Nu-Track introduced its Nu-Vibe midibus with local authority applications in mind. It is a narrow and accessible vehicle with tracked seating that satisfies an important sector of the market, and gives improved durability over van-based designs. Tim Deakin drives one
Northern Irish manufacturer Nu-Track has long been associated with the mobility sector, where it has a loyal following throughout the UK.
More recently, a change of ownership has seen it embark on an ambitious range expansion programme, and one of its new products is the integral Nu-Vibe.
The Nu-Vibe bears a striking resemblance to the Wrightbus StreetLite, and the two businesses are in common ownership. But at the Nu-Vibe’s launch in 2014, Nu-Track representatives were keen to stress that it is not a shrunken StreetLite, despite first impressions.
Instead, it is a completely separate vehicle aimed largely at a different market, and although the chassis has been developed at Wrightbus’ EN-Drive plant in Antrim, Nu-Track describes the Nu-Vibe as being designed to “to breathe new life into community and educational transport.”
Among the Nu-Vibe’s target areas of operation is door-to-door work, where its compact size – it is just 2.28m wide and 9.05m long – mean that it is little larger and only slightly less manoeuvrable than the van-derived vehicles more usually employed on these duties.
It is also suitable for conventional bus use, being able to seat up to 33 passengers.
That versatility is key to one of the earliest buyers of a Nu-Vibe. The Moray Council has taken delivery of two so far, and both are used on a wide variety of duties in and around Elgin in northern Scotland.
The Moray Council also operates an early StreetLite WF, which gives the opportunity to compare the two buses and see if Nu-Track’s claims are correct. They are; the StreetLite is a more substantial vehicle than the Nu-Vibe in almost every respect, and it is mechanically different too.
With a fully tracked low-floor area, the Nu-Vibes with The Moray Council are proving versatile buses that are popular with drivers and passengers who were more accustomed to van-derived vehicles. The council kindly made the first example available for a routeONE Test Drive.
One immediately obvious aspect of the Nu-Vibe is that it is lightweight by modern-day standards for a bus of its capacity.
The Moray Council’s first example tips the scales at a respectable 6,740kg and its GVW is 10,250kg.
The Nu-Vibe’s body structure is made of aluminium alloy, and it satisfies R66 rollover regulations. Its 17.5in wheels mean that the Nu-Vibe sits very low to the ground even before the suspension is lowered, aiding accessibility.
Air suspension is fitted all round, and axles from Daimler are used. The Nu-Vibe also has a rear window, which benefits the travelling environment in the raised rear section.
Power comes from a four-cylinder, 4.5-litre Euro 6 Cummins ISB4.5 engine developing 148bhp. It is coupled to an Allison 2100 five-speed automatic gearbox, and fuel and AdBlue fillers are sensibly separated at the front and rear respectively.
The former is adjacent to a secondary filler and emergency shut-off valve for the Eberspächer auxiliary heater.
Access to the Nu-Vibe is excellent by purpose-built bus standards, and head and shoulders above that seen in rear-wheel drive van conversions.
Its already low entry step drops rapidly when the kneeling function is engaged, the bus audibly coming to rest on the bump stops to give an initial step height of 250mm. The two-piece door is easily wide enough for a wheelchair user to pass through and a Compak 300kg bookleaf ramp is fitted.
In The Moray Council’s Nu-Vibes, all except two of the maximum possible 16 seats in the low floor section – those behind the mid-mounted emergency door – are tracked, and as a result they can be easily removed when required.
Rescroft’s CT Lite model is used, with three-point belts.
The bus usually operates in a configuration with just eight seats in the low-floor area: The two fixed positions on the offside and six more on the nearside, but removing all bar the fixed two gives the potential to carry four wheelchair users.
Alternatively, their bases fold up, and thus space can be created without removing seats by ‘shuffling’ them together.
Complementing the floor tracking are two rails above the windows on both sides. The Moray Council uses Koller restraints for wheelchairs, and when not in use they are stored in a bag against a bulkhead.
The operator would like to see a dedicated stowage area added for this equipment on future vehicles.
As a result of all but two of the seats in the low-floor area being removable, no vertical handrails are fitted, although each seat has a semi-circular rail around the headrest, significantly mitigating this lack of upright bars.
The 17 seats in the rear area are fixed, but the handrail arrangement remains the same, with one exception: A slightly incongruous-looking vertical bar mounted on the first of two shallow steps amidships. Like the handrails on each seat and those around the door, it is bright yellow.
Both steps leading to the raised rear section are slightly deeper than those on a StreetLite. However, the Nu-Vibe’s rear floor section is flat.
The all-round air suspension ensures that the Nu-Vibe’s ride is good, and the passenger experience is aided by the deep windows in the low-floor section. At the rear, entry of natural light is more restricted as the window sill rises considerably despite contradictory impressions from the outside, but a clear roof hatch and rear window do their bits to help.
