Read It & Drive

    Mar 29, 2009

By Karen Keb Acevedo & Jennifer Nice

Last fall, I racked up a few frequent flyer miles traveling around the country testing out new equipment product lines. I saw first-hand innovative technology on tractors, implements, utility vehicles, ATVs, et cetera that has kept some engineers busy for—in some cases—many years. From California to Utah to Virginia to Florida I went, watching PowerPoint presentations and, thankfully, riding lots of cool equipment in all sorts of terrain and conditions.

The popularity of utility vehicles is on the rise among hobby farmers, and it’s no wonder. Today’s UTVs come in a multitude of sizes and horsepower, with features that enhance comfort, power and durability. In fact, any piece of equipment—tractors included—that makes itself easier to use is appealing to us. Here’s a glimpse of some exciting new models:

Club Car
Not Just for the Club Anymore
If you’ve ever spent any time on a golf course, chances are you’ve seen or driven a golf cart; chances are even greater that the vehicle was a Club Car.
Transport now to the farm ... Club Car, an Ingersoll Rand brand, has launched the new XRT series of consumer UTVs.

Built on a steel frame with lots of bells and whistles, the new XRT900 Series of utility vehicles doesn’t cost a fortune—from $6,899 (MSRP) for the XRT950 4x2 to $8,899 (MSRP) for the XRT950 EX 4x4 with independent rear suspension, four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes, and 25-inch tires; also included are alloy wheels, windshield, canopy, rear enclosure, brush guard and fog lights.

Club Car has partnered with industry leaders like Bestop (makers of Jeep enclosures and accessories) to manufacture vehicles that allow users to drive through mud, rain and snow without feeling the effects, and Briggs & Stratton Vanguard engines to afford a smoother delivery of power.

Along with fellow members of the press, I got to drive the new XRTs with reps from Club Car last July in Wintergreen, Va. With about 20 different Club
Car XRT models to choose from, we were given free reign of the trails. The XRT handled everyday obstacles like tree roots, mud bogs, logs and rocks without batting a headlight. It handled extreme uphill and downhill situations just as readily.

At Wintergreen, we not only tested the Club Car XRT, but we also were offered its closest competitor—which will remain nameless—to discern the differences. Even to a utility-vehicle novice like me, the differences were obvious. The XRT felt safe, secure, powerful, versatile and fun! I especially appreciated the demonstration of the XRT’s ability to do farm work—its exclusive IntelliTach system is the only fully hydraulic-powered, quick-changing tool-attachment system in the industry.—KKA

Honda Big Red
A Big Deal
When I think about Hondas, I think about cars: dependable, high quality and smartly styled. Honda has applied these same principles to their first utility vehicle, Big Red, which was in the making by Honda’s top engineers for many years.

Blue skies and blue water prevailed on Catalina Island in August, where Honda’s Big Red “multipurpose utility vehicle” (MUV) was introduced.
What struck me first was how big Big Red was. At more than 5 feet wide and 6 feet tall, this machine is sturdy and built for a variety of tasks from farm jobs, hunting and fishing to just exploring—exactly what we did driving along the dusty hills of the island, peering over cliffs and maneuvering through canyons. With an automatic transmission similar to the one in your pickup truck, the Hondamatic features a heavy-duty torque converter instead of a belt; that means this thing is highly durable. Its design also makes it impervious to water-induced slippage from stream crossings and mud, too—handy around a farm, no doubt.

Honda’s engineers have really thought out the design of this vehicle and have made it highly versatile. Changing drive modes from 2WD to 4WD to 4WD with locked differentials is easy with a single-lever control; four disc brakes offer linear, confident stopping power thanks to the supersized pistons in their calipers; and the 675cc liquid-cooled engine features fuel injection for power and smooth operation. With a receiver-type trailer hitch, a tilt dump bed and a three-point automotive-type restraint system, the Big Red is a great all-around farm vehicle.—KKA

Honda Rancher AT
No Problem for Newbie
Last October, when I was invited to spend three days in the Utah desert riding the Honda Rancher ATV with a group of journalists, my first thought was “Yes!” But wait a second, I thought, I’ve never ridden an ATV before, unless you count going over a few little obstacle courses set up on previous product launches. Past inexperience aside, I took up Honda on their offer and set off for the Wasatch Mountains to ride part of the Paiute ATV Trail.

We set out from Ritchfield, Utah, which is extremely ATV friendly. You can ride straight out of town and head for the trails, arriving in just a few minutes. After a thorough safety briefing on day one, we hit the trail with about 15 people in our caravan, and I had the chance to finally become hands-on acquainted with an ATV. Do you remember the scene in the movie “What About Bob?” when he’s tied to the sailboat’s mast and he screams “I’m Sailing!”? Well, that was me—“I’m riding!” To be out in nature, among the vivid, yellow aspen trees, wind in my helmet and traversing the land so easily, was incredible. Even more incredible was that my first ATV experience was on a machine like the Rancher, which for me, is now the benchmark.

The Rancher AT has an innovative Honda automatic five-speed transmission featuring auto-shifting (fully automatic) or push-button shifting (ESP mode, the rider shifts the gearbox with two handlebar-mounted buttons), independent rear suspension, Honda’s selectable 4WD/2WD Traxlox system, and a torque-sensing front differential. I rode both, and while the ESP mode was easy enough to control, I preferred the fully automatic transmission—nothing to distract me from those Aspens!

