The eVo tour of Stratford-upon-Avon

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Volvo’s entry-level tour coach is the MCV-bodied eVoTor. Richard Sharman puts it through its paces on the streets of Warwickshire

Volvo has long been associated with providing refined tour coaches, from the B58 of the mid-1960s to the classic and renowned B10M that replaced it. These are iconic coaches that pretty much any long-established coach operator will have had in their fleet at one point or another.
We have also had the larger-engined B12 and B13R, but technology is changing and a return to smaller engines with more horsepower is the way forward for Volvo.

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[/wlm_nonmember] [wlm_ismember] Project 523

Volvo’s premium touring coach is the 9900, but it also wanted to offer operators the option of an entry-level tour coach. This is where the partnership with MCV was formed and Project 523 was born. This was not to be your everyday entry-level coach; this was a collaboration between Volvo and MCV that would be designed from a blank canvas, specifically for the UK operator, as Managing Director of MCV Bus & Coach Limited, Ashraf Fawzi explains: “Project 523 began with a plain piece of paper and a meeting between us and the Volvo team. There was a team formed from each side to collaborate on the design process and the coach was designed from the chassis up for the UK market. All components are thus familiar to UK operators, with names such as Eberspacher, Shades and Bosch included.

Boarding the eVoTor is made easier thanks to shallow steps and a sunken gangway. RICHARD SHARMAN

“The product has evolved since the first coaches were delivered; we have removed the I-shift lever unit for the gearbox and replaced it with a push-button selector, for example. Other revisions include new mirrors, glazing on the lower half of the entry door, and a new moulded panel below the windscreen, where the Volvo badge is prominently placed.

“Together with Volvo, we are currently in the design phase of a fully PSVAR eVoTor coach. This can either be delivered ready to use or prepacked so that the coach can be used for tours and then changed to PSVAR at a later date.”
Richard Mann, Sales Manager at Volvo Bus & Coach, added: “We wanted to go beyond the standard specification and add value to the product, so we have added innovations such as cant rail lighting as standard, which works with the locker doors when the headlights are on.

“Rather than having an interior mirror for the driver, we have opted for a live CCTV feed to a monitor on the dash, which avoids the driver having to look up and provides better vision at night.

“We also wanted to ensure that the toilet design was suitable for tours that were away all week. To that end we spoke to Shades and gave them a brief on what we required. They came back to us with a product that was the largest bespoke centre sunken toilet unit they have ever built. Also, we designed in extra water tanks to the vehicle, meaning that the system is less likely to run out of water whilst on tour.

“The toilet unit is fully demountable, which then allows the coach to be upseated to 55, and those additional seats come with the vehicle. The toilet unit is designed to be easily demountable and taken out through the centre door.

“We also wanted to ensure that the vehicle was designed with a consistent step height throughout – the target was set at 25cm, which we achieved. The vehicle has a sunken gangway, which makes the boarding experience more pleasant for the passenger, as you effectively lose a step.

“As part of the package when purchasing the eVoTor, we also provide a three-year bumper to bumper warranty, which shows we are confident in the quality of the product.”

Taking the eVoTor on tour

Volvo Bus & Coach’s posh showroom is located next to Coventry airport, and having driven open-top buses around Stratford-upon-Avon countless times in the early 2000s, I thought that there was no better opportunity to take Volvo’s entry-level tour coach on a proper tour route.

The first thing to note is that although the MCV eVoTor is sold as an entry-level tour coach, it is anything but. Whilst the frontal styling may not be to everyone’s taste, this is a coach built for the 2020s and styling moves on. It sits nicely alongside the premium 9900 offering, which is also futuristic in appearance.

While traditionally the standard height for an entry-level coach has tended to be 3.20m, the eVoTor sits at a generous 3.60m, which means more space internally and better luggage capacity.

Modern styling

The eVoTor’s styling offers good kerb appeal coupled with excellent aerodynamics; each flowing line of the bodywork has been meticulously thought out.

