Midicoach sector gains a premium VDL option

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VDL’s Futura FHD2 range has gained an addition: The 10.6m FHD2-106, which is placed as a premium model with potential for customisation. We drive the first UK coach, a 43-seater for A Lyles and Son

A Lyles and Son is the first UK operator of a VDL Futura FHD2-106 coach

VDL broke new ground for the well-regarded Futura 2 range when it unveiled a 10.6m variant in 2016. Positioned as a premium mid-sized coach, the first example for the UK arrived recently. It is a 43-seater for Batley operator A Lyles and Son.

With the obvious exception of length, the FHD2-106 shares much – but not all – with its bigger brothers, of which the first right-hand drive 13.5m, two-axle FHD2-135 recently entered service. It comes with the same potential for customisation, and it includes an accessible option.

The FHD2-106’s market sector is low-volume yet competitive, and the handful of operators that purchase what is in effect a heavyweight midicoach are spoilt for choice. As a result, while VDL’s quality is established, it may well be the overall package that clinches it.

The Futura 2 range benefits from backup provided by the Moseley Companies. It comes with a three-year manufacturer’s warranty that the dealership supports on an unlimited mileage basis.

Owing to its niche appeal, it’s unlikely that the FHD2-106 will be held in stock. However, VDL is able to build it reasonably quickly, and lead times of around three months are predicted.

A coach in this segment is not for all operators, but for those that do have one, there is usually plenty of work to keep it occupied. Lyles took delivery of its VDL last week, but before that, Director Howard Lyles kindly made it available for a routeone Test Drive.

Build

At first glance the FHD2-106 seems like a scaled-down variant of its bigger brothers. Look closer, however, and there is a major difference ahead of the front axle. The overhang there is 49cm shorter than other FHD2s. As a result, just one 400-litre fuel tank can be fitted, compared with the 500-litre standard capacity and optional 330-litre second tank on longer coaches. One filler point is provided, above the offside front wheel. AdBlue goes in at the extreme rear.

VDL has taken into account the shortened overhang when configuring the door. On longer FHD2s, it opens parallel with the side of the coach. On the FHD2-106, it does not; it rotates a little, so that the rear edge will not make contact with the tyre should the steering not be centred.

Fitted as standard to the FHD2-106 is a powered continental door. The adjacent sunken toilet can be deleted if required, or replaced with a floor-level washroom on accessible models, but the opening cannot be replaced with a rear emergency exit.

Coach has manual, top-hinged bay doors, but a powered option available

The test coach has manually-operated, top-hinged luggage bay doors, but VDL can instead fit powered, parallel-lifting examples.

Rear overhang on the short Futura is the same as other two-axle FHD2s. Within it is a DAF MX-11 engine rated at 370bhp coupled to a ZF EcoLife automatic gearbox. The automated AS-Tronic is also available, as is the manual EcoShift.

Height of the FHD2-106 is 3.70m and it has a wheelbase of 5.05m. Unladen, it tips the scales at 12,400kg and its GVW is 18,000kg for UK applications.

Passenger access

Access is via four steps to the platform and two more to the completely flat gangway. A further shallow step is necessary to reach the rear row of seats.

The courier position extends into the doorway more than on some other coaches, although the width of the entrance at its narrowest point is still acceptable.

On boarding passengers’ left, a handrail follows the natural course of their climb. One is also fitted to the courier seat base.

All of the Vogel LS40 seats have upright grab handles at each corner, and there is well over 6ft of headroom throughout. Taller passengers may also use the edge of the luggage racks to steady themselves. As the racks are deep, there is plenty to hold on to there. On accessible FHD2-106s, a ski locker is added over the rear axle. Within it goes a cassette wheelchair lift, complemented by a door above. Seats will be tracked as required.

Passenger comfort

VDL is able to incorporate a wide range of luxuries. The Lyles coach is to a standard specification, and seats have recline, two-point belts and drop-down tables. Side-shift, three-point securement and USB charging points are among the many options, with other bespoke fittings available to suit.

Seats are trimmed in half-leather with cream headrests, and black curtains are fitted to give a co-ordinated look. Legroom in the coach varies, but on the offside ahead of the toilet it is particularly good.

43 part-leather Vogel LS40 seats fitted along with a centre sunken toilet

Visibility is largely excellent, although the rearmost pillars are chunky and intrude into the side view of passengers in the back row.

