Road test report: Hino's 500 series FM2635 truck

By: Steve Brooks


In a six-wheeler rigid market saturated with good trucks, the flagship FM2635 model in Hino’s revamped 500-series wide-cab range ranks with the best of them.

Front view of the Hino FM2635 model
Front view of the Hino FM2635 model.

 

·        Hino is now better placed in this category than any time in its Australian history with the FM2635

·        The Hino FM2635 range cover two and three-axle configurations with GVM from 16-18 and 26 tonnes, and GCM ratings from 32-45 tonnes

·        The Hino FM2635 is a model more suited to longer regional runs than ‘round-town rambles

·        The manual Hino FM2635 is also equipped with the fuel-saving attribute of an engine stop/start system

·        Hino’s A09C engine has been considerably reworked with among other things, a new turbocharger and a swap from Bosch to Denso common-rail fuel injection

 

Not often, but every now and then a new truck comes along that takes you by surprise.

Whether the surprise is good or not … well, that’s something else.

Like, if for any reason you expect a new model to be a stunningly good thing only to be left with a yawning sense of ‘so what’ after the first stretch behind the wheel, then the surprise is obviously in the disappointment rather than the delight.

On the other hand, if you’re not expecting anything particularly inspiring but in short time find yourself admiring unforeseen attributes, then perhaps surprise is the greatest indicator of a new model’s true potential.

Definitely falling into the latter category is Hino’s FM2635, one of a batch of new models released a few months back at Hino’s high-hype launch of the long-awaited and vastly rejuvenated 500-series wide-cab range.

From the get-go there was a lot to like about the new line-up and it was blatantly obvious Hino had done its homework well. Very well!

And to be blunt, it needed to. 

Hino for many years now has struggled to maintain sales momentum in key market segments, allowing industry leader Isuzu to keep its principal protagonist at a giant arm’s length and in the process, notch a record of market domination unlikely to be ever equalled, let alone bettered.

Meantime, and for reasons rooted in Japan rather than Australia, Hino has been unable to offer the model diversity which sees Isuzu effectively offering something for everyone in the Australian market.

Simply put, Hino needed something new, and something good, if it was to have any hope of reining in the market leader’s momentum, most notably in the medium-duty and lighter end of the heavy-duty classes.

Hino’s A09C engine has been considerably reworked with among other things, a new turbocharger and a swap from Bosch to Denso common-rail fuel injection. The 350 hp rating is a gritty performer well-matched to Hino’s nine-speed manual shifter.
Hino’s A09C engine has been considerably reworked with among other things, a new turbocharger and a swap from Bosch to Denso common-rail fuel injection. The 350 hp rating is a gritty performer well-matched to Hino’s nine-speed manual shifter.

NEW FEATURES

That something arrived in a substantially reworked 500-series wide-cab range equipped with a swathe of new and highly functional features.

Most notable among many notables are significantly enhanced eight and nine litre engines, expanded manual and automatic transmission options, numerous drivetrain developments, and safety advances headed by the standard fitment of a Wabco vehicle stability control (VSC) system in all models.

Obviously relieved to finally have these long overdue newcomers in the stable, Hino Motor Sales Australia chairman and chief executive officer Steve Lotter excitedly remarked, "These trucks are a game-changer for us," and took every opportunity to remind anyone in earshot that Hino could now, "… engage in different applications which previously hasn’t been possible."

To recap the broad details, the trucks cover two and three-axle configurations with gross vehicle mass (GVM) ranging from 16 to 18 and 26 tonnes, and gross combination mass (GCM) ratings from 32 to 45 tonnes.

They’re easily distinguished from the previous wide cab range and from their narrower ‘standard cab’ siblings by a bold, dark grille and less obviously by relatively subtle changes in areas such as cab steps.

On the inside, the changes are less apparent but nonetheless noteworthy with a new radio and information system, and redesigned digital dash being the most obvious.

However, as we reported some months back, it’s underneath where the greatest changes have been made, led by further development of Hino’s 7.7 litre J08E engine and its 8.9 litre stablemate, the A09C.

Critically, says Hino, both engines benefit greatly from the adoption of an SCR emissions system to achieve Euro 5 emissions compliance, replacing the previous EGR and diesel particulate filter combination.

Obviously enough, it’s the bigger of these two six cylinder displacements which punches the two top-weight 6x4 models, the FM2632 auto and the FM2635 manual.

Equipped with a new turbocharger, revised water pump and cooling fan, and a swap from Bosch to Denso common-rail fuel injection, the A09C offers two performance ratings starting with a 235 kW (320 hp) and 1275 Nm (940 lb ft) setting coupled to an Allison automatic transmission.

