TEST DRIVE: After an impressive static display mid-way through 2021, we expected plenty from a first drive of Hino’s new 700-series trucks, and we certainly weren’t disappointed by an FR 6x2 rigid model put through its paces in everything from heavy metro traffic to fast freeways. Sure, with so much new technology on board, there were a few quirks but all up, Hino appears to have done its homework well. Very well!
Before we climb behind the wheel, let’s go back to early June and a big showroom tucked into a quiet backlot of an inner Sydney suburb.
Inside, Hino Australia’s leading lights were gathered, eager in this pre-Delta Diaspora to showcase their new series of heavy-duty hopefuls. To be blunt though, none of this was particularly surprising. After all, in the wake of new 300-series light-duty models and later, advanced standard and wide cab versions of a newly crafted medium-duty 500-series range, it was plainly apparent that Hino would eventually follow suit with a completely reworked range of 700-series heavy-duty trucks.
What did surprise, however, was just how far Hino had gone in its bid to make the 700-series a far more competitive and appealing line-up: A line-up entirely capable of not only turning the screws on its Japanese rivals, but also giving the Europeans good cause to keep a wary eye. And clearly, an obvious push to expand the entire range with a strong emphasis on heavy-duty rigid models.
To anyone who has been watching Hino’s Australian performance for a decade or two, it actually appeared that Toyota’s truck brand had finally honed in on its heavy-duty horizons and as we subsequently reported, ‘… on first impression this is a heavy-duty line-up far beyond anything Hino has ever before offered in any weight class.’
For starters, the brand’s own 9.0 litre engine was being introduced to the heavy-duty range for the first time in an obvious bid to bolster its rigid ranks. Joining the existing 13 litre engine, both displacements meet Euro 6 emissions standards through the combined effects of a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system, cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) and a diesel particulate filter (DPF).
As our report further explained, ‘In an innovative move which recognises an increasingly obvious trend throughout the road freight sector, every model in the expanded range is fitted with either an automated manual transmission or an Allison full automatic. There are no manual options.’ None. Nil. Nix. If you want to play with a stick, you’ll have to bring your own.
Or as Daniel Petrovski, Hino Australia’s manager of product strategy, asserted, “Australian customers clearly prefer the convenience of two-pedal transmissions (and) Hino is the only Japanese manufacturer to offer a true automatic transmission option across the light, medium and heavy-duty model ranges.”
Simply explained, all 9.0 litre models are coupled to a six-speed Allison automatic and all 13 litre units, to a 16-speed ZF Traxon automated manual ’box.
But wait, there’s more. Much more, with safety technology making a major statement in Hino’s new heavies and the company citing its new 700-series as ‘the safest trucks Hino has ever produced.’
It all starts with an electronic brake system (EBS) on every model and a move away from the traditional S-cam design to Hino’s ‘Taper Roller’ brake system which the company insists ‘reduces tare weight, decreases compressed air requirements, provides a smoother and more consistent brake feel, and uses less moving parts, resulting in reduced maintenance requirements and lower operating costs.’
So, too, is auxiliary braking a strong suit with the inclusion of a Jacobs engine brake in all models.
Even so, the retention of drum brakes rather than the introduction of discs was a tad curious given the extent of other advances in the new line-up. Maybe one day. Maybe!
Nonetheless, technology is the leading feature in a comprehensive safety story led by what Hino calls its ‘SmartSafe’ package and notably, the introduction of ‘Driver Monitor’ which is explained as a system that constantly monitors the driver’s attention towards the road using key metrics such as driving posture, face orientation, and eyelid status via a camera integrated into the A-pillar. According to Hino, ‘The system provides a visual and audible alert if it detects drowsiness or a lack of attention from the driver.’
Indeed, advanced safety has been a significant focus for Hino since the introduction in 2011 of a Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) system in the light-duty 300-series while in the new heavy-duty family, VSC partners a radar-based Pre-Collision System (PCS) working in conjunction with Autonomous Emergency Braking. Additionally, there’s a Pedestrian Detection system, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, reversing camera and a driver’s airbag.
Not quite as advanced but obvious assets in any safety stack are LED headlights, daytime running lights, larger and electronically adjustable heated mirrors, a heated convex spotter mirror and spotters for the kerb and front of the truck.
While all these details were revealed back in June, only recently did Hino announce the standard availability in 700-series of a new telematics and business intel system called Hino-Connect.
It’s worth noting at this point that 700-series models come with a three-year or 500,000km standard warranty as well as a Hino-Connect service providing five years of complimentary remote diagnostics and specialist support, and 12 months of complimentary business intelligence access.
A great deal is being made of the telematics system developed specifically for Hino Australia by local company Directed Electronics, and designed to communicate directly with the driver via the truck’s dash-mounted multi-media unit and according to Hino, ‘… deliver comprehensive levels of data to business managers through an online portal and app.’
Have no doubt, this is ‘big brother’ sitting in the cab with the driver. As Hino explained in a recent virtual presentation, ‘Using real-time data and insights, Hino-Connect will automatically analyse the cause and effect of driver performance, safety and vehicle utilisation.’
