April 5, 2021 6:30 PM, EDT

Kenworth Launches New Medium-Duty Product Lineup

Kenworth T280A box van like this 26-foot demonstrator will likely prove popular. (Kenworth Truck Co.)

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PHOENIX — After a model life of nearly 30 years, Kenworth is updating its Class 5 medium-duty vehicles through Class 8, with the introduction of four all-new models: the T180, T280, T380 and T480.

The 180 has gross vehicle weight rating of up to 19,500 pounds and the 280 to 26,000 pounds. As such, both can be driven by non-commercial drivers.

The Class 7 T380 has a weight rating of up to 33,000 and the “baby 8” with tandem drive axles starts at 33,001 pounds and, depending on lift axles or boosters, could scale up to 80,000 pounds.

Kenworth mixer

The top-of-the-line is the T480 “baby 8” like this 66,000 GVW mixer. (Sturgess Associates)

“Kenworth’s outstanding new medium-duty conventional models will further expand the full Kenworth experience. Fleets and truck operators will discover the tremendous benefits of operating these new Kenworth medium-duty vehicles and count on them to provide exceptional performance over many years of service,” said Laura Bloch, Kenworth assistant general manager for sales and marketing.

“We designed these new Kenworth medium-duty trucks with our customers. Over the past several years, Kenworth actively sought, listened to and collected invaluable input and feedback from nearly 1,000 customers and drivers throughout the extensive design process,” said Joe Adams, Kenworth chief engineer.

Kenworth says that the baby 8 is unlikely to go all the way to the maximum as the biggest engine available in the new trucks is the PX-9, 9-liter Paccar six-cylinder diesel at a 380 hp rating — which is the same engine as the Cummins L9. The Class 5 and Class 6 models are powered by the PX-7, 7-liter, rated 300 or 325 hp and is the same as the Cummins B7.

But the customer will not lose out to the full-size vocational T880 with available 15-liter power in terms of driver comfort or cab size as the new trucks feature basically the same cab, the full-width 2.1-meter cab that was introduced first on the T680.

“The wider 2.1-meter cab gives our customers more room inside the truck. This allows for three-person seating with the bench seat standard for the Kenworth T180, T280 and T380 and optional for the T480,” said John Luoma, Kenworth product planning director.

“Not only can the driver see out better from left to right, there is more visibility directly in front of the truck thanks to the steep slope of the hood,” said Luoma. “With the new cab construction, we’re also able to reduce interior noise by up to 50%.”

Kenworth dashboard

New digital display has driver selectable gauges. (Sturgess Associates)

The trucks are claimed to be new from the ground up, with new frame crossmembers, suspensions, hoods and, of course, cabs with new-for-medium Kenworths, available cab suspensions.

Inside, there’s a new downsized derivative of the digital dash that recently debuted on the Class 8s and the same smart steering wheel with the multiplicity of buttons and controls in the two spokes. The aim is to make the medium- and heavy-duty vehicles equally intuitive in controls and dashboard information despite the smaller display in the mediums. One feature they do not share is a factory-fitted ball joint mounting that can be specified to support a computer, tablet or control pad like that in the demonstration mixer chassis with its McNeilus mixer equipment and in-cab touch control screen.

Reveal of the New Models

The T480 mixer was one of five demonstration models at a recent trucking press ride ’n’ drive in Phoenix. On hand was a T180 with a stake-bed body, a T280 with 26-foot dry van box, an ultra-short wheelbase Class 6 water truck and a much longer wheelbase T280 with a 26-foot box van. The T380 was an aerial work truck.

A short course of city streets made the majority of the 12- to 15-minute route but with a short stretch of urban freeway to stretch out the speeds that could be driven. Some of the city streets were extremely rough to give the suspensions and cab air-ride a workout and the short freeway allowed for a quick dash up to 50 or 55 mph.

With 10 journalists and five demo trucks it could have been a scramble to drive a representative cross-section of the new models but we managed to get one from each of the four different models. The water truck was bypassed in the selection but it was there really to demonstrate the wide variation of applications the new trucks are engineered to serve.

All demonstrated the detail design, fit and finish that are Kenworth hallmarks with finely trimmed though practical interiors, and all single-drive-axle trucks but the Class 5 T180 had cab suspension, air-ride seats and air-ride drive axle suspensions. The tandem of the T480 was a Hendrickson HMX460 rubber block for high load capacity and stability with a decent ride.

The Bendix Wingman safety systems were featured, and the light, hydraulic-braked Class 5 had a Wabco ABS.

