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Continuing our series looking at used PSVAR coach options, Richard Sharman considers the options for buyers looking for a Caetano Levante.

Love them or hate them, the Caetano Levante is one of the most common sights on the UK motorway network, thanks to its use on National Express diagrams. However, as newer coaches are introduced onto the network, coaches are returned off-lease and sold on to a growing number of coach operators.

Ticking all the boxes

The Caetano Levante has a lot going for it, and when the rush for Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR)-compliant vehicles started there was an immediate surge of operators looking to purchase one. In many cases, the prices of high mileage examples doubled overnight due to the demand.
The reason for that demand is that this is a coach that ticks all the boxes: LED destination displays, wheelchair lift at the front of the coach rather than in the side, well-specified and comfortable interior and styling that has remained consistent between the first incarnation and the second. That means that an early 56-plate example with a decent paint job can still look just as modern as a 19-plate example. This has huge benefits for coach operators who want a modern looking fleet.


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Two variants, one standard

Caetano has now built over 1,000 Levante coaches since 2006, over three different variations of the body, but the variant we are looking at in this feature is the tri-axle Levante 2 model. One is based on the Scania K410EB6 and was new to Travel de Courcey in March 2017, whilst the other example is a Volvo B11R new to Selwyns in May 2016. Both vehicles have been used on National Express diagrams, so although both have clocked up considerable mileage, the majority of it has been purely on the motorway network.
Both chassis options on the Levante 2 have been built to the same interior specification. Entry into the Levante 2 is through the large Masats plug door, and thanks to the front wheelchair lift installed within the bottom step passengers are greeted with a spacious boarding area. This does give an air of space and luxury as you board.
Once in the saloon, the Levante 2 has all the attributes of a luxury coach. The Fainsa Gala seating has improved the look of the interior in comparison to the original model, where the seats looked much lower down, not helped by the high overhead luggage racks.

The Fainsa seats are large in comparison, with plenty of room for passengers to enjoy a long journey. They are fitted with three-point seatbelts and power points. The theatre-style seating is not so obvious on this model in comparison to the original.

Passenger service units consist of two small air vents and LED reading lights, with a blue LED accent light that remains on when the rack lights are turned on.
At 3.70m high and 2.55m wide, even the tallest of passengers can stand up straight in the saloon, making boarding and disembarking or walking to the large nearside rear saloon level mounted toilet easier.

Large saloon windows, two roof vents, and light coloured trim to the curtains, luggage racks and roof play off well against the dark leather seats and wood effect flooring.
The Levante 2 can comfortably seat 56 passengers, or 54 when one wheelchair is in position.
Despite a mileage of between 600,000-800,000km, both examples showed little sign of wear on the interior trim or seats, on coaches that are now between four and five years old.
Unless you are familiar with the Levante, you may not realise that one quirky feature it has is that the controls for the Eberspächer air-conditioning and saloon heating are mounted in the first overhead locker on the driver’s side.

Wheelchair access is via the Hidral Gobel automatic platform, which is fully automated, with the driver only having to manually open the bridge plate once the lift is fully deployed into the saloon. The control unit is mounted on the B-pillar of the nearside, with the flexibility to take it out of the cradle. This solution is quick in operation and practical.

Styling that’s stood the test of time

For the operator that wants to impress the customer, I think the Levante 2 does that job well. The frontal styling of the Levante 2 is distinctive, with its raked-back front, the centrepiece being the large silver-look panel, and a recessed lower panel which combines the DRLs (Daytime Running Lights), front fog lights and LED lighting. The dark grey roof extends the length of the vehicle. It is also worth noting that the height of the centre of the roofline increases allowing for the extra saloon height when standing up. Black cantrails run the length of each side of the vehicle to increase airflow.

The side of the Levante 2 is quite practical and easy to clean, whilst flared wheel arches assist in reducing road spray. Both vehicles have the engine’s radiator mounted to the nearside rear of the coach, so as long as a regular jet wash clean is done, road debris being sucked in shouldn’t be an issue.

Two large air-powered locker doors are fitted to the nearside, with a rather informative voice telling passengers to stand clear of them when in operation. The offside features three smaller manually-operated locker doors, whilst a fuel filler is situated on both sides of the vehicle in front of the rear axles of the Volvo. The Adblue filler is behind the rear axles. On the Scania, the fuel filler can be found next to the front axle, on both sides, and the Adblue filler in front of the rear axles on the nearside.

The Levante 2 emergency exit door has aluminium tread plate steps that unfold as you open the door, allowing passengers a safe exit in an emergency.

Moving to the rear of the vehicle you will notice that the top section of the rear follows the curve of the rear window from the roofline to curve into the boot lid crease and then back out again to accommodate the engine. This allows additional space in the saloon and toilet cubicle, as well as letting air circulate in the engine bay.

Access to the engine compartment is good, with a gas strut-fitted boot lid and a lower access panel fitted between the two corner panels.

