Test: Claas Arion 640
The new Claas Arion 640 really lives up to its name with an all-class cab fit-out, lockable front suspension, adjustable cab suspension and much, much more...
Unfortunately the heading of this article is by no means an accurate description of the way I drove the Claas Arion 640 during my test — quite the opposite really. In my defence though, when approaching an intersection in a tractor fitted with CVT, all you do is remove your foot from the accelerator, dab the brakes and everything is tickety boo. However, my test tractor had gears (which, believe it or not, I was aware of at the time) but when I approached the intersection, I took my foot off the accelerator, dabbed the brakes (commented that I thought they were touchy), proceeded to push the brakes harder because I wasn't slowing down and eventually stalled the tractor. Now, this is a very embarrassing situation for anyone, but was even worse as sitting beside me was Dave Knowles, national sales manager for Claas tractors. It would be fair to say this didn't set a great tone for the test but I am happy to report it all happened rather smoothly — just not gracefully. I might also add the brakes are not touchy and as a bonus, here's a Farm Trader top tip: if you stall the new Claas Arion 640, act like it never happened. It'll probably be fairly subtle and you won't cause too much commotion.
For tractor companies it is an exciting time whenever a new model is launched to the market. Not only does this mean new gizmos to play with but also road shows and demonstrations which get them out of the office and into the seat. This is also a good time to buy a tractor as you can either get a very good deal on the run out model or be one of the first to own the new and improved model.
One of my favourite parts of this job is getting to test these new models as they hit the market. This was no different with the newly released Claas Arion and with a new cab and styling to boot, it was time to get in and blow some black smoke.
Unfortunately, due to the new emissions regulations, blowing black smoke actually rarely happens these days which seems like a bit of a shame, but more of a disappointment (in my opinion) is how the new generation of tractors sound. There is very little 'bark' from most new models, which has been replaced by a 'whizz' from the complicated EGR or SCR that few buyers really grasp properly (including myself, although I will attempt to explain later on). Nonetheless, we soldier on with the promised fuel savings at the front of our minds.
The new Claas Arion 640
So what has changed? Quite a lot actually but you still have two spec levels — the more basic CIS (Claas Information System) which has mechanical spools and through the dash display. CIS allows adjustment of key tractor functions such as transmission and engine settings for example; or the more techno-savvy CEBIS version which was the spec on the test tractor, and the 21cm monitor mounted on the armrest is a huge improvement over the old model which was tucked down the right-hand consol and often awkward to read. With this spec you get a big grunty drive stick also housing headland management, linkage, spool valves and preset engine settings amongst other things.
The most dramatic engine changes have come in the form of the EGR system on the engine to meet Stage 3B emissions standards. Other handy inclusions are the use of a new variable geometry turbo, a tweaked common-rail system (operating at 2000 bar) and a bigger radiator pack boosting cooling capacity by 35%. This is needed as it is no secret within the industry that these EGR tractors defiantly do run hotter than their predecessors.
Power output has slightly increased over the previous models but Claas has dropped the 610 and added the 650 to the line up, with the latter topping the range with a max output of 184hp. In the last series the flagship 640 was the only one to boost. In the new line up Claas has opted not to offer engine boost citing customers wanted the power available to them all the time — now they have had their prayers answered. With this power all the time the tractor has been beefed up to handle it and as a spinoff of the extra strength and a slight 15cm increase in length has allowed the new 650 to tip the scales (max carrying) at 12 tonnes, nearly three tonne over and above the old 640.
What is EGR?
There is no doubt the introduction of Stage 3B or Stage 4 interim has changed the way tractor engines are designed forever. When Stage 4 final standards are enforced in 2015, the amount of soot and nitrogen oxide coming out of the clean air pipe (formally referred to as the exhaust pipe) will be almost nonexistent. When this happens the latest trucks and tractors will literally help clean the air in polluted cities, like Beijing, because you can guarantee what is coming out is sure to be cleaner than what is going in!
So as I'm sure you are aware, there are two paths manufacturers can go down. The first and most common is the AdBlue route, seeing two fuels added — diesel and AdBlue (nitrogen-based liquid) — which run through a SCR (selective catalytic reduction) system. The second path is the road less travelled but John Deere is the only manufacturer to go down the EGR (engine gas recirculation) route, and as Deere manufactures the Claas engines, by default, it has followed. It should be pointed out though that apart from the engine itself, the tractor is all Claas designed and built.
There are three key steps to the EGR system. The first is the cooling and recirculation of exhaust gases (called EGR) then the DOC (diesel oxidation catalytic converter) then the DPF (diesel particulate filter) which periodically burns itself clean through the regeneration system.
Regeneration of DPF filters consumes between one and two litres of fuel and Claas estimates the unit needs to be swapped anywhere between 3500 and 7000 hours, depending on the workload (the harder they work, the longer you will get from a filter). The DPF filter on the Claas needs to regenerate at around 130 hours. This takes place automatically and a little symbol appears on the dash to let you know it is taking place, although it will increase the revs slightly which will be a dead giveaway. You can override this if need be although it isn't the preferred option, and if you do this 20 times the engine will de-rate and need to be parked and left running to burn the DPF filter clean.
Suspension and brakes
This new Arion would have to be up in the top two most comfortable tractors I have ever tested. The independent front suspension, the tweaked cab suspension and the CEBIS armrest make for an enjoyable day in the office.
