Test Drive: Irizar i6 integral 13.2m

Irizar UK grew the range of DAF-powered i6 integrals it sells here earlier in the year with the introduction of a 13.2m tri-axle. It slots in between two other members of the line-up, and the dealer didn’t have to wait long for interest to build. Tim Deakin drives one.

Coaches at lengths of around 13 metres on two axles and seating almost 60 passengers are common in the UK, but they are not suited to every task. In particular, where luggage loading is likely to be heavy, a third axle is often necessary to remain within weight limits.

Irizar UK, importer of the Spanish coachbuilder’s DAF-engined integrals, recognises this, and to give operators additional weight tolerance while retaining a reasonably compact and highly manoeuvrable vehicle, it introduced a 13.2m tri-axle i6 integral earlier in 2015.

Sales have been encouraging, with early examples going to Johnson Bros Tours, Lucketts Travel and Woods Coaches among others.

While a 13.2m tri-axle in a line-up which also includes a 12.9m two-axle coach may reasonably be considered a niche product, Irizar UK expects the opposite to be true.

Director Steve O’Neill says that it anticipates the newcomer playing a significant part in future sales, thanks in no small part to its excellent luggage-carrying potential.

To help get the word out, it has taken a demonstrator that is being shown to operators around the country. When it was between appointments, Steve kindly made the coach available for a routeone Test Drive.

 

Build

The i6 is a super-high coach, at almost 4m over its Hispacold air-conditioning unit. That means that luggage capacity is extensive, and on the demonstrator underfloor space is accessed by one-piece parallel lifting doors with external downlights above them.

It also has a bunk fitted in front of the second axle; were that not specified there would be even more room for luggage, and in such circumstances two locker doors would be fitted on the nearside to allow for this.

Ski lockers are above each wheel, although on the nearside they hide the AdBlue and diesel fillers, and a section for electrics. Those on the offside are empty; all are deeper than initial impressions may suggest.

Although the driver sits high up, there are no obvious blind spots on the i6. This is thanks to a mirror provision which is perhaps the best in the business, with the wide-angle lenses giving an excellent view along the lower front and side areas.

When correctly set, they make it almost impossible for anything to become ‘lost’ in the blind spots, even a pedestrian, and will make driving in congested cities – particularly London, with its prevalence of cyclists – a lot easier than it otherwise would be.

The i6 as tested continues its ‘big coach’ theme under the bonnet. Power is from a 13-litre, 462bhp DAF MX-13 engine which is coupled to a 12-speed ZF AS-Tronic automated gearbox.

The first 13.2m i6 integrals delivered are all powered by the MX-13, but Steve O’Neill says that the smaller MX-11 will become available in the model early next year.

The fully-automatic six-speed ZF EcoLife gearbox will also be offered next year in coaches with the MX-11 engine, Steve says.

When the MX-11 is available, the 13.2m coach will be offered with engine outputs from 370-510bhp.

No difference in look from the established i6 integral range
No difference in look from the established i6 integral range

 

Passenger access

Four steps lead to the platform in the i6 integral and a further two to the sunken aisle.

A long and well-shaped handrail is to the passengers’ left when boarding, but there is nothing to the right. This could be improved by affixing a hand-hold to the underside of the courier seat base, although Irizar is not alone in overlooking this.

The gangway is initially sloped slightly before levelling off at around the second row of seats. Each seat has sturdy grab handles in each upper corner, which allow elderly or infirm passengers to move around the coach and take their seats without worry of falling.

The step up from the aisle into the seating areas is marked with LED edge lighting, which will be useful both for those whose vision is not great and during times of darkness. The overhead luggage rack edges are similarly lit by LEDs; aircraft-style doors are also fitted.

At the centre of the coach a staircase leads down to the sunken toilet and the continental door, and the driver’s bunk can also be accessed from here. There are five steps from top to bottom, and like those at the front door, they are edged in a high-grip, textured rubber.

Straight-forward entrance and large, heated page window
Straight-forward entrance and large, heated page window

 

Passenger comfort

Among the visually notable aspects of this coach, perhaps the most striking for those used to the Irizar product will be the 53 i6 Plus seats. This type of seat is lighter than the existing PB model.

In the demonstrator coach they are trimmed in black fabric with brown and cream leather headrest and shoulder inserts, but Irizar is noted for its scope of internal options, and so an extensive range of other colours are available. Drop-down tables, footrests and slide-apart capability are fitted.

Wi-Fi is fitted to the demonstrator, and Irizar is also able to add at-seat USB charging ports if required. More specialist options include tables, individual headphone sockets and aircraft-style seatback monitors on coaches built to order.

The centre toilet is topped by a comprehensive servery. Irizar UK uses AD Coach Systems for the installation of such units rather than having them fitted at the factory; this, it says, is beneficial to operators through an easier access to support should it be needed.

