You couldn’t get more vanilla than a base model, with a vanilla diesel engine, vanilla chassis and vanilla cab-over design. Then paint it white – like a kitchen appliance.
But the badge on the front, Hino, trumpets an electronic safety suite that leapfrogs this unremarkable looking truck into the domain of the most advanced European road warriors.
Hino’s 300 Series is the smallest of the brand’s product range, and the 616 version is the entry point. I took the new model truck on a run to revisit its effectiveness as a daily deliverer and multi-role runabout.
This market sector is generating new requirements for urban transport. A tidal wave of online shopping means delivery vehicles are only adding to the clutter on inner-city roads in particular. Large apartment environs are decidedly unfriendly to street parking, even in designated loading bays, and a trend towards Euro-style large vans is impacting on sales of cab-over light trucks.
More importantly, more operators now expect the same driver aid systems in their two-tonner as are now routine on medium and heavy-duty trucks.
And so Hino has revitalised the 300 series range with ‘SmartSafe’, a suite of digital electronics that will ease a lot of the worries of fleet and individual operators and rental companies.
I picked up an auto wide cab version from WA Hino that had been prepared to a rental spec – the school of hard knocks – with a Pantech body and a 600kg tailgate lift.
All Japanese light trucks have the advantage of a full truck chassis, and the robustness that goes with it. Additionally, maximising the load space by putting the driver over the front wheels offers the best practical value for payload, particularly cubic material. As very few 300s will be operating at full GVM, the aim is to get as big a cargo box on the back as possible.
But driver safety is most critical in a cab-over design, so Hino has gone to town to protect drivers from front, side and rear collisions by wrapping them in a cocoon of electronics.
Despite the bland exterior, Hino’s SmartSafe package is the clincher when it comes to peace of mind. Operators can put this truck on the fleet and be confident they’ll dramatically reduce the likelihood – and costs – of rear-end collisions, pedestrian or cyclist impacts, roll-overs from fatigue or excessive speed as well as traction problems on slippery surfaces or adverse conditions.
The package is ‘on’ all the time, keeping an unblinking eye on what’s happening and intervening with the all-round disc brakes or audio and visual alarms.
Obviously, I had no intention of testing the pre-collision system during my drive in Perth traffic, but I have tested it on a closed circuit in Japan, and I can testify it works.
Importantly for this weight class, the Aisin auto transmission allowed the constant torque flow unachievable with an AMT, no matter how good the software. It dealt with stop-start traffic adeptly, and an overdrive cog on fifth and sixth gears – which you can lock out – meant easy cruising when on the freeway. The turning circle on the 616 is a tight 11.8 metres kerb to kerb.
The 300 offers a wide, comfortable cab with functional fittings and trim. The upgraded infotainment system matches the popular unit fitted to the 500 medium duty truck, and includes a broad capacity for third party software such as logistics and maintenance scheduling.
Despite spending a lot of time in European van-based cab-chassis units, I found the 300 series a welcoming environment that I’d be happy to spend a day in on a regular delivery run.