Bottom Line
Pick me up in a ProStar, please
It all started with a phone call. "Do you want to test drive the new ProStar?" asked my editor."Heck yeah, just tell me when and where," was my swift reply.

By Suzanne Stempinski
field editor

 

I love trucks. I love the way they look, the sounds they make when the engine cranks over, the smells of diesel and leather and adventure. Getting behind the wheel of a big, shiny new ride makes my heart beat a little faster. It’s like a “getting to know you” first date. The anticipation puts a spring in my step and a smile on my face. It didn’t matter where we were going, as long as we were together. You learn a lot on a first date, and this one was no exception.

Before our formal introduction, our small group of truck driving journalists had a meeting with the technical team from International, including engineers, marketing and product development (think “Meet the Parents”). 

What’s so different and special about the newest ProStar? It starts under the hood with the 2010-compliant MaxxForce Advanced EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) engine technology.

The engine doesn’t just look different; it includes changes to:

Fuel injection – utilization of one or more pre- and post-injections along with the main injection means combustion can take place over a longer period and be more complete, resulting in less NOx emission.

Air intake management – dual turbochargers with an inter-stage cooler between the turbochargers to help reduce air temperature going into the cylinders to allow more air to be packed in the larger second stage turbo for maximum power at high engine speeds.

Electronic calibration – increases in computing power allow the engine controller to continuously calculate the optimum air-fuel mixture to achieve maximum power and efficiency in many different situations.

After more than 18 months and 10 million miles of testing and analysis in both engine labs and field testing, the MaxxForce family of engines is ready to perform under the hood of International’s trucks.

Up to 3 percent improved fuel economy, quieter engine, lighter weight (by more than 600 pounds compared with the 2007 trucks) – the list of desirable assets just kept growing longer. 

In the back of my mind, my little voice was saying, “How does it look, how does it feel going down the road, how’s the visibility, am I gonna be able to grab a nap in the back while someone else is driving, can I live in this truck?”

Finally, we piled into a small bus and were shuttled to a staging area just off I-90 in Chicago where all the trucks were waiting. The weather was cool, drizzly and subject to change without notice – not a big surprise for October in Chicago.

Armed with instructions, a GPS and anticipation, I stepped out and approached my ride. I swear the sun came out for just a second and spotlighted my date  – a red ProStar 122 Premium with the 73-inch  Hi-Rise sleeper, a MaxxForce 13 with 475 horsepower, and an Eaton Fuller 13-speed transmission with double overdrive. I walked around and took in first impressions.

On the outside, the International ProStar hasn’t changed much from its 2007 counterparts. We were hooked to a 53-foot flatbed loaded with concrete blocks – grossing out at about 78,000 pounds. Recessed headlights, a big grille, gently sloped hood, substantial sleeper, full fairing package, painted visor. If it were a football player, I’d be thinking linebacker.

As the other journalists took off with their rides, I waited patiently, doing my own pre-trip inspection. I had two technical “chaperones,” eager to answer my performance and engine questions. 

“So who is going to trade off with me when I’m ready to switch and ride in the sleeper,” I asked. We added Ramin Younessi, group vice president of product development and strategy, to our group to be my designated driver.

After adjusting the seat and mirrors and familiarizing myself with the location of the gauges and switches, I turned the key. The engine turned over with a smile and a rumble – not very loud, but unmistakable. Power zinged through my veins as I eased the truck into gear and out of the lot. We worked together in the smoothly familiar dance of driver and shifter. No stress, no strain, it was seamless. 

I merged onto I-90 through a soggy sea of cars and trucks headed west toward Rockford. In moments I was up to speed and cruising the highway, paying attention to traffic, the truck and my travel companions. 

The view through the windshield was broad and unobstructed. The truck was not loaded with a lot of bells and whistles except for an upgraded dash package of burled wood-like plastic. A smart steering wheel with cruise, lights and radio controls built in. No Jake Brake on this demo.

The ride was smooth on Chicago’s rutted and pitted highways. The 14,000-pound front leaf suspension and 40,000-pound  rear air suspension held us in cushioned comfort. Relaxed, we chatted comfortably, not needing to raise our voices much over the engine noise. The mirrors are mounted on the doors so I needed to turn my head to keep an eye on everything going on around me.

We were scheduled for a two-hour tour. About 25 miles into our trip, the sun came out. And as industry gave way to farm fields, we took in a glorious day with trees dressed in fall finery and acres of corn and soybeans waiting to be harvested.

Although Illinois’ latest governor recently signed the legislation to eliminate split speed limits, the posted signs still reflect the 55 mph top end. I was running about 63 mph in top gear sitting at about 1200 rpm – a sweet spot for this engine. Immediate fuel economy was not available to me on any of the displays, but can be ordered on customer spec’ed trucks. 

It was a comfortable day on the road. Just before we reached the turn-around point, I pulled into the DeKalb Oasis to snap a few pix, look under the hood, and check the tires.

The engine compartment looks very different from anything that’s gone before. The radiator is huge, a three-part modular system with an enormous shroud. With the higher temperatures generated by the EGR technology, a heavy-duty cooling system is essential. Wiring and hoses have been cleaned up and relocated for easier access and maintenance. 

I switched to the second seat and, with Ramin behind the wheel, we resumed our journey ... with a detour. One of our group had gone off-route and while pulling to the side of the road to get a great picture, ended up with wheels off the road in a ditch. No harm, no foul, no injuries to truck, driver or passenger. Instead of waiting for the tow truck and a chase car, we picked him up in our ProStar. Our group date grew just a little larger, and the GPS got us quickly back on track.

With three grown men comfortably seated in the sleeper, I kept my jumpseat position and enjoyed the ride back to the Des Plaines Oasis. No room for a nap that day, but all things considered, the spaciousness of the accommodations made up for the change in plans. With plenty of storage and a flexible floor plan that can be upgraded to include interior options available in the LoneStar, this truck made a memorable first impression.

What about the costs? Because of the 2010 mandated engine changes, the cost for this truck will be roughly $8,000-$10,000 more than its predecessors. That’s not small change, but is comparable to the additional costs of every other engine manufacturer. It’s the cost of doing business in our changing world.

As we returned to Chicago, so did the rain. But it did not dampen my enthusiasm. All in all, it was a very satisfactory first date. I’d go out with this truck again. LL

 

Suzanne Stempinski can be reached at wheelz624@aol.com.

Aug/Sept Digital Edition