While we at AutoIndustriya have always been reviewing passenger cars, SUVs, pick-ups, and vans, in the last couple of months we noticed a new trend: the market has been launching quite a few commercial vehicles. You know, the kind you use for business rather than for personal mobility.
Mitsubishi had restarted the production line for the L300 that is Euro4 emissions compliant, and it's poised to regain its crown as the king of Philippine commercial vehicles. Isuzu launched the all-new Traviz, another LCV contender that comes in short wheelbase form to compete with L300, and a longer wheelbase to compete with the Hyundai H-100 and the Kia K2500.
But what if you needed something bigger, has more power and torque, more modern, and much more in payload capacity without being covered by the truck ban in some areas?
If those are your requirements, then the Fuso Canter -specifically this FE71- will get the job done.
Fuso is a name that has long been associated with Mitsubishi Motors, and for quite a long time, the Fuso brand in the Philippines was handled by MMPC. Now, however, there's a new distributor for Fuso: Sojitz Fuso Philippines Corporation, and their primary light truck is the Japan-made Canter.
We all know the Canter, and there was a lot of them neatly lined up at the Fuso yard in Laguna so as not to trigger any of our OCD tendencies. There are a lot of variations of the Canter, and they're classified by the length of the chassis after the front cab and the number of wheels. For instance, the FE85 (while not at the yard) is the biggest of the lot and is classified as an 18-footer, meaning there is 18-feet of space on the back for a customer to fit a body or a bed or other specialized equipment (i.e. utility crane or car carrier) and its a 6-wheeler with dual rear wheels (DRW).
The one we're going to try out is the FE71: it's the smallest variation of the bunch with 10-feet of bare chassis at the back, has a 4-wheeler drive train, and has a gross weight of 4.4 metric tons (4,400 kilograms). Those details are key, as it means the Canter FE71 isn't covered by the truck ban regulations that prohibit vehicles that have a GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight) of over 4500 kilograms (4.5 metric tons or tonnes) from plying certain streets.
We're not going to get much into the design because, well, there isn't much to report. This Canter is an eighth generation model; honestly even I was surprised that there has been that many already. Apparently, the history of the Canter goes all the way back to 1963 in Japan, and has been continuously updated with new engines, new looks, new technologies, improved frames, the list goes on. For the curious, the name “Canter” comes from the fast gait of a horse, and you'll recognize it from the 3 quick beats in succession: Thump-Thump-Thump.
The Canter is a cab over truck, meaning the engine is underneath the front cab. Unlike smaller cab over LCVs (i.e. L300, Traviz), accessing the engine isn't about flipping up the seat cushions; you have to tilt the entire cab to get ot it. From the passenger side (which is the driver's side in its home market of Japan) you pull a lever to release the master lock, pull another lever to release another latch, and push the cabin to tilt forward up. Honestly, it was very easy; it's almost sexist, but Fuso says a lady can easily lift that cabin, no problem. Their words, not mine.
Once you do lock that cabin forward, you'll see the 4M42 engine underneath. Owners of the Pajero and Montero will probably find that engine code familiar: Mitsubishi did use the fairly closely related 2.8L 4M40 and 3.2L 4M41, in those SUVs. In the Fuso Canter, the engine displaces 3.0-liters, has twin camshafts, 16-valves, a turbocharger, and common-rail direct injection. It's quite a modern engine.
The 8th gen Canter has been around since 2010, and this model we're looking at first debuted in 2018. While there are no major cosmetic changes since 2010, there is one key difference: the emissions standards. This Canter and its 4M42 engine makes for a Euro4 compliant package. So if maintained properly (emphasis on properly), anti-smoke belching units (ASBU) will just be wasting their time if they don't spot the big Euro4 stickers on the doors.
Like we said, this FE71 can fit a 10-foot long body in the back, and the example we're trying out comes with a 10' x 6' x 6' (L x W x H), meaning it has a volume of 360 cubic feet; slightly less, of course when you consider the thickness of the walls with the plywood lining. The body actually built very well with clean seams, no waviness on the metal, and high quality latches on the back. Using our many XL Balikbayan Boxes, we estimate you can neatly fit a total of 45 of them inside: 5 lengthwise, 3 along the width, and 3 stacked.
The key to this body (it's built by Almazora) is its construction: they used aluminum. That means the body consumes less of the payload capacity of the vehicle; yes, the actual body is part of the payload weight which is 2,640 kilograms. The logic is simple: the lighter the body, the more actual cargo you can carry. We do wish we had actual weight figures from Fuso or Almazora, but in this case we'll just have to take their word that it's light compared to its steel counterparts.
Getting up to the cabin wasn't difficult at all; it's high enough to give a great view of the road, but not too tall so as to make getting up a chore. The first thing that surprised me was the modernity of the cabin. I haven't been in a Canter in a while, and even then it was a much older generation, so seeing a fairly nice and modern dashboard was oddly refreshing, especially compared to our experience with the Canter's litter brother, the L300, which still has essentially the same dash since the 80's. Honestly, Mitsubishi could have asked their parts suppliers to update the dashboard of the L300 a little bit.