On the Road

First up was the bucket truck with Altec bucket lift and utility body on a 193-inch wheelbase and fairly heavy body. It rode very nicely but the most impressive feature was the quietness in the truck. Like the T880 and T680, the cab has triple door seals and other features to cut the transmission of noise throughout the spectrum.

Kenworth bucket truck

Class 7 T380 equipped with Altec aerial platform. (Sturgess Associates)

It had the wide-cab appeal of the T880 with available three-across seating, though we were only two in the cab. But conversation was easy with the low noise level. Because this was a Class 7, it had the 9-liter engine at 300 hp coupled to Allison’s latest 3500RDS transmission. This transmission is claimed to be highly fuel efficient so with the PX-9 should be an economical setup going down the road.

The Premium Vinyl seating was both comfortable and attractive. The roof height was the lower of the two available but still there was good storage all around the cab. The vertical document storage slot on the passenger side of the dash provides a very useful feature that should please the driver/operator of the truck.

Another desirable feature that comes with the T880 is a claimed exclusive in medium duty: a temperature-select heating, ventilation and air-conditioning setup that allows a driver to select a comfortable temperature rather than fiddle with the controls to get comfortable.

All in all, the T380 has a very driver-oriented cab and controls that make the truck feel more like a large car than a medium/heavy commercial vehicle.

Next up was the Class 6 box truck. With its 272-inch wheelbase, lighter 10,000-pound front suspension and Kenworth AirGlide rear at 21,000 pounds, it rode exceptionally well with the same quiet in the cab.

As the second ride, there was time to explore the dash a little more. The views are selectable by the driver with oil temperature, fuel filter restriction, ammeter, axle temperature, air filter restriction, transmission temperature, manifold boost pressure and engine torque percentage all available in addition to the round tach and speedometer with a digital speed readout to keep the driver well aware of engine and vehicle parameters. Added to this convenience is the standard Smart Wheel with its controls for cruise, infotainment and gauge selection control. There’s also a column-mounted selector for forward and reverse and by pulling down, the ability to select engine braking level.

As a Class 6, the box truck featured the PX-7 engine coupled to a new TX-8, 8-speed torque-converter transmission. While it is branded Paccar, it is based on the new ZF 8-speed introduced just a few months ago. “The Paccar TX-8 is a new transmission that will enhance the performance of our new Kenworth medium duty lineup,” said Bloch. “In addition to its light weight, this transmission maintains excellent torque capacity to allow our customers to handle more payload with greater efficiency. The Paccar TX-8 also provides up to a 15% improvement in acceleration over comparable transmissions.”

Kenworth dashmount

The lower right dash is hardened area for displays and controls. (Sturgess Associates)

According to Bloch, more than 90% of Kenworth medium-duty trucks are ordered with an automatic transmission. “In addition to the performance and smooth shifting the Paccar TX-8 provides, it’s also leading the way in fuel economy. Depending upon the application, it can improve fuel economy by up to 5%. It senses the road grade, vehicle acceleration, torque demand, weight and engine load to keep the truck in the most fuel-efficient gear possible.”

It is well matched to the engine and with eight forward ratios, capable of getting the most from the 300-hp rated 7-liter engine. On the short freeway section of the route, it had no trouble getting up to 55 mph with a lot more in hand.

The top-rated tandem T480 was next on the list and showed all the best features of the others but it felt like a bigger, heavier truck. It featured a fixed hood with front-engine power takeoff for the mixer body. But like all the new mediums, it is very versatile and with the fixed hood would make a great “bid” truck chassis for municipal and utility customers.

It also featured the higher roof option and the amount of storage around the cab was remarkable. Three hoods are available: The short aero hood (107.5-inch BBC), which accommodates front axles from 8,000 to 20,000 pounds; a medium aero hood (109.5-inch BBC) for higher horsepower applications — like bucket trucks or tow trucks — which often spec winch bumpers, PTOs and up to 425 size tires. This hood also allows the spec’ing of 10,000 to 16,000 pounds front-drive axles. The last hood is Kenworth’s vocational “sloped” hood used on the T380Vand T480V vocational trucks.

Finally, and in complete contrast, was the little Class 5 sitting on 19.5-inch wheels. It featured hydraulic brakes — which can also be spec’ed on the Class 6 — fixed cab and steel suspension, so was a relatively bare-bones equipped chassis. The ride around Phoenix showed that air suspension is a far better option but as a rental-type truck the T180 is more than adequate.


It has been a long time coming, but the new medium-duty truck (NMD) is a major step up in driver/operator comfort and convenience. The new powertrains will also appeal to owners with likely improved fuel economy all around and a wide availability of suspensions and wheelbases that will accommodate the multiple vocations that these medium chassis are designed to served.

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