Road Test: Tatra Phoenix

Reviews

Czech-built all-wheel drive Tatra trucks have been available in the UK for over a year now, and we have been out to drive them. These could be just the ticket for off-road applications…

Most readers will likely be aware of the Czech brand Tatra, but unless you have operated into, or visited, the former Eastern Bloc you might not have seen one of these trucks on the road – and certainly not in the UK. Until now, that is.

Tatra produces specialist all-wheel drive vehicles for off-road applications. The collapse of the Iron Curtain ended its production of general haulage tractor units and the company has since concentrated on small-volume specialist vehicles aimed at construction, utility and military applications.

Now Tatras Phoenix range of trucks is being made available to the UK market in right-hand drive form. This is because the company now uses many DAF components – cabs, gearboxes and engines – so as the DAF CF sells in huge volumes in RHD, the ability for Tatra to sell RHD trucks is now relatively easy.

Tatra sells to order, so you order the truck you want and Tatra then builds it. The first UK importer of Tatra is J&R Millington, based a couple of miles on the Welsh side of the Border, near Whitchurch. It isn’t a big dealership, but a small vehicle repair and modification business that has seen the opportunity of selling Tatras.

Tatra spec

Tatras are heavy-duty vehicles with all-wheel drive aimed at off-road applications, but capable of driving on the tarmac as well at 56 mph. They are similar to Unimogs, but much, much bigger. Quarry, forestry, agricultural, military, utility and council work are the most likely businesses that would benefit, but heavy-haulage and wrecker firms may also want to check over the trucks.

Millingtons is looking at the 4×4, 6×6, 8×6 and 8×8 models being the most popular in the UK, but Tatra can also offer 10×10, 12×12, even 14×14 models should you want one. They can have lift axles, steer axles or, if you need them, unpowered axles – and pretty much all combinations of the four. The company is very flexible in what it can offer. We cant see many five-, six- or seven-axle trucks being sold in the UK, but the fact remains that if you did want one, you can have one.

Millingtons has so far imported a 6×6 rigid tipper – this is a left-hand drive – and now a 6×6 tractor unit for demonstration. Back up is not an issue, because most DAF dealers will support the brand as it is so similar to a DAF – but any purchaser will need to check with their local DAF dealer that they will support the truck.

On the Road

Trucking went to see the Phoenix trucks and have a drive of both. The tractor unit was so new, its fifth wheel was only fitted the day before and had yet to be used, so we took the unit out on its own. Its a 6×6 with the rear axle steering.

Inside its all DAF, with the CF cab sitting so much higher than its UK stablemates. Getting in and out of the cab is not as easy as a normal CF. But once inside, the comfort of the sleeper cab is there; for an off-road truck, the cab trim is superb. The tractor Millingtons has on its books features the Präsident luxury specification.

Its easy to drive. Visibility is excellent because you sit so much higher. Under the cab, the truck had the 476 bhp version of DAFs tried-and-tested MX13 engine delivering 2300 Nm of torque at 1000-1450 rpm. Other options are the same as the DAF CF/XF range – so realistically 428/476/529 bhp with the MX13 and 408/449 bhp with the MX11. The gearbox options are the 16-speed TraXon, Allison six-speed and 16-speed manual.

The front axle features disengagable drive and axle differential lock. The rear axles are driven with swinging half axles, axle differential locks and inter-axle differential lock.

Cab choices are day and sleeper, while a high-roof sleeper is only possible on the MX11-engined options due to height. Sleeper cabs are actually a useful option even in this market, where drivers may be on a site contract that requires them to be away from base for days at a time. There are none of the XF cab options.

As youd expect, the PACCAR MX13 480 bhp engine pulls well with no load on, so this is not an indicative test of the vehicles performance. But with that rear-steer axle, it is incredibly manoeuvrable. In fact, you need to take your time to get used to the way it moves, especially when reversing.

Fuel consumption is never a consideration when buying these kinds of trucks – its their off-road capabilities that will woo buyers. But if you can deliver good performance and an acceptable fuel return, then so much the better. A recent run – again, admittedly without a trailer – of this tractor to Chelmsford saw it return 8.5 mpg – a credible figure indeed given its massive off-road tyres.

Its capable of running as a 30-tonnes GVW and 75 tonnes as an artic. You are unlikely to use it as a convectional haulage tractor, but if you needed to couple to a bog standardtri-axle trailer, maybe just to move it between sites, then the Tatra will do it.

The truck has central tyre inflation, which will appeal to timber hauliers, but without the external pipes.

Out in the rigid

After a spin in the tractor unit, we took the 6×6 rigid for a run. This is a left-hand drive model, but after a few minutes in the chair it soon becomes irrelevant because the height of the cab gives you such great forward vision. That said, most Brits would of course still go for an RHD.

The way the rigid handles is unbelievable – it literarily sticks to the road. We don’t recommend it, but you can throw it around a roundabout at a substantial speed and it won’t topple. It is practically bullet proof!

It had a day cab accordingly a much more basic trim inside – arguably a bit spartan. But then this is an off-road tipper truck for quarry work, so you don’t really want lots of cloth trim getting mucky. The heater works tremendously well, so it was warm and cosy in the cab.

VERDICT

Tatra is not expecting huge volumes of sales. So far, a 4×4 spreader has been sold in Scotland and another is on order, albeit it’s planned July delivery has been put back because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking ahead, Millingtons says it would be happy to shift between five and 10 units a year. However, it has reported nationwide interest in the truck range.

The trucks are built in Koprivnice in the Czech Republic and shipped to the UK for fitting with their bodies. Tatra does have all-wheel drive competition, even in the UK, with the likes of MAN, Iveco, Mercedes-Benz and Scania all providing these products.

So, do you need to look at a Tatra? Well, if you need an all-wheel – or even a multi-wheel – drive vehicle for sustained and regular off-road work, then youd be a fool not to look at it. Its got a proven driveline, its got an awesome durable chassis and the build quality seems excellent.

SPECIFICATION

  • Model: Tatra Phoenix
  • Design GCW/GVW: 30,000 kg / 75,000 kg
  • Chassis: 3060 mm wheelbase
  • Front axle: 10,000 kg capacity
  • Rear axle: 10,000 kg, 10,000 kg (double drive). 445/65R22.5 tyres
  • Gearbox: TraXon 16-speed
  • Engine: PACCAR MX13-355, 12.8-litre, straight six
  • Max power: 483 bhp @ 1600 rpm
  • Max torque: 2350 Nm @ 900-1365 rpm
  • Cab: Präsident single-bunk sleeper

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