Test: Valtra T234 and Fendt 720 S4
The Valtra T234 and Fendt 720 S4 are widely acknowledged as being kitted out with some of the best technology and performance on the market
The Valtra T234 and Fendt 720 S4 are widely acknowledged as being kitted out with some of the best technology and performance on the market.
So when Farm Trader’s Jaiden Drought and his Australian counterpart Harrison Hunkin had the opportunity to test-drive these two AGCO offerings together, there was a race to set the date and venue. On this occasion, Australia won the toss and Jaiden dutifully packed his bags to head across the Ditch.
In true Aussie form, it was a stinking-hot day in the middle of a dusty paddock with little shade to escape the heat. Fortunately, among the many attributes of the tractors to be test-driven were well-laid-out cabs – with air conditioning – so maximum time was spent behind the wheel and minimum time on the ground.
Both the brand-new Valtra T234 and Fendt 720 S4 had Lely Multidiscs in tow, so the two test drivers spent the best part of the day tickling some soil for a local farmer. With Harrison taking charge of the Valtra T234 and Jaiden of the Fendt 720 S4, each reviewed his own tractor.
Valtra T234 (By Harrison Hunkin)
When you think of Finland, you think of Nokia mobile phones (anyone still use one?), Nordic blond hair and freezing-cold temperatures. From now on, you should add Valtra tractors to that list.
Even the name, Valtra, sounds space-agey, as though from a space odyssey. Funny thing is, the current crop of Valtra tractors aren’t too far off it. Sitting in the latest Valtra T Series cabin did make me feel like I was in the cockpit of a spaceship.
While this isn’t the tractor that won Tractor of the Year 2018 at Agritechnica (that was its bigger brother, the T254), it obviously shares many similarities, not just in terms of features and performance, but also in terms of speed – it has an impressive record, having clocked 130kph on snow a few years ago.
Let’s start with the power source. Under the bonnet is a 7.4-litre, six-cylinder AGCO Power engine that pushes out max boosted 250 horsepower. Like all European brands, you’ve obviously got emission-compliant engines.
The Valtra T234 has a Tier 4 final compliant engine. This uses a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) only, which removes all the extra hassle you get with EGR and DPF. However, the latest Tier 5 powered tractors are said to be arriving mid-year, which will include DPF.
As mentioned, the T234 pushes out a standard 220hp but can boost to 250hp. It has two boosts. Boost one kicks in at over 25 per cent of the max speed in its C or D range (so over 7kph in C range or over 13kph in D range) and will boost you another 10hp.
Boost two is triggered at speeds exceeding 38kph when in transport. This particular model had a top speed of 53kph (and it flew along, by the way), but you can get a higher-speed transmission which nudges the T234 up around that 60kph range. Service intervals are set at 600 hours.
If you looked deep into the tractor manual, you’ll see that the tractor is actually a T234D, the D signifying the Valtra’s in-house Direct CVT transmission. The Direct CVT transmission is the flagship of the Valtra T series.
While there’s no arguing that Fendt has the superior CVT transmission – due to the fact Fendt created and patented the concept – the Valtra’s CVT transmission is certainly crisp.
There is nothing unusual here, with four working ranges, which Valtra says allows you to set the transmission to efficiently transfer the maximum amount of torque and power for the job at hand – ranges A, B, C and D.
A is for heavy pulling, B for field work, C for zooming around the field and D for road transport. Nothing too unusual there.
Where the Valtra does stands out is its ease of use. Click a button on the MultiFunctional lever and you’re in automatic or manual mode. Manual mode is selected in A and B work ranges. The transmission ratio is controlled solely by the driver using the MultiFunctional lever.
Speaking of operation, it’s fair to say there are two types of farmers: those who enjoy the old-fashioned foot pedal and the modern ones who enjoy drive levers on the armrest. Lucky for everyone, Valtra still allows for both. The SmartTouch armrest and its new MultiFunctional lever is seriously good (but more on that later).
To summarise, the Valtra CVT transmission is really good; it’s super smooth when shifting between ranges, with absolutely no lag, making it a sheer pleasure to drive.
