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Review: Mack’s New Anthem Truck Marks Upgrade

The “flat-top 48-inch sleeper is for flatbed and tank haulers. Note the rounded front corners of the new Anthem and, on this truck, the absence of a sunvisor.

Mack Trucks Inc. pulled the wraps off its latest model — the Anthem long-haul truck — earlier this month.

To test the new semi-tractor — it replaces the axle-back Pinnacle early next year — Trucks.com joined an 800-mile convoy, driving a selection of different Anthem configurations with Mack’s MP7 and MP8 engines, including the new turbocompound MP8.

The route started from the Mack Customer Center in Allentown, Pa., and ended at the new Nextran dealership in Duluth, Ga.

The Anthem, a redesign of Mack’s long-haul tractor offering, features bold new exterior styling, a new hood, roof cap and side skirts, which combine to increase the entire line's “wow” factor.

Inside, the cab and sleeper get an all-new dash and a full stand-up cab height behind the driver's seat in the 70-inch sleeper. New seats and new materials and up to 27 cubic feet of storage add up to a pleasing interior that Mack designed to help fleets recruit and retain drivers.

We drove the model that most over-the-road truckers will consider: the 70-inch, high-roof sleeper Anthem with the 455-horsepower, turbocompound engine option. A turbocompound engine employs a turbine to recover energy from the exhaust gases.

Mack signature hood ornaments. (Photo: Steve Sturgess/Trucks.com)

The test truck was pulling a loaded van trailer.

The Anthem is intended to boost Mack’s share of the over-the-road truck market with a new model and new buzz. Judging by the interest the 10-truck convoy generated from comments over the CB radio and at meal and rest stops, the Anthem achieves this well. The outgoing model has just over 2 percent and lags far behind the market-leading Freightliner Cascadia.

Mack’s engine lineup broadly parallels that of its corporate sibling Volvo, with the MP7, at 700 cubic inches, sharing the same hard parts as the 11-liter Volvo. And the 800-cubic-inch MP8 is similar in architecture to the Volvo 13 liter. That being said, the electronic controls give the different brands their own “personality.”

The turbocompound is the new-technology derivative of the MP8, with a two-stage turbocharger providing boost to the inlet charge while recovering some of the waste energy that would otherwise go up the exhaust.

This contributes an additional 50 horsepower to the engine’s output. The engine comes in two horsepower ratings, a 425 and a 455, both with peak torque extending down to 900 rpms.

All trucks were equipped with the Mack mDrive automated mechanical transmission. In fact, most of Mack highway-truck production is similarly equipped with mDrive, as this automated gearbox accounts for 80 percent of current production.

Mack Trucks' lineup. From left to right: daycab; 48-inch flat-top; 70-inch high roof; new-look Pinnacle for 2018. (Photo: Steve Sturgess/Trucks.com)

On The Road with Anthem

Before setting out in the Anthem we did a quick inspection, greatly aided by the electrical function that cycles all the exterior lighting as you walk around the truck. It’s a big help and a feature that should reduce the chance of getting nailed for a traffic violation for a burned-out light.

Then I slipped in under the sporty-looking flat-bottom steering wheel and admired the dash and the visibility of the gauges. The new dash is a great combination of modern function with a 5-inch full-color driver display sandwiched between the big speedometer and tachometer. The six analog gauges along the bottom edge of this driver’s dash and an optional four more on the wing dash will endear it to drivers who like a traditional instrument panel.

Working interior includes smart-phone ledge on top of dash. (Photo: Steve Sturgess/Trucks.com)

The wing panel gets a 7-inch monitor that is equipped for Apple CarPlay, with satellite radio, weather band radio and TomTom truck navigation. The display is also compatible with third-party backup camera systems, Mack said.

I found the new steering column stalks for wipers, turn signals and the three-position engine brake convenient, especially the brake control. There’s a fourth pull-down position that commands the transmission to continually downshift for maximum engine braking.

Visibility to the front was excellent, especially with the optional blind-spot mirrors on the hood. They will break back if struck. I found them useful when getting into the outer-Atlanta traffic on the afternoon of the second day, a Saturday.

The drive in the turbocompound-powered Anthem showed it pulls down 900 rpms, holding on to 12th gear and cresting a rise on the rolling hills of South Carolina and Virginia.

At a rest stop, 48-inch flat–top in typical haul with flatbed trailer. New bold front end includes chrome grill surround. (Photo: Steve Sturgess/Trucks.com)

Most likeable was the engine brake, which proved a boon in the traffic. And the downshift feature was also much in demand in the rolling hills, though I did get a reminder from the active braking on a number of occasions that I was rolling in a little close to the vehicle ahead.

The overall noise level is very low, recording an excellent 65 dB(A) on my db meter. Conversation was easy and uninterrupted as the mDrive took all the work out of driving.

The steering was light and precise. And in maneuvers at the truck stops along the way and in the parking area at the Mack dealership, the tight wheel cut on the axle-back trucks proved to be highly useful, whether avoiding curbs going forward or backing trailers in tight situations.

The new Macks are well-suited to gaining market position: tough-looking trucks that are easy on the driver.

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