BUYERS GUIDE - HEAVY DUTY
Hino chose the May 2017 Brisbane truck show to preview its 4×4 light truck market competitor. An automatic retro-fit option was announced in late 2018 and single tyre options became readily available in 2022.
The Japanese light 4×4 truck initiative was originally led by Mitsubishi Trucks’ Canter, but, when the company dropped its low-range transfer case for a two-year period, that mistake opened the door for Isuzu’s NPS and the market leader has never looked back. However, Hino’s 817 4×4 has definite specification advantages over the other Japanese brands and is gearing up to increase business in 2023/24.
Hino’s light-truck 4×4 model is the 300 Series 817 – nominal eight tonnes GVM and 170hp – and it’s the best equipped of the Japanese offerings.
Standard equipment includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) – a first for a Japanese-built truck in this category – four-wheel disc brakes, driver and passenger SRS airbags, cruise control, air compressor and reversing camera.
The Hino 300 Series 817 4×4 is available in single cab and crew cab configurations, both powered by a 165hp (121kW), 464Nm, four-litre diesel engine. The Hino N04C engine is Euro 5 ADR 80/03 emission compliant and utilises a diesel particulate active reduction filter (DPR), which has proven its reliability in Australian applications over the past 15 years.
The engine is mated to a six-speed manual overdrive transmission and a dual-range 4×4 transfer case. The Hino 817 gets the transfer case from the much higher-rated GT 1528 4×4 truck, so the driveline is immensely strong, but heavy. Overall gear reduction in first-low is 65:1 and an Eaton No-Spin, self-locking rear diff centre is a dealer-fit local option.
A bonus of using the GT’s air-shift transfer case is alight-duty on-board electric air compressor that can be dealer-upgraded to act as a tyre inflator and to power air tools.
Free-wheeling hubs are standard and are manually locked. Once the hubs are engaged 4×4 can be selected on the move by the driver, via a button on the dashboard, but Hino’s conservative approach is for engagement to be done at low speed – around 5km/h.
High or low range is also driver selectable via a button on the dashboard and the vehicle must be stationary to change ranges.
Hino adopted different chassis construction from others in this segment, with duplicate chassis rails at the rear, bolted beneath the standard rails. The upper rails mount the engine, cab and bodywork, with space underneath for the front drive axle, while the lower chassis at the rear mounts the back axle and suspension. It works, but the design adds to tare weight.
With its combination of heavy chassis and transfer case, the Hino gives away around 300kg in tare weight to the Isuzu NPS. It also gives away 300kg in front axle capacity to the NPS.
However, that heavy transfer case allows for fitment of an optional Allison torque-converter automatic transmission, where the Isuzu NPS has to make do with an automated manual box option.
Hino’s Allison auto option
In August 2018 Penske Power Systems and Hino let us preview an automatic transmission fitment to the Hino 817 4×4 truck. The retro-fit gearbox project was the brainchild of Penske’s Allison Transmission sales specialist, John Rapinette.
Since then the evaluation truck has undergone serious testing and the Allison 1000 Series option is now available as a retro-fit through Hino dealerships.
What makes the Hino most suitable for an Allison transplant is the fact that it uses the heavy duty transfer case from the 15-tonnes-GVM Hino GT. Torque capacity of this gear set is much higher than competitive-truck two-speeds, so the Allison torque converter 2:1 stall ratio – doubling converter engagement torque – poses no problems for the transfer case.
Designed for light commercial vehicles, Allison Transmission’s 1000 Series has up to six speeds available, including two overdrives and both close and wide ratio gearing are offered. Additionally, a turbine-driven Power Take-Off (PTO) with optional neutral lock-up and a parking pawl are available.
Fitting the auto in place of the standard manual box required some adaptation, including reworking the shift quadrant and making up a custom rear mount and a jackshaft to the centrally-mounted transfer case.
Because it’s a retro-fit, not a factory option, the cost of the Allison box and installation is around 25 grand, but the upside is you get to retain and maybe sell the manual box!
