Test Drive – Neoplan Tourliner

Neoplan’s shock decision to cease production of its iconic Starliner leaves it with just one product in the UK market: the more workaday Tourliner. Nevertheless, the Tourliner is a highly capable coach with much to offer passengers, as Tim Deakin finds out.

Neoplan was an early convert to Euro 6, and as a marque of owner MAN all Starliners and Tourliners delivered in 2014 have been to this standard. But the unmistakeable Starliner will be discontinued next year, leaving the Tourliner as Neoplan’s only offering to UK operators.

Tourliner has met with some success. Speaking at Euro Bus Expo, MAN’s Head of UK Bus and Coach Ian McLean said that around 60 Euro 6 examples have been sold in the UK already.

Among buyers is Lympne, Kent-based Buzzlines Travel. As part of an extensive fleet upgrade programme it has taken delivery of several Tourliners, including three 13.8m P22 models, and two further identical vehicles are expected soon. Operations Director Nigel Busbridge kindly made one available for a Test Drive.

Build

Unlike the made-to-order Starliner, the Tourliner is stock-built. Although obviously not as visually striking as the range-topper, it is distinctive in its own way and incorporates a host of useful design points to benefit passengers and the driver.

Tourliner is built in two- and three-axle form from lengths of 12m up. The example tested is the largest available, and it is a big coach: 13.8m long and 3.8m high, meaning a capable and trusted driver is imperative.

That’s not a problem for Buzzlines, with the coach being entrusted to Derek Mulligan. Among Buzzlines’ longest-serving drivers, he takes an obvious pride not only in standards behind the wheel but also in his coach’s appearance, and has been the Tourliner’s regular pilot since delivery earlier in the year. It has covered around 35,000km so far.

Security is provided by a full set of CCTV cameras, including one at the rear for reversing; Derek notes that a wider angle lens would be preferable, as the camera fitted doesn’t show both rear corners.

Three monitors can display feed from forward-facing CCTV camera
Three monitors can display feed from forward-facing CCTV camera

The luggage bay doors are large, reflecting the cavernous nature of the underfloor area, and most – but not all – rise parallel with the bodysides.

Ample external storage for cleaning and other equipment
Ample external storage for cleaning and other equipment

Closing them is a little tricky, and an internal handle at the bottom of the door would be useful. Derek says that if the coach is positioned correctly there is sufficient space to drive an electric wheelchair into the lockers without difficulty, such is their size.

No external ski locker doors are present, but the storage space is still there; the only difference is that it is accessed from within the main lockers, and is very discreet.

Also discreet is an office-style metal safe hidden away to the nearside.

The engine bay door and panels covering the nearside radiator and offside exhaust are all top-hinged. The Ad-Blue tank is next to the exhaust, and can be filled either by lifting the panel or through a smaller hinged flap. Diesel is added at the front, with fillers on both sides.

Access to engine bay is clear; provision for towbar already present
Access to engine bay is clear; provision for towbar already present

Mechanically the Tourliner is a heavyweight. It has a 12.4-litre MAN D2676 engine which develops 480bhp, putting it up there with the most powerful coaches available, and so the standard gearbox is a 12-speed MAN TipMatic – a badge engineered ZF AS-Tronic. Empty, it tips the scales at 15,400kg.

Passenger access

A coach such as the Tourliner is unlikely to be used in a role where rapid passenger turnover is the norm, and that’s fortunate.

The initial four steps to the platform are narrower than usual, although the cleverly-designed courier seat doesn’t intrude into the doorway as much as on some other coaches, so it’s swings and roundabouts here.

Two further steps take passengers to the sunken gangway. The one step from the platform into the cab is a little awkward and protrudes too far onto the platform; passengers could inadvertently partially stand on it when disembarking.

All flooring is finished with durable black carpet, and a centre sunken toilet is present. It is spacious, and the stairs down to it – also leading to the continental door – are more easily negotiated than on some other coaches.

Centre exit can be monitored by CCTV when open
Centre exit can be monitored by CCTV when open

Handrails are generously provided at both doorways and have yellow inserts. Step edges – excluding the cab step mentioned above – are similarly visible.

Two drop-down monitors in the aisle complement a fixed screen at the front; passengers moving around the coach when they are lowered would be well advised to be careful.

Passenger comfort

Comfort is the Tourliner’s strong point, and as befitting a fleet flagship Buzzlines has left few option boxes unticked to ensure that passengers enjoy the ride.

The 53 seats are of a half-leather design and finished in black. A metal Neoplan badge is embedded into each backrest and three-point belts are fitted, as are footrests, tables and magazine nets.

Interior is luxurious without being over the top
Interior is luxurious without being over the top

Recline is good – as is legroom – and aisle seats have a slide-apart function.

Seats are high quality, comfortable and well-spaced
Seats are high quality, comfortable and well-spaced

Buzzlines’ Tourliners are among the first coaches delivered with USB charging sockets at every seat, and Derek explains that they have been very well received.

Passengers using iPads and the like further benefit from the Icomera Wi-Fi fitted; the router is mounted out of harm’s way in a secure locker above the driver.

The toilet includes an electric hand drier and is adjacent to a full servery unit. The servery has a three-piece door which lowers and folds to provide a useful ledge, and is best accessed when standing on the stairs, meaning the crew member using it is out of passengers’ way.

