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Freightliner Cascadia test drive: The star continues to shine brightly

Cascadia has been a star product for Freightliner since its introduction. After all, it is the top selling truck in America and now it is winning fans in tough, extreme export markets like Australia and South Africa, and nearer home in equally tough Mexico. In the United States, it is the cornerstone of Freightliner’s 36-plus percent share of the heavy truck market.

But drive one today and compare it with the model that debuted 13 years ago and the trucks are like night and day. For one, there was a significant refresh for the Cascadia with the Evolution in 2013 and then again, a high-tech upgrade with the New Cascadia in 2017. Now we have the New, New Cascadia – an awkward model designation – with totally new features and connectivity that went into production shortly after mid-year 2019.  

The big news is that it is optionally Level Two automated. That means it has a steering and braking system that makes the driving chore so much easier for the driver. The Cascadia can be configured many ways, but with the full complement of safety systems it has adaptive cruise control (ACC) that maintains a safe cruise following distance, but this is overlaid by full emergency active brake assist (ABA 5.0) that can stop the truck if the driver does nothing to restrain the vehicle before an impending accident. Add to this recognition of stationary vehicles such as in a traffic lane where all vehicles are stopped. It will also spot a walking person in a crosswalk or a bicyclist wobbling along the curb and apply the brakes as necessary.

In addition to the straight ahead safety, there’s lane keeping assistance (LKA) that adds steering control to keep the Cascadia in lane by reading the trucks position between the lane markings to prevent it from drifting away from the set position.

Freightliner Cascadia cab view
The super comfortable seats, adjustable steering column and clean dash provide plenty of driver comforts. (Photo: Steve Sturgess)

Detroit Assurance 5.0

But if this seems impressive, and by gosh it is, the real revolution is depth of Detroit Assurance 5.0 that does a whole lot more than run the safety systems. It is also a complete telematics and business solution that effectively makes the Cascadia a node on a trucking company’s business network. It tracks how the truck is being driven, it tracks any fault codes and alerts fleet and dealer that an ailing truck needs repair, makes the booking at the preferred dealership, and even picks the parts for repairs.

But more than that, Detroit 5.0 tracks the performance and economy of every truck, or groups of trucks, and the whole fleet at large. It measures driver performance, truck performance and efficiency by massaging massive amounts of data and integrates an individual or a fleet of Cascadias into the trucking company’s back office system.  

So, the New, New Cascadia is a technology tour de force and while you hear claims from other OEMs that they do similar things, Cascadia seems to offer, with 5.0, the most comprehensive and completely integrated package available.

Freightliner Cascadia fuel economy
The digital glass dash shows 8.5 mpg at the turnaround during our test drive. (Photo: Steve Sturgess)

Fuel Economy

But, as the TV ads say, there’s more. We were fortunate to have Al Haggai, channel marketing manager for Freightliner Trucks along for the drive and also have spent time previously with Clint LePreze, Freightliner’s on-highway marketing manager, at the initial debut of the latest Cascadia back in the early summer last year.

There are many refinements that improve the fuel efficiency of the latest Cascadia. Some of them you can see in a glance, such as the closures between the fenders and the wheels that prevent — as far as possible — air getting under the truck from the sides. Less obvious is the deep, deep air dam under the front bumper and even less obvious is the fact that the suspension “kneels” at freeway speeds to put this aero device an inch closer to the road surface.

Up behind the cab, the side and roof extenders keep the air more closely attached to the cab/trailer so it doesn’t bleed into the trailer gap. And that air is already tight to the cab sides from the new A-pillar deflectors that turn the air coming off the windshield to keep it from billowing out as eddies to the side. This has the added benefit of keeping road dirt off the side glass and mirrors in wet weather. Complementing this are remodeled sideskirts that add to the overall aesthetics of the latest Cascadia model.

And Freightliner was an early adopter of the Flow Below tandem air control panels and wheel cavity covers. These provide incremental improvements but as Haggai parked the truck ready for the drive out of the Velocity Truck Center’s impressive dealership in Fontana, Calif., the all-electronic “glass” dash was showing 9.0 mpg. This is especially impressive as it was one of those blustery Southern California days that can actually turn over tractor-trailers at the base of the Cajon pass.

Our test route was a run out east on I-10 about 80 miles to the Dinosaur truck stop at Cabazon. But on the way we quartered the streets of Redlands in a futile attempt to get into the old Santa Fe railroad station to grab a few pictures at this splendid location. But that was not happening. In the end, we got back on the freeway and continued. That meant a long crawl through the Banning Scales on the return run, but still, returning to Velocity, the fuel readout gave us 8.8 mpg at a gross combination weight of 70,000 pounds.

On The Road

The total mileage at around 160 was by no stretch a day’s work, but this was the second drive of the New, New Cascadia. However, it the first time on a road that is in such bad condition as I-10. Great chunks of concrete have been blasted out of the pavement and the lane markings in many cases were almost invisible.

We were running 60 to 65 mph where possible but in busy traffic that was down to 55. And on Redlands city streets we dawdled around at 20 to 25 mph, taking our time and avoiding curbing – or worse – all the tight right-angle corners in the heart of this university town. Once on the freeway again, the cruise control proved its merit, keeping a comfortable distance from the vehicle in front until it was time to take a lane and pass slower trucks. The driving is so easy with the DT12 transmission that a driver has the luxury of keeping the correct position in lane or even in town, where the transmission handles all the decisions about the correct gear selection.

