Spanish coachbuilder Sunsundegui’s partnership with Volvo has generated a reasonable volume of sales, but if interest so far is a guide, those numbers are going to increase with the new SC5-bodied B8R midicoach. Tim Deakin test drives the 10.35m, 40-seat offering.
The midicoach market is split three ways. Van- and truck-based vehicles are complemented by lighter rear-engined chassis, while where luggage capacity is king, a small number of scaled-down full-size coaches are available at around the 10-metre length mark.
Volvo’s latest coach offering is firmly in the latter category. The latest product to come out of its successful collaboration with Sunsundegui, it is an 18,000kg GVW B8R chassis with the Spanish coachbuilder’s 3.5m high SC5 body. Complementing the existing B11R-based SC7, it replaces the B7R-based Sideral midicoach.
Unlike members of the other two midicoach categories, the SC5 is definitely a full-size coach that has been shrunk. The chassis modules are already used by Volvo in other coaches at lengths of up to 12.8m, and with 350bhp on tap it is able to run with the big boys in the most testing of conditions.
The SC5 made its debut at the UK Coach Rally in April with the news that a stock batch of eight had been ordered. All of these have now been sold, as has Volvo’s demonstrator, and a second batch has been confirmed.
The demonstrator is expected to move on in a month’s time. Until then it is available for operators to view and drive, but on a rare day away from touring the country, it was provided by Volvo Bus for a routeone Test Drive.
The SC5 is similar to the larger SC7, but there are a number of differences apart from size. The smaller body’s windscreen is more upright, while its windowline doesn’t ‘droop’ as severely at the front. Unlike the SC7, all pieces of side glass are straight at the bottom, and the impression of ‘falling away’ is created by black panelling.
Rear aspects also differ slightly, and the gap between lower side panels (including the locker doors) and those above is handled differently. On the SC7 there is a curved fold in both pieces of metal, but on the newcomer it is a straight cut.
Most noticeable is the smaller coach’s dash panel’s lack of chrome treatment. That’s one of Sunsundegui’s trademarks, and Volvo is exploring whether it can be added to the SC5 to give a common appearance.
In the demonstrator, the 7.7-litre D8K engine drives through Volvo’s 12-speed I-Shift automated gearbox, but Volvo accepts that some operators â€“ particularly those whose work takes them into London regularly â€“ prefer a fully-automatic. Thus the six-speed ZF EcoLife is an option.
Access to the driveline is via the bonnet and a handful of hatches within the body. Other components are reached similarly easily, with all lower panels â€“ including the wheelarches â€“ on both sides lifting.
The luggage bay, which has a capacity of 6m3, is reached via one large door on each side. They are parallel lifting and electrically powered, and thanks to the SC5’s floor-mounted toilet the storage area is uncluttered. It also contains an electrical cabinet, with fuses and multiplex equipment for both body and chassis located here.
Two connected diesel tanks are provided between the front wheels. Lockable fillers on each side are present, but with one tank sitting higher than the other it’s not necessary to fill from both to reach maximum capacity. No caps are fitted; each opening has a sprung flap which is large enough for the nozzle.
The Masats entrance door leads via four steps to the platform, and a further two take passengers to a sunken gangway.
All steps and the aisle flooring are covered in hard-wearing carpet, and this continues at the continental door, sited behind the rearmost offside seats and immediately in front of the toilet. Carpet is removable for cleaning; the floor beneath the seats is in a fetching wood-effect finish.
Steps at both doors and up from the platform are edged in high-visibility yellow, and a sturdy metal grab rail is attached to the dash, which is useful when boarding.
Circulation space on the platform is better than in some other coaches, and the number of handholds provided in the saloon is good by coach standards. Each seat, be it aisle or window, has sturdy handles at both upper corners.
The test coach is fitted with Isringhausen passenger seats finished in red fabric with cream leather headrest inserts. Three-point belts, magazine nets and footrests are included. A variety of other seat types, including full leather Kiel products, will be available on SC5s built to order.
The floor-mounted freshwater toilet at the rear offside includes a soap dispenser, smoke alarm and electric hand dryer. Access is direct from the aisle, and the door has two very substantial hinges.
Climate control is governed by a unit in the cab, and handled by a combination of a roof-mounted Eberspcher air-conditioner and perimeter radiators. Vents for the air-conditioning form part of above-seat passenger service units, which also incorporate reading lights.
Saloon lighting is unusual. The ceiling is curved and vault-like and has five lighting ‘arches’ within. They include both blue and white LEDs with four degrees of intensity, and create an impression which is different to most other coaches’.
