Vehicle test: the Multicar M31

Published:  24 February, 2014

Steve Banner took the latest Multicar M31 to the road to review the latest firefighting package available with this off road vehicle and to see if the chassis/cab combination is fit-for-purpose for use by the fire service.

Any fire service in search of a compact and versatile vehicle that can act as a platform for a variety of fire and rescue equipment could do worse than take a look at the latest German-built Multicar M31 from Hako. With a roomier, better-equipped cab than its predecessor, it is on sale with either left- or right-hand drive and produced in both 4x2 and selectable 4x4 guise.

Power comes courtesy of an Iveco 3.0-litre diesel generating 145hp at 3,500rpm and 320Nm of torque at 1,400rpm and fitted with a particulate filter. Gross weights go up to 5.7 tonnes, payload capacities go up to 3.1 tonnes, towing capacity goes up to 3.5 tonnes and customers can choose either a short (2,450mm) or a long (2,930mm) wheelbase.

The M31 is sold in four different versions. The most basic model is the M31 T, while the M31 B is fitted with a gearbox-dependent one-circuit hydraulic system.

A three-circuit hydraulic system with a working pressure of up to 300 bar is the key feature of the M31 C allowing the independent and simultaneous operation of different devices. Last but not least is the M31 H, which is equipped with hydrostatic drive and features two, infinitely-variable, speed ranges.

A two-seater cab is fitted but the Multicar can be ordered with a five-seater crew cab and with a three-seater standard cab although the latter is on offer in left-hand-drive guise only. Also worth noting is the availability of a 7.5-tonner with a third, trailing, axle and a payload capacity of up to 4.0 tonnes.

Reinex of Germany has come up with a firefighting package for the M31 C that it says can be used to tackle small forest fires - a fogging system can be fitted and the little truck can be given the ability to douse itself - or minor blazes in congested city centres that a larger appliance may find difficult to access. It is already in service in Germany and Greece with the latter country deploying around 30 typically to fight scrub fires.

At its heart is a 1,800-litre fibreglass-reinforced plastic water tank with two baffles and a self-priming centrifugal pump. Driven by a hydraulic motor it can operate at low pressure with high volume; 4 bar at 700 litres a minutes, 6 bar at 600 litres a minute or 8 bar at 400 litres a minute.

The tank can alternatively be combined with a three-plunger high-pressure pump delivering 40 bar at 150 litres a minute. The package includes a hydraulically-driven reel that can accommodate a 40m hose.

It is also worth noting that the M31 C can be fitted with a winch or crane. As a consequence it could be used to help rescue individuals who have fallen down cliffs: again, cliff tops are not always easy to access in large vehicles.

All the modules available can be changed quickly.

So what' s a Multicar like to drive? We decided to sample a short-wheelbase M31 C 5.2-tonner.

First impressions are positive.

A wide door aperture with a grab-handle on the A-pillar and a single step just ahead of the wheel-arch makes the cab easy to enter for the driver and there is no lack of head or shoulder room. The air-sprung Isri driver's seat can be adjusted for height, reach and rake - there is a lumbar support too - and the steering column is height and angle adjustable.

Drivers wearing big working boots will find that there is plenty of room in the foot-well and the chunky switches on the central operating panel look easy enough to operate if you are wearing thick working gloves. There are more switches above the windscreen, including those that control the flashing orange warning beacon and the exterior working lights.

Buttons on the drop-down armrest allow the driver to raise or lower any front-mounted devices.

The radio is positioned above the windscreen and our M31 C was equipped with optional electric windows and air-conditioning.

All-round vision is fine. The bottom edge of the windscreen has been lowered to give the driver a clearer view of equipment fitted to the front of the vehicle and windows positioned low down in the cab doors give an unimpeded view of the kerb and the road surface.

From the safety viewpoint it is worth noting that the cab is DEKRA-certified in line with European Directive ECE-R-29 governing crash protection, which involves a front-end collision test and a particularly demanding test for the roof.

With more than enough performance to hold its own in urban and suburban traffic and on rural routes, Multicar rides surprisingly well, while direct, precise steering aids its handling. It is highly-manoeuvrable too, with a tight turning circle enabling it to swing round quickly in narrow city side streets: crawler mode can be engaged if you need to inch along really slowly.

Our demonstrator came with a standard five-speed manual gearbox with first gear towards rather than away from the driver. Initially it felt a little stiff and awkward with a wide-spaced gate, but we soon got used to it and eventually found we could nip from one gear to another reasonably rapidly.

One thing that really stands out is Multicar's build quality. It has improved by leaps and bounds over the years, with no squeaks or rattles.

Disc brakes are fitted all round with ABS and M31 C comes with part-time four-wheel-drive as standard.

The operator can press a button on the operating panel to engage it, and then pushes another one to engage the limited-slip rear differential if needed. A low-range set of gears is available if the terrain proves particularly demanding giving a choice of ten forward and two reverse gears.

We switched to 4x4, squelched into a sodden field and made steady progress for a while. Our truck was fitted with standard rather than off-road tyres so we got stuck momentarily but managed to extricate ourselves without too much drama.

Maximum overall width is a slim 1.8m and our test truck could handle a 2,400kg payload and haul a trailer grossing at 3,500kg.

M31 prices start at £42,000 in the UK and a 12-month warranty is standard. Most models sold in Britain are however supplied with an extra-cost 24- or 36-month warranty extension.

Verdict?

Multicar's M31 C's compact dimensions, off-road capabilities and on-board hydraulics make it the ideal platform for a fire appliance that needs to get to difficult-to-access locations - an isolated farm cottage up a muddy track for example - without getting bogged down. It is a useful addition to any firefighting fleet.

  • Operation Florian

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