Giti Tyres Big Test | No Bull from Blake

 
 September 2020     DAF XF 530 AD 8x4 Space Cab   Story Dave McLeod Photos Gerald Shacklock

You get the distinct impression that if 24-year-old Helensville truckie Blake Rickaby had been doing the choosing, his new truck would be a Kenworth. Yep, maybe a K200 like the one his Mum drives.

It means that this second son in the heavily trucking-oriented Rickaby family (Dad Craig drives a Freightliner Argosy bulk tipper for Neville Brothers in Silverdale, where he’s worked for over 25 years, Mum Shiralee drives for West Auckland operator Richie Malam and older brother Dylan steers a Scania tipper for Winstones), shapes up as a man likely to deliver a no-bull opinion on his new stock truck – which just happens to be New Zealand’s first Euro 6 DAF XF.

The OnRoad  Transport driver is just three weeks into his new drive – carting livestock around the North Island in the nine-axle XF HPMV unit.

So, what does this Kenworth devotee think of the brand-new 8x4 DAF XF 530 FAD? “We don’t hate the truck, put it that way,” Blake says as he loads 38 $1000 per head Angus steers onto the truck and five-axle trailer at a farm in Glen Murray, west of Te Kauwhata in the northwestern Waikato.

Subscribers: Please LOGIN to read the full article

Although this is the first of the new Euro 6 DAF XFs to go on the road in New Zealand (after extensive testing here, carried out by distributor Southpac Trucks), I have actually spent time behind the wheel of this model already.

That was in a left-hand-drive version, on a test track in Netherlands – after a tour of the DAF factory back in 2017.

We also, of course, drove one of the NZ test trucks – a CF model – over Arthur’s Pass late last year in the leadup to the launch of the new DAFs.

My Sunday drive in OnRoad Transport’s XF starts at Whatawhata, when I take over the wheel from regular driver Blake Rickaby.

The climb into the cab is just as you’d expect from any European truck, with three well-spaced steps, a wide-opening door and grabhandles on each side. 

The driver posi has a comfortable air-suspended, armrest seat with plenty of room and adjustment to suit any driver’s shape. 

