Higer's Super 9 arrives on a fast boat from China

By Tim Deakin 

Higer will shortly become the latest coach builder to join the UK market when its Super 9 arrives here within the next few weeks. It looks set to be a strong challenger in what is a buoyant market segment. Tim Deakin is the first journalist to drive one, in Ireland

 

The 9.34m Higer Super 9 seats 37 and will arrive in the UK very soon

It’s all systems go in the purpose-built midicoach segment, and to the existing challengers in this buoyant area of the market will shortly join Higer with its 9.3m, Cummins-powered Super 9.

Higer is not a name completely new to the British coach industry. It builds Scania’s well-received Touring body, and Irish importer the Harris Group showed an earlier midi, the Storm 1, at Euro Bus Expo in November 2014.

The Storm 1 never entered production and instead, following feedback, the Harris Group has been working hard to develop the all-new Super 9.

The differences between the two coaches are numerous: The Super 9 is more westernised, has increased underfloor luggage space and an improved environment for the driver and passengers.

Confirmation of the British dealer for Higer integral coaches is expected very soon, and the first Super 9s are scheduled to arrive here “within weeks,” says Harris Group Marketing Manager Chris Haughton.

The Harris Group is confident that the response will be good. It prides itself on the work it has undertaken with Higer to develop a coach that will satisfy UK and Irish buyers, and Chris says that those Irish operators that have viewed the model so far have been impressed.

Subject to exchange rates, retail prices will start at around the £145,000 mark. For that, the operator will get a high basic specification, regardless of which of the three trim levels is chosen.

Additionally, Chris points out that Harris is already renowned for its aftersales service, and he adds that its high standards will continue when it enters the coach market. Parts are held in a huge warehouse in Dublin and can be dispatched on a same- or next-day basis to Ireland and the UK.

With the Higer story in the UK finally about to get into gear, Chris kindly made one of the first batch of stock coaches available for a routeONE Test Drive. It is a Euro 5 model but barring a few improvements, the basic coach will be identical at Euro 6.

 

Uncluttered luggage area gives 6.7m3 of luggage space between axles

Build

Monocoque construction is used for the Super 9, as it will be for the two larger coaches that will come later.

The passenger door is complemented by a continental door that is mounted behind the rear axle, giving an uncluttered 6.7m3underfloor luggage area within the wheelbase that can take a maximum load of 590kg.

Cummins’ six-cylinder ISB6.7 engine is fitted, and in the initial Euro 5 coaches it is rated at 300bhp. That setting will be retained in the Euro 6 examples, and it is coupled to a six-speed Allison T325R automatic gearbox with a five-stage column-activated intarder.

A 220-litre fuel tank that can be filled from both sides is fitted above the front axle.

Harris deletes the standard spare wheel, located below the platform, and Chris explains that in the future it will be able to offer an extended fuel tank to take up the vacant space, potentially giving a 600-litre capacity.

Electronically controlled air suspension is fitted all round, and as a result the Super 9 has kneel, squat and ferry lift capacity.

Independent front suspension is standard, and the results can be felt easily; despite its relatively small 22.5in wheels, the Super 9 has a poise more akin to that of a full-size coach. Its road-holding and cornering capability are both first rate.

37 seats are fitted to the first batch of Super 9s, but two other variants will be available. One, with a floor-mounted rear toilet, will seat 34; the other will lose the continental door in favour of an emergency exit, and be able to carry 41 passengers.

 

Wide plug door and steps give good access to plaform and gangway

Passenger access

A plug door leads to four shallow steps to the platform, with one more easily negotiated step to the sunken gangway.

No flat floor option will be available on the Super 9 as it would compromise headroom, although on the larger Higers it will be offered.

The doorway is wide, as are the steps. All of the latter throughout the coach are marked in both high-visibility yellow, and blue LEDs that illuminate when the saloon lighting is on.

Handrail provision around the door is good, with one on each side at the bottom of the steps complemented by a similar arrangement higher up. The courier seat has a handrail attached to its base.

One omission, that Chris explains will be examined in the future, is a lack of upright hand-holds on the seats.

That means that the driver will need to wait until all passengers are seated before moving away.

A further step rises to the rear bench of five seats, which are slightly higher than the other 32.

 

37 Vega 440 part-leather seats are fitted with a variety of luxuries

Passenger comfort

Seats are of the Vega 400 variety, and are fitted in China. They are to a high standard, including real leather shoulders and removable padded antimacassars, which are attached by Velcro and also made of leather.

Other comforts are a side-shift function, aluminium footrests, drop-down tables and a coat hook.

