Bus Reviews

VIDEO REVIEW: Scania Coach Design

This Scania/Coach Design combination packs plenty of punch, with 400 horses pushing a 4x2

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Frank Trawn has racked up 30 years driving coaches in 2016, so he knows a thing or two about how a big bus should perform on the road.

Frank was an auto electrician and diesel mechanic before hitting the highway, so he also knows a lot about mechanical matters.

Scania and body builder Coach Design will therefore be pleased when they read what he thinks about his new baby, this 12.5 metre 48-seater 4×2 luxury coach, the latest acquisition for Frank’s employer, Melbourne’s Sunbury Bus Service.

“I call it the sports coach,” Frank says. “It’s a great thing.

“I’ve had five brand new coaches over the 30 year period and this one is streets ahead.

“It’s a pleasure to drive. The steering is very direct and light without being too light, and it rides quite smoothly, particularly for a single axle coach.

“The finish is excellent,” he adds, and this was confirmed by the lack of any rattles, squeaks or air whistles when ABC spent the better part of a day with Frank and the coach recently.

Frank had only done a few hundred kilometres in his new bus, and its main work to date had been to drive from the Coach Design factory in Brisbane to Sunbury, on the north-west edge of Melbourne.

We were in good hands when the 62-year-old coach veteran was behind the wheel: “I’m proud to say that I’ve never injured anybody and never had a serious accident over the 30 years,” he says.

Frank expects the bread-and-butter work for his steed to be group touring, including to the Victorian and NSW high country; rail replacement work; and school holiday camp programs, mainly to Canberra.


That sort of work will take in plenty of hills and this coach is well-suited for steep pulls.

In an era when car, truck and bus engines seem to be getting smaller, Scania’s 13 litre engine is big for a bus these days.

ABC has reviewed full-size 4×2 and 6×2 coaches with engines as small as 7 litres (Volvo), ranging through 8 litres (Iveco), 9 litres (Cummins), 10 litres (Iveco), 11 litres (Cummins and Volvo) and 13 litres (Scania 6×2).

So the 13 litre engine in this 4×2 is probably like having a V8 in a car. It puts out 400 horsepower (294kW) and 2100Nm of torque at 1000-1300rpm. But you can go even higher if you want, with a 440hp (324kW) version putting out 2300Nm.

This unit has a tall diff ratio of 3.07, but you wouldn’t pick that from how well it climbs hills on windy secondary roads. And we were able to maintain 100 kilometres an hour on a substantial hill on the Calder Freeway.

That power also had a reassuring safety element to it, in the following situations: pulling onto a 100 km/h secondary road from a parking area near a bend; taking off from a couple of T-intersections near hills; and merging onto the freeway. In each case it was good to know that in putting your foot down the chances of someone in a car doing something stupid and hitting the back of the bus were reduced.


Scania builds an 8-speed and a 12-speed automated manual transmission for its trucks and buses called the “Opticruise”.

This coach has so much power for its size that it only needs the eight speed version, and even then it readily skips gears – but smoothly.

There is standard mode as well as an economy mode which changes up earlier, and a power mode which holds onto the gears longer. It’s all controlled very simply from a wand on the right-hand side of the steering column.

Frank is a big fan, but also likes the fact that he can take over the decision-making if he wants to.

“It’s good to have the manual mode because there’s one thing the computer can’t see: up the road there’s a hill there, and the gradient of that hill.

“In manual mode you stop surging from one gear to the other … and there’s an override to stop you doing any damage to the transmission.”


Meanwhile the five stage transmission retarder is a beauty, and on fifth it could put you through the windscreen if you don’t have your seatbelt on. As Frank points out, Sunbury’s mechanics won’t have to do much work on the brakes.

These are four-wheel discs with ABS of course, as part of the electronic braking system which means putting your foot on the brake pedal produces an instant response. Electronic stability program (ESP) to help prevent slide and rollover is a $3,400 option.

