Industry News

Western Star X-Series. Seriously Badass.

As readers of Big Rigs will have seen in the last issue, Western Star Trucks have released their X-Series range of trucks in Australia, using the term ‘Seriously Badass’ to describe them. But is this the case? We head to the RACQ Mobility Centre in Mt Cotton to see what all the fuss is about.

We’ll get to that but first let’s look at the trucks on offer. The X-Series covers three models and three powertrains. 

We have the 47X, 48X and the big banger, the 49X. The 57X available in North America won’t be making its way to Australia as it’s “too big” (quote, unquote).

The engines on offer are a Cummins L9 putting out (up to) 380hp and 1695Nm, a Detroit DD13 Gen 5 (525hp/2500Nm) and a Detroit DD16 (600hp/2780Nm). 

There’s also a bunch of transmissions to choose from – the ever reliable 18 speed Eaton Fuller Road Ranger, an Allison Auto and a couple of Detroit Automated Manuals that feature a Rock-free mode that allows the truck to free itself from wheel-stuck situations, and an Off-road mode which enables smoother driving on extreme terrain.

Then we have the cabin variants. All models offer two day cabs and various length sleepers: The 47X up to 48 inches, the 48X up to 60 inches and the 49X up to 72 inches so that you can invite the rest of the mob at the parking bay to come in and party.

Eagle-eyed readers will look at the dash layout and know that it is also seen in the Freightliner Cascadia. 

They will also pick up on the Detroit engines also being used in that truck and indeed in the Mercedes-Benz Actros (although with subtle Western Star inspired changes). 

Is this a bad thing? Not in the least as far as I am concerned. Being familiar with and having driven those other truck brands with the Detroit’s, I’ve nothing but praise for them. 

They are terrific motors and in conjunction with the DT12 auto/manual gearboxes, deliver smooth progression with gear changes mated perfectly to the engines torque curves. Similarly, the dash offers a good layout with everything in easy reach, so why not use it.

The fact is that Western Star, whilst distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Penske, is part of the Daimler Trucks conglomerate and WS are quite open about dipping into the parts bin where it has suited its purposes.

But, just as the Actros is a different beast to the Cascadia, so is the Western Star range. Think of it this way: Toyota manufacture a number of vehicles off the same platform with the same underpinnings and engines that all look and behave differently and are accepted as such.

So it is with Western Star who have their own team of engineers and body designers. This group of people have the licence to create a vehicle to their own exacting standards, thereby manufacturing a bespoke range of trucks.

It’s the little things that make a big difference and Western Star have expended a huge amount of effort in creating trucks that befit their ‘premium’ tag. Go to open the door for instance and you’ll see that the handle is vertical. Why did nobody think of this before? 

There are steering wheel controls for all sorts of things.

The height of truck doors makes this a no brainer. Small thing? Yep. Effective? Absolutely! The door pocket has a steel beam across its lip. You can literally hang off it – I know because I did. There is a third seal on the door and once inside the cab you have to give it a bloody good tug to close it properly. 

The extra seal gives an airtight cabin and will keep dust out, important when you are aiming at the Road Train market amongst others. It also reduces road and engine noise, along with the sound deadening under the body.

Steering wheel mounted controls for all sorts of things are a first for Western Star and bring it into line with offerings from other manufacturers. It also offers a huge amount of reach and rake adjustment. 

The wraparound dash gives easy reach to all controls and if you can move switches around to suit your personal preferences. Quality of fit and finish is up there with the best. 

The trucks I drove were decked out in grey, but it was done with style, and if that’s not to your taste you can go for Charcoal Black or Quarry Brown.

The Isri seats are top-of-the-woz and offer virtually infinite adjustment. Control of the 12 speed Auto/Manual shift is on the right of the steering column. Choose economy or power, leave it in auto or play up and down the range manually if you prefer by flicking it up or down. Even in auto mode you can select a lower gear instantly if desired.

Western Star had two 49X models at the drive – one auto and one Road Ranger. The R-R model had the 72-inch Stratosphere sleeper. The stick rises out of a totally flat floor and size 17 boots have no trouble walking around it to enter the sleeper. And what a sleeper! Lift the bunk up to reveal two seats either side of a table which rises at the touch of a lever. 

The roof stretches up to the heavens and I commented that there was plenty of space across the rear to add a second shelf or even more cupboards. I’m told that’s for a second bunk. The rear wall of the cabin is emblazoned with the Western Star logo and looks classy and modern.

There’s lots of LED lighting, a decent fridge, room for a microwave, great vertical cupboard space to store all your blue singlets, shorts and even a formal suit in case you should pick up the Queen – sorry, King – hitchhiking somewhere across the outback. 

And there’s no doubt that’s one of the places the 49X is aimed at with its top spec capable of hauling up to 200+ tonnes GCM.

On the outside the first thing to hit you is the distinctive new grille design. Made from stainless steel, its flutes rise up and curve in around the Western Star logo. 

The resin bonnet is 47 kilos lighter than its predecessor, can be opened and closed with one hand, offers superior resistance to stone chips and has a safety catch to stop wind from slamming it on your head. The ‘Isotech’ dual coil over shock bonnet mounting system isolates the bonnet from the body, meaning no shake (and it doesn’t). 

Should you have a prang, the bonnet is a three-piece design, so you don’t have to replace the lot.

The chassis rails are splayed, allowing the 1600 square inch aluminium radiator with larger tubes (in the DD16 model) to be mounted off the engine, rather than the chassis. 

The ‘Power Bonnet’ design of the 49X places it higher, giving more airflow and reducing risk of damage. Underneath, the cabin and sleeper is clear of obstructions, again to increase airflow in hot conditions. Those rails also give plenty of room around the engine, giving good access for servicing.

The X-Series range covers three models and three powertrains, (l-r), the 48X, the 49X and the 47X.

The wiper motor has been moved to make it more accessible, along with the washer filler moving to the driver’s side, increased in size and placed lower for easier access. 

The under-hood air cleaner reduces weight by 27kg and has 12 month/160,000km service intervals for the filters. But if you want those shiny extended air filters, Western Star can provide them. The HVAC system is also improved and it’s noticeable within the cab. The header tank is now clear so a glance will tell you the levels, and all other ancillary tanks are in easier reach.

Western Star’s ethos of durability and reliability are further enhanced by the addition of two extra steel rails running underneath the cab. There’s also extra steel reinforcement in the rear walls of the day cabs and smaller sleepers. For the first time square fuel tanks are offered, although you can still have round if that’s more to your taste.

Wiring is all wrapped, moving away from split conduit and giving much better protection. It is also placed on brackets that separate the wiring from the chassis rails, deleting the chance of rubbing and stopping dirt and dust build up. 

There are a myriad of other changes to enhance the trucks suitability for Australian conditions. It’s worth noting that Australia has been involved in the X-Range development from the get-go, which has been a 6-year process.

Now to get behind the wheel/s. Western Star has lined up a range of variants: we have truck and dog, single trailers and B-doubles with both the 13 and 16 litre donks. There’s not enough room to describe each of them so here’s an overall impression.

The doors open to 70 degrees so getting in and out is easy, aided by 5 grab points including steering wheel and that reinforced door pocket. Driving position adjustment is endless so no problem there. 

The mirrors are set on steel reinforced ‘C’ brackets which delete any vibration under any circumstance. They are also placed to give a good view at roundabouts or road junctions.

The motors – with adjustable idle from the steering wheel – pull away smoothly and powerfully. The 13-litre pulled a B-double around RACQ’s closed test track easily – and the 16 litre, with a 59 ton GCM even more so.

Hill Hold works superbly on all the trucks. Give an extra press on the brake and you’ve got 5 seconds before the truck begins to creep forward. 

That’s going to save a few car bonnets. Noise in the cab is kept to a minimum thanks to sound deadening and those doors with extra seals – tested to 230,000 slams which equates to a 15-year life cycle.

Steering is direct with just the right amount of feedback to the driver and it’s easy to place any of the variants exactly where you want it. There’s tailgate warning, lane departure warning, active cruise control and Side Guard Assist – particularly useful in urban settings. 

Then there’s the brakes. These are without a doubt the best brakes I’ve ever had the privilege of planting my size 10’s on. From the smallest to the biggest truck I drove they were simply superb. Guess you have to able to tame these ‘Seriously Badass’ trucks.

Come to a downhill stretch, employ the decent control and that’s the speed you’ll stay at, no ifs or buts. True to Western Star’s hyperbole, there’s no scuttle shake of the bonnets stretching out in front of you. The company has done a great job of providing excellent visibility over and around the bonnet. 

So, is it Seriously Badass? Not in the way it drives which is thoroughly modern in every respect. In looks? I guess that’s in the eye of the beholder. 

From this writer’s eyes I’ll give them a tick on that front. They look tough and solid, while retaining that Western Star DNA which differentiates the brand from other North American product.

Western Star has usually been the domain of the owner-driver or small fleet owner, but I suspect that the X-Series will appeal to a much broader spectrum of the truck industry. 

And for that cohort who would only step out of their truck for a Peterbilt (which isn’t available here anyway), there is now a viable, Australian-influenced premium truck alternative.

But I know you won’t take my word for this so just do yourself a favour and go for a test drive to see if it’s badass enough for you.


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