Entertainment is from a Bosch Professional Line unit with DVD capability and two monitors, while the comprehensive Hispacold heating and air-conditioning unit is complemented by perimeter radiators and a programmable Spheros pre-heater.

The heating proved its worth; the coach was started from cold having stood from some time, following which the interior temperature rapidly climbed.

Irizar's i6 Plus seats, which are lighter than the PB type, are fitted
Irizar’s i6 Plus seats, which are lighter than the PB type, are fitted

 

Driver comfort

Unlike most other coaches, the i6’s driver has no physical contact with the door when opening or closing it and locking from outside under normal circumstances. All is dealt with by a keyring fob. The driver’s involvement extends to pointing the fob and pressing the necessary button.

He or she also benefits from a top-of-the-range, heated Isringhausen seat with all the usual adjustments, and it also has an integrated, hands-free microphone. A coat hook is provided, but it is too high; as a result, the bottom of the driver’s jacket sways around at shoulder height.

Location of the handbrake is good, and Irizar usefully provides a chequer plate rest for the driver’s left foot.

Room in the footwell is excellent, while the steering wheel adjusts via a small lever on the column. It also includes cruise control, speed limiter and downhill overrun control buttons.

Dials are clear and the dash computer gives almost any measurement the driver could wish for, and more. Among them are tyre pressure, diesel particulate filter fill level and battery charge status, among many others.

Two USB charging sockets are within the cab area, along with a conventional power port for a sat-nav. Storage is good, with a large dash tray complemented by a compartment below the signalling window and a large bin to driver’s right. A safe is mounted within the seat base.

The signalling and page windows are both electrically lowered and heated, and front kneel, full ‘squat’ and ferry lift functions are programmed into the air suspension. The windscreen sunblind is two-piece and electrically operated; a manual blind is above the signalling window.

A reversing camera display is located to the right of the steering wheel. It gives a good view of the area behind the coach, being automatically activated when reverse is selected.

Cab area has multitude of storage areas, including a safe under the seat
Cab area has multitude of storage areas, including a safe under the seat

 

Performance

The 13.2m i6 integral is a shade over 15,910kg unladen as tested, giving a power-to-weight ratio of over 34bhp/tonne.

That means performance is good, although the difference between the MX-13 at 462bhp and the 510bhp variant seen in an earlier drive of an i6 was surprising, and the additional 48bhp and 200Nm of torque is noticeable.

Regardless of this, the lower-rated MX-13 gives the coach no shortage of get up and go, and progress is made rapidly in co-operation with the AS-Tronic. Shift quality is excellent, although gearing is very high, and at the legal maximum of 60mph for this class of coach engine speed is slightly below 1,200rpm.

AS-Tronic elected to downshift on a handful of uphill motorway sections despite no road speed being lost, which was perhaps unnecessary; the MX-13’s peak torque is developed over a very wide band from 1,000-1,425rpm, and manual intervention proved that it was more than happy to pull well at the lower figure.

Irizar’s underframe units always display excellent manners, and the independent front suspension – shared with the i4 – is very capable. It gave almost no roll even when pushed hard on the A57 between Worksop and the M1, while retaining excellent steering ‘feel’. This is another particularly strong point of the Irizar integral range.

A full suite of collision mitigation equipment is fitted: The emergency braking system (EBS) and lane departure warning (LDW) are mandated by law from 1 November, and Irizar adds adaptive cruise control as an option. The EBS sensor is in the dash below the Irizar logo, and LDW’s camera is in the lower windscreen.

Demonstrator is fitted with 462bhp DAF MX-13 engine
Demonstrator is fitted with 462bhp DAF MX-13 engine

 

Verdict

Since Irizar UK began supplying DAF-powered integral coaches in 2011 it has gone from strength to strength, and expects 2015 to be another record year for sales.

Its coaches are reasonably-priced, offer good value, and have a wide variety of options available, and the importer is working hard to build its aftersales service, with a number of recent appointments to give four field-based staff alongside a dealer network to look after its range.

But aftersales is little use without a solid coach to sell in the first place, and the i6 integral is that. It is visually striking and pleasant to drive, while the combination of DAF engine and ZF gearbox ticks the boxes for reliability and operator acceptance.

Coupled with Irizar’s fine running modules, the mechanical aspect of the i6 integral is up there with the best in the market.

The addition of a 13.2m tri-axle to Irizar UK’s range is logical. A record of individual axle weights when empty shows that there is almost 7,500kg of tolerance for passengers and luggage on the rear bogie alone. This will remove any concerns over weight, while thanks to a steering third axle the coach can access the same places as a 12.9m two axle can.

Those operators who have already selected the 13.2m i6 integral are among the most experienced and respected in the industry. That tells its own story.

Facts and figures