Neil Dowling heads off road and into the charred brown yonder with Hino’s 4×4.
An almost excrutiatingly long gestation period of nearly 10 years comes to fruition for Hino as its development programme pays off for the 4WD version of its 300 Series, the 817.
The 300 Series 817 sold 165 units in 2018, a small return on a light truck market that last year posted sales of about 1000 vehicles and was dominated by Isuzu’s NPS at about 560 sales, followed by Iveco (171) and Hino, then the Fuso Canter at 107.
But as Hino Australia acknowledges, those sales are ones it never had previously.
This is the 817’s second full year on sale but the unseen development started with a request from Australia almost 10 years ago on behalf of customers who wanted a capable 4WD truck in the 7500 kg GVM sector.
Hino Australia’s product planning director Daniel Petrovski told Delivery that the 817 was the result of Hino owners, particularly those from the mining sector, asking for a 4WD truck.
That request made in October 2009 went to Hino’s HQ in Japan, then the future truck became the ping-pong subject as engineers in both countries developed the concept.
It is pertinent that this truck was designed for Australia and Australian customers. Though it has applications in other markets, it has been led by local engineers and customers and backed by Hino’s dealer network.
The truck appeared in 2014 ready for three years of trials in Australia in the hands of two customers, hand-picked by Hino Australia because of the severity of their routes and working conditions. One received a dual-cab and the other a single-cab.
Those customers were Kennedy Mining, based in Kalgoorlie, but nomadic in its geographical spread; and the shire of Cooktown in Far North Queensland which had the dual-cab version.
“They were the two toughest and harshest applications in the country,” said Hino’s product and engineering support manager Barry Noble.
“This was real-world testing that gave Hino a very different picture of the diverse conditions in which Australian customers operate.”
The tropical paradise connotations of the northern part of Queensland are tempered by the fact it has 1600 kilometres of unsealed roads, meaning more than 90 per cent of driving is done on dirt.
In the three years of testing, the shire travelled over 40,000 km in the truck in rugged conditions, reporting back on problems with the unit and with observations that would lead to maximising its reliability and durability.
These included the four-wheel ventilated disc brakes that greatly reduced maintenance and performance compared with the traditional all-wheel drum brakes of rivals, which consistently showed up as being a weak point that needed brake shoe replacements due to dust and water damage.
The 4WD trucks differ from their 2WD siblings by the latter having rear drums, specifically because the on-road conditions don’t demand the disc brakes’ ability to ward off dirt and mud.
In-field repair of drum brakes was also shown as a specific problem area as special tools and knowledge were vital to fixing problems. By comparison, replacing disc brake pads was quicker and easier.
Kennedy Mining and the Cooktown shire also showed the trucks needed an air intake snorkel as the placement of the standard intake behind the cabin was close to the front-wheel spray. Though the air filters were shown to be resilient to clogging, Hino thought the snorkel design would further reduce any possibility of engine damage.
The long gestation and thorough trial programmes also improved the standard rear-drive range. The 300 was fingered for some decent safety gear, including – but hardly limited to – the electronic (vehicle) stability control (ESC) that made it the first Japanese truck maker fitting this feature.
Hino actually introduced ESC in its trucks in 2011 to meet its own safety targets and to meet the growing safety needs of customers and revised tender criteria.
That complemented the four-wheel disc brakes, two airbags, waterproof reverse camera, anti-slip regulation system and electronic brakeforce distribution safety systems.
The cabin is safety rated but doesn’t quite meet FOPS and ROPS standards purely because the majority of users didn’t want or need (or wanted to pay for) heavy, structural bars over the cabin. The high safety rating as standard from the factory has proved to be more than sufficient for fleets.
A six-speed manual gearbox with two-speed low-range and electrically-actuated air engagement of the transfer case was used on the 817 and came from Hino’s existing GT 4WD truck. The GT, a much larger 4WD unit at 13,000 GVM, already has air compressors to operate mechanical components but in the 817 it meant fitting a small electric motor and compressor for the single task of operating the transfer gearbox.
The manual gearbox has a low first “crawler” gear and a taller fifth for a 2400rpm cruise at 100km/h. It drives through a 2.2:1 reduction gear in the transfer, so returns a very low first ratio of 14.2:1 which, using the multiplier effect, substantially boosts the torque effect on the ground.