Subscribers: Please LOGIN to read the full article

Giti Tyres Big Test - No bull from Bake

You get the distinct impression that if 24-year-old Helensville truckie Blake Rickaby had been doing the choosing, his new truck would be a Kenworth. Yep, maybe a K200 like the one his Mum drives.
It means that this second son in the heavily trucking-oriented Rickaby family (Dad Craig drives a Freightliner Argosy bulk tipper for Neville Brothers in Silverdale, where he’s worked for over 25 years, Mum Shiralee drives for West Auckland operator Richie Malam and older brother Dylan steers a Scania tipper for Winstones), shapes up as a man likely to deliver a no-bull opinion on his new stock truck – which just happens to be New Zealand’s first Euro 6 DAF XF.
The OnRoad  Transport driver is just three weeks into his new drive – carting livestock around the North Island in the nine-axle XF HPMV unit.
So, what does this Kenworth devotee think of the brand-new 8x4 DAF XF 530 FAD? “We don’t hate the truck, put it that way,” Blake says as he loads 38 $1000 per head Angus steers onto the truck and five-axle trailer at a farm in Glen Murray, west of Te Kauwhata in the northwestern Waikato.
He‘s going to be taking the cattle on a six-odd hour drive south, all the way to (the appropriately-named) Bulls. So we’ve got a bloke who knows trucks…and knows what he likes, a brand-new truck to NZ, the sun is shining and the countryside is stunning. It’s a great day for a long truck ride (even if it is a Sunday).
The DAF’s tall Space Cab sits proudly above the farm track road and ORT’s colour scheme – Datsun Green (a light olive shade) and contrasting silver, white, black and darker green stripes, with white stock crates, bearing green stripes – looks great against the backdrop of rural NZ.
Blake’s been with OnRoad Transport for around 18 months, driving an older 620hp Scania until the XF arrived. In two full weeks he and dog Rose (who travels in a dog box below the truck) have clocked up around 5000kms moving stock around the country. 
With near on 24 tonnes of cattle now checked and loaded – a process that Blake says is just “commonsense,” we climb on board and set off. 
The DAF has a tare weight of 11,500kg, the Jackson Enterprises trailer sits at 10,100kg, so we’re at around 45,600kg all-up (well below the DAF’s 70t GCM rating and the ORT unit’s plated 49t HPMV permitted maximum), as Blake gets us onto Highway 22.
The DAF quickly takes itself up the box to 12th gear, with the 16-speed TraXon 16TX2640 OD automated manual’s Eco mode turned off. At 58km/h, the 390 kilowatt/530 horsepower PACCAR MX-13 12.9-litre engine revs out to 1600rpm – close to the point where it produces peak power (1675rpm, to be exact). 
As the speed edges up to 60k the TraXon changes up to 14th and the revs drop to 1300, Blake says he thinks the AMT is “a little bit high-geared – so they’ll have to re-ratio the diffs, because in Eco (mode) it will lug itself down to around 900rpm before it’ll change down. And by the time it does that it’s lost all its momentum and all its guts.”
ORT owner Don Wilson agrees that for the work it’s doing, the XF possibly does need a diff ratio change: “It’s working a bit higher up in the revs. It’s better to be running at 1400-1500 at 90km/h.”
The DAF’s first decent challenge of the day comes almost immediately after we turn right onto Glen Murray Road – a testing 16-kilometre stretch of windy and undulating tarmac that will take us through to Rangiriri. The first hill knocks us back to ninth gear, at 20km/h – the MX at 1300rpm.
With a truck and trailer full of stock Blake is relatively conservative in his driving, explaining: “Especially in the first part of the journey, I need to get them to settle down – let them find a place to stand and whatnot.
“These cattle are quite boisterous….always a bit angry.” I don’t blame them: It’s a Sunday. I’m pretty angry too!
Blake explains his driving style: “You approach the corners without trying to touch the foot pedal, so you don’t have to corner too hard and brake. That’s when the cattle fall over. 
“And they’ll still be full of grass. It’d be like you having a milkshake and a burger and going on a roller coaster! That’s what I tell all these farmers – if you get your cattle in a little bit earlier they travel a lot better.”
On a hill, the TraXon drops down to 10th, 1400rpm and 30k on the climb, then we descend at with the MX-13 engine brake in its second stage – our speed holding at 30km/h in ninth gear, with the engine spinning at 1700rpm. Blake selects the 3rd stage, bumping the revs to 1900. 
