HAPPY HORSES

Hino’s new high-horsepower series fills a unique niche for the Australian market – Dave Whyte reports

Light trucks were once the domain of the large fleet operators and council workers, but in recent years the market has grown to include more tradesman and lifestyle type customers. The product line-up in the ute market has changed considerably, with sedan-based utilities taking a hit in the payload department, and the larger utes carrying a greater price tag in return for performance and ability. This has meant that the price gap between a workable ute and a light truck has reduced, and so the light truck has become a more viable proposition to traditional ute owners.

The current crop of light trucks are available with all the comfort features and ease of operation these customers are looking for, but in most cases offer some benefits in payload or towing capacity. For lifestyle customers – those towing a horse float or fifth-wheeler for example – these are also important factors, and have led to a broadening market for light truck manufacturers.

Hino trucks may have been the bridesmaid of the truck market here for many years, but the push is on, through improved products and new models, to change the standings. The introduction of the Hino 300 High Horsepower models signifies a real challenge to the other manufacturers in the <8.5-tonne segment. Powered by a 5.1-litre four-cylinder diesel that generates up to 200 hp (151 kW) and 600 Nm of torque, it is the most powerful truck in its class. But it’s not just up to the engine to lure more customers, there are some other sweeteners that come as standard, including dual front airbags, disc brakes all round and electronic stability control (ESC). Add to that the touch screen entertainment and navigation unit, which includes DAB digital radio and Bluetooth connectivity, and you have a package that appeals to the buyer and the operator alike, whether it be as a fleet truck or a weekend runabout.

With various wheelbase options, and the choice between standard and crew-cab options, there are many different variants in the 300 HH range. The choice between manual and automatic (not AMT) dictates the power output however, with the manual rated at 190 hp (139 kW) and 510 Nm, while the auto version gets the higher 200 hp (151 kW) rating. Both are six speed transmissions.

The cab has also come in for an overhaul, and offers a new driver’s seat that accommodates drivers of all sizes and heights, with plenty of fore and aft travel and an adjustable shock absorber to dampen the bumps. The dash is updated, but still maintains the usual Japanese practicality, with plenty of storage and easy to operate controls. Vision is excellent, out the froHino-Motors-P1nt and down both sides. The mirrors provide good clear vision down the side of the tray, and are electrically adjustable to suit any driving position.

To experience the 300 HH for myself, I took two variants for a drive in Sydney local traffic, taking in some back streets, local roads and freeways. (This seemed like a daunting proposition to someone who usually drives B-doubles, and does all he can to avoid the constant daytime traffic around Sydney). The first cab off the rank was the short-wheelbase manual model with the standard cab, loaded to just under 8.5-tonne gross.

Having plugged my route into the GPS, I drove from Taren Point, in Sydney’s east, and headed to Villawood before returning via a slightly different route. To give you an idea of the traffic conditions, the round trip was only about 60 km but took almost two hours to complete – a great test of not just a truck’s ability but also a driver’s patience! Throughout the drive, the Hino had no trouble keeping pace with the traffic.

The manual gearbox provided quick and easy gear changes, with a short shift and easy to find gear positions. I found no need to use first gear at all, even on the hilly sections and with the truck at its maximum weight. The engine and gearbox made for a great combination, letting the engine work without needing to lug or over-rev. At 60 km/h the engine was running at 1500 rpm in fifth gear, leaving plenty of power in reserve, and another gear available for the freeway portion of the drive (which was restricted to 80 km/h due to roadworks). Over the 60 km drive, the combination returned good fuel economy of 5.6 km/l, not bad for the load and conditions.

Braking was very strong, with a few rapid stops at traffic lights proving the value of the disc brakes. The big mirrors made manoeuvring through tHino-Motors_4he traffic easy, with a rearward camera displaying pictures through the entertainment system to assist while reversing. At full weight, the steering was light and accurate, with the short wheelbase offering a very tight turning circle, an important feature in metro operating conditions.

Following the drive in the manual, I jumped aboard a crew-cab automatic model. This unit was only loaded to 4.4 t (a payload of only half a ton), making it suitable to drive on a car licence. It seemed a shame to have the extra power and no weight to compare the difference, but it did give a good example of the auto, and the differences between the two cab sizes. The automatic transmission is a great match for the power band of the engine, and made fast, smooth changes. The real benefit of a true torque converter auto is that there is no break in torque during gear changes, and so less shock through the driveline, making for smooth acceleration. This is not only beneficial to the driveline components, but makes life easier for any coupling when towing a loaded trailer.

With the reduced weight on board, I found the steering wandered a little more on the auto. The ride was still very good, with just enough weight to stop the bounce, and the suspension seat absorbing the worst of the hard bumps. The biggest difference I noticed between the standard and crew cabs was the noise levels. While the standard cab was relatively quiet, the crew cab seemed to reverberate to the sound of the exhaust (which sounded very much like a Subaru boxer engine with a sports exhaust). The difference was striking, though perhaps a few extra bodies in the cab would help reduce the echo. Access to the rear seat was very easy, with full-size doors and wide steps on each side. Over the same route, the auto produced better fuel results, not surprising given the load difference. Still, the result of 6.0 km/l is not bad from a 4.5 t machine in heavy traffic.

So does Hino have a shot at the title? These little trucks show a great deal of potential in an ever-expanding market. With plenty of power, and driver friendliness, they provide a great platform for a wide variety of work and recreational vehicles. While they are available direct from the dealer with an assortment of trays and bodies, and would be ideal for metro delivery work, there is also plenty of scope to adapt to other tasks outside the usual light-truck duties.

The automatic model particularly, with the higher power output and smooth acceleration, lends itself to fifth-wheeler operation. By offering a versatile performer, chances are Hino can meet the expectations of a wider audience. The 300 High Horsepower should prove popular, if only for its “most powerful” status, but operators will also benefit from the standard safety and comfort features across the range. These are just the first of a revised model range for Hino, and if they are anything to go by, we could be seeing a little more of the big H badge.

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