Test Drive: Volvo B8RLE MCV Evolution

Electric Mobility, in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and eventually full-electric forms, may be the focus of Volvo’s city bus range moving forward, but the manufacturer also recognises that in higher speed applications a diesel engine coupled to an automatic gearbox is destined to remain the preferred option.

That’s where the B8RLE comes in. It’s a heavyweight single-deck chassis powered by the 7.7-litre D8K engine driving through a six-speed ZF EcoLife gearbox with TopoDyn software, and succeeds the popular B7RLE.

Don’t think that Volvo has simply transplanted a Euro 6 driveline into an existing vehicle; it has taken the opportunity to improve several other aspects while making maintenance access easier. It’s also confident that fuel economy has improved with the B8RLE, which shares many aspects with the B8R coach chassis.

Representing Volvo’s growing relationship with MCV, the first B8RLE for the UK – one of two pre-series chassis – carries Evolution bodywork. It is in Arriva colours and destined for long-term demonstration with the group. Fresh from testing at Millbrook, the vehicle was made available by Volvo Product Manager – Bus Adrian Felton and MCV Bus and Coach MD Ashraf Fawzi.

Build

Externally, the Evolution’s appearance remains the same, although Ashraf explains that MCV’s double-deck body on the Euro 6 B5TL double-deck chassis will be styled differently. The first is currently in build in Egypt and is expected to arrive here in March.

The B8RLE shares a common front module with the B5TL and B5LH double-deck chassis and includes electrically-powered steering. It is 150mm longer than the B7RLE, with all this additional length in the 6,100mm wheelbase.

That allows an additional seat pair to be included, giving a theoretical maximum of 46, and in an example of clever and practical design all except the three tip-ups in the wheelchair bay can face forward. The Arriva demonstrator has been fitted out to a slightly different specification, so it has 45 seats, one of which is rear-facing.

Standing capacity is also excellent, and the MCV-bodied B8RLE has been homologated to carry 100 people. That will make it attractive to operators involved in airport shuttle work and similar, where outright capacity is important. MCV has a specific dual-door version for this application.

The equipment required to enable the driveline to meet Euro 6 standards has added around 200kg to the chassis weight compared with the B7RLE.

Adrian explains that Volvo has worked closely with MCV to mitigate that, and thanks largely to the bodybuilder’s close attention, the combination is what Ashraf describes as ‘weight-neutral’ compared to its predecessor. It tips the scales at a not unreasonable 10,680kg in Arriva specification.

Numerous improvements have been made to maintenance access. Several hatches in the saloon floor enable various parts of the driveline to be reached, and both the diesel and AdBlue tank senders can be accessed from within the bus, although in each case a seat pair needs to be removed to reach the relevant hatch.

Externally, a revised radiator arrangement includes a fine mesh ‘bug screen’ between the core and grille to prevent the accumulation of grime, and a large door gives access to the exhaust. It’s mounted low within the compartment, giving excellent access to the complete unit. Production models will include Oilmaster equipment, also easily reached.

Diesel and AdBlue fillers are on the offside and split by the rear axle; fuel goes in behind and AdBlue in front.

Notably, both openings are mounted directly to the respective tanks, and no pipework is needed. Capacities are 250 litres of diesel and 30 litres of AdBlue. A coolant level test switch is fitted externally at the rear.

B8RLE is a heavyweight and expected to have interurban appeal
B8RLE is a heavyweight and expected to have interurban appeal

Passenger access

Access is as good as one would expect, with two-piece Ventura doors fitted and a manually-operated Compak wheelchair ramp present.

Unlike some other low-floors, front wheel intrusion into the saloon is not overly noticeable, and each wheel arch has a usable luggage pen on top – an improvement on some B7RLEs.

The wheelchair area is to the nearside, and the user travels facing rearwards.

Security of the user is provided by a sturdy pole which rotates and lowers, and when not in use it sits in a rubber ‘holder’, preventing inadvertent movement. A stop request button is attached; a second wheelchair area can be provided on the offside if required.

Three steps lead to the rear of the bus, with the first just behind the centrally located offside emergency door.

The second is approximately 500mm further along the bus, a change from earlier models which saw the steps closer together. Ashraf describes this revision as providing an easier transition along the vehicle for passengers.

The third step is necessary only to reach the rear bench seat, and also thanks in part to a revised arrangement towards the back of the bus, the gangway is wider there by 36mm than previously.

MCV has increased the Evolution’s height by 100mm, translating to increased headroom throughout. Coving panels are diagonal, but in a well-considered design aspect the sections above the rear row of seats have been ‘hollowed out’ to prevent passengers’ heads making contact.

In 46-seat layout with one wheelchair space, a credible 19 positions including tip-ups are accessible without negotiating a step, three more than on the B7RLE-mounted Evolution.

Arriva’s specification substitutes one pair of seats for a rearward-facing single position, and so on the vehicle tested 18 have step-free access. Two single seats are mounted at the very front, one on each side.

Wheelchair ramp is a manually-operated Compak model
Wheelchair ramp is a manually-operated Compak model

Passenger comfort

The bus has Arriva’s pastel-themed interior, including Esteban Civic V2 seats which are finished in cloth moquette and well cushioned. Full Hanover destination equipment is fitted.

Heating comes from four floor-level radiators, each around a metre long. They are of an unusual design in that both a convector unit and fan are within the outer casing to give optimum performance, and Ashraf is confident that the revised heating system will perform more efficiently than in earlier bodies.

