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Enter the Hood, Exit the Doghouse

MONTREAL, Que. - Changes to truck models can often be subtle, coming in the form of something like an updated trim package, or a different layout for components bolted to the firewall.But you can spot...


NEW LOOK: Hino Trucks unveiled its brand new look at Expocam.
NEW LOOK: Hino Trucks unveiled its brand new look at Expocam.

MONTREAL, Que. – Changes to truck models can often be subtle, coming in the form of something like an updated trim package, or a different layout for components bolted to the firewall.

But you can spot changes to Hino’s line-up of Class 4 to 7 trucks from across the parking lot. The company that has spent decades promoting the value of COEs has decided to switch to conventional designs to capture the minds, hearts and pocketbooks of North American buyers who have their hearts set on hoods.

Company officials made the announcement at Expocam this October, and made the trucks available for test drives in the days that followed…

The cab

I have to admit that I tend to favour 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 a clear view of the road. And the clear view was particularly appreciated as I snaked through a residential area in Vaudreuil, Que.

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 you have a chance to top up fluid levels before your engine overheats. And a tilting and telescopic steering wheel offers extra comfort for the tall and the short. Hino has also added to the interior space by eliminating the doghouse that covered COE engines, offering extra legroom for up to two passengers on the bench seat.

Storage includes two overhead bins, and a console between the seats offers additional capacity along with cupholders that can handle two large coffees. (Or Big Gulps, if that’s your thing. Me, bring on the Timmies.)

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 over time, 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. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with that climate, take note that you have to flip the map of Ontario to find it.)

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 litres. Its five-litre brethren relies on four cylinders to offer 175 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. 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. Meanwhile, the full hydraulic brake systems available on models up to 30,000 lb. also 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 licence endorsement for the air-over-hydraulic brakes that were found on the COEs.) Although, the 338 that I tested was equipped with air brakes.

The maintenance

Hino’s decision to source a wide array of North American components is going to be welcomed by maintenance managers. It’s simply easier to find 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, while two batteries offer a combined 1,200 cca of cranking power.

All of the under-hood fluid reservoirs can be easily reached, thanks in part to an engine that’s mounted low in its chassis, and maintenance staff will even be able to get their hands on the rear cylinders for 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.

A covered connection for block heaters is easily reached under the driver’s door, and diagnostic tools can be plugged into the connector found just to the right of the steering column. Every foot of wiring is also neatly fixed into place, whether it’s found under the hood or along the frame.

Those who install truck bodies will enjoy the clean top on the frame that also boasts the strength that comes with the use of Huck fasteners. Hino COEs had traditionally incorporated nuts and bolts to make it easier to modify 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.

Dimensions from the top of the frame to the top of the roof measure 69 and 70 inches, respectively. 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. And once they’re in North America, you can expect a wider array of customized spec’s.

Conclusion

The 338 Series and its smaller brethren are a bold departure for Hino, particularly in Canada, which has been quicker to accept the cabover models. Still, fewer than 19 per cent 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.


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