Ready to turn heads

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Coach operators looking for keen deals on non-PSVAR-compliant coaches have many hundreds of vehicles to choose from at deflated prices due to the current market. Richard Sharman looks at a used 2019 Neoplan Tourliner to see what you can get for your money

Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR)-compliant vehicles are in high demand across the coach and bus industry at the moment. At CBW we understand that there are still many operators that do not require such vehicles, as their work may be purely tours or school contracts that are not in the scope of the PSVAR regulations. There are hundreds of non-PSVAR vehicles currently awaiting sale around the country at very keen prices.
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This 2019 Neoplan Tourliner was found on the stock list of Oxford-based Bus & Coach Centre. Owner Will Blowfield kindly let CBW take a closer look at the vehicle to see what operators can get at a much-reduced price due to the current market favouring PSVAR-compliant vehicles.

A reputation to uphold
The UK coach industry has always held the Neoplan brand in high regard, and the company is renowned for designing some of the most advanced-styled coaches on the roads of the United Kingdom and beyond.

Neoplan has a long history dating back to 1935, but the brand rose to prominence with the introduction of its first double-decker coach, the Skyliner in 1967. My earliest memory of the Skyliner is of the Harrods ones that were used on tours of London and to tourist attractions such as Blenheim Palace. I remember thinking as a 13-year-old that it looked like something from the future, and that’s what Neoplan is good at doing, creating head-turning coaches.

Fast forward to the 2000s and the Starliner was just that, a coach with such striking styling that it became the stars’ coach. It changed corporate and team coach travel forever.

The Tourliner was first introduced to the UK market in 2008, and within seven years MAN Truck and Bus had sold 350 examples to operators all over the UK. The reason being that the Tourliner is an all-rounder; you can send it out on a school runs or private hire one week and a seven-day European tour the next. The current model, as tested, was introduced in 2017.

Award winning styling
Whilst the Tourliner doesn’t share the shame dramatic curvature on the top windscreen as the Starliner, the most recent incarnation has seen designers drastically sharpen their pencils and create something that stands out on the road. I found the previous styling of the Tourliner quite soft, and for me, that was down to the round headlight clusters.

If you compare the styling of this model to the previous one you will find that the designers did not rip up the original and start again, but they did make it futuristic enough that it fits in with its surroundings in 2021. It can share the road with the very latest premium car brand releases and not look dated – it is as if the designer has come back from the future after seeing where vehicle styling trends were going six years ahead.

For me, that front end styling combined with the large raked silver trim over the B-pillar has captured the essence of what a modern coach should look like.

Away from the front end, the sides of the coach remain unchanged from the previous model. The flares remain as does the styling crease that runs along the top of the locker doors and wheel arch panels. The dark-tinted glass remains, but has been sharpened at the rear end, under the driver’s window and on the passenger entry door.

The front end was not alone in getting a restyle, the rear of the coach has also had the ruler treatment and as a result, looks much more impressive. The curvature of the previous model seems to have been reduced, allowing more saloon space inside and an improved look to the rear.

The roofline has a very slight spoiler which sits just over the top of the rear window. The revised rear window narrows down as it meets the two engine cooling grilles, and incorporates a nice silver panel with the Neoplan badge recessed into it – and room for the reversing camera to be housed.

The top LED marker and indicators are mounted behind the rear window, meaning that they can be easily accessed from inside the coach should they need changing in the future.
The engine cooling grilles match the same radius as the bottom of the rear window, making it all look very neat; the styling lines around them also match the angle of the rear window, creating a nice touch.

Large rear light clusters, which look the same as the Starliner’s, replaced the previous round units, giving the vehicle a more premium look. It is slightly disappointing that these units are not yet LED though, which is more practical, especially when away from base on a seven-day tour.

The rear number plate is mounted in a recessed area at the bottom of the boot lid, and the bumper is now a one-piece unit which incorporates the rear fog lights and tow bar. The vehicle’s exhaust is more prominent on the current model, on the offside.

The Tourliner won an ‘iF Design Award’ in 2017, with the feedback being: “The jury marvelled at the dynamic curves of the domed front with its ‘comet-like tail’ extending into the roof, the multi-award-winning Neoplan classic sharp cut design and the redesigned headlights.”

I agree with their comments, the styling is a major selling point.

 

Light and airy interior
Passengers boarding the Tourliner are greeted by four steps to the entry platform and a further step into the saloon. There are ample hand and grab rails to assist with boarding. As you enter the gangway there is a slight slope, but this soon levels out to a flat floor with 2,000mm of standing height in the centre of the saloon.

The first impression of the passenger environment in the Tourliner is one of space. The saloon is light and airy, perhaps helped by the fact that Neoplan has used cream for the roof panels and the generously-sized luggage racks.

As with most coaches these days, all interior lighting is LED, but Neoplan has gone a step further and designed the main saloon lighting into the edge of the luggage rack so that the light reflects off the cream roof panels. This certainly looks impressive and leaves the roof panels uncluttered.

The passenger service units are of high quality and look like the kind of air vents you would find in a high-end car, whilst reading lights use four high-intensity LEDs.

The vehicle tested had 51 Brusa seats finished in a red and black scheme. These seats are very comfortable and offer plenty of support for longer trips. Passengers benefit from three-point seatbelts, a drop-down table with a drink holder and a centre-mounted twin USB port.

Legroom is excellent on both sides of the vehicle, even for someone who is 6ft 2.

