Hino’s decision to add the ZF AS-Tronic automated manual transmission has turned the 700 Series from a bit-player into a contender, writes Gary Worrall
The Hino 700 Series SS2848, to give the Japanese manufacturer’s flagship prime mover its full name, was launched by the company in a flurry of publicity in 2008 with a goal of entering the B-double market.
While results have been worthwhile, the 2848 has never really grabbed the imaginations of the truck-buying public despite a healthy appetite for work wrapped up in a comfortable package.
Fast forward to 2010 and the big news is the 2848 is now available with a ZF AS-Tronic 16-speed automated manual transmission, complete with Hino’s Intarder hydraulic retarder as standard equipment.
With a definite gleam in his eye Steve Lotter, president of Hino Australia, stood in front of a crowd of journalists and declared the 700 Series ready to take on the market.
While this sort of rhetoric has been heard before, and in more than one market, this time it seemed that Lotter was deadly serious about the upgraded truck.
The 2848 is a good-looking truck, in a way that somehow only cabover designs can project, with plenty of angles and swage lines to break up the otherwise basic cubist design.
Looking at it from head-on there is a touch of the cheese grater about the grille with three horizontal slats dominating the forward perspective and the familiar ‘Batman’ Hino logo staking out top dead centre.
Ear-like indicators flank the grille slats, adding another set of shapes and angles to the bodywork. Underneath them, mounted into the bumper, are the combination park/low beam/high beam light clusters which offer a good spread of light not just in front of the cab but also slightly to the sides.
While the standard truck will likely go into service with ‘satin finish’ brightwork, the test truck had the full bling treatment with enough polished chrome to feel right at home on the docks around Australia.
In what must be a production manager’s nightmare, the SS has more creases than a wrinkled face before plastic surgery with folds wrapping around from the A pillar across the doors and into the fold-out wings that stretch rearwards from the cab to smooth airflow onto the lead trailer.
The upper crease lines also work to deflect air away from the door mirrors, keeping them free from road grime even under heavy rain conditions.
The Hino 700 Series SS 2848 features a 12.9 litre six cylinder turbo-charged diesel engine. The Prime mover gains 473hp (353kW) and 2,157Nm (1,590ft-lb) of torque from the E13C engine
The new addition, the transmission in the Hino is a ZF AS-Tronic 16 speed automated manual transmission with Intarder 2 gearbox retarder.
Cab and Controls
Despite feeling slightly flimsy underfoot, the steps up to the work platform do a great job. Hino sources say these steps will be improved by the addition of a grab rail behind the flexible cab wings before the 700 Series enters fleet service.
The work platform offers plenty of space to move across the engine and gearbox, with easy access to the Redarc and suzi coils for dropping trailers or even to wash the rear window of the cab for better rear vision with flat-top trailers.
As well as looking good the polished tanks hold 1,000 litres of diesel — which is plenty for around-town operations while still leaving plenty of room for a good sized load.
Rightly or wrongly, there have been criticisms previously of the lack of space in Japanese prime movers — even those with sleeper cabs.
With the SS it is possible to say Hino has gone to some lengths to ensure those complaints do not apply, offering a roomy office for the round-towner, while the out and back brigade will find enough room to stretch for a short nap between loads.
As with most trucks today the doors open up to a full 90 degrees, making for an easy entry and exit, while the air-adjustable steering wheel can be swung up and out of the way to make sliding into the Isri driver’s seat no chore whatsoever.
The seat is another example of the effort that has gone into this cab, with Hino going for the upscale leather-clad version. It provides plenty of support under the thighs, across the shoulders and even in the lumbar region — all very important to a comfortable day’s work.
While I did not need to climb into the bunk, the access is fairly simple, particularly with the driver’s seat locked down and the steering wheel swung up and out of the way.
The high-roof version of the cab has plenty of space for tall drivers. At 186cm, I am able to stand straight backed; this is a relief after a few hours behind the wheel, even more so if you are looking to change clothes.
The dash follows the less-is-more philosophy, with clear, uncluttered dials set into the main instrument cluster, comprising large tacho and speedo, with smaller gauges for fuel, temperature and brake pressures, as well as a gear display for the ZF AS-Tronic.
Lesser details are displayed pictographically, incorporating warning lights where necessary.
The end result is a classic piece of instrumental understatement, with just enough information to get the message across but not so much the driver is constantly searching the gauges in case something is out of range.
The dash-top and cab-vertical surfaces are all covered in high quality plastics that make for easy cleaning. While there are a few areas that will catch dust, the cab has an ‘easy clean’ feel about it that will keep even fastidious drivers happy.