The system, ‘gathers live vehicle performance data to provide full operational visibility to business managers including brake count, gear change numbers and even the amount of times a vehicle is operating within its optimum RPM band.’
Likewise, and among many other features, ‘Hino-Connect uses Driver Score Reporting to monitor key indicators like harsh braking or acceleration, over revving or speeding to identify poor (driver) performance.’
In effect, the system records and reports whenever the truck’s integral safety and operational features detect something outside the square of technologically-defined normality. As we were to discover though, technology and normality aren’t always on the same plane. But we’ll get to that soon enough.
Meantime, an expanded range of single and tandem-drive rigid models are critical to Hino’s heavy-duty aspirations and key models include the first introduction in the 700-series of a 6×2 unit and, after years on Hino Australia’s wish list, an eight-wheeler with a load-sharing twin-steer layout specifically developed for our market.
Vitally, the addition of the 9.0 litre engine to Hino’s heavy-duty repertoire finally provides the brand with what it says is, ‘a Hino solution in the 300 to 400 horsepower area.’ There are, in fact, two 9.0 litre ratings – 235kW (320hp) with 1275Nm (940lb-ft) of torque, and 265kW (360hp) accompanied by 1569Nm (1157lb-ft) of torque. However, only the FY 3036 eight-wheeler comes with the 360 hp rating, in addition to a 13 litre eight-legger with 480hp.
It might be a while before we climb behind the wheel of the new 8×4 as it waits for the full repertoire of safety systems to come on stream but in the interim, Hino Australia’s offer of an FR 2632 6×2 rigid version and several weeks later, a 480hp FS 2848 in truck and dog configuration, were eagerly accepted.
Hino insiders willingly concede to the importance of a 6×2 in the 700-series stable, not least for the fact that until the launch of the new heavy-duty range, the brand’s only 6×2 contender has been a 280hp model in the 500-series wide-cab line-up.
What’s more, Hino Australia general manager of sales and supply, Brian Wright, reports strong early uptake of the new range, supported by official figures showing an improved sales performance by Hino since the new models hit the market a few months back. At the end of October, for instance, Hino held almost 5.0 percent of the heavy-duty class and had already surpassed its full-year figures for 2020.
The introduction of the comprehensive SmartSafe system has, Wright exclaimed during an on-line presentation, been extremely well received not only by existing Hino customers but also those showing an interest in the brand for the first time.
So, too, has the addition to of the FR 2632 6×2 been a welcome attraction, he remarked.
Built on a generous 6.38 metre wheelbase to accommodate body lengths up to 9.3 metres, the single-drive FR is configured specifically for local and regional distribution roles and for drivers, it’s an exceptionally comfortable, practical and aesthetically pleasing environment.
Wisely, Hino has ignored sceptics who suggested that its modern contemporary cab trim – first revealed at the 2019 launch of the standard cab 500-series range – was perhaps a touch too flash for a largely suburban workhorse, particularly from a Japanese maker.
However, as Hino’s Daniel Petrovski asserts, “Feedback from drivers has been overwhelmingly positive since we first introduced the new-look interior.” And it’s easy to see why!
Likewise, the exterior design has been also notably refreshed with subtly effective style changes in a number of areas, most visibly in a striking three-slat grille in 9.0 litre units and a taller four-slat face in 13 litre versions.
Mounted on a four-point air suspension arrangement, the impressively refashioned cab stands reasonably tall but well-placed grab handles and wide non-slip steps make it an easy climb to a spacious, comfortable interior. The driver sits on a quality Isri high-back seat with ample adjustment aided by generous tilt and telescopic steering wheel increments. It would, in fact, be an odd-bod that couldn’t find an agreeable driving position in the new Hino.
What’s more, there’s plenty to like with the new dash design. As Hino rightly states, ‘the ergonomically designed wraparound dash layout features all-new instrumentation with large, high contrast speedometer and tachometer, and a central seven-inch multi-media display which contains important information such as SmartSafe settings, driving economy, gear selection and vehicle maintenance data.’ And, of course, a high quality radio with all the technical titbits such as Bluetooth.
Additionally, control buttons on the steering wheel offer fingertip ease for phone calls and adaptive cruise control settings while column-mounted stalks are provided for the engine brake, wipers/washers, lights and the like.
Likewise, the control pad for the Allison auto is sited close by the driver’s left hand.
Indeed, given the high standards of comfort and operational ease in an environment of modern and attractive quality, it wouldn’t surprise if the great majority of drivers found the interior of the new Hino a cut above other Japanese contenders in an equivalent class. It’s simply a convenient, comfortable and altogether classier place to work.
Sharing the FR 2632 with colleague and good friend Peter Shields of Prime Mover magazine, the curtain-sided model had already accrued more than 8000km on test and demonstrations duties, and for this exercise was loaded with bulk bags of sand for a gross weight around 18.5 tonnes.
