By Paul Abelson
senior technical editor
Mack built its reputation as a maker of solid rugged, dependable off-road trucks. When you visualize Macks, you see them as concrete mixers, dump trucks and trash haulers - vocations that demand brawn over beauty. "They're fleet trucks," I've been told many times. "No owner-operator would want one when he could get a (fill in the blank) instead."
That's about to change. Mack's new Rawhide, with its 70-inch mid-rise sleeper that I test-drove or the new 70-inch high-rise being introduced at the 2006 Mid-America Trucking Show, is a truck any owner-operator will drive comfortably, economically and most of all, proudly.
Styling is, of course, subjective, but Mack researched the market well and put a tastefully chromed long nose conventional on their now-proven Advantage chassis.
The set-forward axle right behind the broad Texas bumper and the tastefully trimmed grille without the massive word "Mack," tell you right away this is a new breed of Mack.
The subtle use of stainless highlights, quad air horns and the use of stainless trim around the headlights, on the visor and wind deflectors all highlight the stainless 6-inch exhaust stacks in front of the sleeper just like a large car should have. Additional bright metal options, too numerous to list, available from Mack dealers, combined together to give the Rawhide its owner-operator look.
While exterior appearance is good for bragging rights, you have to live with the interior and the truck's driving characteristics. The Rawhide interior is as pleasing as the exterior. The sleeper is well laid out and nicely trimmed with button-tufted vinyl trim and a headliner that helps to minimize sound.
The leather, wood-grain and chrome steering wheel with tilt and telescope felt comfortable. The fully instrumented wood grained dash panel was attractive and easy to read, while controls on the side panel were almost intuitive to use. The seats are custom-made for Mack and were fully adjustable, supportive and comfortable.
Rawhide's MaxLite 40,000-pound air suspension and spring front suspension gave it a comfortable and stable ride.
The last Mack I drove, with the optional Hendrickson Airtek steer-axle suspension, left me with mixed feelings. The ride was great, but there was too much front-end wander. Hendrickson says this has been corrected. And even on winter-ravaged Pennsylvania mountain roads, the new standard Mack suspension performed quite well on this test drive.
This Rawhide had Mack's Econodyne engine rated at 460 hp, with peak power of 487 hp at 1,600 rpm, the engine's sweet spot. It has 1,660 lbs.-ft. from 1,200 to 1,500 rpm, and at 1,600 rpm, torque is still 1,600 lbs.-ft.
The ASET - short for application-specific emissions technology - power plant is very drivable in its sweet spot, provided you're geared right.
This is a 70 mph truck operating in a 60 mph world. The low profile 24.5 wheels, 3.90 rears and Mack's T318LR 18-speed double-overdrive transmission had me making 16th - 17th shifts instead of 17th - 18th splits. Out West, this particular Rawhide would be a much better truck.
On Pennsylvania hills, 22.5-inch rubber or a 4:11 gear ratio would have better matched rpm and speed. But the engine did show its muscle on several hills. I was ready to shift down when it hit 1,200 rpm, but its torque held at 1,300, saving the shift. On the down-slopes, Mack's PowerLeash engine brake operated smoothly and quietly. It is so quiet - I'd even use it in restricted areas.
The truck was still new with only 5,980 miles, so the shifter was still fairly notchy. This seems to be a problem with new Macks, one that works itself out after 20,000 miles or so.
If you're at the Mid-America Trucking Show, you'll see my test drive in the Mack booth where it's scheduled to be on display. Then you can decide for yourself if Mack hit the target they were aiming at. I think they did.
Paul Abelson may be reached at email@example.com.