The sleeper bed creates plenty of storage space for the day driver. Travelling with an overnight bag was simple — just stow the bag behind the seat. There was still lots of room in the main cabin for work diaries, wallets, phones, drink bottles and plenty more besides.
The cabin has been very ergonomically designed. Despite my over-length arms, there was plenty of wing-room, while the controls all fell to hand easily and comfortably.
Special praise should be lavished upon the stubby shifter for the ZF transmission. Where some of the European brands go for dials and switches on the dash backed up by a column stalk, Hino has appropriated a palm-sized unit from Toyota’s sports car division and mounted this in its own surround right where a ‘normal’ gear shift would be in a manual truck.
As a result shifting gears feels completely normal, with the return spring weighted just as though it was out of the latest Lexus sports car — it’s perfect for smooth shifts.
While the AS-Tronic is the biggest single upgrade, Hino also found a new in-dash entertainment unit, with CD, AM/FM radio, Bluetooth connection, iPod/iPhone input and satellite navigation.
While there were some Bluetooth connection issues to an iPhone it had no problem pairing with a Blackberry while a minor relocation of the built-in microphone ensured a crisp clear signal.
Although the SS2848 is B-double legal, Hino is targeting the single trailer, urban distribution or container carrier as the prime market for the revamped truck — and with good reason.
While the 2848 is not the most lavishly equipped truck on the market, it has enough safety and comfort items to satisfy fleet operators who are ever mindful of the return on investment from big ticket items such as prime movers.
The combination of the E13C engine driving through the ZF AMT makes light work of the 42.5-tonne GCM limit for single-trailer applications.
Like most with other modern trucks the engine produces a barely audible rumble from under the feet when it starts up, with the tacho the only really sign that something significant is happening ‘downstairs’.
The transmission has a lockout to prevent accidental engagement — the driver must press the brake pedal to select Drive or Reverse.
Putting the truck into Neutral is simple, perhaps a little too simple, with the operator only needing to push the selector across to the N-position regardless of the gear that is currently in use.
This made for a couple of hairy moments on the highway when I accidently pushed for Neutral while running at about 90km/h. However, it is possible to regain the gear with a quick push.
In defence of the transmission, this was in the first 24 hours of driving the truck while it was all still brand new — I am confident that regular drivers would have no such issues.
Slipping our berth at Hino HQ — the 2848 weighing a stately 42 tonnes GVM — our forward progress was remarkably devoid of the jumps and lurches that can happen while you acquaint yourself with a new transmission.
Instead, the computer controlling the clutch did a great job of smoothing out the shifts; the driver is only required to indicate how much road speed was needed for the task.
The upshifts were fast, smooth and accurate, with the clutch release delayed just long enough to ensure driveline shock is eliminated.
To help with this, the gearbox relies on data from load sensors to detect how much weight is on board and know which gears can be skipped.
While the ZF AS-Tronic is a new fitment for Hino product in Australia, Japanese domestic product has used the European technology for a number of years with a high level of co-operation between the two companies.
Despite this familiarity Hino has opted to not fit a ‘Hill Hold’ function to the transmission — unlike every other manufacturer offering an AMT in their range.
The Hill Hold, or Hill Start Assist as it is also known, holds the brakes on for an extra two to three seconds after the driver releases the brake pedal allowing time for the computer controlled clutch to engage without damage.
Instead, Hino personnel are confident drivers will use the trailer brake for hill starts, releasing the trailer brake just before the truck begins moving to avoid excessive clutch wear.
The clutchless shifts do take a little getting used to with a firm, but not heavy, hand required to engage the next gear up or down.
The gearbox software also checks the combination of engine revs and road speed to decide how many gears are available in each direction, allowing the driver to look ahead for climbs, descents and flat running.
When climbing a hill, as the engine speed drops, an indicator with either one or two arrows will appear, pointing ‘down’ and telling drivers they can go down one or two gears, depending on their assessment of what is about to happen.
If the climb becomes steeper, drivers may opt to go back two gears to ensure sufficient engine speed is maintained to ensure the truck continues climbing without sacrificing too much momentum.
To distinguish between single and double shifts, the lever has a stop at the halfway point to indicate a single change. The operator can apply extra, but not excessive, force and bring the shifter back to a second ‘hard’ stop telling the transmission to go two gears.
On a descent the driver may opt to hold a low gear due to the road conditions, i.e. the drop becomes steeper, or allow an upshift to maintain a higher road speed without over revving the engine.
The other advantage the AS-Tronic brings to the truck is the superb Intarder 2 transmission retarder, with five stages of activation, from barely active to a full emergency stop.
The level of retardation is chosen by moving a stalk on the left side of the steering column, with more intervention the closer the stalk is pulled towards the driver.
