Test Drive: Moseley’s dark horse

Van Hool and Scania are both considered premium marques in their respective sectors, meaning that a coach combining the two should be a winner. UK buyers again have the chance to find out for themselves. Tim Deakin test drives a K 410 EB-based TX15 Alicron.

The Associated Moseley Companies’ announcement that they will be bringing Van Hool-bodied Scania coaches to the UK after the combination’s multi-year hiatus was not entirely surprising. The three importers would otherwise have been left without a Van Hool offering at Euro 6.

Reintroduction has been an understated affair. A number of examples have been sold from a modest stock order of 12.2m TX15 Alicron-bodied K EB chassis, but a few remain available.

Among them are two with Airdrie-based Moseley Distributors, which took five earlier this year. Power is from the DC13 engine, which at 410bhp utilises only SCR to reach Euro 6; EGR is not part of the architecture at this rating.

Wisdom suggests that a Scania chassis bodied by Van Hool will be a premium coach by any measure. Jim Tweedie of Moseley Distributors kindly made one of his two remaining examples available for a routeone Test Drive to see if that is indeed the case.

Build

Van Hool’s family ‘look’ dates from the 1980s, and although updated several times since, that heritage can still be seen on today’s models. That’s no bad thing: The Belgian coaches remain aspirational purchases for many, and badging at the front is prominent.

Moseley Distributors’ stock coaches are relatively standard examples. They are 12.15m long and seat 53, or 51 with the centre demountable toilet in place. Two manually-operated locker doors are on each side.

Unsurprisingly for a Van Hool, the body includes many clever and useful additions, some of which will no doubt only be noticed after some time working with the coach. As an example, a small external locker is provided on the offside immediately ahead of the front axle. It can only be opened with a key, and is ideal for the driver’s overnight bag.

The 12.7-litre DC13 is a big engine by the standards of two-axle coaches.

It drives through Scania’s eight-speed Opticruise automated gearbox.

To the offside of the engine at the extreme rear is a Spheros pre-heater, while to the left is the radiator, which is perhaps not as large as may be expected. Immediately ahead of the radiator, and hidden behind screwed-down panelling, is the exhaust.

The diesel tank sits between the front wheels and has fillers on both sides. AdBlue is stored on the nearside ahead of the front axle, and is added directly to the tank; it is behind a door which can only be opened using a key.

No obvious external suggestion that this is a Scania-based coach

Passenger access

A rear-opening plug door leads to four steps to the platform and two more into the gangway, which is initially sloped but flat behind the third row of seats. From thereon it is at the same level as the seating. Suspension kneeling is fitted, operating rapidly and lowering the initial step from 370mm to 235mm.

Handrail provision around the door is reasonable. The underside of the courier seat would benefit from having a rail attached, although it is quite bulky, limiting space in the entrance a little. Space on the platform is also reasonable.

All step edges are marked with LEDs. Those between the pavement and the gangway are in red, and illuminate only when the headlamps and exterior lighting are switched on.

Centre steps, to the toilet and continental door, and from the gangway to the first three rows of seats, are lit in blue and illuminated whenever the internal lights are on.

The seats, of Van Hool’s own Grand Luxe TX design, do not have corner-mounted handrails. Instead their lack of drop-down tables allows a horizontal grab rail, which is fitted to all 53.

Entrance is slightly constricted by bulky courier seat

Passenger comfort

The seats have slightly extended squabs, which compromises legroom very slightly. Pitch is average and less than on some other coaches, although the Grand Luxe TX seat is a very comfortable one. Those in the two remaining stock coaches have lap belts, footrests and magazine nets.

Moquette in the test coach is red and blue, complemented by red leather headrest inserts. The other coach’s scheme is similar albeit a tad less extrovert; its wood effect flooring is slightly darker than in the coach driven by routeone.

All flooring is covered in the fetching laminate, but in the gangway and on the steps and platform it is topped with removable hard-wearing carpet.

Entertainment is from a Bosch Professional Line system with a CD and DVD player. A drop-down monitor above the windscreen is complemented by another near the toilet. The freshwater toilet is of moderate size, and splits into two with the top half being removable.

Climate control is from a combination of a front-mounted Strak air-conditioning unit and perimeter radiators. The Scania dash incorporates Van Hool’s multi-function ‘wheel’, which controls saloon temperature and other functions. Although initially puzzling, it is actually highly intuitive once the driver is familiar with it, and finding the desired settings is easy.

Van Hool’s large windscreen should also be noted, as it enhances the passenger experience. Even from the rearmost seats a good view forward is possible thanks to its screen extending all the way to the roofline.

