Off-Road Runner - Hino 300-Series 4x4

By: Steve Brooks


Arriving in the wake of a dramatically improved range of 500-series wide cab models, Hino’s launch late last year of its much-anticipated 300-series 4x4 marked 2017 as a year when the Japanese maker did much to shake the shackles of mediocrity. There’s no better proof than its new and seriously adept off-roader.

 

It’s entrenched as the second most popular brand of truck on the Australian market but even so, for the first time in a long time, Hino appears to be on a roll.

That’s not to suggest Hino will soon be biting at Isuzu’s heels for overall market leadership. Not at all. Right now, and probably for many years to come, that’s a mountain still way too high for a viable assault.

Nonetheless, from the outside looking in, there’s a level of excitement and confidence within the Hino camp these days directly at odds with the somewhat sombre demeanour of the past decade or so.

And the reason for this newfound and increasingly obvious optimism is a batch of new models entirely capable of taking the fight to the competition rather than simply making do with whatever Japan agrees to send this way.

There is a bright future ahead for Hino's latest addition

That might sound a tad harsh but the reality is Hino Motor Sales Australia is part of the gargantuan Toyota empire and whilst that has many merits, it also places significant constraints on the engineering, research and development resources available to a relatively low volume, demanding market such as ours.

In effect, it means that while Japanese decision-makers may smile and nod and say they understand what Australia needs, their apparent understanding doesn’t necessarily extend to giving local engineers and product planners what they want and need to reach the top. At least, not anytime soon.

Last year, however, came a couple of critical new contenders which not only put smiles on the dials of Hino operatives at every level on the ladder, but effectively made 2017 a time of overdue evolution.

First cab off the rank came early in the year with a vastly upgraded range of 500-series wide cab models in two and three-axle rigid configuration. A long time coming, the new trucks are unquestionably a huge step in the right direction with more grunt and a suite of smart safety initiatives including the standard inclusion of vehicle stability control.

Yet whereas the latest 500-series wide-cab models are effectively much-improved versions of an existing range, the light-duty 300-series 4x4 is not only an entirely new addition to Hino’s local line-up but from all appearances, also the best in its Japanese class. In fact, after a long day behind the wheel in a wide range of conditions with all versions loaded close to maximum GVM of 7.5 tonnes, Hino’s new truck surprised and impressed in equally high measure.

Home on the range, in single or crew cab form

Then again, it needed to be something special given the amount of hype leading up to the model’s launch. The truck was first previewed with plenty of fanfare at last year’s Brisbane Truck Show, then at the important AFAC conference for fire and emergency service professionals in Sydney last September. At both events Hino certainly wasn’t shy about singing the praises of its new double-differ before its official release just six weeks out from Christmas.

Instrumental in tailoring the truck’s specification to Australian conditions and perhaps highlighting the hype more than most, Hino product strategy manager Daniel Petrovski proudly pronounced, "If you’re going to enter a new category in the Australian truck market for the first time, you want to do it with a product that sets a new benchmark."

Indeed you do and fortunately for Hino, it’s a statement backed more by dusty deeds than executive claims. As Petrovski said at the official launch of the truck at an off-road test centre in Werribee, Victoria, "We have been testing prototypes of the 4x4 for over three years, with real-world customers whose feedback has enabled us to refine the specification of a truck built specifically for the Australian market."

In the drink - Early testing led to increased air intake height

Much of the model’s testing over several years was with the Cook Shire Council in Far North Queensland and Kennedy Drilling based in Kalgoorlie, WA. Testimonials from both companies reinforce Hino’s assertion that several years of careful planning and rigorous testing in both Australia and Japan have created a truck with the right mix of manners, muscle and modern technology. A significantly raised air intake is, for example, one of several important changes resulting from the extensive Australian test program.

Yet as Daniel Petrovski added, while Australia was the prime focus for development of Hino’s light-duty off-roader and is the first market to offer the model, it is definitely not the only market in mind. Asia and South America are also firmly on Hino’s agenda.

Still, Hino’s local leaders insist ‘demands of Australian customers for a better light-duty 4x4 truck’ were the driving factor in the model’s development, leading to a specification which, they assert, simply has no equal among its Japanese contemporaries.

Staying Safe

Safety features were high on the agenda and like the latest 500-series wide cab models, vehicle stability control is a standard item. So, too, are driver and passenger airbags, disc brakes all-round, electronic brake-force distribution, anti-lock and anti-slip systems, and a submersible water-proof reversing camera.

Considering its likely roles with fire and emergency departments and mining operations, a good deal of work also went into OH&S standards of the cab which comes in both single and crew cab form.

The only complaint is that the shift pattern could be improved

While Hino says the structure complies with Europe’s cab crash test standard, the A-pillars have actually been narrowed to just 65 mm to enhance visibility. It’s a good point given that the front quarters of many trucks these days actually infringe on the driver’s view at roundabouts and the like.

Importantly, particularly for a truck which necessarily sits much higher than its 4x2 counterpart, entry and exit is at least convenient thanks to well positioned steps and grab handles.

It’s worth noting, too, that the 4x4 model is built on an 840 mm wide chassis with no rivets on the top flange of the rails to hinder body fitment.

