BUYERS GUIDE - HEAVY DUTY
Japanese 4×4 trucks from Isuzu, Fuso and Hino have missed out on many of the dynamic safety initiatives that their 4×2 brethren enjoy. Also, there are glaring crew-safety issues with all Japanese 4WD truck crew cabs.
Common safety initiatives in Japanese 4×2 light and medium trucks include: pre-collision system, with automated emergency braking and pedestrian detection; stability control; traction control; lane departure warning; ABS with four-wheel ventilated disc brakes; cruise control; headlight levelling and SRS airbags for the driver and outboard front passenger.
Most of the dynamic safety initiatives aren’t available in Japanese 4WD trucks and most buyers who go ‘bush’ don’t want this much electronic complication anyway. However, Japanese ‘nominally’ seven-seat crew cabs suffer from what we feel is a basic lack of attention to crew safety and comfort.
Japanese crew cab trucks score a generally good driver’s seat that’s adjustable and often suspended, but, in contrast, the other six seats – two up front and four behind – are fixed bench seats. Only the three outboard seats have head restraints and lap/sash seat belts. The inside three perches have no head restraints and lap-only belts.
At Outback Travel Australia we did a ‘seat test’ with volunteers, who tried out some of the bench seats in Japanese crew cab trucks. They didn’t like them very much.
The typical passenger front seat arrangement is a two-place bench, with separate back rests. The middle seat back doubles as storage tray when the seat is unoccupied and its back is folded forward. The seat cushions are typically thinly padded and foot room in the central position is limited.
The typical rear seat is a non-adjustable four-place bench, with non-adjustable back rests.
The inside seats at the rear also suffer from cramped foot space and a potential hazard in the form of an unpadded transverse steel bar across the cabin, facing the pair of lap-belt-only seats.
We attempted to drive with four abreast in the rear seat and encountered mutiny. Three Aussie-size bums proved to be much more comfortable on this perch, despite the allocation of four belt positions. However, with improved seat design, similar to that used in European light trucks, it would be possible to have three or four individual seats, with integrated lap/sash belts and head restraints.
Even if the four-place bench seat were retained, the rear seat positions could all have lap/sash belts, by simply eliminating the cabin rear window and replacing it with a braced steel panel that could house the sash seat-belt mountings.
The third front seat is, we think, much more problematic. In the event of a frontal impact, the driver and outboard passenger can be restrained by lap/sash belts and deployed SRS airbags. The centre seat passenger, however, can be restrained only at torso level and may suffer head impact with the dashboard, or contact with the passenger airbag as it deploys: both undesirable outcomes.
The Japanese crew-cab fire fighting trucks we’ve seen have the front centre seat removed and ,in our opinion, it shouldn’t be there at all. Ditto for the half-seat that’s been fitted to LandCruiser 70 Series base models for many years.
It’s surely an anomaly that centre-seat front and rear occupants have compromised impact safety.
Apart from the safety issues, surely it’s sensible to have comfortable crew seating, so that people arrive at the job, or the fire, in top working condition.
In contrast, we inspected some European 4WD crew cab light and medium trucks, from Iveco, Ford and Mercedes-Benz and found that all of them had lap/sash belts in all seat positions, including the front centre seat.
Some had bench rear seats, but most had individual bucket seats, with integrated or bulkhead-mounted lap/sash belts.
Japanese van makers also have shown it’s possible to have lap/sash seating in the back row, as this Toyota HiAce displays.
If it’s possible to fit four individual bucket seats, complete with integrated lap/sash belts in a Sprinter crew cab, it must be possible in the back of an Isuzu, Fuso or Hino.
We can understand that putting three separate seats up front is more difficult in the case of a Japanese 4WD light truck, because the engine bay is underfloor, compared with Sprinter and Daily front-mounted engines. However, that problem must be solved, or the centre seat deleted, we feel.
Fortunately, most motorhome buyers throw the whole front passenger seat module away and replace it with a replicated driver’s seat.
Japanese trucks have long dominated the Australian light and medium truck markets because of their quality build, reliability and support. As market leaders they surely assume the responsibility to implement best practice and, in the case of short-cab trucks, they have certainly been doing that.
However, we think that Japanese makers need to take a leaf from the European book on crew cab seating and safety.