In a short span the TraXon shifts back up to 12th, 13th….then downshifts to 11th. Blake says this is the sort of situation where he goes into manual mode: “I’ll keep the revs up a bit higher and I can hold that gear, ‘coz you’re slowing down so much for the corners you don’t really need it to change.”
He’s mainly holding it in 11th, letting the revs fluctuate between 1400 and 1800 and keeping the speed around 40km/h. Maintaining a smooth line through the twisting corners however, he sometimes drops down to 10th. In Manual mode, the gearchanging is just as quick and smooth as it is in Auto. 
The road tightens through a series of S-bends that leave Blake unfazed: “It’s tarseal so it’s classed as a good road – compared to other roads we go on.” In places the lane departure warning system that’s part of the XF’s safety suite, beeps a few times.
Blake’s comfortable on the DAF Super Air driver’s seat….without its air suspension engaged: “I’m so tall anyway, I don’t like sitting up too high. I’d look like a real bus driver! This seat’s comfy without it….that and the cab suspension.”
The XF rides on Michelin 275/70R 22.5 tyres (on Alcoa Dura-Bright alloys), suspended on parabolic springs on the front and rear air suspension. The cab has mechanical suspension.
Blake reckons the steering is really light and cornering is good but says that it leans: “It’s just about getting used to the bigger cab and the cab roll. It’ll lean quite a lot as it goes around the corner.”
On a descent Blake drops down to 10th gear, the revs rising to 1800: “If I was in auto and on the third stage, it would bring the revs up to 2100/2200 – apparently that’s where the engine brake works the hardest. But if I leave it in auto it’s changing up and down too many times. It gets a bit frustrating.
“I’m one of those drivers who prefers manual. Nothing beats a gearstick. It’s peace of mind that it’s in that gear and going to stay there.”
As we crest another hillclimb in 11th gear, at 40km/h and the MX-13 revving at 1300, the cab is really quiet. There’s very little noise coming through from the engine bay.  
“That’s the biggest thing that’s taken me a while to get used to,” says Blake: “Not being able to hear the truck. It’s almost like driving a flash car – just how quiet it is. The engine doesn’t feel stressed on any of the corners.”
Unstressed as it is, the MX-13 isn’t what Blake would have chosen: “I’ve always wanted a Kenworth. I like horsepower.” 
It doesn’t help his attitude to the DAF that he climbed out of the 620 Scania and into the XF: “I can’t really compare the last truck’s horsepower to this, because you’re coming out of something with a V8 and with a retarder and everything. It’s all a big learning curve. But it is what it is.”
It has to be said that the Euro 6 MX-13, with its 390kW/530hp and 2600 Newton Metres/1917 lb ft of peak torque (available from 1000 to 1460rpm) seems to be coping just fine.
And Blake looks pretty relaxed behind the wheel – up for the six-hour drive (including a break en route).
He’s been driving trucks for six years now, having done two years working in earthmoving – driving bulldozers and the like.
“I tried to tell myself that I’d never be a truck driver but…we made it here,” he laughs. 
How come he’s chosen livestock cartage? “I suppose you’ve got to love your job – because who wants to come to work, get covered in shit and get rained on!
“But it’s the change of scenery, the physical work. You’re always going somewhere new, you’re not just staying on the tarseal all day. You’re in and out all day….and you’ve got to deal with the animals.”
He also believes driving livestock trucks requires more concentration than linehaul or general cartage: “I’ve done a bit of bulk trucks before – but that load doesn’t move. These things here, they’re moving around, they’re shaking around and you’ve got to try and keep them on their feet. You’ve got to be aware of them as you’re driving, ‘coz if one of them dies on the truck then Don’s insurance has got to pay for it.”
He says wryly that he doesn’t get attached to livestock: “I like eating them. You can’t get attached to them, ‘coz you’re going to all these plants and seeing them in the pens.”
But he does take their welfare while they’re in his care seriously – pulling over near Rangiriri to check on the cattle and Rose (the dog). She pokes her head out of the box as we walk around the truck and trailer.
Says Blake: “That’s her house – she’s with me every day and she’s about six years old. She loves it there. You can’t leave her at home for a week – she’ll tear the back yard apart. She’s been a truck dog since a pup.”
