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‘Dog’gone

While cabovers offer drivers panoramic views in tight urban spaces, North American fleets tend to favor their conventional counterparts for a number of reasons. Easier engine access means less time in...


While cabovers offer drivers panoramic views in tight urban spaces, North American fleets tend to favor their conventional counterparts for a number of reasons. Easier engine access means less time in service bays, sculpted aerodynamics can reduce fuel bills, and the designs offer more space for large drivers.

The buying patterns have convinced Hino to shift gears.

The Japanese truck maker that has spent decades promoting the value of medium-duty COEs has redesigned its entire Class 4 to 7 line-up, unveiling a new series of trucks that come complete with hoods.

But it would be a mistake to believe that changes have been limited to the truck’s profile, as I discovered during a recent test drive of the 338 Series — the largest model in the Hino line, and the first to be unveiled in Canada.

Conventional trucks are undeniably easier to maintain than their COE counterparts. There’s no need to tilt a cab or reach through the doghouse to access the engine. But this isn’t the only way that Hino has improved maintenance-related access.

Fluid reservoirs can be easily reached from the driver’s side of the cab, thanks in part to an engine that’s mounted low in the chassis. Mechanics will also be able to reach the rear cylinders when conducting in-frame overhauls. (The lower engine mount has the added benefit of improving stability in tight corners.) However, the decision to mount a windshield reservoir under the passenger seat could lead to some messy spills in the cab.

Parts will also be easier to source since Hino has spec’d a wide array of North American components, including Eaton Fuller transmissions, Spicer clutches and driveshafts, AC Delco alternators, and Hendrickson suspensions. A Parker R90S fuel filter and water separator and Bendix Air Dryer are mounted next to the cab steps.

A covered connector for a 1,000-watt, 120-volt immersion type block heater is found under the driver’s door, near two batteries that offer a combined 1,200 cca of cranking power, and diagnostic tools can be plugged into a connector found just to the right of the steering column. Every foot of wiring is also neatly fixed into place rather than relying on twist ties, whether it’s found under the hood or along the frame.

Those who install truck bodies will also enjoy the clean top on the frame that boasts the strength of Huck fasteners. (Hino COEs had traditionally incorporated nuts and bolts to make it easier to modify Asian-made wheelbases for North American applications.)

The frame on the Class 7 sits 40.6 inches above the road, with Class 3 and 4 heights measuring 34.1 inches, offering an easy entry at the back of the truck.

THE CAB

I have to admit that I tend to favor conventional models since my 6-5 frame isn’t made to measure for the cabs of most medium-duty COEs. Still, you have to give the flat-nosed models credit for the unobstructed visibility that comes with a bus-like windshield.

Hino has been able to maintain that expansive view by using the same steep windshield found on its COE models in Japan, and incorporating a short, sloped hood in North America.

The sloping hood serves two purposes. It improves aerodynamics at highway speeds (as much as a flat windshield will allow), and it drops out of the way to offer drivers a clear view of the road – something that’s particularly important in tight P&D environments if you don’t want to deal with accident claims.

The cab includes an expansive list of standard options including a Clarion AM/FM stereo with a CD player, cruise control, intermittent wipers, air conditioning and power windows. The gauges are all easy to read – including a low-coolant warning sensor that will ensure that drivers have a chance to top up fluid levels before an engine overheats. And a tilting and telescopic steering wheel offers extra comfort for the tall and the short.

Fleets will also be able to use the trucks to deliver three-man crews, sitting two passengers on a bench seat that enjoys the legroom that comes without a doghouse.

Storage includes two overhead bins, and a console between the seats offers additional capacity along with cupholders for two large coffees.

THE DETAILS

Hino is well known for a tight fit and finish, and nothing rattles inside this cab with a five-foot interior height. But so too have company engineers silenced the sounds of combustion. Not only has the engine been shoved in front of the windshield, but sounds have been further baffled with additional insulation found everywhere from the firewall to the floor.

The decision to bolt the door moldings to the frame of the cab will even keep them from coming loose, although time will tell if the new fasteners will also become a source of corrosion.

Grab handles mounted outside prototype cabs have been moved inside on production models, ensuring that they won’t ice up during the winter. And Hino promises that these new cabs will stand up to Canadian climes, after conducting its cold weather tests in none other than Timmins, Ont.

THE RIDE

At its most powerful, the company’s proprietary J Series engine comes in the form of a six-cylinder model that offers 260 hp and 585 lb-ft of torque at 1,500 rpm, displacing 7.68 liters. Its five-liter brethren rely on four cylinders to offer175 hp.

The higher pressures associated with clean-running engines are handled by a number of beefed-up internal components. And Hino is also quick to add that its engines will meet the EPA’s 2007 emission requirements with the help of a catalytic converter.

A variable-geometry turbocharger offers quick acceleration in low gears and throughout the range of the standard Eaton FS6406A six-speed direct-drive synchromesh transmission. And an optional five-speed Allison MD3060 automatic transmission might be preferred for fleets with drivers who have less experience behind the wheel.

But perhaps the most outstanding performance attribute of this new truck is its tight turning radius, thanks to a Meritor-built steer axle and its 51-degree wheel cut.

While the 338 that I tested came equipped with air brakes, models with GVWs up to 30,000 lb. can be spec’d with full hydraulic brake systems. That will make Hino’s newest trucks more attractive to rental fleets – a market that has traditionally eluded the company outside its stronghold of Quebec. (That province doesn’t require a separate license endorsement for the air-over-hydraulic brakes that were found on the COEs.)

CONCLUSION

For the first year, the new Hino models are being assembled in Japan, and can be shipped to customers within 90 days of an order. But those delivery times are likely to be slashed once the first models begin rolling off Toyota’s former Tundra assembly plant in California. (The Japanese auto giant now boasts a majority interest in Hino.) And once the models are made in North America, you can expect a wider array of customized spec’s.

The 338 Series and its smaller brethren are a bold departure for Hino, particularly in Canada, where fleets have been quicker to accept its cabover models. Still, fewer than 19% of Class 4 to 7 Canadian trucks are COEs, according to company vice-president Alan Masters. We seem to love our hoods.

Hino has made its dramatic change by building a better truck on what was already a solid foundation – and the move will undoubtedly make the company a bigger player in the world of medium-duty trucks.

As tested

338 SERIES

GVW: 33,000 lb.

Wheelbase: 253 inches

Cab to axle: 185.6 inches

Transmission: Eaton FS6406A

six-speed direct-drive synchromesh

Engine: Hino J08E-TA

Displacement: 7.68 litre

HP: 260 hp @ 2,500 rpm

Torque (max): 585 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm

Bore and stroke: 4.41 x 5.12 inches

MSRP: $64,300


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