The centre sunken toilet is easily accessed, with a flat surface on the top of it with space for hot drinks to be served from the servery unit mounted opposite the toilet door.

The TM Tech unit features a roller door for when not in use, four storage drawers for coffee and tea sachets, hot and cold water taps and a thermos so that hot water is always on tap.

Passenger entertainment is provided by two roof-mounted monitors, one over the continental door and one at the front of the vehicle. These are controlled from a Bosch DVP 08 head unit.

Vision is excellent throughout the coach, the only exception being if you are sat in the front seats on either side of the vehicle. This is where the angled cowling covers the B-pillar, meaning that the window has black masking on the outer pane. This issue has been addressed on newer models.

Cab layout
The cab area on the Tourliner has been well thought out and designed just as well as the rest of the coach. Sitting in the heated ISRI 6860/875 driver’s seat you immediately feel at home, as the dashboard wraps around you. The dashboard on this particular example is two-tone, with black used on the top of the dashboard and around the binnacle and the same cream used on the roof panels around the entry area and the lower section of the dashboard. My first thought about this was that an allocated driver would need to keep on top of cleaning these sections otherwise dirt will easily build up.

All switches on the dashboard are to hand, and as Neoplan is owned by MAN, they have utilised the MAN Multi Media Coach Advanced unit to the left of the dashboard. This crystal clear touch screen monitor controls the radio, satellite navigation and any cameras set up on the vehicle.

The dash binnacle is also the same as fitted in the MAN TGX truck, whilst the same style of switchgear is also used by Neoplan.

Switches underneath the cab window all relate to functions for the driver, so controls for the heated/powered mirrors, heated cab window/windscreen, cab light and steering rake and height adjustment are immediately to hand.

Suspension, hazards and exterior lighting switches are mounted to the right of the dashboard, whilst door controls, saloon lighting and the tacho head are to the left. The only thing that lets the dashboard layout down is the positioning of the climate control and demister unit. This has been mounted low down in the dashboard, above your right knee. It would be better placed higher up on the dashboard. The ZF Ecolife rotary gear selector is also mounted low down in the dashboard by your left knee, although this is less of an issue as it only has drive, neutral or reverse functions.

The dashboard also features a large in-dash fridge and storage compartment.

Except for the demister and climate control unit, the cab area is ergonomic and a nice place to be.

On the road
The first thing you notice once behind the wheel of the Tourliner is how good the all-around vision is – the mirrors are perfectly located and the A-pillar does not restrict vision.

Starting the Tourliner is a simple process, put the key in the ignition and press the engine start button.

MANs have always had lively and responsive engines, and the MAN D26 does not disappoint. The example tested was a Euro VI Step C; the current model uses the same D26 unit but its weight has been decreased and it is now a Step D.

On idle the MAN engine is whisper quiet in the saloon, and that remains the case once you are on the open road, it purrs in the background.

The day started with -2°C conditions and snow for the first part of the morning, but the Tourliner’s convector radiators soon warmed up, as did the demister, whilst the heated ISRI driver’s seat was a blessing!

Departing the Bus & Coach Centre on the outskirts of Oxford, the first thing that I noted was how smooth the ZF Ecolife gearbox was in operation, giving swift acceleration as I joined the A40 dual carriageway towards the Oxford ring road.

Sitting on the limiter, there was no wind noise from the mirrors, cab window or entry door, and despite its 3,870mm height, the Tourliner held steady on the roads as strong winds blew across the carriageway.

Road noise was also limited thanks to the Continental Conti Coach HA3 295/80R 22.5 tyres.

Pulling away from the Headington ‘Hamburger’ roundabout, acceleration was effortlessly car-like up to the 50mph speed limit on the ring road. Build quality seemed excellent, with the interior panels well put together and silent whilst in motion. As I reached the Pear Tree roundabout, I was enjoying the drive; the foot brake was progressive, as was the stalk-mounted retarder in operation – if used correctly, this can increase fuel economy and deliver a smoother ride to passengers.

Heading through Yarnton and out towards rural West Oxfordshire, the weather was improving and the sun appeared, at which point the powered sun blinds became very useful.

As I neared the historic town of Woodstock it was time to do a stability test on the Bladon roundabout. At 20mph the Tourliner held steady with minimal body roll.

I then pressed on towards Woodstock town centre, where I knew there was a sharp turn that could be used to test out the turning circle where you turn back on yourself. It went around with ease and still had plenty of lock to play with.

This Tourliner is the shortest available option on two axles at 12,113mm, and was highly manoeuvrable, but there is an option for a 13,103mm that increases capacity to 59 seats if required.

Departing Woodstock for Glympton bus turning circle, there was a hill to negotiate. At only 56k miles and being registered in April 2019, this youthful example drove as-new, so the engine powered up the hill with the use of kickdown.

Arriving at Glympton, it was time to turn around and head back to Oxford.

Overall thoughts
Does the Tourliner hold up the reputation of Neoplan? 100%. In every aspect this is a quality product that should be considered if you are looking for a touring coach.

MAN’s future stock coaches will be ordered in preparation to be specified as PSVAR-compliant vehicles, with space for the lift and a door being fitted above the steering axle. The lift and destination displays would then be fitted in the UK when required, giving operators the option to upgrade to PSVAR specification at a later date.

At the time of going to press, the vehicle tested was still available at the Bus & Coach Centre in Oxford for £120,000 and a video of the test drive can be found on our YouTube channel.
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