The front end of the eVoTor is made up of three panels, each with edgy styling, but when viewed from the side you realise the two side panels are directing the airflow to the sides, whilst the centre panel is recessed to allow the air to travel up and over the vehicle.
Good aerodynamics can drastically increase the fuel economy of a coach, so in addition, the mirror design has been carefully considered, with the arms being extended to make them more of a design feature.

The bright white LED headlight units finish off the frontal styling perfectly. Seven small but bright LED daytime running lights surround the outside of the headlight unit, which also double up as extremely effective high-intensity indicator units.

Moving down the side of the vehicle and the styling and aerodynamic cues continue, with recessed areas around the wheel arches to reduce spray on wet roads.

Mounted on Michelin Multiway 3D 315/80R 22S tyres, the Alcoa Durabright alloy wheels are standard fit and set the bodywork off nicely. Cant rail lighting on both sides of the vehicle is mounted in the centre above the main luggage locker area. Another smart feature is an LED light mounted into the nearside mirror arm to assist boarding at night.

Opening the lockers reveals approximately 9.0m3 of luggage space and a drop-down electrical cabinet behind the offside front wheel. Both the luggage area and the electrical cabinet are illuminated by LEDs.

A lot of effort has gone into the rear styling of the eVoTor, along with practical features such as a standard-fit Brigade reversing camera and additional engine ventilation under the rear window, removing the need for large cooling grilles on the offside. The bootlid has been revised to be more efficient in operation, whilst also having a recessed area leading up to the engine grille.

The rear end is finished off with silver styling edging and bright LED light clusters.

Passenger comfort

Boarding through the Masats plug door you find an attractive and welcoming interior that looks and feels high quality. It is bright and airy thanks to the large saloon windows and the light grey used on the hard plastics and soft trim, which contrasts nicely with the black BRUSA passenger seating that features red piping, matching the red curtains in the saloon.

The sunken gangway is fitted with a hard-wearing carpet, while the floor itself is covered in a dark oak wood-effect vinyl which looks the part and is comfortable underfoot in the seating areas.

Passengers get a good touring environment; the BRUSA seating reclines, has three-point seatbelts, magazine nets, serving tables with cup holders, dual USB sockets fitted between each seat, footrests, lumbar support and cloth inserts. Getting in and out of the seats is also easy thanks to two hand grabs on each side of the seatback. The all-important legroom is also excellent on both sides thanks to the 12.60m chassis length.

Entertainment on the move is provided by a Bosch Infotainment Gen 2017 system which features 13 speakers throughout the saloon, and two fixed 19” LED monitors which are located at the front and above the toilet/servery unit.

The Shades servery unit features a hot water tap with extra height to allow a mug to fit under, a three-cup metal drinks holder and an integrated bin, which does not stick out any further than the armrests on the seating.

A roof-mounted Eberspacher air-conditioning unit keeps the interior of the coach cool with 34kW of cooling capacity, whilst two Scalabros Spartacos roof vents mounted in the middle and the rear of the coach allow airflow whilst parked up and also double as emergency exits with glass hammers fitted. Convection heating is fitted to both sides of the saloon and a fan unit is mounted into the steps on the continental exit, which features a gas strut at the top to keep the door open – a nice touch.

Interior illumination is provided by LED uplighting units which can be used in bright white or blue settings; the in-rack passenger service units also feature bright LED reading lights. The saloon flooring edging is fitted with LEDs for passenger comfort and safety.

Golden Tours was the very first to operate the eVoTor, and has been a loyal customer of Volvo and MCV for many years with the eVoSeti. RICHARD SHARMAN

Driver comfort

Volvo and MCV have not forgotten the driver in the design of the eVoTor. The 12.60m Volvo chassis not only allows passengers a decent amount of legroom, but the driver benefits from a large cab area. The pneumatic ISRI driver’s seat seems to go back forever, and although I am tall, I still had to bring it back towards the steering wheel.

The wrap-around dashboard means that all switches are immediately to hand, with most of the chassis-related switches being the closest and things like interior light switches being lower down on the left.

The Brigade saloon and reversing monitor is mounted next to the Bosch radio and can be dimmed for night time driving.

