The latest Peterbilt 386 proves easy to handle on the road
By Paul Abelson
When new, aerodynamic, long-haul, owner-operator trucks are launched, they get headlines and, often, magazine cover position. And to let you in on a (not so) secret, trucking journalists envy the drivers who get to operate them. But in the real world, not everyone gets to drive Peterbilt 389s, Kenworth T700s, Pete 587s and their long-nose, “large-car” competitors. Many of our readers drive trucks spec’d for medium range and maximum payload. They may not be as glamorous, but they epitomize what trucking is about: moving goods efficiently and profitably.
At the 2010 Mid-America Trucking Show, PACCAR got its share of headline press when it debuted two wide-cab, long-nose highway cruisers, Kenworth’s T700 and Peterbilt’s 587. Later that year, I reviewed Pete’s 587, and earlier this year I evaluated the KW as a juror for American Truck Dealers’ Commercial Truck of the Year Awards, which, by the way, the T700 won.
With far less fanfare, Peterbilt introduced its new Model 386 at this year’s MATS. It’s an aerodynamic, fuel efficient, regional- to long-haul variation on Peterbilt’s classic narrow cab design, although at first glance it can easily be mistaken for the 587. The 386’s cab is the same one that helped build a solid reputation for the model 379. It was honed to perfection in the 389. I recently visited Peterbilt’s factory in Denton, Texas, to evaluate the new model 386.
My test ride had a 230-inch wheelbase with a 126-inch bumper-to-back of cab (bbc) dimension. Lightweight components and a 63-inch sleeper helped keep weight with a trailer loaded with concrete to a few pounds shy of 68,000. That’s a typical gross combination weight for a regional hauler.
The 386 was powered by PACCAR’s new MX 13-liter engine, producing 485 hp and 1,650 lb-ft of torque. That’s pretty good power for regional haulers that typically run 435 to 460 hp.
The 386 had a 3.36 Dana Spicer DSP41 drive axle hung on Peterbilt’s proprietary low air leaf suspension. Up front, the Dana Spicer 12,000-lb steer axle was mated to a taper leaf spring suspension
The transmission, an Eaton Fuller 13-speed Ultrashift Plus, was set up for maximum highway performance. Shifts were smooth as silk, with the transmission staying in each gear longer when accelerating and on grades.
The cab was well appointed, with Peterbilt’s Prestige interior, but since I hadn’t been in a sleeper shorter than 70-inches for a long while, the lack of the extra foot or so was quite noticeable. Still, the sleeper had all that was needed for drivers who might be home one or two times a week. The mattress was reasonably wide and comfortable, but it came right up to the sides of the facing closets.
There is full standing headroom as soon as you emerge from between the seats so you don’t feel hemmed in. Getting to the sleeper is easy since the Ultrashift transmission has no gearshift lever to block the way. The cab and sleeper were reasonably quiet. With Peterbilt’s chief engineer John Myers in the passenger’s seat and public relations manager Katy Troester riding along in the sleeper compartment, we were able to conduct conversations at a normal voice level.
The Premium Peterbilt Ultraride seats were quite comfortable, even when I chased some rough surfaces along some of the two-lane roads we traveled. But it was back on Interstate 35 that we put the 386 to its performance tests.
Hitting the highway
Acceleration from the short, tight (and slow) entrance ramps was more than adequate. At one point, I had the choice of flooring it to get up to merge speed ahead of a long line of trucks or, to save fuel, hanging back and letting the line go by. Based on how the truck performed earlier, I decided to go for it and made it to 70 mph with several hundred feet to spare. I don’t think the lead truck slowed up a bit.
The MX engine has a broad power band, with maximum torque from 1,100 to 1,500 rpm. Even at 1,900 rpm, it produces 1,250 lb-ft. Its 485 horses start at 1,550 rpm and continue all the way to 1,900.
PACCAR engineers could have given the engine greater maximum power, but it’s not the peak that counts. It’s the area under the curve that creates performance, and that is what the engineers achieved.
The Ultrashift transmission contributed to the truck’s performance by staying in gear longer when sensing the throttle’s demand for power. It also senses gentler throttle movements, and it keeps you in the highest gear that will get the job done. That maximizes fuel mileage. Hill climbing was hard to test on I-35, but southbound just after the Oklahoma line there’s a long uphill stretch of road with a 2-percent grade. The Pete never slowed down or even made a shift. Torque just kept us going.
There are Bendix Air Disc Brakes all around on this truck, not just on the steer axle. Using them took some getting used to. If such a thing is possible, they were almost too good. Having disc brakes at all six wheel ends provided greater braking force than the drum brakes they replaced. They also have inherently less side-to-side variation. Stopping was straight, sure and almost too quick. For a given rate of deceleration, discs take less pedal pressure than drum brakes.
I did notice a greater tendency to wander at slow to moderate speeds. Myers said this was the result of the tight wheel cut, fast steering ratio and relatively short wheelbase. With a 70-inch sleeper and the corresponding wheelbase, vehicle dynamics would have been better. Not that things were bad — far from it. I guess I’m just spoiled by driving too many highway cruisers.
Off the beaten path
Although more than 90 percent of driving for most long-haul drivers is on four-lane divided highways, critical differences are found on country roads and city streets. To test in those conditions, we left the Interstate a few exits short of Denton so we could try the truck on other-than-Interstate roads. Handling and maneuvering were quite good, especially on two-lane roads and around tight corners.
Inside the cab, controls fell readily to hand. The dashboard was easy to read except when the information panel was under direct sunlight. This is not unique to Peterbilt. It’s common with all trucks and certainly an opportunity for optical engineers. Visibility from the cab was very good, helped by the sloping, aerodynamic hood.
All told, the Model 386 is a truck well-suited to its target market. It provides power and performance, handling and maneuverability, stopping power and comfort, all with what Peterbilt is know for: Class.
- SmartWay Designated
- GCWR: 80,000 lbs
- Wheelbase: 230”
- Front axle: Dana Spicer 12,000 lb, taper leaf springs, shocks 12,000 lbs
- Rear axle: Dana Spicer DSP41 40,000 lbs, PB low air leaf 40,000 lbs
- Air Disc Brakes (front and rear)
- PACCAR MX – 485 HP, 1,650 lb-ft torque
- Fuller FO16E313A-MHP Ultrashift Plus
- Aluminum Cab 126 ” BBC
- 63” Ultracab sleeper with Prestige Interior
- Smartsound cab insulation
- Power door lock
- Adjustable Appliance/TV shelf
- SmartNav system
- Xantrex 1,800-watt battery charger/inverter
- Premium ultraride driver and passenger seat
- Premium mattress
- 2 closet doors
- Thermal insulation package
- Rear wall storage cabinets
- Comfort controls in cab and sleeper
- 36 “, 48 “, 70 “ sleepers also available with the Model 386