In the cab
Second to its AGCO engine, the Valtra’s best feature is found inside the new fourth-generation cabin. If you’ve never stepped inside a Valtra tractor, or you’re a die-hard fan of another brand, that’s fine, but you should definitely make an effort to check out the Valtra SmartTouch armrest (which comes standard on the Direct and Versu models). It features probably the best monitor I’ve seen in a tractor.
What is it that makes it stand out? Well, most monitors on the market simply have too much going on. Many manufacturers say they’re easy to use, but they’re really not.
However, with the Valtra it really is well designed and easy to use. It has been designed to operate and feel like an everyday tablet or smartphone. It may not be able to DO as much as the Fendt, but it’s super intuitive, simple and customisable, and never daunting.
You can access everything by a tap or swipe of a finger. The display is fantastic – in fact, it’s visually stunning. Valtra has packed so much ability into the SmartTouch screen, it says there’s no need for additional monitors.
It may be a turn-off for some, but I’m a really big fan of the suede-like cushion on the armrest. Rest your arm on that and almost everything you need to control the SmartTouch screen and the tractor is in fingertips’ reach.
The standard colour-coded hydraulic and PTO switches are all there in front of you, with no need to reach to your side or go searching for a switch on a pillar. It’s smart design at its best.
If you’re into something a bit simpler, Valtra does offer a five-step PowerShift transmission option, with three different armrest layouts catering for different budgets. Choose from the Hitech, the Active or the Versu, with the latter offering the SmartTouch armrest.
The fourth-generation cabin on the T234 is also exceptional. Build quality is great – not quite as lush as the Fendt, I will admit, but it’s certainly swanky. Room inside isn’t an issue, either. Riding shotgun in the dicky seat is pretty good, with no issues there from my part. But if you’re a larger lad or lass, you might want to stick to the driver’s seat – or you could just option out the dicky seat altogether.
Another key feature of the new cabin is its reverse-steering capability. It’s a little bit of a fiddle with a button under the armrest, but once you work it out, you can spin your seat a full 180 degrees to operate in reverse. Long legs, beware.
Truck-style dual airbag front suspension gives the Valtra a fantastic ride. The paddock we were working in was by no means flat, but the T234 was remarkably comfortable, even at top speed.
Optional airbag suspension on the cab is also available if you want a softer ride, but the spring suspension we had on our model wasn’t too shabby at all.
Hydraulics & PTO
The Valtra T234 has ‘high-capacity’ load-sensing hydraulics with 115, 160 or 200 l/min hydraulic pumps. This is available not only on the Direct model but also the Versu and Active T series tractors.
At the rear there are up to five electronic valves, while up front you can have up to four electric valves. The front valves, for the front loader, front lift or both, are electronically controlled with the joystick located on the SmartTouch control arm.
PTO wise, the model we tested had electric 3-speed PTO with Sigma Power and ground speed PTO. As a standard feature, there are two speeds (540/100) but there are also options of 540/540E/1000 or 540E/1000/1000E.
Sigma power basically gives you the full amount of boost based on your PTO load, allowing up to 36 additional horsepower for PTO work when required.
You also get a 9.6T lift capacity at the rear or a 5T lift capacity on the front, which really showcases just how much grunt the Valtra has.
I’m a big fan of the Valtra T234. That SmartTouch armrest is superb, while cabin-ride quality is pillow-like thanks to that dual airbag suspension. It’s good looking and deadly serious in terms of farm performance.
In Europe, Valtra is known for its crazy array of colour schemes – pink, red, green, you name it, they deliver – but in New Zealand it’s stuck to simplicity and just one colour, that iconic Valtra white, which I love and think makes for an elegant-looking machine.
- SmartTouch Armrest is the best in the business
- Spacious cabin and comfortable ride
- Plenty of model options
- Elegant design
- Reverse steering is fiddly to spin into place
- Aircon wasn’t as powerful as I’d like
FENDT 720 (By Jaiden Drought)
For those who like high-spec’d tractors (I definitely fit into this category), the Fendt 720 is about as close as you’re going to get to ‘having all the boxes ticked’.
