Hino FD 240 Review

By: Gary Worrall

While Hino is a small player in the Australian bus market, it doesn’t stop the Japanese maker offering interesting solutions to customer needs, writes Gary Worrall

Having driven numerous Hino trucks wearing my ‘other’ hat as Technical Editor for ABC’s stable mate publication Australasian Transport News when Editor Goeldner said we should test a Hino my first reaction was ‘which one’?

As it turns out, our date was with an old friend, an FD 240 chassis, a popular choice in the medium-duty truck market, but in this case it had gone to P & D Coachworks at Murwillumbah in northern New South Wales to be re-bodied as a school bus.

Rather than being an ‘off the shelf’ design, this particular unit is built to the customer’s specification, which included higher than normal ground clearance to suit operations in the far north of Queensland.

Other differences include a 300-litre fuel tank at the rear of the bus, counter-balanced by a single luggage bin, while the side panels lift up to provide access to the front-mounted engine and gearbox.

The Body Beautiful

Rather than stick with the truck cab and a separate body, P & D do a total strip down, creating an integrated body that puts the driver in the same unit as the passengers, which makes plenty of sense on a school run.

This means everything from the chassis up is removed, with the exception of the driver’s seat, instrument panel and gearshift. The park brake is relocated to the right-hand side to allow the driver to enter and exit from the left side.

As a result, the FD sports a completely different front to the truck version, deleting the steel bumper for a single piece curved FRP front clip, including a small centre grille section sandwiched between the bespoke headlight assemblies.

The front clip also houses the two-piece front screen that starts at the top of the instrument panel and runs the full width of the nose cone.

In line with the customer’s needs, the body retains the standard swing-up access panels, however in this case they are for component access rather than for luggage bins.

P & D have worked to make the FD as user-friendly as possible, with the headlight bulbs accessed from the front of the assembly, while a lift-up panel under the driver’s window houses the body electronics fuse panel.

Despite this, the move from a cab-over truck to a fully-bodied bus means the front-mounted engine is harder to access from ground level, the driver must open the access panel and crouch under the body to complete daily inspections such as oil and radiator levels.

Similarly access to the radiator and intercooler units is restricted as these remain in the original location, ahead of the front axle, and would need the bus driven over a pit or onto a hoist for inspection or service.

But showing plenty of forethought, P & D have lined the forward access panels with heat and noise absorbing material, replacing the original material lost when the truck cab was removed.

The fit and finish of the FD is good; all panel gaps are even with fine tolerances, while the access panels are all fitted with high pressure gas struts that should offer a long service life.

School’s In 

Interior design is often a compromise to allow vehicle multitasking. Here the operator only wanted a school bus, removing the need for overhead storage, although seatbelts are mandated for Queensland operations.

The FD enjoys the advantage of a flat floor throughout, due to the front engine layout, while the under body noise and heat dampening works well to keep passengers comfortable.

The elevated ride height is smart for regional Queensland operations but it creates a high entry step, an extra drop-down step would be a good idea, especially for younger passengers, while taller passengers will find themselves ducking as they walk up the aisle.

As with the exterior, P & D chose a simple, effective interior that is functional but austere. The floor and seats are trimmed in hardwearing materials for long service and easy maintenance.

The easy-to-read standard instrument panel is retained, mounted in a bespoke wrap-around dash, with a number of minor switches relocated to the right side of the panel.

A second panel is fitted alongside the driver, mounting the body controls, including the door control, along with air-conditioning, lighting and audio controls.

Hino’s Steve Buxton says this FD is the last of its kind. All new versions include a new air-suspended Isri driver’s seat with integrated seatbelt.

In fairness to Hino, the FD truck has a height adjustable seatbelt mounted on the cab’s B-Pillar. In this case P & D have retained the belts, with adjuster, but the mounting is fixed to the side bulkhead over the driver’s shoulder.

Access to the driver’s station is good, despite the manual gearshift, helped by moving it rearwards, there is plenty of room between the seat and the reach and height adjustable steering wheel, which also retains the driver’s airbag fitted to the truck.

