I've been doing this job for more years than I care to remember, but each week still manages to bring something different. Like my recent stint when I completed my first ever lap of the famous Mt Panorama race circuit, the Mecca for V8 super car fans. The big difference is that I my lap was at the wheel of a truck. Tick off that box, hmmm?
It's surprising just how big a truck you can drive with a standard car licence these days - up to 4.5 tonnes in gross vehicle mass. The truck in question was one of Hino's new range of 300 Series High Power trucks, which range in size from 4.5 through to 8.5 tonnes - although the latter does require a special licence. This light truck or "last mile of delivery" section of the market represents about 25 per cent of Hino's business.
The truck business is dominated by two brands in Australia – Kenworth at one end and by Isuzu in the smaller, light duty end of the market. Hino which is part of the Toyota empire is currently ranked number two overall in the market where it competes with some 20 other brands.
Last year it accounted for about 4000 of the 30,000 trucks sold here, but unlike competitors Isuzu and Fuso it does not offer 4x4 models which account for about 10 per cent of sales. The trucks are supplied in basic, cab/chassis form from the Hamura plant in Japan, the same factory that produces the Toyota Prado and F J Cruiser.
ENGINE / TRANSMISSION
Hino claims class leading power and torque for its new 920 and 921 5.0-litre four cylinder models. The turbocharged, intercooled diesel delivers 151kW of power and 600Nm of torque paired with an auto and 139kW/510Nm with a manual (less because the gearbox can't cope with more). That's eight per cent more power and 18 per cent more torque than its nearest competitor.
Paired with a true, six-speed auto with double overdrive or a six speed manual transmission with single overdrive, the diesel revs to a maximum 2700 revs. High horsepower models also come with a column-stalk operated engine brake as standard. They don't quote figures for fuel consumption but the truck we drove returned 16.7 litres/100km.
With the freight business expected to double by 2030 it's a growing market for this kind of vehicle. The High Power series adds eight models with three wheelbases to Hino's range - 3500, 3800 and 4400mm. Externally, high horsepower models can be identified by a tougher stance, 920 and 921 badges and chrome grille and bumper accent.
Available in both single and crew cab configuration, the high power series has a larger towing and payload capacity thanks to a new, wider straight-frame chassis that features stronger steel rails and a grid hole design that makes installation of bodies and auxiliary items easier.
The safety story is a strong one, although trucks are not rated in the same way as cars. Hino is the only light truck manufacturer to offer vehicle stability control as standard. The 300 Series comes with two front airbags, anti-lock ventilated four wheel discs with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution. A reverse camera with audio warnings is also standard.
What can I say, it's a truck. The sweet spot for power and economy seems to be between 80 and 100km/h. In the auto we drove fifth and sixth gears are overdrive ratios, and in sixth gear it sits on 100km/h at a relaxed 2220 revs.
The transmission downshifts to cut speed during deceleration or on long descents when using the engine brake, which is operated via the column stalk. The auto's shift lever can fold out of the way in the park position, for easier cabin access. What a shame there's no cruise control.
But the steering is both reach and height adjustable, with a driver's seat that is magnetically suspended. Crew cab models are fitted with rear air conditioning as standard. A 6.1 inch multimedia system is also standard with Bluetooth and DAB digital radio, with satellite navigation optional.