In the front-engined midicoach market, gearboxes have often delivered a less than smooth passenger experience. But no longer. We took to the winding roads of North Wales to put the DAF Turas 900s and its ZF fully automatic gearbox through its paces
With many coach operators looking to add a midi-coach to their fleet to offer the flexibility often required to satisfy customer demands, whether to go for a rear or front-engined vehicle is rarely far from the top of the list of decisions to be made.
Do you go for a vehicle that looks like a coach, only shorter and with a rear engine, or do you go for a purpose-built front-engined midicoach?
The perceived wisdom is that the short coach-style of vehicle offers a gearbox that emulates the smoothness of its larger siblings, whilst the van-style of gearbox often found in front-engined minicoaches is, well, how should we say it, not quite as smooth.
But with many operators recognising that a front-engined midi is usually lighter than a rear-engined coach, perhaps it was only a matter of time before a vehicle arrived on the market that delivered the much desired combination of being front-engined with a smoothness of ride.
Step forward then the DAF Turas 900s. The model was on static display at Euro Bus Expo at the NEC in November last year but this is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to take one out on the road for some years.
The 900s, which is available in a 33-seat or 37-seat configuration, and with or without PSVAR compliance, sits on the new Global 6 DAF LF with ZF PowerLine eight-speed automatic transmission.
The range of Turas small coaches is a product of Brian Noone Ltd of Co. Kildare in Ireland. In England and Wales the distributor for Noone is Jones Coach and Bus Sales based in Llanrwst in North Wales. The company started selling Noone products in 2020, including the full Turas range of 500s, 600s and 700s variants. Jones also offers a selection of used coaches and buses as well as PSVAR conversions.
I’ve travelled to Llanrwst to meet Managing Director Steve Jones and Sales and Business Development Manager, Christina Saunders.
“It’s undoubtedly a prestigious vehicle,” says Steve. “But at the heart of what makes this midicoach special is the new ZF PowerLine eight-speed fully automatic gearbox. The ride quality for passengers, and for the driver, is considerably smoother than the previous six-speed gearbox that we had in the vehicle since its launch in 2020. DAF upgraded the LF chassis and Noone decided to put it into the 900s. What we have today is a superior vehicle, and a multi-purpose workhorse. Being front engine means it’s robust, and having standard DAF parts means there’s a wealth of backup from the 190 or so DAF dealers across the country should you need them.”
Our test vehicle is the PSVAR-compliant variant and there’s a key point to note in terms of the design.
“The need to install a lift in a midicoach has usually resulted in a reduction in luggage capacity,” explains Christina. “Noone has taken a different approach, placing the lift above the rear axle. That has meant raising the body by 60mm, meaning we now have even more luggage space, up to a total of six cubic metres, a really important factor for this type of vehicle. It’s a more useful product.”
The 900s’ brochure talks about ‘class-leading driver and passenger access’. I ask Steve what this actually means.
“Noone doesn’t like driver doors,” he says. “So access through the passenger cabin needs to be good. A redesign of the front binnacle has removed the need for the driver to squeeze into their seat. It’s a real improvement and one that our own drivers who have seen the vehicle really like. Likewise, that redesign has removed the pinch point that you can find in front-engined midicoaches as passengers step into the main saloon. The courier seat has been set further back and there are well-positioned grab handles.”
One of the traditional concerns about front-engined midicoaches has been weight tolerance, as Steve explains.
“In the past there was often a concern among operators that a 33-seater, with a full compliment of passengers and luggage, could be overweight. The 900s sits on a 12 tonne chassis, so even with that full load and luggage, and perhaps some duty free brought back from Calais, drivers and operators don’t need to be concerned about compliance. It’s one less thing for an operators to worry about.”
Although Steve and Christina note that driver feedback has been positive, they both recognise the importance of letting operators see the vehicle for themselves.
“There’s been a lot of interest in the 900s and we know operators are waiting to see us,” says Christina. “We’re running a programme of operator roadshows based at hotels in different parts of the country and we’ll be inviting operators to pop in.”
Steve updates on the availability of the 900s.
“We will have stock vehicles here in September,” he says. “There’s a six-month lead time for new orders from the factory with build slots currently available. At the heart of this is Noone’s commitment to quality that extends to the factory in Bursa in Turkey. To my mind the 900s is best in class. Because of that the vehicle has longevity; it will retain its value.”
Steve also highlights the support he and his team can give operators.
