Everyone likes a snow day. Here in Britain (and certainly down South, where we are), the times when we can go outside and muck about in the white stuff can be few and far between. And this season’s warmer winter months have even kept the ice to a minimum in most parts of the country.

But while chucking snowballs and making snowmen is one thing, it’s quite another to be out on the road and fighting against the weather.

To enable us to sample what it’s like to drive HGVs in proper wintry conditions, Scania recently flew us to Norway for a driving event held just outside the mountain town of Trysil. A popular skiing resort, Trysil can usually be relied upon to have temperatures of -10 degrees C and below, and of course snow in abundance. Indeed, regular readers may well recall our previous trip to the region, where we managed to get well and truly stuck in the woods (Trucking, xxx issue).

But this year, the needle was hovering around 4 degrees C – and while there was some snow about, there was very little powder on the roads. What there was plenty of, however, is ice…

As usual for this driving event, Scania had brought along a wide variety of trucks and combinations for us to play with. All were fitted with Continental Winter tyres and were running on HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil) instead of diesel to reduce CO2 emissions. Some standouts among the line-up were a G410 8×4 tipper running on CNG (compressed natural gas), a top-power R730 6×4 rigid logger with AM/OP Höglund trailer and Epsilon M12L80 timber crane, and a new R-series 6×2 tractor unit featuring Scania’s recently launched 13-litre, 540 bhp inline-six engine. This new powerplant is aimed at operators who require lots of power and drivability, but where weight sensitivity or front axle loads mean the use of the bigger, heavier V8 isn’t a viable option.

Going large

Walking (well, sliding) our way out into the demo yard to choose our first drive, the first truck to catch our eye was an 61-tonne R650 6×2 with swap body which was also pulling a semi-trailer with container body via dolly to make it an extra-long 25.25 m combination. Might as well go large with our inaugural run around the frozen test route, eh?

Inside the tall R-cab, the fit and finish was a fair bit higher than standard fleet spec (as was common for all the test vehicles in Trysil) – we’re talking leather seats, leather steering wheel and plenty of other bells and whistles.

Firing up the big V8, we set off carefully across the yard and headed towards the winding and undulating access track that would take us to the main road. As mentioned, there was no snow on roads, only ice – and we could feel the wheels spinning as they fought for traction.

When we reached the junction with the two-lane highway, we waited for a big gap in traffic before edging out for a tight right-turn, eyes locked onto the rearview mirror as the end of the extra-long trailer crept close to a signpost as we swung the big combination around.

Settling in for a long drive down the slippery road into town, our co-driver warned we’d have to brake carefully to avoid skidding. As the road descended, we could feel the weight of the outfit pushing us forwards, so we kept the needle at a sedate 60-65 kmh and maintained a sensible distance from the vehicles in front.

Clean sweep

We took another right turn at the bottom of the hill to take the unit across a bridge over a frozen river and on to a roundabout, where we’d turn around and repeat the route back to the demo centre. Slightly nervous about doing a 180 without taking out any street furniture, we nudged into the middle of the lane to give the back end plenty of room. But thankfully, the turn was much easier than expected and we left all the posts and bollards unharmed.

The climb back up the hill required some extra help with traction, so before pulling back onto the main highway we were advised to increase weight on the drive axle to 15 tonnes (Norway permits higher axle weights than we’re allowed in the UK) to help dig in.

We were warned that at this weight, if we stopped on our way up the hill, it would be very difficult to get going again – but we needn’t have worried. The 3300 Nm of torque from the big V8 got us up to 55 kmh fairly swiftly, the smooth-shifting 12-speed Opticruise coping perfectly well in Standard mode. Midway up, the gradient increased and we had to flick down to eighth as our speed dropped to 50 kmh, but the truck made it to the top without further problem.

The ice was worsening as we turned back onto the access track to the demo yard. For this stretch, we upped the drive axle weight to 16 tonnes, switched transmission to manual, locked in fourth and kept at a steady 1500 rpm as we snaked back to base.

Bit of both

For our next drive, we opted for something completely different: a P320 hybrid. This rigid with Nordic box body was packing a 9-litre, 320 bhp, five-cylinder diesel engine pushing out 1600 Nm of torque, plus a 177 bhp electric motor capable of 1050 Nm torque. We were loaded to 15 tonnes, though Scania reckons this hybrid can be spec’d up to 26 tonnes (and beyond) if required.

The way the truck uses this electric engine is clever. Its batteries are charged by the diesel engine during regular operation, with more energy captured during braking and more still If the electric retarder is engaged. Once the truck enters a city, power can be switched over from diesel to electric (either automatically by crossing a predefined geofence, or manually by the driver) to give the truck a range of 10 km at speeds up to 45 kmh using just this electric motor – which Scania reckons can shave 15 per cent off the vehicle’s overall fuel bill.

While on the smaller side, the P-cab is no less comfortable and surprisingly spacious. Pulling out of the yard and heading back to the main road, we noted all-round visibility was also very high.

Heading back down the long hill towards town, it was the perfect opportunity to use the retarder to give the batteries a boost (they were currently at 74 per cent charge). Once engaged, the driver info display shows the batteries charging quickly, and by the time we were at the bottom of the slope they were topped to the brim.

At the roundabout over the bridge, we took a left turn and headed into Trysil. When the electric motor was engaged with a dab of the dash button, the diesel cut off and the truck entered milk-float mode, barely making a sound. But there was still plenty of power – the town roads were very icy and it was a constant battle to prevent the truck sliding, but the electric engine felt lively and plenty good enough for around-town work.