The Nationwide stockcrates are the same as Blake had on the Scania, so he’s used to working with them. The truck is three-deck sheep, two-deck cattle and the trailer is four-deck sheep, two-deck cattle, with fold-up handrails.
Like his Kenworth preference, Blake has a favourite load as well: “Sheep are easier. I’d cart sheep around every day.” But mostly his loads are cattle.
And that’s better than it might be: “I hate carting dairy cows. Stubborn old bitches!”
He reckons that the new livestock transport rules are definitely making the job harder. It means that sometimes it forces drivers to refuse to carry some animals: “You’ve got to make that call (about whether or not cart them) – and sometimes the farmers get a bit shitty. 
“But they’re not paying the fines. The secret is not to second-guess it: If you don’t think it’s suitable for the drive just say no. You try to check them all, but you don’t study them or anything. The animal has got to be standing on all four feet – not limping or anything like that. If it’s looking all skin and bone then you don’t take it. If there’s any issues we just have them (the farmers) call Don.”
As if the moving load, the need to focus and the demands of being a wannabe vet aren’t enough, Blake needs to think about keeping the truck and trailer clean too! “If you’ve got time at the end of the day and you’re near a hose you can wash out then…or either back at the yard, or some plants have got facilities. 
“It maybe takes a couple of hours if it’s really bad. But you throw the wet weather gear on and you’ll be right.” He adds with a laugh: “We won’t quibble over spilt milk. It’s only a bit of green grass really.”
With the roadside check over, we get under way again and Blake shows that he’s very au fait with the tech in the XF – happily scrolling through the menus and calling out things like the AMT mode, speed info, vehicle info, air supply and so on.
“There’s a warning light about the rear fog light and that’s due to Don changing them to LEDs and the system not recognising the lack of current draw.”
Blake thinks that the dash and instrument layout is pretty much the same as the old DAFs and doesn’t think that the cab interior overall has changed that much: “I had a bit of a play in Don’s old XF (105) with the manual box and it’s about the same.”
In terms of controls, the park brake is unmissable on the dash and the gearshift controls are on the steering column: Pull up to change up and vice versa to change down. Pull towards you for the engine brake. And it’s all on the one stalk, right beside the leather-covered steering wheel.
ORT runs EROAD on the unit and Blake is a fan: “It saves me having to get out of the cab in the rain and checking the hubo. I’ve got a dashcam too, just ‘coz there’s idiots on the road that do dumb things to you.”
Overall, Blake concedes that the new DAF is smarter and more comfortable than the old Scania…..but on the other hand, the XF doesn’t have as much horsepower and the engine brake isn’t a matcher for the Scania’s retarder.
Don says that he’s talked to DAF distributor Southpac Trucks about one shortcoming with the engine brake on the inline six MX-13 – the fact that, if you leave it switched on, it doesn’t automatically disengage when you put your foot on the throttle pedal. 
He reckons that initially the older DAFs couldn’t do it either – but Southpac did some work and figured out how to do it, so believes they’ll be able to “work it out” for the new Euro 6 truck.
There is another braking shortcoming, by Blake’s judgment – the lack of a trailer brake control: “Because we’re butting-up so much, we’re always trying to slide the drawbar underneath – and when we’re on uneven terrain it makes it hard. 
“At the moment you’ve got to either lightly put your foot on the foot pedal and it’ll try and lock the trailer brakes on, or I use the top part of the handbrake. 
“With the automatic, you’ve got your foot lightly on the brake and then you’re trying to accelerate. I think the computer says ‘what are you trying to do? You wanna stop or you wanna go?’
“I think Southpac is trying to sort out a switch that’ll get into the brain and lock the brakes on the trailer. Other than that, it does the job.”
Don Wilson agrees with Blake: “It’s good to have either a pull button to lock the trailer brakes in, or a hand control. Again, Southpac are looking into it. Because if you’re playing with the brake system you’ve got to do things correctly. We can buy a (DAF) CF85 with a hand control – so, to me, it shouldn’t be a biggie.”
