Traditionally, we’ve considered all 3.0-tonne tippers to be basically similar. The reality is far from the perception
They’re the backbone of the local sand and gravel merchants, and, when fitted with a set of hungry boards down each side of the tipper body, it’s likely that payloads and gross weight statistics become blurred in the rush by local suppliers to deliver material to their customers.
Probably the most hard working of all trucks in the yard, these light tippers run around the district with scant regard to the demands of weighbridges and, in many instances, it’s our view they are often pushing the guidelines of the manufacturers out too far. After all, when plated for use by a car licence holder, they gain immunity to mandatory weighing, unless encountered by an eager member of the inspection squad.
Delivery commenced its multi-vehicle comparison test of the light tipper market with four models – two from Fuso, and one each from Hino and Isuzu. The results certainly surprised us and created the question that maybe it’s time local landscape suppliers looked at overall efficiency as a bigger picture, rather than traditionally replacing their fleet of 3.0-tonne tippers with a new model downrated to 4,495 kg when dictated by time and wear.
As an overall view, the popularity of this segment is substantiated by the lack of requirements on the part of the driver for a light-truck driving licence. On face value that’s an important asset, but, as we investigated our four contenders, it raised the obvious question about suitability for the work task and overall durability for the longer term.
During our evaluation, which covered five days of driving each of the contenders on a rotating basis, we rapidly came to the conclusion that a step up to a tipper that required a light-rigid licence would bring the operator substantial rewards in efficiency, safety and vehicle durability. Allan Whiting takes up the story:
There’s a misconception that all small Japanese trucks with factory-fitted tipping bodies are mechanically similar; after all, they come in any colour you like (so long as that’s white), have four-cylinder turbo-intercooled diesel engines and forward-control cabs, and look pretty much the same. However, even at the lighter end of the tipper market there’s more hardware difference than most buyers perceive.
Our test trucks from Hino, Isuzu and Fuso use the same common-rail injection and emissions technology – cooled exhaust gas recirculation and diesel particulate filter – for ADR80/03 compliance, but are fundamentally different engines with varied displacements.
Hino’s NO4CUT 4.0-litre is an overhead valve type – Isuzu’s 4HK-1TCN 5.2-litre is a single overhead cam design and Fuso’s 4P10-T4 3.0-litre has twin overhead camshafts.
Hino has the best on-paper specs, with 121 kW at 2500 rpm and 464 Nm at 1400 rpm, followed by Isuzu’s 114 kW at 2600 rpm and 419 Nm at 1600-2600 rpm, and Fuso’s 110 kW at 2840-3500 rpm and 370 Nm at 1350-2840 rpm.
Hino and Isuzu opt for simple, six-speed synchromesh manual transmissions, but Fuso offers a five-speed manual (with non-synchro first cog) and a six-speed Duonic automated manual (no clutch pedal). We checked out both Fuso boxes on this test.
Chassis are different: Isuzu leads with 216 mm x 70 mm x 6 mm rails and 850 mm width; Fuso’s wide-cab has 212 mm x 65 mm x 6 mm and 850 mm width (narrow cab 190 mm x 60 mm x 5 mm and 701 mm); and Hino is the lightest, with 190.8 mm x 65 mm x 4.9 mm and 750 mm width.
Axle capacities also vary greatly: Isuzu is the heaviest rated, with front 3100 kg and rear 6600 kg; next is Fuso with front 3100 kg and rear 6000 kg (narrow-cab, 2600 kg and 4500 kg); and Hino is by far the lightest, with front 2600 kg and rear 4400 kg.
Tyre sizes and ratings match axle capacities: Isuzu’s Michelins are 215/75R17.5s with 126/124 load rating; Fuso’s Bridgestones have the same size and load rating; and Hino’s Yokohamas are lighter-duty 195/85R16 114/112 size and rating.
The different mechanical specifications of these three brands have a great effect on tare weight. The small engine package of the Fusos sees the tare weight of the narrow-cab tipper at a low 2600 kg, and the wide-cab, 3000 kg. The Hino’s lighter chassis and axles result in a tare of 3030 kg. The Isuzu’s large-capacity engine and heaviest chassis and axles give it a tare of 3600 kg.
All our test vehicles had leaf springs front and rear, but again there are differences: Hino has taper-leaf front and rear, including the rear helper leaves; Isuzu has taper-leaf fronts and conventional leaf rears; and Fuso has conventional leaves front and rear. Rear springs are mounted above the axles, except in the case of the narrow-cab Fuso where the rear springs are slung under the axle.
