Built from a tractor down
The Kubota RTV900 incorporates technology gained through years of providing solid, robust tractors to the world market
There is an increasing number and variety of Special Performance Vehicles (SPV) coming onto the New Zealand market. Some are developed from All Terrain Vehicles (ATV), some based around generator engines, a few with suspension – some without, two seaters, three seaters, six wheelers, narrow track, wide track and differing top speed vehicles with all manner of carrying capabilities. So which is the best way to go?
Hamilton’s Doug McFarlane Ltd provided our test RTV900, so we tried it out on a few rolling hills in the Waikato to see what it could do.
I turned the key after receiving a basic run-down on the controls from managing director Stuart McFarlane, bringing the diesel engine to life. I slipped it into the middle of three speed ranges (infinitely variable) and it became immediately obvious how smooth the RTV900 rode over rough ground. Even in high ratio, the leaf spring rear suspension and independent MacPherson Strut front suspension soaked up the bumps the faster I went – without compromising handling or safe control. Not a bad start.
Many SPVs don’t have any engine braking and tend to run away downhill because they have a variable pulley and belt drive system. No problem on the RTV900 as the non-belt hydrostatic drive system gives rock solid engine braking as soon as the driver takes their foot off the accelerator. I tried it out going down a couple of pretty steep hills, stopping at the steepest point to see what would happen. The braking effect was so good, the RTV900 almost stopped of its own accord. When I did need help, the tractor-like four-wheel oil immersed brakes hauled the RTV900 to an immediate stop.
Just like you’d find on a tractor, the powerplant and HST dual pump hydrostatic drive system are one rigid unit. The foot throttle works both the engine and the drive unit, giving a maximum top speed of 40kph. The three-cylinder 898cc diesel develops almost 22hp at 3200rpm, but its torque rating must be high because the acceleration rate of the 830kg SPV was pretty good. Going up the same hills, the only limitation seemed to be traction through the tyres – on wet grass the day we tested. The engine held on no problem as the RTV900 drove up the hills in selectable 4WD and lockable Diff. Lock, although you have to pick the correct ratio at the foot of the hill. Noise from the diesel engine wasn’t loud enough for me to even take notice and the exhaust comes standard with a spark arrestor.
The wide track and low mounted running gear meant the RTV900 had a good tip-over threshold as I deliberately drove across the hills. The roll -over protection bars are large in size and look sturdy. Of interest to forestry gangs and council workers, there is room for three people on the bench seat – but only two seatbelts. There’s adequate legroom inside the cab, which is protected from debris carried on the tray by a wire mesh mounted behind the seat area. A large PVC roof offers further protection from the sun and rain. Up front is a generously sized bull bar and even a place to fit a steel plate for a towrope.
A big feature of this Kubota is the hydraulic tipper, as most tipper SPVs are manually operated. Hit the lever on the left side of the driver and the large, 740kg capacity carry tray will rise no matter what physical condition you are in. Another standout feature is the power steering. This means easy steering for people of any size or gender. It seemingly makes the RTV900 ride the bumps smoother because the steering wheel isn’t ripped out of your hands or deflected when driven over paddock debris or a track rut. Mounted under the seat, the 28-litre fuel tank should keep the machine running all day
A huge feature is two 22-litre/min quick release hydraulic couplings, just like a tractor's, so it can run a small bale feeder or small hydraulic tip trailer. Councils could also use it for pruning branches with hydraulic loppers, or even a farmer who wants to split logs.
The RTV900 is registerable as it comes with a full functioning lighting and indicator system. The radiator has removable gauze and is situated under the seat to eliminate mud caking, and on an angle to minimise blockages. At the rear, the towbar is connected to a large diameter bar, which is connected to the rear axle, not to a fragile casting, which forms part of the diff. Although it has a small glovebox, about the only thing lacking on the RTV900 is a decent storage box to keep things dry. McFarlane said they will be addressing that in the near future, and a curved windscreen will be available shortly.
Compared with anything else on the market, it has more power, rides smoother and there’s no drive belts or chains.
Who’s going to buy the RTV900? "Basically, people coming up from the using the John Deere Gators and Kawasaki Mules, who want to go the next step up," says McFarlane. "They’d move for better reliability, good ground clearance, power steering and to get away from the high maintenance chains and belts. Specification wise, most of the others are designed from motorcycles up to the All Terrain Vehicle, whereas the RTV900 is designed from the tractor down."
Retailing for $26,600, the Kubota RTV900 is easily the best and most useful SPV I’ve tested so far.
By Terry Stevenson
Engine make: Kubota D902
Engine type: 3 cylinders, 4 cycle, diesel, OHV
Displacement (cc): 898
Horsepower (hp/kW): 21.6/16.1 @ 3200
Fuel capacity: min 30L
Ground speed (kph): 0-40
Width (mm): 1520
Height (mm): 2015
Wheelbase (mm): 1965