International Truck Stop - Double Dutch

Thursday, September 20, 2018

To celebrate DAF’s 90th anniversary, New Zealand Trucking magazine was given a classic heritage 3300 hauler, and their latest 21st Century ‘New XF’ counterpart to drive. Is nostalgia still what it used to be?


Photo: Powering up the highland hills...well, one is; the other’s wondering what the hold-up is. ‘That’s my greatgrandson behind, he’s the strong silent type.’ 

There’s nothing quite like a dose of the ‘here and now’ to abrade the rosy-glow of yesteryear. Yet when DAF Trucks UK recently invited us to Scotland to drive its latest 395kW (530hp) ‘New’ XF and an immaculately restored 3300 Space Cab, I instantly succumbed to mistyeyed reverie and agreed. I’ve always thought DAF made ‘friendly’ trucks (a view I’ve kept with each new model), and was all for getting behind the wheel of a 3300 again. Only, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

When it was launched in early 1982 the 3300 signalled a major fight-back by DAF against the Swedes and Germans in the European premium tractor market. At the time its 11.6litre DKX diesel offered an impressive 246kW (330hp) and 1310Nm (966lb/ft) of torque – with over 1085Nm (800lb/ft) available between 1000-1800rpm. For 3300 drivers that meant better driveability than with the DKS and DKSE diesels they ’d been used to in the old 2800. Meanwhile, behind the DKX was ZF’s trusty 16-speed Ecosplit synchro manual, a box that anyone could handle, though early versions could have fairly high shift-loads when cold.


Photo: There’s definitely a great-grandson, ‘gummy’ great-grand-dad look about it.

Not one to stand still, within three years DAF had added the iconic Space Cab high roof option with 25cm more headroom to its 241 cab, and all new ATi (short for Advanced Turbo Intercooling) engines with more power and torque. In the case of the 3300, its DKS engine now delivered 264kW (354hp), while the newly introduced range-topping 3600 tractor boasted a whopping (278kW ) 373hp. Between them, ATi and Space Cab ushered in a new era of driver comfort and fuel economy for DAF, and throughout the eighties, 3600, 3300 and 2800 ATi tractors proved extremely popular with UK hauliers and drivers alike, even after the replacement 95 Series arrived in 1987.

Now fast-forward to 2018 where ‘New XF ’ represents the culmination of a 31-year journey of constant product improvement. During that time DAF has stretched the original 95 Series cab and made it successively more aerodynamic on the outside. It’s added the Super Space Cab high roof option and delivered numerous interior makeovers too, with the ‘Exclusive Line’ luxury trim package being its latest word in driver pampering. Under the cab there have been no less than three different engine ranges, climaxing with the current Euro6 MX-13 rated up to 530hp. Those XF buyers looking for maximum payloads can spec the lighter MX-11 at 450hp. Those MX engines, together with ZF’s all-new TraXon 12-speed auto and DAF’s own highly efficient drive axles comprise a powertrain that ’s already delivering on the Dutch manufacturer’s New XF launch promise of 7% better fuel economy. Now throw in improved ride and handling, and for a truck that began life three decades ago, it ’s morphed into a true 21st Century tractor. Moreover, the New XF continues to rattle the Swedes on driver appeal.

But let ’s be honest, putting it up against a 3300 was always going to be a mismatch. Yet despite their age gap, both had to cope with the same test route of single carriageway roads in the Scottish borders south of Glasgow. And while lightly trafficked, there were still plenty of narrow bits, tight turns, nasty jump-ups and the odd tourist coach and local log truck coming our way. Not exactly unfamiliar territory to New Zealand Trucking readers.


Photos: Space Cab had open cupboards above the driver’s head. Not much enclosed space though. Monster lockable storage cupboards in the New XF can take coffee makers or even a small microwave.


Photos: Flat-face dash in 3300 is best described as utilitarian. New XF dash is ergonomically sound with everything within reach.


Photos: Haven’t gear levers come a long way? Self-stirrer Ecosplit in the DAF 3300 ,16speed double-H pattern. TraXon auto controls in the New DAF are sited in the dashboard. D for drive, R for reverse, tortoise for slow manoeuvring.

However, first we needed to take a quick 20-minute jog down the M74 – the main West Coast northbound route into Scotland. Running in convoy with the 3300 up front provided a good opportunity to experience New XF’s standard adaptive cruise control (ACC). On long motorway drags it takes all the hassle out of setting and resetting cruise control when you’re blocked by slower-moving HGVs (like a 354hp DAF 3300!). When its radar detects a ‘sluggard’ up ahead, if you can’t overtake them, ACC backs off the throttle in order to maintain your pre-set distance with the vehicle in front.

