REVIEW: KING LONG 6120


King Long offers Australia a full-size coach built on its own chassis, writes Steve Skinner

Economies of scale are major factors when it comes to keeping bus building costs down, and the King Long factory in Xiamen, a port city in southern China, certainly has scale. King Long has one of the largest bus factories in the world, with an assembly line almost 2km long.

That helps explain how King Long is able to offer its new 6120 school/charter coach for sale in Australia at around $250,000.

New South Wales-based operator Cavbus must think the CBU (completely built-up) 6120 model is good value, because it bought a unit on display at the recent BusVic Maintenance Expo in Melbourne, without anyone even driving it.

ABC had a ride and drive in the same bus shortly afterwards – the first and only reviewer to get behind the wheel rather than rely on company PR - and came away impressed, although there were a few pre-delivery bugs, most notably engine noise.

This 12.3m version of the 6120 has 57 seats. There is an option of 13m, with either four extra seats or an on-board toilet – we would vote for the latter option.

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CHINESE SCALE

 King Long was founded in 1988 and became a global bus giant remarkably quickly.

Half is owned by a private Chinese company, a quarter by a state company, and here’s the really interesting bit – a quarter is also owned by a company from Taiwan, just across the sea from Xiamen.

Hopefully that sort of Chinese-Taiwanese cooperation at the business level bodes well for diplomatic relations in Asia.

Also interestingly, King Long is the majority shareholder in Higer, although the two brands operate independently.

King Long only began exporting in 2000, and now sells buses in more than 80 countries.

It’s been selling buses in Australia since 2008 through the privately Australian-owned Heavy Vehicles Australia (HVA) based at Somerton near the old Hume Highway in Melbourne’s north. HVA says all King Long buses distributed in Australia are designed in Australia by its own accredited engineers.

The range includes the bright red 18m articulated King Long ‘Sky Buses’ which are easy to spot at Melbourne Airport, and run on MAN chassis.

 

OUT ON THE ROAD

 It was around Somerton that we went for a spin with HVA National Sales Manager, Anthony Fisicaro.

A couple of fast sharp local bends before getting onto the Hume Freeway showed that the bus corners well. Steering is by ZF, and the front independent and rear axles and diff are ZF as well.

Front and rear air bags are Vibracoustic, and ECAS (electronically controlled air suspension) is standard.

Once onto the freeway, the bus picked up pace quickly and was soon sitting on 100km/h at 1,500rpm, so it didn’t feel like it was working hard at highway speed.

However, down the back there was more noise from the 9-litre Cummins engine than one would expect from a European counterpart. Fisicaro says that pre-delivery dampening work would reduce the noise, and he adds that a couple of minor squeaks would also be fixed.

Fisicaro knows what he’s talking about when it comes to buses. A mechanical engineer by trade, he’s worked for Scania, and is a nice bloke to boot.

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HAPPY CUMMINS-ZF MARRIAGE

Speaking of the Cummins engine, it’s not built in China – it’s built in the United Kingdom and shipped to the Xiamen factory. King Long says it will be backed up and supported by Cummins Australia with standard bumper to bumper warranty of two years/200,000km.

Emissions control is via selective catalytic reduction (SCR), and there is a 35-litre AdBlue tank. The diesel tanks – one on each side – hold 360 litres between them.

A very positive feature of the engine bay is the presence of three powder fire extinguishing units. These are designed to come on automatically when sensors detect excessive heat, but they can be activated from the driver’s seat as well.

Complementing the American Cummins engine is the German ZF 6-speed EcoLife automatic transmission, which operates smoothly.

What is absolutely outstanding about the ZF is the three-stage integrated transmission retarder, which has every setting option you could want. On the strongest stage you barely need to use the brakes.

Meanwhile the front and rear discs with Wabco ABS pull the bus up very well. I was heading for a set of lights at maximum speed on minimum retarder hoping they would turn red at the last minute, and wasn’t disappointed with the stopping power when they did.

Alcoa alloy wheels are standard, and tyre size is the standard 295/80R 22.5.

 

ON THE INSIDE

 It’s sitting in the driver’s seat that you know you’re in a Chinese-built bus.

There are even Chinese characters on a couple of the switches, but you still know what they’re for. The car-style dash looks good and everything is set out fine, but it’s unusual these days to see anything other than what seems to be the generic international switch designs and symbols.

The seat itself has spring suspension, which might be okay if you’re just doing a school run. But if the driver is spending lots of time behind the wheel on charters, the Isri air option would be worth spending the extra $3,000 or so on.

Vision is good even though it’s a split front windscreen for cheaper replacement. The sun visor blinds are electrically operated.

Vision is good through the high side mirrors too, and there is a reversing camera. The screen on the dash is part of King Long’s own telematics system, which will be available soon as standard. It will incorporate global positioning system tracking and remote data logging, and display all sorts of vehicle and driver information including diagnostics.

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FROM THE YOUNG TO THE OLD

 For the passengers there are standard fixed seats or the option of recliners, which have the downside of trimming the total number of seats on the coach to 53. Significantly, seat belts come as standard.

There is also the option of ordering buses without seats and having a wide range of Australian seats installed here.

The heavy duty vinyl flooring is ideal for the spilt drinks the kids shouldn’t be drinking. The extra dark window tinting means that motorists can’t see the kids pulling faces at them – although we assume it’s mainly for keeping the sun out.

The cabin lighting is attractive, with options for night driving. There is lighting to guide passengers up the steps at night, and the front of the bus can be lowered nicely to allow little old ladies to step aboard easily.

Reverse cycle air-conditioning is King Long’s own, with other options available.

The overhead passenger luggage racks are removable, and there is plenty of room in the under-bus bins for everyone’s bags.

 

DIFFERENT STEEL TYPES

As with any vehicle, what matters most is problem-free operation years down the track, and in Australia buses have to satisfy the regulators they will hold up structurally for at least 20 years.

To that end King Long carries out FEA (Finite Element Analysis) testing.

The 6120 is a semi-monocoque build, which means the mild steel King Long chassis and frame are integrated. After the steel side panels and bin doors are added the whole bus is subject to an electrophoresis coating. The front, rear and roof are fibreglass and are put on later.

That basically means it’s submerged in a paint dip with opposing electronic current running through it, to ensure the paint gets into every nook and cranny, before being baked in a giant oven.

The 6120 coach is very similar to, but less expensive than, the 6126 school/charter model, which is also a 57-seater.

One of the major reasons the 6126 is dearer is that it’s built on a choice of big-name chassis – Mercedes-Benz, MAN, IVECO or Hino.

Another is that because these 6126 chassis can’t be put through the e-coating paint dip, for corrosion protection, their bodies are built of the more expensive stainless steel.

 

PLUSES:

Relatively inexpensive

Outstanding ZF transmission retarder

 

MINUSES:

Pre-delivery engine noise

Standard spring driver’s seat

 

SPECS:

MAKE/MODEL: King Long 6120

CHASSIS AND BODY: King Long

LENGTH: 12.3m (13m available)

SEATING CAPACITY: 53-61

ENGINE: 9-litre Cummins ISL with SCR

POWER: 320hp (235kW)

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed ZF auto with integrated retarder

BRAKES: Wabco ABS with discs all round

FRONT AXLE: Air-suspended independent ZF

REAR AXLE: Air-suspended ZF

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