New generation Scania R-series and S-series: used buying guide
Keltruck Newark’s sales boss Russell Barnes knows what he’s talking about – he has first-hand experience.
Scania dealer Keltruck’s fledgling used operation at Newark has a surprise secret weapon. When asked what is different about this set-up the salesman running it has a simple answer: “Me.” A live wire, Russell Barnes is only in his mid-30s, but he knows his stuff and how to get things done at “transport speed” – very quickly indeed.
Originally we arranged to visit Newark to drive a tipper, but a few days before our visit, we spotted a pretty stunning 18-plate new generation R450 6x2 tractor unit advertised in the back of CM. One phone call later, it was ours to drive, complete with a trailer loaned at zero notice from a local contact.
Impressive work, but by no means a one-off. We’ve since learned of other rabbits being pulled out of hats – such as the guy who needed a new tractor at two weeks’ notice after a misunderstanding with a franchisor. The production line waiting time was around 12 months. A fortnight later a less-than-six-months-old demonstrator had been pulled off the road, prepped to spec and delivered. The customer has since bought another one, purely because that sale was so well handled.
To truly understand the needs of a transport man you have to have walked in his shoes, which is what Barnes has done – he’s an ex-lorry driver of 13 years’ experience, the latest generation in a long line of truck drivers. Even his mother works in a transport office.
Barnes came to Keltruck via another sales job, obtained through an industry friend after struggling to get off the road with a CV that just said “driver”. Talk to the man about any kind of haulage you choose and he understands what you need because if he hasn’t done it himself he knows someone who has.
He also comes without the usual preconceptions of how the selling of used trucks should be done. “I spent a bit of time working with Mitch Gough [Keltruck used vehicles sales manager] at West Brom while they finished off preparing the building here, and I picked up on what the new and used guys do,” says Barnes.
“I try to treat my customers a little bit more like they’re buying a new truck, give them a bit more of the experience – but only if that’s what they want.” Russell Barnes, sales boss, Keltruck Newark
“Don’t get me wrong,” he continues. “Some customers are more... salt of the earth, shall we say, and that’s fine. But then you also get those coming in at the bottom end of the market who want the ‘royal’ touch, so that’s what they get.” He stays in touch with customers after they’ve made their purchase. “I speak to most on a weekly basis and I’ve even got one I go out with. It’s not just a case of ‘call me if there’s a problem’.”
Whether he mentions his past, however, is dependent on who he’s talking to and whether he thinks it will help or hinder his credibility. “It might come up if they ask about my experience directly, and why I think a particular truck is great, for example,” he says. “But I don’t push it. It’s something that’s there as back-up almost.” This real-life knowledge shines through when we start to talk about our test vehicle. “It’s six months old and has covered about 20,000km as one of 10 spare units we keep available as part of a 300-plus vehicle contract, in case they have a VOR, for example,” says Barnes. “So the vehicles don’t depreciate too much, every six months when there’s a new registration we put a new batch in, giving us 10 low-mileage used trucks.”
In the case of such young vehicles, all damage is rectified, returning each vehicle to mint condition before it leaves the Newark yard.
The price difference isn’t that great. Basically, you’re getting a small discount on new, based on losing six-months’ worth of the initial R&M – so we wonder what the attraction is.
“If you order a new tractor you’ll wait eight months, whereas you can have that one now. It’s literally ready to go.” Russell Barnes, sales boss, Keltruck Newark
Actually, it’s already gone – the recent batch sold within 17 days of being withdrawn from service. “One of them has gone to a container driver with three vehicles – I’d already sold him a 67-plate and I’ve just sold him an 18-plate,” says Barnes. “He used to run a different marque and reckons the fuel economy improvement and saving in AdBlue usage is basically going to pay for another one.”
At Newark they can repaint, rewire, refit and generally titivate any choice of used truck. Lightbars, microwaves, tail-lifts and wet kits are no problem, although the latter will be fitted by Keltruck’s specialist division at Willenhall. They also check everything before sale, and deliver vehicles to new owners valeted and washed down, with a three-month driveline warranty for those that have reached the end of their initial manufacturer’s R&M deals. And if you want another three identical motors to go with your new acquisition, it will do its best to facilitate that as well.
This is the first chance we’ve had to play in a used new generation Scania, so we’re looking forward to it. Hopping into the cab of the R450, the difference is obvious. This example boasts a premium dash, with built-in satnav and digital dials for rpm and speed. The whole thing has a smooth look and feel, with flat buttons rather than switches for the various auxiliaries. Overall, the impression is of a far classier vehicle than a 44-tonne truck.
Barnes gives a quick rundown of the more immediately useful controls – he does actually know what is immediately useful, unlike some who’ve taken great care over showing us the diff lock on a distribution rigid, for example, while we’ve sat and forgotten where the wipers are – and within a refreshingly short time we’re away.