Saloon lighting is very simple and made up of ceiling strips, while the Eberspächer heater also warms the cab when required; separate controls for saloon and cab are present. Two opening hopper windows are fitted, one on each side.
Mobitec destination equipment is installed, and an all-round CCTV system includes reversing and front view cameras. Unusually, a Blaupunkt CD player is fitted and it feeds to speakers within the saloon.
The floor is finished in hard-wearing grey plastic, and step edges are marked in high-visibility yellow.
Passengers’ verdicts on the Nu-Vibe have been positive so far, says The Moray Council. Wheelchair users like it thanks to its easy access, while able-bodied passengers who ride in the rear section appreciate the improved travelling environment when compared with a van conversion or Vario.
What is noticeable at the rear, however, is that seats are high in relation to the window line. The view is still reasonable, but this combined with the very chunky rear pillars – no doubt necessary to satisfy R66 legislation – may lead to a slightly claustrophobic environment when heavily loaded.
With its engine at the rear, Nu-Track has taken full advantage of the amount of space available in and around the cab and the area ahead of the door, and as a result the environment is excellent.
Access to the cab is via two steps, and the driver sits considerably higher than those passengers in the low-floor area. Helped by the lack of a cab door on The Moray Council’s Nu-Vibe, space around the pedals and steering column is extensive.
The steering column and simple dash binnacle adjust as one unit via a foot-activated switch, and there is sufficient room behind the Chapman seat to stow the driver’s bag – not always the case among the smallest buses on the market.
Both pedals are bottom-hinged, and to the right of the steering wheel, various switches controlling body functions are located, as is the standard Allison one-touch gear selector.
Heater controls and the handbrake are below the signalling window, where sufficient space for documents and other smaller items is also located.
Vision from the Nu-Vibe’s cab to the front and the nearside is another strong point and is perhaps unrivalled by any other bus on the market.
The Nu-Vibe’s deep windscreen – which bears a striking resemblance to that used on Wrightbus’ latest double-deck range – gives a very good view, including to the lower area, and it is difficult to imagine how a person, even a child, could get ‘lost’ here if the driver is careful.
Similarly, to the nearside, the lack of a cab door or anti-assault screen means that by turning his or her head, the driver can take advantage of the fully glazed doors and deep window line in the low-floor section to gain a superb view of what is happening in this area.
To the offside, visibility is also good, helped by the use of just one pillar where there may otherwise be two; the B-pillar is to the rear of the driver.
148bhp is a modest amount of power for a bus nowadays, and the Nu-Vibe’s performance initially feels quite unadventurous. The gearbox changes up relatively early, and there is certainly no impression of tearing up the tarmac.
This impression is a misconception, partially brought about by the exceptionally quiet driveline. In reality, the bus makes adequate progress when out of town.
Although acceleration tails off above 30mph, the Nu-Vibe made a good fist of a climb on the A95 heading east from Elgin towards Fochabers; it maintained 50mph on a stretch judged steep enough to warrant a crawler lane.
The bus also made easy work of some of the badly-cambered roundabouts on the A95, and those that have narrow and awkwardly-marked lanes.
Its narrow width quickly becomes obvious, and when combined with a good steering lock and short wheelbase, it can be driven in a manner similar to how a large van would be, without fear of cutting in or getting out of shape even at higher speeds.
Complementing this good handling is respectable ride quality. When driven along a rural lane among Moray’s numerous whiskey storage warehouses, it behaved well; not on a par with a coach, but certainly at least as well as would be expected from a bus in the heavyweight category.
The Nu-Vibe’s regular driver reports that it is also at home in narrow town streets, where it is used as part of its door-to-door application. There, she says, manoeuvrability is on a par with smaller Renault Master-type van conversions.
There is much to like about the Nu-Vibe, both for passengers and drivers. It is not perfect; it would benefit from more handrails in the rear and gearshifts when changing down the box during deceleration are occasionally slightly clunky in the bus tested.
But that apart, it is a vehicle that will represent a step-change for users more accustomed to a front-engined van conversion when used in mobility applications.
For bus work, meanwhile it manages to roll up most of the Wrightbus StreetLite’s passenger-friendly aspects into a smaller footprint that, thanks to its low weight, will deliver excellent fuel efficiency.
The Moray Council has already taken delivery of a second Nu-Vibe, and it says that it may opt for two more next year.
Having dealt with Nu-Track for a number of years prior to the Nu-Vibe being unveiled, Chris Hall, Planning Officer Community Transport, also pays tribute to the manufacturer for its responsiveness on the rare occasions when issues have arisen.
The Nu-Vibe a bus that is simple and yet versatile, and is the kind of vehicle than will no doubt flourish in the niches that it is aimed at.