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Test driving the Mack Anthem: Consistency, right specs key to reaching 10 mpg

A group of Mack Trucks’ Anthem models, seen here in a 70-inch standup sleeper in a 4×2 configuration with lift axle, achieved over 8 mpg collectively in a run with loaded trailers from Asheville, NC, to New Orleans last week. This particular truck reached marks of 10 and 10.5 mpg during parts of the run.

One of the things that a trucking trade journalist gets the opportunity to do on occasion is to drive the rigs we write about. For those of us without a CDL, that usually means a private track and the experience, while exciting, does not duplicate the experience on the road that a professional truck driver experiences.

Some journalists do have CDLs and they had the opportunity last week to drive three similarly spec’d Mack Trucks Anthem models on a three-day journey from Asheville, NC, to New Orleans. As a non-CDL holder, I had the opportunity to ride along with one of the journalists, and while our experience was not meant to duplicate the professional driving experience, it did provide an extended glimpse into the capabilities of the Mack Anthem under real-world driving conditions – something no track experience can replicate.

What we found is that the Anthem, under the right conditions, can achieve 10 mpg – one of the Anthem trucks did that for much of a 167-mile leg from Knoxville to Nashville – and even 8 mpg in a loaded vehicle is achievable with the right driving conditions. During that leg, which took place on day one, we encountered some traffic but not significant enough to slow the vehicles much below 50 mph for any stretch. Beyond having good driving conditions, we learned that having patience on the road, the right specs, and the absence of any tight delivery window – again, not what most drivers face on a daily basis – allowed us to use the Anthem’s cruise control function 73% of the time. The result was the nearly 10.0 mpg before we settled in to a final mpg of 9.9.

The first leg of the trip, a 133-mile stretch from Asheville to Knoxville, saw a little more traffic and some slower speeds, but the vehicle was still able to achieve 9.7 mpg.

The Anthem model – a white 70-inch standup sleeper model – featured a Mack MP8HE 415SE downsped engine with Mack Energy Recovery technology in a 6×2 setup with a lift axle. We operated the tractor with the lift axle down the entire run, hauling a load of cardboard for a gross vehicle weight of 66,820 pounds.

Mack’s Energy Recovery technology converts wasted energy into crankshaft power. It utilizes a two-speed coolant pump and generates lower rpm cruise speeds.

The MP8 HE+ powertrain featured a downsped 415-hp. engine. It had a MDRIVE 12-speed overdrive AMT transmission. A Mack FXL 13.2 13,200-lb. taperleaf front suspension complements the Meritor RS23161 20k rear drive axle. The lift axle was a Link 20k pusher model with a Mack Maxlite 20EZ air suspension rated at 20,000 pounds. The rear axle ratio was 2.50.

The MP8 produces 1,760 lbs.-ft. of torque. Using the engine brake – which can be set up to 5 mph faster than cruise speed – on a down grade, the engine was turning at just 950 rpm in 12th gear at 59 mph.

The truck was driven at the posted speed limits whenever possible and was operated in its “sweet spot” 87% of the time, according to Mack CoPilot – a 5-inch full-color LCD display that features vehicle data critical to helping the driver operate in an efficient manner.  

On the second day of the trip, a 262-mile run from Nashville to Memphis, we switched trucks to a red Anthem model (Yes, the Anthem models on the trip featured two red, two white and two blue models – chosen for obvious reasons) that featured the vehicle’s base engine package – an MP8 with a 445C MaxiCruise engine producing 445 hp. and 1,860 lbs.-ft. or torque.

This particular model was equipped with a Mack FXL 12.5K front axle, a Meritor MT-40-14X4C rear axle with a 2.85 gear ratio, 221-inch wheelbase, two 117-gal. fuel tanks ad Bridgestone Ecopia tires – 295/75R22.5 G R283A on the front ad 295/75R22.5G M710 on the rear.

All the vehicles were equipped with Bendix Fusion systems with front and side collision advanced warning systems, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and Mack Road Stability Advantage systems by Bendix.

The six Models hauled identical Hale Trailers with aero wheel covers from Real Wheel Corp. on both the trailers and tractors. They were also spec’d with EcoFlap aerodynamic splash guards.

The red Anthem was running at 65,720 GVW.

On the leg to Memphis, we were running close to 8 mpg before running into some heavier traffic that slowed the vehicles. On this leg, speeds were a bit faster than the day before, with the cruise set at 68 mph where allowed. Along the route, we even passed 3 brand new Anthems being delivered to Lancer Transport, which pleased the Mack officials with us.

For comparison sake, the red Anthem we drove achieved 7.9 mpg for its trip on Day 1 with a different driver, having spent 75% of the time cruise control and riding in the “sweet spot” according to the Mack in-cab telematics system 88% of the time.

On day 3, we hopped into the blue Anthem model. The blue model was considered the midpoint of the truck setups. Equipped with a Mack MP8 HE+ 445SE powerplant with Energy Recovery technology producing 1,860 lbs.-ft. of torque and a Mack mDRIVE 12-speed overdrive AMT. The front axle was a Mack FXL 12.5 12,500 lb. taperleaf suspension and the rear axles were Meritor MT40-14X4C 40,000-lb. models with a 2.47 rear axle ratio.

The blue truck weighed 65,640 GVW.

The ride to New Orleans down I-55 was a smoother terrain, which as we learned plays a role in the vehicle’s fuel economy. On day 2, the white truck that we achieved the 10.0 mpg for a stretch reached 10.5 mpg for the day with a different driver over a flatter terrain.

The six trucks were all similarly spec’d with a few variations. Primarily, two trucks were equipped as “base” model powertrains, two as “mid-level” models and two as high-efficiency models. The big difference on the two high efficiency models was that one included a 6×2 lift axle configuration, the other did not.

Across the entire three-day trip, the two base models (with different drivers each day across different terrains and conditions) achieved 8 mpg overall. The mid-level trucks came in at 8.4 and the higher efficiency models achieved 9.2 On the individual trucks, the two base models both achieved 8 mpg despite one averaging 57 mph and the other 49.5 mph on the trip. The mid-level models recorded 8.5 and 8.2 mpg with average speeds of 54 and 50 mph, respectively.

The real difference was on the two higher efficiency spec’d models – the white trucks – with achieved 8.5 and 9.8 mpg with nearly identical average speeds of 52.5 and 51.5 mph. The truck with the 6×2 configuration recorded the 9.8, using 97 gallons of fuel to cover 946.8 miles while the other truck – a standard 6×4 configuration – notched 8.5 mpg, using 111 gallons of fuel to cover 945 miles.

Interestingly, three Mack officials drove the trucks during parts of the trip in addition to four journalists with CDLs. There was no significant difference in their mpgs, with the lowest recorded mpg at 7.8 and the highest at 8.9 (one journalists had achieved 9.5 mpg but only drove two of the trucks due to a mechanical issue).

While conditions were as close to ideal as any trucker could expect, the results clearly show that equipment today – in this case Mack’s new over-the-road Anthem – has the capabilities to achieve 8 mpg and up to 10 mpg with the right reliance on the equipment.

As was noted during the trip, relax and let the truck do the work.


Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]