Dennis Eagle Elite 6: Low-entry cab test


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

It may be a well-respected urban vehicle offering a great field of view, but with a dated cab design and a gearbox better suited to stop-start work, the Elite 6 can struggle as a tipper.

Say the name Dennis Eagle and most people will think of one of two things: a fire-fighting vehicle or a refuse collection truck. The Dennis name was once synonymous with both, but these days it’s best known for its dustcarts.

The Elite cab design dates back to 1992, but our test vehicle was revised in 2014 for the introduction of Euro-6 engines.

Fundamentally, however, the Elite is a direct descendant of the 1990s cab and only a few alterations have been made over the years. The latest updates include a high roof line – this extra 90mm is a marked difference cosmetically and practically, allowing the cab front to better blend with its mounted bodies.

Vehicle specifications

Make/model: Dennis Eagle Elite 6

Engine: Volvo D8K 7.7-litre 280hp

Transmission: Allison MD3000 6-speed

Chassis: 8x4 tridem

Cab type: Low-entry crew cab

Body: Thompsons tipper with Epsilon grab loader

LED corner cab beacon lights are standard, along with LED front strobes and daytime running lights. Functional but necessary changes have included relocating the fuse board to accommodate more ECUs in the passenger footwell. This has enabled safety systems like Lane Departure Warning to be fitted to newer vehicles.

Despite the fact that Dennis Eagle is now owned by Terberg Group, much of the Elite is down to Volvo. The engine, a 6-cylinder 7.7-litre unit, is Volvo’s DK8 and is available in either 280hp or 320hp, two of the three outputs available in a Volvo-badged truck. The interior is largely Volvo-made too, with the Euro-6 truck retaining the same dash as Euro-5 models.

While Volvo vehicles get the automated manual I-Shift transmission, the Dennis makes do with the full automatic Allison. The 6-speed 3000 gearbox is well used in refuse vehicles and Allison transmissions have been a stalwart of Dennis vehicles for a number of years. Suspension is improved, with full air suspension on the front and rear axles as standard on regular width cabs, while narrow-width vehicles (2,250mm) get air-assisted suspension on the front and full air to the rear.

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In the cab

Driveline configurations range from a 4x2 to the 8x4 we test here, with 6x2 mid-lift, 6x2 mid- or rear-steer and 6x4 also available. Our standard-width 8x4 midsteer chassis test vehicle has two possible cab layouts to allow the driver plus three passengers or the driver plus four – the latter option adding an almost centrally mounted passenger seat in line with the driver.

As a low-entry vehicle, this Elite 6 has been fitted with a typical working body, the sort you expect to find in an urban environment. This Thompsons Loadmaster Lite is made from Hardox steel with a capacity of 13.2cu m and has been fitted with an Auto-Loc R pneumatic tailgate, a Covermaster 1000 electric sheeting system and a Dawes LPD guard system.

As visibility is key to a low-entry vehicle, the test starts with a look at the camera system. It covers the rear, side and front and is fairly standard in operation – indicating in either direction makes the screen view switch to that camera, while selecting reverse puts the rear-view camera in full screen. Visibility elsewhere is helped by the wide-angle mirror on the top of the cluster, while the rear side windows – which have been increased by 100mm in this latest version – improve the driver’s field of vision, particularly on his side. Narrow A- and B-pillars add to the effect of creating a light and open cabin, which in the urban environment is the main aim.

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On the road

On the road, the Elite 6 is a mixed bag. The forward seating position is particularly good at aiding visibility, but the driving experience is largely let down by the Allison transmission. While refuse operators might be big fans of the gearbox, it is a compromise for the mixed work that an urban tipper such as this is likely to undertake. Our test vehicle’s transmission is a slightly different specification to the municipal versions, but gears one to four are understandably close given the traditional slow speed nature of its usual application. This means that on the open road they tend to be zipped through quickly. In contrast, the Mercedes-Benz Econic – the Elite’s only direct rival with a bus-style passenger door – fares better with its 12-speed Powershift transmission dealing more capably with both slow- and high-speed requirements. There’s also a fair amount of noise with engine revs at 50mph being 1,900rpm in sixth. Coupled with some noticeable but not outrageous wind noise around the mirror, it is clear the Elite 6 is more suited to a slower pace where it is nice to drive. Steering is heavy but manoeuvrability with the second mid-steer-axle is good.

Competition in the low-entry sector is hotting up, but the Dennis Eagle Elite 6 has been around for so long and is so successful that it should be considered a real master of its environment. Compared with the Mercedes Econic (see page 34), however, the cabin is dated and its general feel and driveability are not in the same class. In principle, the Elite 6 does everything right but, in reality, the evolution of a cab from 1992 does it no favours.

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