The top toiler is a lively 257 kW (350 hp) rating supported by a potent 1422 Nm (1049 lb ft) of torque stirring through a Hino nine-speed overdrive synchromesh transmission.

As is the way of new model launches these days, technical presentations were followed by short stints behind the wheel of various models in everything from suburban crawls to fast freeways.

Typically though, these drive programs are little more than a snapshot of each model’s potential and occasionally, some trucks leave you wanting more time at the helm to verify whether it’s really as good as first impressions suggest.

Such a truck was the FM2635.

The 350 hp rating and the nine-speed shifter are also offered in 4x2 configuration
Potent performer. The 350 hp rating and the nine-speed shifter are also offered in 4x2 configuration.

GOOD SPEC

Again, Hino appears to have done its development work well in tailoring the new range to specific market segments and nowhere is this more evident than in the two tandem-drive FM models.

While both share a GVM of 26 tonnes, the FM2632 is logically targeted at metro applications where the Allison automatic is right at home in stop/start suburban slogs.

Its bigger brother can obviously cope with the same work but with a nine-speed overdrive manual box working behind a more potent version of the same engine, the FM2635 is a model more suited to longer regional runs than ‘round-town rambles.

Of course, the long-term durability of manual synchromesh transmissions is not a particularly positive feature for some fleet operators but in Hino’s favour, theirs is at least a shifter designed to cope with the outrageously heavy rigid loads and harsh conditions of some Asian countries.

It’s worth noting, too, that the ’35 comes with a substantially higher GCM rating of 45 tonnes compared to the 2632’s 36.5 tonnes.

Anyway, Hino’s offer to take the FM2635 for another run was grabbed with both hands for the simple reason that the only stint behind the wheel of this model on the launch drive program was extremely brief and on a part of the route with few challenges for such a well-endowed workhorse.

A longer, tougher run was called for and fortunately, you don’t have to travel too far from Hino headquarters on Sydney’s southern rim to find a good mix of suburban streets, fast freeways, long pulls and sharp descents.

Indeed, the run down to industrial Wollongong comes with a couple of classics – the deep drop down Bulli Pass and the long slog up Mt Ousley.

But first, a few details: Built on the model’s longest ‘XXLong’ wheelbase of 6.4 metres and fitted with a 14-pallet Alltruck curtain-sided body, the test truck had almost 4500 km on the clock and loaded with around nine tonnes of bulk bags of sand, weighed in a tad over 19 tonnes.

Sure, a few more tonnes would’ve been preferred for a more demanding assessment but given the varying loads of most distribution trucks, 19 tonnes was probably close to a realistic weight anyway.

Besides, as the truck’s lively performance would quickly suggest, another two or three tonnes probably wouldn’t have made much difference at all.

Eye spy! Reversing camera is part of the standard equipment list
Eye spy! Reversing camera is part of the standard equipment list.

OTHER NOTABLE FEATURES

The standard driveline spec of the demo model had the nine-speed shifter feeding into a typically solid Hino drive tandem running a 4.875:1 diff ratio, mounted on Hendrickson’s all-purpose HAS 400 airbag assembly with electronic height control as a standard item.

Other wheelbase lengths are 4.1 and 5.2 metres but only the 5.2 and 6.4 metre versions come with a standard 390 litre aluminium fuel tank. The shorter sibling gets a 200 litre steel tank.

As the freeway section of the run down to Wollongong would show, it’s a spec which notches 80 km/h around 1400 rpm and according to the truck’s tacho, 100 km/h at 1750 rpm.

On the contrary, Hino’s spec sheet says 100 km/h is at 1850 rpm. Whatever!

It is, however, a specification that goes way beyond driveline details.

Apart from the standard inclusion of a vehicle stability control system, the FM models also come standard with cruise control, an engine brake rather than the usual exhaust brake, reversing camera, driver’s airbag, heated and electronically operated mirrors, cross diff locks and polished aluminium wheels.

Meanwhile, the manual FM2635 is also equipped with the fuel-saving attribute of an engine stop/start system and best of all in this mind’s opinion, a hill-hold function which Hino calls ‘Easy Start Take-off Assist’.

Making hill starts gentle on both driver and driveline, particularly with a hefty load on board, hill-hold is arguably one of the most practical innovations in modern truck technology; an opinion further verified by a smooth, stress-free lift-off at a notoriously awkward set of traffic lights in Sydney’s southern suburbs.

The generous package of standard items is partnered by an options list which among other things includes a GPS sat/nav system, ‘Hino Traq’ telematics and a smartly styled and relatively unobtrusive bullbar available in two heights – with either one or two horizontal bars – and designed specifically for the new 500-series.

