In March 2020, Volvo unveiled its new FM, FMX and revised FH models – but the official launch in Sweden was cancelled due to the pandemic. Then came lockdown. In the meantime, the first right-hand drive examples arrived in the UK, and in mid-July we finally got our hands on them.

Trucking headed to Warwick to have short drives of four trucks: FM, FMX, FH and FH16. The pick of the bunch was undoubtedly the FM420 as a 30-tonne four-axle artic. Next of interest was the 8×4 FMX460 tipper; both featured the new cab.

Also available was an FH540 Dual Clutch as a 6×2 twin-steer 44-tonne artic, and an FH16-750, also as a six-axle artic. The FH has had what can only be described as a minor facelift outside and some interior layout changes. Hardcore truck geeks will tell the Version 5 FH apart from the Version 4. But the new FM is notably different as its cab has changed considerably.

The Version 4 FH with the new cab appeared in 2012 and it has taken eight years for the new FM cab to appear. That is mildly surprising given it’s just a smaller FH cab, so you could be forgiven for thinking it might have appeared a few years ago.

The FM

Volvo has a rich history in its middle-weight/distribution tractors. The F86 was the truck that got the company a foothold in the UK in the late 1960s. Then came the F7, another popular machine; and then the superb FL7/FL10 models that did the company no end of good.

All good things come to an end, and in 1998 the Version 1 FM replaced the FL with its scaled-down FH cab. It had three facelifts, the most recent in 2014 to make it ‘look like’ an FH, even though it was still clearly the 1998 cab with a different grille. 

The FM/FH’s Achilles heel was the restricted internal space. The raked cab, aimed at improving aerodynamics and reducing fuel consumption, led to a lot of criticism from drivers who lost valuable space in their cabs. The V4 FH addressed that with its cube-like appearance.

Now the new FM follows that mould. It means it does look a little boxy, but with a good driveline the operator still gets good fuel returns – yet the little cab is far more driver friendly.

The FM has two engines: the 11-litre at 330, 370, 430 and 460 bhp; and the 12.8-litre at 420, 460, and 500 bhp. Like previous models, the 540 bhp version is only available on an FMX. Seven engine outputs over the range is very impressive and ticks many boxes.

There are also several cab options and it won’t surprise you to know they are day, sleeper and Globetrotter, plus a flat-roof day and flat-roof sleeper for specialist applications like car transporters. There is also a crew cab for fire tenders and recovery truck applications. There is no longer the LXL higher Globetrotter option. 

The truck has improved headlights, including a new feature where you can have them on full beam yet they will auto dip when there is oncoming traffic. It has the same mirrors as used on the FH (there are no plans for mirror cameras), but you can also have FMX-style mirrors on an FM.

As you’d expect, the interiors are much improved. New trims are available and a choice of cloth, vinyl, leather and mix-and-match variants available for the seats.

Improved dash

The main dash is very Merc-esque in its appearance; although unlike the Merc, but like the new MAN, the new display is enclosed. It looks smart and it’s very functional. 

You can choose one of four main displays to suit what you want: Home View (revs, speed, fuel, radio) or Focus View (digital speed, ACC, Cruise Control, I-See, driving hours, time and so on), Navigation View (digital speed, sat nav, hours, time) and finally, and least likely to be used while driving, Load View (this shows distribution of weight on each axle). This is a useful screen before you drive after loading, but then changing to either the Home, Focus or Navigation view is advised. The Focus View is probably the most useful.

And like most trucks now, there is a secondary 9-inch touch-screen display on the left of the driver for infotainment and other features. You can have the sat nav on either display, whichever suits you. You can also have the truck’s handbook digitally displayed, and there are also helpful videos to help drivers get the best out of the truck. The vehicles are said to be up to 2dB quieter.

The gear selector can be down by the side of the seat or on the dash. The former feels more truck-like; the latter gives you more space. On the FM, especially if you are accessing the bunk regularly, we’d recommend the dash-mounted buttons. There are more buttons on the steering wheel now, which is helpful, though we think track manufacturers have probably reached the critical mass of steering wheel buttons – many more could get a bit too confusing!

The day cab is new as the FH Version 4 has never been offered with this option, so this needed a new design. There is no pull-down bunk option, but there is an optional storage locker at the back. A rear cab window is an option. The storage lockers have been improved and need a slight lift action before they slide open, thus reducing the chance of them accidentally opening due to road conditions.

The FM/FMX will be available as 4×2, 4×4, 6×2, 6×4, 6×6, 8×2, 8×4 and 10×4 options as rigids – including Tridem options on the 8×2 and 8x4s. As tractors, they are available as 4×2, 6×2 twin-steer, 6×2 pusher, 6×2 small mid-lift, 6×2 tag and 6×4 options.

Volvo had done more prewiring in the cabs, so fitting cameras and other features is a lot easier and so cheaper.

The FH

FH is less ‘new’ and benefits from the improved cab interior with the better dash set-up, new trims and other in-cab improvements as seen on the FM. Externally, there is a new grille and a slightly wider front panel with the Volvo badge and slash – better for company branding.

The FH16 has what Volvo calls its ‘waterfall-style’ grille, but it’s also available with a black grille. There is a sturdy bumper option for heavy-haulage applications. The indicators are also now moved to the door and new steps are fitted. The cab options are sleeper, Globetrotter, Globetrotter XL and low-roof sleeper for specialist applications.

