UNVI has enjoyed a reasonable following for its Touring GT midi-coach, mounted on Mercedes-Benz’ Atego chassis. It has upped the ante with the Touring GT-R, which is based on the rear-engined MAN A67. .
The Touring GT-R was launched at Coach & Bus Live 2013, and thanks to UNVI displaying both the GT-R and sister Atego-based GT side-by-side, visitors could easily compare the two.
Externally they are identical, the main change being engine location. The MAN’s is at the rear compared to the Atego’s next to the driver. Although this means the Mercedes can offer more luggage storage, the MAN benefits from lower noise levels and a conventional entrance arrangement, allowing up to four more seats to give a total of 45.
An option of larger wheels â€“ fitted to the test vehicle â€“ means the UNVI-bodied MAN is very much out of the full-size coach mould, although it’s not priced as one. At 182,500, this 43-seater is competitively positioned and nicely specified.
One of a number of UK dealers selling the Touring GT-R is Whitburn, West Lothian-based Coachtraders.
Director Gordon Robertson kindly made an example awaiting delivery to Mint Coaches of London available for test.
The optional larger wheels of the Touring GT-R we tested don’t increase axle loading tolerances, but give a look more akin to a full-size coach. It is finished in white, although Coachtraders can arrange for vehicles to be painted before delivery.
Power is delivered by a 6.9-litre, 290bhp Euro 5 MAN engine, driving through a ZF EcoLife six-speed automatic gearbox, which is standard fit on the A67 chassis. The engine is accessed via a large single-piece bonnet which lifts parallel with the rear of the coach rather than hinging from the top.
Fuel is added behind the signalling window, with a small lockable door ensuring security. No AdBlue is required, although this will change on Euro 6 models.
Luggage locker doors are one-piece and powered, being operated via a touch-screen display in the cab. The bay is uncluttered, and offers 7.2 cubic metres of capacity, helped by it running the length of the wheelbase.
The manually-operated offside door is positioned behind the rear axle and so doesn’t intrude.
Gross vehicle weight is 14,000kg and the Touring GT-R tips the scales at a shade over 10,000kg unladen, which gives enough tolerance for 45 passengers and their luggage.
[tab title=”Passenger Access”]
The Touring in both forms has a plug-type passenger door. On the GT-R, three steps take passengers up to the platform, with two more necessary to reach the sunken gangway.
The aisle is covered in a hard-wearing carpet but steps have plastic mats, which give good grip and have the benefit of being removable for cleaning.
Courier seats never enhance passenger accessibility and the Touring’s is no different. It sits on its own pedestal on the third step, and would benefit from having a hand-hold installed to the underside of the base cushion for passengers to use.
Gordon Robertson tells routeone that the arrangement is currently being looked at by UNVI, which recognises that it’s not ideal.
The front suspension is air and lowers to aid access. When engaged, the kneeling facility drops the initial step by 50mm to 350mm. Step heights internally vary between 210mm and 250mm; as is generally the case, passengers in the rear row of seats need to climb one further, shallow step.
The rear offside door is accessed by four internal steps, which are quite steep. Although the coach is not quite as wide as most full-size examples at 2,500mm, the 50mm difference is not noticeable internally.
The gangway is perfectly fine and access to seats is easy.
The front nearside pair sits slightly lower than the remainder, perhaps making them easier to reach for less able passengers. Bags placed on the floor by either front pair will need to be watched closely by passengers as there is a considerable gap between the floor and bottom of the modesty guard. Smaller items could slide underneath during braking.
[tab title=”Passenger Comfort”]
Although the seats in the coach as tested are not top-of-the-range, lacking magazine nets and drop-down tables, those travelling on this GT-R are well looked after. As with all manufacturers, a variety of seating types are on offer, and operators can specify a more luxurious variant if desired.
The 43 Grand Prix seats fitted have armrests and recline, and are finished in leather with fabric inserts.
They are comfortable and the pitch is good, and combined with two manually-lowered screens coupled to a DVD player, this coach is suitable for long distance work.
Operators who buy a Touring GT-R for such duties might like to think about toilet provision. The coach tested didn’t have one; UNVI can fit a floor-mounted unit at the rear offside corner, at a cost of four seats, if required.
Heating is provided by convection radiators, and a roof-mounted Hispacold air-conditioning unit is also present. Although the air-con is controlled by its own small buttons in the cab, saloon heating is dealt with through the already-mentioned touch-screen unit, also in charge of several other functions.
The driver can set the cabin temperature through this, from 15-31C; any lower requires use of the air-con. On a chilly day in Scotland, the passenger area quickly became comfortably warm despite the coach not having been warmed up before driving.
