We take Volvo’s latest 32-tonne construction chassis up hill and down dale on a cross-country trek across North Dorset and Wiltshire

Volvo’s launch of its new range of heavy trucks back in March last year got off to a shaky start because of COVID. Literally the day before we were due to fly out to the manufacturer’s HQ in Gothenburg, Sweden to see the grand unveiling, the event was cancelled due to the virus outbreak. It was bad luck; but since then Volvo has worked hard to get its new vehicles in front of operators and the press so we can check them over in finer detail.

While FH, FH16, FM and FMX have all been updated, arguably the most attention has been lavished on the latter two models which share an all-new cab. Options for these are Day, Low Day, Low Sleeper, Sleeper and Globetrotter – plus a crew cab spec’d for municipal/utilities work. LXL higher Globetrotter is no longer offered.

The new cabs are a bit bigger than the previous versions, though Volvo reckons aerodynamics is unaffected. Gaps in the cab front that would hinder air flow have been designed out, plus the side turn indicators and new V-shaped headlamps have been moved to smooth out the cab profile. Access is still via two steps, but the footplates have been upgraded for better grip in wet and/or muddy conditions.

There’s more space inside the new Day cab, which now offers 800 litres of storage. Globetrotter is boosted to 1000 litres. FMX also has a new glass roof hatch to increase light inside the cab, and act as an escape hatch should the worst happen.

A redesigned steering wheel sports a new button layout for better ease of use, plus a new neck tilt function to help drivers find the most comfortable position. The I-Shift gear selector has also been made a bit smaller, which Volvo reckons makes moving around inside the cab a bit easier.

Visibility is a key concern for drivers, and new FMX has a few tweaks in this regard. A larger windscreen, larger side windows with lower door lines, and slimmer A-pillars all help reduce blindspots.

While the mirrors are still glass (there’s no mirror-cam option as yet), the clusters have been borrowed from FH to further improve vision.

Digital upgrade

Talking of screens, new FMX has a 12-inch main digital instrument display which the driver can cycle through three different views. Alongside this is an option to spec a 9-inch side display for infotainment, sat nav etc. This is controlled via buttons on the steering wheel, buttons under the display, via direct touch or via voice commands (Alexa integration had just been announced at the time of our drive, though our test vehicle did not yet have this feature). Up to eight cameras can be mounted around the vehicle, including a passenger corner camera which can be fed to the 9-inch dash screen.

Drivers will also appreciate new FMX’s comfort improvements including a raised bunk and larger underbunk storage bin. Cold and heat insulation has been improved, says Volvo, and lighting is brighter and sharper thanks to new LEDs.

Under the hood

New FMX is available with two engine types: an 11-litre at 330, 380, 430 and 460 bhp; or 12.8-litre at 420, 460, 500 and 540 bhp. Axle configurations are 4×2, 4×4, 6×2, 6×4, 6×6, 8×2, 8×4 and 10×4 options as rigids (8×2 and 8x4s can be spec’d as tridems). Tractor units come in 4×2, 6×2 (twin-steer, pusher, small mid-lift or tag), and 6×4 flavours.

To ease driving effort, Dynamic Steering can be spec’d for an extra £3500. It works in conjunction with the Lane Keeping Assist system, which can gently pull the truck back into lane should it detect it is straying across the boundary lines.

Volvo reckons new FMX offers further improvements in overall drive characteristics, with better handling, lowered road and engine vibrations, and better insulation. This all adds up to a quieter cab, with interior noise dropped by up to 2 dB.

On the road

Though we carried a shorter road test for FMX as part of a new range review back in the October 2020 issue, we felt it was time to give the new construction truck a bit more of an outing. Just before Christmas, we arranged a couple of hours’ test drive to see how it fared around the sweeping hills of picturesque north Dorset and Wiltshire.

We met up with our test truck in the hilltop town of Shaftesbury on a bright and sunny mid-December morning. The vehicle was an 32-tonne 8×4 X-High B-Ride rigid tipper packing a 13-litre, 460 bhp engine that promised 2300 Nm or torque between 900-1400 rpm. Transmission was Volvo’s trusty 12-speed I-Shift with crawler.

The truck was sporting a standard Day cab which had the twin-screen digital dashboard. It also had the corner cam fitted, though funnily enough a software gremlin on this early build meant the video feed was displaying upside down (though we were assured this was about to be fixed on this vehicle via a simple software update).

Before we set off, a look around the cab revealed there’s plenty of room inside for the driver. Doing way with the earlier version’s raked screen has opened up interior space, and the bigger windows and lower sills improve both visibility and natural light. It’s also very comfortable (even for lanky drivers) thanks to plenty of seat travel – and we liked how the new neck tilt meant we could get the wheel position just right.

