Comfort in high capacity

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Coach and bus operators have a diverse number of vehicle options open to them when purchasing new. Richard Sharman takes a look at a vehicle which it’s hoped will fill a large gap in the market that has had minimal options in recent years

The holy grail for many years in mass transport has been a dual-purpose bus that is capable of carrying 100 seated passengers. It was a trend that was started by former Hong Kong tri-axle Leyland Olympians that mostly operated on the Megabus network before filtering down to independents; those vehicles still command a high price on the used market on the rare occasion they become available, despite many being over 30 years old.

In 2009, and for three years after, Volvo was in the 100-seater market with the Optare Olympus. Seating 61 upstairs and 39 downstairs, it was a popular option due to its powerful D9A engine and high-backed seating. As with the former Hong Kong Olympians, these are still sought after but rarely change hands.

High demand

Richard Mann, Sales Manager at Volvo Bus & Coach explained: “We’d had numerous customers ask us over the years if we planned to do a 100-seat double-decker again, so it has always been at the back of our mind. In 2018 our colleagues at Volvo Sweden developed the Volvo B8L chassis for the Hong Kong market, which required a Euro V option. MCV bodied the first example and it attended the Volvo Ocean Race event.

“Given that Hong Kong also uses right-hand-drive chassis, we thought that the B8L could provide the solution we needed for Volvo in the UK to offer a 100-seater double-decker once again.

MCV is a key bodybuilding partner for Volvo, and as they bodied the very first B8L example they were the perfect partner for this project with us in the UK.

“Golden Tours, who took the very first MCV eVoTor coaches, had a requirement for large capacity double-deckers to operate the Harry Potter shuttle service from Central London. The route spends significant time on the motorway, so Golden Tours also required a larger engine; at 350bhp the D8K engine is well suited to not just the city but also the motorway. The company has taken the first eight vehicles for the service.

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“With the B8L being designed for the Hong Kong market, it was originally designed for a maximum speed of 50mph. With further development and testing at our Swedish track however, we managed to get it up to 56mph, which will suit the UK market better in terms of the kind of work we see this vehicle doing.

The eVoSeti cab is ergonomic and roomy. RICHARD SHARMAN

“We believe there is a niche for this particular product, and anticipate sales of 20 to 25 units per year, as it truly is a dual-purpose vehicle that can be used on school contracts, rail replacement, private hire and service work as it meets full PSVAR compliance. Additionally, the fact that a high-capacity air-conditioning system comes as standard will be highly beneficial to our operators’ customers.

“We anticipate the sales price to be in the region of £295,000, which will come complete with a standard two-year MCV warranty and the normal high-standard Volvo backup.”

Comfort and quality build

At 12m long, there is plenty of room to play with and plenty of opportunity to up the vehicle’s specification, as Golden Tours has done by reducing the seating capacity from 92 seats – which is standard for this chassis length – to just 80. This has allowed generous legroom for all passengers, as well as two wheelchair bays and space for tour commentary monitors on all but a few seats in the lower rear section.

As you board the eVoSeti, through the air-powered doors (and over the 350kg-rated wheelchair ramp), you know immediately that this vehicle is something special – it has that high quality, well-designed and sturdy feel about it. The influence of the original Hong Kong design is notable, with centre air ducting and a large vent in the rear saloon for the air-conditioning; this will make the customer confident that they will be travelling in comfort, be it the summer or the winter.

The Denso air-conditioning unit is mounted above the engine compartment and is powerful at 47kW. A non-standard combustion heater unit specified by Golden Tours is mounted on the nearside in front of the drive axle. In the saloon, each seat has its own moveable vent which provides both hot and cold air depending on the operating climate. Opening hopper windows are also provided on each deck to allow ventilation whilst the vehicle is parked up (for example on private hire in the summer whilst laying over between trips). These are lockable to ensure that they don’t compromise the air-conditioning system when in operation.

