Test Drive: MAN RR4 Beulas Jewel

Beulas’ presence in the UK is about to be reinvigorated thanks to its recent tie-up with the Moseley group. Topping the range is the Jewel double-deck coach, built on MAN chassis. Tim Deakin drives the example set to enter service soon with GH Watts.

The double-decker coach market is small, yet by their very nature these vehicles are among the highest profile on the road. The segment has already been blessed by some striking designs, and this continues with Beulas’ Jewel, now offered to UK operators by the respected Moseley group of distributors.

At Euro Bus Expo, Beulas showed the first Jewel supplied by Moseley. An 83-seater built on a Euro 6 MAN RR4 chassis and in Leicester-based operator GH Watts’ livery, it attracted strong interest from visitors.

The coach will not enter service until March. Carrying a personalised 15-plate registration and replacing a Neoplan Skyliner, it has some big shoes to fill. Stored under cover until then, Director Richard Keeber kindly made his forthcoming flagship available for a routeone Test Drive.

Build

With the Jewel being a potential Skyliner replacement for a number of UK operators, it’s inevitable that comparisons between the two will be made. That’s no bad thing for Beulas. While it lacks the Skyliner’s immediately identifiable looks, it will act as an eye-catching mobile billboard for operators who buy it.

At 4m high the Jewel is suitable for use in Europe, and that is where the test vehicle will spend most of its time, says Richard, with bookings already in hand for trips to Austria, Italy, Spain and Switzerland, among others.

Presentation is a priority for GH Watts, which is one of the reasons why it chose the Jewel. “Beulas’ paintwork is the best on the market,” he continues, and close examination shows that the finish is, indeed, flawless.

Also ticking a large box is Beulas’ attitude to customers’ individual needs. The Jewel has two doors, and on the test coach the one in the centre is to dimensions specified by Richard. “If it’s possible to do it, Beulas will do it,” he says. “On everything I asked for, the answer was ‘where do you want it?’”

Those requirements included the bespoke centre door, extending the toilet cubicle, and installing an offside external emergency engine stop. Two pairs of three-point plug sockets were also factory installed: one adjacent to the kitchen unit – which is above the offside front wheel – and one in the bunk area, behind the lower deck passenger accommodation.

A 2.5kW inverter is in the luggage compartment, which has one-piece parallel lifting doors on both sides and a walk-through full-height door on the offside.

Each passenger door has an adjacent staircase, with both on the nearside. Richard explains that various options are available for staircase provision, and they can be positioned on either side of the coach. They are rear-facing, with a 90-degree turn near the top.

Although barely noticeable from outside thanks to heavy tinting, the front staircase is glazed, meaning that it’s easily usable without artificial lighting. In the interests of a uniform look, the same section of the offside is also glazed.

Passenger access

Plug doors are fitted, with that at the front opening forwards. An interlock prevents the handbrake releasing should any of the passenger or luggage compartment doors be open or unlatched.

Access to the lower deck is step-free from kerb level, although seats are on raised platforms either side of the gangway. The layout at the front door is slightly compromised by the need to accommodate a courier seat, staircase and the gangway, but it is handled as well as can be expected.

Reaching the front stairs is simple and they are easily negotiated. The very low downstairs floor, presence of a kitchen unit over the offside front wheel and the staircase opposite means that the ‘throat’ between the platform and the lower deck cabin is rather narrow.

The gangway also lifts slightly to clear the axle, creating a slight hump. To maintain headroom, this effect is replicated upstairs, where the gangway is sunken except for the section ahead of the front axle.

Access is easier at the centre door, and lower deck seating is reached without obstruction from here. As with the front door, the second staircase is immediately to the right when boarding.

In practice, it will be vital to utilise both doors when loading or dropping off a large number of passengers to keep dwell times to a reasonable level. Whenever the centre door is open, the cab-mounted CCTV monitor automatically defaults to the camera above it.

Also located at the centre is a folding wheelchair ramp. The two pairs of nearside seats adjacent to the door, and the raised section of floor they sit on, are removable to allow the wheelchair to ‘park’.

Should detaching them be necessary, it will be a good idea to leave them at base rather than in the luggage compartment. Storage capacity is reasonable, but Richard explains that when heavily loaded, holding everything relies on carrying a ski box. Beulas includes external ‘pegs’ for this purpose.

Both gangways benefit from blue downlighting, and stair edges are lit by LEDs in the same colour. Those at the front can be dimmed to reduce windscreen reflections during darkness, as can all saloon lighting.

Overhead luggage storage is present on both decks, and LEDs are also fitted within the rack edges. A ‘mood lighting’ option for these may be offered in the future.

Passenger comfort

There are 65 seats upstairs and 18 downstairs, all made by Kiel and covered in red fabric with leather headrests and piping. Tray tables are present, but damage-prone magazine nets are absent in view of the amount of time the coach will spend carrying children.

Downstairs, the front four seats on each side are around full-size tables, which has been considered when installing the Bosch stereo and DVD system. A front-facing screen on the rear bulkhead complements the rear-facing monitor at the front of the cabin.