There's a nice sense of versatility about the dashboard with the many storage compartments and trays, and even comes with pull out cupholders. The gauges look like they could have come from a Montero Sport or a Strada. There's even an LED dome light, which is strange. There is no radio though; that's an option. We were surprised to find a tilt and telescopic steering wheel (and with a nice grip to it); unusual for the class. The Canter also comes with a 5-speed manual 'box that's mounted on the dashboard instead of the steering column or on the floor; that frees up some legroom.
The key thing that the Canter does not have is airconditioning. Yes, there's a panel with the vent controls and the fan speed thingamabob, but really, it's just a blower. There's no compressor mounted onto the engine, so no cooling for the cabin. Fuso tells us that their corporate and business customers don't want A/C fitted to the Canter for fear of the drivers falling asleep. Well, that makes sense, but just be prepared for a smelly cabin thanks to the sweat as well as other foul odors from the cabin after a few months; the Canter, after all, was built with the presumption that the employees using it will smoke, thanks to the presence of ashtrays and a 12-volt cig lighter.
One thing that they don't tell you about is how the Canter has become a global product. Yes, it's Japan-made, but a closer look around the cabin and the frame reveals that they're using some non-Japanese parts. The most obvious component are the glass windows: they say Pilkington on them.
If that brand sounds unfamiliar, that's because Pilkington is a British brand, and they're the same supplier for windshields on the UK-made Civic Type R, and even Jaguar and Land Rover, among others. Actually, Pilkington is a UK glass manufacturer, but they're Japanese-owned, but they have their main hub in Germany. How's that for a strange connection.
The backstory to that connection is that Fuso no longer reports to MMC. As part of a compensation agreement, MMC transferred ownership of Fuso (specifically Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation, or MFTBC) to their former partner: Daimler AG. That means Daimler now holds 89.29% of the company. If you see some some German parts in the Canter when you examine it, this is why. They did, however, retain the Mitsubishi Motors diamond star on the grille; that was a specific request from the dealers, as Mitsubishi dealers in the Philippines do carry the Canter in their portfolio.
The Canter FE71 is fairly sprightly with 125 PS of power. Most drivers would start with second gear as first gear is only really used to get the Canter moving if there's a lot of weight in the back. Of course the acceleration will change with payload, but it seems the 3.0-liter turbodiesel is more than up to the task. The key factor is the torque: it has 294 Nm, but it comes in at a very early 1700 rpm; which should be good for fuel economy. Unfortunately we couldn't take the Canter out onto the public highway (unregistered and all), so perhaps we can do a fuel eco run later on and see how the FE71 does.
The steering was quite light; it's a hydraulic power steering unit, which should be superior for long term reliability for this application. The braking was also very powerful. This was something we learned on larger trucks because, for safety, truck manufacturers actually beef up the braking systems on their vehicles. Much larger trucks have those maintenance intensive air brake systems, but light duty trucks like the Canter doesn't really need that system; this one uses a more conventional one with hydraulics. The brakes are very very powerful when you're driving unladen, so we can't really see any problem when it comes to having a lot of payload, so long as you don't exceed the GVW.
The turning radius was surprising though; the Canter FE71 can turn tighter than most pick-up trucks. The reason is because while most pick-ups have a wheelbase at around 3000mm, the Canter has a shorter 2500mm wheelbase. Fuso can make the wheelbase that short because the FE71 is a cabover design that frees up more space forward, negating the need for a longer wheelbase (which would widen the turning circle). So if you have to do some deliveries in cities with tight streets and 90 degree corners, drivers of the FE71 should be able to easily manage with the huge windows and big side mirrors mounted forward on extended stems.
The only real downside (apart from the exclusion of the A/C) was the manual transmission. The shifter may be nicely mounted to free up space on the floor. The shift pattern takes a little getting used to if you're hopping from a conventional passenger car as where the first gear slot would normally be is actually reverse; the real first gear starts where the second gear would normally be. But that's not really a problem: the only issue we have is the clunkiness of the gearbox.
Sometimes it takes force to engage a gear, and sometimes there's a little grinding that induces some cringing. Sometimes it just won't go in even when the clutch is depressed the whole way. That's really how it is, says the guys at Fuso. We found it odd, so we spoke to some drivers at the local market as they were making their deliveries, and they say it improves greatly over time. We just happen to be driving a truck that's fresh from the factory in Japan, so some drivers say it takes a bit of breaking in, and then you're good to go.
Who are we to argue with them? There's a good reason why the Canter is the default choice when moving up from an LCV to a light duty truck, and much of that is about the reputation for reliability. And in any business that involves mobility either by deliveries or by passengers (like the FB body), reliability is king.
This 2019 Fuso Canter FE71 is priced at PhP 1,440,000 in cab and chassis configuration. If you want to add the Almazora 10x6x6 aluminum body, that will add another PhP 93,000 on top of it. Fuso also has partnerships with other body manufacturers such as Centro and Metro Trucks, expanding your options list for your business. If you want to add A/C, well, you can pay another PhP 88,000 (thereabouts) to cool the cabin.
Fuso wants to build on that well-earned reputation, and with the way the Canter FE71 is built, it looks like it's only going to get better in the future. Well, after the break-in period.