First Drive: Yutong Euro 6

Yutong arrived here in 2014, with the Chinese manufacturer’s coaches supplied and supported by the established Pelican dealership, based in Castleford. Sales have beaten expectations, and its two-model Euro 6 UK line-up is now available. Tim Deakin reports.

Euro 6 is now well established in the coach market, and despite initial scepticism it has been generally well received. Fuel returns have been encouraging and the new generation of engines often deliver enhanced driveability at the same time.

Yutong is among the latest manufacturers to come to the Euro 6 party. It offers a pair of coaches via Pelican Bus and Coach: the 12.28m TC12, seating up to 55, and the smaller TC9, which carries 35 passengers in a length of 9.35m.

Although manufactured in Zhengzhou and shipped to the UK ready for work, the coaches’ drivelines are entirely westernised. The TC9 is powered by Cummins’ six-cylinder ISB developing 280bhp, while the TC12’s engine is DAF’s MX-11, rated at 400bhp.

Both drive through the six-speed ZF EcoLife automatic gearbox; no other transmission option is available.

Pelican Bus and Coach is based at Wakefield Europort trading estate, near Castleford, and is part of Pelican Engineering, a long established and family-owned undertaking.

It can offer demonstrations of both Euro 6 models throughout the UK and Ireland, and is confident that both Yutongs will continue to enjoy success.

Pelican MD Richard Crump expresses a hope that it may have sold nearly 100 of the Chinese coaches by early 2016.

So far it has sold 46, with that number including around a third of a stock order for 43 due for delivery this year. Of this order, there will be 24 TC12s and 19 TC9s. Sales Director Ken Grindrod kindly made one of each model available for a combined routeone First Drive.

 

Mythbusting

As experienced by Scania with its Touring, some UK operators retain a degree of suspicion over Chinese-assembled coaches. Principal concerns surround build quality and support, and in Yutong’s case Pelican is doing its utmost to change that perception. It is keen to take the TC9 and TC12 to operators for demonstration and has every confidence in the product.

While it’s impossible to predict the situation in 15 years, a close look at both the coaches and Pelican’s premises and service department suggest that any such worries may be overstated. Each coach is solidly put together, with no rattles or squeaks audible even when on poor road surfaces.

The TC9 and TC12 look similar from the outside and that story continues when aboard. They share much in terms of interior fittings, including seats and the entertainment system, which includes a drop-down 19in monitor and DVD player as standard. The driver’s areas differ more noticeably, however.

Inside the TC9, Yutong branding is prominent. It appears on the seat antimacassars and on both the windscreen’s electric sunblinds, and in a number of less prominent places. The TC12’s seats are identical and also include the branding; the demonstration coach’s sunblinds do not.

The seats, produced by Yutong, are finished in blue fabric and include magazine nets and footrests. Besides the standard recline, aisle seats also slide apart by a couple of inches, useful on long-distance work, although it naturally compromises gangway width. Three-point belts are fitted, as are armrests on the aisle side.

The fabric is complemented by blue LEDs in the luggage rack edges, which accompany white diodes. On overnight journeys the blue LEDs may prove more agreeable to passengers wishing to sleep, and on both coaches the switch allows them alone to be lit. Step edges at both doors are also marked by blue LEDs.

TC9 is smaller, but includes reasonable luggage capacity and many 'big coach' aspects
TC9 is smaller, but includes reasonable luggage capacity and many ‘big coach’ aspects

 

More options soon?

Although the standard fabric is adequate for many applications, Pelican is in discussions with Yutong with a view to offering premium seating, including a full leather option. In the meantime, more than one TC9 delivered to the UK has been reupholstered in leather or imitation leather prior to entering service.

Similarly, at least one of the smaller coaches has received a toilet after arrival in the UK. It sits immediately behind the continental door at the extreme offside rear. Pelican expects to be able to offer a toilet as a factory fit option in due course on the TC9.

The larger TC12 is already available with a centre sunken toilet from the factory, and in this specification complete with continental door it seats 51; the 55-seat option deletes both the toilet and offside toilet. A ‘halfway house’ variant seating 53 with a centre door but no WC is also available.

Unlike some other Chinese coaches the door is an acceptable size, and in a pleasing touch includes a full-sized metal door handle. Following feedback, production coaches will see the external toilet door handle tapered in to the door to prevent it snagging on the coats or bags of passengers boarding at the centre.

This is one of several minor improvements which Yutong will make on coaches delivered as part of Pelican’s forthcoming stock order.

The waste bin within the toilet compartment will be altered to prevent the area below it becoming a trap for water when the cubicle is cleaned, while the curtain arrangement will be tidied.

Climate control in both coaches comes from a combination of a roof-mounted air-conditioning unit and perimeter radiators. An integrated two-zone control unit is fitted, with the driver able to set his or her desired temperature independently of the saloon. Both models also have two reversible roof-mounted fans.

They each also include a Webasto coolant pre-heater unit mounted in the engine compartment, and likewise both include flush, polished 240v sockets. Four are in the TC9 and 10 in the TC12, coupled to a locker-mounted 1.5kW inverter.

Richard explains that Pelican is examining the inclusion of USB charging points at every seat for the future; Wi-Fi can be fitted at the Castleford premises before delivery if required in the form of an Icomera MoovBox. Both coaches have dash-mounted fridges and reverse cameras as standard.

 

On the outside

The TC9 and TC12 share a generally European look externally. The TC12 has substantial luggage capacity, and on production examples intrusion of the toilet compartment will be much reduced thanks to relocation of its water tank. The TC9’s provision is as would be expected, providing 5m3 of capacity behind manual locker doors.