The lower deck is bright and airy thanks to the light grey wood-effect flooring and Golden Tours specification of orange and blue seats, which have the company logo embroidered into the headrests. The sidewalls are finished in dark blue while the rest of the moulded ABS plastic panels and roof panels are light grey.

The lower deck features some ingenious designs to ensure comfort. For example in the rear lower saloon, the rear tag axle has been designed with two separate wheel arches, and rather than making one large raised section over them on the interior and having sideways mounted seats, MCV has carried those wheel arches into the saloon which allows for four passengers to be comfortably seated facing each other on each side of the vehicle. The back seat on the lower saloon has been designed for two double seats, separated. The nearside seat is mounted on an access panel to allow inspection of the top and rear of the engine, whilst on the offside, the emergency exit area has been kept uncluttered thanks to this seat arrangement. Roof-mounted grab handles have also been added in the lower rear saloon to avoid the fitment of handrails, saving weight.

Moving to the upper deck, via the easy to negotiate glazed straight staircase, the light and airy feeling of the interior is maintained. Headroom is reasonable, but MCV has fitted a recessed cove panel above the top step of the staircase to assist with boarding and alighting. Use of handrails again is minimal; they have only been installed around the staircase and above the destination box housing. Air vents for the Denso air-conditioning and stop buttons are mounted into the roof coving, whilst a large vent to allow distribution of heat or cold air is mounted underneath the rear seats, which are not high backed but do still have three-point seat belts.

Legroom is excellent on both sides of the saloon, including the two seats in front of the staircase, although with the Golden Tours specification only having 79 seats and two wheelchairs, this was to be expected.

The 12m chassis option’s standard specification is 92 seated plus one wheelchair, with 59 of those seats being upstairs. In the maximum 12.8m option, the total number of seated passengers reaches 100 plus one wheelchair, which increases the upper deck capacity to 62.

The standard seat for the eVoSeti on the Volvo B8L chassis is the high-backed Lazzerini Ethos. This seat has been chosen for its lightweight and ultra-slim backrest, which allows additional legroom between seats. The seats do offer a high level of comfort thanks to Lazzerini’s Self Adaptive Ergonomy system. They also benefit from a grab handle on each side, which eliminates the need for handrails throughout the majority of the upper deck, and three-point seatbelts. Volvo and MCV also choose this seat for its environmental credentials; not only does it save fuel due to its light weight, it also has many parts and fabrics which can be recycled on refurbishment or at the end of the vehicle’s life.

Driver’s environment

As with all MCV products, the driver is well catered for in the eVoSeti thanks to its large cab area, which houses a Chapman driver’s seat and storage areas in both the cab door and under the ticket machine area. The Volvo dash binnacle is mounted fairly low down, with the chassis and body controls being mounted to the right of it, with headlights and the ZF gear control unit being to the left. The CCTV monitor, Mobitec ICU402 destination controller, Denso air-conditioning unit controller and Pedro Sanz Clima demister unit controls are all mounted above the driver’s head, within easy reach. Golden Tours specified Volvo’s Alcoloc system, for which the control unit is mounted on the cab window pillar to the rear. The Volvo digital tacho unit is located underneath the ticket machine area.

A public announcement microphone is located above the cab window and this is connected to six Bosch speakers throughout the upper and lower saloon. A Bosch entertainment unit can also be specified, Volvo and MCV has also confirmed to CBW that operators will be able to add locking entry doors and emergency exit as on option. This will allow the driver to secure the eVoSeti when on private hires and left in coach parks etc.

Out on the road

The eVoSeti, in tri-axle form, is an imposing beast from the outside, but once sat in the comfy Chapman driver’s seat with the Ashtree mirror arms and Unitruck mirrors correctly adjusted to my liking, it doesn’t feel imposing to drive. 12m is pretty much the standard vehicle length for both coaches and single-deck buses these days.