A nine-camera 21st Century CCTV system is fitted. All Evolutions are delivered pre-wired for CCTV, making it an easy task for operators to install their preferred manufacturer’s equipment. MCV could also pre-wire the body for
Wi-Fi, if required.

Four opening hopper windows are present, roughly in the same locations as the heater radiators. In and around the wheelchair area many grab handles for standing passengers are included, and handrails throughout are in cream. The only exceptions are the two door-mounted horizontal poles, which are yellow.

A good quality of ride is virtually guaranteed of any Volvo chassis, and the B8RLE is no exception. It is firm but absorbs bumps well.

Noise levels are remarkably low inside and out, particularly when the D8K is at idle. The outgoing D7B in the B7RLE is also quiet at tickover, but the difference between the two units when under load is substantial.

The Euro 6 engine emits little more than a burble and includes none of the sometimes high-pitched and unpleasant noise characteristics of the D7B. When in motion the only internal noise of any note in the test vehicle was a discernable but muted gearbox whine, and the radiator fan.

The latter ran for most of the drive, but the dash temperature indicator was well within the operating range. A sticky switch was the suspected culprit, and will be attended to by Volvo prior to the bus’ delivery to Arriva. Adrian stresses that fan use should not be required under normal circumstances.

Step arrangement has been altered at Euro 6 to give better access to rear of the bus
Step arrangement has been altered at Euro 6 to give better access to rear of the bus

Driver comfort

In typical Volvo fashion the driver is looked after well. A sturdy cab door with a large storage pocket is fitted and in Arriva specification includes an integral anti-assault screen, a section of which can be raised to allow better communication with passengers.

Both Adrian and Ashraf explain that production buses equipped with an anti-assault screen may receive a second lock towards the top of the cab door, preventing it from rattling.

The dash is standard Volvo, but unique to the UK application thanks to space for a ticket machine and anti-assault screen being required.

To accommodate them, the manufacturer has removed a small section of the left of the dash to make mounting the ticket machine easier.

As fitted, the binnacle includes a variety of dials, many of which are not strictly necessary for bus work. Volvo can offer a rationalised display if required, with just a rev counter, speedometer and warning panel. “We’ve listened to operators, who’ve told us that they don’t always need or want the other gauges,” says Adrian.

Cruise control switches are on the left-hand stalk, but are disconnected. The destination display control unit is mounted on a panel which drops from the ceiling next to the signalling window. Unusually for Volvo this is form over function: it is poorly located, and slightly obscures the top of the offside mirror. MCV is aware of this issue and will rectify it on production bodies.

Heating and ventilation controls are comprehensive and the dash-mounted buttons are chunky. Volvo has returned to fixing the binnacle and the steering wheel as a complete unit, and as a result they both adjust together to suit the driver’s preference.

Common dash with other Euro 6 Volvo buses, but rationalised version available
Common dash with other Euro 6 Volvo buses, but rationalised version available

Performance

The D8K packs 280bhp, putting the B8RLE among the most powerful buses available in the UK. Its torque curve is exceptionally wide, with peak pulling power delivered between 950 and 1,700rpm. Fortunately the six-speed EcoLife makes the best use of this, and keeps engine speeds low to give acceleration which is good enough without being spectacular.

No other gearbox options are available in the B8RLE, and the EcoLife has four settings to suit the vehicle’s operating circumstances. As tested it was in Super Eco mode, with the others giving varying degrees of additional performance at the expense of fuel economy.

Performance was reasonable, and the EcoLife makes full use of the torque curve’s lower end. It routinely takes engine speeds down to 950rpm, and while predictably for a small unit there is no sudden avalanche of power at that point, the D8K doesn’t ‘bog down’, instead gaining speed quite happily.

The speed limiter on the test vehicle was set to 70km/h, meaning that no impression could be gained of its interurban credentials. At that pace – around 42mph – in top gear, the engine is turning at 1,350rpm.

Adrian expects the B8RLE to appeal particularly in applications where bouts of faster running are often required, and four limiter settings are possible. The outright maximum is 100km/h and they vary by 10km/h increments.

Manoeuvrability is very good and the steering lock is excellent, at 53 degrees.

This proved useful when arriving in Ely as roadworks meant that both sides of the road could not be used when making an awkward left turn, although with a tight steering lock and well over three metres of rear overhang, drivers will need to take care.

Reasonable amount of space in engine bay, and access from body is well considered
Reasonable amount of space in engine bay, and access from body is well considered

Verdict

MCV has been active in the UK bus market for some time, but has maintained a comparatively low profile for most of that period. Why is difficult to say: on the basis of the Evolution’s showing when mounted on the B8RLE it has a solid product, and one operator of earlier Evolutions on a different chassis speaks highly of MCV UK’s aftersales service.

As tested, the bus is an attractive proposition. It has a distinctive look, and internally the layout is good.

The Volvo chassis is engineer-friendly and there can be few doubts over the durability of the driveline and other mechanical components.

A potential seating capacity of 46 is sure to interest operators who require a bus which can handle interurban work, where passengers are unlikely to accept having to stand.

A variety of other layouts are available, including one which complies with TfL requirements and another optimised for airport work.

Lightweights may have come to dominate the single-deck city bus sector, but the B8RLE with MCV bodywork represents a practical and eminently usable alternative where a heavyweight chassis is preferred.

Volvo B8RLE MCV Evolution