirrors. It’s better, safer and, with a 1.3 per cent fuel saving, they will pay for themselves within a year. Why on earth would you not want to exploit that?

All our initial reservations about how easy it would be to get used to Mirrorcam have been banished. It only takes a matter of minutes before you forget you are looking at a slightly different angle to see what’s behind you. And the fact you can still see the back of your trailer when cornering is a real plus. For reversing, they are far superior and safer. Generally, checking mirror screens on the A-pillars means less straining of the neck, and out goes the blindspot caused by large external mirrors (there is a small blindspot on the pillars, but it really is small).

Pulling power

Performance-wise, the 2563 positively sparkled. Mercs have a reputation for being a little less sprightly than other makes, but with 625 bhp under the cab there are no such issues with this beast. Straight onto the A616, we were presented with our first steep hill – and with the PCC set at 50 mph, the big Merc stormed up with no problem. Likewise on the A628 there are some severe climbs, often after tight bends, so there’s little chance to build up much momentum. But with the big engine, the Merc was excellent at pulling away.

It also handles well, and despite having all those twists and turns on the road, it held the road superbly. The stop-start traffic on the approach to Hadfield allowed us to try the hill-hold system, which works well. It all adds up to make driving more effortless.

We cleared the outskirts of Manchester quite easily, then fell into plenty of 30 mph town driving in Staybridge. As the pedestrians kept themselves on the pavement there was not chance to try out the ABA, but this kind of driving is exactly where you need the peace of mind of knowing it’s there.

After Greenfield came the climb on the A635 towards Saddleworth Moor; a twisty road that climbs high and slows down any truck. Just for comparison when we did this route in a basic 2543 a few weeks earlier, it laboured to get up, achieving just 22 mph maximum. But the 2563 topped out at 38 mph – and it would have been more if we hadn’t had to slow down to overtake a cyclist!

Once the climb was over, we could crank the PCC up and let the 2563 loose to 50 mph. Again, it was now a chance to just sit back and enjoy the drive.

After the scenic delights of Saddleworth Moor came the steep descent into Holmfirth. The truck’s engine brake was ideal for keeping us at a steady speed, and at no point were we worried it may run away from us. It handled immaculately.

The last stage of the run back to Wentworth Park was equally enjoyable – and the 2563 really proves a well-spec’d truck is an enjoyable drive whatever the road and topography.

It’s perhaps fair to say there won’t be many drivers who’ll get their hands on the top-power 625 bhp 2563; but if you are looking for a high-powered flagship, the mighty Merc really ought to be on your demo list. The GigaSpace is a wonderfully large and roomy cab with flat floor, a good bunk and a tasteful design. Combine that with a good driveline and excellent handling and the new Mercs are a very attractive proposition for long-haul work.

VERDICT

The outgoing Actros had a reputation for excellent fuel returns, and the new model should be even better. The new ‘gadgets’ are great, though they may take some getting used to. The new dash set-up and Mirrorcam might even entice some youngster to join the industry – no bad thing at all.

Many operators and drivers may view Mercs as being a bit utilitarian and ‘workmanlike’, but this 2563 dispels that assessment. This is the first drive of an Actros we have done in recent times where we came away thinking ‘wow, that really was a nice drive’. And while we still believe Merc missed a trick in not tweaking the exterior, we can’t fault the improvements it has made to safety.

The new Actros ticks all the boxes: it’s great on fuel (though let’s be fair, the 2548 will beat the 2563 in that respect), they are sensibly priced, and Merc also offers a wide range of options for cabs and drivelines so operators can order the truck they want.

But the subject of this test is a flagship, and it’s up against some stiff competition in that respect. We feel it at least matches its rivals, and in many cases beats them. When full total cost of ownership is taken into account, the case of a 2563 as a flagship is very strong.

 

SPECIFICATION

Model: Mercedes-Benz Actros 2563LS

• Design GVW/GCW: 25,000 kg / 44,000 kg
• Chassis: 4000 mm wheelbase
• Front axle: 9000 kg capacity
• Midlift axle: 7500 kg capacity
• Rear axle: 13,000 kg
• Tyres: 385/65R22.5
• Gearbox: Powershift 3 12-speed automated manual
• Engine: OM473 Euro 6, 15.6-litre, six-cylinder
• Max power: 625 bhp @ 1600 rpm
• Max torque: 3000 Nm @ 1100 rpm
• Cab: GigaSpace high-roof sleeper
• Fuel/AdBlue tank: 490 litres / 30 litres

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