A different kind of gullwing
As a kid, I've always had a fascination with trucks.
Whether it's a pick-up, a dump truck/tipper, or even big-rigs, I've always looked at them with a different kind of awe, perhaps even more so than the latest sports car or supercar.
Fascination aside, we at AutoIndustriya.com recognize the need to check out the local offerings for bigger trucks. The mobility economy runs largely on roads, not rails. We need trucks to bring sacks of rice to markets. We need trucks to export goods to countries that demand them. We need trucks to make sure our economy actually moves, That's why you'll start seeing more truck reviews in the near future.
In our line of work, we've been able to indulge a few driving experiences involving such behemoths from light, medium, heavy duty, to even articulated lorries after a bit of instruction. Now we've got another, thanks to our friends over at Fuso.
Previously we drove the Fuso Canter, the company's light duty truck. This time we're going bigger, and we got behind the wheel of the Fuso FJ. Yes, now we're in the heavy duty segment.
The Fuso FJ is not an articulated vehicle, meaning it's not a head with a trailer. It's basically a cab and chassis vehicle, and customers can configure the back to suit whatever need they have. Need a dropside truck? The FJ can be configured that way. Need a refrigerated body? That can be done. The vehicle can even be configured in tipper form (basically a dump truck type) or as a cement mixer.
There's a rather high-tech look about the FJ. It's a strange thing to say about what is effectively a box of a cabin, but they did try to make some enhancements for modernity's sake such as aero vents and a fairly modern chiseled design. While very upright, Fuso says the cabin is actually aerodynamic, lending to better quietness and fuel efficiency at speed.
The model we're driving is the 10-wheeler FJ 2528R, and it's the Centro Freuhauf wing van version with the body's floor able to provide 256 square feet (almost 24 square meters). That means it can fit about 16 pallets measuring 1200mm x 1000mm, or 48” by 40” pallets. This configuration is one of the most popular in our market because of its versatility, as cargo and goods can be loaded or offloaded either from the side or from the rear.
The most common way to access the cargo space is via the dual 8' x 4' door at the back, but the real trick with these vehicles is the opening of the wings. First, you unlock (or unlatch) the sides, open the control box, twist a key, flip a backup switch, and press the up button. The wing will open in about 10 seconds, exposing the insides of the van. The other side is the same way, and you can also drop the lower sides of the bed for even easier access. With both wings open, this Fuso FJ actually looks quite cool... like a Mercedes gullwing.
Speaking of Mercedes, you'll notice that the FJ doesn't wear a Mitsubishi logo like the Canter. There are two reasons for that, one is corporate: the Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Company (or MFTBC) is no longer majority Japanese owned. 89.29% of the company is now owned by Daimler; yes, the parents of Mercedes-Benz. At one point, Daimler and Mitsubishi Motors were partners in Fuso, but Daimler acquired the shares from Mitsubishi Motors as compensation for their divorce in the early 2000's.
The other reason is that the FJ isn't made in Japan. This FJ is the product of DICV, or Daimler India Commercial Vehicles. Yes, this truck is Indian-made. Some may think it takes away from the perception of quality, but not in actuality. India does make great heavy duty trucks that survive and thrive on their rural roads and trails.
Getting up to the cabin isn't as difficult as you might think; there are two steps, and two grab bars that basically makes the whole thing like a ladder. Once up on the driver's seat, only then do you realize how high up you are. The driver's eyeline is probably about 10 feet above the road.
We half expected a cabin that's really basic, but this Indian-made FJ proved us wrong. It's a fairly sophisticated vehicle with quite a few buttons all around the driver. The steering wheel is massive, and has supersized stalks for the wipers and indicator lights. The main light switches are on the left side, and are of the European dial-type with headlamp levelers too. There are many more buttons but also a lot of blank panels; Fuso executives tell us that some of the blanks will be used if the customer opts for a different configuration like a cement mixer or tipper.
The gauge cluster has a speedometer, tachometer with a green marker for the optimum power range, fuel gauge, AdBlue gauge (that additive to improve emissions), a pressure gauge (for the air system), and even a multi-info display for fuel economy, among others. There's a radio system up top, but it's fairly basic; also, only one speaker worked. But really, all I was looking forward to on a hot day like this was the A/C system; yes, this one has it as standard, along with ball-type vents on the doors for the driver and right passenger.