This job often involves Blake jumping in and out of the cab a lot and he reckons the access is good. He’s right: The three steps up are wide and well-spaced and there are good grabhandles front and rear.
Best of all, he reckons: “It’s got a place to leave my jandals on the step, so I keep the shit on the outside of the vehicle.”
Visibility is all good too, he says: “It’s like a fishbowl. There’s heaps of window, plenty of vision and a pulldown blind that covers the full length of the windscreen for when the sun comes up.”
The rear-vision mirrors are the usual flat and convex pairing – heated and with electric adjustment. There’s also an overhead on the left-front corner.
As Blake puts it: “Visibility all round in this bus is good. I call it a bus as I feel like I’m a bus driver. I can’t hear the truck, so it doesn’t feel like you’re driving a truck – it’s like you’re driving a bus.” 
DAF says that the cab exterior styling has been smoothed and rounded – the most obvious visual changes coming in the form of its teardrop-shaped headlights, the large slat grille and the fog lights integrated into the bumper.
Inside it details stylish new materials, extra space and a new heating, ventilation and aircon system. The ORT XF’s Space cab is 1735mm from the floor to the roof – 270mm less than the Super Space alternative.
There’s plenty of storage space inside, courtesy of the three lockers above the windscreen, a drawer under the bunk, plus two more with exterior access. There’s also a rollout fridge under the bunk.
The new DAF comes with high-tech safety aids including lane departure warning, vehicle stability control and adaptive cruise control – the latter primarily intended to reduce stress and strain on the driver by autonomously maintaining a set distance between the truck and the vehicle ahead.
But it also boasts active safety features in the form of forward collision warning and advanced emergency braking – both of which work to help avert (or at least reduce the severity) of an impending collision.
Blake seems unimpressed by this high-tech safety stuff – adaptive cruise, for instance: “I use it but it’s a bit weird – bit of a learning curve. Not sure if I trust it or not. 
“Plus, you could have it going and if a car in the right lane quickly zooms in front of you, the truck will instantly slow to maintain the gap, so it’s not really ideal for cattle.”
Heading down the new section of the Waikato Expressway, the DAF is cruising. Blake flicks the gearbox into manual mode, sitting in 14th at 1600rpm, with the speedo on 80km/h. 
Left to its own devices, he reckons, the TraXon goes into coasting mode: “When it’s cruising along the flat and it thinks it can maintain its speed, it takes itself out of gear in order to save fuel. That takes a bit to get used to. You’ll be cruising along and all of sudden all your revs will die but it’ll maintain that speed. As soon as the speed starts dropping it’ll go back into gear. It’s constantly looking for ways to save fuel.”
He flicks through the trip meter and it shows that it’s recently done 1404kms at an average speed of 57.7km/h – consuming 724 litres of fuel…for an average 1.93kms per litre. It also means that the 430-litre fuel tank (backed-up by a 45-litre AdBlue tank) is good for over 800kms.
Fuel economy is not something that Blake concerns himself with: “They’re still drilling for oil so there’s plenty of it,” he quips, adding: “I just fill up the tank when it tells me to. I think it is better than the other DAFs but you’ll have to ask Don.”
Don confirms that his other DAFs typically do around 1.85 litres per kilometre and he was hoping for close to 2kms per litre....so he should be happy with the XF.
Blake understand that since it’s Euro 6 compliant “it’s better for the environment and fuel economy – but I think Don bought it because of the safety features. Being part of (National) Road Carriers (he is, in fact, the current NRC board chairman) he’s promoting road safety. And I think he always wanted to have the first one on the road.”
There is also a bit of history between ORT and DAFs, Don explains: “When they brought the Euro 5 model DAF out we got the first CF 85, back in 2008. So I thought ‘righto, we’ll try to get the first Euro 6.’ The opportunity was there, I needed a truck and I thought rather than getting the last of the old model, I might as well get the first of the new one.”
He’s comfortable with the purchase despite a few “teething issues.” Like he says: “It’s early days. We had issues with the first of the Euro 5s that they brought out – more the bolt-on stuff though. But look at how the Euro 5 performed at the end of its life – it was the second-biggest-selling Euro truck. 
