SportChassis

Aftermarket truck upfitters have been hot and heavy with development of their big,
extra-powerful tow rigs. The business is booming, and more buyers with big trailers are
choosing a large truck for safer, more reliable towing. Freightliner Corporation joined the
fray with the SportChassis, a factory-assembled rig built on the popular Business Class cab
and chassis. The Freightliner product is different in that it’s no conversion — it’s
direct from the Freightliner catalog. The SportChassis is configured much like the other
heavy haulers on the market. Freightliner starts with a Business Class cab and chassis with
a 132-inch wheelbase and a two-door extended cab. The all-aluminum bed with multiple
storage compartments and 186-inch wheelbase chassis ($6,855) are optional, as is the
four-door crew cab ($7,122). Standard features include a variety of electronic goodies, a
plush but functional interior, leaf springs up front and Freightliner Airliner air-bag
suspension out back, among others. From there on, the buyer can choose from dozens of
available options. Our test rig was powered by the optional Caterpillar engine ($2,696)
rated at 300 hp and 860 lb-ft of torque, plus an optional Allison MD3060 6-speed automatic
transmission ($5,997). Inside, there’s a complete wood trim package ($1,350), wood and
Plexiglas overhead consoles and a center console that houses the television and VCR ($1,613
total), dual Bostrom wide ride captain’s chairs in Ultraleather ($1,189) and a rear
fold-down sofa/bed in Ultraleather ($928). Creature Comforts,
Functionality
Freightliner has done a commendable job of civilizing the Business
Class truck and smoothing its rougher edges, but it’s still not quite like climbing into
the cab of a pickup. And climb you must, two steps up on the fuel tank running boards
before reaching the still-higher cab level. Fortunately, there are enough grab irons —
standard features on typically high-profile commercial trucks — to make hauling oneself up
a safe and easy job. Touches of luxury, such as the solid walnut center console, dash trim
and overhead console trim, the Ultraleather upholstery and automotive-style interior
surfaces, help create an upscale travel environment. Drivers needn’t work too hard, due to
the truck’s standard power steering, automatic transmission, power windows and other
chore-reduction features. The tilt-telescoping steering wheel, plus a driver’s seat with a
multitude of height and position adjustments, allows for making a good fit with just about
any body size and shape. From that mostly upright seating position, the driver’s view
through the windshield is impressive and clear, and the sloping, fairly compact hood means
there’s also a good view of things directly ahead of, and close to, the truck. While the
average user may find the big commercial-grade Caterpillar diesel engine a challenge to
work on, at least the parts are easy to reach. The SportChassis comes with a standard
forward-tilt fiberglass hood that makes engine access wide-open and hassle-free. The
all-aluminum bed includes a pair of good-size, sturdy storage compartments, and other
storage options can also be ordered. We found that the optional Reese low-profile hitch
with the 20,000-pound gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr) was easy to use and provided
enough load capacity for almost any fifth-wheel trailer on the market today. On the
Road
Make no mistake, the SportChassis is all truck when it’s time to hit the
road. From the rumble of the big Cat diesel to the giant steering wheel, to the
businesslike dash and instrument array, this is no pickup. The test payload for this trip
was a fifth-wheel that weighed 15,680 pounds. While the SportChassis is rated to tow at
least 12,000 pounds more than the weight of the test fifth-wheel, it gave us a good feel
for the truck’s abilities. Acceleration feels good in a seat-of-the-pants way, and the
lashup turned in a 39.8-second 0- to 60-mph dead-start run. That’s average for a heavy
diesel-powered vehicle setup. Likewise, the 38 mph we settled into while climbing a
7-percent grade was as we expected, given the overall weight. Open-road cruising is a dream
with the SportChassis. Even with a big payload out back, there’s very little awareness that
the truck isn’t driving solo. The trailer tracks behind with remarkable finesse, both on
the open freeway and while tackling those smaller side roads. Even those with modest-size
biceps will find the Freightliner power steering makes short work of cranking the wheel in
a tight-turn situation. The SportChassis has a surprisingly snug turning radius, given its
wheelbase, so it’s painless to engage in parking-lot maneuvers or back a trailer into a
close-quarters site. A slightly stiff ride is, understandably, part of driving the
SportChassis. Air bags out back and a well-tuned leaf suspension up front ease the ride and
are the best Freightliner can do, given the truck’s size. Operators should find the
SportChassis suspension about the same as, or not much worse than, a one-ton dually. The
truck’s bulk and weight make it feel much larger, but once accustomed to its dimensions and
handling, the truck is really no problem for an RVer who has a load to haul and a ready
acceptance that a rig capable of packing that load is not going to ride like a luxury car.
The air-suspension seat pedestals, which are also common in the heavy-truck industry,
further help smooth and soften the ride. Hydraulic drums out back and discs up front make
for fast, secure stopping power. They feel much like the brakes of a standard pickup,
albeit very large, healthy ones, so users needn’t spend a lot of time growing accustomed to
the air brakes commonly found on large commercial vehicles of this type. The brakes are one
serious advantage of a medium-duty size tow rig. If the trailer brakes should become
disabled, there’s enough extra braking that the truck alone should be able to pull the
combo down to a halt under most circumstances. The truck’s four-wheel ABS should likewise
further enhance braking security and control. The optional Pacbrake exhaust brake ($750)
should be a must-have item for anyone driving this kind of truck. If your needs include
towing a load that gives this truck a workout, you need the Pacbrake to make those long
descents safer. We kicked it in on a 7-percent downgrade and found ourselves perking
happily along at about 53 mph in fourth gear, pushing about 2,300 rpm, without use of the
service brakes. Our fuel-economy figures reflect the heavy-duty nature of the SportChassis.
We recorded a 9.65-mpg solo mileage freeway run; while towing, it dropped to 7.17 mpg,
yielding an average of 8.41 mpg overall. Those figures are right in the range of an
equivalent-size diesel-pusher motorhome under similar operating conditions. One-ton pickups
and other smaller commercial trucks are getting better at towing large, heavy trailers, but
when you need to get down to business with a huge load, a vehicle like a Freightliner
SportChassis is the best way to go. It offers superior braking, stump-pulling power and
on-road stability that’s second to none among fifth-wheel towing options. Freightliner
Specialty Vehicles Inc,. 2300 S. 13th, Clinton, Oklahoma 73601; 800-385-4357; www.sportchassis.com

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