Single wheel option readily available
In late-2022 Hino announced the build of the locally-modified Warrior Hino 300 Series, produced by Queensland-based specialist company, All Terrain Warriors (ATW). It’s not a Hino factory model, but is available on order through Hino dealers Australia-wide, with a variety of options, including protective cab scrub bars, radios, driving lights and bodywork, from service bodies to full-on motorhomes.
ATW can work the Warrior theme on manual or automatic transmission Hino models.
The greatest attraction of the Warrior version is its fitment of wide-single wheels front and rear, replacing the standard narrow wheels that are fitted as duals on the rear axle. The standard arrangement is fine for firm surfaces, but the skinny fronts sink into soft terrain very easily. In rocky terrain, dual rear tyres can easily trap a large rock, jammed between the duals.
Another issue with the standard set-up is that the front and rear wheels cannot share the same-width tread depression in soft ground, because front and rear track and tyre contact patches are different.
In the ATW conversion, two tubeless rim types are available: 17×9 wheels with a choice of 35/12.5R17; 37/12.5R17 or 37/13.5R17 tyres and 19.5×8.25 wheels with either 285/70R19.5 or 305/70R19.5 tyres. The 19.5-inch tubeless wheel size is common in the heavy truck world, so availability in the bush should’t be a problem.
The 17-inchers are 131Q load and speed rated, where the 19.5s are 148M and 146K rated, respectively. As a result, the lower-cost 17-inchers see gross vehicle mass (GVM) re-rated to 6.7 tonnes, while the 19.5 choice raises GVM to 7.5 tonnes.
Complementing the Warrior version is an aluminium winch bar that Hino Australia developed in conjunction with East Coast Bullbars. Unlike most after-market bars this assembly has been tested, to ensure that correctly-performed, straight-line winching won’t cause chassis damage. No-one wants to replicate a Russel Coight, flying bullbar fiasco!
How it all worked
We did our testing in four separate stages: with the standard truck; with the auto option truck; with a standard truck on duals and another on singles and, finally, with two wide-tyred models.
Getting in and out of 4×4 trucks can be an awkward climb, but Hino made the task relatively easy. The three access steps were arranged in a ‘staircase’ layout that put the bottom step outboard of the upper ones. The front tyre also served as an additional step – particularly in the case of the wide-single models. Two grab handles flanked the door opening, so it was always possible to have three contact points when getting in and out.
A standard suspension seat with magnetically variable damping was standard, but, unfortunately, a single-passenger suspension seat to replace the standard two-place bench was not. That’s another dealer-fit option.
Ergonomics were generally good, but we reckon the 4×4 and High-Low range switches are too far from the driver. There’ was vacant switch space nearer to the steering column and that’s where they should be.
The heated, power-adjustable rear vision mirrors were ‘big truck’ types that gave excellent flat-plane and spotter images. The swing-away brackets were strong and easy enough to fold in while on the move, to reduce the chance of mirror damage from tree branches.
The Hino six-speed main box was stirred by a stubby lever that has short throws. The ‘gate’ was a tad awkward, but shifts were made easier if the driver didn’t try for fast shifts. In best Japanese box tradition, there was a big ratio gap between second and third gears.
We liked the gate layout that put first gear and reverse directly opposite – essential for quick shifting when ‘rocking’ a stuck vehicle out of rut hollows.
The four-litre diesel did its job quietly, with mechanical noise evident only when revs went above 3000rpm. That red band was useful only for engine braking, because the torquey donk did its best from around 1400rpm up to 2800rpm, climbing most highway grades in fifth or sixth cog.
Ride quality isn’t the strong point of Japanese 4×4 trucks, but the loaded Hinos we drove rode better than their Japanese-made competitors, thanks to their longer front springs. A set of top-quality dampers should improve that even further.
Obviously, the driver’s suspension seat damped out more bump action than the fixed passenger perches, but ride quality in the passenger perches – without suspension seating – was acceptable.
