Brilliant is the word to use when talking the clever little Hino Poncho available now in Australia.
For the uninitiated, back in the day buses used to almost exclusively share the same underpinnings as trucks.
The engine was up front and the body was bolted on above the chassis.
This meant that there was always a couple of stairs to climb up when entering your regular route bus servicing the towns and cities of Australia.
In more recent decades though the trend has been to build buses upon proper bus chassis and this means, in almost all cases, that the engine is behind the rear wheels.
But while regular route buses and coaches have followed this trend, no one seemed to tell the manufacturers of the big-selling small buses.
It also makes it difficult to fit air suspension that lowers the step and floor height to allow for less mobile and disabled passengers to more easily/safely board/alight.
Enter the Hino Poncho, a small bus with big bus smarts.
The engine in the Hino bus is located behind the rear wheels, and there’s proper air suspension too, that means the bus, which already has a remarkably low floor, can kneel even further down.
There’s even an aluminium ramp that you can quite easily fit to allow even easier/no step access.
Once inside, those who are in a wheelchair, mobility scooter, or even prams, are provided with their own space, when not in use two fold-down seats can easily be utilized.
All this makes the Hino Poncho 100% DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) compliant.
I got around Sydney in the Poncho for a week and came away thinking this bus would be ideal for a number of applications, including:
- Low demand bus routes
- Difficult access bus routes
- Retirement homes
- Shuttle services (such as at airports)
There’s a 180hp/530Nm 5.1 litre turbo-diesel engine fitted east-west (i.e. across the vehicle) and this is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.
It accelerates off the line really well, ideal for city applications, while the overdrive function on the transmission allows you to get that little bit of extra go (i.e. overdrive off) when getting about in the city/suburbs.
This also allows you to use engine reduction when traveling downhills at speed.
There’s also an exhaust brake that helps easily keep your speed under control and to take some load off the air over hydraulic braking system.
At highway speeds the Poncho can be pushed around a little by crosswinds, that’s probably no great surprise.
While even in power mode and with a light passenger load on-board I would have liked the transmission just to drop down a cog a little quicker when tackling hills.
The steering is VERY light (great for maneuverability) and it turns in nicely with a good turning circle as well.
The wheels are right out at the corners of the bus too and this means the Poncho would get into and out of spaces that a big bus wouldn’t dream of venturing into.
From the driver’s seat
This is a very easy vehicle to drive. The visibility is good all round, the mirrors aren’t huge but they do the job.
Make sure you tick the box for the optional reverse camera – a must-have in my opinion, especially when some of the logical applications for this vehicle are taken into account.
I would say that the Hino Poncho could offer a little more storage spaces for the driver to store his/her belongings, and there’s no cup holder available up front either.
There’s sat-nav as standard, and digital radio too.
Perhaps my only real complaint with the Poncho though is the positioning of the transmission selector.
As the photo shows, it is kind of sitting in the middle of nowhere and that means you have to try and limbo your way around it to get in and out of the drivers seat.
It would be much, much better if this was either on the dashboard, or perhaps to the right of the driver.
The gauges and controls are easy to use and well-located, while the engine stop-start system works quite well, you can over-ride this easily with a push of a button.
Summing it up, the Hino Poncho is a clever little bus that benefits from a common-sense design and layout (i.e. sticking the engine at the rear).
Seating 18, plus driver, I’m sure that this bus is going to be a big-seller in our local market due to its versatility and adaptability to a number of different potential tasks.
Easy to drive, easy to operate overall, Hino Australia is onto a winner here with this brilliant little bus!