Brake systems are vacuum/hydraulic, but the Hino and Fuso have four-wheel discs, compared with the Isuzu’s disc/drum combination. All have transmission-mounted, drum park brakes.
The manoeuvrability honours go to the narrow-cab Fuso, with its kerb-to-kerb turning circle of 9.4 m, followed tightly by the Hino, with 9.8 m, and the wide-cab Fuso at 10.4m. The Isuzu needs a relatively large 12.4 m circle.
Cab-tilt is almost identical across these three brands, necessitating a three-step release before the cab can be raised. All cabs are restrained in the raised position by an over-centre prop that needs to be tripped before dropping the cab – a remote trip would be safer, we feel, rather than the operator having to bend under the cab to release the prop.
Maintenance access is okay, but it used to be a lot better before EGR and DPFs entered the equation. It would have been a lot simpler under-cab if light-truck makers had opted for AdBlue-based selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology, but there’s obvious concern about the availability of urea in off-freeway servos, and the reluctance of non-professional drivers to use the stuff.
The tipper bodies fitted to all three brands are Japanese-quality – solid and durable. However, the Hino is the only one to come with an integrated tarp, and the Isuzu’s is the only one that has drop-sides, in addition to rear-opening tailgate that hinges conventionally at the top edge, but also swings on a nearside hinge to pin back against the left-hand side for unrestricted tipping of bulk materials.
Purchasing on specification
The significant technical differences between these three brands give buyers a challenge – what’s best for your operation?
If your need is for a high-performance light truck that won’t ever be overloaded, the Hino 617 is a standout. For stop-start work, an optional Duonic transmission in the Fuso 715 takes all the work out of traffic driving and should save on clutch replacements. The Isuzu’s heavy specification makes it virtually bulletproof at 6500 kg GVM – the rear axle alone can carry that!
Japanese light trucks and vans have been consistently criticised for their poor ride and handling qualities, in comparison with European and American vehicles.
The root cause is the Japanese adherence to cab-over-engine configuration, where the Euros have adopted semi-bonneted designs in this weight class, and the Yanks have gone full-bonnet.
A short or long bonnet allows more front suspension space and also moves the driver aft of the front axle, giving a better driving position and, potentially, a better ride.
A COE configuration puts the engine, front suspension and the driver all in the same location, making it difficult to engineer independent front suspension.
Some Japanese torsion bar IFS front ends exist, but they’re at the bottom end of the COE range, where a small engine envelope allows more suspension space. These are also usually confined in their availability to the fitment of van bodies, with the manufacturers predicting their durability may not suit possible overloading.
The plus for a COE configuration is maximum load space for a given overall length, plus a shorter wheelbase, giving a tighter turning circle. In most Japanese export markets, small is better.
However, Japanese light-truck and van makers have engineered themselves out of many markets – notably Europe and North America – where a short or long bonnet and supple suspension are basic requirements. In Australia, the semi-bonneted Hyundai iLoad threatens the Toyota HiAce’s traditional van market leadership.
We’ve seen prototypes of Japanese semi-bonneted vans and cab/chassis, but nothing has reached the production stage. “Why not?”, we keep asking.
On the road
Access into each of the test vehicles was easy thanks to wide opening doors and clear front steps. With full volume loads of mulch we were able to trial different payloads that varied from 3.0-4.0 cubic metres, with each cubic metre weighing in around 450 kg.
The Hino 617 was certainly the nippiest off the mark and offered the most car-like driving position with a quite supple suspension setting. Particularly noticeable here was additional height of the steering wheel, whereas on other contenders the steering wheel height is still slightly too low for perfect ergonomics. Against this benefit was the disadvantage of a very high clutch pedal, which could prove to provide ankle discomfort after long hours at the controls. The driver’s suspension seat was a benefit marred by insufficient side and front support and the short length of the seat squab.
The ride comfort on good quality bitumen roads was at best slightly bumpy and at worst extremely bumpy, and, when encountering severe potholes, the smaller wheels would transmit a severe thump through the cab. A good feature was the roll back tarp that secured to the top of the headboard and attached to the side by elastic cords. This certainly saved time when loading and unloading, compared with tarping and roping of each of the other vehicles.
As an example of the engine/transmission matching at 80 km/h, the Hino spun along in 5th gear at 1,800 rpm, rising to 2,300 rpm at 100 km/h. The in-cab storage compartments were better than the competition, with a full-width shelf across the lower part of the dash, above windscreen parcels shelves and two cup holders.
