We put the latest Volvo FH460 Globetrotter to the test for a week and were extremely disappointed – that we had to give it back!
When I was told I could get a new Volvo FH to run for a week’s worth of test driving, I was (as you can probably guess) pretty pleased. “Can I get a Globetrotter XL with the 500 bhp engine please?” I enquired. “We’d like you to try the FH460 Globetrotter, if that’s OK,” said Volvo. “This latest version has enough torque to match a 500 – we’re confident if you put it alongside any rival 500 it’ll match it.”
Sounds interesting – I was intrigued. The thing is, in recent times, 500 bhp in a tractor unit has become a bit of a psychological benchmark for hauliers and drivers. It’s like having an SRi or a ST, isn’t it? Having the biggest cab is the same.
This ‘ordinary’ Globetrotter (non-XL) with 460 bhp is classed as a fleet truck these days. Not your supermarket or parcel company fleet truck, but a sort of industry standard spec for long-haul and trunk operations. A comprehensively specified all-rounder. When you’re running a lot of trucks, even tiny fuel savings across each vehicle can add up to make a huge difference across the fleet. The 460 is the one that’s optimised to deliver maximum fuel efficiency, while still offering a desirable amount of grunt.
When it arrived, I was impressed – it had been a while since I’d had a proper drive in an FH and this one looked very smart in silver. The standard Globetrotter cab is huge. I actually had to look up the cab shapes on the internet to verify it wasn’t an XL (you can tell by the top wind deflector; the XL doesn’t have one due to its taller roof). It’s not just spacious, it’s cleverly designed and more than enough for what I would ever need. With a shortage of drivers across the industry, companies need to offer quality accommodation and the FH is appointed with just about every luxury going, not to mention all the latest innovative safety and economy features.
Trucks are more powerful and luxurious than ever, but they’re also more complicated. Sometimes, I might get a demonstration on how everything works, but I’ve never had one with an FH. I prefer that, because it puts me in a position in which so many drivers find themselves – you get handed the keys and you have to get on with it. Some trucks are easier to suss out than others. It’s just as important for a truck to be simple to use from the start as it is for it to be packed with clever stuff.
In the driver’s seat, I found it easy to get comfortable. Pairing my phone was easy. There are two screens: one for the stereo and one on the dash, which you can switch between using the buttons on the steering wheel. The menus are simple to navigate, and switching between the screens soon becomes second nature. This model came with DAB, and there’s also a USB connector above the driver’s door which you can tether to your phone, or connect a dongle to access the internet – Spotify is pre-loaded.
Heading down south
I was determined to make the most of the adaptive cruise control, and I’ve started to get used to using it in heavy traffic situations. Once you learn to trust it, it does take a lot of the strain out of driving places like that farcical set of roadworks from J19 to 16 on the M6, where drivers take leave of their senses. The FH has a proximity sensor for vehicles on your nearside, and sets off an alarm if it senses another vehicle getting too close. I’ve had two near-misses recently with cars sneaking into my nearside blindspot, so a system like this is really helpful.
However, it did frighten the life out me the first time it went off, when a lorry I was overtaking left the motorway and I moved into the inside lane. A false alarm, but a reassuring one.
I did a couple of local drops in Scotland, and then headed down to North Wales to load for Bury St Edmunds the next day. I had a look at the distances involved and opted to spend the night in Crewe Truck Stop, which maxed out a nine-hour card. ‘Trucker’s Chicken’ was a tasty dinner, and I made use of the shower facilities too. I had a great sleep in the Volvo – the bunk is extremely comfortable.
The next morning, the M6 and A14 were choked with traffic and the adaptive cruise was utilised a lot. It was a tight squeeze into the building site to tip the load. The FH has good visibility and those mirrors should be an industry standard. I had to blindside reverse to get turned around and back out, which wasn’t too tricky with a flat trailer, but made easier thanks to the broad field of vision offered by the mirrors.