On the familiarisation run from Sydney to Wollongong and back, which included a 40 km/h speed limit down the Mt Ousley section, the retarder demonstrated its effectiveness at pulling up the fully laden combination.
Descending Mt Ousley in a line of trucks, it was possible to hear three different engine brakes bellowing at full strength attempting to restrain similar loadings as the Hino. Yet, from under our cab there was an audible yet not overbearing hiss as the retarder washed the speed off.
Having moved the gear selector to manual, I was able to choose my preferred gear — initially 7th gear — and then hold that gear as we followed the road down to the foot of the mountain with the Intarder fully engaged.
The retarder at work became immediately obvious as the revs climbed and the hiss changed to a harder note but it never drowned out the conversations inside the cab Best of all the truck was having no problem holding steady at about 35km/h, and even began to lose more speed, leading to the need to occasionally tap the accelerator enough to just disengage the Intarder allowing road speed to build back up closer to the 35km/h mark.
Most importantly, it was done without using the service brakes at all. The Intarder handled the entire braking task, which can have a huge impact on the whole of life cost of a truck if operators are able to eliminate a brake change.
While cruising on the highway, the Intarder has enough bite to modulate road speed by a few km/h. If the driver finds gravity has intervened on slight downhill sections, all that is needed is to lift off the accelerator for a moment or two.
Hino has also done plenty of work on the cooling system for the Intarder, with the road test also including the New England Highway from Newcastle to Brisbane, with the long steep drop down from the New England plateau.
Despite a full load of 42 tonnes and little opportunity to rest between corners, the Intarder showed no sign of slipping or struggling, while the temperature gauge remained anchored at the mid-point, just as it had for the previous 500 kilometres or more.
Also vastly improved over previous iterations is the steering, with Hino dialling out the initial vagueness around the dead ahead position so that the 2848 is now responsive without being twitchy.
This allows the driver to make relatively small adjustments at the steering wheel, which are magnified into more significant movements at the wheels.
This means drivers have to do less work for the same result and not feeling as though they are fighting the truck whenever there is a need to change direction.
Similarly, during parking manoeuvres, with the ‘slow’ button engaged on the transmission, there is plenty of steering response to allow fine tuning of the steering to precision-park the truck and trailer.
The 2848 was already a comfortable truck to ride in, with semi-elliptic tapered leaf springs at the front and equally well sorted Hendrickson two-bag air-suspension at the rear.
As a result the ride and road holding is good, with even the biggest of potholes on a highway that can resemble the main road between Baghdad and Basra on a bad day unable to throw the Hino off-line.
Add to the mix some changeable weather, running in and out of rain showers and strong winds, and the 2848 simply lapped it up and came back for more.
After about 11 hours of driving, it was time to pull into the Wallangarra roadhouse for dinner — the stomach said it was time to stop. The ride of the Hino was so good that I was able to back the trailer into place in the rain and darkness without feeling particularly tired afterwards, just hungry.
Helping in this no doubt were the upgraded HID headlamps, which throw a big pool of light for the driver, even without extra driving lights, so eye strain is also reduced, all of which adds up when it comes to combating driver fatigue.
At the end of the trip, the Hino had covered a total of 1,150 kilometres and drunk 555 litres of diesel, although it should be pointed out the prime mover had driven just 6,641 kilometres from new.
Fuel consumption should improve by at least 10 percent over the test figure as the engine wears in.
This could be the truck that allows Hino to break into the heavy-duty market in a big way, offering as it does European levels of comfort, safety and driveability.
The combination of the ZF AS-Tronic transmission and Intarder lift the performance of the 2848 to a new level. Given the changing nature of the driver pool, with less experienced drivers entering the industry, the simple yet effective nature of the Hino could be a telling factor.
Only time will tell, but with an apparently even better version on the way in 2011 that meets Euro 5 exhaust emission levels, Hino executives are quietly confident the 2848 could be a big mover in the years to come.
- ZF AS-Tronic AMT
- ISRI driver’s seat
- HID headlights
- Intarder 2 gearbox retarder
- No hill start assist for the AMT
- Problems with Bluetooth connectivity
Make/Model: Hino 700 Series SS2848 prime mover
Test Configuration: 6×4 Prime Mover with single tri-axle trailer
Engine/Transmission: E13C VA 12.9 litre six cylinder turbo-charged diesel, direct injection, with ZF AS-Tronic 16 speed automated manual transmission and Intarder 2 gearbox retarder
Power/Torque: 473hp (353kW) @ 1,800rpm / 2,157Nm (1,590ft-lb) @ 1,100rpm
Emission level/type: ADR 80/02 with cooled EGR
GVM/GCM: 28.3 tonne / 42.5 tonne