Test Drive: Irizar i6 integral Euro 6

Coaches with more than 500bhp on tap are rare on the UK’s roads, and Irizar is one of the small group of manufacturers able to offer them at Euro 6. A tri-axle i6 integral with DAF’s 510bhp MX-13 engine is put through its paces at Millbrook Proving Ground by Tim Deakin.

Irizar UK took the industry by surprise when it confirmed an order for 13 i6 integral coaches from St Helens-based corporate and team transport specialist Ellisons Travel at last year’s Euro Bus Expo.

The significant deal includes two- and three-axle models at lengths between 10.8-13.9m, all with DAF Euro 6 engines. The tri-axles are powered by the 12.9-litre MX-13 developing 510bhp, ensuring progress will be rapid regardless of terrain.

DAF’s Euro 6 range is proving popular among coach buyers, with many reporting that fuel returns are good. At the same time, Irizar continues to develop its i6 body, and has added a number of options, some of which have come about thanks to its partnership with Ellisons.

Coupled with a period of growth for the Worksop-based UK dealership as it takes on additional staff, it’s an interesting time for buyers of the Spanish-built product.

The unmistakeable Irizar ‘look’ is held over from earlier models, but internally and under the bonnet the options list is changing.

Ellisons MD Andy Magowan kindly made one of his tri-axle i6 integrals available to be put through its paces in the first of a series of routeone Millbrook Test Drives.

 

Build

The tri-axle i6 is nothing if not imposing, and the test coach is finished in Ellisons’ trademark understated livery. It’s big, at 13.87m long and 3.93m high, and has a high floor, meaning that the luggage locker measures a cavernous 14.2m3.

It isn’t fitted out to team transport specifications, but among Ellisons’ other work are corporate hires and cruise passenger transport, and the latter means that underfloor space must be maximised.

Irizar took notice of this demand and transferred over the toilet and continental door layout of its 10.8m model. As a result, the toilet is floor-mounted at the offside rear, and immediately ahead – but still behind the rear bogie – is the continental door.

This means that the whole underfloor area between axles 1-2 is used for luggage storage, and space is also present above all three axles for smaller items. The two-piece locker doors are huge and electrically powered with a manual override.

Irizar has squeezed the continental door into the overhang despite the presence of DAF’s large MX-13 engine, which drives through a 12-speed ZF AS-Tronic automated transmission; no other gearbox options are available with the MX-13.

In the engine bay is the smaller than may be expected exhaust on the offside, while a large radiator unit is on the nearside. The core for engine coolant is substantial; a high power output combined with Euro 6’s elevated operating temperatures mandates this.

A number of lifting panels are ahead of the front axle, giving access to body electrics and the air system, among others. One at the front immediately below the windscreen conceals the washer bottle, while below is a bottom-hinged section which lowers to reveal the spare wheel. Alcoa Dura-Bright alloy wheels are fitted all round.

i6 integral is an imposing coach with much 'kerb appeal'
i6 integral is an imposing coach with much ‘kerb appeal’

 

Passenger access

A Masats door is present, with access to the platform via four steps. Two more lead to the sunken gangway.

Handrail provision is good, with one large rail leading from the second step to the top of the dash. Part of the door mechanism also functions as a handrail, but it may be beneficial to older or infirm passengers if a further hand-hold could be added to the underside of the courier seat squab.

Step edging is a textured material and a light is recessed into part of the second step that also functions as a place for the courier’s feet. Further illumination can be provided by a cant rail-mounted external light, one of four; both doors and the luggage lockers on each side benefit.

The gangway is inclined very slightly as far as the second row of seats, after which it is flat. The rear three and the offside toilet are on a further step. The PB seats are well appointed, but lack a slide-apart function, meaning that aisle width is as would be expected.

The gangway and flooring beneath the seats are covered with hard-wearing carpet. It can be removed for cleaning, and underneath lies grey wood-effect material, which is exposed on the steps at both doors and the platform. The grey theme is constant throughout the coach, giving an upmarket feel.

Masats door includes electrically heated and lowered page window
Masats door includes electrically heated and lowered page window

 

Passenger comfort

The Ellisons coach seats 55 against a potential maximum of 61, enhancing legroom. The operator has specified Irizar’s own PB seat finished in two-tone leather with extra padding and what it describes as ‘quilted wings’, along with double contrast stitching; the latter was developed for Ellisons, but is now available to all buyers.

Seats come with three-point belts, drop-down tables and magazine nets along with footrests, and the amount of recline is considerable.

Grey curtains continue the coordinated trim, while the luggage racks are finished in a lighter shade and include the usual passenger service units on the underside. The racks are open, but three lockable sections are present: at the front of both for the crew’s use, and the rear part of the nearside rack for storage of toilet supplies.

Toilet access is via a hinged door, which is larger than those usually found on sunken designs. The cubicle is reasonably spacious, and Ellisons has opted for an electric hand drier; a metal push-down tap is also present.

