Hyper Drive

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Harris Auto continues to use innovation to bring new vehicles to the UK and Ireland market, and the new range of AOS coaches is the next step in the evolution of its strategy to offer coach and bus operators new options. Richard Sharman test drives the AOS Visigo Hyper to find out what makes it stand out in the crowded midicoach sector

The air-conditioning pod has been blended in with the roof line, which gives the vehicle the look of a much taller coach. RICHARD SHARMAN

The first time I saw the AOS Visigo Hyper was at the IAA Commercial Vehicle show in Hannover back in September. Export Region Sales Supervisor Murat Dedeogui showed me around the left-hand drive vehicle that was on display. At that point, the first right hand drive prototype had already been made and was undergoing interior design. [wlm_nonmember][…]

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A trip over to Harris Auto’s impressive and vast site on the Naas Road in Dublin was arranged to take a closer look at the Visigo and find out how it performs on the open road. On arrival at the site, I was greeted by Harris Auto’s Operations Manager, Pat Curran. Also on site was General Manager, Chris Haughton. I could tell that both Chris and Pat were very proud to show me what Harris Auto had achieved in the development of the Visigo Hyper, and indeed future vehicles from the AOS range coming to the UK and Ireland next year.

The cab area of the Visigo Hyper is ergonomic, which enhances the driving experience. RICHARD SHARMAN

First impressions

It was a bitter day in Dublin, with temperatures in low single figures and a wind chill factor that made it feel like -2°C. The Visigo Hyper had therefore been parked in the unit that adjoins Harris Auto’s new vehicle showroom which is nearing completion. Approaching the Visigo Hyper I realised that the engine was already running to heat the vehicle up, but I was taken aback by just how whisper quiet the Darlington-built Cummins ISB6.7 Euro VI engine is. There are certain features that make the Visigo Hyper immediately stand out, from the light-up red Visigo badge on the rear of the vehicle between the boot lid and rear window to the glazed area over the drivers’ cab and entry area.

Exterior styling and design

When the Visigo Hyper was moved outside for interior and exterior photographs to be taken, it was the first time I had chance to see it somewhere other than a show display stand. I must say that I was impressed with it. There are plenty of additional nice touches all around the vehicle which gives it an edge over other vehicles of a similar size in this market.

For me, the glass roof over the cab and entry area is a good feature. It’s not visible if you are standing close to the vehicle, making it a pleasant surprise for the passengers when they board the vehicle. The roof line then continues at the same rake as the glass, allowing for the air-conditioning system to fit in with the styling, before lowering down slightly towards the rear of the vehicle. This also allows the vehicle to have a better drag coefficient which leads on to better fuel economy. The roof line is completed with a slight curved raise over the last rear side window, which also features a nicely designed spoiler incorporating the top rear marker lights and a reversing camera in the centre.

The interior of the Visigo Hyper is very welcoming and has a high quality feel. RICHARD SHARMAN

To the rear of the vehicle, the window is curved to meet the roof line and is slightly recessed between the rear pillars either side, which will help keep it cleaner on a wet day. Two things that give the Visigo Hyper a taller, large coach look from the rear are the spoiler area above the window and the light cluster which is spread out and extends almost the length of the boot lid. The light cluster is made up of four round LED units on each side, but also built into the four silver unit surrounds is a small round marker light which makes the Visigo Hyper very visible on the road at night, particularly when coupled with the illuminated Visigo badge.

The bumper consists of two reflectors, four reversing sensors and a recessed area for the number plate. The large boot lid is supported by four gas struts, and lifts up to reveal good access to the engine bay. There is more than enough space for an engineer to work on the engine, change/top up fluids or change a belt easily, as they are all directly in front of you at an ideal height. The boot lid also features two vents to keep the Euro VI Cummins cool.

Moving to the sides of the Visigo Hyper, there are four luggage locker doors, with those to the near-side operated by air. A total luggage capacity of 5.5 cubic metres is available. The storage area is completely flat with no intrusions and is big enough for 39 cases – one per passenger with some leeway. The off-side rear powered continental door also acts as an emergency exit and is neatly placed ahead of the engine radiator and the rear row of seats with three wide, shallow steps. Also on the off-side corner behind and slightly higher than the radiator grille is the emergency engine stop button. All the lower panels of the vehicle are slightly curved, which assists in keeping the Visigo Hyper cleaner during the winter months as it helps deflect road spray away from the sides and windows.

