Irizar i8 integral: The new flagship contender

Many operators run a fleet flagship; others have modelled their whole businesses around providing a service that is discreet and leaves customers wanting for nothing. Irizar UK is targeting both with its DAF-powered i8 integral. Tim Deakin drives one of the first of the type to arrive in the UK from Spain

Coach operators at the highest end of the market recently gained a new challenger for their business: Irizar’s i8

Coach operators at the highest end of the market recently gained a new challenger for their business: Irizar’s i8. In DAF-powered integral form, it is supplied by Irizar UK, which is confident that the super-high i8’s almost limitless range of options will ensure that it appeals to VIP, corporate and touring customers alike.

The i8 replaces the established PB as Irizar’s range topper, and it also represents a significant upgrade. It is a completely new product, and the result of a €20m development programme. With the exception of the driveline and a small amount of framing, the i8 shares nothing with existing models.

It is positioned as a premium coach, and early orders reflect that. Two of the first integrals built for the UK will be employed as team coaches, while two more have gone to a high-profile operator that also works in the same market.

Irizar UK offers the i8 integral in tri-axle form at 13.22m and 14.07m. It sees a market for 10-15 units per year, with a longer-term target of 20, and that aspiration will become more achievable with a development that should see a shorter variant arrive later.

“When the gross weight for two-axle PCVs rises to 19,500kg we will be looking to introduce a two-axle, 12.6m i8 integral,” says Director Steve O’Neill.

“It will retain everything that we can provide already, because from the chassis upwards, it will be the same coach.”

Irizar UK’s demonstrator will arrive in the UK next month, and will be available for viewings at operators’ premises soon after. The dealership also plans to hold a small number of stock i8s for short notice delivery.

One of the first operators of an i8 integral is Stewarts Coaches of Reading. Its example is destined to be the team transport for Reading FC, and it has been fitted out accordingly. Prior to delivery, MD Andy Cotton kindly made it available for a routeONE Test Drive.

Build

The i8 retains Irizar’s family look, although it has been tweaked somewhat to give the new model its own identity.

The i8’s frontal aspect is slightly more angular than its sister the i6

One of the most noticeable aspects of this is on the lower dash. It is more angular, as are the headlights. The windscreen does not extend as far downwards, reducing exposure to damage, while at the top, the trademark drooping roof has been lifted slightly. A third wiper that parks out of passengers’ view is added as a result.

The main luggage locker doors within the wheelbase are electrically powered, and external downlights aid loading or unloading during the hours of darkness.

An additional offside luggage compartment behind the rear axle is also present. In Stewarts’ coach, it holds the batteries and inverters required by the on-board kitchen, while a water tank in the rear ski locker has also been added.

Were the water tank not there, it would be possible to ‘load through’ as there are no obstructions within the compartment.

Power is from a DAF MX-13 engine developing 460bhp. It drives through a ZF AS-Tronic automated gearbox. ZF’s automatic EcoLife is an option at 460bhp, but with the alternate 510bhp rating it is not. There is an extraordinary amount of empty space in the engine bay, making access excellent.

Passenger access

Accessing a super-high coach like the i8 naturally requires more steps than a lower model, but Irizar has handled this aspect as well as could be expected.

Polished stainless steel handrails on both sides of four entry steps

Four steps lead to the platform and a further three to the flat gangway, and a down-facing light in the nearside mirror arm illuminates the open doorway when the headlights are on.

Handrail provision around the entrance is good. Irizar uses a polished stainless steel bar on the left when boarding that rises from the second step, complemented by a similar handrail on the right. The latter is not fixed to the courier seat’s base, but to the adjacent door mechanism cover.

Steps are lined in high-grip rubber, and all of the seats have vertical handholds in each upper corner.

At the centre door, a retractable external step is fitted. Besides aiding access, it also means that despite the i8’s height, the gangway need not dip in the area by the centre stairway.

The flat gangway permits a wheelchair-friendly version of the i8, complete with a floor-level rear toilet. Currently, access would be via a door towards the front on the nearside, but Irizar is working on a cassette-type lift mounted in the rear ski locker. There is no limit to the amount of tracking possible.

Passenger comfort

The utmost in comfort is expected from a team coach, and Stewarts’ i8 does not disappoint. It seats just 34, all of which are around tables; two seats have a large table to themselves. Irizar’s new i8 seats are fitted, and finished in two-tone leather.

Creature comforts are legion, and a comprehensive rear kitchen has been installed along with a coffee machine above the centre toilet. The kitchen and associated fittings add approximately 900kg when compared with a fully seated coach, and the conversion has been undertaken by AD Coach Systems.