I learnt the hard way on the freeway that there is something you have to remember about the retarder – flick it off when you are cruising.

While overtaking a truck but wanting to back off slightly in the heavy rain, in simply taking my foot off the accelerator pedal, the retarder kicked in, slowing me down too much.

Not only that, the brake lights would have gone on. That provoked an understandably cranky toot on the horn from a motorist who shortly afterwards overtook us, and had no doubt thought I was a goose for “braking” at 100 kilometres an hour in the fast lane with a car behind me.

Speaking of speed, there is downhill cruise control to prevent you breaking the limit while running down a hill.

At the other end of the spectrum is the “hill holder” function, which prevents you rolling back while starting from scratch on a slope.


It’s too early to tell how this coach performs on fuel economy, but Frank expects it to be good, with the big engine usually working well within itself.

“Thirteen litres is quite large for a bus engine and in the old days you would have been pouring a lot of fuel down those 13 litres, but with the new fuel systems … they’ve improved the fuel efficiency quite a lot,” he says.

And he’s of the school that says “there’s no replacement for displacement” when it comes to long engine life.

Furthering fuel economy, driveline longevity and smooth riding for passengers is Scania’s “peak efficiency” program, including electronic monitoring of driver performance, controls familiarisation and driver training.

On the day that Scania hosted ABC to the Sunbury depot, Scania trainer Alana Mountfield was running workshop staff over the basics.

Currently the Sunbury depot’s chassis of choice for its city, school and touring buses is Scania, with Volgren and Coach Design bodies.

These now have Coach Design’s space-age new headlight cluster, but you can opt for the traditional version if you want.

“At our Sunbury branch we rely solely on Australian built bodies,” Frank says. “We find that they’re very reliable, they’re strong, and they have a healthy resale value.”

Sunbury Bus Service and Sunbury Coaches are part of the Donric group, founded by Don McKenzie and Richard Baird in Sunbury in 1980.

Other parts of the Donric group include Coach Tours of Australia, Gold Bus Ballarat, Bacchus Marsh Coaches and Trans North Bus and Coach in Queensland. There are more than 220 vehicles in the combined fleet.


Frank hadn’t travelled in the new coach as a passenger, so this reviewer spent a fair bit of time up the back, with Frank behind the wheel.

Sunbury and its surrounds looked very nice from the huge windows, despite the miserable day.

The McConnell recliner seats with leather inserts and Holdsworth fabric made for comfortable viewing, with particularly good lumbar support. There is plenty of legroom, with carpet and fold-down footrests completing the pleasant picture.

The Jincen toilet in front of the centre door actually came in handy during our video shoot. Above it are several charging points for mobile phones.

There was one disappointment however – the combined engine and driveline noise was louder than expected, despite the best sound insulation in the business. Nevertheless it did drop back when cruising on the freeway, and the retarder was not as loud as I was expecting.

Frank reckons a removable carpet runner for the aisle will help dampen the noise. These runners can be taken out when passengers are expected to be walking in the mud – as ABC videographer Andrew Britten was doing when he was getting good shots of the coach driving through a cutting on the old Calder Highway.

A pair of carpet runners once rescued Frank from being bogged, when he placed them under the rear wheels to help extricate himself. Needless to say they needed a lot of cleaning afterwards.


MAKE/MODEL: Scania K400 with Coach Design body

ENGINE: 12.7 litre Scania DC13 05 400

OUTPUTS: 400hp (294kW); 2100 Nm

EMISSIONS CONTROL: Euro 5 EGR (exhaust gas recirculation)

TRANSMISSION: 8-speed Scania Opticruise

BUILD: Duragal steel frame, fibreglass panels, aluminium lowers

SEATS: 48 McConnell recliners plus toilet

DIMENSIONS: 12.5m long, 3.9m tall

Photography: Andrew Britten | Video: Andrew Britten

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