The FH16 sits slightly higher than the model it replaces. It is still available at 550, 650 and 750 bhp outputs, though you’ll be lucky you see a 550 or 650. The FH with the 12.8-litre has the same 420, 460, 500 and 540 bhp outputs as before, and Dual Clutch and I-Save options are available – although most operates would specify one or the other: the former for fuel saving, the latter for performance. It’s unlikely many would opt for both these features. Of course, you can specify neither.

FM on the road

The FM we drove featured the smallest output of the D13K engine at 420 bhp, which delivers 2100 Nm of torque. The gearbox was the popular and effective AT2412F I-Shift 12-speed automatic. It was a 4×2 medium-height chassis with a 3700 mm wheelbase and the Globetrotter cab, and had air suspension front and rear. 

Inside you see just how much space there is. For a small-cabbed truck, this is fine for a few nights out; in fact we’d have no qualms whatsoever about taking it for a run to Spain or Italy. Yes there is an engine hump, but not as intrusive as with the old FL.

Because Volvo is keen to plug the FH for long-haul, the FM demo was only a 4×2 with a short tandem widespread axle, rear-steer Krone trailer – the sort for urban deliveries. Accordingly its Alcoa Dura-Bright wheels were shod with 355/50R22.5 Michelin X Line Energy tyres on the front axle and 295/60R22.5 on the drive axle. The front axle was 8000 kg, the rear 11,500 kg.

The FM handled exceptionally well on the road. It had Volvo’s Dynamic Steering, which makes driving effortless. If you do lots of miles, this option box is worth ticking despite the extra £3500. Dynamic Steering is now linked to the lane departure warning system, and the truck will ‘adjust itself’ where necessary. Volvo says there is 30 per cent less ‘strain’ for the driver with Dynamic Steering.

We were only loaded at 30 tonnes gross and the trailer also steered to made manoeuvring the vehicle easier. If you were always operating at this weight, the lighter FM370 with the 11-litre engine might be a better bet. That said, having a 420 means if you needed to switch trailers and run at 40 tonnes, it would be well within its capabilities.

Verdict

The FM has always been a good truck and you get a quality product. The new FM moves that on a stage. The cab is superb and the bunk has been raised slightly to offer more storage. It only has two steps for access, making it ideal for distribution work where the driver is in and out of the cab all day. The wide range of engine outputs mean at 44 tonnes, the FM460 or 500 are ideal.

After the FM, we took out the FMX, FH540 and FH16. All were easy and pleasurable to drive. It’s hard to evaluate the FMX too much, even loaded at 32 tonnes, and we’d love to put its through its paces off-road in a quarry. Suffice to say, the new cab is a vast improvement. 

The FH540 did surprisingly seem to struggle at times getting up hills, but we must stress it was a pre-production truck and had not been fully ‘broken in’. It had the Dual Clutch option. We can’t help thinking a FH460TC would be the best truck Volvo could add to its press fleet.

The FH16 is a poser’s wagon and there’s no getting away from it. Other than heavy-haulage, we cannot think of a single application where it warrants the investment. Yes, it will hold its value better than a 13-litre; but seriously, the FH460 with the turbo compound and I-Save features are the best for general haulage (though if you endured lots of hills, the FH500TC would get our vote). We cannot see why anyone would need an FH16.

But a well-spec’d FH is a lovely truck. They handle so well. The cab is superb and the quality exudes across the vehicle. The only thing is there’s some seriously stiff competition for the model these days from Scania and now MAN and Mercedes-Benz. That could work in you favour though in screwing down a good deal!

 

SPECIFICATION

Model: Volvo FM13-420
• Design GVW/GCW: 40,000 kg
• Chassis: 3700 mm wheelbase
Front axle capacity: 7500 kg
Rear axle capacity: 11,500 kg
Gearbox: AT2412F I-Shift 12-speed automated manual
• Engine: D13K420 Euro 6 Step D, 12.8-litre, six-cylinder
• Max power: 420 bhp @ 1400-1800 rpm
• Max torque: 2100 Nm @ 860-1400 rpm
• Cab: Single-bunk Globetrotter sleeper

Model: Volvo FMX13-460
• Design GVW/GCW: 35,000 kg
• Chassis: 5100 mm wheelbase
Front axles capacity: 16,000 kg
Rear axles capacity: 21,000 kg
Gearbox: AT2612F I-Shift 12-speed automated manual
• Engine: D13K460 Euro 6 Step D, 12.8-litre, six-cylinder
• Max power: 460 bhp @ 1400-1800 rpm
• Max torque: 2300 Nm @ 900-1400 rpm
• Cab: Day

Model: Volvo FH13-540
• Design GVW/GCW: 44,000 kg
• Chassis: 4100 mm wheelbase
Front axle capacity: 8000 kg
Rear axle capacity: 7500 kg mid-steer, 11,500 kg drive
Gearbox: SPO2812F I-Shift 12-speed automated manual, Dual Clutch
• Engine: D13K540 Euro 6 Step D, 12.8-litre, six-cylinder
• Max power: 540 bhp @ 1450-1800 rpm
• Max torque: 2600 Nm @ 1000-1450 rpm
• C
ab: Single-bunk Globetrotter XL sleeper

Model: Volvo FH16-750
• Design GVW/GCW: 44,000 kg
• Chassis: 4100 mm wheelbase
Front axle capacity: 8000 kg
• Rear axle capacity: 7500 kg mid-steer, 11,500 kg drive
Gearbox: ATO3512F I-Shift 12-speed automated manual
• Engine: D16K750 Euro 6 Step D, 16-litre, six-cylinder
• Max power: 750 bhp @ 1800 rpm
• Max torque: 3550 Nm @ 950-1400 rpm
• Cab: Single-bunk Globetrotter XL sleeper

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