Rising to challenge of feeling king of the road

Orwell Truck & Van Truck Experience

Orwell Truck & Van Truck Experience - Credit: supplied

Motoring editor Andy Russell fulfilled an automotive ambition to drive a lorry at Orwell Truck & Van's debut Truck Experience event.

There's not many things I find daunting to drive but finally getting behind the wheel of a lorry was a tall order… just climbing into the driving seat.

I've always yearned to drive a huge long-distance, load-lugging tractor unit but, without an HGV licence, always thought it would remain fantasy rather than fact until Orwell Truck & Van held its first ever Truck Experience at the former RAF Bentwaters base at Rendlesham, near Woodbridge in Suffolk.

It gave me the chance to take to the old runways in various Mercedes-Benz Trucks models… under the watchful eyes of an instructor.

Talk about being thrown in at the deep end with my first experience of driving a lorry was a timed challenge to reverse an 8x4 Tipper from the Arocs range, designed for the building industry, into two 'parking' spaces marked out with cones.

What immediately struck me was how high you sit and, despite the reversing camera and big door mirrors, it's easy to lose objects in blindspots hence the warning on some lorries to cyclists that if they can't see the lorry's mirrors the driver probably can't see them. All I took out in my efforts to slot into the parking space was a cone.

Taking a Mitsubishi Fuso Canter 4x4 – the range is also owned by Daimler so sold by Mercedes-Benz commercial dealerships – off-road involved fewer mishaps and everything came through unscathed.

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On the runway, I started at the lighter end of the market with a Fuso Canter 7.5-tonne curtain side model. This range of light trucks seems easy and effortless to drive – at least with no traffic, hazards or distractions to get in the way.

Moving on to the Atego and new Antos ranges, I knew my curiosity was not going to be satisfied until I finally got into the Actros tractor unit – the long-distance monster Mercedes in it for the long haul.

Mercedes is big on tractor units and the Actros is a big tractor unit. Standing next to it, with the driving seat way above my head, the Actros was the high of my truck trial.

It's huge inside too, complete with a bed and mod-cons in the spacious cabin. The fascia looks more like a flight deck but the reality is that, apart from the sheer size and weight, it's straightforward to drive.

Available with various engines and power outputs, this Actros had a 12.8-litre, six-cylinder diesel engine with 449hp at 1,800rpm and a whopping 2,200 Newton metres of torque at just 1,100rpm – more than five times that of a 2.1-litre, 170hp 2.1-litre turbo diesel Mercedes-Benz C220d car.

Driving though a 12-speed automatic gearbox, once rolling and without a heavy trailer, the Actros picked up quickly along the runway soon hitting its 56mpg governed top speed. Towing a full load, you're looking at around 10mpg.

Sitting high up on the damped driver's seat, gently rising and falling with the road to protect your back from long hours of driving, for a brief spell I felt like king of the road.

Orwell Truck & Van has branches at Ipswich, Norwich, Newmarket and Colchester. For more information log on to www.orwelltruckandvan.co.uk

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