Test Drive: Yutong TC9

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the midicoach market at Euro 6 has been the success of Yutong’s 35-seat TC9. Supplied by Pelican Bus and Coach, it has gone great guns, and the importer expects things to continue like that. Tim Deakin drives one with Stanley Travel

Eyebrows in certain parts of the coach industry were raised slightly when family-owned, Castleford-based dealer Pelican announced that, besides the Chinese-built 12.2m TC12, it would be bringing the 9.35m Yutong TC9 to UK and Irish buyers. ‘Will it sink or will it swim?’ was the reaction.

Yutong TC9 midicoach is an attractively priced alternative to truck-based models
Yutong TC9 midi is an attractively priced alternative to truck-based models

Now that the market has had time to adapt to this previously unheard-of marque and appreciate its good-value TC9, the answer to that is clear. It hasn’t just swum; it has taken the baton and run with it, becoming one of the best-selling products so far in the midicoach class at Euro 6, helped by Yutong’s use of a Cummins/ZF driveline.

Operators across the industry have taken to the TC9, including at least two Coach Marque members. One of them is award-winning Stanley Travel of County Durham, which placed a TC9 into service earlier this year.

Managing Director Ian Scott reports that the coach has been well received by passengers, and he also pays tribute to the value for money it represents; tellingly, he confirms without hesitation that he would take another should business needs dictate.

As delivered with 35 leather seats, USB and 240v charging sockets, a DVD player, Webasto pre-heater and ZF EcoLife gearbox, the retail price is a shade under £143,000, and for a coach that ticks a lot of boxes from the passenger’s point of view, that represents value in anybody’s book.

The TC9 is often driven by Ian’s daughter and Depot Manager Gabi. Gabi will be well-known to those who have attended the UK Coach Rally over recent years, and she will be taking the Yutong to this year’s Rally in Blackpool next month.

“I am very pleased with how the TC9 has performed since we put it into service,” says Ian. “I am also delighted with the service we have received from Pelican Bus and Coach, particularly Sales Advisor Simon Collins.”

The latter was ably demonstrated by a minor issue with the entertainment system; even before ascertaining whether it was fixable or not (and it was), Pelican was at the ready with the next-day delivery of a replacement head unit, something it had in stock at its Castleford head office.

“Passengers like the coach and we are seeing fuel consumption returns in the region of 14.5mpg. If work justifies it, I will not hesitate to take another TC9. It does everything we want of it,” adds Ian. Between duties, he and Gabi kindly made the coach available for a routeONE Test Drive.

Build

Unlike truck-derived midis, the 9.35m TC9 is purpose-built as a coach at Yutong’s Zhengzhou factory. It is powered by a rear-mounted 280bhp, 6.7-litre Euro 6 Cummins ISB6.7 engine that drives through a six-speed ZF EcoLife gearbox.

Stanley Travel TC9 is white-based, but Yutong can apply livery in China
Stanley Travel TC9 is white-based, but Yutong can apply livery in China

It rides on 19.5in wheels and seats a maximum of 35, although a floor-mounted toilet is available optionally as a factory fit. Plug entry and continental doors are fitted; the latter is behind the rear axle, meaning that it does not intrude into luggage space.

Although the Stanley Travel coach includes a number of top-end fittings, many are actually standard equipment. Among them are a Webasto pre-heater, seat-back USB charging points and a reversing camera.

Diesel is added via a single nearside filler – complete with a warning not to use biodiesel – while AdBlue goes in at the rear nearside adjacent to the radiator, giving a sensible distance between the two. The washer bottle and batteries are beneath the signalling window.

The TC9 is a chunky coach, tipping the scales at 10,550kg unladen to Stanley Travel’s specification. Its GVW is 13,800kg, which with 35 seats gives a respectable tolerance for passengers and luggage capacity.

5m3 of underfloor luggage capacity is provided, and it accessed via manually-operated parallel lifting doors. Pelican has asked Yutong to alter the opening mechanism so that the doors sit higher when open, and this modification will be incorporated into future builds.

Passenger access

The entrance door is a plug type, and three steps lead to the platform followed by one more to the sunken gangway.

Three steps lead to the platform, and one more to the gangway
Three steps lead to the platform, and one more to the sunken gangway

Yutong has clearly thought hard about the entrance arrangement, and it is good as a result. A courier seat is fitted, but thanks to a compact design and thin cushions it does not intrude into the doorway space; lowering the courier seat base is slightly tricky, however.

A further useful touch is that the curved ‘path’ from the steps to the gangway is sunken slightly. This has the effect of subconsciously guiding passengers as they board, and as it is free from obstructions, it should reduce the possibility of trips.

Another plus point for access is that all step edges in the coach, regardless of their position, are covered in yellow, aiding visibility, while those at both doors are also lined in blue LEDs. Seats have two upright grab handles on the rear, aiding infirm passengers when they move along the coach.

At the continental door, a sturdy barrier is present ahead of the two seats in the rear row that are immediately behind it. The floor arrangement at the extreme rear of the TC9 is unusual. The last row of seats are reached via a steep step, and the penultimate nearside row opposite the continental door is mounted on a platform that is also raised, but not as high.

