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May 15 2019
By Tim Deakin

Tim is Editor of routeone and has worked in both the coach and bus and haulage industries.

Plaxton Panorama: Ticking many coaching boxes

With the arrival of the Panorama double-decker, there is even greater choice within Plaxton’s extensive line-up. Acklams Coaches of Beverley was the Panorama’s launch customer. We put it through its paces

Acklams’ Panorama to be used on continental trips and travel to concerts

Plaxton’s range has expanded considerably of late thanks to investment from parent Alexander Dennis. When the Volvo B11RLE-based Panorama was introduced in 2018, it ticked what was probably Plaxton’s last outstanding box: That of a double-decker.

Although the double-deck market is small, competition is fierce. Because of that, Plaxton set out to distinguish the Panorama from the rest of the field. Its USP is the potential for a variety of wheelchair-accessible configurations.

That’s not to say that the Panorama is all about accessibility, although it does excel in that regard thanks to a flat lower-deck floor. Versatility was another element of the design brief. As a result, the model suits both scheduled work and private hire and tour duties.

Giving appeal to buyers in the latter sector is the wide potential for customisation. Seats from various manufacturers can be fitted, along with a variety of amenities. Up to 91 passengers can be accommodated if a toilet is sacrificed.

The Panorama’s launch customer was established Plaxton buyer Acklams Coaches of Beverley. Acklams already has three Elite-i interdeckers in its fleet, along with several other Elites, and it finds the service delivered by Plaxton to its liking.

Two of Acklams’ key workstreams suit high-capacity coaches: School trips abroad, and its own concert travel programme. As a result, the operator was happy to take a Panorama to complement two of its interdeckers; the third Elite-i is to sports team specification.

On a rare day between duties, Director Paul Acklam kindly made the Panorama available for a Test Drive.

A high performer

Volvo developed the B11RLE specifically for the Panorama. It combines a conventional rear module with a low-entry front unit. The latter allows enough space for a wheelchair user to board at the front, although Volvo Dynamic Steering is not available on the B11RLE.

Luggage space is as good as can be expected; Acklams now has a trailer

Under the bonnet is the 10.8-litre D11K engine rated at 460bhp. It is coupled to Volvo’s I-Shift gearbox.

Twin fillers for the 600-litre diesel tank are ahead of the drive axle, while the 64-litre AdBlue tank is further back on the offside. The Panorama comes as standard with small upright ‘fins’ on both rear corners. They smooth airflow, reducing drag and benefiting economy. Undertrays are fitted to fulfil the same purpose.

The luggage bay is accessed via a full-height opening with ‘walk in’ steps, along with top-hinged manual doors on both sides.

Plaxton has made best use of the available space there, but storage capacity remains a double-decker’s Achilles’ heel.

Because of that, Acklams’ Panorama came with a ski box, but when carrying an orchestra group even that was insufficient. It has thus purchased a 3,500kg GVW twin-axle trailer.

As with the interdeckers in Acklams’ fleet, the Panorama has cameras at the extreme rear of both sides as part of a wider CCTV system. When the indicators are applied, the view from the camera on the opposite side is displayed on a dash monitor, showing when the tail of the coach is clear of obstructions.

That is a useful fitting. At 14.5m long and 4m high and with active rear steering, the Panorama demands care from drivers. As tested, it tips the scales at 18,665kg unladen and has a GVW of 26,000kg.

Access is key

Acklams’ Panorama is certified to carry one wheelchair user, boarded by the centre door. However, it has the potential to accommodate more thanks to the flat lower deck floor.

Front staircase is in a U-shape, and B11RLE allows wheelchairs to pass it

It isn’t just wheelchair users that will find the Panorama easy going. Headroom in both gangways is as would be expected, but in the lower saloon the ceiling is recessed slightly to maximise space.

When seated, there is ample space between passengers and the overhead luggage racks that are fitted on both decks. That provision is regarded as a major plus by Plaxton, and the racks are well-sized by double-decker standards. On the undersides of them are passenger service units.

The front staircase is on the offside and it is in a U-layout. The centre staircase is in a more conventional L-shape. Both have a window within the side wall and all steps are edged in LEDs. Handrail provision is very good, and they are finished in silver.

Vanity screens at the tops of both staircases are securely attached to the floor and to the side wall.

Comfort for all

The coach was delivered with 87 seats, but the rearmost pair on the nearside of the lower deck has been removed to increase space by the centre door. As a result, there are now 20 positions in the lower saloon, and 65 upstairs.