The rear five seats each have three-point belts, but the remainder have two-point securement; further batches of the Super 9 will be three-point throughout.

Under-seat USB ports are provided for all passengers, with 240v three-point charging points at every other row. A large top-loading fridge is immediately behind the driver’s seat.

Roof-mounted air-conditioning and the perimeter heater radiators are from Spheros, and the system incorporates climate control.

The dark-coloured coach was left in a patch of sunshine during the test, and the air-conditioning quickly brought the internal temperature down to a reasonable level; it is the same unit to be fitted to the larger coaches.

A manually-lowered monitor is fitted above the windscreen and it is part of an entertainment system that incorporates a Clarion head unit with radio, CD and DVD capabilities.

 

Cab is enitrely different to earlier Storm 1 and driving position is good

Driver comfort

The driver has been considered during the Super 9’s design phase, and the cab is entirely different from that in the earlier Storm 1.

It is almost entirely western in nature, with one exception: The cruise control buttons. They are dash-mounted next to other body switches, meaning that they are less convenient to use than those more usually fitted to the stalk or steering wheel.

Harris has identified this, and the controls will be moved to the wheel on future deliveries.

Space in the cab is reasonable, although the Isringhausen seat is tight to the freestanding fridge behind it when at its rearmost adjustment.

The seat has the full range of comforts, and the steering column and wheel can be adjusted for height and rake via two screw-tight wheels on each side.

Combined with a seat that can raise very high, that gives a hugely commanding driving position. It is more akin to that in a full-size, high-floor coach, and will be appreciated by drivers.

Storage in the cab is reasonable, although a pocket suitable for an A4 work ticket or similar would be welcome. Harris is exploring adding a drop-down drawer above the driver in the future, although it would mean relocating some parts of the air-conditioning ducting. A safe is within the seat base.

Visibility from the cab is good, and the B-pillar has been moved back considerably when compared with the Storm 1.

Three mirror panes are attached to each gullwing arm, complemented by a lower blind spot mirror on the offside. Unusually, the latter is adjusted manually; it remains visible in the larger of the gullwing-mounted offside mirrors regardless of how the latter is adjusted, and would perhaps benefit from being slightly smaller.

 

300bhp ISB6.7 engine coupled to Allison gearbox gives fine performance

Performance

There is one word that describes the Super 9’s performance: Spectacular, as demonstrated by a 0-50mph time of well below 20 seconds.

It easily keeps up with all other traffic and accelerates exceptionally well when given full throttle, to the extent that pressing the accelerator to the floor is seldom necessary, especially if fuel consumption is to be considered.

Hill climbing is equally positive, and from a standing start at a T-junction at the bottom of a steep hill the coach reached 40mph before it was necessary to ease off.

The Allison gearbox keeps revs towards the top of the wide efficiency band when the accelerator is pressed hard, but at other times it changes up at around 1,500rpm. As a result, it will be imperative to impress upon drivers that the throttle must be handled carefully.

Cornering and road holding are similarly impressive, thanks to the independent front suspension. On a very poor rural road the Super 9 was not flustered, and it proved easy to push hard into corners when required.

At the 62mph limited speed, the engine is turning at 1,500rpm, and the Allison gearbox is very smooth in operation. Its five-stage intarder rarely needs more than the first two steps, although activation could be a little smoother; when moved into the second stage, it gives a slightly abrupt jerk.

Verdict

 

The Higer Super 9 is a worthy addition to the buoyant midicoach market

The Super 9 is a coach that will fit in well in the purpose-built, mid-sized segment of the market.

It gives buyers a high level of specification at a very reasonable price, and the Harris Group’s promise to back up the product will also earn it brownie points.

Passengers will appreciate its well-appointed cabin, and drivers will welcome the commanding cab and performance that can only be described as sparkling. In the latter case, excellent road holding will also count in the model’s favour.

Operators who have previously looked at the Storm 1 at Euro Bus Expo in 2014 should cast aside any opinions that they formed at that time.

The Super 9 is a completely different model, and it is one that will go head-to-head with its established competitors.

A handful of aspects of the Super 9 would benefit from improvement, but the Harris Group is committed to doing just that on future deliveries. The model is a continually-evolving coach, says Chris, and changes will be adopted as and when they are identified.

Besides the three specification levels already confirmed, the Harris Group, and the to-be-announced British dealer, will offer Super 9s that are built to order. Higer will paint them in China to the buyer’s requirement, and Chris says that all manner of special requests will be possible.

When the above are combined, the Super 9 will represent an attractive proposition to many operators, and the Harris Group’s optimism for sales is understandable.

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