The TC12 also includes a small amount of below-floor storage behind the rear axle and lockers over each wheel, although they don’t function as ski lockers. Various electrical components are within them, although there is still room for smaller items of luggage.

Underfloor access arrangements on the larger coach are unusual. On the offside, both luggage bay doors are powered and rise parallel to the body; the door behind which sits the toilet is manually operated and top-hinged, and will become much smaller when the water tank is relocated.

On the nearside, all three doors rise parallel to the body. The middle one is manually operated as location of the coach’s electrical components means there is no room to fit a power pack. Ken explains that Yutong is working on a fix which will see the three doors become two, both of which will be powered.

TC12 gives good luggage capacity
TC12 gives good luggage capacity

 

On, off and in the cab

The front doors on both coaches are similar, although the TC12’s includes a page window while the TC9’s does not. At both doors the TC12 has one more step than the TC9, and each coach has a kneeling function. Clever design of the courier seat means that it doesn’t intrude in any way, and each opening on both coaches has a substantial heater vent in the bottom step.

Both cabs are relatively welcoming and the considerable numbers of buttons have pictograms on them, although the purpose of some may require the driver to check the manual. Steering wheel adjustment is via a handle on the TC9 and screw-tightened knob on the TC12; the scope is more limited than would normally be expected on European coaches.

Gullwing mirrors are fitted, complete with electrical adjustment for both larger panes. One omission that would benefit from rapid rectification concerns the sunblinds, which when used in low sun almost completely obstruct the rear-view mirrors.

A fix to this is needed, but when some of the other alterations already made by Yutong following Pelican’s feedback are considered, it seems likely that the problem will be addressed.

An Isringhausen air-suspended seat is standard on both coaches, complete with two armrests, and the seat demonstrates the manufacturer’s attitude to dealing with minor issues.

On both coaches as tested the seatbelt extends from the driver’s left shoulder, as it would on a left-hand drive vehicle. Yutong is aware of this and all coaches for the UK going forward will be supplied with the seatbelt unit to the driver’s right.

Cabs are similar to European coaches'
Cabs are similar to European coaches’

 

On the road

Both coaches were driven on a circular route from Pelican’s premises via Ferrybridge Services, then north via the A1 and back through Leeds. They demonstrated that the EcoLife gearbox is well matched to engines of differing characteristics. It shifts smoothly and keeps engine speeds low, utilising the torque effectively.

In the TC9, the 280bhp Cummins is powerful enough for a coach that weighs around 10,500kg unladen, although it is occasionally necessary to activate the accelerator kickdown switch to force a downshift into fifth gear.

The smaller coach is very quiet and holds the road well enough, although its slightly narrower track means that well-defined tramlines are at times challenging. Seals around the front door and signalling window are good and no wind noise from either is evident.

At 62mph the ISB is turning at slightly over 1,500rpm, at which point it is quite happy and gives good hill climbing without the engine ‘bogging down’. The coach also pulls away very smartly and retains its peppy nature at higher speeds, when the smaller displacement might otherwise be expected to show itself.

In terms of get-up-and-go, most impressive of the two Yutongs is the TC12. That’s not surprising, as the DAF MX-11’s 400bhp and 1,900Nm are very much towards the upper end of the two-axle coach spectrum. Peak power is also from an exceptionally low 1,450rpm, further adding to driveability.

The MX-11 proves to be a sparkling performer, and were it not for a HGV the TC12 would have reached 62mph on an uphill slip road when about to join the westbound M62 at Ferrybridge. It is effortless, and proves equally adept in city traffic, easily outpacing a bus from a standing start despite much higher gearing.

When on the speed limiter the MX-11 is turning at a shade over 1,200rpm. The EcoLife keeps speeds below 1,500rpm at all times, and in both coaches the gearbox’s integral retarder allows a smooth stop to be made with no fuss.

The TC12 in particular is a highly pleasing drive, and its steering lock is excellent. Both coaches are also well suited for allocation to less conscientious members of staff. They are easy to handle and their almost bulletproof drivelines will render abuse as good as impossible. Simple controls, accurate steering and confidence-inducing brakes also add to the mix.

DAF MX-11 engine in TC12 is superb performer
DAF MX-11 engine in TC12 is superb performer

 

Verdict

The two coaches which make up Yutong’s current UK offering at Euro 6 satisfy a number of requirements. The TC12 is as suited to short-duration touring as it is to local private hire and school work, and its very strong driveline means it will be up to the task when given more testing duties.

As a medium-size coach the TC9 is also appropriate for many tasks. It is pleasant to travel in and retains a ‘big coach’ feel inside, helped by a reasonable specification level and the Cummins’ muted tones.

The TC9 lacks a little in the driving experience compared to its bigger brother, but it is fine nonetheless.

There are a handful of areas – such as the sunblind aspect – which would benefit from attention, but both Ken and Richard at Pelican stress that Yutong’s people in China are keen to learn and improve. They have already done so in several areas based on feedback received over the past few months.

As a package, it is not difficult to see why operators have taken to Yutong.

They are competent, solid coaches, and they are also good value. Retail price for the TC12 as tested is 192,000, while the TC9 comes in at 139,000. Pelican is also able to assist with finance (subject to status) and has good relationships with several providers.

Whether Richard Crump’s hope that Pelican will have sold 100 Yutongs within a year comes to pass remains to be seen, but on this showing reaching the magic number will be a case of when, not if.