DIAMOND-TIPPED

In Fuso, August 2021, New Models19 MinutesBy Dave McCoidSeptember 17, 2021

Fuso’s 13-litre heavy duty truck has the potential to significantly shake up the half-thousand horsepower segment. We’ve been waiting eagerly for it and recently managed to sneak a play in an evaluation unit… Suffice to say, the pigeons are about to be scattered.

My original headline for this sneakiest of peeks at Fuso’s crowning jewel in the Shogun truck range was going to be ‘brace for impact’, referring of course, to the shake-up this machine is likely to invoke in New Zealand’s sub-superpower truck market. Sadly, PC-ness even rattles the cage of old Gen-Xer’s like me at times, and I went for something more ‘huggy’.

Let’s be clear though, my first option was driven by excitement. If you’ve followed our coverage of Fuso’s Shogun from 2018, when we all went to Japan to see it in the gestation period, through to the launch of the 11-litre trucks here in mid-2019, you’ll know our thinking has been that the 13-litre 373kW (500hp)-plus gig will truly set the range off when it arrives. The reason being, that truck will take the heat off the 11-litre needing to be all things to all people, as UD’s 11-litre Quon does. Fuso will have a genuine 13-litre 50MAX, 10-plus hp/tonne ‘bopper’ in its HDT armoury.

Initially, the 13-litre was touted for launch in 2020, but that turned out to be history’s gap year, as we all know, so 2021 is it. By the time you read this, we’ll be on the cusp of the official launch – the order books will be open, the fountain pens of the sales staff loaded and poised.

The question is: should a couple of journos be let loose on a test/evaluation truck pre-launch? I mean, for reasons of attention avoidance, such machines are usually about as drab as a tax auditor’s diary, with technical bits sticking out of them for measuring, collecting, and analysing all manner of numerals. It’s a bit like picking up your ball date to find an absence of make-up and prevalence of acne.

But cast your mind back to our launch coverage of the Shogun 11-litre in 2019. We started with praise for Fuso New Zealand CEO Kurtis Andrews, and his ultimate belief in his charges, letting us all loose in fully loaded trucks with him pointing eagerly at the hideous roads he’d selected especially. Nothing’s really changed in the intervening 24 months. As far as Kurtis is concerned – acne or not – she’s the belle!

“Take it for a blat! It’s bloody awesome! Ignore the inside and all that, and the noise – the Kiwi spec sound deadening won’t be in it … it’s an evaluation unit. You’ll be impressed.”

Thank goodness for the 11-litre

In the end, there’s an element of irony to the Shogun story. Yes, we’ve extolled this machine as being the icing on the cake for Fuso. Yet, were it not for the trial and development work done on the 11-litre, this truck’s arrival would have been a tad more tricky (thanks, Covid-19). There was 150,000km of local testing done on the 11-litre, with units at Golden Contracting and Carr & Haslam. Fuso’s HDT drive train engineer Morimoto-san came out and was in the cab for many thousands of those kilometres. This time, thankfully, there wasn’t the need for such exhaustive tests with so much familiar ground – cab, chassis, steering geometry, axle spreads, trim, blah blah – having been already nailed with little brother. Obviously, any thoughts of Morimoto- san popping on down for a tabulation, technical tweak, and Lion Red with the boys are well and truly off the cards, sad as that is.

Therefore, the frontline for local testing are Fuso NZ’s product planning manager Ian Porter and Skip Golden, who is back behind the wheel. Their findings are sent back to Fuso in Japan, which then examines, tweaks, and downloads updates to the driveline… What a world we live in.

“Skip did a great job for us on the 11-litre, and so he was an obvious selection for the 13,” said Ian. “He has a knack of not understating or overstating the exact requirement, and he’s fiercely defensive of what Kiwi operators need; a great advocate for the driver. We had him in Japan in mid-2019 at the Fuso/Mitsubishi Motors test track in Tokachi on the northern island of Hokkaido – where initial work was done. The testing there was all done at the truck’s max GCM of 63 tonne. Now we’re combining everything from both programmes with another 10,000km-plus of testing here, all with a near-enough-to-spec load. Data is going back to Japan where engineers are applying the final finessing.”

Round and round, up and down

The test truck’s been doing a Northland circuit with the same control load the whole time. Repeating the same loop is ideal in terms of analysing and fine-tuning. But, on the day we got involved, it was on an Auckland-Wellington return lash. Such a deviation gives the chance to apply settings in a varied environment: a ‘does what works there, work here’, sort of caper.

It’s not an easy life being an evaluation machine, and this Fuso had already stacked up 40,000km in Australia before coming here. Interestingly, it’s the New Zealand work on transmission tunings that defines the final agreed setting for both countries; such is the nature of our topography.

We meet Skip and the Fuso at Wairakei, where he’s just pulled in to top her up. Being a Euro-6 that didn’t take long. In tow is his own six-axle B-train, which he’s cunningly camouflaged with a layer of grime. That’s a great idea because any true truck ‘foamer’, who passed a white Fuso tractor with side under- run bars and no fruit, towing Skip’s train, and knowing Skip’s involvement evaluating prior models, might quickly become 13-litre suspicious. Having said that, there hasn’t been too much in the way of stealth with this truck … we are driving it, after all.

“This is the real deal,” says Skip. “Shit, it goes, man. It’s real good, aye. Pull! It’s doing this easy.”

It’s not surprising. The motor beneath the Fuso’s floor is Daimler’s platform 13-litre engine, so that’s either the OM471 if you’re from Düsseldorf, or the DD13 if you’re from ‘Detroit’dorf’. If you’ve had encounters with the engine since its 2017 arrival in the Mercedes-Benz 26/3253 product, you’ll know she’s more than an honest toiler.