Perhaps typifying the workloads that trucks of this configuration can be asked to perform on an almost daily basis, the Hino was run for almost 700km through Sydney’s congested urban areas to regional centres around Newcastle before running down to the southern-western districts, on roads ranging from fast freeways to suburban streets and badly mashed collections of country potholes. It was a diverse and demanding workout by any measure, and more than enough to gain an appreciation of the new Hino’s on-road traits.
The powertrain starts, of course, with the A09C turbocharged and intercooled 9.0 litre six-cylinder engine punching out peak power (235kW/320hp) at 1800rpm and top torque (1275Nm/940l-ft) from 1100 to 1600rpm. Even on paper, the engine is obviously giving its best across a wide rev range.
Dispensing the engine’s outputs is the Allison 3200 six-speed automatic, a double overdrive unit with a quick 0.653:1 top gear restrained by a low 5.25:1 rear axle ratio, together delivering 100km/h at a twitch under 1800rpm.
Underneath, the whole package rides on taper leaf front springs and at the rear, both drive and tag axle are suspended by Hendrickson’s popular HAS airbag assembly equipped with an electronically controlled axle lift system (ECAS) for those occasions when the single drive axle might find itself struggling for traction. And putting it all on the pavement are 295/80R22.5 front tyres and 11R22.5 at the rear, mounted on stylish Alcoa 10-stud rims.
Behind the wheel for the first time, a few things became quickly apparent. Top of the list, ride quality, steering and overall road handling of the three-axle Hino were extremely impressive. Very good, even on some wickedly rough stretches of broken bitumen, and at no time did handling feel anything less than entirely secure and positive.
On the other hand, while forward vision is generally good and rear vision much the same thanks to wide and well-mounted side mirrors with the standard bonus of a reversing camera displayed through the multi-media screen on the dash, right side vision can be compromised due to the wide mirror housings. Like a number of other cab-over makes, the Hino’s wide mirrors can significantly block a direct line of sight at roundabouts or roads on the right, forcing the driver to look around the mirror. It’s certainly something Hino designers need to consider because quite simply, it’s hard to be safe if you can’t see.
As for the powertrain, the engine and transmission relationship is as smooth and responsive as any in the business. Around town, in city and suburban conditions, the combination is slick and sharp. Super smooth and impressively responsive, it just doesn’t get much easier.
However, on undulating country runs the combination isn’t quite so content, occasionally migrating repeatedly up and down the shift scale as the Allison seeks to find the right slot for a particular hill. It only happened a few times, but it did happen.
Then heading downhill, engaging the single-stage Jake brake caused an almost immediate downshift from top gear back to 4th (direct) when all that was often required was a soft retarding effect to trim speed back a little, or maybe a shift down one gear rather than two. A two or three-stage retarder function would be a big improvement but that said, the Hino also employs a ‘Brake Sync’ switch which allows the Jake to be activated through slight pressure on the brake pedal instead of using the column-mounted wand. Either way, and despite the occasional drawbacks revealed in this exercise, the Jake is an effective and entirely worthwhile part of the new Hino’s standard inventory.
In performance terms, the 320hp 9.0 litre engine is a responsive and reasonably willing workhorse for three-axle rigid work. Sure, there were times when it didn’t fight as hard as the power and torque figures might suggest but again, the smoothness and compatibility of the engine and Allison transmission combination are undeniably impressive and easily compensate for any shortcomings, perceived or otherwise. In short, the FR 2632 6×2 will cope with country runs but it’s forte is undoubtedly the teetering traffic tempo of the city and surrounding ‘burbs.
And it will do the job efficiently. After a demanding and diverse run, the FR six-wheeler returned a fuel figure of 3.0km/litre, or a touch under 8.5mpg in the old measure. In our estimation, a good return which will only improve as mileage increases.
But as mentioned earlier, technology has delivered a couple of quirks which suggest the need for some refinement if Hino’s obvious advances are to be fully effective and vitally, fully appreciated. The most consistent was a visual and audible warning about ‘Excessive Acceleration’ when, in fact, the throttle was being modestly applied at freeway on-ramps or sedately moving away from traffic lights. Ultimately, the unnecessary warnings became annoying and were inevitably ignored but unfortunately, would be no doubt logged as driver blemishes in Hino-Connect, proving Big Brother can also be a boofhead.
However, Hino’s ‘Driver Monitor’ function proved to be considerably more concerning when put to the test. If, for instance, the driver reached across to the oddments tray on top of the dash, only a second or two passed before a bright and audible warning was given about driver inattention. Good, but the system provided no warning whatsoever when the driver’s head purposefully drooped towards the steering wheel or spent an inordinate amount of time fiddling with the radio, or (don’t tell anyone) pretended to send a phone text message from his lap.
Yet despite these apparent glitches which time and technical refinement will hopefully overcome, there’s no denying the extraordinary advances in Hino’s new 700-series and the immense potential for a much healthier slice of the heavy-duty market.
It’s early days and we’re still to climb behind the wheel of a truck ‘n’ dog version but even so, there’s plenty to suggest Hino has a hit on its hands.
Photography: Steve Brooks