“I’ve got an XF105 that’s done over one million kilometres and only dropped a valve close to a million. Rather than rebuild the engine I bought a new one. It was $45k for a brand-new motor and it was complete – turbo, the whole shooting box. Bolt in, away you go. The resale value is good and the backup service from Southpac was a deal-sealer. We’ve got a great relationship with them.” 
We stop in Te Kuiti so Blake can check that the cattle are all okay. One more hill and we’ll be turning back to head home, leaving Blake top carry on down to the Manawatu.
We start up the hill out of Te Kuiti in 12th at 40km/h, with the TraXon in auto and the Eco mode turned off: “I cruised up this hill last week in this mode and it seemed to be just fine,” Blake says.
A downshift to 11th sees the MX-13 at 1400rpm, holding 40k until the hill steepens – knocking us back to 30km/h and 1100 revs before the AMT downshifts to ninth.
The revs build from 1300 to 1700 as the hill eases again, prompting an upshift to 10th for a bit….and then to 11th at 1400rpm and a shade under 40km/h.
Again the hill steepens and the TraXon drops to 8th and 1800rpm, at just under 30k. It’s able to shift up one so that the revs settle at 1500 as we crest at 30km/h. The gearchanging in each shift has been smooth, with little or no loss of momentum.
We start the following descent in 14th but engaging the third stage of the engine brake prompts a downshift to 12th. That pushes the revs up to 2200, holding us at 70km/h – the AMT upshifting as the gradient eases.
On the second downhill, the engine brake’s third stage sees the TraXon downshift again to 12th at 50km/h and 1500rpm. The revs rise to 2200 and it holds us back nicely until the hill eases and the AMT progressively upshifts to 14th, so that at the foot of the hill we’re doing 90k. Blake takes off the engine brake and we’re back up to 16th and cruising.
He’s happy with that: “It changes up and down really smoothly. I think it can go down two gears faster than you could change.” 
Our test ends a little further down State Highway 3. Before I jump out of the XF I want to get some final thoughts from Blake. Clearly, he’s a Kenworth fan and a horsepower man…but is his experience behind the wheel of the new XF changing his view at all?
He reckons: “I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks. I’ve got to get used to driving it, but I’m gonna be open-minded, like Don says. 
“It is nice – it’s a comfy cruising bus….it’s just lacking horsepower.”
Maybe, I suggest, he’s being overly critical: He does, after all, seem happy enough, despite his preconceived ideas….
Surely that is testament to how good this new XF really is? 
Blake is not going to be swayed by me: “Or it could just be that I’ve got no choice,” he counters with a laugh: “Let’s say my review is ‘to be continued…dot, dot, dot.’ ”
Since our test, Southpac Trucks has changed the diff ratios – and Don Wilson says that has “made it more responsive and pull better on the hills. 
“The top two gears are where it gets max horsepower and max torque, so the longer we can maintain those top two gears, the better it is. 
“The lower ratio has made it perform a lot better in the terrain we operate in.”
Blake, he reckons, is “more than happy with the truck now.... He’s learning how to drive it and learning how to get the best out of it. And that was always going to take time. 
“And now with the diff changes, the traction is better than how a Kenworth would be. Value for money: We’re sticking with the DAF.”
Southpac’s Richard Smart says that while the engine brake on Euro 5 DAFs would automatically disengage when you touched the throttle pedal, it’s not possible with the E6 trucks, “with the amount of safety features and the engine brake being much stronger.” 
The diff ratios on the XF have been geared “to give maximum fuel efficiency, with the ability to use Eco performance to tackle bigger hills etc.”
Some customers, he says, “who are targeting performance over fuel economy, have felt a marked difference – so in those cases we have simply changed the ratio to suit that particular application.”
Southpac says that XFs have traditionally represented around 10% of the total DAF market in NZ – with the CF dominant...and that looks set to continue with the Euro 6 models. So far 20 XFs have been ordered or delivered.
For Don, an XF is for “the top end driver and a CF is for the driver who’s coming through.”
As for whether he’s happy with the XF: Action speaks louder than words. He’s already ordered another one.  