The tyres fitted to the Visigo Hyper are Pirelli 265/70 R 19.5, which look quite small when looking at the side profile of the vehicle. The fuel filler area behind the cab window does stand out quite a bit on the white livery and I feel that this could have been made to fit flush with the bodywork, but having said that, it will not stand out so much on a darker livery. The main feature on the side profile is the asymmetric window on either side just behind the first window. It really adds a touch of class to the design and is highlighted with chrome-look trim and a Visigo badge.

The front of the Visigo Hyper is modern and has many styling touches built in. Each indicator, headlight and main beam light unit is slightly recessed and has a chrome effect trim around it, which is a nice touch. Five bright LED daytime running lights are located on each side followed by the front fog lights.

The Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) sensor has been mounted just above the AOS badge and on this pre-production model is white to match the paint work. This area is ideally suited to display the operator name and I feel it would have been better placed slightly lower between the headlights, with the AOS badge moved just above the number plate. The windscreen is only very slightly raked back towards the roof line.

Looking underneath the Visigo Hyper from the back of the vehicle you can see a number of protective metal engine trays have been fitted. This protects the engine and components from road dirt and the elements during winter.

Interior features and comfort

The chassis and engine are well protected by a number of metal engine trays. RICHARD SHARMAN

The Visigo Hyper has an inviting entry area, with the plug door opening to reveal a passenger entry handle on the right and another built into the dash on the left. Boarding the Visigo Hyper is made easy by two shallow steps with chrome trim edging and non-slip edging inserts. The glass roof above the cab and entry area really does give the vehicle an airy and welcoming feel. There is also a display bar mounted between the roof window and the windscreen incorporating a clock, temperature, number of seats free, seatbelt symbol and the Visigo name.

A drinks machine is mounted in the entry area next to the courier seat, with a fridge built into the top of the dash opposite. This makes it quicker and easier for the courier to serve passengers.
I found that the interior of the Visigo Hyper was well put together; any plastics that had been used were of high quality.

The flooring in the saloon is high quality wood effect, with the gangway fitted with hardwearing carpet. The Siega seats feature three-point seatbelts, armrests, footrests, folding tables, magazine nets and can recline. All seats have illuminated USB ports fitted. But the Siega seat’s party trick is that at a touch of a button you can adjust the seat base to allow for extra room in terms of width, and this is a feature on all the seats apart from the three at the rear. The rear seats are mounted high up above the engine and are reached by two shallow steps which are next to the saloon floor-level toilet cubicle.

The digital display used to show temperature, mileage and gear is of high quality. RICHARD SHARMAN

A kitchen unit is also another optional feature on the Visigo Hyper, which was shown on the left-hand drive version at IAA. For operators who are not looking for the full high capacity 39-seater option, the kitchen and toilet units make sense.

Pat Curran from Harris Auto told me that a few changes will be made for the production model at the rear of the vehicle. For example, at present the toilet door awkwardly opens towards the front of the vehicle. This will be changed to open towards the rear seats. Also to be changed is the hand rail unit that sits in front of the three rear seats, which will have a privacy screen fitted.

I have already mentioned the rear powered continental/emergency exit door. On the inside it is fitted with a plastic panel rather than being soft trimmed, which means it can be wiped clean after being open to the elements.

The overhead passenger service units are simple but well designed and feature 10 LED lights per unit. Lighting is provided in LED strip form along each side of the overhead luggage racks, which can operate in bright white or electric blue. Night time lighting is also provided in the supports for the overhead luggage racks. Full draw curtains are fitted to all windows. A digital air-conditioner rated at 24.4kw is fitted as standard.

The rear seats are mounted fairly high above the main saloon. There is an option of having a kitchen unit in this area on a lower seated variant. RICHARD SHARMAN

Engine and gearbox

Harris Auto and AOS have fitted the tried and tested Cummins ISB6.7E6C320B Euro VI engine with 320hp. Built in its Darlington plant, the ISB6.7 delivers a peak torque of 1,200Nm and has ample power for the Visigo Hyper.

The Cummins power plant is coupled to the ZF EcoLife 6AP1200 fully automatic gearbox, which together offer excellent fuel economy and passenger comfort.

