Features, Test Drive

On the road to Casino driving a Hino 300 Series 4×4

“Hey man, that is one of the coolest looking trucks I’ve ever seen!”

High praise indeed, coming as it does from the driver of one of Fred’s Transports latest – and also very cool – Kenworths parked opposite me.

The driver is talking to me as I’m sitting in the cab taking a breather from traipsing around the Casino Truck Show.

And the cab I’m sitting in belongs to a ….. Hino!

Yep, a Kenny driver has walked across the way to heap praise on a Japanese truck. And it’s not even one of Hino’s big 700 Series but in fact from their smaller 300 Series – not that this truck looks small to the casual observer because in the driver’s seat I’m at eye level with just about every big banger I’ve crossed paths with on the highways I’ve traversed over the past couple of days.

The story begins with a visit to Hino HQ and a test drive of the Hino Hybrid 300 which you will already have read about at bigrigs.com.au. On that drive I casually (and hopefully) threw a suggestion at Daniel Petrovski, Hino’s department manager – product strategy.

“You know what mate?” said I as casually as possible. “I’d love to go to Casino to see their truck show, but hell, I couldn’t afford the petrol to get there from Victoria, much less all the other costs. So I reckon you should put me in one of your trucks and I’ll drive that up there.”

In for a penny, in for a pound I add, “And I reckon it should be that 4×4.”

“Is that right?” said Dan.

I wrap up the drive of the Hybrid and get on a plane back to Melbourne that night. The next day I open up my emails and there’s one from Hino’s PR guru, Clare Arthurs, which begins: ‘Dan tells me….’

I’d driven one of Hino’s 4x4s on an off-road test track – so I know what they’re capable of when they’re taken bush – and also on a trip to FNQ where that particular Crew Cab tray truck stood out like the proverbial’s with its XPEDITION Series paint scheme and All Terrain Warriors (ATW) add-ons.

Volume up to conteract the Founders MT tyres.

Dan takes me to my drive and to say I’m blown away by this iteration is an understatement. This is reminiscent of Hino’s multi-winning Paris-Dakar Rally trucks which use this model as a base.

Like the XPEDITION model, this truck has been worked on by ATW, but this time with a full canopy on the rear instead of the tray.

Presented in stunning black and white, the 817’s (wide body 300) windscreen is surrounded by bush-bashing protective steel tube that flows up over the crew cab where it becomes a cargo carrier, or picnic/lookout/drinks deck from which to watch the sun setting over the ocean – or maybe your Yoga exercises while the sun rises. Personally I’d go for the former.

The framework also houses two of the three LED light bars, with a third built into the ATW bumper, also containing the winch. More on those shortly.

The canopy is topped by solar panels to keep the ancillaries – like the booze and meat fridges – running, and contains bulk storage compartments to hold everything you’d need for a month or more in the bush.

The whole lot is supported by four massive Founders M/T All Terrain 305/70R19.5 Super Single tyres, replacing the double truck tyres normally on the rear of the 4×4 but maintaining the Hino’s intended GVW. A couple more sit on the back of the truck, flanking the fold-down 2 inch square tubing ladder – the means by which you can enjoy those rooftop views. A roll out Fiamma awning completes the picture.

To say that the whole setup is superbly built is a masterclass of understatement!

Inside the cabin is working class, built as it is for a particular client base: read mining companies who can’t get enough of them, power companies that have to go where few vehicles could take them, tradies with specific requirements and of course the adventurous traveller.

Eleven leaf springs for added ‘bounce’.

That said, it is still appealing with all controls within easy reach and Hino’s utterly brilliant latest 12-inch (Australian designed) multi-media screen taking centre stage.

Up front the driver’s seat has an adjustable suspension base which I only discovered on the last day. When will men learn to read instruction books? My backside breathed a sigh of relief (read that any way you want) when I softened it up. There are another two seats up front. The rear bench seat takes four bods, with air-con outlets back there as well.

The six-speed manual transfer case with hi and low has 1st gear dog-legged to the left, simply because you’ll only use it to climb Mt Everest. That leaves 4th and 5th in the centre plane and 6th out to the right.

Change gears with a light hand like you would a Road-Ranger (without the double declutching) and she swaps cogs like a hot knife through butter. The clutch is light with smooth uptake. Similarly, the brake pedal is light and progressive and disc brakes all round haul the truck up in short order. All the goodies that you’d expect of a truck such as this – hi/low range, locking hubs and difs, etc are all there.

I’ve picked the truck up from Hino’s Sydney HQ and set out to my first night’s destination, Port Macquarie. Fighting the ‘burbs and I’m finally on the Pacific Highway with the cruise control on.

First impressions? This truck rides rough. A look underneath tells me why when I see 11 leaf springs under the rear axle. Add a couple of ton into it and I imagine it would smooth out a lot. Secondly, those tyres! They look great but man, are they noisy! This is no doubt compounded by minimal insulation in the floor and the fact it’s a crew cab. Answer? Retrieve my Spotify play list, connect the Samsung (wirelessly) to the screen and turn the volume to LOUD!

I’m thinking to myself that this could be a long day’s drive when the driver of a Kenworth coming toward me waves. What the …? I’m in a Japanese truck. No KW driver waves to a Hino driver! He’s followed by more KW’s, Macks, Actros’, etc, and they’re all waving. Another Kenny passes me (remember we’re at eye level) and as I glance at him he gives me the thumbs up. Man, I could do this all day!

Resting up for the night at Port Macquarie.

The second day it’s to Ballina and there’s more of the same. Wherever and whenever I pull up there’s admiring glances and people coming over to talk about the HINO 4B – the clever number plate Dan Petrovski chose for the truck.

At Ballina I’m up at 4am to head up to Casino for their truck show. It’s a pea-souper so I flick on those three LED’s. Holy Hell! Maybe just two? One is way more than sufficient.

I park up next to an old 1985 Mack Econodyne and, although the 4×4 is based on Hino’s smallest 300 range, it makes the Mack look tiny. Later in the day that Fred’s driver comes across with his high praise and he’s not alone. Every time I return to the truck for a breather, someone comes over to talk about it

I so wish I’d registered the truck in the show because I’ve no doubt it would have won ‘Best Japanese Truck’ and Hino could have had another award to display in their cabinet at HQ.

The next morning, after a great show, I leave Ballina and head to Toowoomba where I’m to drop the truck off. Up ahead there’s a large parking bay with four police setting up shop. They wave me in and I’m thinking what have I done?

“Just wanted to check the truck out mate. Bloody cool that is! While you’re here might as well give you a breath test.”

Over the years I’ve driven trucks of all sizes from all the brands and I can honestly say that I’ve never received the attention this truck has had. Rough? Yes. Noisy? Yes. Cool? Absolutely! I’d love to have one just to park in my driveway. If you don’t like talking to people don’t buy one of these.

I’m already thinking of my next meeting with Dan Petrovski. “Hey Dan, I want to go to the Paris-Dakar Rally and I think…..”

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