Official BUSRide Road Test: Ameritrans M2 Vista
The Shoups, owners of the venerable family-owned Cardinal Buses, Middlebury, IN, test drive the bus built on a M2 Freightliner chassis
By David Hubbard
As Ameritrans continues to grow brand recognition as a subsidiary of ABC Companies, Faribault, MN, the top-of-the-line Ameritrans M2-Series is now in the spotlight and following on the heels of the Ameritrans Ford E Series and F Series and the Dodge R Series.
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Designed and built for operators seeking a feel and passenger experience closer to a full-size motorcoach in the range, the M2-Vista model lends an upscale coach appearance utilizing the M2 Freightliner chassis.
“We want the M2-Vista to connect with motorcoach operators wanting mid-size buses in their fleets,” says recently appointed Ameritrans General Manager Troy Snyder. “They tell us the mid-size bus makes better sense economically for small group charters and contracts, so long as they deliver a comparable level of quality.”
Snyder moved to his new position in June to oversee the company’s facility, arriving with years of manufacturing and sales experience as president and vice president of sales for Goshen Coach. He says among his immediate tasks, the biggest is to increase the levels of production.
“We are marketing to charter tour and shuttle operators, the limousine companies, colleges and universities,” he says. “This requires enhancing our production of the Ameritrans line to add product value for the medium-duty market segment through more features and benefits.”
BUSRide met with Ameritrans in July at its facility in Elkhart, IN, to conduct its Official Road Test on the Ameritrans M2-Vista prototype no. 2. Matt and Dan Shoup, owners of the venerable family-owned Cardinal Buses, based in nearby Middlebury, IN, served as the third party reviewers for the ride-and-drive of the new vehicle.
Living and breathing motorcoaches since they were kids, working in the wash bay years before sliding into the driver’s seat as company owners in 2001, Dan and Matt approached the Ameritrans M2 Series from a motorcoach operator’s perspective, bringing the objectivity to comment fairly on the midsize product.
Ameritrans lead engineer Gavin Strausborger was on hand to discuss the features and improvements that the company believes meets the goal of a luxurious bus experience.
“The M2 Vista Series does offer important motorcoach features in a context,” Strausborger says. “For instance, the HVAC and coach seating are the same as a motorcoach. Riders store luggage overhead in the rear compartment and underfloor.”
He cites the most dominant style features on the M2 Vista, including the panoramic window treatment over the cab and windshield, as well as added side skirts that flare out around the wheel wells. The redesigned rear cap features a fiberglass bumper and single taillight assembly that utilizes stock parts available at most automotive parts stores.
“The shroud around the three lights is the only custom-made component,” Strausborger says. “It’s a quality look, yet each light swaps out individually for cost efficient maintenance.”
The interior features overhead swan racks with individual reading light and air controls for each seat.
Matt Shoup was the driver for the Road Test, while Dan stayed behind to look over the Dodge Ram 330 buses. Starting out, Matt chose to first ride the bus to get the feel for what the passengers would experience.
“It just made sense to me,” he says. “Our passengers are always my first concern.”
While company driver Keith Beers drove the bus over rural roads and down the freeway, Shoup inspected the interior for sight, sound, feel and comfort.
“From my seat all the way in the back, I found the ride very comfortable,” he says. “I never felt like I was getting bounced around, or felt like I was sitting on the end of a springboard. I was, however, aware of the turning radius. This bus has a good wheel cut and will turn tightly.”
Shoup says the swan racks above the seats and modesty panel behind the driver definitely give the M2 Vista more of coach feel.
“But what I really like about the interior of this bus, and can appreciate from all my years of cleaning buses, is the coved flooring,” Shoup says. “The molded curve between floor, steps and sidewall is certainly a bonus. It makes cleaning so much easier, and keeps the dirt and grime from compacting in the corners — no matter how much it gets swept and mopped.”
Sliding into the driver’s seat, Shoup’s initial observations again concerned his passengers as he checked out the HVAC controls.
“On some of the cutaways I am familiar with, the AC only has an on-off, high-low control,” he says. “It is either too hot or too cold. Drivers notice this in dealing with passengers. This HVAC actually provides complete climate control — a very important feature in my opinion.”
The ACC TC96 AC unit allows the driver to set the temperature to the preferred comfort level.
“The ducting through the swan racks is much more convenient,” he says. “The blower doesn’t have to work overtime to cool the entire bus and blow papers off the dash. With reading lights and air flow control for each seat, the passenger can take care of their own needs.”
Shoup also praised the dash switch that lowers the rear baggage compartment about 3 to 5 inches (by dropping the air from the rear suspension).
“This feature makes it much easier to load and unload luggage,” he says. “Drivers are really going to appreciate this function.”
On the road, Shoup commented on the feel of the front and back suspension.
“By comparison, the air suspension in the back lends to a very smooth ride, as it should be for the passengers,” he says. “After all, they are who we want to keep happy. In the driver’s seat, I am finding the springs up front slightly choppier. While the difference is noticeable, I don’t find it objectionable. I could sit here all day and be comfortable driving at 70 mph.”
Shoup also offered his observations on ride quality during his test drive.
“The ride is quiet and smooth,” he says. “The visibility from this bus is fantastic, for both the driver and the passengers. The big windows on the sides, front and over the cab do not give anyone that boxed-in feeling.”
However, he did voice a concern about the overhead window above the cab.
“The big advantage is that it lets light in,” he says. “The disadvantage is that it lets light in.”
Ameritrans says it is looking into a deeper tint that will filter the light and heat from the sun.
“As a coach operator, I am used to stepping out of out the driver’s seat to assist customers at the passenger doors,” Shoup says. “Having to use the side door on this bus, I wouldn’t have time to get around and greet them. My feeling is there ought to be a switch closer to the entrance door. It can’t be easier to find, otherwise passengers will find it and use it. But it would sure help.”
Shoup closed his test of the M2 Vista feeling comfortable and convinced with what Ameritrans has put together. Both Matt and Dan viewed the Ameritrans M2 Vista, and the F, E, and R Series as well, as superb midsize vehicles for their intended applications within any bus and coach fleet.