The driving environment

Getting comfortable in the cab of the Visigo Hyper is easy as it has been designed with the driver in mind. Vision is excellent, with the deep entry door glazing providing a clear view to the nearside. The driver benefits from having a good sized electric window with a blind. Looking ahead through the windscreen offers a good view of the road ahead due to the A-pillars not being too thick as to impair vision. Another driver benefit is having a blind spot mirror mounted low down next to the cab window. Standard mirrors on arms are mounted to the A-pillar towards the top of the windscreen and offer a good view of the sides of the Visigo Hyper. They are also electrically adjustable and heated. An electrically-operated sunblind can cover the roof window in the driver’s cab, helping to prevent it from heating up in the summer months.

The 6.7 litre Cummins engine is easily accessible for daily checks and servicing. RICHARD SHARMAN

Under the cab window there is a good array of switches which include TV master switch, cruise control, electric cab window, retarder and Advanced Emergency Braking System (AEBS). This area also includes the handbrake, electric mirror control, twin USB port and a cigarette lighter, handy for plugging in a sat-nav.

The next bank of switches to the right of the steering wheel includes the interior lighting, front fog light, heated mirrors, electric sunblinds and the retarder stalk.

Switches to the right include front and continental door operation, along with hazard lights. The ZF gear selector features first, second and third gear buttons in addition to the normal drive, neutral and reverse. This allows the driver to hold gears in icy conditions, for example. The warning panel, DAB radio and CCTV screen are also located on this side.

The CCTV in this vehicle had four cameras covering the interior, but another four can be specified for the exterior of the vehicle. At a slightly lower level of the dash are the Digicard holder and heating, air-conditioning and demister controls.

One feature I really liked about the Visigo Hyper was the layout of the dash binnacle. The speedometer takes prominence and can be set by the driver to display mph or km/h. It also features a fuel gauge and rev counter to the left and the two air tanks to the right. A blue lit ultra-clear digital display tells you the mileage, gear, and the interior-exterior temperature. Switchgear for all switches are of high quality and easy to identify.

Out on the road

Having had a good look over the interior and exterior of the Visigo Hyper, it was time to take it out on to the streets of Dublin. Accompanied by Pat and Rory from Harris Auto, we left the site through the security barrier and straight out onto the busy Naas Road just as rush hour on a Monday was starting. The first thing I noticed about driving the Visigo Hyper is that I felt comfortable and confident that the vehicle has the performance to accelerate when I need to. There is no delay.

Some Euro VI vehicles I have driven have a slight delay to pulling away, but pulling up at the first roundabout and with the rush hour traffic increasing I knew that the Visigo Hyper was capable of setting off without hesitation.

I mentioned earlier in this article that the Visigo Hyper has small wheels, but I didn’t find that they affected the drive or comfort. Steering was accurate and smooth as I navigated the outskirts of Dublin. The few roundabouts that I did encounter I tried to take with some speed to see if any body roll was evident, but the Visgo Hyper remained stable and the steering sharp.

Heading out to the motorway, the Visigo Hyper proved a pleasure to drive, with the Cummins and ZF combination a perfect match. The gear change is seamless at lower speeds and out on the motorway it rapidly reaches the limiter.

The side profile of the Visigo Hyper shows the locker area and the rear continental door/emergency exit arrangement. RICHARD SHARMAN

There was no wind noise from the cab window or the door rubbers and no movement from any of the interior fittings. Even on the limiter the Cummins engine is very quiet in operation.

We encountered some traffic while heading towards Rathcoole on the N7. The brakes were responsive yet smooth in operation. I also had the chance to try out the retarder, which is on a stalk to the right of the steering wheel. It was smooth and effective in operation and the stalk is placed in just the right position. As the traffic lightened, I had chance to use the kick down for overtaking a JCB. As is standard with a ZF, the Visigo Hyper accelerated smoothly but quickly to allow for a safe overtake.

Coming off the N7 and turning at Johnstown to head back to towards Harris Auto, the vehicle had heated up nicely. By the this time it was also getting quite dark, but the headlights proved very effective and there was minimal glare on the windscreen from the interior lighting when on full. Arriving back at Harris Auto I was suitably impressed with the Visigo Hyper.

Options and aftersales

The Visigo Hyper is a versatile vehicle. It comes as standard with 35+courier+driver but there are options for 37 and 39 seaters+courier+driver. Harris Auto will be stocking all spares on the shelf as it has done with the Higer Super 9. The comprehensive UK dealer network comprises John Hill Coach Sales in Melton Mowbray and RWT Commercial Services in Stourbridge, in Northern Ireland HAJ Repairs in Co, Londonderry, Donegal Automotive Services in the northwest of the Republic of Ireland and in Scotland, Albion Coach Sales in Clackmannanshire.