Hino put on an excellent launch presentation for its class-leading 300 Series light truck range, but there’s no substitute for a full day in the saddle. After the editor got to enjoy tea and small cakes, Allan Whiting had to grab a pie on the run.
My first mount for this real-world evaluation was an Extra-long wheelbase 816 Crew Cab, loaded to a tad over six tonnes. It was an automatic-transmission model with optional HID headlights and washers and a rear-view camera.
As the editor reported in the last issue, Hino has moved the ergonomic goalposts with the new 300 Series. Entry and exit from either side of the truck is improved by a folding gear lever – auto or manual – revised step layout, and wide-opening doors.
Getting comfy behind the wheel is also easy, thanks to generous ‘belly room’ seat travel, rake adjustment, tilt-telescopic steering column and lumbar pad lever. The seat sits on a torsion-bar suspension mechanism, with a magnetic damper that should prove to be maintenance free. Stalk controls handle most functions, and the auto gear lever fell readily to hand, as they say. All felt good!
The cab pillars are slim in profile for good angle-forward vision, and the main mirror panes are electrically adjustable and supplemented by wide-angle spotters. Windscreen wipers have a generous sweep, and the washers spray from the wiper arms. The optional camera gave a wide-angle view behind the truck. All looked good!
Hino has adopted a central LCD display panel that has true multi-function capability, from digital radio through movie capability to optional nav system and reverse camera displays. It’s also a Bluetooth unit, and I found it very easy to pair my HTC Desire to the system. Playing around with the sound system showed the quality advantages of digital radio over AM/FM. All sounded good!
The Hino 300 816 had no trouble meandering through Sydney traffic, with ample torque and car-quality automatic-transmission shifts keeping progress smooth and rev-free. The box did its best to fire up the ‘eco’ light on the dashboard whenever possible, and light pedal application saw revs hovering around the 1500-1800 rpm mark most of the time.
The box is programmed to downshift when the exhaust brake is engaged, lifting engine revs and making exhaust braking effective, so the service brakes had an easy time of it. I did check them out and discovered that panic stops are very powerful and very quick, with ABS preserving steerability all the while. Impressive stuff!
I also checked out the stability control system, by flicking the truck into a stupidly tight turn with way too much speed on. At the sphincter-tightening point where I thought ‘oh,oh!’ the ESC cut engine power and applied selective wheel braking and the truck kept turning quite safely at reduced speed. Given that most rollovers occur as a result of too much speed in too tight a turn, this safety initiative is most welcome.
Just when I started thinking there was nothing to whinge about in the new Hino 300, a trio of niggling issues surfaced.
Firstly, the central nav-camera screen/radio display was hard to see when driving with sunnies on, and the touch-screen zones, tiny control buttons and knobs were difficult to operate as the truck bounced over our less than billiard-table-smooth road syste
m. Several times I accidentally changed radio stations when my fingers hit the touch screen, so instead of increasing the volume on ABC Radio National I found myself listening to some shock-jock at about a million decibels. (Nothing wrong with the speaker capacity, it seems.) Also, sound quality is excellent, but difficult to hear over engine and cooling fan noise when the truck is working hard.
Secondly, when running at 100+ km/h on highways, my bottom complained, quietly. I fiddled with the suspension seat adjustment, to make sure the torsion bar was doing its bit, and all was fine there. The foam density in the seat also seemed OK, so what was causing the sore-bum syndrome I wondered, because at town speeds the pain went away. Could it be that the pre-production evaluation vehicle front axles were fitted with Japanese-market, single-acting shock absorbers? Japanese trucks used to arrive here with these one-way horrors years ago, until the market demanded something that controlled bump action as well as rebound. Hino Australia is checking that out.
Thirdly, all the Hino 300 Series come with the same intercooler/radiator package, and I found that the 816’s cooling fan needed to operate almost constantly on long grades, in only 25-degree ambient temperature. It’s a big call to expect the same engine and cooling capacity to handle gross mass ratings from 4.5 tonnes to 8.5 tonnes. Enough of griping!
My next mount was a relative sports car – same mechanical package in a shortie with a gross mass of 4.5 tonnes. Needless to say, the higher power-to-weight ratio advantage was immediately obvious. It was much quicker through the ratio shifts and needed fewer revs to do everything. In contrast to the 816, I didn’t hear the cooling fan come on once, but the issues with central-screen vision and sore-bum syndrome remained.
I’m impressed with the primary safety initiatives in Hino’s new 300 Series, bringing many car-type safety features to the light-truck world. The new trucks are forgiving to operate and have powerful, stable brakes. Hino has had the good sense to employ a proper, torque-converter automatic option.
However, I think the car-style multi-function display initiative needs to be better integrated into a truck environment. For example, scanning a central screen from a car seat requires little diversion of the driver’s eyes from the road ahead. The upright, forward-control, truck-driving position requires a larger vision-angle change for the driver. Also, touch screens are easy to operate from a stable car seat, but the livelier action of a truck suspension and a truck seat fuzzes touch-screen accuracy.
On the sore-bum issue, I’m pretty sure the wrong shocks were fitted to these pre-production trucks, so seat comfort shouldn’t be such a problem with production machines.
While the lower-GVM models have good performance, I feel that the four-litre will prove to be a tad stretched at 8.5 tonnes GVM, unless it’s restricted to flatter-country work.