Handling was flat and steering was accurate with good road feel on bitumen surfaces, but the standard skinny front tyres showed some side slip and understeer on pea gravel roads. The wide-single tyre option is a better choice and can retain the full 7.5 tonnes GVM.
The ABS disc brake system worked effectively on sealed and dirt roads, but the ABS function was deactivated when 4WD was selected.
Auto option on test
With overall reduction of 65:1 the manual-transmission Hino 300 4×4 climbed and descended very steep grades effortlessly, including a testing 1:1.5 concrete ramp. The auto was more highly geared, but had torque multiplication, so there was no discernible climbing disadvantage.
The Allison box in the evaluation truck was set up as a single-overdrive five-speed, with the parking pawl option and with ‘power’ and ‘economy’ shift programming. It had a car-like ratio selector module, with ‘P’, ’N’ and ‘D, 3, 2, 1’ positions. Anyone with a car automatic transmission driving background would feel at home in the Hino 817 4×4 auto.
At seven tonnes GVM on freeways, secondary bitumen, gravel and on bush trails, shift quality was car-like, up and down the box. Additionally, when the exhaust brake lever was activated the transmission went into a downshift program that kept engine revs high, to improve retardation.
Only when tightly manoeuvring and in steep off-road situations did we feel the need to lock the box in first gear. It could be re-programmed as a six-speed, for light duty applications, but we felt that a single overdrive, with legal cruising speed revs just over 2000rpm, was fine for this weight.
After this taste of the prototype auto 817 we did a head-to-head comparison with the manual model. Adding interest to this tussle was the fitment of 19.5-inch single tyres front and rear to the auto truck, while the manual wore stock duals and skinny fronts.
This test was done with both trucks loaded to 5.5 tonnes GVM and the fat-tyred machine was better riding and more supple on all surfaces, thanks to softer tyre ‘springing’. Only in steep descents was the skinny-tyred vehicle superior, but that had everything to do with gearing and engine braking, not its tyre package.
Another factor that we’re aware of with dual rear tyres came to the fore when we picked up a large rock, jammed between the right rear duals. It took some persuasion with a jack handle to lever it out. If we hadn’t noticed the captive rock it would have destroyed the rear tyres or, worse, flown out at highway speed and caused mayhem behind the vehicle. That’s why many people don’t want duals in the bush!
Both specification Hinos conquered our fire trail stone shelves with ease, but the only one that did well on the beach test was the wide-tyred one.
Which single tyre option for you
In late-2022 Hino Australia set up a test drive for us in two 817 crew cabs, fitted with 19.5-inch wheels and wide-single tyres: one with the Allison automatic box installed and the other with the standard manual and optional No Spin rear diff. The auto version had 285-section tyres and the manual had 305s.
We spent a day simulating power line maintenance work, with both trucks using freeways, secondary bitumen roads, gravel roads and steep, slippery fire trails for power line access. We climbed and descended 700 vertical metres in the day-long test.
We ran the tyres at 90-95psi on-road and dropped pressure to around 50psi for off-road work.
Ride quality on all surfaces was better that the standard vehicle’s, thanks to better tyre ‘springing’, but the front dampers could certainly do with an upgrade on vehicles that will be driven on gravel, corrugated roads.
There was very little performance difference between the two tyre sizes, but the block-tread 305s certainly looked more off-road capable. However, they did vibrate a little and made more noise at highway speeds.
In exchange for that, they gave superior rock-shelf-climbing grip and would have an advantage in muddy conditions. You pays your money and you makes your choice!
Speaking of money, 17-inch and 19.5-inch tyres ranged widely in price, from Chinese brands around the $240-$450 mark, up to $750 for Korean, European and Japanese brands.
Hino Australia is certainly making an effort to please local buyers with locally-sourced after-market options needed for serious bush work, including an automatic transmission, tested winch bar and engineered single-wheels and tyre fitment.
Check out the video of our initial dual-tyred truck test: