It’s one of the most anticipated arrivals on the Australian truck market in years, and when offered the opportunity to sample the new Mack Anthem as well as the upgraded SuperLiner and Trident on local roads we were well prepared to give up our weekend to pilot the various trucks down the Hume Highway from Sydney to Albury.

It is much anticipated because  this is Mack’s ticket back into the main game,  true, up to date, line haul prime movers with full stand up cabs flat floors along with the latest Volvo Group electronic architecture to maximise the efficiency of the truck.

Sure Mack has had product selling into the market but with the arrival of more modern ‘conventionals’ such as Kenworth’s T610, which has been here close on five years, and Freightliner’s recently launched Cascadia, The Bulldog’s aged product  line up didn’t really measure up alongside the opposition.

In its home market in America, Mack has steadily lost share in the line haul market, thanks to that lack of a modern cab. This  has seen both Paccar and Daimler, and even International, win sales away from Mack in America, with the brand moving further into the  vocational, refuse and construction markets at the expense of its line haul sales. The Anthem was developed to halt that slide and reverse the trend.

But it is much more than just a line haul prime mover here in Australia, where the cab has been adapted across virtually the entire Mack offering in Australia with the ability to tick either  a sleeper or day cab and with the choice of 6×4 or 8×4 rigid chassis and of course the  6×4 prime mover.

The new cab features 1.8 metres of headroom in the cockpit and 2.1 metres of headroom in the sleeper compartment  if fitted giving Mack its first full stand up cab with a flat floor.

The first thing that you notice standing in front of the new Anthem in particular, is the very contemporary take on the Mack grille and the truck’s muscular looking frontal profile.

On the road it became apparent quite quickly that the new Mack’s looks area bit polarising, you either like it or you don’t, but we have to say we like it and see it as a strong evolutionary step forward.

For a start, the new profile is much more aerodynamic than the old ‘square’ style Mack grille and overall shape. The better aero performance is further aided by the  reduction in gaps and better overall panel fit according to the Mack people.

Climb up into the Anthem or Superliner cabs and you are immediately aware of the flat walk through floor layout and the new wrap around dash.  Position yourself on the ISRI suspension seat and the view ahead is clearly very good, with the new Anthem bonnet in particular, sloping away and  revealing excellent forward vision. However one strange carry over is the split front windscreen, which is interesting given its opponents from Freightliner and Kenworth use one piece screens, which engineers have told us further decrease drag as well as giving better forward vision.

The dash is a wraparound design which is a major upgrade from the previous Mack generation with a bigger 5” Mack Co-Pilot information screen  in the middle with a large speedo on one side and tacho  on the other, as well as a range of gauges monitoring ‘vital’ signs directly below with  fuel, oil pressure and engine temperature along the bottom.

The instrument aren’t full digital, they are what Mack calls ‘digital-analogue’, so they have analogue needles but digital faces. They are all easy to read and the full colour info screen can be scrolled through using the steering wheel buttons to bring up a range of info for the driver.

Speaking of the steering wheel. It is a new design with a flat bottom on the wheel which Mack reckons  was included  for better comfort, particularly for the ‘girth’ challenged. We like the wheel it has a nice feel and  the buttons on the spokes are well designed and easy to use . On the left spoke there are controls for answering and hanging up Bluetooth telephone calls along with  the Adaptive Cruise Control buttons, while on the right the buttons for audio volume, changing radio stations and audio mode are located.

Either side of the wheel are two stalks with the left hand stalk managing turn signals, high beam and wipers while the right hand stalk controls engine brake and a button for scrolling info on the Co-pilot screen. There is also a light control module on the far right of the dash.

On the angled wrap around left hand dash panel is an area that can be configured with four optional auxiliary gauges, which in the case of the Anthem included oil, gearbox and exhaust temperatures, and turbo boost pressure. Directly below the gauges is a bank of 18 rocker switches alongside an air vent on the left side and the controls for the mDrive transmission at the top on the right. Below the mDrive controls is the radio-auto unit which has Bluetooth and a range of external inputs.

The disappointment with the radio unit is that it is small and with particularly small buttons and controls, one of our real bugbears. The last thing you need when piloting a prime mover and trailers down the road at 100km/h is to be trying to figure out  the tiny controls on  a small radio audio unit. A better option would have been a larger 2-DIN sized audio unit with a volume knob and a touch screen, which would be easier to read and use. This could have been fitted in the space below where the CB is located in what is a 2-DIN space and  the CB could be moved one place up into the spot below the mDrive control. Just a thought, although we doubt the Mack engineers would bother listening to mere mortals like us.

Finally on the left hand dash are the HVAC and park and trailer brake releases along the bottom of the panel  with two bottle/cup holders at floor level.

Save for our gripe with the radio, all of it is well located and designed and we quickly found it easy to use and operate in the day we had in the cabs of the new Macks.

Most importantly for the new trucks is the fact that they have  been engineered and designed with  the Volvo family Tier II electrical architecture. What this has allowed  the engineers to do is to better manage the driveline, with the electronics enabling faster and smoother shifts in the mDrive AMT and better mating it to the engine, which is of course a Volvo power plant in reality, despite the Mack name on the rocker cover.  It also means better integration with the Bendix Wingman Fusion system which delivers the adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, roll stability lane keep assist and blind spot warning functions.

The ongoing disappointment for Mack’ buyers is that for what ever reason  the Bulldog brand continues to miss out on driver or passenger airbags despite the fact  that parent company Volvo has long been a safety champion and its trucks feature them. As one wag said during the drive, “the Mack has airbags, just that they’re on the rear axles  not in the cabin”!

While the Mack Anthem is the basis for the new cab, it has also been adapted for the Trident and Super-Liner models. The cab, originally seen in the USA in 2017, has been locally adapted for all three models and this is by far the highlight of the new models.

Along with the day cabs the 36 inch integrated sleeper cab is available as an option and is a nice space. We would like to get a crack at an overnight run in the new Mack’s, once the major national road show tour the company is running to introduce the new trucks, is completed.

For the first part of our drive from Sydney to Albury the grey and threatening skies were a prelude to a torrential downpour that was part of a severe southerly front, sweeping up the Hume. We found out later that our destination in Albury Wodonga had received 96mm of rain in just a few hours. It wasn’t long before we faced  the downpour but the Macks handled the wet conditions with ease and felt secure on the road.

There were a total of  five trucks in our convoy  with an Anthem 36inch sleeper hauling a single tautliner, a similar model running a day cab hauling a 40 foot container on a skel trailer and a third configured as a day cab eight-wheeler rigid tipper. Alongside the Anthems was a SuperLiner fitted with the 36inch high rise sleeper, hauling a tautliner B Double set and a rigid day cab Trident with a tipper body and towing a dog tipper.

Our first  drive was in the SuperLiner B double, grossing just under the 62.5 tonne maximum  and it was powered by the MP10 685hp/3150Nm 16 litre, mated to the mDrive HD13-speed which adds a crawler gear to the normal 12 speed transmission.

The pouring rain was a challenge first up, as we tackled the hills of the Southern Highlands, but as we edged past Goulburn the rain dried up and the sun came out. The SuperLiner was handling he hills with ease, and the thing that was most notable was the smoother shifts and better anticipation from the AMT, thanks in no doubt to the new electronic architecture and its better integration.

The big 16 litre was a willing performer pulling strongly on the undulating hills on the way south, holding  gears and lugging into the peak torque band  with tremendous efficiency and confidence.

Just as we  did later on the next leg from Yass, when we sampled sleeper cab Anthem, it was obvious the new cab, no matter which model it was configured as, delivered much better sound insulation and isolation from the bumps and grinds on the Hume. The other aspect that has brought a major improvement are the longer front springs that have aided the ride quality no end. The new Macks handled the chop over the, at times pretty ordinary, older tarmac on Highway 31 with comfort and aplomb. The rear suspension uses Mack’s Air-Ride system which also aided the smooth and unfussed ride of the SuperLiner.

We could easily have settled in behind the wheel of the SuperLiner, but a quick lunch break at Yass saw us shuffle across to the sleeper cab Anthem with its single trailer grossing 41 tonnes. This one was powered by the 13 litre Euro 5 MP8 engine with 535hp and 2600Nm of torque, and also mated to the mDrive HD 13 speed AMT.

The crawler gear in the HD gearbox provides a 17 to 1 extra low ratio  for  crawling and manoeuvring and gives two reverse crawler gears which many believe is a welcome extra for the old Bulldog.

As part of the updated range Mack is also offering  the XHD version of the  family AMT which delivers two crawlers  making it a 14 speed with the two ultra low gears  offering a 19 to 1 ratio and a ‘climb a brick wall’ 32 to 1 crawler.

But we thankfully didn’t have to worry about crawler gears during our drive and we will report about that at some point in the future.

The Anthem was equally comfortable and quiet as its SuperLiner sibling, with the low ambient noise in the cab enabling easy chat with our Mack minder sitting alongside in the new cab.

It is particularly easy to  get a comfortable driving position behind the wheel of the Anthem  and with dash and layout most things fall easily to hand. As previously mentioned, forward and side vision is excellent offering a wide and clear view of the road ahead.

As we ambled down the Hume in the now bright sunshine the MP8 was ticking over at 1400 rpm as we maintained 100km/h using the Bendix adaptive cruise control thanks to the 3.09 to 1 diff under the rear end.

As we ran a daylight only drive such things as external and interior lighting was not tested so we hope to have a better insight on a longer overnight test in a few months.

Casting an eye around the sleeper cab there are ample storage lockers, providing 108 litres of stowage space around the bunk for the driver’s gear. The bunk looks pretty comfy with a thick mattress and two small opening fly screen equipped windows on either side of  the cab, as well as an oscillating fan  for added cooling. There is LED  lighting for reading and getting ready for bed or preparing to hit the road again and there is a control panel on the back wall next to where a sleeping driver’s head would be that gives  control for lighting, the audio system and HVAC, as well as providing power outlets and USB ports. Under the sleeper is an optional 36 litre integrated fridge

Our first assessment is the cab measures up very well against the opposition from Freightliner and Kenworth and gives Mack a serious contender in the long haul market.

Our time in the sleeper cab Anthem was all too short, swapping into the day cab Anthem prime mover and Skel at Coolac for a different perspective on the Anthem theme.

Our take put from the day cab model was that his is a truck that will be very good for exactly the task it was specced for, hauling containers out of port facilities and around town or to nearby regional centres. The cab is comfortable, if not as spacious and roomy as the sleeper version while still boasting the same  good ride and equally good NVH qualities.

The convoy pulled into Tarcutta in the late afternoon, the swap over area all but deserted  hours away from hosting the many rigs that would be rolling in later in the night. It was our turn to climb down from the Anthem day cab and mount up in the Anthem rigid eight wheeler, which proved to be a real little rocket ship.

The rigid Anthem again provided a  very good ride and  low cabin noise levels as we powered  the final couple of hundred  kilometres to the Volvo Truck Centre in Wodonga

The  test was over all too soon and we bade farewell to the Mack Roadshow in Wodonga having had an impressive introduction to the new model line-up, spearheaded by the highly anticipated Anthem.

We didn’t get much of a chance to look at fuel economy, or get a long run at how good or bad this could be, but reports are that there have been some pretty impressive numbers returned so far during testing and the early stages of the Mack National Roadshow.

If first impressions are anything to go by the Mack Anthem as well as the new SuperLiner and Trident will be winners for Mack in Australia, and they are a major step up for the old Bulldog.

We will wait and watch with great anticipation to see how they are received and how they handle Australia longer term,  while looking forward to some longer and more probing road tests.