Product Evaluation: Mitsubishi Fuso FE180

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Specifications
Wheelbases: 114.6-176 inches
Engine: Mitsubishi Fuso 4M50, 4.9L, DOHC, 4-cyl turbo diesel, 175 hp @ 2700 rpm, 391 lb-ft torque @ 1600 rpm
Transmission: Mitsubishi Fuso 6-speed manual OD, Aisin 6-speed auto OD
Fuel tanks: Steel, 33-gal side, 30-gal rear, between frame rails
Front axle: Mitsubishi Fuso
Rear axle: Mitsubishi Fuso
Brakes: Hydraulic, P/S & servo assist, 4-wheel disc, ABS
Wheels: Steel 17.5 x 6 in.
Tires: 215/75R17.5, Yokohama

When Mitsubishi Fuso Truck America (MFTA) launched its ’05 lineup last spring, the company insisted that FE models had been redesigned completely from frame to roof. So when CCJ decided to conduct a product evaluation, we naturally charged our evaluators with determining whether the redesign has paid off.

The mission statement for the 17,995-pound-GVW FE180 includes intended applications such as refrigerated delivery, landscaping, auto recovery, municipal roadwork, snowplowing, sweeper, dry freight and oil delivery (yes, there’s a PTO) – all reasonable assignments, judged evaluators, given the truck’s range of wheelbases (114.6 to 176 inches) and its ability to fit bodies from 12 to 20 feet.

For ’05, the FE180 gets a new 4M50, 4.9L, DOHC, dual-balance-shaft, intercooled, 4-cyl turbo diesel, rated at 175 hp @ 2700 rpm, and 391 lb-ft of torque @ 1600 rpm. Transmission options include a Mitsubishi Fuso 6-speed manual and an Aisin 6-speed automatic, both with overdrive.

The new Fuso (“Mitsubishi” has been deleted from the badging) has a 33.1-inch-wide, straight ladder frame, for ease of body fitting and chassis stiffness. And evaluators were glad to see shock absorbers and stabilizer bars, front and rear, which they said should contribute to improved handling. Power-steering pressure and servo-assisted, dual-caliper, hydraulic disc brakes with ABS are used to haul the FE180 down from speed.

The road to comfort
The first task of the day was driving the new truck, and evaluators all got some wheel time. Complimentary observations abounded, starting with praise for ease of entry and egress – made possible, in part, by door hinges that open 70 degrees, and then push forward several inches, allowing easy access with limited intrusion of the open door into traffic.

Inside, the team noticed that the shifter has been relocated from the floor to the dash, leaving an open, clean floor. That, in concert with the increased headroom, they said, gives the fully trimmed cabin an open, airy feel, and allows the driver to exit easily on the curb side.

“There’s way more room in there than you’d ever guess,” said one evaluator.

They also appreciated such standard creature comforts as power windows and locks, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, fully adjustable driver’s seat, oversize cup holders, a middle seat that folds flat for use as a work surface, and plenty of storage nooks.

Starting the vehicle and getting the engine up to temperature that December morning was found to be an easy job, thanks to glow plugs and a quick-warm-up switch that kicks up the idle and partially closes the standard exhaust brake. Then, out on the road, the team commented favorably on the high degree of visibility, smooth ride and power delivery, and lack of wind noise – the latter no doubt aided by sleek exterior styling and unique, double-door seals. And they were amazed with the truck’s tight turning circle, which was 35.1 feet for our 114.6-inch wheelbase example. “My compact car takes a bigger circle than that,” noted one team member. “This would be great in tight, urban spots.”

“Our customers are generally not in the trucking business,” explained Joe Devlin, MFTA’s director of corporate communications, “so we’ve tried to make these as much like passenger cars as possible.”

Back in the garage …
As evaluators assessed the FE180 for maintenance ease and durability, they approved of fluid check and fill points located around the perimeter of the vehicle, with the exception of the engine oil dipstick and filler. However, they learned that the inconvenience of having to tilt the cab to add oil is offset partially by the fact that oil level can be checked from inside the cab via an in-sump sensor.

While the windshield washer fluid fill point is located conveniently just behind the A pillar on the passenger side, one evaluator noted that it’s oriented vertically and could make for a messy fill. “I know my guys,” he said. “There would be a big puddle of washer fluid on the passenger floor in no time. This really needs an elbow or some kind of integral funnel.”

Standard maintenance/durability features impressed evaluators, including: a heated fuel/water separator, electronic brake-pad wear sensors; grease fittings all around; and gear-driven camshafts, balance shafts and power steering pump. “There’s a lot more technology here than I’m used to,” one summed up.

Of course, it’s the evaluators’ job to scrutinize, and they did find a few things they would change. For example, the transmission oil cooler is mounted outboard, perpendicular to the left frame rail, directly behind the front wheel. It could, they said, be damaged by debris thrown up by the tire. “We haven’t had any reports of that,” service training instructor Tim Browne told the team. “I suppose it could happen, but if the fender and mud flap are maintained, it should stay protected.”

Two other concerns involved the air filter. First, there’s no restriction gauge, a tool evaluators said is indispensable for determining air filter replacement intervals; and second, the filter is removed from underneath the vehicle, and the cover clips upward onto the housing. Evaluators feared that, if not snapped on correctly, the cover could fall off and result in losing the air filter.

And, finally, “I wish the dash were pre-wired for a CB radio,” said one team member. “That would help prevent drivers from monkeying around and cutting wires.”

The wrap
Overall, evaluators had high praise for this Fuso’s comfort, driveability, good looks and high build quality. They also were impressed with its standard safety features, such as crush bars in the doors to help absorb frontal impact forces, and a backup alarm that sounds outside the truck and in the cab.

Moreover, one evaluator confided that “The warranty is better than I’m used to.” The truck is covered by a 24-month vehicle and 36-month powertrain/no mileage limit, 100-percent parts-and-labor warranty. And optional plans extend specified coverages for up to 60 months.

In all, there were few wishes for improvement, but they were taken seriously at the highest levels at MFTA. “We’re constantly going back to the designers with basically the same concerns you guys have raised,” executive vice president and COO Robert McDowell assured evaluators. “We’ll be addressing these issues as we go along.”

In the meantime, evaluators agreed that the FE180 is a fine vehicle, and one went as far as to say, “I’ll probably wind up buying one.”

MFTA’s technical sales trainer Robert Hess (far right) explains the FE180’s features to evaluators (left to right): John Caramanico, owner, C. Caramanico & Sons Landscaping, Upland, Pa.; Bruce Grankowski, maintenance superintendent, Middlesex County Utilities Authority, Solid Waste Division, East Brunswick, N.J.; Mike Petrshin, shop manager, Old Dominion Freight Line, Jersey City, N.J.; Dave Piliro, regional fleet supervisor, Dunbar Armored, Cinnaminson, N.J.


The fleet operator’s opinion
CCJ Product Evaluations are not performed by CCJ editors. They are conducted by a team of fleet equipment managers, chosen for their experience with the type of product being evaluated. Editors report evaluators’ opinions, not their own. Comments are not attributed directly to specific evaluators to avoid the appearance of individual endorsement or criticism of products.

An evaluation is based on a driving test and design assessment (which sometimes involves some disassembly of the vehicle), followed by a discussion among the evaluators and manufacturer’s representative(s). Manufacturers are given ample opportunity to respond to any criticisms.

As always, CCJ welcomes your comments and suggestions.