What travellers in this part of the coach will undoubtedly find to their liking is the noise levels there; the engine is almost undetectable when cruising.

Climate control is fitted and the Denso air-conditioning unit can take the saloon temperature down as far as 15oC. Blown hot air vents at floor level, and a Spheros coolant pre-heater is fitted as standard.

Two fixed monitors are connected to a Bosch Professional Line entertainment system with USB input, while a fridge is fitted within the dash. The toilet is topped with a small servery, and it includes a kitchen-style tap that allows almost infinite temperature selection.

A hatch that is part of the toilet unit leads to an underfloor bin. If required, the whole unit can be deleted to allow a maximum of 45 seats.

Drivers will appreciate how the toilet door can be folded back on itself through the continental opening, allowing easy access for cleaning.

Driver comfort

VDLs have a solid reputation among drivers. Putting this one through its paces, it’s not difficult to see why. The cab environment is among the best. The manufacturer has put much thought into visibility, while controls are very chunky and logically laid-out. The overall impression would be even better were the handbrake not located awkwardly below the seat squab.

Access to the cab is good, with only a small storage unit to the left of the seat. Other storage is provided on the right, and a discreet safe is within the stairwell.

The steering wheel has various buttons for cruise control, a variable speed limiter and phone operation. It adjusts for reach and rake via a toggle button. Stalks are solid and the dash display is clear.

Pulled-back A-pillar gives FHD2 first-rate visibility; the rest of cab is good

Isringhausen provides the driver’s seat. It is a high-specification model with twin armrests, heating, and an in-built microphone. No peage window is fitted, but the signalling window lowers electrically and is heated; twin powered windscreen blinds are present.

VDL handles what on other coaches is often a conflict between the A-pillar and mirrors very well; the pillar is pulled back, creating a windscreen that is curved at the outer edges, while the mirror arms sit well proud of the bodywork.

As a result, the blindspot at the A-pillar is minimised. That aspect is particularly obvious at roundabouts and it is very welcome.

A further useful aspect of the FHD2-106 is the twin fans that point at the driver and the courier respectively. Although simple additions, they generate a strong flow of air.

Various charging points are fitted around the cab and the courier seat, including USB and 12v sockets. Space around the pedals is good, and the driver will appreciate a pedestal upon which he or she can rest their left leg.

Performance

The gearbox in Lyles’ VDL is set to favour economy over performance. It gains speed at a reasonable rate, but without use of the kickdown switch it will not keep pace with some other EcoLife-equipped coaches that are configured more for pace.

Upshifts are made at around 1,200rpm on a flat road, but the gearbox’s incline-sensing software works well on climbs. There, it waits until around 1,500rpm before changing.

Such a shifting strategy gives an idea of how flexible the MX-11 engine is. Remarkably, it is happy to hold 850rpm at 40mph in top gear, and that delivers major benefits in terms of fuel economy. On a route that favoured urban work, the coach returned a highly-credible 11.4mpg.

VDL has taken all of the FHD2-106’s brothers’ good points for new model

The ride at the front of the FHD2-106 is not affected by its short wheelbase. Despite a heavy engine behind the rear axle, there is no sensation of the tail wagging the dog, and roadholding is excellent.

Manoeuvrability is also very good, and the steering angle on the short Futura 2 is the same as on its bigger brothers. An integrated retarder is fitted along with an exhaust brake, with the latter activated via a foot control.

Verdict

The FHD2-106 is a premium mid-sized coach, and that is reflected in the retail price. It is also conveyed by the overall quality of the vehicle.

In creating the 10.6m model, VDL has first taken all of the best bits of the full-size Futura 2. It has adapted the front overhang to suit, and then condensed the lot into a product that delivers for both the driver and passengers.

The model should also provide a return on investment for the operator. Those Futura 2s that have come onto the used market have held their value well, and the fuel economy returned on this test drive was, given its largely urban nature, around 1.5mpg better than would have been expected.

VDL promotes the Futura 2 range’s total cost of ownership. On this showing, it is right to do so; the FHD2-106 is a fine product, and both the manufacturer and the Moseley Companies’ dealerships promises that aftersales support will be first-class.

If you’re in the market for a heavyweight midi, the FHD2-106 is well worth a look.