Setting off from The Royal Chase hotel car park, we took the B3081 high road towards Blandford Forum. Though for the most part a better southward option than the A350 main road, it presents a steep dip into the tiny village of Melbury Abbas, then a long and steep climb back up on the other side. On our descent, Volvo’s VEB+ engine brake did a good job of holding us back, though we did have to dab the service brakes a bit towards the bottom as we started to weave into the narrow concrete channel leading into the settlement. Loaded to a smidge under 32 tonnes with 19.5 tonnes of Derbyshire stone, we were anticipating a gruelling climb up Spread Eagle Hill (1:6) especially with a cold engine – but with 460 bhp on tap, the FMX fairly sailed up in 10th without even breaking a sweat.

After cresting the top, we wound our way along the B-road for 12 or so miles to Blandford Forum, where we took the A354 and kicked on the cruise control for a relaxed for a 20-mile trek to Salisbury. Settling back, it’s noticeable how much quieter the new Day cab is, and the I-Shift transmission proved super-smooth as we made our way towards the city. Though our test truck was not equipped with Volvo’s I-See predictive cruise control, I-Shift managed to maintain comfortable progress without our intervention (to be fair, we did kick it down a gear just before cresting a long hill, but we we were probably only a split second ahead of the software coming to the same decision!).

Cathedral city

As expected, traffic was bunching up on the outskirts of Salisbury and it meant a fair amount of stop-start as we made slow progress through the traffic lights and roundabouts that lead to the A36 Wilton Road. Again, we appreciated FMX’s improved visibility – the lower sills and tidier mirror clusters made quite a difference in this busy urban area. And of course, I-Shift and the automatic electronic parking brake makes staccato progress much more tolerable.

After making it through the city, we pushed onto the A36 towards Wylye before picking up the A303 heading west. By this time, we had just about got used to Volvo’s Dynamic Steering – we’ve said before how the system requires the lightest of touches on the steering wheel, and it always takes a good while before we stop oversteering into corners. It’s perhaps a bit too light for our tastes, but no doubt drivers who use it regularly will find it soon becomes second-nature.

After a smooth and pleasant run along the A303, we took a right turn onto the A350 just after Chicklade, which would eventually take us back into Shaftesbury. The climb back up the hill on approach to the town is both steep, tight and twisty, and it took a drop into eighth to get us right to the top. But at no point did we struggle – and with just over 14 bhp per tonne, it felt like the big 13-litre still had plenty of power in reserve.

Verdict

Though Trucking has tested the new FMX before, this was the first time this writer had taken the revamped construction chassis for a spin – and we certainly came away impressed. The 460 bhp 13-litre engine felt more than enough at 32 tonnes, pulling extremely well even on the steepest of hills. We suspect operators looking to save a bit of cash could confidently spec the 420 bhp 13-litre option, or even the 11-litre at 430 bhp for an extra 200 kg of payload – unless terrain is an issue. The 13-litre 460 has more low-down torque than the equivalent 11-litre lump, so those operating in hills or quarries would more than likely make use of the extra grunt.

We find Volvo’s three-stage VEB+ engine brake is fine, though it doesn’t quite feel as effective as some other manufacturers’ solutions. And Dynamic Steering takes some getting used to – it is very light indeed, and we believe Volvo’s claims that it reduces driving effort by 30 per cent. But for us, it led to oversteering at low speeds until we’d got to grips with it.

Overall though, new FMX is a winner. The new digital dashboard is easy to read and straightforward to use, and though there’s a high first step up into the cab, the interior refinements make what was already a first-class driver’s cab just that little bit better. It’s quiet, comfortable and has performance to spare – what more can you ask of a tipper than that?

SPECIFICATION

Model: Volvo FMX rigid, 8×4 X-High B-Ride
• Test gvw/gcw: 32,000 kg
• Chassis: 5100 mm wheelbase, 2.83:1 rear axle ratio, 255-litre fuel tank, 48-litre AdBlue tank
• Front axle: 16 tonnes
• Drive axle: 21 tonnes
• Tyres: Axles 1 & 2: 385/65R22.5 Michelin XZY3. Axles 3 & 4: 315/80R22.5 Michelin X Works D
• Engine: 12.8-litre, six-cylinder Volvo D13K460 Euro 6 Step D, VEB+ Engine Brake
• Max power: 460 bhp @ 1400-1800 rpm
• Max torque: 2300 Nm @ 900-1400 rpm
• Gearbox: Volvo I-Shift 12-speed automated with crawler
• Additional equipment: Day cab, DriveFM+ cab trim, Alcoa Dura-Bright wheels

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