Because the new cab is heavier, Claas has revised the suspension system. However, it has stuck with the four-point design although the suspension travel in the cab increased to 50%. The front suspension has also had a facelift with larger oil pipes and accumulators closer to the axle itself giving faster reaction times and, as a result, a smoother ride. Now independent front suspensions are undoubtedly more effective at soaking up the bumps but what they give you with one hand, they take away with the other and the on-going maintenance of these has to be costly given the number of moving parts. I know the old Arions had 24 grease nipples on the suspended front axle but I didn't actually count the number on the new model, although there seemed to be plenty. On a more positive note, the axle can be locked in the lowest position with the touch of a button. Braked front axles are an option on all of the tractors, although is standard on the 640 and 650 models. On the road the tractor ticked along exceptionally smoothly at 52km which, given how quiet and smooth it was, felt like we were only doing 40km in eco mode, so top marks all round in the suspension department.
Claas has stuck with the established Hexashift transmission which offers four ranges with six power shift gears in each range. This is a great transmission and, although not technically a full power shift, is near enough to make no difference. Claas has sped up the range changes to limit the delay and as a result will limit the amount of forward speed lost when working in the field and conditions become difficult. A new feature is the ability to automatically save the last forward or reverse gear. So when rolling a stack, for example, a forward speed of six kilometres per hour (B6) and a reverse speed of four kilometres per hour (B4) can be selected so you don't have to change up and down gears all day.
There are two settings for auto shifting — field and road. In field mode you push the auto button and then select a gear, say B4. By pulling back on the gear shifter, a red line will come over B5 and B6 which will only allow the tractor during that job to auto shift between gears B1 and B4 — clever.
The auto feature has a lot more flexibility built into it, where on the CEBIS you dial into the computer and a rev counter will be displayed. Flick the dial right around to the left and you are in 'auto' (auto-auto shifting mode I suppose it is called) but fundamentally the tractor's trans and engine will constantly talk to each other and figure out the most efficient gear to be in. The Hexactiv can also be set to manual, where the operator elects to set when the transmission should shift up or down a gear. Finally scrolling around to the far right you enter PTO mode which will automatically change up and down depending on the load on the PTO. Speaking of PTO, Claas has done away with manual levers for changing speed and opted for the push button approach to the 540/1000 and related eco functions.
We are seeing a shift from manufacturers to bring the comfort levels usually associated with the larger high horsepower tractors down into the lower horsepower brackets and integrating the design and layout for operators running a fleet of various horsepower tractors from the same stable.
Claas is no different with the basic layout and design that is fitted to the Axion 900 range, with the only difference being the fifth pillar on the left to allow the size of the door to be reduced, making it easier to open and close, which I am a huge fan of. I dislike one-piece doors, particularly in windy old Taradise.
Due to the new design a larger back window is now in order and makes for easy viewing of rear implements. A monitor rail is located at a practical height along the right-hand door although between this and the monitor on the armrest the view out the window is impeded. Luckily they have opted for one-piece front windscreens and more of a wasp-shaped bonnet which does increase forward visibility over the old model.
The dash has a curved top to match the profile of the steering wheel, which is a nice touch although I thought it was a little small given it's the only place to retrieve information on the CIS models. On a more positive note the steering column and dash all fold up and out of the way as one piece via a foot pedal, making getting in and out a breeze. Some of us went to school to eat our lunch, but now everyone can as the fold-down back of the instructor seat doubles as storage and the air-con cooled box under the seat has room for a couple of 1.5-litre bottles and some Scooby snacks for the long days. Overall the cab was very pleasant, light and comfortable with loads of adjustment for individual drivers to find a comfy posse and plenty of storage available for the hoarders among us.
Two fuel tanks, the main left-hand 280L plus an additional 50L tank on the right, will keep you topped up all day. If you do work into the night and you need to switch the candles on, there are up to 14 lights able to be spec'd on the tractor, plus the xenon option. The lights have a memory function so your last configuration will come up by default and you can set the lights to stay on two minutes after you turn the tractor off to avoid tripping over the pitch fork on the way out of the shed.
Five-hundred-hour service intervals for the engine and 1000 for trans and hydraulics are now standard, and for day-to-day operation the left-hand step opens up with space for a good-size toolbox, the battery slides out for easy access and it all stows away neatly out of the dust.
Hydraulics and linkage
On the CEBIS spec'd tractors the proportional control rocker switches in the armrest can take care of up to four rear spools with the Electro pilot joystick taking care of either two of the rear or the front linkage department. All have time and flow control options and can be timed into the headland management system. The linkage has been made much easier to fire up and also has a damper and lock switches for on the road. The depth control wheel is now set in a much more user-friendly position up to the front end of the armrest. With 110L/min flow rate and eight-tonne lift capacity by no means is it market leading but will prove to be more than ample for this size machine.
Fundamentally, the old Arion models proved to be great sellers with people liking the comfort and power-to-weight ratio they provided. The new and improved model has had some great new features added, namely increased flexibility, strength and weight-carrying ability. With a CVT option on the way coupled with (in my opinion) market-leading operator comfort, this tractor will prove to be a contender too good to overlook.
For the latest reviews, subscribe to our Farm Trader magazine here.