Review: John Deere Gator XUV 855m

Farm Trader’s Willie McKnight tests the John Deere Gator XUV 855M

With a list of farm jobs a mile long waiting to be done, the Gator wasn’t long off the AGrowQuip delivery trailer before being put to work on the farm.

First impressions

The iconic John Deere Gator XUV 855M

Like most John Deere designs, this Gator is built to last. First impressions are of brute strength; its wide stance and solid chassis offer plenty of deck space for a variety of farm tasks.

With a long wheelbase and low centre of gravity, there is plenty of stability here, which makes it an ideal all-round workhorse. The Roll Over Protection Structure (ROPS), or as John Deere calls it, the Operator Protection System (OPS), adds to the butch appearance and provides a strong base for optional accessories.


John Deere released its first Gator in 1992. The design was based on its earlier (1987) All Materials Transport (AMT) vehicle, which had a small front wheel and four back wheels. Gators first came out as 6×6 or 4×4 and were new and innovative to the market then. The design has continued to evolve but that early reputation as a ‘go anywhere do anything’ machine has remained.

Today’s version of the Gator boasts a lot to like. Safety features have evolved significantly; there is an improved centre of gravity, ground clearance has improved along with suspension, and this model, released in 2018, has much to offer.


Powered by the well-known and long-lasting three-cylinder Yanmar motor, this is mounted low in the chassis under the rear cargo deck, giving it a low centre of gravity by putting the weight over the back wheels.

Engine cooling is liquid from a large radiator up front with good airflow to it, and a big fan to suck in air if need be. Access to the motor is easy – just tilt the deck with one easy handle on the driver’s side.

With the engine being diesel and weighing in at 23hp and 17kW, the unit was a little sluggish to get moving initially. This is largely due to the power to weight ratio, but once it gets moving and you put your foot down, it easily gets up to its top speed of 42kmp/h (depending on load and terrain).

If speed is a top priority, other John Deere Gator models are available with higher horsepower. Or you could make the switch to the petrol engine, which offers almost double the horsepower (at 54hp).

Towing capacity is 680kg 

The Gator pulls well, particularly in low gear, proving itself with our tandem bike trailer full of hay, which totalled around 500kg, close to its stated towing capacity of 680kg. By the feel of things, I could tell it would perform well even with a bigger load.

One thing I did notice early on is that the engine is louder than some other models I’ve driven, but an engine cover would reduce this noise. As with all diesel engines, you can hear and feel the inductive noise from the machine.


Like most side by sides, the John Deere Gator features a continuous variable transmission (CVT). This model runs a double-sided cogged drive belt for added longevity. Fitted with a CVT intake system, the belt temperature is reduced, which improves the overall durability of the drive belt.

If you’re used to a unit with active descent control or engine braking, one of the first things you’ll notice once behind the wheel is the lack of this feature. If you’re not aware, you could freewheel as you crest a hill or go through a gateway.

Once you take this into account, however, you can easily manage it by working the accelerator and brake in unison to keep the CVT belt engaged. This is something a novice or beginner driver should be made aware of. Once you’ve adjusted your driving to this system, it becomes second nature. Dynamic engine breaking is available in other models of the Gator.


The large central LED display

The cockpit of the Gator feels nice and roomy. With an adjustable steering column, upright seating for two people, and two seatbelts, the controls are easy to reach, with three gears (apart from neutral): low, high, and reverse.

The brake lever is push button and there’s a manual diff lock lever. For added safety, the seatbelt alarm beeps when your speed reaches over 20km/h – a useful reminder to put your seatbelt on. An alarm also alerts if the hand brake is left on when moving.

The central LED display has all the usual features: temperature, revs, speed, fuel gauge, trip meter, odometer, and hour meter. All that’s missing is that handy clock and a horn (although to be fair, phones have replaced clocks these days in most cases).

The unit comes with door nets and half and full doors are optional extras

The demo Gator we drove came standard with door nets, which we removed for extra speed while feeding out and hopping in and out of the vehicle regularly. The unit still meets safety standards without the nets, so long as you’re wearing seatbelts. A full or half door is also available as an optional extra.

I felt it was easier to get in and out of the Gator with the nets removed when doing a multitude of tasks on the farm. While there’s plenty of headroom with the operator protection system (OPS) design, I did find that the low roof moulding, coupled with the windscreen frame, somewhat impeded an uninterrupted view out of the front window.

However, it could just be that my height had me sitting in exactly the wrong place. A different roof or windscreen option would easily fix this. I’m a bit of a pack rat so like plenty of storage to hide away all of my tools and extras.

The bench seat offers plenty of passenger room

While there are two cup holders, an open glovebox on the passenger side, and a storage container under the driver’s seat, I’d prefer more storage holds. One thing many side by sides don’t give great thought to in the design process is the ease of access for servicing.

John Deere ticks all the boxes here, with the 27-litre fuel tank under the driver’s seat and the battery on the passenger side easily accessible just by lifting the seat. The radiator and brake fluid are under the front bonnet, so are nice and simple to access for servicing, and the full engine can be accessed by simply tilting the deck.  


