Higer approaches UK market with clear intention

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Higer integral coaches are set to become a further cost-effective option for the UK market. The first to arrive here is the revised Super 9, which gives a passenger capacity of up to 41 and has custom options

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9.6m Super 9 is Cummins-powered with ZF gearbox and seats up to 41

After a false start in the UK, Higer integral coaches are set to arrive with what Dublin-based importer Harris Group  describes as “a vengeance.” The first model – here this week – is the 9.6m Super 9, seating up to 41 passengers.

Harris is working with a number of partners in the UK to supply and support the Higer range. That effort is led by RWT Services, which has a showroom at its Halesowen premises, and the Super 9 will soon be joined by other models.

“We have already sold seven Super 9s to UK buyers,” says Harris Group Marketing Manager Chris Haughton. The first custom-built coaches left China this week. They are expected in service in late July, and the supplier promises that the model will be a strong market challenger.

Harris Group has put much work into getting the coach right. Two trim levels are available from stock: Entry-level and high-specification, complementing the custom-built option..

There are two offside door options. Both are in the same place, immediately behind the rear axle. Coaches with a continental door seat a maximum of 39 passengers; a floor-level emergency exit permits 41 seats.

Harris Group has invested a lot of time and effort in the Higer midicoach. A number of aspects are different to the earlier model. Last week, it made a high-specification 39-seater available for an exclusive routeone Test Drive.

Build

The Super 9 is assembled in Suzhou, but many of  components are sourced in Europe. Under the bonnet is a Darlington-built Cummins ISB6.7 engine rated at 300bhp. In a major change from the earlier Allison-equipped model, it is coupled to a ZF EcoLife gearbox. A dash switch selects economy or power modes, although it may be deleted.

Axles on the test coach are also from ZF, and its European componentry extends as far as the wheels. High-specification Super 9s have Hungarian-made Alcoa Dura-Brites; entry-level coaches have steel rims. All are shod in Michelin rubber.

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Entrance area is one of the Super 9’s strong points, with very wide steps

Much work has been done to ensure engine sound-deadening, and additional damping has been introduced to cut vibration.

The radiator is on the nearside, and immediately ahead of it is a 45-litre AdBlue tank. The 220 litre diesel tank is above the front axle; there is one filler, on the offside.

An unusual aspect of the higher-specification stock Super 9 is its luggage bay door layout. On the nearside, both are powered, but on the offside they are not. On coaches built to order, buyers may specify both sets of doors as they wish. 6.5m3 of space is below the floor.

The Super 9 is 9.60m long, 2.47m wide and 3.38m high. It weighs in at 9,880kg unladen and has a GVW of 13,800kg. Despite that, it runs on 22.5in wheels, a Harris stipulation to ensure optimum roadholding. It has air suspension all round with kneel and ferry lift functions.

Passenger access

This area is one of the Super 9’s strongest. The door is wide and the steps fill the whole opening. Four lead to the platform and one more into the sunken gangway. All flooring in both models is wood-effect, with a choice of two shades. Steps throughout the coach are edged in yellow and with blue LEDs.

At the entrance, handrail provision is good. On the left is a bar that follows boarding passengers’ path. On the right, a short upright rail is encountered immediately and there is a further horizontal hand-hold within the courier seat base.

Harris is already committed to offering an accessible variant of the Super 9, but it is mindful that the lift should occupy as little of the underfloor luggage area as possible.

None have yet been built, but Chris explains that such variants will have a nearside floor-level door ahead of the rear axle and a cassette-type lift. To allow movement of wheelchairs within the saloon, a gangway step amidships will be necessary to create a flat floor at the rear.

Passenger comfort

Seats are from Vega, and they are reasonably luxurious. Various combinations of fabric, part-leather and full-leather (both real and synthetic) are available, and slide-apart functionality is fitted as standard to both stock specification levels.

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Vega seats are reasonably luxurious and available with various coverings

Three-point belts also come as standard, although two-point securement is optional. Unusually, following operator feedback Harris does not specify drop-down tables, footrests or magazine nets in stock coaches, but they can be added after arrival in Ireland.

On entry-level Super 9s, USB charging points are fitted within the passenger service units. Top-spec midicoaches come with them between the seats, including for the rear five positions. Additionally, an inverter can optionally be specified along with 240v sockets.

