Hooked on Hino
We haven't even started our trip before driver Aman Preet makes it clear that he's got a bit of a soft spot for Hino's 700 Series flagship model.
To the point where he actually waxes lyrical about it: "I've seen fire in the mountains, snow on the ground, black ice and floods in a Hino."
Sounds like Aman and Hinos have been through thick and thin then. To hell and back….well, almost.
What he's talking about, mostly at least, is the year-plus when truckies on the run that Aman's about to begin – a Mainfreight run down to Christchurch – were forced to take the much more dangerous "inland route" from Picton south, after the September 2016 Kaikoura earthquake wiped out State Highway 1.
With thousands of trucks a day running on roads unprepared and unsuited for such heavy traffic – the route taking in the Lewis Pass, numerous one-way bridges, tight corners, potholes and alpine weather – it was an arduous, even perilous trip.
Bad enough that it prompted many drivers to simply seek alternative work. So, as Aman reckons: "It was good to have a truck that I could depend on.
"The drive was tough and so many people didn't want to do it back then." I just nod. Even though SH1 through Kaikoura is open again (and considerably better than before), I immediately feel happy that I'm only doing a short part of this trip south.
Aman's boss, Mainfreight contractor Navi Sidhu is also a Hino fan, evidenced by the fact that three of his five trucks wear the big stylised H badge on the front – two of them the latest additions to his Navineel Transport fleet.
Our test truck today – a near-new FY3248 ProShift 16 Air – has an identical twin, plus the company has a 2015 470hp Mitsubishi/FUSO, a 2017 Scania 620 B-Train and a 2014 700 Series Hino with an 18-speed Roadranger manual gearbox.
The manual is the truck that started Navi's admiration for the Japanese make: "It was – and still is – so reliable. Fuel economy is really good, it's low maintenance and cost-effective."
Even measuring the 700 Series against Navineel's 2017 Scania 620 – with its extra horsepower and acknowledged European refinement – Navi is satisfied that the Hino stands up in comparison.
For him, it's simple: He absolutely must have a truck that enables him to meet his Mainfreight owner/operator contract.
"We carry general and Platinum (24-hour guaranteed) freight to Christchurch," he explains.
"It's got to be there on time – no excuses. So we need a reliable and comfortable truck."
Of course, there's got to be more to it than comfort and reliability, especially considering Navi has a ready yardstick in the company's Scania.
Pirelli Trevor/Hayden Big Test
With Trevor laid-up and recovering from knee surgery, I'm in the driver's seat for our test of this Hino 700 Series FY 3248 8x4 – a model that's been around a while….so we're interested to see what's keeping its sales ticking-over nicely.
We're only on a shortish run – from Auckland down to Te Kuiti. It's just the first leg of what is a regular run for Auckland Mainfreight contractor Navineel Transport – all the way down to Christchurch and back.
But there's still plenty of territory to allow us a decent idea of how the flagship Hino measures up against the much more recently-launched UDs, FUSOs and Isuzus.
I take over from stand-in driver (and Navineel fleet manager) Aman Preet on the northern outskirts of Huntly.
The cab entry is good, with three well-placed steps and two big, long grabhandles on both sides of the doorway. The door opens wide enough to not get in your way – almost 90 degrees.
The 8x4 curtainsider and its four-axle Fruehauf trailer are loaded to 46 tonnes all-up, but what's very obvious straight away, as we pull away from our roadside handover point, is the smoothness of the Hino's AMT.
The ProShift gearbox, a ZF AS Tronic, changes up through the gears with ease as we head through Huntly and effortlessly accelerate up to 90km/h.
To handle the four roundabouts and one overbridge that we have to negotiate to get onto the Waikato Expressway, I leave the AMT in automated mode – the gearbox handling lots of shifting well, choosing the correct gears while upshifting and downshifting.
It's also obvious that the electrically-adjusted and heated mirrors on the 700 – a flat traditional mirror on the top with a convex mirror below – give you great visibility as I check the trailer's rear wheels tracking through the roundabouts.
On the Expressway I decide to select cruise control. The switch is tucked away under the right-hand side of the steering wheel on the dash – with the set and resume function controls on the right-hand steering column stalk.
I find this to be out of synch with cruise control switches on most trucks I've driven of late: They all have the controls for cruise and other functions on the steering wheel. The Hino shows its age with no fingertip controls on the steering wheel.
Once set though, the cruise control works well and we run down the Expressway with the comfort and ease you'd expect.