Off-road light trucks offer a world of potential for work and play. They’re relatively cheap and uncomplicated, and the cab-on-chassis construction makes them pretty damn versatile for building an expedition truck or the basis for a drop-on camper.
The Fuso Canter 4x4 is available as 4.5-tonne-GVM, car-licence-friendly truck, or as a 6.5-tonne light truck. It’s also available in single cab or seven-seat crew cab form. A 3.0-litre Euro-5-spec turbo-diesel creates 110kW and 370Nm, and behind that is a five-speed manual gearbox and two-speed transfer case.
Being a Euro 5-spec truck means it uses exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) to burn off diesel emission nasties. And as it’s an EGR engine it requires a DPF regen burn-off on occasion – depending on workload this can happen while on the move, but it will sometimes require a parked regen which will need the truck to be parked for around 30 to 40 minutes.
To keep the rear duals firmly on the ground and my kidneys intact for this jaunt in the Victorian High Country, we had 1200kg of payload sitting in the steel tray.
Winter had arrived with a vengeance and most High Country tracks were closed, so we headed to the Buckland Valley in the shadow of Mount Buffalo and tackled Goldie Spur track. Goldie Spur provides the perfect terrain for a truck like the Canter: slippery forest roads, fire trails and snow are all part of the natural habitat for the Fuso.
Our trip to the mountains meant three hours of highway travel, which was a good way to assess the Canter’s open-road manners. The Fuso felt at home on the blacktop and cruised at the legal highway limit with ease.
The 215/75R17.5 rubber that it wore on all four (well, six) of its wheels was relatively quiet during on-road use.
This truck was a fire service-spec truck, which meant it arrived sans airbags and electric windows. The idea being that, in the event of a burn-over during a bush fire, heat won’t detonate the airbags and the window wiring won’t melt and disable the windows.
The Canter’s interior is unapologetically spartan and functional, yet it’s comfortable enough. Basic switchgear is, for the most part, well placed and the gauges are easy to read. The dual cab seats seven, but unfortunately I couldn’t find seven people to cram into the cab to see how accommodating it is – every passer-by I asked to hop in the truck ran away for some reason.
Given that the pricing isn’t that much more than a premium 4x4 dual cab ute, it’s fair to say the Canter makes a strong value statement as a platform for an expedition truck. Just without the leather interior, the climate control and all the other cosy stuff.
The multi-media system is pretty much the same as you’d find on equivalent trucks in this class, and it displays truck-specific navigation if needed. The nav surprised me – even up in the High Country the bush tracks and fire trails were all marked and often named on the display screen.
Selecting four-wheel drive is a matter of pressing a button on the dash, jumping out to lock the front hubs, and then selecting either high or low range. From there it’s a case of pointing the jigger at a gnarly obstacle to see how it goes.
The Fuso was surprisingly capable off-road. Initial impressions were that the DPF and exhaust were hanging a little low and would affect ramp-over angles, yet we didn’t drag the exhaust at all. The Fuso’s forward control layout also acts as a great passive safety feature – you only hit an obstacle going too fast once; after you’ve bounced off the roof a couple of times you’ll slow the hell down and never do it again.
The factory suspension seat in conjunction with the retractable fixed-position seatbelt will also let you know if you’re being a goose on the rough stuff, as the combination will soon have you pinned in the seat like a chimp in the coils of a python. So in the name of comfort it’s best to take a slow and steady approach when off-road.
Slippery fire trails were handled relatively easily, as were some tougher off-road climbs and descents. We used the cleared area under the power lines below Goldie Spur to see how the Canter handled some more gnarly obstacles – angle of approach was good; angle of departure wasn’t too bad. We certainly didn’t drag its bum too badly.
Steep descents were made a lot easier by using the Fuso’s exhaust brake. I’m usually fairly scathing of the effectiveness of most Japanese exhaust brakes; it’s often just a fart sound without much actual effect. However, if you keep the revs up around 3000rpm on an off-road descent it works rather well.
An out-of-control descent is bad news in any off-road vehicle, but in a truck the extra weight makes the potential for carnage even worse – gravity and momentum can have a wayward truck sliding a long way. However, with the Canter I was able to wander down to some tight tracks brimming with snow, slush and mud without any unscripted sideways action. The exhaust brake kept my foot off the brake pedal and gently grabbed all four wheels on the way down the hill.
Getting the Canter to the top of a slippery slope was a more demanding task. The lack of a front diff lock hampers climbing quite a bit if you lose momentum, but the rear limited-slip diff manages to keep things moving in the right direction in most cases.
One of the Fuso’s biggest downsides is a lack of wading depth. In factory form the Canter 4x4 is rated at a mere 330mm. In other words, don’t submerge the diff, transfer case or gearbox. If you do happen to get it wet, it’s recommended you revise the service schedule to ensure no water has leaked into the important bits.
As you can see from the pics, I wasn’t aware of this at the time and … err … well, we didn’t have any issues with the truck after fording the Buckland River.
As a road-friendly off-road truck the Canter 4x4 makes a capable platform with plenty of chassis real estate. Just don’t get its feet too wet.