Setra ComfortClass 500
New models on the road in Austria
Launched at the IAA Show in Hanover, though previewed in B&CB previously (Issue 1283, 4 July 2014), were four new variants in the Setra ComfortClass range, all exclusively available in left hand drive. Less than a fortnight after the IAA closed its doors Setra invited journalists from across Europe to Austria for a ride and drive experience with the pre-production examples that had been exhibited. The four models concerned were the 10.465m S511HD and the 14.945m S519HD which are both 3.77m high, and the two new lower height models, the S515MD and S516MD which are 3.56m high and 12.295m and 13.115m long respectively.
They join the S515HD, two and three-axle versions of the S516HD and the three-axle S517HD which were launched in 2012 in the ComfortClass range. All are built using modular sections so that all versions, including MD models, have the same 2.1m interior height and, with the exception of the S511HD, the same front overhang.
The location was recognition that Austria is a major market for Setra as it consistently wins over 50% of coach sales there, though the fact that it is also very pretty in the Burgenland and Lower Austria regions was also welcome. A number of different test route options were available though demand for the four vehicles meant that it was only possible for me to sample three of them.
Setra ComfortClass S519HD
Largest of the ComfortClass family at 14.945m the S519HD has a main wheelbase of 7.14m though the steered third axle also has to be taken into account with a turning circle of 23.656m quoted. The vehicle shown was powered by the 12.8-litre OM471 476hp/350kW six-cylinder engine which develops torque of 2,300Nm at 1,100rpm, though the standard unit is the OM470.
Seating capacity options are up to 65 to three star layout, 56 to four star and 52 to five star. There is no question that this is a big coach, the capacity getting on towards that of a double deck, though considerably cheaper to buy.
To handle it, you do need to use all of the road and sometimes more, and be ever conscious of the rear outswing. Manoeuvring is helped by the actively steered third axle which is hydraulic but with an electric connection between it and the steering wheel. Up to 30kmh it is precisely aligned with the font axle steering, above 30kmh it is modified slightly and at above 50kmh it locks and is not steered at all.
At 70kmh in eighth it was not into the green band which starts at 900rpm and at 100kmh in the same gear it was recording just under1,200rpm. There is a live onboard fuel monitoring facility and at 80kmh in seventh in auto mode it was recording 20lit/100km at 1,000rpm.
New on the S519HD is the Front Collision Guard system which was not offered on the marginally longer S419HD, as the model was a late addition to the range, introduced at the request of the Spanish National Express subsidiary, ALSA. Despite this, the overall weight has been reduced by 200kg. In common with other HD models, a flat floor and 3+2 seating are possible.
In terms of ride quality and noise levels the S519HD was the quietest and smoothest of the four vehicles provided. It was extremely stable. The only rattle of note was a minor one from a small lockable locker in the nearside rack. Sat on the rear row I was amazed how quiet it was, as conversation with those at the front did not require me to raise my voice.
Setra ComfortClass S511HD
Setra has always included high quality small coach options in its range, indeed the very first integrally built Setra fitted in this category. Replacing the S411HD, which was part of the TopClass range, the S511HD is longer at 10.465m than the 10.16m of the S411HD.
Seating capacities depend on whether the buyer opts for the centre or rear continental door arrangement. With a mid door it can be 43+2 plus driver with no toilet or 41+2 with no toilet and kitchen to three star standard, 36+2 to four star or 32+2 for five star. Rear door equipped maximum capacities are 41 with no toilet and either 38, 34 or 32. Luggage capacity is 6.5cu.m. with the mid entry, though a toilet loses another 1.2cu.m., while the rear entry provides 7.5 cu.m..
It was equipped as a four star coach with 36 Setra Voyage Plus recliners including a back row of only four, as well as a central toilet, servery and continental door.
The engine is the OM470 rated at 394hp/290kW which delivers torque of 1,900Nm. Like other members of the ComfortClass range it has ZF RL75E front independent suspension and the Mercedes-Benz RO440 drive axle.