Keeping in lane wouldn’t have been an issue because of the steering assist automation. In a short drive last year I found it faultless. It can be set to occupy the center of the lane, or biased to the left or right. My preference is to run the right-hand lane marking and, in that drive, it did just that. But with the poor condition of the lane markings on I-10, I actually disabled the feature – easy to do with a dashboard switch – as the combination of high winds and hunting in the lane meant we could get along more smoothly without the assistance. That’s not to say I didn’t just get buzzed by the lane departure warning more than a few times.

Performance was assured from the 400-horsepower DD15, 15-liter that has 1,650 lb.-ft. of torque. The Detroit engines are also enhanced in Assurance 5.0 with engine load balancing where the engine holds constant torque over small, subtle grades that a driver may think are flat to reduce unnecessary fuel use from varying engine load. There’s also updated map coverage with the on-board map database increased by 35% for added coverage of existing major highways and interstates. This feature increases the utility of the engine controls to better use kinetic energy and minimize brake usage. Neither features are obvious and especially so with the smooth and intelligent shifting of the DT12 transmission, but the new features make for a really comfortable drive.

And there were added sophistications detected during the drive. For one, the cruise control just does not follow a vehicle at a fixed distance, it will operate right down to zero road speed. Then, providing the vehicle ahead moves off again within two seconds, the Cascadia will pick up the pace again. This makes for extra comfortable and easy driving in slow crawling traffic in and around Los Angeles.

A super nice feature is the hill-hold, especially around Fontana where freeway bridges mean quite steep hill starts.

Seating in the sleeper is angled so there’s more foot room for occupants. (Photo: Steve Sturgess)

As far as diver comfort is concerned, revised seating is even more comfortable than before, allowing for great forward visibility. The view to the rear is also good with rigidly mounted mirrors. On this Cascadia, there were no hood mirrors, an addition I used to think unnecessary but experience has shown is actually quite useful. However, the Side Guard Assist featured on this Cascadia more than made up for the lack of hood mirrors because it detects vehicles in the otherwise blind spots around the truck. If the truck drifts into an already populated lane or the driver attempts a right turn in city traffic with objects in its blind spot, audible and visual warnings alert the driver. If the turn signal is used with a vehicle alongside, the warning light turns from amber to red.

Also addressing comfort are the triple door seals that make the cab really quiet, allowing for easy conversation between Haggai and myself and PR manager Fred Ligouri back in the dinette style sleeper. A neat feature of this configuration is that the left side seat is angled away a little from the table so that two team members sitting at a meal don’t have to avoid treading on each other’s toes.


There are so many new features on the New, New Cascadia that it would take a book to explore them all. Suffice to say this very driver-centric truck is also a maintenance manager’s delight and a business owner’s best investment. It is so far from the original Cascadia, another manufacturer might consider a different model name.  But the Cascadia has been a star product for Freightliner and this new model continues that tradition.


  1. I think it’s so cool that these trucks have lane-keeping assistance. This could help keep so many people safe while on the road. I would love to have a truck like this one day because it can almost drive itself!

  2. Here is the simple truth: With the Cascadia, Freightliner has attempted to build a truck that pleases corporate truck BUYERS, not workaday Truck DRIVERS like you and I. 99% of Cascadias are purchased by people who have never and will never drive a truck for a living. They dont understand the importance of good factory installed CB Antenna mounts to a Driver and Freightliner doesn’t care.
    (Freightliner should really take a hint from the other truck manufacturers on that one.)
    What you (the Driver) see as intrusive, noisy and even dangerous computerized electronic “safety features” are selling points to the office jockeys that buy the trucks. Desk jockey truck buyers have bought the marketing hype (hook, line and sinker) that these safety features actually “assist the Driver”. (Man, I can tell you a horror story or two about OnGuard suddenly and unexpectedly braking hard for no reason, leaving me fighting to control the truck and keep it in my lane!)

  3. The electronics on the New, New Cascadia are a hazard and should be completely removed. The stationary object brake assist triggers from overpasses, tumbleweeds, and caution markers from off/on ramps. It doesn’t care if the roads are slick or icy and has caused jackknifes and rollovers. The lane departure goes crazy in construction zones and anywhere the paint isn’t pristine.

    Major carriers use these systems and remove the disable function. The carriers also use the reporting of these false incidents to claim a driver is unsafe and deny raises or to even fire them.

    Any technology that removes control of the truck from the driver should never be implemented.

    1. Truth! Everything you said! I can’t believe they put all that crap in the new trucks. I will not drive a truck that breaks on its own.. Way Too dangerous. And the lane departure…omg. Who wants constant beeping all day long. Yeah it’s about time to get out of this bs industry. These idiots taking their 30 min breaks in fuel lanes has about pissed me off to no end.

  4. I’d trade every one of those computerized “we know how to drive the truck better than the Truck Driver” features for a set of factory installed CB Antenna mounts high up on the sides of my Cascadia, like the early Cascadias have- or better yet, CB Antenna mounts on top of the mirrors like the Centurys and Columbias that t I drove had. Getting decent CB Radio performance in a newer Cascadia is just about impossible!

    1. Come on. the Double-Nickle is dead, or ought to be. The maximum safe speed is dependent on many factors, especially traffic density. Steve probably didn’t get any tickets because good police officers often are enlightened enough to enforce the speed limit with reasonableness and a substantial knowledge of actual crash causes.

Steve Sturgess, Contributor

Total 35 years as a trucking commentator. Since 1980 -- year of Motor Carrier Act in the United States -- has been on the North American scene. Mutiple winner of Jesse H NealAwards including Grand Neal for Heavy Duty Trucking and RoadStar Magazines Specialties: Heavy-duty engines and drivetrains. Future heavy duty technical trends.