While the footwell is roomy, with good pedal spacing, P & D did not retain the standard left-side footrest, leaving the driver with nowhere for their foot.

Forward vision is good. P & D use a two-piece screen windscreen with a narrow vertical divider that does not impact the view, however the A-pillars are thicker, particularly on the left, where it blends into the door frame.

External mirror placement is interesting, but effective, with a low mounted right-side unit while the left side is mounted high, providing a good field of view down the length of the bus.

Interestingly, P & D did not keep the power-operated and electrically heated mirrors of the FD truck, instead fitting manually adjustable units, with the right side mirror a long reach for the driver, while the left unit requires an assistant outside the bus.

The interior finish is good, P & D has put plenty of effort into making sure there are no loose edges and all windows and doors seal tightly to keep out noise, dust and draughts.

Road Warrior 

With the advent of the current crop of emission rules, locally addressed under ADR 80/03, Hino took its existing 7.7-litre six cylinder engine, and with some clever engineering work, turned it into a 6.4-litre five cylinder unit.

While this caused some raised eyebrows, the result is an engine that feels stronger, smoother and more flexible than its full-size predecessor.

Hino offers a ‘fast idle’ switch to bring the engine up to working temperature faster, which creates quite a deal of noise, both inside and outside, possibly due to the raised ride height allowing sound to escape from under the chassis.

With the idle back at normal speed the ambient noise dropped away, signalling the FD was ready to hit the road.

Both the clutch and gearshift are air-assisted, so despite having the strength to handle up to 725Nm of torque and 180kW of power, the transmission is light, with direct and precise gearshifts.

Another technical carryover from the truck is the EasyStart hill start assist which keeps the brakes applied until the clutch is released. An audible signal and dash light indicate the system is active, allowing the driver to ease the strain on the driveline.

While some decry the use of electronics as taking the focus off driving skills, in reality this assistance reduces mechanical wear and tear and allows the driver to focus on other aspects of the task.

The J07-E motor is a free-revving unit that will lug from low engine rpm without requiring downshifts, although with only an exhaust brake the all-wheel, air over hydraulic, drum brakes will need to be prodded on long descents to help control road speed.

Running the FD over a variety of flat and hilly terrain during the test showed the driveline is a good match, with a good selection of ratios that make full use of the engine power, although steep climbs will see the driver dropping back as far as third to maintain momentum.

Best of all, even with the engine working hard, up around the 2000rpm mark, there is no sign of harshness, while the in-bus noise levels barely lifted regardless of the engine speed.

Although predictable, especially on twisty roads, the steering had a disconcerting floatiness at the ‘dead ahead’ position, with nearly 1/8th turn in either direction before the wheels began to turn.

Despite this, once the message was received the steering was precise and accurate, with no need for sudden applications of lock to ensure the bus followed the preferred course.

P & D added an extra leaf to the front spring pack, compensating for the additional constant weight on the chassis from the bus body, providing a smooth ride across all road surfaces, including a run around the Queensland Scout Association’s iconic Baden-Powell Park campgrounds.

BP Park proved an excellent manoeuvrability test for the 5.5m wheelbase, requiring some to-ing and fro-ing to negotiate an especially tight right-hand corner, representative of the type of work this class of bus will be asked to handle.

Unlike cars, where a degree of unpredictability adds to the driving experience, a good bus has no vices in the ride and handling, not handing the driver any unforeseen surprises.

The FD, despite the steering float at the dead ahead position, is a well-mannered unit that telegraphs its intentions well ahead of anything happening, preparing the driver for almost every eventuality.

Closing Remarks

Although there are some intriguing anomalies, such as removing the power mirrors and the driver’s footrest, P & D have done a good job with the FD conversion, creating a one-piece body for a chassis designed to have the cab separate from the body.

Also worth noting is this bus is a custom design to suit a specific operator, rather than an ‘off-the-peg’ body intended for mass production.

Despite that, or perhaps because of it, this FD conversion is worth investigating for small group work, providing a manoeuvrable unit able to access areas off-limits to larger vehicles while carrying a viable payload of passengers.

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