Bus Stop Classics: Hino S’Elega • If Lexus Built a Bus

(first posted 28 May 2017)   

Think of Toyota and the first thing that’s likely to pop into your mind is a Corolla or a Camry. But the Toyota Group, like most Asian conglomerates, has an amazing number of subsidiaries and affiliates; you may be surprised to know that here in Japan you can buy a Toyota house, supposedly built with the same precision as an LS460 and the sturdiness of a Land Cruiser. But as we’re Curbside and not Neighborhood Classics, we’ll focus on Toyota’s wheeled products. One of the company’s major affiliates is Hino Motors, their large-vehicle manufacturer and a member of the Toyota family since 1967, and one of Hino’s most popular models is its large intercity and touring coach, the S’Elega. 

Hino is certainly an interesting company—it built its first vehicle in 1917, and was prior to WW II part of a conglomerate that included Isuzu Motors. After the war it focused primarily on diesel trucks and buses.

Renault-Hino 4CV

Hino Contessa

But it did assemble Renaults in Japan under license beginning in 1953.  Based on that experience, they launched their first in-house model in 1961, the Contessa. It was a compact car with a rear OHV longitudinal engine, i.e., very Renault-like. In 1964 it received a significant redesign with an attractive new body by Michelotti.  Alan Lacki has a great post on the Contessa here.

With its incorporation into the Toyota Group, Hino dropped its car line and focused on larger vehicles.  It’s currently the most popular truck and bus manufacturer in Japan; ahead of Isuzu, Mitsubishi, and Nissan, and has expanded significantly into Asia, the US, and Europe since the early 2000’s.  The S’Elega is its top-of-the-line intercity and touring coach.

The S’Elega comes in 12- and 9-meter lengths. The 12-meter version has a 12.9-litre turbocharged OHC six-cylinder Hino diesel that pushes out 450 bhp and 1560 lb·ft.

Recently here in Japan, tour companies have been offering premium services catered to a more well-heeled clientele, and the S’Elega is their coach of choice.  It can be configured with upscale “first class” seating—not a bad way to see the sights, though pricey.

I’ve had the opportunity to ride in several S’Elegas, and can confirm they are very Lexuslike. Fit and finish are perfect; panel gaps are small and uniform, and line up exactly, not something you typically expect to find in a bus. The ride is very quiet and composed—the quietness was what surprised me most, I’m used to a few rattles when riding a bus, but there are none here.

Fairly close to our home is the Hamura Hino Assembly facility, a sprawling factory that encompasses four or five city blocks and has its own banked test track. Each Spring they open the gates and invite the public in to enjoy the cherry blossoms scattered around the plant.

They also offer a variety of attractions, my favorite being a bus ride around the test track—pretty entertaining as you round a 39% bank in a bus going about 100 km/h. No photography was permitted at the track, but they did allow pictures at the loading point. This S’Elega had the new diesel-electric hybrid power train.

Maybe if I hit the lottery I can afford to ride in a Premium model one day…