Funky Bunch: Ford, Mercedes-Benz Try New Designs On Big Rig Trucks

Look, we like Mercedes-Benz’s current design theme just fine, and we also think Ford’s Kinetic Design language has also yielded some crisp, chic vehicles across the globe. But because these design themes work on passenger cars doesn’t necessarily mean they translate to medium- and heavy-duty trucks. Case in point: The new 2012 Mercedes-Benz Actros, and the new Brazilian Ford Cargo.

Both updates are quite welcome, as their predecessors were beginning to show their age. Mercedes-Benz last updated the Actros line in 2002, but the basic design dates back to 1996. Still, that’s not quite as old as Ford’s previous Cargo, which was essentially an updated design of the truck launched in Europe (and sold briefly in America) back in the early 1980s.

Don’t let the Cargo’s wild face deceive you: beneath the new fiberglass panels and reshaped door skins lies the same basic cab structure first rolled out almost three decades ago. Despite this, designers have attempted to work in some of the same cues found on Ford’s other global product, notably a grille that looks like the Fiesta’s aperture on steroids. The result is certainly an update, but is change for change’s sake a good thing? As one colleague said, the finished product looks a little like an “angry parrot fish;” another suggested it appeared to have been cut from the latest installment of Transformers.

The Actros is perhaps the more stylish (and more extensively overhauled) of the pair, but that doesn’t mean certain cues come off as a little awkward. By now, we’re used to seeing Mercedes-Benz’s split-grille insert on a number of its crossovers and SUVs, but we’ve never seen one so big as this. Projector headlamps wrap upwards in a slight homage to some of Benz’s sportier offerings (i.e. SLK, CLS, etc.), but the trucks’ front fascia is still overwhelmed by the grille itself.

No matter -- truckers will spend more time inside the cab than outside, and Mercedes-Benz packs plenty of amenities and creature comforts within. Cabs are available in both 2.3- or 2.5-meter wide designs, and depending on the roof configuration, offer up to 2.13 meters of headroom. An optional passenger lounge seat wraps around the cab’s rearmost corner, and is designed to resemble a corner sofa. Adaptive cruise control, stability control, lane departure warning, active brake assist, and airbags -- features commonly found on smaller Benzes -- are all available on the Actros.

Bob Murphy
Hi, The reason for the huge grille on the Actros is sheer necessity. Modern diesel engines have so much emissions control gear on them that they have a much higher heat rejection rate than older engines and that heat simply has got to go. Add to the thermal load with air-conditioning, transmission cooling radiators and you need a lot of cooling air going through that grille and, if you look, even below the bumper. And noise reduction regulations mean restricted airflow through encapsulation to cut sound. Also, cab over engine (COE) designs don't get the same airflow across the engine as traditional bonnetted designs used widely in the US, Canada and Australia and that means their radiators have to be bigger to cool the same engine with, of course, a bigger grille in front to let the air in to the radiator. I reckon that new Actros looks downright pretty but the Cargo looks a big like those soldier thingies in The Empire Strikes Back.

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