A pre-heater is optional, although the test vehicle was not equipped. There is plenty of room in the battery compartment at the rear offside for it to be fitted.
Besides its DVD capability, the Touring GT-R has the normal radio and CD player. Additionally, by each of the driver’s and courier’s seats a USB socket allows an iPod or similar to be connected to the vehicle’s sound system.
Finally, in the dash of the 43-seat version is perhaps one of the deepest on-coach fridges out there, at 500mm.
[tab title=”Driver Comfort”]
MANs of recent years have been blessed by one of the most upmarket dash areas in the commercial vehicle world. The A67 is no different, and clear dials are complemented by well-located buttons and a computer, which provides data on fuel consumption, brake pad wear and several other items.
The Pilot seat is to the usual high standard found in full-size coaches and is fully air operated, including back support and suspension. It usefully has a lifting nearside armrest; with fewer coaches requiring the driver to shift gear manually, it is a beneficial addition. A similar addition to the offside would be appreciated.
The steering wheel is a standard 440mm in diameter and can be adjusted by a pneumatic release switch located beneath the signalling window, which is large and lowered electrically.
Driver and courier are provided with a reasonable amount of personal storage. Both have nets to hold maps and paperwork, with the driver also benefiting from a large pocket for other items.
A can or cup holder is provided in a convenient position adjacent to the handbrake.
Secure storage is provided by two lockable cabinets. One is built into the panel beneath the signalling window, with the other being very discreetly hidden within the side of one of the two steps from platform to aisle. The latter, in particular, takes some finding.
The driver’s heating and air-conditioning is separate from the saloon’s and is controlled by two dials, one governing temperature, the other fan speed. Demisters are powerful and once activated the cab temperature rapidly increased.
Two electrically-operated blinds are controlled by the dash touch screen.
The upper portion of the windscreen, which admits generous natural light to the front of the coach, has an additional, manual blind.
The two pedals are quite small but easily reached. Both have a considerable amount of travel, certainly more than many other coaches. They are progressive, and the brakes are very smooth in operation.
One particularly impressive aspect of the coach is its very thin A pillars. Coupled with well-positioned mirrors, the sometimes huge blindspots on other PCVs are non-existent on the Touring. It is without question something every other body manufacturer should aim to emulate.
The 290bhp engine drives through ZF’s six-speed EcoLife gearbox, an increasingly popular choice in coaches. Selecting drive, unusually for a ZF, is not through a set of buttons, instead being through a rotary AMT-style selector. This similarity continues on the dash, where the LCD screen displays the current gear.
Configured for maximum economy, the EcoLife keeps engine speeds as low as possible at all times, and so acceleration isn’t earth-shattering. Its keenness to maintain the highest gear has benefits, however, particularly when travelling on undemanding roads in 30 or 40mph limits.
The gearbox drops engine speed to below 1,000rpm in such instances, but there should be no concerns about it doing so. The coach is perfectly happy to trundle along in such circumstances with the tachometer reading in the region of 950rpm.
At the limited speed the coach sits squarely at 1,500rpm, the middle of the torque band, and mechanical noise is barely detectable.
The lack of noise, helped by the traditionally quiet MAN engine, is one of the Touring GT-R’s strong points; it is uncannily quiet. UNVI has also, unlike some others, managed to fit gullwing mirrors which don’t generate wind noise.
Gearchanges are entirely imperceptible and the ZF engages its lock-up clutch almost immediately after moving away, in the interest of economy. Fifth and sixth are very close together, and so in some circumstances it pays to use the kickdown function when the ZF chooses to labour a little in top.
Very useful is a variable cruise control and limiter function. Activated by steering wheel buttons, it can easily be set to the desired speed, aiding fuel economy and allowing the driver to devote all his or her attention to the road.
[tab title=”Verdict & Specs”]
The Touring GT-R is an eminently capable and comfortable midi-coach.
While the Atego-based Touring GT will no doubt offer good, dependable service, the MAN-based variant addresses the access issue generated by front-engined chassis, adding capacity at the same time.
Each variant will have its own followers, says Gordon Robertson. Coach operators in need of a smaller vehicle traditionally look for something akin to the MAN, while those running mini-coaches who require something larger are fond of truck-derived midi-coaches, such as the Atego-based Touring GT.
Those who choose the GT-R will get a solid vehicle which pleases passengers. At the moment, lead time is around the three-month mark, and the last few Euro 5 chassis are still available. The Touring GT-R is a good, smaller coach.