Equipped with two front halogen lights as standard, there were no options for high or low settings on this demo machine. However, provisions for extra lighting are included, enabling each customer to customise their own as per their requirements. A well-placed LED light bar would be the perfect addition to finish off the package.

A favourite for me was the inbuilt reverse lights in the corner of the deck. These are useful when reversing for lighting up the way behind, particularly at night with the lights automatically engaging as soon as you start reversing. Also, when the key is turned off, the lights stay on for another 10 seconds, which is handy for gathering your things up or giving you time to shut or lock a shed or gate.

Cargo deck

The practical deck is ideal for a team of farm dogs and fencing supplies

At almost 1.2 metres wide and 1.3 metres long, the deck is a practical size. The fact you can take the sides off and make it a flat deck is a bonus and allows for some fairly hefty loads to be tackled.

The deck is plastic-coated for non-slip durability

The strong steel deck is plastic-coated with a spray-in liner, which gives excellent protection against the elements and delivers a non-slip surface. The moulded plastic sides have plenty of tie-down points, and there’s also a tie-down top rail.

Easy to open tail gate

By removing three hex key bolts, the sides can be easily removed to make a flat deck, which is super handy for larger loads. The tailgate comes with a ute-styled centre handle. Strong wire rope on each side holds the tailgate flat allowing you to easily load or unload and again extends the deck size.

Tie-down top rails on the deck are useful

My farm dogs enjoyed the ride around the farm, with plenty of room for them, even with the addition of reels and standards, which, thanks to the standard non-slip coating, didn’t roll around. On this demo model, there’s a manual process to tip the deck from the driver’s side. An upgrade is available to allow electric auto tip from the cab. 


Bull bar all round add to the strong look

The John Deere list of accessories, attachments, and implements are impressive. From camo wraps to winches, doors, and a fully enclosed cabin with plush interior, you can style or upgrade your Gator to suit your requirements.

Accessories such as headrests can be attached with Easy Clips  

The XUV that AGrowQuip Cambridge kindly supplied was fitted with full wraparound bull bars, a glass window screen, and wiper (perfect for when the rain set in). It was also fitted with an open back screen and headrests. The attachments are easy to install or uninstall with big clips, which fasten securely, in keeping with traditional John Deere build.

The Gator XUV 855M has a convenient plug-and-play wiring system for easily adding attachments such as winches or extra lighting. I liked the nifty fact that the box section tow bar can be quickly removed and fitted on the front of the Gator.

Just remove the pin, out it comes, and you can swap it over – perfect for backing a boat or trailer into a tight shed where you need maximum visibility and don’t want the restrictions of backing.


Rear suspension is fully independent dual A-arm with adjustable coils and sway bar

The Gator is equipped with good brakes, even when under full load. The four-wheel twin-piston calliper disc brakes offer impressive stopping power. The hand brake is in the driveline and holds extremely well, but just to be fussy, I did miss the usual John Deere park brake in the transmission that I’m used to in the tractors.

The combination of a true four-wheel-drive system, mechanical diff lock, and awesome gripping ANCLA XTS tyres, meant that traction was never a problem, even on our steep terrain. Suspension features fully independent dual A-arm with adjustable coils on the front. The same applies to the rear but with the addition of a sway bar, which makes for a stable and comfy ride.


First impressions are of a solid machine built to last 

The solid, dependable John Deere build makes this the ideal rough and tumble unit for those looking for a crossover utility. The fact you can choose from so many options, including a full cab, winches, and air conditioning, delivers a versatile unit suited to a variety of tasks, from horses or lifestyle jobs through to everyday farming.  

With the tail gate down, the deck size is ideal for carting bales of hay

The generous deck size is ideal for carrying larger loads and maximising efficiency. As you would expect from a John Deere machine, the quality of the build stands out and should mean this is a machine you can hand on down through the generations.

John Deere quality – built to last 

These units are renowned for their long life, and now that I’ve experienced the drive, I can see why. The Yanmar engines are notoriously trouble-free. There’s something to be said for a practical design over anything flashy, which is ideal for the market it’s targeting. There’s nothing unnecessary here to complicate driving or performance; it’s all good solid work horse stuff.

John Deere Gator XUV 855m specifications


22.8hp, four-cycle diesel, liquid cooling system

Fuel capacity



Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with clutch enclosure


1143 x 304.8 x 1320mm

Deck capacity


Towing capacity


Front suspension

Fully independent dual A-arm with adjustable coils

Rear suspension

Fully independent dual A-arm with adjustable coils and sway bar


Front/rear hydraulic disc with twin piston front calipers



Dry weight


Length x width x height

2992mm x 1571mm x 1903 mm

Ground clearance

280 mm


Standard two-inch receiver


  • Build quality
  • Stability and low centre
  • of gravity
  • Generous deck size
  • Placement of tie-down points


  • No active control descent
  • Loud diesel engine noise

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Photography: Oliver Shergold

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