Allison fully automatic transmissions are increasingly appearing in medium duty trucks performing distribution tasks in and around our congested cities. Truck manufacturers, like Fuso, have seen increased interest in the fully automatic option for distribution trucks for a number of reasons. With the release of the Fuso Fighter 1627 (Fuso now uses the Daimler model classification system) and its Allison six speed automatic transmission, the Japanese truck importer has brought its range into a growing sector of the market.
Prime Mover took the new FM Auto for a test drive around a typical urban distribution route in Queensland's Gold Coast. Running on busy urban highways, suburban roads during the school run, open highway and into difficult loading areas in industrial and retail environments, the new truck took on a normal day's work for this kind of delivery task.
Truck requirements in this sector have changed, and the very basic spec Japanese delivery vehicle has been superseded as the Australian market has become more sophisticated. Driver skill levels are not perceived to be very high and auto gearboxes protect the expensive driveline components from damage. Urban congestion rises year on year, delivery drivers need to keep their wits about them to stay out of trouble. Auto gear changing gives them one less thing to worry about in busy traffic situations.
There has also been an electronic revolution in control systems. With sensors on all major components and responsive software running things like engines and automatic gearboxes, the systems are much more flexible and respond to inputs faster than a driver. The new automatic and automated transmissions are more than capable of coping with just about any situation thrown at them.
From the outside, and at first look, little has changed about the Fighter from its predecessor, introduced a few years ago. However, there are enough clues in the truck's appearance to give the game away. The new name badges using the Daimler system means this Fighter 1627 is a 16 tonne GVM with a 270hp engine. This truck is compliant with the latest exhaust gas emission rules, ADR 80/03. The latest iteration of the Mitsubishi Fuso 6M60 six cylinder engine has been fitted and remapped to adapt to using the SCR after treatment system and the automatic transmission.
The power from the engine remains at 267hp (199kW) but the 6M60 produces its 785Nm (579 ft lb) over a much wider range than its predecessor, holding maximum torque from 1100 to 2400rpm. This gives the Allison transmission plenty of torque to play with, enabling changes to be made to the ratios without compromising pulling power or the vehicle's momentum.
The transmission will also be able to tap into the more free running power coming from an engine which uses SCR to regulate exhaust emissions running without the restrictions of an EGR system or any diesel particulate filter. Fuso joins UD Trucks in offering a Japanese truck in the medium duty market which requires Adblue as well as fuel. It would appear the truck buying public are becoming less concerned about the need to keep another tank filled on a truck.
Transmission ratios in the six speed Allison MD3500 sees direct drive in fourth gear ratio and overdrive going up to 0.651 in top gear. This is coupled with a Mitsubishi Fuso rear axle with a ratio of 6.166:1 to give that truck the kind of gradeability and drivability required for this kind of application at these kinds of weights. This gives the truck an engine speed of 2304rpm at 100km/h.
Moving up through the gears is swiftly done, even on a loaded truck. The green band on the tachometer is between 1250 and 1750rpm and the auto box does its best to keep between these two points. The long flat-topped torque curve helps a lot in this regard and gives the gearbox the flexibility it requires to maintain this kind of performance. However, if for some reason the driver does need to get a move on, it's simply a matter of flooring the accelerator pedal and the engine will run up to 2300rpm before changes are made.
Supplied with the right power and torque at the right time, the Allison auto responds very well to the demands of driving in this kind of situation. The more precise control possible with the increasing use of electronics in and around the transmission means the driver experience of a fully auto truck, at this size, is light years away from that which could have been experienced in the past. Ratio changes are almost imperceptible as the engine keeps pouring on the torque before and after the change. If the driver wants to keep an eye on the whereabouts in the gearbox, they must pay attention to the tachometer or engine note. In the vast majority of situations it is not necessary for the driver to be concerned, in any way, about ratio choice as the Allison has it covered.
The controller for the auto gearbox looks like it comes from an earlier generation than the rest of the controls in the cabin. As Japanese trucks get a more contemporary look with a modern feel, it might be time for someone to invest in a more modern design for the auto gearbox controller. Having said that, the controller is effective and comes easily to hand if and when intervention is required.
One of the most effective aspects of the Allison control system is its integration with the truck electronics. Because the gearbox is well aware of what is going on with the engine and other control systems, it is able to make changing decisions based on more information than simply road speed and engine rpm. When the exhaust brake is turned on and the driver takes the foot off the accelerator, quick down changes are made to get engine rpm levels up and maximise the retardation available from the engine brake. This actually improves the performance of something that is often regarded as relatively ineffective on this size of truck.
The Fighter cabin was substantially revamped back in 2009 and has been further enhanced with the latest model change. It was already a very modern looking cabin and the latest model has even smoother lines to maintain that modern feel. Visibility is excellent from the driver's seat and the transom window in the passenger door allows the driver to keep an eye on the errant car drivers trying to sneak up on the inside.
The rearview mirrors on either side of the cabin could be larger but this would be at a price of reduced visibility through the driver or passenger door windows. It is a difficult balance for the truck manufacturers as large mirror installations can block the view of the driver looking to the left and right on road intersections. Fuso has probably got the balance just about right here.
The driver's seat is somewhat of a revelation, with the standard offering now an Isri seat with plenty of adjustment and offering improved comfort levels over the seat offered in the previous iteration of the Fighter. The bar has been raised on what kind of comfort levels are acceptable in a modern truck and the lumps and bumps, from poor road maintenance, experienced by truckies away from the tourist areas on the Gold Coast proves to be less of an issue with the new seat.
Driver seating position is quite comfortable and the area around the driver's feet has plenty of room. The positioning of the pedals and the engine cover mean there are a number of positions where the driver can place their feet. It is possible to stretch out on longer journeys out on the open highway or sit in a position more primed for quick reactions in a busy urban environment.
Storage in the Fighter cabin has always been quite good and the two shelves on the top of the dashboard prove useful. This test model also has a useful pair of storage boxes designed to fit exactly on the large rear parcel shelf. This changes an area which often has odds and ends thrown onto it, only for the objects to make their way down the rear of the seats and into oblivion. With the two bins provided there is plenty of room to store a wide variety of equipment safely and securely.
Although Fuso trucks have historically been quite basic they have also always been well set up for the road conditions with which they will be faced. This FM is no different, it does have a modern look and a modern feel, but the added sophistication is all out of sight in the driveline. The truck also exhibits excellent feel on the road with responsive steering and suspension giving the driver confidence in the performance of the truck in traffic.
This has been some turnaround for Fuso. When the company was first asked whether it would follow other Japanese manufacturers down the route of including auto gearboxes in the line-up, it was unconvinced the truck market would demand it. Now, five or six years later, Fuso probably has the best auto option throughout the range of any of the Japanese manufacturers. The Canter now has the very smooth Duonic, while the heavy duty range is to get the adapted Mercedes-Benz AMT and now Allison is proving to be well integrated with the Fuso Fighter driveline.
When autos first started to appear in the Japanese product they were probably not quite sophisticated enough to cope with the rigours of a very fussy Australian market. Since then, the electronic control systems have come on leaps and bounds. It is at the point where comparison cannot be made between the modern auto or AMT and the kind of clunky automatic and automated gearchanging available to the market 10 years ago. The new Fighter 1627 fitted with the Allison 3500 is a prime example of how far we have come and how well these new drivelines suit the transport industry.