Our trailer is an empty tanker so there’s no point hunting for hills. Instead we opt for a circular route taking us out of Newark via the ring road and A46, east across the A52 to Grantham then back up the A1. As ever, to start with we drive in the manner of the lowest common denominator, pointing the thing in vaguely the right direction and planting our right foot. Nothing very interesting happens. The 13-litre engine simply pulls away and drives. No over-revving, no loss of traction as we pull out onto the first roundabout despite being empty with a shallow-pinned trailer, no snatching of the brakes, nothing. We do pull up a little sharply to start with, but that’s because we knock the exhaust brake on instead of indicating right. Suffice to say it works very well, even at low revs.
Make/model: Scania R450 6x2/2NA
Engine: Scania DC13 148/450hp Euro-6
Transmission: Scania Opticruise GRS905 12-speed AMT
Chassis: 4,050mm wheelbase 6x2 mid-lift pusher axle, with air suspension on rear bogie
Cab: CR, roof height H (high), twin bunks
Tyres: 315/70 R22.5
Fuel tank: 540 litres
Price: On application
One thing we can’t help noticing is that the cab appears to be leaning forward. It takes a while to put our finger on what feels unusual, but once we think we’ve worked it out we confirm our observation with Barnes, who immediately knows what’s happening. We have the mid-lift up, and because there’s no real weight over the fifth wheel the lift in the suspension needed to avoid it knocking on the floor on speed-bumps is more obvious than we’re used to – we normally pull fully freighted test trailers.
Making a little more effort to work with the technology, we play with the revs and find this latest incarnation of Opticruise far more amenable to subtle instruction through the throttle than previous models, although – as Barnes reminds us – this is a “learning” gearbox that adapts to how it is driven. He always resets these when they come into his stock, where other dealers might not.
We flick between Eco, Standard and Power profiles, but without any weight behind us it’s hard to tell the difference – the ECU isn’t chucking around unnecessary power regardless of how hard we try to make it, which is probably why the fuel returns are so good on these trucks. We do find it a little hard to see the green band on the rev counter, replaced as it is by a far less visually intrusive and muted set of lights, but we’re told we can reset it to a more traditional view should we prefer – probably unnecessary given time to get used to the unfamiliar view.
Those specifics aside, our overriding impression is one of complete effortlessness. Empty artics so often feel a bit unstable, but there is none of that with this tractor, which feels sure-footed throughout the drive. The ride is as smooth as the interior fascia, and the 450hp available under firm control no matter how many tricks we try to play on it.
By the end of our short trip we are confirmed new generation Scania fans, and happily declare any driver who moans about being given one of these to be in need of being forced to drive a 1978 Foden for a while. Buy it from Keltruck at Newark, and not only will you effectively get a new vehicle without having to wait for months, you’ll get to meet a very nice bloke along the way.
“You should leave here happy, whether you’ve bought a truck or not,” says Barnes. “Customers are people, after all. So we need to just... be human!”
Keltruck has been in business for 35 years and is now Britain’s biggest independent Scania dealer. It has 19 sites across the East and West Midlands and south Wales, 17 of them dealer points. Used vehicles are sold from three sites – Newark, Cross Hands in Wales, and the head office at West Bromwich – although enquiries can be dealt with at any location.
It was founded in 1983 by Chris Kelly, who remains the company’s largest individual shareholder, while his son, Chris D Kelly, is chairman. The Newark depot became part of Keltruck when it acquired East Midland Commercials in 2004, and has recently undergone an extensive upgrade and refurbishment to provide new offices and customer facilities, including the reintroduction of dedicated used sales.
Mercedes-Benz Unimog: used buying guide
All Unimogs might look alike but each one is individual and, as CM found out, one Unimog can do the work of two vehicles.
The Mercedes-Benz Unimog is a unique concept. Designed in the 1940s and aimed at Germany’s struggling post-war agricultural sector, the original Universal MotorGerät was a truck and tractor hybrid aimed at enabling farmers to work more efficiently on and off-road. Today’s Unimog comes in two variants, the original UGE implement carrier and transport vehicle, and the more extreme UHE designed for disaster relief work and other activities where the ability to reach otherwise inaccessible areas is vital.
It’s the UGE CM is interested in, but any thoughts that we’ll be dealing with a single model are soon shattered when we arrive at Rygor Mercedes-Benz’s Westbury dealership. For a start, the man we’re meeting isn’t a used or new sales manager, he’s a specialist Unimog sales manager. Brought into the business last July, there’s nothing Matt Cleave can’t tell you about a vehicle he obviously adores, including that we need to forget everything we think we know about the buying and selling of used examples.