Two similarly-sized screens are fitted upstairs, with the forward of the two above the first staircase. Ordinarily that would mean that a handful of passengers at the very front would miss out on the entertainment, but Beulas has thoughtfully fitted two smaller screens on the front sill to mitigate this. Passengers bagging the upper deck front seats also benefit from a windscreen heater element and a top-mounted wiper, both controlled by the driver, meaning that a good view is assured regardless of weather conditions.

Headroom on both decks, while naturally not on a par with that in single-deck coaches, is adequate, and overall Beulas has done a fine job of packaging the coach within the 4m height constraint.

The kitchen unit includes a boiler, drinks machine, sink and microwave, and storage is provided opposite, under the front staircase. Two fridges are fitted: a top-opening one in the dash is complemented by a larger pull-out drawer close to the toilet.

The toilet is a freshwater installation, and adjacent to its water tank is a refillable disinfectant bottle, which adds a small ‘dose’ to every flush.

A comprehensive heating and air-conditioning system is fitted, including perimeter radiators on both decks and a Webasto auxiliary unit. Controls are slightly unusual and look to have been adapted from a single-decker’s, meaning the driver needs to be fully aware of how they work. That apart, the heating system proved to be fantastically efficient, and brought both saloons up to a tropical level quickly – all the more impressive considering the ambient temperature was hovering around freezing on test day.

Upper deck provides 65 seats and is a pleasant place to travel
Upper deck provides 65 seats and is a pleasant place to travel

Driver comfort

Regardless of which saloon passengers are in, they will find the Jewel eminently suited to long-distance touring. That theme continues in the cab, and in common with Beulas’ other models a driver’s door is fitted, although thanks to the low floor it is much easier to use than in the Spica C single-decker.

As is the norm, the dash is covered in numerous buttons and switches, and the steering wheel adjusts to suit. The Isringhausen seat includes all the usual refinements, but came without armrests; two were supplied soon after delivery.

Beneath the seat is a discreet safe – important for drivers venturing abroad – and storage behind the seat is reasonable. Space is also present in the door pocket, and two trays are on the window ledge.

An electrically-powered sunblind is fitted, but as delivered it was for a left-hand drive coach, meaning that the ‘cut out’ sections don’t perfectly match mirror locations.

A blind suitable for a right-hand drive coach will arrive prior to the Jewel entering service, while a further alteration was to replace the as-built speedometer, which reads in km/h, with one better suited to UK standards.

The signalling window, electrically lowered and raised via a one-touch switch, has a manual blind. Surprisingly a page window is not present, although with Beulas’ attitude to customer requirements one could no doubt be specified.

With the engine far away and beneath the luggage compartment, the cab is very quiet and the only source of noise is the gullwing mirrors.

Both doors seal perfectly and neither noise nor any draughts entered from around the frames.

Large array of switches in cab; driver's door is provided
Large array of switches in cab; driver’s door is provided

Performance

Power is from a 12.6-litre MAN D2676 LOH engine coupled to a TipMatic 12-speed automated gearbox, the same driveline fitted to the Neoplan Tourliner tested recently.

As encountered then, the TipMatic is not quite as competent as class leaders such as the Volvo I-Shift and Scania Opticruise, being prone to what is best described as a very occasional loss of concentration.

Nevertheless, with 480bhp on tap performance is sparkling. The Jewel is a heavy coach at well over 18,700kg unladen, but even when climbing the uphill northbound entry slip at M1 junction 22, it rapidly gained speed, to the extent that it was necessary to ease off to merge into the free-flowing traffic. A hill-hold function is included as standard.

At the limited speed the engine is turning at around 1,200rpm, which combined with good sound insulation and MAN’s traditionally low noise levels means that cruising is a relaxed affair. Predictably the Jewel is caught by crosswinds, but not overly so.

It holds the road well, and the steering rear axle means manoeuvrability is good. The brake pedal gives excellent ‘feel’.

The mirror arrangement could be better. Both main panes are easily visible, but with the lower ceiling than a single-decker’s the convex aspects – mounted at the top of the very long arms – are almost impossible to see unless the driver sits low down.

A reversing camera is provided and manoeuvring is aided by powerful external downlighting along each side of the coach, a thoughtful addition. It operates when reverse is engaged or either door is open, and can be activated manually. The latter will be useful when shunting in a confined space.

Verdict

As a means to move large numbers of passengers by road over long distances, the double-decker coach is unrivalled. They form a niche part of the market, but when double-deckers are specified there is often an emphasis on quality over purchase price.

On that basis, the Jewel is a worthy member of the UK market. It is well appointed, and Beulas’ bespoke approach means that the manufacturer is amenable to adding almost whatever the operator may require. Both saloons are luxurious and feel surprisingly spacious.

The MAN RR4 chassis is highly refined, adding to this coach’s long-distance cruising credentials. That Richard Keeber would consider the Jewel a suitable replacement for his Skyliner – a legend among coaches – says much of its all-round capabilities, and he is confident of a long service life.

“We are still running a 1998 Stergo E, which is in perfect condition body-wise,” he comments. “Beulas is definitely a bespoke builder, and I believe it is the best all-round body manufacturer from the viewpoint of an operator such as ourselves. With the Jewel, it did everything I asked for. Nothing was too much trouble.”

That’s a positive conclusion from a man not afraid to speak his mind, and it’s difficult to argue with him. Only a very picky passenger indeed would fail to be impressed by the Jewel, for it is a highly-competent tourer.

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