On the inside there’s a tilt-adjustable steering column and a comfortable suspension seat for the driver while the passenger gets to sit on a fixed bench seat. Still, even on bumpy bits I didn’t hear too many gripes about discomfort from the other side of the truck or from the back seat bench of dual cab versions … not that I was really listening.

However, one feature sure to please back seat passengers is a separate air conditioning and heating control console. A wise move, indeed!

Back seat passengers have their own air-con console

Meanwhile, back in the front, four-wheel-drive can be engaged on the move (just be sure to lock the manual free-wheeling hubs) by the simple push of a dash-mounted button. Likewise, there’s a button for high and low range selection but in stating the obvious, Hino explains, ‘the vehicle must be stationary to change ranges.’ Does that mean there are really some numb-nuts out there who actually try to jump from high to low while on the move?

Whatever, low range employs a deep 2.2:1 reduction ratio described by Hino as ‘class leading’. Combined with a first gear transmission ratio of 6.369:1, it certainly gives the new 4x4 an exceptionally deep ‘bog cog’.

But with the six-speed manual transmission sporting a reasonably tall 0.782:1 overdrive top gear driving into a 4.625:1 diff ratio, the 300-series 4x4 will cruise comfortably at 100 km/h with the engine running at a relatively frugal 2440 rpm.

Yet one thing about the transmission which doesn’t excite is the shift pattern. First gear is in a dog-leg down to the left and 6th in a dog-leg up to the right. That means, of course, that 2nd through to 5th are ideally sited in a H-pattern and gratefully, the truck will easily cope with 2nd gear lift-offs on level ground.

But then, when you need a fast swap from 1st to 2nd, it’s awkward and finicky. Surely, in a six-speed layout it can’t be all that difficult to engineer a shift pattern that sees ‘Reverse’ as the only slot on a dog-leg. Just a thought! Besides, it’s hard to believe early testing didn’t raise the same suggestion.

Broad Torque

Outputs of the four litre turbo-diesel are certainly up to the job

It’s underneath, however, where the truck ticks many of the right boxes, not least with an extremely flexible and willing 4.0 litre turbo-diesel engine. In Hino parlance it’s known as the N04C-UT, a four cylinder layout using common-rail fuel injection and a variable nozzle turbocharger to dispense peak outputs of 121 kW (165 hp) at 2500 rpm and 464 Nm of torque at 1400 rpm.

Singularly, these are not particularly potent performance figures but with peak torque on tap from 1400 all the way up to 2400 rpm, it makes for an impressively determined road runner, especially in undulating conditions. In fact, the engine’s tenacity and willingness to hold a gear was at times as surprising as it was impressive.

Yet it’s also an engine which achieves Euro 5 emissions compliance through the combined inputs of exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) and a diesel particulate filter, or as Hino puts it, ‘diesel particulate active reduction (DPR) system which traps over 95 percent of exhaust carbon soot in a ceramic filter.’

Call it what they like though, the DPR system requires a regenerative ‘burn off’ of accumulated soot which, as many truck operators know only too well, can be a problematic exercise no matter whose brand of truck it is.

Hino, however, is entirely confident. ‘The DPR can begin to regenerate or ‘self-clean’ once the filter reaches 30 percent capacity,’ says a Hino press statement. ‘This process involves the engine control unit (ECU) automatically regenerating the soot build-up.

‘The soot level is indicated in a multi-information dashboard display which extinguishes as regeneration is complete.’

A capable off-roader but also content to stretch out on the hard-top

Meanwhile, when it comes to ride quality, the Hino 4x4 is truly surprising, not least because it rides on multi-leaf spring packs and as anyone who has had much to do with Japanese off-roaders with similar suspension layouts will also know only too well, the term ‘ride comfort’ can be something of a misnomer.

Fortunately, the new Hino is an exception and engineers appear to have found an acceptable compromise between the sometimes opposing goals of ride quality and rugged reliability, with six-leaf main packs front and rear, and the back end also sporting a six-leaf auxiliary pack.

For sure, it’s not the best riding truck ever developed but on black top or dirt, it’s way better than some off-road models I’ve had the displeasure of driving.

In fact, after putting several versions of Hino’s new off-roader through their collective paces on everything from freeways, to country roads, forest tracks with plenty of potholes and corrugations, and at day’s end a play on the tortuous tracks of the Werribee 4x4 Training and Proving Ground, it’s hard to see anything other than a bright future for Hino’s latest addition.

Or as a decidedly upbeat Daniel Petrovski put it, "Quite simply, we believe this is the best light-duty 4x4 truck on the Australian market."

From what we’ve seen and experienced at this early stage, it’d take a good argument and a very good truck to prove him wrong.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model: Hino 300 4x4

Engine: Hino NO4C-UT

Transmission: Hino 6-speed overdrive

Power: 121 kW (165hp)

Torque: 464 Nm

GVM: 7500kg std, 4495kg optional

GCM: 11,000kg std, 7995kg optional

Emission Control Type: EGR and DPF

Emission Control Standard: Euro 5

You can also follow our updates by joining our LinkedIn group or liking us on Facebook