On our trip to Japan in 2018, there was talk of Fuso’s 13-litre having power ratings north of 396kW (530hp) to claim the top power prize here for trucks from the Land of the Rising Sun. But, in reality, that was never going to happen given the three-pointed star’s power setting.

Numbers and badges aside however, the Fuso 13-litre will be Japan’s highest-performing truck in terms of on-road boogie when it’s unleashed. Here’s why.

Peak power from the 12.8- litre Euro-6 ‘combuster’ is 375kW (510hp – measured on the metric ps scale) at 1600rpm with the power line essentially flat from 1350rpm through to 1800. Torque tops out at 2500Nm (1844lb/ ft) at 1100rpm, and its line is even flatter, starting at a cellar-dwelling 800rpm, barely coming off-peak at 1350, and tailing away from there.

By comparison, take the big 15.5-litre in Isuzu’s flagship 530. When the peak 2200Nm (1623lb/ft) of torque tails off around 1300rpm, the engine’s making about 305kW (415hp (ps)) on a power curve you could ski down; the point being, propellor-head stuff aside, if you’re a driver, it’s noticeable.

A proper 13-litre in the half-thousand horsepower league for Fuso.

Go for a burn

Following the collection of pics and video across the desert, I took the wheel at Waiouru and aimed the big Fuzz south. That leg would give me some good ups and downs and allow the Fuso to tell me all about itself. The truck pottered down the lane, and out onto the nation’s first highway.

Kurtis made a point about the cab being non-spec, with more sound-deadening in the production units, yet I thought it was perfectly acceptable. She quietly picked up ground, and I was instantly reacquainted with what a lovely piece of kit the ShiftPilot G330 (Mercedes- Benz Power Shift-3) 12-speed AMT is. Load-wise, we were about 48 tonnes as the 50MAX paperwork hadn’t turned up (a bit of a thing of recent by all accounts), and the Fuso had no issue getting up to road speed, pulling strong through that critical 70 to 90kph bit.

The first assignment was the Taihape Divi and setting the unit up for the descent at the top meant two feathery taps on the brake en route to the first plateaux three- quarters of the way down and one more tap on the last bit. Pulling the three-stage Jacobs engine brake into the rear- most slot tells the truck you’re serious about retardation and invokes downshifts until you let it know where you want it via the brake pedal. Hold back at full noise is line-ball with power output when the tach needle is at 2300rpm. It’s not a retarder, so sailing off the summit at 80kph loaded will result in severe brake fade by the bottom. However, descend with a fragment of concern for your fellow countryfolk, and the Jacobs is indeed a great tool.

Motoring along the flat county south of Taihape, the Fuso felt great with eco- roll cutting in regularly to help keep the motion lotion account as low as possible. It was lovely to steer, rock solid under brakes, and surefooted towing the big impeccably behaved Matt Gillies trollies on hook.

We said in the 11-litre launch that the transmission made the driveline. But this is a proper unified package, like the Whetton or Franks brothers, meaning both motor and trans get the best out of each other.

Back to the trans, there are four modes: A-economy, A-standard, A-power, and manual, of course. AMTs are all about knowing what they have to offer, throttle control, and timed intervention. If you know your turf, leave it in A-economy and use the kick-down off the throttle and/ or paddle tapping to deal with the serious moments in your driving day. That’s what I did as I launched her at the Mangaweka Divi. To keep the road speed up, I used the throttle kick-down to induce the silky 0.6-second downshifts at 1600rpm rather than economy’s 1200rpm. It worked a treat, and she eventually settled in ninth gear, 1250rpm, and 37kph, dipping on the last nip before the end of the cutting to 34kph. Believe me, this gig is ‘happy as’ in the bottom end and will just wander off with zero fuss from 1100rpm once the terrain allows.

Rear of the transmission, there’s air suspension with a beefier D12 LSD axle set also, so weight-bearing capability and traction are all enhanced. What the Fuso won’t come with is that lazy half a tonne of tare the Euros tend to drag around so, at 50, and even 54 tonnes in the right settings, it’s going to entice a second or third look for any prospective bill payer or bill payer’s ‘beanie’.

Inside, it’s the ‘Fucedes- Benz’ interior, meaning very much a family feel in terms of dash, controls, and steering wheel. The abundance of cab space that would be available is, of course, consumed with that ‘wonderful’ sea of plastic so loved by the truck’s homeland people.

The Fuso NZ mantra for the range is “Looking after our own”, and the company makes much of its ability to now engage in platform safety systems. Lane Departure, Electronic Stability Control, Active Emergency Brake Assist (ABAS-5 now too FYI), and Driver Assistance monitoring are all there, as is Side Guard assist in the new truck, effective over the entire 23m length which, according to Kurtis Andrews, is a first. Other coolness includes a smaller, lighter SCR muffler and auto high/low beam.

In terms of what and when? The 6x4s will be first off the rank pretty much now, and the 8×4 early in 2022. All models in the range will come with the 63-tonne GCM.

And we have the bully on launch specials too. A truck of similar in spec to the beast we drove will come in a hair under $200K with the five year, 500,000km conditional warranty. ‘Crikey!’

Thoughts?

We jump out for a bite of lunch with Skip and Ian in Hunterville, and hugely grateful for a blat that’s for sure. How yuck would it have been to be under impressed with a truck you’d been hanging out for. Lucky then, the plain-Jane evaluation unit parked outside the window left us absolutely frothing for more. Fuso has a genuine 500hp 13-litre in camp with all the safety fruit, and an 8×4 on the way. We haven’t had an injection of spice like this in the market for a while, so bring it on.

We can hardly wait to get our hands on a real New Zealand one, all tarted up, with a slick inside. All that’s left to say is, until Hino and Isuzu play their next-generation cards, Fuso, it appears to be yours for the taking.