On our way back up the hill in diesel mode, we tried the hybrid’s kick-down boost – when the driver puts presses the pedal to the floor, the electric motor kicks in to deliver a power boost of 50 kW and 250 Nm of torque (providing the battery is sufficiently charged). We felt the pull immediately – and were told that if the driver chooses Performance mode, an extra boost of 20 kW or 150 Nm is constantly added during acceleration for some extra zip, even if the kick-down function is not engaged.

Artic conditions

Next, we picked out an R520 6×2 tractor unit coupled to a Knapen walking-floor trailer to take for a spin. Closer to UK spec, this vehicle was loaded with wood chips to 45 tonnes.

Our run down to town was uneventful, and on the way back up the R520 was able to keep to a steady 65 kmh at 1300 rpm in 10th – good going with 11.5 bhp per tonne on tap. But half way up, we took a detour and headed into the forest on a lesser-used road for a scenic an increasingly icy diversion.

The road here was narrow, twisty and much icier than any we’d encountered so far. The temperature was dropping due to the region’s early sunset, so melted water was quickly refreezing as we made our way along the track. We could feel the wheels slipping and the traction warning was blinking away on the dash, but we soldiered on past the thick pines and remote log cabins and made it to the end without getting stuck or sliding into the snowy verge.

Half measures

On our return to base, we spotted an R580 XT 8×4 with Istrail TN144-2 tipper body pulling up next to us. Seizing the opportunity, we jumped straight in for a drive. This was loaded to 32 tonnes with gravel and we reckoned it wouldn’t have too many problems thanks to its 16-litre V8 pushing out 580 bhp and 3000 Nm of torque. We were told that originally, Scania had this chassis hooked up to another trailer to boost weight to 50 tonnes, but had just uncoupled it because of the rapidly freezing conditions.

With no trailer to worry about, we made use of the automatic retarder on the way back to town. When engaged via a switch on the right stalk, it comes on with a touch of the brake pedal and held us at a steady 75 kmh all the way down. After crossing the bridge and negotiating the roundabout, we began to climb back up and the V8 dug in – the automated Opticruise ’box holding onto 11th at 55 kmh.

The XT is a toughened spec meant for off-road operation, so it would have been rude not to take it into the forest. Heading in, the sun was getting lower and it was harder going, and we had to downshift into sixth and fifth to fight our way through. But what was perhaps most noticeable was how quiet it was inside the cab – even with the engine working hard.

All linked up

Perhaps the most unusual combination at the event was a 580S 6×2 tractor unit which was pulling two artic trailers via a link module to create another 25.25m combination. It was a nine-axle monster – and as we climbed in, our fingers were crossed that we wouldn’t need to reverse it!

Loaded to 60 tonnes with concrete boxes, the driven axle was set to 14 tonnes for extra bite and the tractor was also fitted with automatic snow chains, which can be engaged while driving via a button on the dash to help get out of trouble.

Our co-driver said this combination isn’t a common choice for operators, mainly due to its heavy overall weight limiting payload (it’s almost 31 tonnes empty), and because it is a “nightmare” to reverse. This, we were told, is because with two points of articulation and the long link module, the reaction of the last trailer is quite slow – but when you see the reaction, you are already too late to correct it. Backing it up straight is the best option, but obviously requires a lot of space!

The combination comes into its own for volume deliveries where flexibility is key, as the trailers can be separated from the link module and coupled individually to the tractor unit if required.

Though pulling two articulated trailers, we found the outfit handled surprisingly well – helped in no small amount by the steering axles on each trailer. It followed a precise line around corners and roundabouts, and wasn’t much different to the other 25.25 m combo with dolly we’d tried. Amusingly, our co-driver said the previous test driver, who was another UK journalist, had put the tractor in the snowbank after pulling out too far at a junction because he was worried about the swing. (Any idea who that was, Pip?)

Specifications

Model: Scania R650 B6x2NB
• GVW: 61,000 kg
• Engine: Scania DC16-118, Euro 6, SCR
Max power: 650 bhp
• Max torque: 3300 Nm
• Gearbox: 12-speed Opticruise
• Cab: CR20H
• Additional equipment: 25.25 m swap box body with container semi-trailer via dolly

Model: Scania P320 B4x2NB Hybrid
• GVW: 15 tonnes
• Engine: Scania DC09-126, Euro 6, SCR / Electric hybrid
• Max power: 320 bhp (diesel) / 177 bhp (electric)
• Max torque: 1600 Nm (diesel) / 1050 (electric)
• Gearbox: 12-speed Opticruise
• Cab: CP17N
• Additional equipment: Nordic box body, hybrid drive

Model: Scania R520 A6X2NB
• GVW: 45 tonnes
• Engine: Scania DC16-116, Euro 6, SCR
• Max power: 520 bhp
• Max torque: 2700 Nm
• Gearbox: 12-speed Opticruise
• Cab: CR20H
• Additional equipment: Knapen walking-floor trailer

Model: Scania R580 XT B8x4HZ
• GVW: 45 tonnes
• Engine: Scania DC16-117, Euro 6, SCR
Max power: 580 bhp
• Max torque: 3000 Nm
• Gearbox: 12-speed Opticruise
• Cab: CR20N
• Additional equipment: Istrail TN144-2 tipper body

Model: Scania 580S A6x2NB
• GVW: 60 tonnes
• Engine: Scania DC16-117, Euro 6, SCR
Max power: 580 bhp
• Max torque: 3000 Nm
• Gearbox: 12-speed Opticruise
• Cab: CS20H
• Additional equipment: 25.25 m, VAK (link module), single bogie with Onspot, 2x VBG trailers

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