For the safety aspect, the Hino is the only model fitted with electronic stability control, and it adds SRS airbags for both the driver and left-seat passengers. The centre seat back folds forwards to provide a flat space for docket books etc.
The ESC did operate twice in the middle of a specific corner on our test route, but, interestingly, did not operate when we drove over soft sand and on dirt roads. The driver’s suspension seat was comfortable and even offered a left-hand armrest. The exhaust brake held the descent speed constant on long hill declines.
Fuel economy is always highly variable in tipper work, through laden/unladen running, but during our test loop the Hino averaged 11.4 l/100 km. One demerit mark was the extreme height of the step access at each side for access into the front section of the tipper body. This step is small and mounted in such a way that it is reminiscent of putting your foot into the stirrup of an 18-hand-high horse.
Fuso entered the comparison with a narrow-cab Canter featuring a manual gearbox and a wide-cab Canter with the Fuso Duonic automated manual transmission. In terms of modernity, both these cabs are showing their age and lack of sophistication when compared to more modern products, missing features on the narrow-cab such as a driver’s suspension seat and not including a fold-down centre seat back. Fitting just a 70-litre fuel tank is also an example of under-speccing.
On paper the Duonic AMT looks the better bet, but in reality it proved not to be so clear cut. Part of our test loop includes a steep hill with severe corners, and on one occasion the transmission ECM lost the plot completely and left the engine floundering without an upshift. It also proved problematic when reversing into tight tipping areas at very slow speeds, where clutch engagement and disengagement left the impression the transmission was arguing with itself. It can’t be over-ruled by the driver and, consequently, the drive engagement becomes rougher than would be the case with a manual clutch control.
The wide-cab did feature a suspension seat, but when compared with that of Isuzu and Hino it wasn’t the best of the bunch. The fuel tank capacity on the wide-cab increased to 100 litres and this was the only model to include a reversing camera. Fuel economy for the Canter 715 averaged 15 l/100 km, with engine and road speeds of 2,150 rpm at 80 km/h and 2,750 rpm at 100 km/h.
On balance, when comparing the two Canter contenders, Delivery would pick the narrow-cab manual over the wide-cab Duonic as being better value and available at keener pricing for the typical landscape supplier.
A step into the Isuzu NPR 300 Tipper showed why this Japanese manufacturer has maintained market leadership in Australia for 24 consecutive years. A check on the mechanical specification showed its greater strength rating than any of its competition, and this translates on the road to the impression that the driver is at the wheel of a much more sophisticated product.
Steering precision and accuracy on the road is best-in-class, as is the ride comfort and interior cab noise suppression. At 80 km/h in 6th gear the engine rpm is 1,750, and this rises to 2,050 rpm at 100 km/h. The driver’s suspension seat is superior to any of the competitors and the door-mounted mirrors include convex spotter mirrors on each mirror head, something that Fuso doesn’t match, preferring to stay with a single mirror.
With the highest payload of any of the contenders here, and a GVM of 6,500 kg, this is one model that demands a driver with a light-rigid licence.
Compared to the lighter-payload smaller tippers, the Isuzu NPR 300 is much more indicative of a full-sized tipper to drive, and the ride and handling is consequently to a higher standard. The big plus comes when tipping bulk material, thanks to the ability of the tailgate to swing to the nearside as well as hinge from the top section. It means there is no risk of the material getting caught on the tailgate, and, consequently, the tipping exercise is completed much more smoothly.
One final point that applies to all light to medium commercial vehicles is that it’s time for greater attention to vehicle ergonomics, and, in particular, the switch gear for controls such as radio and mobile phone actuation.
All the vehicles tested had atrocious Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity. Difficult to connect, to the point of total frustration, and even more difficult to actually use if trying to answer a call, the tiny buttons located on a radio console are impractical and potentially dangerous due to the distraction it causes the driver. All phone actuation should be through steering wheel controls. So too, should radio volume and station changes.
Some of the vehicles tested were fitted with upper level digital radios, and these were totally useless in country areas with drop-outs and poor reception. The sound quality when they did work was also average.
There’s real room here for improvement, but let the product planners make their selection of suitable radio units when driving the truck, not sitting in an office. Only then will they realise that the bouncy ride comfort associated with empty running means it’s almost impossible to touch any control and get the desired effect.
What this evaluation showed the Delivery team is that the ground rules for just reordering a replacement light tipper to be driven on a car licence have changed. There are significant gains to be made in payload and, subsequently, vehicle efficiency, by upsizing. With a larger tipper body and more durable componentry, as well as chassis density, a higher initial investment will bring greater financial return.