Integral servery is very well thought out and well hidden when not in use
Integral servery is very well thought out and well hidden when not in use

Within is a combined boiler and filter coffee machine, and second, separate, boiler, and even with a full complement of passengers this capacity allows all to be served hot drinks in one sitting.

A small sink is below and a number of drawers are provided; in addition, the portion of the luggage rack above the servery is lockable, giving further storage.

An air-conditioning unit is mounted above the front axle and it vents from this point only. Passengers are provided with the usual in each over-seat service panel, with one notable exception: there is no control over the simple air vent.

Heating is provided by both the air-conditioning unit and perimeter radiators, and two roof-mounted strips of lights are present. They are helped by the pair of transparent roof-mounted escape hatches.

Driver comfort

The Tourliner’s driver is cosseted, although surprisingly the seat is entirely fabric covered. By Isringhausen, it has a full range of adjustment and incorporates the standard hands-free microphone.

Usefully it has armrests on both sides. An in-built microphone is present, complimenting a hand-held one on the dash for the courier’s use.

Good access to cab, but steering wheel could adjust lower
Good access to cab, but steering wheel could adjust lower

Steering column adjustment is by a rocker switch beneath the signalling window, which is large, heated and electrically lowered. Derek speaks highly of the cab layout, but his only criticism is of steering column adjustment; it would benefit by lowering further than it does, he says.

A striking aspect of the driver’s workspace is just how much secure storage he or she is provided with. That’s a huge benefit where one driver uses the same coach all the time and on work which keeps them away from base a lot.

Both steps from the platform into the gangway have small lockable doors, with one of the compartments big enough to hold a large atlas.

In addition, there are drop-down lockers above the door and signalling window.

Externally, below the cab two panels are hinged and open outwards, and behind both is storage space. The windscreen washer bottle is also here, but it is very difficult to fill without spillage, says Derek.

Four small cupboards are also provided in the dash. Three are empty, but the top one contains a DVD player, which along with the radio and CD player is controlled by a large central media unit.

This also functions as a satnav, and when reverse is engaged it displays the feed from the rear-mounted camera; additionally, when the continental door is open the unit automatically displays the view from the camera immediately above.

A one-piece sunblind is fitted, with a suitable cut-out to ensure it doesn’t block the nearside mirror. That’s useful, but in some situations means that the blind offers no protection to passengers sitting on the nearside.

Performance

MAN engines are traditionally very quiet, and the big D2676 in the Tourliner is no exception. It is almost inaudible from the driver’s seat even under full load, the only real source of cab noise being a quiet whistling from the gullwing mirrors.

Power delivery is predictably smooth and it comes in from around 1,100rpm. The big engine – despite boasting a peak torque which comes in from 930rpm – needs a few more revs than some others of a similar size to deliver its best, however.

The TipMatic software is programmed to recognise this, and is thus reluctant to allow speeds to drop below 1,100rpm on a climb, demonstrated when powering out of Dover on the A20. Although the Tourliner effortlessly passed a line of HGVs it still dropped a gear near the summit, but once it did speed was rapidly regained.

Derek remarks that the TipMatic often responds best to manual intervention when climbing, which he demonstrated while heading towards Canterbury.

On a undulating section of winding road he manually selected 8th and the coach crested the hill without fuss; Derek explains that had it been left to its own devices, at least one unnecessary shift would have resulted, costing momentum and fuel.

When the going is easy, the engine is perfectly happy to sit at around 1,000rpm, and this is its speed at 50mph in top gear.

The gearbox is a little too keen to ‘hunt’ between 12th and 11th at this speed, however, and taking manual control may be a good move.

The large gullwing mirrors don’t extend too far from the side of the coach, but the driver is conscious of them when on narrow roads.

They give a good view, as does the internal rear-view mirror, but Derek observes that the diagonal B pillar makes observation to the nearside awkward at some junctions.

Manoeuvrability is excellent, aided by the short wheelbase between axles one and two; it makes up less than half the coach’s overall length, and combined with a very tight lock and steered third axle gives an excellent turning circle.

That doesn’t come without risks; there is over 4.5m behind the drive axle, giving a monstrous tail swing. A driver aware of this in tight confines is a must.

Verdict

Make no mistake, the Tourliner is a fine coach, and were Neoplan to act upon some of the minor faults identified by regular driver Derek it would be an excellent one. None are insurmountable, and with the model due to receive a makeover in the medium term they may disappear.

These small issues are likely to be overlooked by passengers thanks to the exceptionally comfortable cabin, among the very best in this regard. Ride quality and sound insulation are exceptional, and all these elements combine to make the Tourliner an excellent all-round travelling experience.

Tourliner is as imposing from the rear as it is from the front
Tourliner is as imposing from the rear as it is from the front

All this counts for little without a competent driver, and Derek excels both in people skills and competence behind the wheel. Having driven Setras prior to taking on his first Tourliner, he’s well placed to deliver a verdict.

“I always liked Setras, with my last one having been an S416GT, and when the Tourliner came along I wondered whether it would maintain that standard. It has, and I have received excellent feedback from passengers. It’s also pleasant to drive; although it’s very quiet, there are no worries about power when it’s required.”

Approval extends to Buzzlines’ management, with Nigel Busbridge having confirmed an order with MAN for two identical tri-axles on the day of the test drive.

Perhaps there is life after Starliner, after all.

NeoplanSpec