Pirelli Trevor Test

Although this is the first of the new Euro 6 DAF XFs to go on the road in New Zealand (after extensive testing here, carried out by distributor Southpac Trucks), I have actually spent time behind the wheel of this model already. That was in a left-hand-drive version, on a test track in Netherlands – after a tour of the DAF factory back in 2017. We also, of course, drove one of the NZ test trucks – a CF model – over Arthur’s Pass late last year in the leadup to the launch of the new DAFs. My Sunday drive in OnRoad Transport’s XF starts at Whatawhata, when I take over the wheel from regular driver Blake Rickaby. The climb into the cab is just as you’d expect from any European truck, with three well-spaced steps, a wide-opening door and grabhandles on each side. The driver posi has a comfortable air-suspended, armrest seat with plenty of room and adjustment to suit any driver’s shape. The cab layout is a stylish wraparound dash setup, with a radio head unit, storage inserts, airconditioning panel, various other buttons including diff locks, ride height etc and – most important of all controls – the Drive, Neutral and Reverse dial for the automated manual transmission. The driveability of this truck is not much different to any other European truck on the market, with most things (if not everything) at your fingertips. The steering wheel has cruise control functions on the right-hand side and on the left are stereo and hands-free phone functions. The left-hand stalk controls wipers and indicators and on the right the stalk controls the engine brake, manual gearshifting and (with a button on the tip) the switch for Eco mode and manual shifting. The main dash display has the usual speedo and rev counter, fuel and temperature gauges and, in the middle, the multi-function driver performance assistant (DPA) – an interactive programme to assist the driver to achieve more fuel efficient driving. Left of the steering wheel on the dash is a dial that changes the digital menu – calling up data ranging from phone settings to safety systems. As I start off I have to negotiate some parked cars and then the sharp left/right turns to head south out of Whatawhata and the rear vision mirrors immediately prove to be very good. Blake had the standard large convex mirror swapped for a flat one – with a smaller convex one below it. I reckon that was a good move. The mirrors’ positioning doesn’t create any issues with blind spots throughout my drive. On the passenger side is a super-convex overhead mirror providing a view so wide you can see forward past the front of the cab…all the way to the rear of the cab. As we head for Otorohonga at around 46 tonnes all-up, the 530hp 13-litre engine and the TraXon 16-speed AMT work well together. Ahead are a few hills that will be good for testing the Eco, Eco off and Manual modes. Blake mentions that he doesn’t like the Eco mode as he can’t push the truck along as much as he’d like. We both agree that’s what Eco mode is for – stopping the truck working too hard in order to save fuel. We call it keep-the-boss-happy mode. On the first hill I keep it in Eco mode and, as Blake predicted, the gearbox lets the engine lug down to 900rpm before dropping double gears. This leads to us cresting the hill at 30km/h – about 20k slower than you would in manual. On the second climb I turn Eco off and the gearbox and engine work a little more aggressively, changing down four gears at 1100rpm. Next, I go manual and find that the TraXon, with the Eco mode off, had it right: Around 1100 revs is the optimal point to downshift. The three-stage MX-13 engine brake works really well – one of the best I have experienced. On the third stage, it pushes the revs up to 2200rpm and holds you back more than enough. The only issue I find is that you can’t leave the engine brake on when you want to accelerate away again. In the XF the driver sits up high, so forward visibility through the big windscreen makes on-road placement easy, assisted by the Jackson five-axle trailer tracking really well. I do find that the cab sways a little side to side in the corners and the steering is light, which takes a bit of getting used to. It feels like you are over-steering – and Blake agrees. Other than that, taking into account we are carting stock, the ride in the XF is great. You can feel the animals moving – but not too much. The low noise level in the cab is one of the best I have come across. When I stop in Te Kuiti it’s time to give Blake his truck back. He seems to be a little uncertain about his new ride, but considering he would have preferred a 600hp-plus K200 and the fact he’s so far only done less than 5000kms in the XF, I think we’ve caught him too early in the piece. I reckon that in a few months he won’t be too unhappy about his armchair ride. He already admits that at the end of a long day’s work he’s feeling better in the DAF than he did in his previous trucks.