In a class of its own

Hamilton contractor Brian Glass bought his Claas Ares 697 ATZ nine months ago and has already managed 761 hours.

Glass leased out the tractor and silage loader wagon to a large Waikato contractor until that company ceased trading earlier this year.

He then continued short-term leasing his Claas to other contractors and farmers as far away as Thames and Mangakino, making full use of the 50kmh transmission – one of the reasons he upgraded his 40km/h model Claas 696 tractor.

This season, Glass plans to do less leasing and refocus on contracting work, also utilising his second tractor, a five-year-old Case MX100 four-cylinder machine.

He’s already taken delivery of a new 32m3 Claas 4700 silage loader wagon and a round bale wrapper will follow.

Although most work has been towing a loader wagon or round baler, one of the more unusual tasks the Class Ares 697 ATZ performed was harvesting peat soil for garden shops.

A scraper unit takes off the top 50mm of soil and places the soil into rows and, after a drying period, a tractor-towed machine picks up the soil and a conveyor feeds it into a trailer towed by the Ares 697 ATZ. His Ares 697 ATZ was fitted with front and rear dual wheels.

This task could only be done in the driest two or three months of the year, this season starting around the end of the hay season.

Glass said his Claas out-performed some larger tractors thanks to its high power-to-weight ratio, even without any ballast water in the wheels.

“Out of the five tractors up there, this was the only Claas, and this tractor was the performing one.

Because they tow 10-tonne trailers with 10 or 12 tonne of dirt – it is a lot of drag, and this tractor has the right gearbox for it. It’s not a Vario, but it acts like a Vario – it will change gears fully automatic from A1 to D6.

The boys reckon this tractor performs because it doesn’t lose horsepower as much as Varios,” says Glass.

The model has huge cab space with both wide and long cabin dimensions. Even the comfy padded kiddie seat left enough space in the front for my legs.

There are plenty of places to put things too – there’s a parcel tray and manual holder on the drivers left, another large storage box on top of the cab ceiling, not to mention the refrigerated 1.5-litre bottle holder below the steering column (still with tiltable steering wheel).

It is above average in quietness too, keeping much of the sound outside. This quiet, coupled with the cab and front wheel suspension, makes the driving experience feel surreal.

Even the small things are important, like the large-sized rear vision mirrors and the mirror mounted on the rear door allowing the operator to readily see the hydraulics below with that door open.

Another reason the cab felt roomy was that the air-conditioning unit wasn’t hogging the cab ceiling. It is fitted on top of the bonnet, directly in front of the cabin glass.

Even better, the air-conditioning unit has climate air, where you can pre-set the most comfortable temperature, and it keeps it there.

Glass really likes the fact that he can confidently hand the tractor over to a new driver who can operate it easily.

I understand why because I found there aren’t many controls to worry about, and the ones that are there, are easy to understand.

The controls are in convenient positions, making full use of the right side pillar, and front right pillar – where the driver doesn’t have to look away from what they’re doing or where he is going.

The Deere Power Systems 6.8-litre turbocharged Tier 2 engine is rated at 149hp and 591Nm torque. The engine block forms the tractors frame.

Glass entered the Ares 697 ATZ in the tractor pull competition during the recent Mystery Creek Fieldays.

“This tractor got second dragging the new weight transfer sledge, out of the whole competition, against bigger tractors,” he says.

“It basically hangs on real well at 1400 revs. The gearbox, being fully automatic, can switch down a gear all the way and just keep going, whereas you can’t manually change ranges in other tractors. That is what makes the engine hang on.”

As the loader wagon fills up and becomes heavier, Glass doesn’t have to worry about what gear or range he is in because the transmission will chop down the gears and keep the engine spinning at your pre-set rpm.

The engine has two pre-set rpm options. In “economy” mode, it will change up at 1700rpm and down at 1400rpm. In “power” mode, the gearbox will change up at 2400rpm and down at 1700rpm, which is what he uses when pulling a heavy loader wagon.

“I had an eight-tonne empty loader wagon and it outperformed a 5.5-tonne loader wagon on a bigger tractor on the hills, because I was towing it further up the hills.

They have the weight balanced right on these tractors, the gear ratios are good and the traction-to-weight ratio on this is unreal.”

The Ares 697 ATZ has a fully automatic “Hexashift” gearbox with speed matching, so whatever speed you do, the computer figures out the ideal ratio and split shift the tractor should be in at that time.

The controls are slightly different to your average tractor – the main stick is the throttle – push it forward to rev the engine, repeated through a foot accelerator. There is no manual gear stick to change ratios on this machine.

The 50km/h transmission has 24 forward and 24 reverse speeds and four ratios (A-D) divided by six split-shift ranges. At the top of the throttle stick are four buttons.

Right at the bottom of the pillar are three buttons, which are a repeat of the split shifter and headland buttons located on the end of the throttle stick.

At the switch of a pillar-mounted button the operator can keep the tractor in the same range, and use the split shift manually.

When locked into a range, which Glass often does when in-paddock, if you want to shift up or down a range manually at any time you can press the trigger button on the front of the throttle stick and depress either the plus or minus button on the side. Other than that, the transmission was easy to learn and use.

“The good thing is, as soon as I finish with a loader wagon and I’m locked in a range, I just hit that switch and it becomes fully automatic. So the tractor goes down the road and I just use the throttle.”

Driving around, I could feel the split shift changes more easily than the range changes, which are all visible on the front right digital pillar display.

With a heavy silage loader wagon on the back, Glass says the changes are much less noticeable than on the bare tractor that I drove. The first job his Class Ares 697 ATZ performed was a road carting job with a fully laden 25-tonne wagon on the back.

Glass says he couldn’t even feel the range changes going up the steep hills.

The forward/reverse shuttle worked just as it should with great take-up in both directions from stopped, and moving into the opposite direction.

Four rear 60 litre/min hydraulic outlets are controlled in the cab via a stub armrest joystick operating the main pair and a nearby lever for the remaining two.

This Ares 697 ATZ model features front-wheel and four-point ATZ cab suspension. Both were above average and work outstandingly well to reduce bumps and operator fatigue on an unballasted 5630kg tractor.

“It is a very comfortable tractor with the front and cab suspension. Comments from every person who has driven in say it is the most comfortable tractor they have ever driven.”

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