Not so very long ago, trucks with sleepers looked like a cross between a coffin and Elvis's basement. Top-of-the-line cabs and sleepers sported plenty of vinyl button-and-tuck upholstery in colors like cherry red, black, white and turquoise. It was what the market wanted and what truck makers delivered.

Peterbilt's new Model 386 conventional tractor is a case study in just how much trucks and the business of trucking has changed. This cab and sleeper are for a much more sophisticated customer — one who has survived industry downturns, sky-rocketing fuel prices, labor shortfalls and waves of regulations to emerge polished, tough and business savvy, rather like the 386.

Even the King of Rock & Roll himself might forsake his trademark glitz and glitter for the sleek, Lexus-like interior of the new 386, with its muted palate of neutral tones, contoured door panels, and ergonomic dash, all accented with just enough burl woodgrain to add interest and class.

If the form didn't persuade him, the comfort and functionality surely would, from the door-mounted map pockets with built-in courtesy lights; to the 18-in. soft-touch steering wheel; driver and passenger dome/reading lights; power lift windows; motorized, heated and lighted side mirrors from Moto-Mirror; and (of course) the dash-mounted, ConcertClass audio system with optional satellite connection, designed to deliver 210-watts of surround sound through ten speakers, which comes standard with the Platinum level interior.

According to Peterbilt, the new HVAC system was also redesigned to take comfort to new levels, with a 20% increase in overall airflow and a side window defrost function that is 400% more efficient. The new multiplex electrical system also reflects a simple-is-elegant philosophy with its clearly numbered, color-coded wiring, designed to speed trouble-shooting and repair.

It's not just the fit and finish of this truck that reflect the changes happening in the industry, however. The fully adjustable steering wheel and column, for example, are designed to accommodate today's wider range of drivers — short, tall and in between — getting behind the wheel. For highways more crowded than ever, the sloped hood is designed to improve visibility, even up close. Paired with the new Metton advanced composite bumper, new grille, molded aero visor, under-cab fairings and modified battery and tool box, the sloped hood is also part of an aerodynamic design package intended to help make today's high-priced diesel go farther.

Driver fatigue is also currently the subject of much concern (and much regulation) in the trucking industry. While the FMCSA was rewriting the hours-of-service regulations and adding new driver fatigue training requirements, Peterbilt was working on the forward lighting system for the 386, to try to help reduce driver fatigue by projecting an even beam of light out ahead of the driver.

Today, America's highways are in a state of disrepair that would make President Eisenhower cringe at what has become of his Interstate vision. The Model 386 is designed to help smooth out the ride with sleeper systems that are secured into a single structural unit with an independent suspension.

Trucking in 2005 is not the same as it was even a few years ago. Times have changed. Peterbilt's new Model 386 both chronicles and responds to these changes with a thoughtful set of solutions designed to make doing business, even in this tough environment, more of a pleasure again.

PETERBILT MODEL 386 TRACTOR

  • GCW: 80,000 lb.

  • Wheelbase 240 in.

  • Cab: 126-in. BBC aluminum cab with fiberglass hood

  • Engine: Caterpillar C15 ACERT producing 475 hp at 2100 rpm

  • Transmission: Fuller RTOC16909A 9/13 speed convertible

  • Front axle: Dana Spicer E1202W rated at 12,000 lb.

  • Rear axle: Dana Spicer DSP40 rated at 40,000 lb.