Monday 11 April 2011
The new Mitsubishi Fuso Canter is a vehicle that falls between two stools when it comes to classification.
Unless you happen to be Japanese, the word 'Fuso' is probably unknown to you at present. But things are about to change...Fuso is, in fact, the name of a huge Japanese truck manufacturer with a £4 billion turnover. It comes under the Mitsubishi banner and the new Mitsubishi Canter, which was launched in the Uk this month, now proudly carries this moniker for the first time. Rather confusingly, as DaimlerChrysler owns 85% of Mitsubishi Fuso, you don't go to a Mitsubishi dealer to buy one of these trucks but have to visit your nearest Mercedes-Benz showroom.
The Canter occupies an odd kind of halfway niche between van and truck. It is available at 3.5-tonnes, 6.5-tonnes and 7.5-tonnes gross vehicle weight. At 3.5-tonnes, it looks for all the world like a truck, but can still be driven on a car licence and needs no tachograph. But it is more than just a platform van - Mercedes-Benz can offer a huge array of variations, including double-cabs, tippers, car transporters, box bodies, cranes, fridge units and many more. You pay £14,600 for a single-cab chassis and £16,900 for a double-cab (prices ex-VAT) and then negotiate upwards depending on which body you want.
The new Canter is assembled in Portugal and aims to build on the already considerable sales rises of the past few years. In 2001, the Canter sold just 450 units - last year sales topped the 1,000 mark. Some 120,000 are sold worldwide every year. The engines from the old model are carried over. The 3.5-tonners have a 3.0-litre unit, offering 125bhp at 3,200rpm and 216lb-ft of torque at 1,800rpm. The bigger models have a 4.0-litre engine, offering 143bhp and 304lb-ft of torque.
The Canter also has a unique standard exhaust brake, which helps slow the vehicle down with extra engine braking. Flick the windscreen wiper stalk forward and a butterfly valve in the exhaust recirculates gases back into the engine. This system aims to help drivers with braking in inner city areas and improve the service life of the traditional braking system. Much of the facelift has taken place in the cab, which becomes bigger and more comfortable. Overall dimensions increase, door apertures are wider and a larger windscreen is fitted for an extra airy feel. This equates to more head and legroom for the occupants and the gearstick migrates from the floor to the dash, allowing easier movement across the cab.
The new model features an Isringhausen suspended driver's seat with a dial for the driver's weight and fully adjustable steering column. The dashboard is completely reshaped and central locking and electric windows come as standard, along with a radio/CD player - although we were concerned to find that both a driver and passenger airbag and ABS brakes come as paid-for options, at £300 and £850 respectively. Other options include air conditioning at £1,050 and metallic paint at £700. Insulation in the cab has been increased for quieter running. (Prices current as at Sept 2005)
At 3.5 tonnes and with a single cab, four wheelbases are available - 2,500mm, 2,950mm, 3,300mm and 3,850mm. With a double-cab, only a 3,350mm wheelbase is on offer. Payload is between 1,265kg and 1,500kg but this excludes the weight of the body. Mercedes-Benz says safety was at the forefront of the new cab design. The chassis has been re-inforced, the cab floor strengthened, the steering column is now collapsible and the doors feature parallel cross-frame protection bars. The dashboard has an impact-absorbing frame and is made from shatter-resistant materials. Also, vulnerable items such as diesel tanks and batteries are all hidden away in protected areas behind the front axle.
I joined a party of journalists at Coombe Abbey near Coventry for a first drive of the new Canter. Here's how we fared...
My first reaction on spying the new 3.5-tonne Canter was: 'That's never a 3.5-tonner!' It looks sturdier and bigger than its van counterparts - mainly because it is, in fact, a 7.5-tonner scaled down - and is for all the world a pukka heavy commercial vehicle. That's good news for fleets with some serious shifting to do, but there must be a temptation to overload a vehicle like this and care must be taken instructing drivers on its payload limitations. The good news, of course, is that operators don't have to bother about tachographs, drivers' hours and all those other annoying trifles that heavy goods vehicle fleets have to worry themselves with.
Pull a few levers and the whole cab tips forward to reveal the engine compartment underneath, just like real trucks. It's a neat trick and allows easy access to the dirty bits if necessary. The cab looks 100% better than the old one. It's a lot more light and airy, the dash is more functional and stylish and there are more cubby holes (although nowhere for white truck man to put his precious two-litre cola bottle). The plastics in general look a bit cheap and tacky, but everything is of the wipe-clean variety and feels solid enough.
The driver's seat is best in class. You dial in your weight (in kilograms) and the clever little blighter decides for itself how much 'give' and support you are going to get. It hisses up and down gently to iron out the worst bumps in the road and is, in short, a minor miracle. I was so impressed that I jokingly asked those very nice men from Mercedes-Benz if I could get some for my living room. On the minus side, those optional airbags get a big thumbs down and the CD player was sadly the 'cooking' variety and full of horrible fiddly little buttons. It means the driver is likely to take his eyes off the road for valuable seconds while messing around with it. The double-cab version features a row of four seats behind - and there is no shortage of legroom either.
Everything is as sturdy and solid as you'd expect in our test models, which included a platform truck and a box van. Twin rear wheels come as standard and the dropside has a low loading height. Fleets ordering a Canter will be offered a bewildering array of options so will have to do a few sums to make sure they get one that is just right for their particular purposes.
It's no idle boast that the new Canter is quieter. For a vehicle of this size, it's almost uncanny. My co-pilot and I were able to converse in hushed tones even at motorway speeds, so some serious sound-proofing has been undertaken. Meanwhile, the clutch is on the heavy side while the power steering is on the light side, although we soon got used to it after a few junctions. The Canter is wonderfully agile for its size and has an excellent turning circle, as we discovered when we went wrong on our test route and had to do an about-turn.
Our only serious criticism was with the notchy gearchange. The four test models we tried out ranged from OK to awful, but they were all new vehicles so maybe that graunchiness will abate over time.
It's not often that we get both a new model and a new marque in the UK, so let's give a good old British welcome to Fuso. The new Canter is chunky, stylish and very drivable, despite that dodgy gearchange, and I'd have no problems as a driver spending my working life within its confines. Just remember where to buy it though - walk into a Mitsubishi showroom and ask for a Fuso and you may be greeted with a blank look.
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