The driver benefits from an electric sunblind, in-dash fridge, two in-dash air vents and an air vent for the air-conditioning above the driver’s seat. A heated electric cab window is standard.

A nice feature of the dashboard is the overlap on the top which shades the dash binnacle from the sun so that it is visible at all times.

In the Warwickshire countryside

Sitting in the driver’s seat of the eVoTor for the first time, I could tell that this collaboration between Volvo and MCV was going to be a winner. The driving position is comfortable and the vision superb thanks to the A-pillar being relatively thin and the mounting of the mirror position.

The eVoTor is fitted with an AT2142F I-Shift fully automated 12-speed gearbox (along with four reverse gears!). On the first batch the gear selector was the lever type, but this has now been changed to the GSS-4BS push-button selector, which complements the dashboard much better.

I was joined on the test drive by Richard and Ashraf. As we headed out towards Stratford-upon-Avon on the A46 I was getting used to the I-Shift gearbox; it does deliver perfectly smooth gear changes every time, but it does take some getting used to when pulling away from junctions or roundabouts. You get an initial burst of acceleration and then a slow change into the next gear, so planning is key. For operators that standardise on ZF gearboxes, Richard and Ashraf agreed that a ZF gearbox would be possible if a customer so desired.

On the A46 dual-carriageway, the B11R’s six-cylinder 10.8-litre engine makes it a joy to drive. Rated at 430bhp, it has plenty of power but is refined and quiet at the same time. It is also economical, with the revs remaining well within the green band when on the speed limiter.

Nearing the end of the A46 dual carriageway, I was starting to get into the drive. The eVoTor is a nice light coach to drive, it is not hard work – the engine and steering are responsive, whilst braking is smooth and works well with the I-Shift integral retarder.

Once on the A439 into Stratford, the build quality of eVoTor became apparent. There were zero rattles, illustrating how well put together and designed the coach is.

Arriving into Stratford, I pulled into the town’s large coach park, normally the haunt of one of Golden Tours’ original batch of eVoTor coaches laying over whilst visiting the town for the day.

Alas, the coach park was empty. Hoping things improved soon, we moved on.

Taking the Stratford tour

The tour began with a trip over Clopton Bridge. This has a small roundabout at the end where it meets Banbury and Tiddington Roads; this test of the steering lock was a success, as the eVoTor went around with ease and still had additional lock available if required.

Back over the bridge towards town and it should have been a trip up the High Street, but this was shut to allow people more space due to Covid-19.

Instead we diverted to pass Shakespeare’s birthplace and had a quick pause on Windsor Street, where the locals were admiring the eVoTor’s styling. I found the driver’s side blind spot mirror handy whilst driving around the town.

The next stop was Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. This is accessed by a sharp left-hand turn into Church Lane and through the village of Shottery, a good chance to test the manoeuvrability of the eVoTor.

Taking the sharp left-hand turn does require some room to get the 12.60m chassis around but the eVoTor went around nicely. At 2.55m wide, I took caution progressing along the narrow lane.

With the trip past the cottage completed, it was time to leave the area via a housing estate which had a few tight turns and double-parked cars. Once again the eVoTor tackled this without issue, leaving me impressed with its manoeuvrability.

The final stop was Mary Arden’s House in the village of Wilmcote, accessed by using The Ridgeway, an exposed undulating road in the Warwickshire countryside.

The eVoTor is a solid drive and even the undulating road could not produce any body roll. As The Ridgeway ends there is a sharp right-hand turn and a steep climb to Wilmcote village. The B11R’s engine managed this with ease and the I-Shift ‘box was soon heading up the gears to deliver maximum fuel efficiency.

A drive past Mary Arden’s House led us back towards the A46 and back to Coventry.

Overall impressions

The package that Volvo and MCV have created offers the operator a lot of coach for the money. It is not just suitable for UK touring, but also more than well-equipped enough for European work.

Build quality is faultless, and the overall package with a high specification interior, a powerful engine, and a three-year bumper-to-bumper warranty offers value for money at £225k.

With the full PSVAR-specification version out in the coming months, this is certainly a coach that ticks all the boxes.

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