“Over the last two years or so we’ve built up an extensive parts operation,” he says. “Our Parts Manager, Colin Stephenson, prides himself on getting parts to operators as quickly as possible. Through our Llew Jones operating company we have coaches operating all over the country, so we can sometimes simply put a part on one of those vehicles and arrange for the operator to meet up with it. It’s quick and seamless.”
The stylish lines of the Turas 900s (Turas incidentally being the Irish word for touring) give the vehicle significant kerb appeal. The PSVAR-required lift, nicely integrated into the nearside of the vehicle, above the rear axle, ensures the smooth lines of the coach are maintained. The rear light clusters and the Spheros Valeo air-conditioning unit on the roof add to the vehicles design cues.
The hand-operated boot lid opens to reveal the spacious luggage compartment. Side panels open up to give additional access and there are further luggage lockers accessible from both sides of the vehicle.
The rear offside emergency door opens to reveal two recessed steps that swing out into secure place to avoid the need for passengers to jump down or use any other type of foothold. It’s a nice touch.
There are rear top level marker lights and indicators and LED day running lights.
Boarding the vehicle, the flip-up courier seat, with a lever to ensure it stays securely in place until needed, has two arm rests and a three-point seat belt. There’s a microphone, a small compartment for paperwork, and most importantly, somewhere to rest your feet. This vehicle featured a fridge in the front dash.
There are five steps up to the main passenger cabin which is on the same level through to just beyond the lift door and where a wheelchair user would sit. A second step, just behind where the lift door is located, leads to the rear of the cabin where a third step takes you to the two rear seating rows. In a non-PSVAR variant there is just the one aisle step at the rear.
The 33 leather seats can recline (not in the rearmost row) and have three-point belts and an aisle arm rest. The passenger service unit above each row features individual reading lights, a courier call button, and a button that will mute the radio or other music being played in the coach.
In the test vehicle, to give more headroom as part of the PSVAR conversion, the overhead luggage racks only run above the seats in the front half of the vehicle.
The vehicle is well-specified but a list of optional extras, including USB charging ports, tables, a toilet, CCTV and monitors, means you can tailor your 900s to your specific requirements.
Smooth and stable
But it’s time to find out whether the much vaunted smoothness is more than marketing speak. The answer is an unqualified yes. The ZF PowerLine eight-speed fully automatic transmission delivers a noticeably smooth experience. Pulling onto a roundabout or away from a junction and you wait for the usual gearbox jerk, but it doesn’t come. Silky smooth may be over-egging things here, but it’s certainly very smooth indeed. Using kickdown on a hill leaves the ZF unfazed. Steve tells me that the gearbox handles a full load with equal aplomb.
On the narrow roads of the Conwy Valley the 900s felt stable and secure, the mirrors making it easy to ensure correct road position.
The A-pillars aren’t intrusive and there’s a very useful small window to the rear of the offside B-pillar that gives good visibility when pulling out of angled junctions. The one-piece driver mirrors giving a clear view rearwards.
The switchgear is laid out well with the tachograph unit sensibly located higher up on the left-hand side instrument panel.
A minor concern is the steering wheel. It feels large compared to some, and although you can change the angle of tilt, from almost flat to a gentle rake, you can’t change the height. The driver’s seat is fully adjustable so after some tweaking I was able to find a satisfactory position. But I wonder if a height adjustment option may prove useful for some drivers?
Travelling as a passenger in a front-engined midicoach can sometimes prove a touch claustrophobic, especially if you sit in the corner seats on the back row. But the Turas 900s is spacious. It offers a comfortable and enjoyable ride. For operators looking for a mid-size offering the 900s clearly gives flexibility to be able to accept all types of work. It’s a versatile vehicle and compares very well with others in its class. As noted, it’s also very smooth. With the 900s starting at £168,000 for the 33-seater, and an additional £5,000 for the 37-seater, Noone and Jones Coach and Bus Sales could have a game-changer on their hands.
Turas 900s – specification
CHASSIS: DAF LF 12T
ENGINE: 4.5 litre, four-cylinder Paccar PX-5
POWER: 157kW (213bhp) @ 2,400rpm
EMISSIONS: Euro VI using EGR and SCR
GEARBOX: ZF PowerLine eight-speed – AS Fully Automatic Transmission
TYRES: 245/70 R17.5
Length: 9.17m (33-seat)
Height: 3.2m (inc AC unit)
Wheelbase: 4.8m (33-seat), 5.1m (37-seat)
UVW: 7,530kg (with lift)
Fuel tank: 185 litres
Fuel economy: Up to 20mpg depending on conditions
Price: From £168,000 (33-seat)