It’s been six years since Hino held a full-fledged series launch – the light-duty 300 range came out in 2011 – but that didn’t hold it back from going all in when it presented the new Wide Cab 500 Series at the end of February.
In fact, the local management team went on record declaring the new product line was “the most significant addition” to the Hino range in the company’s 50-year history in Australia – making for an especially confident return to the big stage.
One reason why Hino presented itself so self-assured may be the sheer scope of the project: Focusing on four key strategic areas – safety, performance, efficiency and comfort – the 500 Series underwent a comprehensive re-design for the 2017-18 season, not just a facelift. It only retained the basic DNA of Hino’s old Ranger Pro series, with everything else – from cabin mountings and suspension system through to the steering wheel – having been assessed and upgraded in line with Hino’s philosophy of continuous improvement.
For example, two significantly enhanced six-cylinder engines have been added to the new range – the eight-litre JO8E and the nine-litre AO9C, which both follow the Hino 700 Series’ example by utilising Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) to keep emissions in check. The integration of SCR technology does away with recirculating pollutants through the combustion process and should extend the lives of both engines by providing lower operating temperatures and less oil contamination than the EGR/particulate filter combination fitted to the previous models. The common rail fuel systems are now Denso units rather than the Bosch-sourced systems previously used.
Maximum power developed by the eight-litre engine is 280hp at 2,500rpm, with the peak torque of 883Nm available at 1,500rpm. The majority of the torque, that is, more than 800Nm, is available from as low as 1,200rpm and right up to 2,500rpm, though.
The nine-litre engine, meanwhile, comes in two power ratings. There’s a 320hp version with 1,275Nm of torque that is packaged with an Allison automatic transmission, and a 350hp (1,422Nm) rated engine for manual transmission applications. Both nine-litre engines have remarkably flat torque curves, with maximum force kicking it at around the 1,100rpm-mark and not dropping off until well past 1,600rpm. As a result, there is a tendency to run the engine out beyond 1,600rpm before changing up a gear when we first get behind the wheel of a loaded 350hp manual, and for a short while we have to consciously make the shift at a lower 1,300 to 1,400rpm to take maximum advantage of the available torque.
Hino expects that some 60 per cent of sales of all Hino vehicles will be sold as push button automatics, which might help address the national shortage of skilled drivers. That’s especially true for vocational applications, where efficiency in metropolitan traffic conditions is an important consideration, regardless of the ability level of the drivers. When fitted to FM26 models, the transmission’s fourth speed is direct, while fifth and sixth are overdrives to assist with minimising fuel consumption.
500’s with lower horsepower ratings can opt for Hino’s own six-speed MX06 all synchro manual or an Eaton nine-speed version that has been significantly reengineered with attention to the enhanced long-term durability of components such as synchro rings.
Our FM2635 test truck is equipped with Hino’s nine-speed M009OD, which is a pleasure to operate even in traffic. The H-pattern shifter uses cables rather than linkages to select the ratios, and the incorporation of a high-low range selector switch permits the shift gate to be widened so that gear selection is always precise. An audible buzzer in the cab advises the driver of the changed range, and an electronically actuated lock-out system prevents the selection of a gear that will over-rev the engine.
The manual model also has Hino’s fuel saving Stop Start System (HSSS) on board, which was also introduced on the latest 300 Series. The HSSS switches off the engine when the truck is stationary, the transmission is in neutral and the parking brake activated, instantly restarting when the clutch is depressed. Also included is a hill start assist system that holds the brakes when taking off on an incline and is set up to release the brakes once the clutch moves past an adjustable friction point that is suitable to initiate forward movement – an advantage over other similar systems, where brake release is a function of time and can catch out an unwary driver.
Both in the top-spec 350hp version and the 320hp FM26 6×4 automatic one we tested alongside it, the nine-litre Hino is currently the only Japanese truck in the medium-duty bracket that features a true engine brake rather than just a butterfly exhaust brake.
The effectiveness becomes apparent when descending Mt Ousley into Wollongong on our post-launch test drive, grossing more than 16 tonnes. The 40 km/h truck limit is easily managed in either fourth or fifth gear, with no brake pedal applications required at all. In the auto version, the transmission will continue to try to downshift all the way to third gear to keep the revs up and provide more backpressure retardation. As such, both safety and wheel brake component life are extended, and the driver can feel relaxed in the comfort of knowing that there will be no speed cameras catching the truck out for over-running the limit. If needed, however, effective ‘S’ cam drum brakes are fitted to all axles, with spring activated ‘maxi’ brakes on all four rear wheels.
Also on the safety front, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) is standard across the full range – just as it is on the 300 Series, where Hino made history as the first OEM to offer the potentially life-saving technology across an entire truck range. VSC helps reduce the occurrence of accidents such as overturning due to sudden steering operations or when taking a corner or roundabout too quickly. To do so, the system monitors factors such as wheel rotation speed, steering angle, yaw rate and applies brake pressure to individual wheels via the Anti-lock Braking System to allow the vehicle to complete turning the corner safely.
Our test on the Eastern Creek Raceway skid pan can confirm that getting a 500 cab-chassis to misbehave is next to impossible – the VSC is simply remarkable in the way it maintains stability, even for an unbalanced cab chassis trying to be thrown around in deliberate attempts to break traction or initiate a loss of control.
To ensure the new chassis is body builder-friendly, Hino incorporated a bolted frame structure with clean top flanges to eliminate the need for any spacer between chassis and body sub frame. The chassis is made from the same 620 mPa steel as the larger Hino 700 Series and features a series of pre-drilled, ‘Meccano’-like grid holes that provide added flexibility for the mounting of suspensions, fuel and air tanks and other ancillary equipment such as cranes and stabiliser legs. The grid holes thus contribute to the modular chassis package at both manufacture and at body building stage.
The cabs are bigger and accessed by a set of tiered steps that are offset outwards from the top and allow the driver to see the next step down, which is a clever safety innovation. Once inside, there is no dedicated phone holder, but bluetooth connection to the multi-media system is simple. The media unit itself has been upgraded with larger knobs to make adjustments easier, and provides a clear image and good audio for the standard reversing camera and rear microphone.
All bogie-drive 500 Series are equipped with power divider locks as well as cross axle locks, which can be selected from the dash via a couple of rocker switches that incorporate ‘missile launcher’ covers to protect against inadvertent activation.
So, what to make of Hino’s first big launch in more than half a decade? Our first test of the top spec nine-litre models has confirmed they are suitable for a broad range of applications, from metropolitan and regional distribution and Dangerous Goods transport through to prime mover work pulling single trailers. In the country, the 500 Series will also make great rigid stock carriers, while metro construction markets will appreciate the ease of adding cranes, for example.
A sign of how serious Hino has been about the project is that the Australian models are manufactured in the company’s Koga plant in Japan, making Australia the first ‘advanced’ market to introduce the new line-up in Euro V form. With that in mind, it’s obvious that Hino didn’t want to leave anything to coincidence with the new 500 Series. The result is not just a new cab, but a whole new range that could finally help it leave the old bridesmaid stigma behind.