If you need to slow down more, ACC next dials in the threestage MX engine brake and applies the service brakes. Should you really have to decelerate quickly, Autonomous Emergency Braking System (AEBS) then steps in. And once the truck in front speeds up again, so do you, automatically.

ACC also combines seamlessly with New XF ’s normal downhill speed control, so on long descents it will hold back your maximum speed to a pre-set limit, again making full use of DAF’s engine brake, automatically prompting TraXon to change down to get maximum back-pressure. The result is relaxed foot-off cruise control up hill and down dale. It’s clearly light-years away from the 3300 where cruise control is your right foot and ‘secondary retardation’ is a heeloperated exhaust brake working a simple butterfly valve in the downpipe. To get it working you need to get the engine revs up – the yellow shaded area in the 3300’s centrally mounted rev counter helpfully shows where they should be. In practice, it works OK...‘ish’. But it did remind us of how far engine braking has come since the 3300 first appeared. We were somewhat glad our 3300 wasn’t running at its original 38 tonne plated weight. With a dummy load roped and sheeted on its old 40-footer trailer, and with five-tonnes over the pin to settle down the ride of the steel-suspended tractor, it was probably grossing closer to 15 tonnes – but then old timers deserve an easy retirement.

It ’s a while since we’ve needed our left foot in a top-weight tractor, but a 16-speed Ecosplit synchro box is like riding a bicycle – you never forget how to use it. The trick is to block shift in low range, then use the clutch-triggered splitter to finetune things in high, especially on hills. So typically, you start in 2L, then skip to 4L, hop across the ‘double H’ gate with a flick of the wrist into 5L high-range, then climb up using the splitter or full shifts. For more severe starts 1L to 3L does the same thing, but either way, unlike the two-pedal TraXon in New XF, gear changing in the 3300 is definitely ‘manual’ work. After two hours of shoving the long lever back and forth we knew we’d been doing it. Curiously, I’d also fallen back into the old (bad) habit of resting my left hand on the gear lever, ready for the next shift. It’s all a far cry from the New XF where, with TraXon handling all gear changes, you spend far less time ‘physically’ driving the truck, and more on monitoring and confirming what you’ve asked it to do for you, resulting in a calmer, less tiring trip.

One thing you certainly can’t miss is the 3300’s in-cab noise. Even when its 530hp MX-13 engine is pulling strongly right down to 1,000rpm it’s whisperingly muted inside the New XF cabin. Shove your foot down hard on the throttle in the 3300, however, and the ATi engine’s growl echoes throughout the cab. It ’s a similar ‘things have definitely moved on’ story with the 3300’s steering (not bad, but not great), and general ride, though to be fair a lightly-laden steel-sprung tractor was always going to be lively.


Photo: Proud flagships of the DAF brand, decades apart.

Ergonomically, the New XF’s cur ving cockpit and well laidout dash puts everything within perfect reach. In the 3300 it ’s a stretch to reach the crude slider controls for the heating and ventilation in the flat, utilitarian (there’s no other word for it) dashboard. The same goes for the old-fashioned park brake mounted on the engine hump to the left and rear of the driver’s seat. And three decades makes a hell of a difference in trim quality and seat comfort. With the 3300 you have to fit yourself to the truck, especially with no adjustment on the steering column. In the New XF the truck fits you.

The sheer ‘bareness’ of the Space Cab comes as a surprise too. While it’s got plenty of room, apart from a couple of open-cupboards on the front wall there’s very little enclosed storage space (and no external lockers for wet gear). Compare that with the New XF and there’s more than you can shake a stick at, including the big pullout drawer and fridge under the bed, plus big lockable cupboards in the headlining and various trays, pockets and holders in the dash. There are twin external lockers too. Indeed, the New XF cab continues to set the standard for the best use of internal space in a top-weight tractor. So after nearly three hours driving the 3300 Space Cab were we left hankering for a return to the good old days? Nostalgia has its place in road transport but if the choice is between a 3300 and a New XF, give me progress every time. What ’s perhaps ironic is how far we thought the industry had come when the 3300 Space Cab first appeared. But things have definitely moved on. Is the 3300 still a friendly truck? For the occasional heritage run, undoubtedly yes (and fun too). But for a week-long slog around Europe, I’ll stick with my new (XF) friend.