A large ventilation grille is fitted above the boot lid to ensure the engine is kept cool. Additional safety features at the rear include a reversing camera and sensors along with an Innovative Safety Systems cyclist audio and visual warning system fitted to the nearside of the vehicle.

Driver’s environment

The cab is much larger than on a standard coach due to the wheelchair lift being at the front of the vehicle. An A-pillar-mounted CCTV screen displays images from the substantial metal encased Synectics’ T1600 16-channel analogue DVR, which is located next to the Eberspächer controls in the overhead locker.
The Volvo version that was tested also included the clever Brigade Backeye 360 safety system that uses 4 cameras located around the vehicle to display a 360-degree image on a monitor in the cab to remove blind spots.

Both versions have near-identical dash layouts, with all the body controls easily accessed to the left and the chassis and engine functions around and to the right of the dash binnacle.
One thing that I would change is the Pedro Sanz demister unit, which is mounted to the far left of the dashboard, with the Hanover destination controls being closer, it would be more practical the other way around.

In terms of driver ventilation, there are two in-dash vents and a large powered and heated drivers window. The driver’s air-conditioning is independent of the Eberspächer unit for the saloon. The driver also benefits from powered sunblinds.

At home on the motorway

First up for the test drive was the Volvo B11R with I-Shift gearbox, a combination that I have driven on many occasions, but with 67,849km on the clock, how would this example perform?
Settling into the ISRI driver’s seat and belting up it was time to hit the road. The first thing that strikes you sat behind the wheel, other than the larger than standard Volvo steering wheel, is that all-around vision is excellent. The A-pillar is not intrusive, and both the cab window and the glazing on the Masats door slope down towards the front of the vehicle.
The I-Shift gearbox controller is mounted under the cab window, with the handbrake not far behind it. Both are well-positioned, as long as the cab window is not left open to the elements when the vehicle is unattended!

One fact that you may not be aware of is that the Volvo is slightly longer than the Scania at 14.90m. Both feature a steering rear axle.
This was my first drive of a Levante 2, and departing the yard for the M40 I was surprised by just how manoeuvrable it was, although it certainly doesn’t feel like you are driving a coach that is nearly 15m long.

Accelerating onto the slip road off the A40 to join the M40 London-bound I was that surprised by how quickly it gained speed, and I was soon on the limiter.
It was quite a windy day, but the B11R was glued to the road thanks to the Goodyear KMAX S tyres. There was some wind noise emanating from the cab window and door seals, but nothing excessive.
Overtaking HGVs was easily achieved and the I-Shift responded quickly to kick down requests. From what I could tell from the driver’s seat, there were few very rattles from the interior.
Returning to the yard via the A40, I found that the steering was sharp and braking progressive. I returned to the yard impressed with my steed for the last hour.
The next drive would be one of 13 Scania examples currently in stock at the Bus & Coach Centre, Oxford.

This example had over 800,000km on the clock but was a year younger than the Volvo. This combination is fitted with Scania’s Opticruise gearbox, with the gear selector fitted to the steering column. To select gear you need to push the button in and twist to the desired gear. This is a good set-up and saves space in the cab. Like the Volvo, the retarder is also stalk-mounted but on the Scania it is on the end of the same stalk as the Opticruise selector.

This coach is 14.2m long, so shorter than the Volvo and is fitted with a Griffin-emblazoned standard-sized steering wheel, which I found better once on the road. When driving at ten to two you don’t have to shuffle the wheel so quick to get the vehicle around the tighter turns when compared with the Volvo. Joining the M40, I found the Scania just as quick as the Volvo to accelerate up to the limiter. However, the Scania was slightly noisier at the front due to the noise of the hydraulics, but once up to speed it was just as quiet and this 17-plate example seemed to be quieter on the motorway in terms of wind noise from the plug door and cab window.

On the motorway, I would say that both vehicles are on par with each other, both smooth with plenty of power and staying well within the green ‘economy’ band. In terms of the dash binnacle, I did find the Scania’s speedo was clearer, but on the other hand, the digital information screen was better on the Volvo. It was quite a warm day so I turned on the Pedro Sanz air-conditioning unit which works with the demisters. With the sun beating down through the windscreen I found that it quickly chilled the cab area. Again, I returned to the yard via the A40, diverting through some smaller villages on the way. I did find that the slightly shorter length was better in some of the tighter villages when it came to sharp junctions.

In conclusion

Whichever option you go for, both the Volvo and the Scania are solid and dependable options, but your decision may also be guided by what marque you already have in your fleet. There are also options of removing the rear toilet and upseating the coach to as many as 90 seats in a 3+2 configuration, which could be done at a later date when the coach is cascaded down the fleet.

Thank you to the Bus & Coach Centre in Oxford for letting us test these vehicles. A video of both coaches tested can be found on our YouTube channel.