TerraStar test drive

By Jack Roberts

Errastar Untitled 1When Sterling and General Motors announced they were leaving the North American medium-duty truck market, Navistar wasted no time producing a new truck to fill any hole left by their departure. The TerraStar, as the new Class 4 and 5 model is called, was brought to life in a stunningly short period of time. Navistar engineers borrowed heavily from existing truck components to craft the overall vehicle, while concentrating their efforts on specific features – such as the truck’s all-new, drop-down frame – to ensure that it would perform well in tough vocational applications. The streamlined production process worked. TerraStar was officially unveiled earlier this year at the NTEA show in St. Louis, with production models slated to begin appearing on dealer lots before Christmas.

2011 TerraStar Quick Specs

BBC measurement:  107 inches

Axle Configuration:  4 x 2

Cab Configurations: Standard cab, extended cab, crew cab

Engine: Maxx Force 7

Horsepower: 300

Torque: 660 ft. lbs.

Transmission: Allison 1000 Series

Front Axles:  Dana Spicer 6,000 – 7,000 lbs.

Rear Axles:  Dana Spicer 10,000 – 13,000 lbs.

Brakes:  Hydraulic disc with ABS

This is a commercial grade work truck. It’s very comfortable. But it’s designed for the type of buyer who doesn’t see the tough rubber floor mats, instead of carpet, for example, as a negative.

The Navistar folks are clearly proud of the TerraStar. And they ought to be. It’s a fine looking truck – deceptively small when you get up close to one. But it takes its design cues from Navistar’s larger trucks – most notably the DuraStar – and that gives TerraStar a decidedly tough and brawny appearance when viewed from a distance. But that big body stance is more than just a visual cue: Navistar says the TerraStar features the largest production cab in this vehicle segment. And the spacious interior – complete with ample leg and belly space is readily apparent as soon as you slide into the driver’s seat.

Getting in and out of the truck is a breeze thanks to the intelligently placed steps and grab handles outside the cab. And once you’re behind the wheel, your first impression is that you’re sitting in large pickup truck. And although TerraStar will compete with Ford F-Series and GM Heavy Duty pickup trucks, Tom Schmitt, sales training project manager for Navistar, told me the company will not be offering luxury trim interiors to compete with the high-end versions of those trucks. “We understand there is a large customer base out there that wants leather seats and wood-grain dashboards,” Schmitt notes. “But TerraStar is not that kind of truck. This is a commercial grade work truck. It’s very comfortable. But it’s designed for the type of buyer who doesn’t see the tough rubber floor mats, instead of carpet, for example, as a negative, but as a positive feature that’s going to make keeping the interior clean and productive for his work crews.”

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That said, the cab interior is a nice blend of commercial grade toughness combined with production pickup style and comfort. The instrument layout is highly evocative of a pickup truck; from the crisp styling of the easy-to-read dials and gauges, shift lever, and steering-wheel controls for cruise and the air horn.

The TerraStar isn’t light on power, either. My test truck was equipped with the new MaxxForce 7 diesel engine. It’s an extremely quiet engine. But its 300-horsepower output really gives the TerraStar some serious pep. Granted, my test truck wasn’t loaded, but I found the TerraStar’s acceleration on a straight-away to be highly impressive. Of course, as with any 2010 Navistar product, the MaxxForce engine features the company’s EGR-only answer to the EPA’s 2010 diesel emissions regulations.

I was equally pleased to discover just how nimble this truck is. I was easily able to maneuver the TerraStar through an orange cone road course with only one hand on the steering wheel. This is a commercial grade work truck that truly handles as well as any large pickup truck on the market today. The five-speed Allison 1000 automatic transmission was a nice touch as well: There’s no need to worry about clutching or shifting as you’re dodge those cones on the road course: just move the column-mounted gearshift to “D” and go.

Navistar believes the TerraStar will be a natural fit for fleets running construction, landscaping, pickup-and-delivery or a wide array of medium-duty applications. A four-wheel-drive option will appear next year and the frame is designed to easily accommodate a wide range of body choices including dump, stake, car hauler, small tanker, service truck or bucket truck. EW

Navistar recommits to medium-duty truck market with “laser-like” focus

As anyone in the truck industry knows, the race to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 diesel engine emissions regulations has been an all-consuming and contentious one for truck and engine manufacturers. And according to Jim Hebe, senior vice president of North American sales operations, the emissions battle has had unwanted consequences for Navistar, causing the company to take its eye off a market segment Hebe says it created and has owned since 1906: medium duty vocational trucks. And that’s a trend the company is determined to reverse.

But Navistar won’t be simply re-affirming its commitment to the medium-duty market. Hebe is calling for an all-out assault on Class 4, 5 and 6 truck markets and a full-scale “war” on competitors building trucks that compete with Navistar in those market segments. The goal, Hebe announced, is for Navistar – which currently holds a dominating 36 percent share of the medium-duty market according to internal measurements – to reach 50 percent within the next couple of years.

– Jack Roberts