Professional gardeners don't use the typical off-the-shelf power tools you find in most backyard sheds. They use their line-trimmers and lawnmowers all day, every day, in the rain and in the heat, and the mass-market products simply wouldn't hold up to the kind of hard work their gear has to endure.
Translate that into the road transport world, and the same thing applies. Passenger utes – the likes of which dominate new-car sales each month – simply don't cut the mustard when you have to move large loads across town, day in, day out.
You need something that can take a lot of cargo, reliably, every single day of the year. And preferably something able to be driven with a humble car licence to make hiring a little easier.
Enter the Hino 300 Series – the Japanese truck company's smallest offering. With a gross vehicle mass (GVM) rating of just under 4500kg, anyone with a standard car licence can drive one (though it can be optioned up to 8500kg GVM).
The one you see here is the 616 Hybrid, the latest hybrid diesel-electric model from Hino, which first introduced the concept of a hybrid truck back in 2007.
Not including the body on the back, the 2020 Hino 300 Series 616 Hybrid seen here costs $72,437.23 before on-road costs.
The updated model receives a whole host of updates, as well as a more compact 6.5 amp-hour battery pack – the very same used in millions of Toyota passenger vehicles the world over.
While its closest official competitors are the Fuso Canter and segment-leader Isuzu N Series, the Hino stands its best chance of stealing customers away from the likes of the Volkswagen Crafter and other larger commercial models, arguably attracting buyers who need greater versatility and longevity.
But to pull people away from more traditional vans and utes, Hino's had to load up the 300 Series with new tech and safety gear, making the proposition more attractive than the basic, uncomfortable trucks of years past.
Like the Fuso, the Hino gets autonomous emergency braking and lane-departure warning, but it also offers a pre-collision warning system, pedestrian detection, stability control, and disc brakes at each corner.
In this guise tested, the 616 Hybrid is fitted with a 4.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder with 110kW of power and 470Nm of torque – with torque peaking at 1200rpm on the way to a redline of 3100rpm.
|2020 Hino 300 Series 616 Hybrid|
|Engine||4.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder hybrid (6.5Ah battery)|
|Power and torque||110kW at 2700rpm, 470Nm at 1200rpm|
|Transmission||Six-speed single-clutch automatic|
|Fuel claim combined||13.7L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||14.2L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||N/A|
|Main competitors||Isuzu N Series, Fuso Canter|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$72,437.23|
The engine is helped along with a 35kW electric motor – which technically makes this truck a mild-hybrid as it can't be moved just with electrons alone.
Drive is sent to the rear wheels through a six-speed single-clutch automatic – the only model in the range with this gearbox. Other Hino 300 Series trucks get the choice of a six-speed manual or a true six-speed torque-converter automatic.
This is the biggest problem with the Hino, so let's get it out of the way. Yes, the transmission is noticeably quicker to change gears and get off the line than the single-clutch auto found in the Isuzu N Series – but it's still woefully slow.
As this particular automated manual gearbox is mated exclusively to the hybrid powertrain, if you're opting for a more traditional non-hybrid model, our gripe with the transmission won't apply.
The engine does offer a decent amount of torque on tap, but the delay you experience as the truck disengages the clutch, finds the next gear, and applies the power again can feed frustrations if your personality is that way inclined.
The 616 Hybrid also has auto start/stop, which kills the engine when the vehicle is completely stationary in an effort to lower fuel consumption.
The engine then fires back to life as you begin to release the brake pedal in anticipation of moving off from the red light. The process isn't all that fast, and coupled with the lazy gearbox it means the Hino isn't galloping out of the gates. But this thing is a workhorse, not a racehorse.
Our test example had a refrigerated box body fitted, which is probably how the hybrid Hino will likely be used most of the time: to transport fresh food or groceries within a designated area.
While the transmission may have felt like it was from a bygone era, the interior certainly doesn't. The cabin is class-leading, with much better quality plastics used than those found in its competitors, helping to create a more premium space than most light truck drivers are used to.
But while the quality of the plastics is ahead of the game, the casting wasn't always perfect. Our test vehicle had a sharp burr on the back of the indicator stalk, suggesting the quality control wasn't quite at the same level as Hino's cousins from Toyota that we're more used to.
The steering buttons are well placed, though, and the 6.5-inch infotainment system works roughly as well as those found across the segment.
Being a more old-school double-DIN type of head unit means it can be easily swapped out for an aftermarket stereo (perhaps with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which the standard unit misses out on). But it means you'll lose the ability to connect up to four external cameras – a neat party trick with the factory unit, which helps with parking and changing lanes.
There are plenty of hidey-holes for wallets and paperwork, but, as with most single-cab utes, there was little space for me and photographer Mitch and our collective luggage. If you have three builders strapped in for the journey to the worksite, lunch boxes might have to go in the back.
This particular model was the standard cab, and buyers are given the option of a wide-cab variant that adds an extra 300mm of width. The wide cab also gets a suspension seat for the driver as standard.
The one we tested had a fixed seat, and while it might look like an oversight on paper, the truck's chassis actually rides pretty well. Clearly, someone at head office thought a suspension seat was unnecessary, and I tend to agree.
Hino tells us the 616 Hybrid lends itself more to town driving, improving fuel economy and reducing emissions by making the diesel engine work a little less hard. It does this by using the electric motor to give the truck a gentle shove in the back. It isn't noticeable when driving, but the torquey powertrain feels as if it would perform more or less the same, no matter how much weight was loaded in the back.
Driving around the industrial areas in Melbourne's south-east, the little truck kept up with traffic and was easy to manoeuvre, with good visibility from the captain's chair.
Point the 616 Hybrid down a freeway and it feels like it's a little out of its element – though not entirely unusual for this size of truck. The cabin noise is loud at 100km/h, and the gearing doesn't feel well suited to this kind of use. Which is exactly what Hino told us to expect.
At the end of our time with the Hino 300 Series 616 Hybrid, driving a combination of suburban industrial roads, freeways, and country roads, the vehicle had averaged 14.2 litres per 100km.
While the figures were above the 13.66L/100km claimed by Hino, the real-world results we got were far better than I was expecting. Remember, this is a truck with a large fridge body on the back, and it was delivering fuel economy figures better than a Nissan Patrol.
And this is the point when the 616 Hybrid really begins to make sense. When we tested the Hino 300 Series 4x4 in 2019, fitted with an unladen tray body, we saw fuel economy figures of 17.0L/100km. Add a fridge body, and thanks to the extra weight and reduced aerodynamics, a consumption figure of 20.0L/100km would not be out of the question.
If you're a fleet manager with a handful of vehicles lugging cargo around, each putting a couple of hundred kilometres on the clock on a daily basis, then those savings really start to add up over time.
For those who aren't familiar with driving trucks, the jump from a more conventional commercial vehicle into the Hino might be a bit of a culture shock. But for those who have spent some seat time in a proper truck, the new 300 Series really takes the segment to a new level. It rides well, has a class-leading interior, plenty of safety tech, and offers excellent fuel consumption.
Like that trusty power tool you spent a little extra money on all those years ago, the Hino will likely hang around in your shed for longer than those other off-the-shelf products.
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