Tell you what else I like: having a gearstick. To me it just seems the most satisfying and natural way to select the gears. Not that I ever had to intervene with a manual shift; the I-Shift is so flexible and responsive. Light throttle and you’ll get gentle gear changes; if you’re heavy and need to give it a bit more juice, it understands and reacts positively and is happy to allow you use of the full power band when necessary. This version was equipped with Power mode, which a lot of the fleets don’t spec, but I never felt the need to use it.
After tipping and a 45-minute break, I had to get back to North Wales, where I’d be parking up for the night. Could I manage it in 4.5 hours, though? I decided to have a play with the Tom Tom built-in sat nav and programmed my destination. I tend to avoid those M6 roadworks I mentioned earlier at all costs. If I did choose to go up the M6, I’d be doing it in late afternoon. No thanks. A far better route is to use the M54, then up the A41.
The Tom Tom was having none of it. I knew where I was going, but it wasn’t happy at all for me to use the A41 and continued to insist I doubled back to the M6 at a distance of 134 miles, before finally sussing it out and dropping the distance to 61 miles. The lesson here: sat navs are useful, but it’s never wise to blindly depend on one.
The A41 is a good test for a truck, and as I was empty I could push on. I needed to, as the A14 was terrible as usual. Sitting for 45 minutes 10 miles from the trailer park was not appealing. The FH is fitted with unique independent front suspension, but I would never have known that had I not read it on the Volvo website. It handles fine, but I think the enjoyment is reduced somewhat by the lifeless steering.
I’ve spent a lot of time in a Renault Premium recently, which of course has a lot of Volvo DNA and I swear it handles and sits on the road nicer than the big FH. It’s not a major criticism as the overall comfort is superb. After a long, taxing day of dealing with heavy traffic, I was still in good spirits thanks to the smooth drive and excellent cab layout.
I managed to get parked up for the night in the industrial estate. It’s quite noisy at night with other trucks, shunters and morons in Honda Civics with farty exhausts going up and down the road. After a delicious curry, which I had delivered to the cab, I got my head down for an early night. I set the trucks’ alarm for the morning, and as it was a warm day, tried to open the sunroof. It wouldn’t open. The alarm didn’t go off in the morning either. Volvo electrical shenanigans?
I did have an excellent night’s sleep though – the cab is very well insulated.
I was really starting to appreciate how much thought had gone into the cab. I love the twin pull-out cup holders, the flask holder beside the seat, the deep fridge and large storage box under the bunk. On the other hand, the plastics are quite flimsy and a piece of trim from the rear cupboards even fell off when I was driving. Volvo is a prestige marque, and I reckon there’s improvements to be made on the inside. I know there’s just so much equipment and technology packed into these trucks these days and allowances have to be made, but for a brand that’s been build on solidity, the quality of some of the trim is disappointing.
Anyway, it was time to give the FH a proper test. I now had to deliver some heavy steel plates to an excavator factory. The truck and load were not far off 44 tonnes gross. I wasn’t expecting too much from 460 bhp, but I was well impressed at how hard the 13-litre engine pulled. Some of these modern 450 bhp engines wouldn’t pull you out of bed – but this one has some guts about it, helped by the smart shifting gearbox; the driveline is extremely well integrated. If Volvo had sent it up with no badges on the side and told me it was a 500, I would not have questioned it. If there’s a harder pulling engine in this power bracket, I’ll be surprised.
The engine brake is good too, as is the excellent feature where you can have full braking power without crazy downshifts – for example, holding the truck back on a long downhill stretch. If you want maximum braking, use ‘B’ mode, which will haul you up to a halt if necessary.
My week with the FH went all too quickly. It’s a fantastic driver’s truck; it does exactly what you want it to. The FH is packed with clever features that you quickly become used to and immediately miss when you drive another truck. The 460 engine has a surprising amount of grunt, the I-Shift is so intelligent and responsive you forget all about it. There’s so many clever features on the inside too. I would definitely consider running one of these on my regular work. It’s amazing to think this is pretty much a “standard” lorry these days. Mostly fabulous.
More information: https://www.volvotrucks.co.uk