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Behind the wheel

PLANT HIRE

Construction News took an FM9 380 hp tipper equipped with I-Shift on an urban route to a quarry near Coventry.

Settling into the seat, I had to resist the temptation to reach for a gear lever and depress a clutch pedal. Sliding the lever into 'A' activated the transmission and selected third gear. Simultaneously releasing the handbrake and pressing the throttle brought a gently controlled start, as if I had released the clutch myself.

Cautious throttle control prevented the gearbox from rushing through the gears to help low-speed manoeuvres.Then keeping my right foot firmly on the throttle was all that was required.

The truck cleverly and simultaneously closed the throttle, opened the clutch, took the next suitable gear, closed the clutch and opened the throttle again.All I had to do was steer.Without worrying about the correct gear selection, I was free to focus on surrounding road conditions, pedestrians and car drivers.

Selecting the automatic mode does give quick and easy results, but training would be necessary to get the best out of the transmission. It is also essential if clutch wear is to be reduced, as holding the truck on the service brakes at a junction while tickling the throttle will shorten the clutch life.

I-Shift offers so much more than 'point-and-press' driving. But in the brief drive Construction News had, we only explored the tip of the iceberg.

One of the drawbacks of such a transmission is that I-Shift cannot identify approaching hills.This is where manual mode (and, of course, the driver) comes in handy, by determining when the transmission should make a downshift, for example to build revs before a long climb.

Despite the £2,200 price tag, it looks like I-Shift is a promising development for the construction industry.With an increasing shortage of truck drivers, it seems that features such as I-Shift could make tipper work much less demanding, but also more accessible to a greater pool of new drivers.