The new MAN RR8 IC 19.290 E5 has been designed for the school run, but has been built with a luxury coach feel. It more than proved its mettle in wet and wintery conditions on a recent test out of the Penske home base in Wacol, Qld.
Usually a trip to Queensland will mean a stint of warmer, fine weather, but today’s visit to test drive the new RR8 at Penske headquarters in Wacol, just outside Brisbane, gave us a new spin on ‘the show must go on’. To say it was pretty miserable is an understatement, but the RR8 stood out straight away as looking more like a smart coach than school bus. This one’s off to Cowan’s Bus Services in Sandy Hollow, NSW, to be part of the school bus fleet, painted in its company colours: a royal blue tail end, the Southern Cross and distinctive large logo across the front.
Mark Nichols, regional sales manager for MAN Bus at Penske Australia, was happy to take this brand new RR8 with only 96 kilometres on the clock out for a drive to show just how good it drives in the really miserable conditions.
Asked if this was the first collaboration with Coach Design he explained: “No, we’ve been building with Coach Design since Penske started in Brisbane; they’re only half an hour away in Archerfield so it’s ideal. We’ve always got a quite a few on build with them at any time, we have a big relationship with them.”
Regarding any specific requests Cowan’s asked for, Nichols commented: “Other than the colours and livery it’s just what they ordered through the panel. They wanted a MAN chassis because they’ve always had MANs for quite a few years now, and they want a Coach Design body and this combo worked in their favour to get the 10.5-metre build because there’s no other OEM that can do this at the moment. Being a school bus, it has all the school lights and everything as required by Transport for New South Wales for Category Three. It has all fire suppression gear, tyre pressure monitoring, everything that’s required.”
This isn’t just a one-off, either, he added, saying that the 10.5m, up-to-45-seat bus fills a hole in the growing Category Three market.
This particular model can go from a 35-seat and be pushed up to a 45-seater.
“We’ve already sold a few more,” he said. “Quinn’s Buses have ordered one.”
For the all-important turnaround time for an order like this, Nichols explained: “If we have the chassis in stock, it’s just a four-month build time to get it pre-delivery and everything like that. If we’ve got to order the chassis you’re looking at six months to seven months max in total.” Not too bad, four months if the chassis is in stock.
Regarding driver comfort, “all MAN chassis are quiet, really nice to drive”, he pointed out. “It works every day; it’s been made to work every day. You’ll find it’s no different to driving a coach. It’s the same seat you’re sitting in, same dash that you sit at; you’ll feel like you’re driving a coach, a small coach, and not a school bus.
“The warranty on this model is two years for the MAN chassis, so one year complete and a second year for the driveline and two for the Coach Design body as well. Servicing is at a confident 45,000 service intervals for the 290, if you go up to the 320 horsepower [239kW], it’s a different engine, they have 60,000 intervals, big intervals, we really stand by them all,” said Nichols. Asked what kilometres are covered, because sometimes the kilometres are the ruling factor not the timeframe, he replied: “The RR8 has unlimited kilometres warranty so you just get in and go.”
Last big question – the price: “You’re looking at roughly just under 400K, say 380 to 400K,” Nichols said.
“Most importantly, MAN is reliable, does the work and gives extended service intervals. It’s telling to have 45- and 60,000 intervals and MAN wouldn’t offer it if these buses didn’t work hard.”
ON THE ROAD
Leaving Penske’s site at Wacol, we’re off for one wet test drive. Then again, test driving a school bus in these conditions might be a good thing as we are going to get a feel for how the RR8 handles and drives in bad conditions. We might be one wet driver and videographer today, but the run will certainly give us a true drive, just like us school bus drivers have to experience all the time.
Nichols had pointed out before we left that the MANs are a great quiet drive; get on board and close the door and everything is impressively quiet. You can just hear the engine and aircon – internal cabin noise great. It’s often small or the minor things that make a big difference in driver and passenger comfort.
The door on this model is a glide-away door. Nichols says this is the model door used on MAN school buses with the plug door used on the coaches. It was certainly windy and the door was sufficient to keep the noise down inside.