The combination of a short wheelbase and a big engine give it a good power to weight ratio and driving characteristics described by a colleague as, ‘very impressive.’ It is a typical Alpine coach, with a useful turn of acceleration, capable of pulling rapidly past slower traffic on inclines. He also found the transmission, ‘wonderful 99% of the time’ though every now and then at low speed there were shocks you could feel and hear. Talking later Setra representatives acknowledged this but said that they had developed a resolution for it.
It was very stable, though compared with the S519HD there was, perhaps inevitably, a little for and aft rocking because of the short wheelbase.
Destined to be the last ComfortClass 500 series model to go into full production, deliveries of the S511HD will not start until February 2015.
Setra ComfortClass S516MD
Setra’s MD models are intended to provide those that want the technical features of the brand with an entry level solution that is competitive with competing brands but does not represent too much of a compromise compared with the HD. It also recognises that many applications do not require massive amounts of luggage space, so a lower overall height specification fits the bill. We were told that though prices differ from country to country the standard cost without options is between 5-7% less than an equivalent HD model. Another part of the MD offer is that you can specify from a long list of options, though, for the time being, there are no plans to develop three-axle MD variants.
The longer of the two MD models is the ComfortClass S516MD. At 13.115m long with the optional rear continental door with toilet compartment beyond and a single seat servery unit leaving a double seat in the offside rear corner, this was an attractive option. The MD range may be Setra’s entry level option but the compromises are relatively minor and it is still very much a Setra. The reduced height is achieved solely by a reduction within the luggage hold so the interior headroom is the same 2.1m throughout the saloon that is provided in other ComfortClass models. The materials are the same too, even the headlining and racks, though less expensive seats, lower specification headlights and a few other minor differences are evident.
Both the S516MD and the S515MD have the same three engine and three transmission options. The engines are the 7.7-litre OM936 unit offering 260kW/354hp and the 10.7-litre OM470 with a choice of either 360hp/265kW or 394hp/290kW. Gearboxes are the manual six-speed GO190-6 (OM936), the GO210-6 (OM470) or the GO250-8 Powershift eight speed automatic (both). On the evaluation coach, the larger OM470 was installed along with the GO250-8 also offered in the UK in the Tourismo.
Setra ComfortClass S515MD
I did not have time to travel on the S515MD which was a pity as it was significantly different to the other in having the smaller 7.7-litre OM936 delivering 354hp/260kW and peak torque of 1,400Nm. It was also the only one of the quartet not having the GO250-8 Powershift transmission, as it was equipped with the six-speed G190-6 manual. Even in Europe, where manuals have retained their appeal longer than in the UK, they are rapidly decreasing in popularity.
I therefore turned to Jean Marc, one of my colleagues from the French magazine Bus et Car, who told me that he had found the big contrast with the others was noise from the engine. He found that when at cruising speed or using the cruise control you heard nothing, but if you accelerated or used the retarder there was quite a lot of noise evident. To get the best from the gearbox, he found it was necessary to be positive and give it a clear order. Don’t feather it, he advised, ‘make a definite choice and it changes smoothly without grating.’
The first deliveries of the S515MD will be made in November this year followed in December by the first S516MDs.
Last time I wrote about new Setra products I received a couple of unfavourable communications from operators that wanted to continue buying the marque and didn’t feel that the Mercedes-Benz Tourismo met their needs, among them Eastons of Stratton Strawless. I was personally disappointed to see the brand discontinued in right hand drive after Jim Shuttleworth and his successors had put so much effort in to building Setra’s standing in the UK and I believe that there are those within Setra who share that view. In Daimler’s defence, the increase in Tourismo sales since the decision does appear to have outstripped the market share the combined brands enjoyed previously, which suggests that, commercially at least, it was the right course to take. Nevertheless, after a day as a passenger in Austria, I can understand UK Setra users’ frustration that they are excluded from the chance to operate the ComfortClass 500 range, especially now that it is such an extensive one and European operators have the option to go for a lower cost Setra option that presents them with a variety of opportunities at a reduced entry price.