The bullbar is, of course, compliant with the standard FUPS under-run bar.

Yet other than the restyled grille, the cab structure of the new range has changed little.

The FM, for example, retains a reasonably tall floor height but well-placed steps and grab handles make it a simple climb to an Isri suspension seat.

With a plethora of adjustments on the seat and a steering wheel adjustable for rake and reach, finding the right driving position is both quick and easy.

Behind the seats is a space capable of nursing 40 winks but it’d certainly  be a stretch to refer to it as anything more than a parcel shelf.

The redesigned dash comes with the standard speedo and tacho surrounded by LCD gauges for air pressure, fuel and AdBlue, engine temperature and odometer.

There’s also a digital multi-information display showing current and trip fuel figures along with service reminders and fault warnings.

Main switches and control wands are generally well placed but typically, familiarisation with the placement of all functions takes a little time.

Handy for regional roles where furry grasshoppers abound, stylish bullbars have been designed specifically for Hino’s latest 500-series wide-cab range
Handy for regional roles where furry grasshoppers abound, stylish bullbars have been designed specifically for Hino’s latest 500-series wide-cab range.

ROAD WORK & ENGINE

In practice though, it takes next to no time to be completely at ease with Hino’s top-shelf six-wheeler.

For starters, all-round vision is predictably good but it’s in actual operation where the truck really stands out.

The cable-operated gearlever, for instance, is ideally placed and provides reasonably light, smooth movements through the double-H (H-over-H) shift pattern, though the ‘beep’ accompanying every range-change can be a tad annoying.

According to Hino, the beep is all about protecting the engine from over-speeding if there’s an accidental shift into low range, just as an electronic control unit won’t allow shifts into low range if road speed is above 30 km/h.

There’s no question though that the nine-speed shifter is a highlight of the FM2635 because not only is it a sweet shift, the ratio spread from a deep first gear of more than 10:1 to a tall overdrive ratio of 0.724:1 (and importantly, a deep reverse ratio of almost 9.9:1) provides the model with a gear spread for a multitude of conditions.

But as the first 10 kilometres or so of the test run in suburban traffic demonstrated, the combination of an engine with generous torque and a transmission with even steps through the ratio range allows for plenty of smooth, shudder-free skip-shifts.

It was not, for instance, uncommon to lift off in 2nd gear, jump to 4th, then straight into high range.

Or, with the truck pointing down even a slight grade, take off in 3rd, push engine speed out to around 1800 or 1900 revs, then swap straight into high range. Easy!

The end result is a truck that gets up to speed quickly and with very little apparent effort.

At the other end of the spectrum is an impressively effective and quiet engine brake that made the long, sharp drop down Bulli Pass an absolute dawdle, easily holding to the signposted truck limit of 20 km/h in 3rd gear.

In fact, the only time the service brakes were applied, albeit briefly, was after a swap up to 4th gear just to see how the engine brake would cope with the taller cog.

For the most part it held the truck well but on the steepest sections, 3rd was ideal.

Either way, the engine brake is a far more effective retarder than the exhaust brake normally found in Japanese trucks of this size.

Up ‘n’ down. Electronic cab tilt makes engine access easy
Up ‘n’ down. Electronic cab tilt makes engine access easy.

FUEL CONSUMPTION

Meandering through Wollongong’s northern suburbs, the digital readout was showing a fuel figure of 2.8 km/litre (7.9 mpg) for the run south.

Ahead lay the long climb up Mt Ousley and after a short-lived drop down to 6th gear at 1400 rpm on the sharpest lip, the Hino literally hammered the second half of the haul in 7th gear.

By any measure it was a strong, determined performance soon repeated on the long slogs leading to the freeway for the northbound run back to Hino headquarters.

Fuel consumption on the return leg from the base of Mt Ousley to Hino headquarters was fractionally better at 2.9 km/litre, or 8.2 mpg in the old measure.

FINAL THOUGHTS

At the end of the day, the only conclusion was that this re-run in Hino’s FM2635 simply verified first impressions of an exceptional contender for six-wheeler rigid work, especially in regional roles.

No question, it’s a tough and congested market but with surprisingly tenacious pulling power, smooth ride quality, good steering and road manners, and a generous standard specification, Hino is now better placed in this category than any time in its Australian history.

It’ll be more than a tad interesting to watch over the remainder of this year and beyond if the broader market finds not only this model but the full range of Hino 500-series wide-cab trucks as impressive and perhaps surprising as some of us already have.

Maybe, just maybe, Hino could even surprise itself.

Check out the full feature in the August edition of ATN. Subscribe here.

 

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