The Euro 5 MAN D0836 LOH 64 upright in-line six-cylinder has 213kW/290hp@2,300rpm. Nichols had spoken in depth about the torque and the importance of torque in the power performance. Straight away, you can feel it’s got power.
At the first roundabout and already it just wants to take off. It’s only a 290, but it’s all about the torque. It’s a really busy roundabout and you need to get in and away – the RR8 certainly does that.
The rear view camera is good – having vision of what’s behind is a useful feature even when not reversing. As a school bus driver, knowing what’s going on all around your vehicle is important for passenger safety.
In bad weather conditions it is good to know that all the safety features are there. The four wheel discs have self-adjusting calipers and integral wear pad sensors and the electronic braking system (EBS) incorporates an anti-lock brake system (ABS) and anti-spin regulator (ASR) for traction control.
We did some sharp corners in the pouring rain and the brakes handled it all perfectly. There was a slight bit of understeer, which you would expect from brand new tyres.
The visibility out of the windscreen is great. It’s a split screen and this gives no hindrance at all. The mirrors also worked well – it wasn’t clear if they were standard MAN mirrors, but no complaints about any part of the vehicle.
For the blind spot down the bottom there’s a switch that the driver can adjust to move the blind spot viewing point. If the driver wants to look at the front of the bus, they can roll it right down and they can even get really good vision of the front wheel on both sides. This feature would be handy when you’re manoeuvring and you want to see what your wheels are doing.
There often can be tricky or tight places that this would be useful in. Say you go to a sporting complex for the first time with a bus load of kids and drop off access is really tight – sometimes you can need to get out and check what’s going on, but these mirrors can do that for you. This would be particularly good in conditions like today when you definitely don’t want to be outside.
Another area found to be really clever and well thought out was the bin area; it has a surprisingly high level attention to detail.
At only 10.5m long, the RR8 still has a really good useable bin space of about 10 square metres, which is more than ample for its needs. There are two bin doors and the area is made to feel more roomy with the fuel tanks being moved right back.
This is meant to be a school bus, but the finish to this bin area was high detail.
It has a tough coated surface, but what is particularly good is that all of the electrical componentry is located here instead of the standard front of bus or in the wheel arches.
For servicing and diagnostics, etc., the placement is ideal: out of the weather and really easy to access. It wouldn’t be a surprise if this placement is one that we see other manufacturers take on board.
Ease of servicing has been really well provided for; you always know a bus is going to be successful when all parts of its operation have been considered. It’s one thing to look great and drive perfectly, but if speed and ease of maintenance hasn’t been a priority in the design and build, it will be a bus that won’t have longevity and repeat customers. The RR8 passes this test.
Indeed, the RR8 is built to be a school bus, a route bus, a bus for small charter work, but it does have a small luxury coach feel. The colour combinations used and fit-out are really smart and its looks will stand the test of time.
With 290hp and 1,100Nm it might not sound like a powerful bus, but having that shorter body length with 41 seats means that the power-to-weight combo is excellent.
Any driver would be more than happy to have this bus on their route.
MODEL: RR8 IC 19.290 E5
BODY: Coach Design
DIMENSIONS: Length – 10.5m, Width – 2.5m
ENGINE: Euro 5 MAN D0836 LOH 64 upright in-line six-cylinder; 213kW/290hp@2,300rpm
WEIGHT: 9.5 tonne
TRANSMISSION: ZF six-speed Ecolife automatic
AXLES: Front – MAN VOK-08-B-06 rigid front axle with two combination air spring damper modules and maintenance-free wheel bearings; Rear – Hypoid type HY1350-B03 with narrow track rear air suspension, rear stabiliser bar and maintenance-free wheel bearings
STEERING: ZF Servocom 8098, adjustable steering column
BODY: Coach Design
FUEL TANK: 300L; option for 2x 200L
MISC.: EBS, ABS, ASR, optional electronic stability program
Photography: Paul Aldridge | Video: Lachlan Keevill