Irizar’s air-conditioning equipment, manufactured by subsidiary Hispacold, has a fine reputation. It functions as part of an integrated climate control system, which the driver controls through a single unit.

The coach was left in direct sunlight on a warm day with the engine off for over an hour during part of the test. It became uncomfortably hot internally as a result, but within a short time of restarting, the air-conditioning brought the saloon temperature down to a comfortable level.

Heating is from perimeter radiators, and a programmable Spheros coolant-fed pre-heater is fitted. There is a large fridge in the dash.

A Bosch Professional Line entertainment system is provided, an upgrade from the standard Classic Line. It is linked to speakers above each seat and two monitors. One is above the windscreen while the other is in the middle section of the offside luggage rack. To allow passengers to the rear of the coach to see it, a section of the luggage rack behind is missing.

Grey-themed interior is understated yet presents a high-end appearance
Grey-themed interior is understated yet presents a high-end appearance

 

Driver comfort

The driver is provided with a fully-equipped Isringhausen seat, which along with the courier’s is finished in two-tone leather. A safe would ordinarily be fitted, but it has been omitted from the Ellisons coach.

All mirrors are electrically adjusted and heated; a heated windscreen is optional. Three sunblinds are present – two for the windscreen and one for the signalling window – and these too are electrically powered, as is the page window.

Part of the signalling window also lowers electrically, although the frame around it affects visibility slightly at junctions. A large storage bin is provided to the right of the seat, while two USB charging sockets are standard fit to all i6 integrals.

Controls and buttons are numerous, and largely self-intuitive. Among them is one for active regeneration of the diesel particulate filter (DPF). A very useful part of the dash computer portal is information on the DPF’s fill level, although should active regeneration be required, the driver will be alerted.

Also viewable via the dash display are tyre pressures and temperatures, battery charge state, air pressure and AdBlue level. Oil level remains determined via an engine dipstick.

Two stalks are provided. That on the left controls headlight flash, windscreen washer and wipers and the air horn, while that on the right is for the Intarder and manual gearbox control.

Cab is ergonomic and has well laid-out buttons and controls
Cab is ergonomic and has well laid-out buttons and controls

 

Performance

The main attraction of taking the i6 to Millbrook was the chance to give it a thorough shakedown on the various test tracks there. They allow vehicles to be put through their paces while also giving the chance to take more accurate fuel consumption measurements than would be possible on public roads.

To begin with the i6 was driven round the famous high-speed bowl. It is up to the limited speed of 62mph with no hesitation and is perfectly composed, with little wind or engine noise.

The latter is helped by the very tall gearing possible with a high-power engine, with the MX-13 turning at less than 1,200rpm at 62mph.

That also benefits fuel consumption, and on the perfectly flat and sheltered track the return settled at 12.1mpg at 62mph. At 50 and 40mph, consumption decreases to 14.5 and 15.1mpg respectively, despite neither speed being achievable in top gear.

Proceeding to Millbrook’s hill routes, the coach easily handled all gradients up to a maximum of 21%, although as this section is undulating it demonstrates the value of taking manual control of gear selection in such extreme situations.

Where the AS-Tronic excels is clutch control. One part of the alpine section allows vehicles to make a hill start in reverse on an 11.6% gradient, a demanding exercise for an automated gearbox. While AS-Tronic has been greatly improved since introduction, its handling of the challenge was still surprising; it was faultless, with no clutch judder or hesitancy whatsoever.

The coach also took the tough Belgian pav in its stride, while climbing the 25% truck slope from almost stationary confirmed that the MX-13 is on top of any possible challenge. It stormed this climb in 4th gear; the Intarder then aided the descent of an adjacent 20% slope.

Finally, Millbrook’s winding outer handling circuit allowed the i6’s composure to be put to the test. Even when pushed hard through corners it remains stable, no mean feat in view of its almost 4m height, but undoubtedly helped by the independent front suspension.

510bhp DAF MX-13 engine means power is in abundance
510bhp DAF MX-13 engine means power is in abundance

 

Verdict

Millbrook’s various tracks allowed the i6 integral to be given a much more thorough work-out than would otherwise have been possible.

510bhp predictably proved up to anything that could be thrown at the coach, but Millbrook also allowed many other aspects of it to be tested thoroughly.

The i6 integral didn’t disappoint, displaying excellent poise and composure on circuits which are far tougher than anything which could reasonably be expected on public roads, while the high-speed bowl generated some fine fuel figures.

Ellisons specified the coach to meet its bespoke requirements, and it is an appealing cruiser. The passenger environment is very comfortable, with low noise levels and a commanding view to the side, while operators needing maximum luggage capacity will find the rear-mounted toilet and continental door much to their liking.

The coach market is congested with good offerings at Euro 6, but on the back of the i6 integral it’s no surprise that Irizar UK continues to expand its business.

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