For a first drive, a lasting impression

One of the great advantages of the Volvo I-Shift automated mechanical transmission is its ease of use. Many drivers entering the driver workforce these days no longer have the experience operating a standard transmission vehicle.

As a result, more and more fleets are finding they either have to spend valuable time training new drivers – and losing those trainees who find it too difficult to learn how to drive a manual – or purchasing a vehicle equipped with an automatic or automated transmission.

I am like many of these new drivers – no experience with a manual truck transmission. In fact, I have no experience with an automatic or automated truck transmission either. So I think I am a perfect representative to speak to how easy it is to drive one of Volvo’s trucks equipped with an I-Shift.

The answer: It’s much like driving my “little” SUV, just a little bigger.

I had the chance to test-drive a Volvo FH16 750, a 750-horsepower cabover, just introduced in Europe at the beginning of September, during a press event this week in Gothenburg, Sweden. Having never driven a big rig like this one, coupled to a semi-trailer, the I-Shift allowed me to speed right through that learning curve.

Now by no means am I a professional truck driver – in fact I barely touched 60 km on my short test-track journey, but not having to worry about getting the vehicle into the correct gear meant I could focus on the truly important chores at hand – not driving the vehicle off the edge of the road or hitting anything, or anybody, on the corners.

The transmission has a number of driver-friendly features, including a very smooth engine brake that downshifts the vehicle several gears at a time while allowing the driver to maintain the same control as under normal driving conditions.

Of course, there is a hill-start aid that gives the driver 1 ½ seconds to press the accelerator before the truck starts moving – in either direction. And the automatic gear selection skips unnecessary gears while accelerating – in all, only six of the 12 speeds are needed to reach highway speed.

Add in the fuel efficiency gains achieved with an I-Shift – as much as 1.5% - and it’s clear to see why we are starting to see a slow shift away from manual transmissions.

Even someone inexperienced like myself can see the advantages, which should only serve to open more doors to careers in truck driving for the younger generation.