For those who grew up playing racing games, driving the real-world versions of the virtual cars is probably the ultimate goal. I’m in the same boat, but the game in question isn’t the likes of Forza or Gran Turismo.
That honor goes to Euro Truck Simulator 2. From the title, you could probably guess what it is all about. It depicts European road rules quite accurately, so I think I have a fighting chance of passing a driving test in that region. I love the game so much that I’ve practically bought every single expansion pack for it.
The driving physics are realistic as well. I now have a rough idea about how to manage the air brakes, the exhaust brake, and the retarder in a truck. And I think I’m pretty confident about backing into a parking spot with a trailer.
However, a computer can only offer so much realism. I just use an Xbox-style controller, so I obviously have no hope of immersing in the experience of a real-world trucker. In that respect, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to drive an actual truck. And I thought I’d never be able to find someone brave enough to let me have a go at it.
Early this year, my colleague attended a launch event of MAN Automotive Concessionaires Corporation. This is the company that imports and sells MAN and Volkswagen trucks and buses in the country. I had expected that the firm wouldn’t offer the media any opportunities for test drives. But surprisingly, it was open to having journalists try out its products.
Upon arrival at the company’s warehouse in Meycauayan, Bulacan, I had anticipated sampling of the Volkswagen Delivery, which is around as big as the Isuzu NQR and the Hino 500. But to my absolute surprise and horror, the folks at MACC had wheeled out the Constellation.
As far as Volkswagen trucks go, the Constellation is the big daddy of the lineup. It’s the heavy-duty platform that becomes the base for things like tractor heads and cement mixers. The 31.390 variant that I was about to drive is a bare cab-and-chassis vehicle, which will eventually be turned into a dump truck.
The pictures really don’t do justice to the sheer size and road presence the Constellation has. I needed a few moments to muster the courage to get behind the wheel simply because I was absolutely afraid that I would hit something (or someone) if I lost my situational awareness even just for a second. I even had to use some muscles I never thought I had in climbing up to the cab, which was over 3m high.
Because of my extensive “experience” in ETS2, the gauge cluster was fairly easy to understand. There were extra dials for brake and oil pressure, as well as switches for activating the retarder and the multiple differential locks. But the one thing the game hadn’t prepared me for was the 16-speed manual transmission.
The shift pattern looks like a typical four-speed manual gearbox, but there are splitters that give it 16 forward and two reverse gears. Not only did I have to get used to operating the splitters, but I had to remind myself to start in fifth gear. That’s because first gear is normally used as a crawler gear for heavy loads. Since the Constellation I was driving didn’t have its massive hydraulic bucket at the back, it was a relatively light vehicle.
Once I got the gears mastered, it was now adapting to the truck’s width and high driving position. Simply put, I was thankful that I was driving within the confines of MACC’s compound as there were no other cars around to smash into. And this is where I found out that the Constellation can be a bit of a workout behind the wheel.
The pedals and the gear lever weren’t hard to manipulate—they were actually almost as light as a pickup truck’s controls. What was exhausting in the Constellation was the unsprung seat and cab. The vibrations of the road, the engine, and my bad clutch work were all transmitted to my body. The shaking was unbelievable. It made my father’s rough-riding Toyota Hilux feel like a Rolls-Royce in comparison.
After doing a few laps of MACC’s facility in the Constellation, I was quite tired and literally shaken. But passing by one of the warehouses, I caught a glimpse of the latest-generation MAN TGX. I became really excited because I drive the previous-generation TGX in ETS2. I was allowed to have a peek inside the cab, which is equipped with luxuries such as double beds, mood lighting, a touchscreen infotainment system, and its own suspension system.
I would’ve been happy just being inside the TGX. But the folks at MACC probably saw the excitement in my eyes that they asked me to back the truck out and do a few rounds with it. The difference between the Constellation and the TGX is night and day. The cab was much quieter because of all the extra insulation, and road imperfections were ironed out by the sprung seats.
This short-wheelbase TGX was also more maneuverable as it was destined to become a tractor head for a rice mill up north. This vehicle is a trucker’s dream, if there is even such a thing. The driver and his companion have a comfortable place to spend the night in, and the soft seats can significantly delay the onset of fatigue during long drives.
This experience gave me a whole new appreciation for what Filipino truckers go through on a daily basis. Not everyone will get a chance to drive something as nice as the Constellation or the TGX, and many will have to bear with unreliable and unsafe equipment.
In addition, only a few will have the opportunity to turn their video-game dreams into reality. And from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank MACC for allowing me to tick one of the boxes of my bucket list.