Entertainment is from a Sony system which incorporates a DVD player, and it feeds to one fixed monitor above the windscreen.
That the monitor can be fixed is down to the SC5’s roof, which curves downwards towards the front, creating the bulkhead to which the monitor is attached. While perhaps useful for this purpose, it does compromise forward visibility from around the fourth row of seats and beyond.
Two roof hatches are fitted. They appear to be glazed, but have large plastic covers which are removed by passengers in times of emergency to access the opening mechanism. Dropping these covers and allowing more natural light into the saloon may be preferable.
The driver is provided with an Isringhausen seat complete with all the usual refinements, including two armrests. The I-Shift’s control stalk is attached to the left of the seat, and folds down parallel with the squab when required.
A reasonable amount of storage is provided. To the left of the seat is a bin for work tickets and such, while within the dash is a drawer. Above the signalling window is a drop-down tray, and beneath the seat a metal safe.
Controls are easily reached and the steering wheel adjusts via a third pedal where the clutch would otherwise be. A chequerplate rest for the driver’s left foot is provided nearby. Cab heating and demisting switches are separate to any others, and are part of a small LCD unit.
The gullwing mirrors â€“ which, unlike many other coaches’, do not produce any wind noise that is audible within the cab â€“ are complemented by an offside blind spot mirror which is located internally on the A-pillar.
This may seem strange when first viewed, but it has the benefit of being easily adjustable and, when set correctly, gives an excellent view of the lower offside towards the front of the coach.
Adjacent is the signalling window, which is huge and takes up the whole space between the A- and B-pillars. It is heated and electrically lowered.
Visibility from the cab is good, and helped by the expansive glass within the door. It is split into two panes, but thanks to its depth a good view of the nearside is possible.
An electric one-piece windscreen sunblind is fitted, complemented by a manually-operated blind over the signalling window. The latter lowers to around halfway, immediately above the blind spot mirror.
The courier seat is adjacent to a fridge, and is provided with its own microphone. It includes a three-point belt and doesn’t overly intrude into the entrance.
The six-cylinder D8K engine is derived from a Nissan design and shares much architecture with the four-cylinder D5K, used in Volvo’s double-deck bus range. In 350bhp form and coupled to I-Shift it gives a refined driveline which is easily able to push the coach along, although there is no surfeit of power which may be misused.
Volvo has specified the Professional variant of I-Shift, which allows the driver to intervene manually and also gives power and economy modes.
That contrasts with the Plaxton Leopard-bodied B8R tested previously (routeone, Test Drive, 23 April 2014), which used the Commuter version of the gearbox, permitting no driver intervention.
No opportunity was taken to use the mode switch or select gears manually, and nor was there any suggestion during the drive that it may be necessary. I-Shift gets it right every time, and block-shifts through the lower ratios before proceeding sequentially through the top three.
12th gear is selected at around 50mph, and the coach is happy to maintain this combination on single-carriageway roads.
It puts the engine speed just within the bottom of the economy section, which runs from 1,100-1,600rpm; at the 62mph limited speed, the engine is turning at just short of 1,500rpm, well within the peak torque band.
With a short, sub-five-metre wheelbase manoeuvrability is excellent.
Braking is similarly positive, helped by the standard Voith hydraulic retarder.
Volvo says it will not sell a coach in the UK without this auxiliary brake aid, and that is a wise decision. It has four power settings, with the first activating automatically with the footbrake and the remainder selected via a dash stalk.
Such is its effectiveness, it proved capable of bringing the coach down from over 50mph to walking pace on a motorway off-slip without use of the foundation brakes, although when in use it generates a noticeable howl at the rear of the saloon.
Volvo’s confidence in the SC5 product appears to be well placed, and sales are going well. Although it clearly won’t be suited to all midicoach tasks, it will be a worthy addition to fleets requiring a heavy-duty midi able to carry a good amount of luggage.
It’s important to understand that this is a full-sized coach which has been shortened, rather than a purpose-built smaller vehicle.
It shares much with its bigger brothers, not least driveline durability, with Volvo saying that the D8K will have a service life equal to that of the 11-litre D11K.
The travelling experience is also the same as a full-sized coach’s, and Volvo says a wheelchair-accessible variant is likely to follow in due course.
The D8K proved to be very fuel efficient in an earlier test, and the SC5-bodied chassis’ figure would have been better than recorded were it not for the volume of roadworks and traffic congestion encountered; it recorded well in excess of 14mpg during one stretch of motorway driving.