The engine remains the 300 Series’ simple four-cylinder, 4-litre overhead-valve diesel with a single turbocharger for 121 kW (165 hp) at 2500 rpm and torque of 464 Nm at 1400 rpm. The torque line is practically flat from 1400 rpm to about 2400 rpm to maintain the 464 Nm.
Simplicity also rules for the steering and suspension, with a recirculating-ball system assisted by a hydraulic pump, and guided by a tilt and telescopic steering wheel.
Leaf springs front and rear on full floating axles – with manually-operated free-wheeling locking hubs at the front – have a limit of 6200 kg at the rear and 2800 kg at the front.
Differences between the single-cab and dual-cab here are mainly confined to the latter’s fixed body that requires engine access through a cab-floor panel, higher spring rates for the dual-cab’s suspension and the 1025 mm shorter distance from the back of the cab to the rear wheel axle.
In its favour, the dual cab seats seven adults – three in the front and four in the rear – with the rear compartment having its own rear air conditioner and heater.
The 300 Series 817 4×4 has a GVM of 7500 kg and, for operators with car-only licences, 4495 kg. The GCM is, respectively, 11,000 kg and 7995 kg.
Out on the road
Hino Australia took Delivery magazine on a two-day trial of two of its 300 Series 817 4×4 models – a single-cab standard version with a steel tray, and a dual-cab 817 with about $30,000 of upgrades including an Allison automatic transmission, super-single tyre and wheel package, bull bar and tray.
The dual-cab was set up to suit applications as wide as commercial use in the mining industry and right through to the base for a camper for the (very serious) leisure-market buyer.
First on the road was the standard single-cab with its manual gearbox and skinny tyres. Laden only with its tray and a 500kg load of sand, the ride was expectedly firm and the steering accuracy a bit vague, certainly needing some initial familiarisation.
What wasn’t expected was the slickness of the six-cog box (though first gear was unnecessary in on-road conditions such as traffic) and the huge torque from the lazy engine.
Impressive was the lack of complexity from the drivetrain – the engine is a simple overhead-valve unit and all the driveline is traditional in design and manufacture. Of note is the transfer case that comes direct from the Hino GT model that has a 13,000GVM – way above the 7500GVM of the 300 4×4 and indicative of the strength of the latter’s drivetrain.
The single-cab came up to cruising quickly and relatively easily, happily sitting on 100km/h at 2200rpm.
No surprise about the dual-cab with the auto box and super-single wheels. It is the pick of the pair for its ease of driving and softer ride, despite having the same suspension system and long leaf springs. The tyres themselves made it a lot more comfortable and especially for the passengers who, unlike the driver, don’t have a sprung driver’s suspension seat.
The Allison box is quick through the shift points and has downchanges while decelerating that aid braking and prep the truck up for the corner ahead.
In the dirt, along fire trails and hard-packed roads used throughout the test zone within the Colymea State Conservation Area near Bamarang and Nowra in NSW, the pulling power of the engine was the stand-out in both vehicles.
Only on a few occasions was the single-cab pulled down to first gear for some challenging gravel inclines, with the transfer case in 4WD Low. It was best just to let the engine roll along not much above idle for many of the uphills, an exercise where the engine barely felt taxed, though the clutch action needed some delicate input to prevent any sudden drivetrain jerks.
There was a little less delicacy needed for the automatic as it built up its torque within the transmission and made minced-meat of the most difficult climbs. Much of the area on the banks of the Shoalhaven River is stunning but also has loose surface and needs to be approached with some caution.
Again, the softer ride of the dual-cab fitted with the super-singles made it the one to drive.
Impressive details of the drive include the 300’s thin A-pillars that make visibility so much wider for the driver and mean objects – motorcycles and bicycles especially – are almost impossible to hide behind the pillars.
The suspension seat for the driver is a must have (though one for the passenger wouldn’t hurt) and the huge side mirrors are worth their weight in XXXX beer. There’s also a good sat-nav and infotainment system.
“Demand for technology in trucks is as big as it is for cars,” said Hino Australia’s Barry Noble.
“Our customers want this technology so ours is made specifically for Australian buyers.”
One downside could be the manually-engaging front freewheel hubs but on test, there was always a reason to leave the cab anyway.
As Mr. Noble said: “We know we’ve built the right truck. We are making inroads into the major sales areas – particularly the fire brigades which have traditionally been Isuzu.