“To find a specific nearly-new used UGE would be quite tricky. You’d have to go very far afield to find the right one. Everything’s got to fit.” Matt Cleave, Unimog sales manager, Rygor Mercedes-Benz Westbury
Finding the perfect vehicle
This is the thing with Unimogs. Put any two side by side and, to the untrained eye, they look pretty similar. In reality, each will have been very carefully specced to do a particular job, and the options list is bewildering. You can have front and rear engine PTOs, hydraulic systems and transmission PTOs. You can pump, you can mow, you can carry and deploy platform or boom lifts. You can grit and plough snow in winter, then switch implements and use the same truck to mow verges and clear drains in summer.
Crucially, though, you have to get the right kit fitted in the first place, because retro-fitting this stuff is not cost effective. Because of this, Cleave doesn’t look to sell used Unimogs, he looks for the right people instead. By the same token, he advises customers not to come looking for a new or used vehicle at all, but rather for the right vehicle.
“With the financing and contract lease hire available, it’s just as cost effective to buy new.” Matt Cleave, Unimog sales manager, Rygor Mercedes-Benz Westbury
However, if you can find the perfect fit, going used is still a sensible option. Our test vehicle is a 2017-plate ex-demonstrator, priced at £129,950. “From a dealer’s point of view it would have cost £160,000 to £170,000 new, so there is a saving, but they also hold their money well,” says Cleave.
The other thing to bear in mind is that Unimogs don’t just go on for years, they keep working for decades. “The oldest one for me recently was 2008,” says Cleave, “but there are plenty of independents out there selling older vehicles.”
He agrees that it’s by no means unusual or unreasonable for operators to buy trucks that are 20-plus years old with complete confidence, and it is still possible to buy genuine parts for them straight off the shelf.
- Headlamp: £150 each (either side)
- Oil filter: £15.20
- Air filter: £141
- Front bumper: £854
- Rear mud wing: £132 each (either side)
- Windscreen: £440
- Turbo: £983
Many of the used Unimogs Cleave does sell are trucks originally bought through Rygor, and they often find new homes with companies in the same line of business. This is especially true in sectors such as construction which work to tender, and where vehicles are brought in to fulfil a specific role for a specific amount of time or contract – the dealer knows when to expect them back, and can plan in advance where they might potentially be resold.
It’s a point of principle, however, that Cleave won’t sell on a vehicle that is almost right, it has to truly fit the bill. “I was trying to sell one just the other day but it just wasn’t quite right for the customer,” he says. “It got very close, but just didn’t tick that final box for him, so we pointed him to one with another used dealer instead.”
This illustrates the integrity fostered across Rygor as a whole: Unimog is not a numbers game for it.
Rygor’s new UGE demonstrator will arrive in March, so our test vehicle, a 2017 Unimog U530, is on the market now and shouldn’t hang around for long; three or four potential customers have already expressed an interest.
“If there were loads like this one, with a lot of agricultural spec on there – mechanical front and rear PTOs – they’d fly off the shelf, It’s ideal for contractors and farmers, for example.” Matt Cleave, Unimog sales manager, Rygor Mercedes-Benz Westbury
Boasting a 7.7-litre Euro-6 engine, giving us 299hp, and a fully-synchronised automatic gearbox with 8 forward and 6 reverse gears, this truck has a GVW of 12,700kg and a train weight of up to 16,500kg depending on what kind of trailer coupling is in use, though some Unimogs can go up to a full 40 tonnes.
Before we set off, Cleave gives us a quick guided tour of some of the truck’s toys. As well as those PTOs, optional equipment includes front- and rear-view camera systems, the latter mounted magnetically so it can easily be moved to the optimum position for the work being done, two-line trailer brakes with ABS, a load-sensing hydraulic system and a Central Tyre Inflation System which changes the pressures to suit the terrain via the dashboard computer.
It is also fitted with VarioPilot, which lets the operator switch from right – to left-hand drive and back again, ideal for roles such as motorway verge work, giving improved visibility for the task in hand regardless of which side of the truck it is carried out.
- Make/model: Mercedes-Benz Unimog U530
- Engine: Bluetec 6 OM936, 7.7-litre,
- Power: 299hp
- Torque: 750Nm
- Transmission: Fully synchronised auto, 8 forward and 6 reverse gears
- Chassis: 3,350mm wheelbase 4x4, coil spring suspension with long spring travel
- Tyres: Michelin XM47 445/70 R24
- Fuel/AdBlue tank: 250/16 litres
- Price: £129,950
This Unimog is fitted with Michelin XM47 agricultural tyres which, combined with the coil spring suspension, means our first few miles are an interesting ride. Chuck in all-wheel-drive and the illusion of instability means we’re distinctly nervous to begin with, but Cleave assures us this thing is a lot more sure-footed than it feels. The engine is mid-mounted and the centre of gravity low down, after all, it’s only the lightweight fibre-composite cab that is perched up high.