The Volvo B8L chassis is fitted with the D8K inline six-cylinder 7.7-litre engine with an overhead camshaft and four valves per cylinder. It comes with three power options, with the highest of 350bhp being chosen for this combination. The engine is started by the turn of a key, rather than a button, and is quiet on tickover thanks to the crankshaft and camshaft being fitted with hydraulic vibration dampers, and fuel pre-injection used to further dampen noise on idle.

Departing the Volvo Bus & Coach sales centre in Coventry, with Sales Manager Richard Mann and Retail Sales Manager Dave Porter aboard, offered a good chance to try out the Volvo electronic assisted steering. On the first few roundabouts I was expecting the eVoSeti to feel quite weighty, but it was fine – there was no body roll even when combined with additional acceleration. The vehicle sits on grippy Bridgestone U-AP 001 275/70R22.5 tyres, although later production models will be on 305s.

The 7.7-litre engine drives through a ZF six-speed gearbox. With 350bhp on tap, the eVoSeti was quick to accelerate to top gear as we joined the A46. There didn’t seem to be any kickdown available, but it didn’t appear to be needed as the Volvo/ZF combination has plenty of power and changed gear appropriately. The vehicle used for the test was limited to 50mph but was due to have that increased to 56mph, which will be the maximum speed for this combination. At 50mph the D8K engine was sat just outside of the green band on the rev counter, but the use of the turbo was fairly minimal on the gauge. The brakes on the B8L are very smooth in operation, and you get used to them quickly.

With the eVoSeti having a fixed rear axle, I was keen to get it into some tight situations to see how it handled them, so we headed for Stratford-upon-Avon – although this was not to be a repeat of the eVoTor test. Now that some of the streets around the town centre had been reopened, it offered an opportunity to go around the tighter areas of the town I was unable to use on the last test.

Arriving in Stratford-upon-Avon, it was time to test the manoeuvrability of the B8L chassis. The open-top tour route around the town section of the tour is more used to 10m double-deckers, as opposed to a 12m. Although, to be honest, the B8L is very much like driving a 10m two-axle chassis – you easily get used to the extra length of the vehicle.

Having travelled up Bridge Street and Wood Street, it was an easy turn into Rother Street where from here on the route becomes tighter. A sharp left turn into Chestnut Walk does mean going over to the right slightly to get around, but the advantage of the B8L chassis is that it seems to have limitless steering lock. So despite the extra length and a fixed rear axle, that additional steering lock does make a huge difference, as I found with a tight right hand turn into Chapel Lane, a narrow road that runs alongside the gardens of New Place. This road has car parking spaces on the left and an annoyingly placed pay and display machine on the right, but the manoeuvrability of the B8L and the good all-round vision from the MCV body made it an easy task.

The test drive continued around the town with ease, and the stability and steering lock was put to the test further on the Evesham Place roundabout; the electronically assisted steering certainly makes a difference when driving around town or negotiating sharp turns.

The final test for the B8L was the long climb out of Stratford-upon-Avon on the A46 towards Coventry. The D8K engine coupled to the 6-speed ZF gearbox pulled the 15,040kg eVoSeti with ease up the hill, and it was riding on the limiter fairly quickly. It should also be noted that the Denso air-conditioning was turned on for the whole test and I didn’t have any noticeable effect on the power of the engine.

Overall impressions

Retailing at under the £300,000 mark, the MCV eVoSeti-bodied Volvo B8L represents good value for money when you consider that it can fulfil service work, school contracts, school hires, private hire and rail replacement.

Build quality is excellent – the interior was silent throughout the test drive – and it should also hold good value when it comes to moving it on if the market for the older high-capacity Volvo B7Ls is anything to go by.

This vehicle is available to view at the Volvo Bus & Coach Centre, Coventry until Friday 23 October, operators are recommended to ring Richard Mann, Sales Manager on 07714 563271 in advance so that social distancing can be managed.

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