Climate control is from Webasto, and it includes a roof-mounted air-conditioning unit, a coolant pre-heater and perimeter radiators.

As yet, a factory toilet option is not available. However, Harris can arrange for one to be fitted after delivery to Dublin. It is a floor-level installation at the rear offside.

Driver comfort

The driver gets an Isringhausen seat with dual armrests and a safe within the base. It does not have an integral hands-free microphone, but one is mounted adjacent on the B-pillar.

Steering wheel adjustment is via two manually-released handles, with one on each side of the column. The degree of movement is reasonable, but for taller drivers it could be better.

Twin gullwing arms are fitted, and the main mirror in each is adjusted electrically. A low-level mirror on the offside complements them. However, it creates a large blind spot at the A-pillar and it is also prominent in the view through the gullwing-mounted glass.

Various other items in the cab are powered or heated. Twin sunblinds fall into the former category, and the windscreen and fixed part of the signalling window in the latter, All of the mirror glass is also heated.

The handbrake is well-sited, certainly more so than on some European coaches. As is usual with Chinese-built vehicles, it requires that the collar is lifted before application. The gear selector buttons are adjacent and they come with 3, 2 and 1 override settings.

An Android-based entertainment system is fitted, and the screen also displays the feed from the external rear camera when reverse is selected. Additionally, the dash binnacle can also display a feed and it does so from the camera above the continental door when it is open.

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Cab is reasonably good, but steering column adjustment could be better

One curious aspect of the Super 9 is that, when the front door is open and the engine is on, the four-way flashers activate along with the audible repeater. That may act as an incentive to drivers to switch off when loading or unloading.

Performance

Coupling a sub-10,000kg unladen weight to a pokey 300bhp engine gives a coach that is no slouch, but what is unusual is the Super 9’s economy/power toggle switch.

Some operators may think it is unnecessary, and it is true that the Higer makes good progress in economy. Engine speed rarely exceeds 1,500rpm and shift quality is perfect.

A prolonged climb away from traffic lights, and with the road heavily-populated with cyclists, showed exactly when the power setting is useful, however.

In economy, the Super 9 accelerated around slow road users reasonably well on uphill stretches. In power, it picked up speed rapidly and made overtaking easy; while there will be an obvious fuel penalty to use of the latter mode, it is worth its weight in gold in these situations.

When pushed hard through bends on the N81 towards Blessington, the Super 9 never lost an ounce of composure. Thanks to its full-size wheels it sticks to the road like glue, to the extent that there is not a hint of ‘squirm’ when cornering. It is uncannily good in that regard. Braking is also excellent, helped by a four-stage retarder. It is activated via the brake pedal, and also via a stalk.

The Super 9 is highly-manoeuvrable, and it can be spun almost on the spot in some situations. While the coach’s overall cab layout may not match those in premium European models, it is nevertheless competent, and drivers will be impressed with performance and roadholding.

Verdict

The Super 9 is a significant addition to the UK market. It brings a higher capacity than previously seen in this segment and Harris promises that a stretched model, with an 18,000kg GVW, a 340bhp engine and up to 55 seats, will follow in due course.

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Super 9 drives very well; roadholding and performance are both excellent

As it is, the Super 9 is an attractive proposition. Harris pledges that it will be priced competitively, and some significant extras can be thrown in for nothing; leather seats are a cost-free option and custom-built coaches can be finished in the buyer’s livery for no additional charge.

The base specification is ample for many duties, and the higher level of finish will suit even more. The passenger environment is good; noise levels are low, even around the continental door, and visibility throughout the saloon is excellent.

Performance, meanwhile, is keen, and the effect of the full-size wheels on roadholding is marked.

Super 9s come with a two-year unlimited mileage warranty as standard. That can be extended to five years, again on an unlimited mileage basis, at a charge, although years four and five represent driveline coverage only. A UK-based agent will handle any claims.

The Super 9 is not perfect, and a couple of minor improvements in the cab would be of benefit. But it’s a definite challenger, and with Harris Group already having placed orders with Higer for 45, it looks likely to become an accepted part of the coaching landscape.

www.higer.ie