The steering wheel is massive; it's actually difficult to reach all the way forward, but that won't matter much since this is equipped with power steering. The shifter is in charge of a manual gearbox with 9 forward gears; the first is C or crawl, then you have gears 1 to 4 in the low range. To access gears 5 to 8, you'll have to bump the shifter to the right to be able to drive at higher speeds.
As someone jumping up from something like a Canter, there's a bit more of a learning curve with the FJ, but one thing we'll have to get used to is the air system. A lot of the major mechanical functions of the Fuso FJ rely on compressed air, and you can tell by the blowoff-like sound: TSST!
You'll hear the telltale sound when you step on the brake (air brakes), activate or deactivate the parking brake, when you adjust the steering wheel, switch between high and low range, and many more. Heck, even the driver's seat has an air suspension system for better comfort. It takes a bit of getting used to with a seat that moves independently of the vehicle, but if you've driven an older Mitsubishi Pajero with the suspension seat, this won't feel too alien.
Beneath the cab of the FJ is 6S20 straight six turbodiesel engine. They didn't need to do a more compact V6 because the engineers had so much space to play with. The engine itself displaces 6.4-liters (or 6.374 to be exact), and it makes 285 PS and a whopping 1120 Newton meters of torque.
The FJ is going to need all that torque to be able to lug around over 17,322 kilograms that it is rated for. Here's where the wing van comes into play; being that it's made for aluminum (except for the frame itself which is steel) the Fruehauf body weighs about 1.9 tonnes, which is about 1.3 tonnes or 1,300 kilograms lighter than the competitor models. That means it still has just under 15.5 tonnes in cargo capacity.
Driving the Fuso FJ around wasn't as daunting as we thought it would be. The steering assist is very good, and the gearbox was much smoother to operate than the much smaller Canter. You do have to be very careful when trying to negotiate corners, especially 90-degree bends; this 10-wheeler FJ has a 23.7 meter turning radius. Thankfully you do have mirrors to be able to see the curb or most obstacles when turning.
Doing a three-point turn (aka: the maneobra) is tricky because you can't see what's directly behind you as the body is in the way. Without an assistant doing the spotting at the back, it's going to be very difficult. This Wing Van FJ could really do with a CCTV rear-view camera system that allows the driver to see exactly what's in the back.
Acceleration is brisk, but the powerband is quite short, as expected from a high torque, heavy duty diesel engine. That's why the FJ (and most other trucks) have many gears in the transmission, and why truck drivers are really annoyed when they have to slow down unnecessarily because they'll have to go through all the gears to get back up to speed.
Braking, as we had expected, is very powerful; we have no doubts that the FJ, even when fully loaded, will not have any issues in coming to a complete stop. The 2528R even has anti-lock brakes; that means the driver will have a good degree of steering control even in emergency braking situations.
What surprised us is how well built the whole thing is. It's a quality truck, without a doubt; everything is firmly bolted or cleanly welded. There weren't any undue rattles, creaks, or other indicators of subpar quality control. That was also surprising given that there was a bit of bouncing around because of the unloaded body. Of course there were noises coming from the body in the back; that's expected, but overall it's not too noisy. That will change of course when you have to put cargo there.
I wanted to take the FJ away from the closed course and onto the open road, but I couldn't. Like many of you, I never did opt to get rated for heavy vehicles that are over 4500 kilograms in gross vehicle weight. Looks like I'll have to find a way to add that Restriction code to my license, and turn it red.
Still, we did get a good feel for what Fuso has to offer with the FJ 2528R. It's well built, looks good, powerful, safe, and is surprisingly easy to drive; so much so that if your driver has to take a day off, you (the business owner) can reasonably take over and drive it (provided you have the correct license rating) with just your helpers (aka: pahinantes).
The FJ2528R retails for PhP 3.525 million in cab and chassis form. For the Fruehauf 32-foot wing van body, expect to shell out another PhP 1.7 million, bringing the total SRP of this model we drove at PhP 5,225,000.
Honestly we weren't expecting much from our drive of the FJ. We half expected a rather basic machine in this Indian-made truck, but walked away with a greater respect for how Fuso (and Daimler) builds heavy duty trucks that can really get bigger businesses on wheels; in this case, 10.