Brusa’s Create 300 model was specified, trimmed in black flat weave upholstery with red leather headrests and shoulder padding. Various other seat types can be installed.

USB points are fitted, along with footrests and drop-down tables. The latter have a slot within them to hold an iPad or similar. When coupled with centre armrests and all-age three-point belts, that all gives a luxurious travel environment. On the lower deck, two very small tables with cupholders are at the front. Matching red curtains are included.

The toilet is respectably sized and comes with a frosted window. Immediately ahead of it are a small servery and a fridge; although not fitted to the test coach, a second fridge can be mounted within the dash.

Brusa Create 300 seats are fitted, finished in flat weave with red leather

A comprehensive entertainment system includes a DVD player. The lower deck has two screens (one forward-facing), and the upper saloon has a large monitor at the front along with a pair of small fold-down examples by the rear staircase. Front-seat passengers have smaller screens on the dash.

Climate control is via an air-conditioning unit and perimeter radiators. The optional auxiliary coolant heater is fitted, and the coach warmed up on a cold and wet day quickly.

Driver acceptance

One of the Panorama’s regular drivers reports that the coach has been accepted well by passengers, although its courier seat attracts criticism. It is fixed, and when the coach is used on continental work the resting crewmember does not find it comfortable.

The cab environment is different. It benefits from an Isringhausen set with twin armrests and a hands-free microphone. The I-Shift selector is in the right and various trays are provided for storage.

Visibility from the driver’s seat is good, although it pays not to stop too close to traffic lights to prevent them being ‘lost’ above the relatively narrow windscreen. The large mirrors are good, although those on the nearside are fixed to the door. It opens rearwards, and so those mirrors cannot be seen in such circumstances. The CCTV automatically displays the feed from adjacent to the centre door when it is open, permitting activity there to be monitored.

Although the cab roof is low, the driver can still get comfortable. The steering wheel adjusts well, as does the seat.

Put through its paces

The Panorama’s wheelbase, at 6.72m, accounts for less than half its overall length. That creates a huge rear overhang which the driver must be careful of, but it also makes the coach highly manoeuvrable for something of its size.

Visibility from the cab is good, although drivers don’t like the courier seat

Power delivery is smooth, and the I-Shift performs well. The coach does not accelerate from stationary as quickly as some others, undoubtedly due to its high unladen weight.

Once past 30mph it continues to add speed nicely, something that is no doubt helped by its gearing; at 62mph the engine is turning over at around 1,450rpm, a little higher than would be recorded in some other models.

That does not unduly influence fuel economy. On one largely dual-carriageway and motorway section the Panorama turned in 10mpg, which was impressive considering the very poor weather. On an overall course that included rural A-roads, the average was 8.5mpg.

Wind allowed the Panorama’s road holding to be put to the test. When encountering side gusts on the M62’s Ouse Bridge it did surprisingly well, as it did later on the M18, although steering correction was required in both instances.

Final piece in the puzzle?

Acklams has an extensive Plaxton fleet, and last week it took delivery of a second Cheetah XL midicoach. It sticks with the Scarborough coachbuilder for several reasons, and passenger acceptance is among them.

The Panorama has fitted in well, and since collection at the end of January it has covered around 19,000km. Now that a trailer has been sourced, the double-decker is a compelling proposition for Acklams’ requirements. It can carry a large number of passengers, and their luggage when required, and it offers a high-quality travelling environment.

As its first double-decker since the Paramount 4000, the Panorama puts Plaxton back in a position to meet any customer requirement from the midi sector upwards. It expects to deliver a significant number of Panoramas in 2019, which in what is typically a low-volume market is testament to its versatility.

Double-decker coaches aren’t for everyone, but the Panorama combines trusted Volvo running gear with the opportunity for extensive customisation to suit many roles. It’s worth a close look if you’re in this sector.

Facts and figures

Retail price: TBC
Engine: 10.8-litre six-cylinder Volvo D11K
Power: 339kW (460bhp) @1,800rpm
Torque: 2,200Nm @1,000-1,400rpm
Emissions: Euro 6 using EGR and SCR
Gearbox: Volvo I-Shift 12-speed automated manual
Tyres: 315/80 R22.5
Length: 14.50m
Height: 4.00m
Width: 2.55m
Wheelbase (axles 1-2): 6.72m
GVW: 26,000kg
UVW: 18,665kg
Fuel economy: 8.5mpg

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