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Here come the middleweights

TORONTO, Ont. - Classes 4 and 5 trucks are medium-duty vehicles ranging from GVW 14,500 to 19,500 lbs. No special licence is required to drive one and the applications can vary from a flatdeck to tilt box, cargo van, snowplow or mini-dump. PTOs...


TORONTO, Ont. – Classes 4 and 5 trucks are medium-duty vehicles ranging from GVW 14,500 to 19,500 lbs. No special licence is required to drive one and the applications can vary from a flatdeck to tilt box, cargo van, snowplow or mini-dump. PTOs are available on all models and extended cabs can make for some creative vocational choices.

The spectrum of models in this division has been growing steadily in North America for the last 10 years. These are primarily city trucks, and the big three Japanese truck makers (Fuso, Hino and Isuzu) have settled on the cabover engine (COE) design, matched with an automatic transmission as the industry paradigm. The low cab-forward configuration allows for tighter turns and maneuverability, lower net weights, and more room for specialized equipment.

What’s new for 2012? One might just as soon ask what’s the same. The Japanese COEs look somewhat alike and share driveability characteristics. As well, the instrumentation and interior layouts seem almost interchangeable. For instance, each cabover comes equipped with a bucket driver’s seat and two-passenger bench seat with a work table that folds down across the middle seat. Even the warranties appear to be similar and competitive.

Meeting tougher emissions standards for 2010 has been a challenge for all the OEMs. The cab-forward manufacturers have all incorporated  SCR technology into their exhaust streams. Only the Navistar TerraStar, in the same weight class, has refrained from going that route. It’s sticking with the EGR emissions technology by going with the MaxxForce 7 engine.

Overall the new models are lighter, come loaded with technology, and are capable of hauling bigger payloads. I recently took several of these middleweights for a drive.

Fuso Canter
The least expensive and probably the best fuel mileage in this field belongs to Mitsubishi Fuso. Fuso’s Canter line-up of trucks for 2012 has gone with a smaller engine and stepped down the horsepower from 180 to 161. This is an Iveco 4P10 turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine coupled with a six-speed Duonic automatic transmission. The transmission is a dual clutch system sans torque converter which has been adapted from automobiles and has previously appeared in the Porsche 911 and Bugatti Veyron.

Fuso offers four models in the Classes 4 and 5 segments including the FE 160 crew cab that holds a crew of seven. The FE180 is its heaviest and is rated with a GVW of 17,995 lbs. Fuso also expects to have an all-wheel-drive truck on the showroom floor this fall. The FG4x4 will gross 14,050 lbs.

All cabovers provide panoramic visibility and the FE series is no exception. Brake-wise, Fuso has gone with discs all around. The emergency brake lever is tucked in beside the driver’s seat and the shifter is mounted on the dash console which allows for unencumbered movement in the cab. The Duonic transmissions can also be shifted manually, moving the shift lever up or down.

The FE180 had a short turning radius but didn’t seem quite as tight as the Hino or Isuzu. This was an extended chassis which probably explains the wider arc. In certain applications (ie., furniture delivery),  a 24-foot box can be mounted on the back.
The standard features of tilt steering, air-conditioning, power windows and power door locks are more than adequate. Lots of digital readouts are available on the big dials. Fusos sit on 17.5-inch wheels and the driveability is decent. There was no discernible lag or rollback when taking off from a standing start, and the engine seemed quite peppy although higher revving than the Hino or Isuzu.

The smaller block engine can accommodate a smaller rad and one battery instead of two. Access to the engine is simple: with the flip of a couple of levers, the spring-loaded cab lifts away easily. Lastly, the manufacturer claims extended intervals between maintenance services will improve the owner’s bottom line.

Hino Motors
Hino has had a presence in Canada since the late 1970s, so they’ve had some time to get their trucks right. Unfortunately, the new cabover Classes 4 and 5, Models 155 and 195 are not expected to be available until later this fall, although demos are making the rounds of dealerships. Most Japanese OEMs have been struggling with delivering parts and products since the tsunami, but dealers tell me that the containers are again moving across the Pacific and things are getting back on schedule.

Hino abandoned its cabover orientation in 2005, opting for conventionals instead, intuiting this was what the North American consumer wanted. No doubt, the manufacturer’s re-entry into the COE market will be welcomed by some loyal customers. And although Hino may have jumped back into making cabovers, they’re still making conventionals. The long hood Class 5 Model 198 is still available and comes fitted with a 7.6-litre, six-cylinder engine matched with a six-speed Allison automatic transmission.

As for the new models, I tracked down a demonstration model 155 and took it for a spin around Downsview, Ont. The 155 and 195, rated at 14,500 lbs and 19,500 lbs GVW respectively, come with a passel of standard features that enhance driver comfort and operating ease. Most impressive was the reverse polarity magnetic driver’s seat that rides on a cushion of air. COEs are not always the most comfortable ride, as the driver sits over the front wheel, but this will help a lot.