Coach has 51 or 53 Grand Luxe TX seats and a demountable toilet

Driver comfort

Few drivers will find anything to complain about when given a Van Hool-bodied Scania. Both parties take credit for this; the cab includes Scania’s dash, steering wheel and controls, but the remainder is Van Hool’s design.

One area which would benefit from a little improvement is storage. Although the driver’s exterior locker is useful, space for his or her bag and other items is slightly lacking within the coach.

However, a drink holder, small bin, and tray for coins and smaller items are provided; the courier has a larger, covered tray within the nearside dash, and a small cupboard nearby which also incorporates a USB port and 24v charging socket. The driver also benefits from a 24v outlet.

A top-of-the-range Isringhausen seat is fitted. It includes all the usual adjustments along with two armrests and a hands-free microphone. The courier seat is similar in appearance to those in the cabin, and reclines electrically. A recess for the occupant’s feet is provided, as is a nearby socket for a microphone.

The signalling window is heated, and both it and the page window raise and lower electrically via one-touch buttons. A one-piece electric sunblind is fitted, while the steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake. It can also be stowed flat for maximum cab space when parked.

Scania’s dash computer generates various data, including a driver performance rating. It also displays the AdBlue level, a number of fuel consumption readings, and brake and clutch plate wear levels.

The separate Van Hool computer can be interrogated to show interior, exterior, coolant and air-conditioning unit temperatures among other readings.

Visibility is excellent. Five mirrors are provided: Two on each arm and one to the lower offside, which combined with the two higher ones removes the blindspot over the driver’s right shoulder if set correctly. The three larger mirrors are electrically adjusted.

Van Hool units have been incorporated into Scania dash

Performance

Moseley Distributors opted for the 12.7-litre DC13 in its batch of stock Van Hools whereas sister importer Moseley in the South chose the 9.3-litre DC09.

There is a 50bhp difference between the two, at 410bhp against 360bhp respectively. For coaches built to order, the DC13 could be specified at 450bhp, if required; EGR is not required at either of its ratings, and neither is it in the DC09 at 360bhp.

A 12.7-litre engine in a two-axle coach – albeit one which weighs 13,900kg unladen – gives keen performance, and Opticruise harnesses that well.

Gears are selected by a rotary switch on the right-hand stalk. Second is standard for moving away; first can be specified as default if desired via the dash computer, although it is difficult to think of a reason why doing so would be necessary.

Economy shifting mode is also a default, but a power setting is available by twisting the switch one stage further. Again, it is difficult to see what useful purpose this would serve in a coach with torque to burn for its class.

Opticruise moves off using tickover to preserve clutch life and progresses smoothly and rapidly through the gears. It is a little keen to take engine speeds higher than a good driver may, and sometimes holds gears to well over 1,500rpm.

In a similar vein, eighth gear can only be achieved manually at the 50mph single-carriageway speed limit; Opticruise chooses to hold seventh, despite the DC13 being perfectly happy (and within its peak torque band) at slightly over 1,000rpm.

If its fondness for holding gears could be removed, Opticruise would be a contender for best in class. It shifts quickly and smoothly, and was never fazed during town and urban sections of the test.

The DC13 has superb low-down torque and rapidly piles on road speed. Scania’s chassis, as would be expected, has refined road manners and exceptionally driveability.

Everything the driver needs is to hand in the cab, and that includes a five-stage retarder on the right-hand stalk. At its most powerful setting it can slow the coach from cruising to walking speed; foundation brakes have an excellent feel.

Fuel return was 10.9mpg. That figure may sound reasonable, but it must be considered that the test incorporated urban and town running for around half its distance, putting the return into perspective; roundabouts seriously impact consumption, and as such 10.9mpg is excellent.

Scania's 12.7-litre, 410bhp DC13 engine means power is plentiful

Verdict

It would be surprising if a Van Hool-bodied Scania did not prove to be a high-quality coach. Both manufacturers offer premium products that are noted as being highly durable and user-friendly.

To stock specification, the coach is good and its build quality excellent. The Alicron does not include all of the creature comforts that Van Hool has available, although buyers specifying a vehicle to order would naturally be able to take full advantage of its extensive options list.

Nevertheless, the TX15 Alicron as tested is an accomplished product, although cab storage could be better. That’s a minor criticism, however. The travelling environment is typical Van Hool: Refined, quiet and studded with thoughtful additions that enhance the overall passenger experience.

The DC13 coupled to Opticruise is a fine driveline, which would be better still if software tweaks could prompt shifts at slightly lower revs. Nevertheless, this is a heavy-duty chassis that will cope easily with whatever is thrown at it and still come back for more.

It’s a worthy return to the UK market for this combination. Once re-established among buyers, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Associated Moseley Companies making headway with what, as expected, proved a premium product when put to the test.

Facts and figures