Spanish coachbuilder Beulas has gained a solid reputation for bespoke products that are set off by one of the best paint finishes in the business. VDL is now a chassis option with the DAF-powered SB4000
A recent returnee to the UK scene is the combination of a Beulas Cygnus body on a VDL SB4000 chassis. It is sold here by the Moseley companies, and the first operator to take delivery of one is Matlock-based Slacks Coaches.
The Beulas range, while not seeing the volumes that some other marques enjoy, has a loyal following, while VDL’s credentials are well-established in the integral sector. The product is thus a relatively niche one that Slacks chose for two reasons.
“We took our first Beulas around 20 years ago. We now have six of its bodies in our fleet,” says Engineering Director Richard Slack.
“One of the things that I like about Beulas is that today’s Cygnus is not hugely different to what the body was in the past, and repairing it is simple – not that there is ever much need to do that.”
Additionally, the VDL’s DAF-based driveline gives confidence with regard to mechanical support. Slacks’ Cygnus a touring coach, and it will spend time on continental work. The extensive DAF network is thus never far away should it be needed.
The VDL Beulas is Slacks’ first new full-size coach for a number of years. London’s ULEZ was also a consideration when deciding to go for factory fresh. Additionally, a number of older DAFs have given excellent service; at least one has covered over 1m km without requiring major engine work.
The new Beulas debuted a revised livery for the Slacks fleet, with its established metallic green replaced by a darker, solid colour. The coach has been busy since it was delivered, but Richard kindly made it available for a routeone Test Drive.
The MX-11 engine is rated at 370bhp with 1,650Nm of torque. It’s coupled to a ZF EcoLife automatic gearbox, which comes into its own when the coach is local to Slacks’ Peak District base.
Powered parallel-lift luggage locker doors are fitted. Slacks specified that the nearside one was in two parts, and each has its own button in the cab. On the offside, ahead of the front axle and behind the rear wheels are much smaller compartments accessed via top-hinged flaps.
The diesel tank is over the front axle and it can be filled from either side. AdBlue goes in at the extreme rear. A large radiator is on the nearside, and at each lower rear corner is a protruding marker light on a rubber stalk. Although they are small, they are clearly visible and they are useful when manoeuvring.
Alcoa Dura-Bright wheels were added after the coach was delivered. The only aspect of the livery that was not applied in the factory was the side fleetname stickers and the rear window transfers.
The base colour and the detailing was completed by Beulas in its spray facility. The Spanish coachbuilder has an excellent reputation for the quality of its paintwork, and it is easy to see why. There is not the slightest hint of any imperfection anywhere.
Unladen weight is 13,910kg and GVW is 19,000kg. Length is 12.20m, height is 3.60m and width is 2.55m.
The door opens to reveal four steps to the platform and a further two to the sunken aisle. In ambient light, it is surprising to see that all are lined in blue, but that is because there are LEDs of the same colour within them, as there are in the steps from the gangway to the seating area.
Beulas fits a handrail on boarding passengers’ left that rises and then levels off, following their natural path onto the coach. A smaller upright rail is attached to the door mechanism, but the underside of the courier seat does not have any such fitment. Additionally, there is no locking device to prevent it from lowering if pulled.
The rear two rows of seats are raised above the rest. Two shallow steps take passengers to them. The overhead luggage racks extend into this area, and thus taller travellers need to take care when taking their places there.
Slacks’ Beulas has 53 MVT Sultan seats. They are finished in grey fabric with red leather headrest inserts, and complemented by matching red curtains.
The seat model specified has a relatively thin back to ensure maximum leg room, and in the test coach they come with drop-down tables and two-point belts. Comfort is good; the padding is relatively firm, but it gives ample support.
Views from the Cygnus are excellent. The windscreen extends to the roof line, and the side windows are deep. Additionally, passengers in the rear row will find that there is no pillar intrusion into their side vision.
The top of the centre sunken toilet site relatively low, but there is sufficient space within the cubicle. Richard points out that its design makes it easy to clean. A large bin is on the upper aisle side of the exterior.
No drinks machine is atop the toilet. Instead, at the front immediately adjacent to the courier seat, is a small cupboard. Within it is a small sink with hot and cold running water; there is also storage space for cups and drinks sachets. A top-loading fridge is part of the dash.
