Fuso FG 4x4 Goes Almost Anywhere

Jan. 31, 2012

If you want a cab-over-engine truck with go-anywhere, four-wheel-drive capability, the Fuso Canter FG is your only choice. So what? So plenty to a select group of users who appreciate a cabover’s compactness, maneuverability and ease of maintenance.

If you want a cab-over-engine truck with go-anywhere, four-wheel-drive capability, the Fuso Canter FG is your only choice. So what? So plenty to a select group of users who appreciate a cabover’s compactness, maneuverability and ease of maintenance.

For a given body length, a cabover is several feet shorter than a conventional-cab truck, and so is the cabover’s wheelbase. This makes it easier to slip through urban traffic and scoot around job sites. Outward visibility for its driver is usually better, too. This is a real plus off-road: When cresting a hill, you can see what’s immediately ahead and below from behind the wheel of a cabover, but all you see with a conventional is its hood.

Good visibility is one of the reasons I like cabovers, and I figured I’d experience it climbing off-road hills with this truck. But no: This FG had rib-type tires—optional fitment that allows smooth and quiet highway cruising—that slipped in the sandy soil at a site in northeastern Ohio, and we were pretty much confined to rough trails. Any FG destined for frequent off-road use ought to be fitted with block-treaded “traction” tires, which are available.

Fuso FG Specifications

Truck: Fuso FG 4x4, low cab-over-engine, GVW 14,050 lb., payload (w/ body) 8,130 lb., cab-to-axle area 104.8 in.
Engine: Fuso 4P10, inline 4-cylinder turbodiesel, EPA 2010-legal w/ BlueTec urea injection, 3 liters (183 cu.in.), 161 hp @ 3,500 rpm, 295 lb.-ft. @ 1,600 rpm
Transmission: Mitsubishi Fuso Duonic dual-clutch automated mechanical, 6-speed overdrive
Axles: Proprietary, 6,175 lb. front, 9,480 lb. rear, w/ 5.285 ratio, on laminated leaf springs
Wheelbase: 134.2 in.
Tires & wheels: 235/85R16 highway or traction type, on steel discs
Brakes: Vacuum-assisted drums
Steering: Integrated hydraulic power w/ tilt and telescoping column
Fuel tank: 33 gal. steel
Body: Churney’s steel flatbed (temporary)

For sure the FG’s high stance, at least a foot more than two-wheel drive Canters, allowed it to shrug off obstacles on more solid terrain throughout the premises. The cab is also higher, which makes climbing in more of a chore, but big grab handles on the A-pillars help driver and passenger pull themselves in. There’s room for three in the wide cab, and the center seat back folds down to make a work surface for a laptop, paperwork and so on.

Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America imports the recently introduced Canters, which have refined cabs, 2010-legal diesels, and automated-mechanical transmissions as standard equipment. The parent company in Japan is 89 percent owned by Daimler Trucks of Germany, making Fuso a cousin to Freightliner and Western Star trucks here. And its 4P10 four-cylinder diesel uses a Daimler-style BlueTec urea-injection system. The 3-liter engine’s horsepower and torque numbers are modest—161 and 295, respectively—but it scoots nonetheless, and the truck is fun to drive.

The dual-clutch AMT is called Duonic, and it shifts quickly, smoothly and without the low-speed slippage inherent in torque converter-type automatics used by competitors. It replaces a five-speed manual tranny used on earlier FGs, making the truck easy to drive for the experienced and novice alike. The FG’s single-speed transfer case is operated by a rocker switch on the dashboard, and manually locking hubs engage the front wheels for off-road movement. Unlocking the TC and hubs enhances fuel economy during travel on pavement and graded trails.

This FG was set up by Churney’s Truck Center, near Cleveland, just for my test drive. It included the temporary mounting of a flatbed body, which carried about 1,000 pounds of borrowed building materials that we hauled to and from a quarry about 70 miles east of the city. The property, south of Thompson in northeastern Ohio, is owned by the Sidley Co., which has a division that sells Fuso and Mack trucks. People there showed us around the huge premises, now bustling with quarrying and filtering of sand to support natural gas drilling in the region.

Those rib-treaded tires proved quiet and comfortable on a high-speed run along Interstate 80 during which the FG’s four-cylinder diesel busily spun at about 2,900 rpm at 70 mph. This was a function of the numerically high rear-end ratio and put the needle several hundred rpm outside the green zone arrayed on the tachometer, but still in its operating range so the engine didn’t complain.

It also revved enthusiastically as the Duonic tranny went through its six ratios. “Shouldn’t it upshift sooner?” I complained to Tom Hotham, a MitsuFuso representative who had arranged this experience and was along for the ride. It can, he said, and he reached over and punched a rocker switch on the dash. This changed the tranny from Performance to Economy, and it then upshifted at lower revs, keeping the tach needle in that 1,500-to-2,500 green zone.

The Duonic seemed to know exactly what it was doing, always choosing a good gear for every situation. Yet on another drive in another FG in another place—Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp.’s test track in Japan, part of a factory-sponsored trip several weeks after the Ohio drive—the tranny wasn’t so smart. While assaulting a 12-percent upgrade in Economy mode, the Duonic got confused; it downshifted, then unwisely upshifted, and the engine began bogging down and seemed about to stall. But I punched in Performance and it immediately recovered, downshifting again and letting the engine rev and make some power. So Performance seems to be the setting to use under demanding conditions.

A low cabover might look small in photos, but approach one and you’ll see that it’s really a sizeable thing. The tall FG is even more so. With a gross weight rating of 14,080 pounds, more than half of which is payload, it’s not a light truck, either. Its primary competitor in North America is Ford’s F-450 4x4, which sits low by comparison. The FG also has a larger price, but Mitsubishi Fuso claims it will deliver a lower total cost of ownership. That includes low depreciation: Look for a 10-year-old FG and see what its seller is asking for it; you might be surprised.

At the top of the story I listed ease of maintenance as a cabover advantage. Most conventional-cab trucks in this weight class have automobile-like alligator hoods that open to reveal hoses, wiring and shrouding that hide the engine. Accessing it often requires removing something, then leaning over the radiator or fenders to reach what needs attention. But the cab of a Fuso Canter or similar truck tilts forward on front hinges, completely baring the engine and all its accessories. You just step up to it and begin turning your wrenches. Fluid checks can be done without tilting the hood, by the way.

Aided by a pickup-like wheelbase of 134.4 inches, an FG’s turning diameter measures 44.2 feet, which is 7 feet smaller than an F-450’s, Fuso people say. While going in circles with a low cabover like this FG, I get the impression that I could T-bone the body just behind the cab. Yet there’s enough room on the frame for a body that’s 12 to 15 feet long.

One more thing: The FG rode smoothly on well-maintained interstate pavement, but it bounced actively as we barreled over broken concrete on Cleveland-area streets. Well, after all, this is a serious Class 4 truck with a stiff suspension that will take as many as three people and close to 4 tons of payload almost anywhere. Although I whined about the bouncing at first, by the end of the day it didn’t bother me. Maybe I had turned into a serious driver.