The purpose of Paul Matthei’s recent inland trip from Brisbane to Sydney, crossing the Great Dividing Range multiple times and traversing a number of highways less travelled by regular interstaters, was to determine how well the new Hino 500 Series Standard Cab is suited to regional and interstate work typical of some medium-duty operations.
The test unit was an FD 1124 Automatic fitted with a 10-pallet curtain-sided body with an aluminium tailgate loader, loaded with three tonnes of sand in Bulka bags located just forward of the rear axle.
The takeaway from this truck test can be summed up by my experience during the long and steep ascent of Cherry Tree Hill halfway between Mudgee and Lithgow. In fact, it was the perfect test because east-bound road works at the foot of the climb had the speed limit set at 60km/h, so there was no chance of any acceleration or runup before the climb commenced.
To my delight, the plucky powerplant hooked into the grade with gusto and kept the speedo needle glued to 60 all the way to the top of that considerably lengthy climb. I resisted the temptation to manually lock in third gear and Allison didn’t disappoint, holding that gear right to the summit.
Upon reaching Lithgow early evening the temperature had plummeted close to zero and traces of sleet were strafing the windscreen as I guided the Hino towards the infamous Scenic Hill escarpment which connects the low-lying city with the Bells Line of Road over the Blue Mountains.
The first left-hand hairpin on this ascent is a killer that over the years has brought many a truckie (including this one) undone. So sharp are both the turn and the elevation that a fully loaded semi’s nearside drive wheels can easily lose traction, bringing the rig to an unceremonious halt. With no chance of starting off again on such a steep slope, the only option is to holler for ‘Thommo’, the local heavy towing operator, for a pull up the hill.
There was no need for Thommo to leave his warm living room this time around as the little Hino rounded the bend and powered up the snaking escarpment, again holding third gear for most of the climb at around 1,400rpm and between 45 and 50km/h. Once again, the tenacity of the engine and the synergy between it and the Allison transmission on what is among the toughest climbs in the country left a big smile on my face.
On top of the mountain there was a fresh challenge, with a gale-force sou’wester blowing across the roadway with the intent of sweeping all before it. These conditions always make a heavy vehicle driver nervous, especially those with curtain-sided or van bodies that act like a giant sail…
Pleased to say my nerves were soon calmed when I realised part of a throng of technology packed into the Hino 500 Series had sprung into action, mitigating the pushy force of the cross wind. Yes, the Vehicle Stability Control did its thing beautifully and the sure-footed Hino tracked like an arrow along the serpentine-like Bells Line of Road, taking everything, from the buffeting wind, twists and turns, ups and downs, in its stride.
As it was mid-evening by this stage, frequent use of high beam highlighted the far superior white light penetration of the LED low beam headlights compared to the halogen high beams and driving lights with their far less pervasive yellow light. Hopefully full LED headlighting will be part of the next upgrade.
Approaching the steep descent of Bellbird Hill on the eastern edge of the Mountains, I manually selected second gear and allowed the Hino to meander down the winding grade at 40km/h with only intermittent use of the engine brake required to maintain that pace. This speaks volumes for the effectiveness of the Jacob’s Brake which has previously been the exclusive territory of the heavy-duty truck world.
At the end of the two-day trip I alighted from the vehicle feeling almost as fresh as when I started. Put simply, the alliance of strong performance from the engine/transmission combination, the relatively smooth ride and good ergonomics offered by the ISRI seat, along with the comprehensive package of active and passive safety features, made this long distance trip, with some challenging conditions thrown in for good measure, a very enjoyable experience.