Hispacold air-conditioning is fitted, along with perimeter radiators that extend into the raised rear section. The temperature can be set and the system left to its own devices, or the driver can take a greater deal of control if required. Entertainment is from a Bosch Professional Line system that feeds to twin monitors.
VDL’s dash on the SB4000 chassis is not entirely dissimilar to the Futura 2’s, with chunky rocker switches. The steering wheel is adjustable for reach and rake, although in some positions it can slightly obstruct the speedometer.
Slacks specified Beulas’ trademark cab door on its Cygnus. As a result, no controls are fitted immediately to the driver’s right, and the handbrake lever is mounted on the bulkhead behind the seat.
Within the door card is a fixed can holder, a pull-down cup holder and an A4-sized document bin. The signalling window lowers and raises via a one-touch button.
The cab door has a strap fitted to ensure that it does not open beyond a certain angle. A small chequer plate step is fitted to aid access.
Thanks to the doorway, the lock mechanism for the under-seat safe can be located on the right of the unit when looking forward. It is thus impossible to know that it is there unless the cab door is open.
A powered one-piece windscreen blind is fitted and the driver benefits from an Isringhausen seat with twin armrests. A microphone is on the B-pillar, which is quite far forward. As a result, drivers who sit further back may need to lean ahead at some junctions.
The A-pillars are very narrow, however, and combined with glazing within both doors that is deep, visibility is otherwise good. The exterior mirrors are electrically adjusted, as is – surprisingly – the interior rear-view lens.
ZF has majored on the EcoLife’s suitability for coaches that work in testing terrain. While the Peak District does not rival the Alps in that regard, it has more than its share of winding climbs that have the potential to confuse an automated manual gearbox.
The EcoLife’s capabilities were demonstrated on a circular route from Matlock. It makes traversing hilly country easy, and the driver can devote their attention to steering the coach, controlling its speed and concentrating on other road users.
Performance of the SB4000 is best described as steady. The gearbox keeps engine speed as low as possible, although it may pass 1,500rpm on a climb. Otherwise, on level ground, the tachometer doesn’t stray far beyond 1,300rpm.
That benefits economy. Richard reports that, despite the coach being new, it is already returning up to 11mpg when loaded on mainly motorway work. That is a solid figure, and he hopes that it will increase as the kilometres pile on.
On country roads, the SB4000 has excellent composure. There is none of the ‘squirm’ that is sometimes detectable when cornering in some coaches and the chassis stick to the surface very well.
It was possible to evaluate the coach’s behaviour on a long descent, as Slacks’ premises are near to a prolonged 14% downgrade. The auxiliary brake holds speed well, moderated by an occasional dab of the brakes.
When all of these characteristics are taken into account, the SB4000 is a coach that is easy to drive well. It lends itself to a calm and collected style, and one that does not involve undue rushing.
The Cygnus has long been a solid option in the middle of the market when a degree of customisation is required. That continues with the addition of the SB4000 to the range.
Slacks returned to the Spanish manufacturer based on good experience with earlier Cygnus bodies in its fleet. Backup for both Beulas and VDL elements was an important consideration too.
While it is early days, the fleet addition has so far performed well. Drivers like it, and the passenger environment is pleasant; 53 seats are fitted to a coach that is manoeuvrable while retaining sufficient leg room.
VDL’s contribution should not be underestimated. It has provided a chassis that has good road manners, and the driveline with the EcoLife gearbox is highly refined.
In fact, engine noise is barely audible from much of the saloon, never mind from the cab.
Finish quality of the bodywork is high, and the standard of paintwork is exceptional.
The Cygnus may lack the futuristic look that some of its competitors have, but if not changing what isn’t broken is a priority for you, it’s well worth a look.
Stop by the Beulas stand (A120) at Euro Bus Expo this week and see for yourself.
Facts and figures
Retail price: £267,400
Engine: 10.8-litre, six-cylinder DAF MX-11
Power: 271kW (370bhp) @1,650rpm
Emissions: Euro 6 using EGR and SCR
Gearbox: ZF EcoLife six-speed automatic
Tyres: 295/80 R22.5
Fuel economy: 11.0mpg (maximum)
Acceleration 0-30mph: 11.1 sec; 0-50mph: 27.0 sec
Noise front: 60dBa; middle: 61dBa; rear: 61dBa