When riding up and down trails like those in Rock Canyon, an ATV’s transmission becomes very important. In the Rancher’s automatic mode, all of the shifting is controlled by an Electronic Control Module (ECM), which measures throttle opening and driveshaft speed; if the speed drops, the system will downshift itself, maintaining true controlled compression braking. This enabled me to feel safe and in control at all times.

The big change to the 2009 Rancher AT is the shift to a fully independent rear-suspension system. This lets each rear wheel travel independently over uneven ground, which increases both ride quality and traction. I can’t imagine traversing those rocks, streams and logs without it—I moved with the machine, not against it. Also, with 9.1 inches of ground clearance, the Rancher’s rugged frame and suspension had no problem climbing rocks on the Paiute Trail. The thickly padded seat allowed me to comfortably ride 95 miles on day one and about 65 miles on day two.

The Rancher AT performs real work just as easily as it does on the trail. Large cargo racks in the front and rear carry payloads of 66 and 133 pounds, respectively—good enough for a big bale of hay! A heavy-duty trailer hitch with an 850-pound towing capacity will undoubtedly come in handy around the farm. This machine can work all day on the farm, then be worked to death on the trail and do it all over again the next day.—KKA

John Deere
All About Easy
John Deere has dubbed 2009 the “year of the utility tractor,” and last October in Sarasota, Fla., they took the opportunity to introduce some exciting new features to its 5 Series (45-105 hp) and 6 Series (100- 140 hp) utility tractors. John Deere has done what they call “customer-focused innovation”; in other words, they’ve listened to you and gone back to the drawing board to produce the changes you’ve asked for. Specifically, these changes include increased comfort and ease of operation; increased reliability and durability; tools for increasing productivity and efficiency; and of course, an affordable price tag.

The 5D and 5E Series (45-75 hp) are admittedly low on frills and price, but high on durability and performance. The 5D is offered in 2WD, and the 5E is offered in 2WD as well as mechanical front-wheel drive (MFWD). These open-station tractors have synchronized transmissions for smooth shifting and easy-to-reach, color-coded controls for simple operation. The 5E Limited Series (83-101 hp) come equipped with more deluxe features including a cab, PowerReverser transmission, wet-traction clutch and MFWD axle. The 5M Series (65-105 hp) are higher-end machines that feature new transmissions, increased lift capacities, more stability for larger implements and a new operator station designed with greater comfort and productivity in mind. All 5 Series tractors can be matched up with an array of implements offered by John Deere and Frontier Equipment.

The 6D Series tractors also offer new features, but with more horsepower and comfort. The transmission has been improved on this series, with the all new 9F/9R electro-hydraulic PowerReverser being standard equipment. Once the operator sets the range and gear, a handy left-hand reverser lever is used to move the tractor forward or into reverse without clutching. Loader work is easier and more efficient with this new transmission. John Deere has also improved visibility to the front of the tractor by relocating the exhaust pipe and improved visibility to the rear by repositioning the hydraulic selective-control valves; operators now have an unobstructed view to the front loader and rear drawbar.

Other features include an exclusive telescopic/tilt steering wheel, which can be set for ideal positioning for any operator height and a high-capacity air conditioning/heating system to keep the operator comfortable in all weather conditions. An optional two-function mechanical joystick is available for optimum loader operation, too. The 6D Series tractors are available in 2WD or MFWD. The rugged axle design allows for a tight turning radius to maneuver efficiently in headlands, livestock-building areas, and many loader applications around the home, work, farm and ranch operation.

Both the 5 and 6 Series tractors are amazingly competitively priced for all the new features they offer.—KKA

Big Bertha? Look Again
At first glance, Kubota’s M8540 Power Krawler looks behemoth. But look at it from another angle, and this New Age workhorse is surprisingly compact.
Measuring just 54-inches wide, Kubota’s latest creation had vineyard managers and wine-grape growers in Napa Valley lining up to take a closer look when the company unveiled it during a special event held at Piña Vineyards in July. Even with a sticker price of about $51,000, these wine-industry professionals could immediately see how this tractor’s cost could be justified once put to work between the narrow rows of steep, hillside vineyards that surround the valley.

Davie Piña of Piña Vineyard Management was the first to try the Power Krawler, and he’ll likely be the first one in Napa Valley to own one. Two years ago, Piña and his crew put the prototype of the Krawler through its paces for an entire season on hundreds of acres of vineyards as part of Kubota’s test program. They logged 840 hours on the prototype. At the conclusion of the program, Piña didn’t want to give the Krawler back, so he ordered one to add to his fleet of more than 35 other Kubota tractors.

“When you first see it, it has a ‘wow’ factor, but it’s what it can do that is really impressive,” says Piña, whose company has been farming wine grapes in Napa Valley for more than 40 years. “Our guys put everything they could on this thing, from tillers and discs to spreaders and sprayers, and they were really impressed with it. We also tested it out in one of our steepest vineyards, and it pulled a 300-gallon tank right up the hill without any problem.”

The Power Krawler’s independent rear oscillating crawlers provide superior traction and climbing force with increased maneuverability and stability, especially over hilly and muddy terrain. Although the crawlers provide greater ground contact and traction, because they disperse the weight of the tractor more evenly, they apply less psi of ground pressure than traditional tractors—60 percent less. As a result, the Krawler has caught the eye of not only the grape farming industry but also those who manage orchards and other crops cultivated on hillsides.—JN

Originally published in the November 2008 on

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