Passenger comfort

Stanley Travel’s TC9 comes with a host of passenger comforts. Most of them are standard, but the operator has added a small number of others.

Leather seats in the TC9 were trimmed by Yutong at the factory
Leather seats in the TC9 were trimmed by Yutong at the factory in China

Most noticeable are the leather seats, which are finished in China and come with three-point belts, a slide-apart facility, and footrests, along with USB charging ports at every seat as standard. Additionally, every other row has a polished aluminium three-pin 240v charging socket, for which a 1600W inverter is fitted.

Seat comfort is very good, although the rear bench and penultimate nearside pair are quite high and headroom there is thus compromised. Both overhead luggage racks end ahead of the back row as a result, but otherwise they are of sufficient size and have passenger service units on the underside.

A roof-mounted air-conditioning unit is fitted, and that is complemented by perimeter radiators. The Webasto coolant pre-heater is standard. All climate control functions are via a dash unit that can be left to its own devices once the desired temperature is set, or the driver can more finely control airflow and direction.

An Actia entertainment system is fitted, including DVD capability, and the front-mounted 19in monitor lowers and retracts electrically via a dash switch. Ahead of the courier’s position is a 35-litre top-opening fridge.

Saloon lighting is above the luggage rack edges, and is in a mixture of white and blue.

Driver comfort

Present in the cab is an Isringhausen seat that comes with a base-mounted fan, and is trimmed in leather as standard regardless of the passenger seats’ finish. Similarly, the compact courier seat is leather covered, and each crew member has a 24v cigarette lighter charging point.

TC9 cab is well laid out and has a thoroughly Western feel to it
TC9 cab is well laid out and has a thoroughly Western feel to it

The mirrors adjust electrically and give a good view, while the interior mirror is mounted above the door.

A two-piece windscreen blind is also electrically operated. A manually-lowered blind on the signalling window is fitted, while the driver may alternate the horn tone from meek-sounding to two-tone air via a dash switch.

All dash switches are easily to hand, and among them is one that activates an engine bay fire suppression system.

The cab heating and demisting unit is powerful, and via a collection of openable hatches in the dash access to the unit and its pipework is simple. The system includes a fan located in one of the entrance steps, which is directed towards the door; as a result, the glazing there is kept free from condensation in all conditions. This is a very useful fitting and should be standard on all coaches.

Storage for the driver and courier is reasonable, and includes a variety of dash cubbyholes for small items and a document tray. Larger items can be placed in two drop-down compartments above the crew’s heads.

Performance

The 280bhp Cummins engine gives a power-to-weight ratio similar to most 18,000kg GVW coaches, and performance is similar. The EcoLife gearbox is as smooth as ever, and progress is made well enough, although speed does drop slightly from the 62mph maximum on some hills.

Six cylinder Cummins ISB engine works well with established EcoLife gearbox
Six cylinder Cummins ISB engine works well with ZF EcoLife gearbox

On the tachometer, the green economy band runs from 1,100-2,100rpm, and all of it is used depending on the terrain. The selected gear is displayed on the dash.

On the A68 climbing away from Consett towards Hexham, a steep gradient showed that the TC9 is content to plug away at around 35mph.

Later, while descending a 12% slope on the same road, the four-stage stalk-operated retarder was capable of slowing the coach. Indicated coolant temperature rises when the retarder is used for a prolonged period.

Brakes have a positive feel and they give confidence to the driver, while the sharp steering lock means that negotiating obstacles is easy. A rear-mounted camera is fitted, and the dash display defaults to it whenever reverse is selected.

At the 62mph limited speed, the engine is turning at 1,600rpm in sixth gear, and as a result it is possible to cruise easily in top gear at the 50mph single-carriageway limit.

Verdict

Pelican Bus and Coach has seen major success with both of the models it introduced to the UK and Irish markets, but the TC9 has edged the larger TC12 in sales figures. When what the operator gets for the price is considered, that’s not too surprising.

Leather seats would not look out of place in coach of twice the price
Leather seats would not look out of place in a coach of twice the price

As delivered to Stanley Travel, with leather seats, the TC9 retails at a shade under £143,000, and even if the optional floor-level toilet is specified, the figure is still well below £150,000. The amount of standard equipment is considerable, adding further to the package.

Overall, the coach is superb value for money, helped by the fact that Pelican Bus and Coach is firmly committed to backing up the Yutong range.

It has already acquired an excellent reputation for back-up among coach buyers, with more than one citing dealer support as one of the principal reasons for choosing the marque.

The TC9 is not completely perfect. Although it does not have a front engine, and therefore noise intrusion into the saloon is low, the power unit’s location at the rear means that the seating arrangement there is a slight compromise not seen on front-engined competitors. The raised position of the two rearmost rows is not ideal.

But ride quality is good, as is the cabin specification level. The driver is looked after and the durability of a Cummins/ZF driveline should be assured. For the money, the TC9 is a wholly competent midicoach, and with Yutong’s positive attitude to feedback from Pelican, it can only get better.