Mercedes-Benz Econic 3235L: Low-entry cab test

George Barrow
September 12, 2019

Jump to: Vehicle specifications, In the cab, On the road.

With its low-entry, high-visibility cab and versatile transmission, it’s no surprise the Econic is winning over new customers in and beyond its traditional municipal market.

The Mercedes-Benz Econic is iconic, and it is finally getting the recognition it deserves. Like the Dennis Eagle Elite, the low-entry Econic has stubbornly forged a loyal following in the refuse sector since being launched in 1998. These days it is finding operators looking to limit risk to vulnerable road users, picking up a range of customers in urban distribution and tipper work.

It is also flexible, with a range of driveline configurations including 4x2, 6x2, 6x4 and both highand low-cab versions. Power comes from a 7.7-litre in-line 6-cylinder engine, which is available with power ratings from 299hp to 354hp. Tested here is the most powerful 354hp engine with 1,400Nm of torque paired with Mercedes’ PowerShift 3 transmission. An Allison 3000 gearbox is standard, but the PowerShift gearbox is, according to Mercedes, much better suited to mixed road types compared with the more urban-appropriate Allison.

Our Econic 3235L 8x4/4 ENA hook-loader also has a rear-steer-axle, but mid-steer is available. A three-person passenger seat configuration is standard, but there is the option of a single passenger seat with a storage area over the engine tunnel.

A mild facelift was carried out to the Econic in 2017 that involved the addition of a full-height driver’s side door. Other changes included wider aperture door openings (89 degrees) and a shift in the mirror mounting positions to improve visibility and reduce the risk of damage when hit, as well as changes to the layout of the transmission tunnel to provide more space at floor level.

This particular vehicle is destined for waste company Biffa and comes with a Boughton body and hook. As standard there is also an engine brake, lane keeping assist, on-board weighing device, adaptive cruise control and Active Brake Assist 3 – a now relatively old incarnation of the safety system compared with that in the new Actros but one that includes full brake application when approaching a stationary object. Additional equipment includes a driver’s suspension seat, and high-speed PTO.

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In the cab

Aside from its main use in the waste sector, the Econic’s viability as a low-entry, high-visibility vehicle is winning new customers. As such, the bulk of our attention is towards the bus-style doors on the passenger side. Like the Elite 6, the view is unquestionably excellent and certainly the doors offer a novel experience. However, we come across one fly in the ointment: a particularly damp day means that within minutes of setting off, the cab steams up. While this isn’t a problem for the windscreen or driver’s side window, the blowers struggle to clear the enormous pane of glass on the passenger side, particularly in the area of the much higher mounted mirrors. As a result, our view of the wide-angle mirror becomes problematic. While the fog clears over time, it certainly is an issue to begin with. The full-height glass screen provides excellent forward visibility but the tightness of the mirror housings to the body creates an awkward blind spot that makes it hard to see between the gap of the A-pillar and mirror.

That aside, the Econic is hard to fault and while not quite Actros-like in its overall comfort, dynamics and performance it is certainly identifiable as a well-honed Mercedes product. Responsiveness and agility are the real highlight of a great, and relatively light, steering system. That makes piloting the Econic exceptionally easy at slow speeds. It’s similar to the Elite 6 in this respect, but there is more communication and the truck therefore feels more attuned to the road and the job.

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On the road

The most striking difference between the Elite 6 and the Econic is the gearbox. Whereas the Elite – with its 6-speed Allison transmission – is great for low speeds, picking up power fast and flicking through the low gears, it’s pretty hopeless at high speeds and getting there (see page 30). You have to really floor the throttle to get there, and when you arrive in top gear the revs are racing away quite noticeably. The Econic, with the PowerShift 3 transmission, is the polar opposite. The 12 speeds mean that the low-speed work can be dealt with just as efficiently, but A-road speeds are just as easily managed. More importantly, top gear at 50mph is a full 300rpm lower than in the Elite, with an engine speed of 1,600rpm.

The engine delivers a fairly spirited performance, with 354hp far more suited to the chassis than the 320hp found in the Dennis. While 10hp per tonne is adequate the majority of the time, the combination of engine and transmission works so much better in the Mercedes, making progress smoother and faster.

Our test vehicle is fitted with a Brigade camera system as specified by the operator. While effective in showing all areas around the vehicle, we can’t help but feel that Mercedes’ own central camera mount is more useful. The Brigade system is low and awkward to view, whereas the Mercedes version is higher and at a more natural eye level. Though driver distraction could be an issue, the inclusion of a stalk-operated control with Mercedes’ equipment to change the camera view seems like a feature the Brigade system missed.

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About the Author


George Barrow

George has been writing about nearly anything with wheels for the past 15 years and is the UK jury member of the International Van of the Year and International Pick-Up Award.

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