Bluetooth technology and a built-in GPS are standard equipment and will be appreciated by city and regional drivers alike. Air-conditioning, heated and remotely powered mirrors and power door locks are also nice touches, as is the exhaust brake, all of which comes standard. All-wheel disc brakes and ABS are also included with every package.

The turning radius and visibility is exemplary. And there’s plenty of power in the 210-hp J05E-TP four-cylinder, water-cooled diesel engine that’s matched with a six-speed automatic Aisin transmission. The 5.12-litre motor puts out 440 lbs of torque. The 155 sits on 16-inch wheels, while the heavier-duty 195 rides 19.5-inch wheels.

Hino has announced that crew cab versions of the 155 and 195 will be available in 2012, as will a diesel-electric hybrid version of the two models (although only the 155 will be offered in Canada initially). A company press release calls this “a giant leap for alternative fueled commercial vehicles in North America.”

Isuzu
Isuzu trucks are already veterans when it comes to SCR technology and being emission-complaint since their 2011 N-series diesels met the stringent EPA2010 standards last year. For 2012, the OEM has boosted the horsepower by five horses to 215.
Standard features include exhaust brake, tilt and telescopic steering, power windows and locks, and cruise control, among others. An extended 212-inch wheelbase allows for the installation of a 24-foot box, although most customers choose the 176-inch wheelbase and an 18- or 20-foot box.

The NRR model Isuzu was another pleasure to drive. My ride was fitted with a landscaper’s short-sided dump box provided by DEL and grossed out at 19,500 lbs. Justin Howitt, sales consultant at Humberview Truck Centre in Etobicoke, Ont., has seen all kinds of adaptations to the Isuzu chassis, including a flatdeck with tarps, racks and rollers.

“One interesting development we’re seeing is swap loading, where a tilt deck is fitted with interchangeable boxes or containers that can be dropped at a site and picked up later while the truck goes off and does another job,” he says.

Unlike the other OEMs, Isuzu is adding a gas engine to its Classes 3 and 4 trucks. The petrol engine might be an attractive alternative for a contractor who doesn’t do a lot of driving or parks it part of the year. This truck will be produced by Spartan Motors and manufactured at its facility in Charlotte, Mich. The engine will be a GM Vortec 6.0-litre V8 that puts out 297 hp at 4,000 rpm.

Isuzu salespeop
le are especially proud of their 5.2-litre engine, which has a B10 rating of 310,000 miles (that’s when 100 engines run non-stop until 10 of them fail), and puts out 452 lb.-ft. of torque. “There’s nothing hiding in these trucks. They are straightforward, fuel-efficient and they last a heck of a long time,” says Howitt.

The Isuzu name might not be well known in Canada since they’ve only been using that label since 2009. But you know these trucks because there are thousands of them running around. From 1986 until 2008 they were made by Isuzu but patched over by a GMC logo.

International TerrraStar
The TerraStar, with its 300-hp MaxxForce 7 engine and 660 lb.-ft. of torque, punches above its weight class. More accurately it’s a closer competitor to the Classes 4 and 5 Dodge and Ford trucks than the Japanese cabovers. In the case of the Ford 450/550 and Dodge Ram 4500/5500, these are pick-up trucks on steroids designed to pull heavy construction equipment or floats.

A conventional truck with a tilt-forward hood, the TerraStar straddles niches and appears a little more substantial than the Ford and Dodge. Navistar is also looking at the gap left after the departure of Chevy and GMC from this field in 2009.

Assembled in Garland, Texas, Navistar declares its cab is the roomiest in its class. It also sits four inches lower than its North American rivals. The configuration gives up a few feet of cargo space to the COEs, but a 16-foot box can be mounted on the frame, which is rated at 80,000 psi. (Hino’s is rated at 56,000 lbs, by comparison). An extended or four-door crew cab can also be optioned.

Of interest is the 4×4 model of the TerraStar, introduced this year, with its potential off-road applications: ie. utility trucks and medium-duty dump trucks that are required to go off-road or into the bush on occasion. Certainly the MaxxForce’s 300 turbocharged horses are a match for anything the Ford and Dodge monsters can pull. The gearbox is a commercial-duty Allison 1000 automatic transmission.

Navistar’s EGR system, which requires no additional diesel exhaust fluid, is being watched closely in the industry. It’s nice for drivers not to worry about having to top-up with urea, but can this engine continue to meet the ever-tightening EPA and CARB standards without relying on saved credits? Is EGR or SCR the way forward? The jury is still out, although all engine builders, except Navistar, have bought into SCR.


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