Kenworth’s new W990 tractor brings the ‘Wow’

October 11, 2018

Suzanne Stempinski


What’s shiny and new and bold and ready to rumble down the road? You’re right if you guessed the freshly introduced Kenworth W990. For months, there have been teases about this truck. Glimpses posted online did not do justice to the way this truck looks up close and personal.

Kenworth’s design director, Jonathan Duncan is responsible for this new vision.

“They don’t sing songs about medium-duty trucks. For this truck, it was all about the wow factor. And the challenge of balancing the legacy (of the W900) with true innovation,” Duncan said. “Since 1961, the W900 has been earning the respect of drivers. It had to have that presence. We wanted it to be a true driver’s truck, and we expected nothing less.”

So let’s talk about it. The new W990 is bigger and wider than the W900. It sits on Kenworth’s 2.1-meter cab. That means it’s significantly wider. An additional 8 inches between the seats. The hood is still big and square. The angle is unchanged from the iconic W900.

The visibility is improved, however, with a single-piece windshield that gives you a widescreen window on the world. The side mirrors are cowl-mounted with a connection at the top and two stalks at the bottom and set forward. They’ve also been lowered to improve the field of view for what’s coming up alongside you.

Back outside, the side air intakes wrap up over the top of the hood. They’re not just functional – they’re a work of art. Everything shiny on the outside is either polished aluminum or polished stainless steel. No chromed plastic. It looks rich and distinctive. The grille has a huge tapered spear down the middle along with tapered grille bars. And the stainless steel visor acts as the bold eyebrow on the face of this truck.

Listen to Suzanne Stempinski talk with Land Line Now’s Terry Scruton about her test drive of the all-new Kenworth W990.

Inside, nothing says Kenworth like a VIT (very important trucker) interior. Available in a limited edition package in midnight black, accented with glossy Ravenwood trim and royal blue stitching. It’s another distinctive touch. The diamond tuck panels on the doors and in the sleeper feature the royal blue stitching and W990 embroidery. The heated and cooled leather seats feature perforated leather that is dyed blue on the backside so that the edges of the perforations are blue. Even the SmartWheel has blue stitching.

The W990 Driver’s Studio offers a 180-degree swivel passenger seat and rotating table for two people, drawer-style refrigerator, and space for a microwave. Entertainment is provided by Kenworth’s premium audio package with 320-watt amp, 10-inch subwoofer and eight speakers; swivel TV mount for up to a 28-inch flat screen TV; and optional EpicVue pre-wire for satellite TV. There’s a full-size wardrobe space for hanging clothes, multiple storage drawers, and large storage space under the lower bunk.

The 1800-watt inverter includes a shore power connection and four standard 120-volt sleeper outlets to power a range of electrical devices. Convenient LED lighting provides ample interior light throughout the sleeper.

The W990 is standard with Kenworth TruckTech Plus remote diagnostics system. Kenworth NAV+HD 7-inch, color in-dash display provides access to valuable features such as truck-specific navigation, roadside assistance, vehicle data, hands-free calling, audio controls, blind-spot camera inputs and the Internet.

While all that big and square looks powerful, it is also 6 to 7 percent more aerodynamic than the W900L. And that translates to a roughly 3 percent improvement in fuel economy.

How does it ride?

I got behind the wheel of the W990 loaded with the 485 horsepower Paccar MX-13 putting out1650 lb-ft of toque paired with the Paccar 12-speed automated transmission, Bendix Wingman Fusion stability system and disc brakes all around.

While I was pulling a Wilson livestock trailer, there was nothing but sailboat fuel on board. I adjusted my seat, checked the gauges and strapped in. The seatbelt is on a fixed bolt attachment. And I’m vertically challenged at 5 feet, 2 inches or so. I used to be taller, but age and gravity have shortened my roll. I’d prefer a sliding seatbelt adjustment on the wall.

The truck is quiet. So quiet that we could talk in whispers without being overpowered by engine noise. With the automated transmission, all I needed to do was release the air brakes, put it in D from the column-mounted stalk, and roll out.

The drive train was smooth; shift points were seamless. No lurch or strain, the rpms were optimized and low. As I merged into traffic headed up the I-15 from the Kenworth dealer in Las Vegas toward the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, I realized this truck did not have self-canceling turn signals. Because I could hear the clicking – no interior or exterior noise came through. The ride was smooth, plenty powerful for our 30-minute joyride and upon our return, I was eager to get back out again.

Second round was a similarly-spec’d truck with the 455-hp Paccar MX-13 with 1,650 lb-ft of torque. Again it performed admirably and I’m looking forward to a longer and more substantive test drive. This was the tip of the iceberg.

Available in day-cab, 40-inch flat top, and 52-inch and 76-inch mid-roof sleeper configurations, the W990 is standard with the proprietary Paccar Powertrain consisting of the Paccar MX-13 engine rated up to 510-hp and 1,850 lb-ft of torque, a 12-speed Paccar automated transmission and Paccar 40K tandem rear axles rated up to 40,000 gross axle weight. It is also available with the Cummins X15 with 605 horsepower and 2,050 lb-ft of torque.

While there are no plans to retire the W900 at this time, customer demand will dictate future production.

The W990 goes into production in January.

Suzanne Stempinksi delivers distinctive driver insight to readers. She studied journalism at Northwestern University, married a trucker, and for the next several years added a few million miles of safe driving to her resume. She has contributed to Land Line Magazine since 2000, covering show truck news and her specialty – test drives.