Born out of the necessities of war, four wheel drive vehicles for a long time bore a reputation for being uncomfortable, difficult to drive and severely compromised in their on-road performances due to the requirements of their all-terrain applications taking precedence over more genteel activities.
Medium Duty 4×4 trucks are an intriguing category with traditional applications in industries such as emergency services, mining, agriculture, and infrastructure support now being expanded by becoming the basis of campers and mobile homes for people who want to ‘go bush’ with a lot of gear. High expectations in terms of off-road capabilities should be tempered with a reasonable load capacity and a comfortable performance when being used on roads that are considerably better than bush tracks.
Hino’s latest 500 Series GT 1528 goes a long way towards disproving any notion that a four wheel drive medium duty truck can’t climb mountains, carry a load, accommodate seven adults in relative comfort and cruise the streets as well.
Appearances can be deceiving, and from the outside not a lot has changed for this new Hino 500 Series GT 4×4, but where it matters is underneath. The 2020 Hino GT 1528 benefits from being extensively re-engineered from the bottom up starting with the front and rear axles which have increased capacities compared to the previous model.
The higher axle capacities are in line with the significant increases in power and torque provided by the six cylinder Hino J08 turbo engine. Power has gone from 215hp to 280hp with the additional 65hp representing a 30 per cent increase, while torque has risen by 29 per cent from 637Nm to 824Nm. The engine meets Euro 5 emission regulations using a combination of Exhaust Gas Recirculation and a Diesel Particulate Filter with no AdBlue required. Fuel tank capacity is 200 litres. The engine’s additional power and torque are noticeable on and off the road and the benefits are maximised with the use of the torque convertor and the automatic transmission.
The axles have contributed to the GVM being increased by 1.5 tonnes to 14.5 tonnes, making possible a nominal payload of around 9 tonnes. A logbook-exempt 12 tonne rating is available as an option.
For the GT 1528 the cab can be a three-seat single version, or as with our test truck, a seven seater crew cab. Both cab styles have electro-hydraulic tilt mechanisms and are available with either a 4,250mm wheelbase or the new, longer, 4,650mm wheelbase. The additional longer wheelbase is particularly good for crew cab models as it allows the fitting of a practical length body without excessive rear overhang which would be undesirable when driving off-road.
The five speed, single overdrive Allison 2500 full automatic transmission is standard equipment. ‘On the fly’ 4×4 selection is achieved using a dash mounted switch while low range in the two-speed transfer case needs to be selected when the vehicle is stationary. The transfer case has been beefed up to handle the extra power and torque of the engine. Another advantage of the Allison, perhaps its greatest, is that it provides the truck with the ability to safely traverse quite rough terrain without having the driver being concerned about shifting gears or overloading the driveline components.
The selector for the Allison is a ‘man-sized’ T-bar shifter which doesn’t have a ‘park’ position as air/spring brakes are used for parking and are operated by an air valve in the cab which looks very much like a ratchet handbrake used on smaller trucks. Having ‘reverse’ at the top of the quadrant makes for quick and easy back and fill turns as the driver can virtually row from drive to reverse. An ability to lock the transmission in one gear is a benefit when both climbing and descending rugged sections of ‘road’.
The turning circles of all wheel drive trucks are never expected to be a strong point due to the restrictions of steerable front hubs although the GT 1528 has managed to tighten the turns with a one metre reduced circle over the previous model.
The braking system consists of air-over-hydraulic drums on all wheels with the Anti-lock Braking System sensibly disconnected when low range 4×4 is selected. Instead of electronic brake actuated traction control found on Hino’s road going 500 Series, the GT 1528 employs a conventional and effective no-spin rear differential. The engine’s exhaust brake is nicely integrated with the Allison, which downshifts automatically to boost the engine brake’s effectiveness, sometimes so much so that on undulating highway driving we usually leave the steering column mounted control lever in the ‘off’ position, only flicking it to ‘on’ when we really do want to wash off some speed. There is adequate storage of compressed air to accommodate ‘riding’ the brakes on long steep descents.
Standing on 22.5 inch wheels shod with 11R22.5 tyres, the cab seems a long way above ground level and access involves using a wheel step, several handles and a couple of forwarded-mounted steps. This could prove a minor challenge for drivers with shorter statures although access to this type of vehicle will always involve a compromise due to the requirement for adequate ground clearance and perhaps an additional folding step would assist some driver and passengers.
Once inside the cab there is an abundance of features starting with the ISRI driver’s seat which has a comprehensive array of adjustments including pneumatic damping and the integrated seatbelt provides practical comfort and safety. We’ve driven similar trucks over the same roads and have occasionally had to resort to unclipping the seat belt or risk damage to the shoulder or collar bone. In the single cab models the outside passenger also gets an air suspended seat.
Hino’s impressive multimedia system has a 6.5 inch screen with the capability to connect up to four cameras, plus Bluetooth music streaming and mobile phone voice dialling. The Android operating system has Wi-Fi connectivity to enable over the air software updates. The test vehicle is fitted with the optional truck specification GPS system complete with live traffic updates. Standard equipment also includes a reversing camera and a driver’s SRS airbag. The heated electric mirrors are located on spring mounted folding arms which prove their effectiveness on some of the narrow tracks we take where the saplings close in.
The standard electric windows and door locks can be optionally replaced with manual equivalents to meet with certain fire authorities’ requirements.
Long taper leaf spring suspension at the front combined with effective shock absorbers delivers a vastly improved ride compared with the semi-elliptic spring packs used on previous models. We managed to put a shudder through the vehicle only once by bottoming out when travelling just a little too quickly over some broken rock. The standard shock absorbers are, by nature, a compromise to deliver the best ride under most conditions the Hino is likely to encounter including streets and highways.
Getting there is supposedly half the fun, and on the road to and from off-roading adventures the GT 1528 provides a smooth and remarkably quiet ride. It would not have been unexpected with a vehicle of this type to be subjected to intrusive noise from the chunky tyres or the whine of the driveline, but the Bridgestone tyres and the Allison transmission deliver none of that. With the air-conditioning on, the music playing softly and the cruise control set we are able to motor along in style and keep up with the other truck traffic despite being loaded to gross a little over 12 tonnes.
We endeavour to put the GT 1528 through its off-road paces on some of the Watagan Mountains’ toughest logging and fire trails. Weather, budget cuts and disrespectful off-road hoons have resulted in a very evident lack of maintenance on the access roads with 400mm ruts and loose rocks peppering roads that 18 months ago could have been easily traversed by a typical family sedan. Needless to say the Hino eats this all up with ease.
To that extent, Hino’s experience from being perennial, and usually successful, participants in the Dakar Rally has filtered through to its multi-purpose trucks such as the GT 1528.