By the time we’ve crossed Westbury and hit the A36 Warminster bypass we’ve discovered that the secret to feeling comfortable in a Unimog is to treat it roughly. This thing goes best when you boot it, and it is surprisingly nippy, right up until the moment it tries to launch us through the windscreen because we’ve hit the other pedal. “Yeah, the brakes are a bit snatchy,” says Cleave. After that we take his advice and use the three-stage engine brake, something else that is far more effective than we expect.
Off road test
Having finally calmed down, we chat about who is using these vehicles from a haulage perspective, and why.
It has long been a bone of contention among rural hauliers that farmers have been allowed to run down the road in fast tractors, undercutting the usual rates, all with no O-licence and no need to put their vehicles through any kind of roadworthiness testing. This changed early last year and now only vehicles that don’t travel more than 15 miles from their farm base can continue to operate under those terms. Sadly it’s not as comprehensive a solution as it sounds. “You’ll find the big farm companies have a farm in one place, then another 15 miles down the road and another 15 miles on again,” says Cleave, “so they can cover a huge area and still be in range from base.”
Where Unimog comes into its own is for produce like maize digestate, grain, potatoes and sugar beet haulage.
“Although it can be agriculturally registered, it can also be brought under a six-weekly inspection regime very easily if needs be. Plus, operators can potentially gain the benefits of speed and fuel savings.” Matt Cleave, Unimog sales manager, Rygor Mercedes-Benz Westbury
The real key is that one Unimog can do the work of two other vehicles, purely because it can go on- and off-road. “It can go into the field, load up, turn around in the mud where a conventional truck would just get stuck, then go back out on the road and do 56mph again.” No need for a tractor, no time wasted switching the load or trailer between vehicles, fewer man hours used and less capital outlay in the first place. It’s a compelling picture, and one that could give those rural hauliers a real foot in the door to fighting back, by enabling them to cover that crucial first element of the journey directly.
By this time we’re well on our way across Salisbury Plain, one of the biggest army training areas in the country, and surely the best place to take our Unimog off-road. We have a two-part mission in mind, the first on a muckaway back-fill site near the village of Chideock. Having been advised by the resident bulldozer driver which bits he doesn’t want us to plough up, we set out across what is best described as a large field of lightly raked mud, fully expecting to have to deploy both diff-locks, and possibly the cross-locks, within a very short space of time. We’re disappointed because we don’t need them, our UGE behaves for all the world like we’re romping about in a supermarket car park.
We try faster, we try slower, we try driving onto the really soft bits, stopping, slinging the steering round to full lock then flooring it, and the only reaction we get is one of Cleave’s best smug grins.
Finally, and with more than a little encouragement from our photographer, we drive up the side of a bank next to the entrance track and point the thing windscreen-first at the floor on the other side. Suffice to say we bottle it before the Unimog does, Cleave simply talks us calmly through what now seems like a truly dangerous idea, crooning “go on, it’ll be fine” as we shout various terrified expletives and wonder how the hell we haven’t put it on its side by now.
The second half of our route is supposed to take us across the training area itself using various public green lanes and byways. However, a raft of red flags, warns that live firing by the army is in progress, so access is denied.
Not to be beaten we continue round the edge of the Plain until we finally find a track that appears to be open. The first clue that perhaps we aren’t supposed to be here is when an armoured personnel carrier roars past. The second is when it’s closely followed by a full-scale tank, complete with machine gun. Pointed at us.
Then the smoke bombs start going off, more tanks come rumbling into view and an entire platoon of fully camouflaged squaddies appears out of the bushes, at which point we decide to abandon this part of the test and head back to Rygor HQ for coffee. As we do so, we note that the Unimog handled so well we didn’t have to stop and think about how to drive it while traversing an unexpected war zone.
Without doubt, Unimog is great fun, but it’s also a very serious tool. As for buying used, be prepared to have an open mind and research what kind of vehicle you need very carefully indeed, because you might still be working it in 20 or more years time. Alternatively, talk to Cleave at Rygor, let him show you just what this thing can do.
Mercedes-Benz offers three finance options on all Unimogs sold through its dealerships, used and new.
Rygor Commercials started life as a small family business in 1960, joining Mercedes-Benz as an agent in 1986. It now has 11 sites spread from Chilcompton in Somerset in the west to Heathrow in the east, and claims to be the UK’s largest commercial dealer group. Matt Cleave, Rygor’s Unimog sales manager, is based from home in Basingstoke, and mainly works between the Westbury and Heathrow sites, though he tries to visit all 11 on a regular basis. Unimog demonstrations and sales can be arranged anywhere across the southern region and as far north as Kidderminster and Nuneaton.