AD Coach Systems has converted the coach to seat 34 with a kitchen

Two large fridges in the kitchen are complemented by one within the dash and a pull-out example in the saloon. The kitchen also includes a boiling water tap, two ovens, a commercial microwave, a sink, an ice machine, numerous cupboards and a large work surface.

USB and 240v power points are provided for every passenger, and the coach has a further, and highly novel, charging option. A zone at each table can charge Android near field communication (NFC)-enabled devices wirelessly; all the user need do is place his or her phone in the marked area.

A Bosch Professional Line system with USB input feeds to seven monitors throughout the cabin. Two – one at the front and one above the toilet – are Irizar standard fit, with five others having been added.

Reading lights in the passenger service units are complemented by four LED strips: One in each luggage rack, and one beneath each side heater radiator. The LEDs are remote-controlled, and display an infinite range of colours on either a constant or cycling basis. Additional ceiling lights are fitted in the kitchen.

The overall effect is good, but the heavily tinted windows mean that additional white ceiling lights may be a worthwhile addition.

Naturally, climate control is fitted including a Spheros auxiliary coolant heater. The coach has a shore electric supply socket, allowing it to continue to function when the engine is switched off.

Driver comfort

All that the driver could need is provided: The two-piece sunblind and péage and signalling windows are all electrically operated, while the top-of-the-range Isringhausen seat is finished in matching two-tone leather and is both heated and ventilated.

Cab is entirely new and has a host of high-tech toys for the driver

The seat’s hands-free microphone can be tethered to the Bluetooth phone connection, and a small safe is mounted in the base. Rain-sensing windscreen wipers and automatic headlights are fitted.

Most buttons are on a bank to the driver’s right, and are one-touch. While that may sound similar to the i4 and i6, it is not. A completely new panel has been designed for the i8, including buttons to release the dual diesel and single AdBlue fillers among many others; they cannot be opened from the exterior.

Cab storage is good, and a covered cubbyhole beneath the signalling window has two USB charging sockets and space for two phones.

Central to the all-new dash is a large touch screen display. It governs the sat-nav, entertainment and climate control systems, although the latter two also have separate and more conventional switches. In addition, it displays the feed from the reversing camera.

A small display behind the steering wheel is connected to the rear bumper-mounted parking sensors, and informs the driver of the distance to objects when reversing.

Tests of other Irizar coaches have shown the manufacturer’s standard mirror arrangement to be excellent. The i8 continues that; it has perhaps the best mirrors of any coach, with the wide-angle panes giving a peerless view to both sides, but also showing the tarmac along the entire front of the coach.

Performance

Superb visibility instils a sense of confidence in any driver, and the i8 integral has the poise and power to match that ambition. Despite a height of almost 4m it corners as well as any other model, and manoeuvrability is excellent thanks to the positively steered third axle.

460bhp DAF MX-13 engine is fitted, coupled to ZF AS-Tronic gearbox

As in any high-powered coach, speed is gained well regardless of terrain. The i8 continues Irizar’s practice of specifying a very tall top gear, and so at the 60mph maximum the MX-13 is turning at less than 1,200rpm, although a side effect is a requirement for an early downshift upon encountering a stiff climb.

The AS-Tronic makes best use of the very wide green economy band on the tachometer by often block shifting two or even three gears at a time, and clutch control is excellent. The standard Intarder remains as powerful and easy to use as ever.

In contrast to some earlier AS-Tronics, no gearshifts were perceptible at any point. Such smoothness is imperative in a coach of this type, where hot food and drink may be in the process of being served at any time.

There is little more to say about performance: The i8 integral does exactly what it needs to, and will not be found wanting.

Verdict

Irizar UK has a particular niche in mind for the i8 integral, and is carefully marketing the model so as not to intrude on its existing i6, which itself is already available with luxurious levels of trim.

Irizar has distinguished the newcomer from the i6 sufficiently to clearly identify them as different models, but the i8 retains the family look. An Irizar will never be mistaken for a coach from any other manufacturer, and the super-high i8 takes this to a new level quite literally. It delivers immense road and kerb presence.

But under the skin, the i8 integral does share something with a comparable i6. That is the excellent roadholding given by Irizar’s front and rear base modules, which is compounded by the independent front suspension that enhances the driving experience so much.

The Stewarts i8 demonstrates that the model is well suited to team transport or similar duties, and the standard of the conversion to VIP specification is excellent.

The i8 is not a cheap coach, with the retail price for the 14.07m version starting at £295,000 and the shorter 13.22m integral beginning at £290,000, both in all-seated layouts. But where some of the passengers that it will carry are worth transfer fees many times that sum, comfort is the paramount consideration, and it provides that in spades.

For more details about the i8 and to see promotional videos visit the official Irizar i8 webpage