Dave Whyte heads back to local delivery with the latest Fuso Canter

When I first started driving trucks for a living, I was employed as a delivery driver for a company that provided grass seed, fertiliser and irrigation supplies to many of the bigger schools and golf clubs around Victoria. Every day, I would load up my little truck, head out, and hand-deliver the loads, all across the state.

When I say little truck, I mean the Mitsubishi Canter fitted with a tray (including gates and tarp), which was my full-time office. That truck did a lot of work, both before and after I was put in charge of it, carrying loads that were, more often than not, much heavier than they should have been. It was those early days that forged my opinion of Japanese trucks – simple, reliable and practical, with very few driver comforts and little thought given to the driver who might cover more than 100 km in a working day, unloading by hand at every drop.

Times have changed, though, and the current model Canter is a long way from the one I drove 16 years ago. Gone are the days of shoving a jacket underneath the seat to provide some extra padding, hitting your head on the roof on the rough roads, and having to turn up the AM/FM radio to full at anything over 80 km/h just to hear it. The current model Canter is, in fact, a very pleasant place to spend a day, as I learned on a recent Fuso drive event.

The light-truck end of the market is hardly the most glamourous, but the truth is that most of those who operate these trucks are not interested in glamour – they are the workers, couriers and small business owners who see these trucks as a business tool. They are the people who buy a truck based on its suitability for the job and, importantly, the features they can get within their price range. While Fuso might not be the first name that springs to mind when you think of Japanese trucks, a short drive in the Canter is enough to prove that the Fuso product is any bit as good as its Japanese competitors.

The Canter range is powered by a 3.0-litre, in-line, four-cylinder diesel, rated at 110 kW/370 Nm for the majority of the range, but boosted up to 129 kW/430 Nm in the heavier 918 Crew Cab variant. Transmission choices vary from model to model, but include a nice-shifting five-speed manual, the smart shifting Duonic six-speed AMT, or the older style six-speed AMT, again in the 918 Crew Cab. Euro 5 emissions control is taken care of by a DPF filter on all models, with the 8.2 tonnes GVM 915 also using SCR (AdBlue).

For the drive event, Fuso had five models available to drive, with a mix of Duonic AMT and manual transmissions. While the model range hasn’t undergone a major revamp, there have been a few improvements made since the last model launch, and this was a great opportunity to experience them firsthand. While most of these changes are purely cosmetic, the vast majority of them are customer driven, including the change in interior décor, which shouldn’t show the dirt so much as the old blue colour. The seats have also come in for some attention, with some extra padding added (a definite improvement from years ago with my jacket), and hard-wearing vinyl upholstery applied to those areas of the driver’s seat that are prone to excessive wear.

The Canter offers a lot in terms of driver friendliness, including comfortable seating, good vision and, on the wide-cab models, independent front suspension to smooth out the ride.

The Duonic AMT is a very smooth bit of kit, and leaves nothing to be desired in terms of shift quality, timing or ratio selection. While the 4.5-tonne GVM model is bordering on the speedy, the power is still ample in the heavier GVM models, and the Duonic handles it beautifully. Entry and exit is a piece of cake, especially in the Super Low spec, and noise levels within the cab are very low considering the engine is just below the seat. The air conditioning keeps up, and, if you’re seated in the back row of the dual cab, there’s a second independent HVAC system just for you.

On the safety front, all Canter models are fitted with four-wheel disc brakes, including ABS and electronic brake distribution (EBD). ESP stability control should be available on Canter in the third quarter of 2017. The driver and outside front passenger get airbags and seat belt pre-tensioners as standard, while the Duonic AMT comes with hill start aid and a transmission lock in the park position as a safeguard against vehicles rolling away while unattended. Selected models fitted with the Duonic transmission will also be available with automatic engine stop/start from the third quarter of 2017.

The Canter range brings with it a lot of talk from Fuso in terms of its benefits when compared to the competition. Fuso numbers show that the Wide Cab 4.5-tonne GVM model, in cab/chassis form, weighs in at 200 kg lighter than any competitor, giving it a good advantage in the payload department.

The most interesting model for my money though, was the Super Low variant, with its overall height of just 2010 mm. While it may be restricted by its 4.5 tonnes GVM, the low height does open up a lot of opportunities for this model. With space at a premium, this is the perfect truck to squeeze into multi-storey car parks, beneath apartment blocks, or even through the garage for access to the back yard. The other bonus is, it can be driven on a car licence.

The Fuso Canter range is also now backed with a five-year warranty, with the option to sign up to seven-year contract and receive warranty cover for the entire seven-year period. In terms of repairs, any replacement parts sold and fitted by a Fuso will come with double the standard warranty. Service intervals have also been extended, with 30,000 km intervals now available on Canter models.

It would seem that, through the Fuso Canter, Fuso are about to have a big crack at the market. With a recent changing of the guard in terms of both engineering and customer service, the brand is ready to launch an all-out attack on the light-truck segment. From the product I saw at the recent drive event, there is no reason it shouldn’t go some way to improving Fuso’s market share in this segment. These were all very much traditional Japanese trucks – practical, reliable and simple to drive – but with much more of a focus on the driver.

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