Fuso, part of the global Daimler family, is one company that has recognised the need for a tough, medium-sized rigid with sufficient seating space in a country as vast and rugged as Australia.
Developed with bush fire services, mining and electricity line maintenance in mind, the company’s Canter FG Wide Crew Cab 4×4 model is part of a rare breed of trucks that are able to combine serious off-road capabilities with a solid commercial platform. But, that doesn’t necessarily limit the possible applications for the Canter’s toughened up cousin – the 4×4 is just as confident cruising the blacktop as well as scrambling through almost trackless bush or desert, as our test of a Canter in ‘fiery spec’ has shown.
In the standard form, the Crew Cab comes with driver and passenger airbags, keyless central locking and electric front windows. In the fire-fighter spec, however, these items are ‘delete options’ as safety considerations for the occupants. Our customised test model also has some specific mining features fitted, such lagging insulation on the exhaust pipe, an amber flashing light and numerous additional warning stickers and reflective markings. Missing is the long aerial and the red and white flag, but the mounting bracket is installed.
There are also a couple of tail shaft loops positioned to retain a shaft if a universal or spline fracture occurs, and the nuts on the steel dish wheels are fitted with plastic indicators to ensure that wheel nuts working loose are picked up before the disastrous loss of a wheel.
An electrical system isolator switch is also part of the mining package – but unfortunately it’s positioned to cop a direct hit of mud from the front wheel. Regardless of the ingress protection rating of the switch assembly, a simple guard to keep the mud off would have been a worthwhile addition.
Another modification to the body builder’s efforts on our test truck would be a reconfiguring of the steps provided for safe access to the tray, as their location makes refuelling difficult and getting a bowser nozzle – especially a fast flow one – into the 100-litre fuel tank is a challenge almost worthy of a Chinese wire puzzle.
Once fuelled up and on the road, though, the three-litre engine pumps a very capable 110kW (150hp) between 2,840 and 3,500rpm, and the maximum 370Nm of torque is available between 1,350 and 2,840rpm. Also positive is that neither power nor torque drop off too quickly once past their peak, and the engine will rev out to just beyond 4,000rpm.
The transmission is a five-speed manual where fourth is direct and fifth is overdrive to keep revs and fuel consumption down when travelling at highway speeds. First gear is non-synchro, which may present a challenge to holders of passenger licences, but for the experienced, the transmission is easy to use and the dash-mounted gear lever makes access across the cab easy.
The main gearbox is linked to a two-speed transfer case that is operated electro-mechanically via an unobtrusive switch mounted on the dash. Four-wheel drive activation is made using a similar switch as well as manually turning the front hub locks.
To further simplify the spec, the brakes are all drum instead of the discs fitted to the regular Canter 4×2 models. ABS and Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) – as well as Fuso’s Brake Priority System, which overrides the accelerator if both brake and throttle are pushed at the same time – are all on board, though.
The 17.5-inch Bridgestone tubeless tyres with their quite aggressive tread pattern deliver a good balance between off-road traction and on-pavement road noise, and would provide solid grip during water crossings, too. Engine air intake is via a high snorkel mounted high on the cab, but anyone intending fording deep water should consider fitting breather extension on the diffs, too.
Our venture into the wilds of the Watagan Mountains is a solo vehicle affair, so without having a second vehicle or a winch to facilitate a recovery, we initially avoid anything that looks all too challenging. As our confidence in the Canter’s off-road abilities grows, however, so do the size and elevation of the objects that we attack. Most of the tracks and fire trails through the Watagan Mountains have become seriously degraded since we last took an off-roader up there, but the Canter seems to take just about anything we point it at in its stride, with traction being the limiting factor rather than torque. If we had some ballast in the tray, the traction, particularly for the front wheel, might have been improved.
The hill hold function – now widely expected as standard – is very handy off-road and assists the driver to get the clutch to its friction point while avoiding wheel spin when starting off up hills. Negotiating rough descents is the real strong point of the Canter 4×4, though, and made sublimely easy by selecting low range, leaving the main transmission in third or fourth gear and toggling with the exhaust brake lever to control the Canter’s speed. If necessary, we can push hard on the brake pedal and slow the truck to a virtual crawl without the hint of stalling the torquey engine, even though the clutch pedal isn’t depressed. On top of that, the high and forward seating position provides excellent vision when picking the most appropriate path across the rough stuff.
Access to the jacked up cab is a straightforward affair using the non-slip steps and grab handles, and the four rear passengers are also afforded three points of contact.
Once inside, the suspended driver’s seat incorporates adjustable damping to suit drivers weighing 70-110kg and is fitted with a folding armrest on the left side and an adjustable lumbar support.
The two front passenger seats, meanwhile, are ‘siamesed’ with a lap belt for the centre position. The rear seats accommodate four adults and have lockable storage bins underneath.
The dash has easy-to-read large diameter instruments augmented by a digital screen that combines trip meters, fuel consumption, maintenance reminders and a bar chart for the condition of the Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF). The standard multi-media package includes a high-resolution 6.1 inch colour LCD screen with CD, AM/FM and digital radio and a USB port. Bluetooth for the phone is standard and like most of these late model systems, easy to connect. The screen is capable of displaying feeds from up to three cameras mounted on the outside of the truck, and there is a spare DIN housing if a two-way UHF radio is required.
The maps on the satellite navigation system are very detailed and even show most of the overgrown bush tracks we have a go at. Free upgrades for the first three years are included, as are details on heavy vehicle weight and height restrictions as well as hazardous goods routes.
Our test takes place over a couple of very hot days with the mercury up around 35°C, and the Canter’s air conditioning does a first class job of keeping the large cabin area comfortably cool. The viscous hub engine fan gets a work out and although it’s quite noisy in the cab when it’s in operation, the fan is very efficient in cooling the engine and the air con’s condenser, and only requires short periods of operation.
So, does it make sense to turn to Fuso if you need to transport up to seven people and a few tonnes of cargo off the beaten path? If you need a torquey workhorse and regularly carry heavy loads, it may be just the right choice. As tested with a steel body, the Canter 4×4 won’t cost a lot more than a tricked-up, Thai-manufactured 4×4 ute and has the advantage of legally and comfortably seating seven – plus serious load capacity and a 3,500kg towing rating.