With a large open paddock, sweltering temperatures (I know that when even the Aussies are seeking shade, it’s officially HOT) and a five-metre set of mounted speed discs, we didn’t waste any time putting these tractors through their paces.
There are a number of articles that have been written suggesting that Fendt are the Rolls-Royce of tractors. While this may be true, is the eye-watering price tag associated with that prestige really worth it, both in the field and for the long-term cost of ownership?
Let’s take a look at the level of technology in this machine, plus the added complexity of the tractor itself, to see whether the $200,000 price bracket is worth the investment.
The S4 Generation
Recently, Fendt went from SCR to the S4 series tractors in the 700 series. Most noticeably on the outside is the ‘Forest Green’ paint job (which is niiice), and other changes are the taller bonnet (by 4cm), different-shaped lights and the absence of a windscreen wiper (it is actually there; it’s just tucked behind the bonnet to give 300-degree cleaning).
On the inside, four-speed PTO is now standard, the ZF front axle is new and the same Deutz 6.06-litre engine now meets final tier IV, made possible with extra exhaust-gas treatment, or in layman’s terms … jiggery pokery and witchcraft.
The six-cylinder Deutz TCD 6.06-litre engine remains the same, while the SCR system has been tweaked to meet stage IV final and now includes a passive particulate filter, and a 15% more powerful cooling system to deal with the additional heat.
Entry into the power plant for daily checks is made via what Fendt labels its one-piece bonnet. However, two side panels need to be removed for servicing (or checking for pesky birds’ nests), although, to be fair, these don’t require tools to remove.
DLG PowerMix tests are regarded world- wide as being the benchmark for tractor power testing to keep manufacturers honest. In almost all tractor series, when measured during mixed work, Fendt has the lowest consumption figures.
The 720 Vario sips just 258 g/kWh, 11% lower than the average. Add low AdBlue consumption of only 13 g/kWh, combined with some of the tech I will expand on later, and 500-hour intervals for the engine and 2000 hours for hydraulic and transmission oil, and it all adds up to significant savings per hectare.
The Vario transmission remains a key reason people opt for the Fendt brand. Key features include the separate 64-litre hydraulic oil tank, meaning no foreign bodies end up in the transmission oil. This is also the reason service intervals can be extended and undoubtedly extends working life.
The ML180HD (Heavy Duty) is the transmission series, rated to 180kw. The only niggle is the manual change between ranges. If you don’t want the burden of this, you need to opt for the 1000 series (and hope you win the lottery). In work it really isn’t that much of a problem.
This is also part of the reason the Vario transmissions have a reputation for lasting the distance. Field mode is for the field and road mode is for the road (no surprises there) – it’s all straightforward and simple, so you don’t end up discing in road mode, with the tractor trying to go to 50kph by pouring more oil at the hydraulic motors and adding unnecessary heat to the components.
In terms of operation, the two options are pedal mode or stick mode. The Profi joystick is the main drive stick. Flicking the joystick to the left is direction change, and to the right is cruise control. The stigma that Fendt tractors are hard to drive is a fallacy.
As you may have gathered already, the Fendt 720 is equipped with some pretty cool features. Buckle up, because there are plenty more:
- The CCLS pump has a delivery capacity of 193 litres per minute. With 64 litres of available hydraulic oil, on one spool is limited to 102l/min
- The rear hydraulic couplers have pressure-release levers, so you can connect under pressure. Colour coded for ease of use.
- In total, seven hydraulic spools can be spec’d on the machine – five at the rear and two on the front. They can all be electrically timed, with flow rates adjusted and switched from the joystick to the main drive stick, or to the colour-coded paddles from the touchscreen Varioterminal.
- Load Drop Compensating is a nifty feature. It maintains the set linkage drop speed irrespective of the load. This is ideal for linkage-mounted spreaders or seeders where weight varies depending on material level.
- The rear linkage has nothing to pick holes in, with 7.4 tonnes lift at the bottom, more than 9.5 tonnes at the top, 85cm travel and class-leading stabilisers.
- Four-speed PTO is now standard, 540/1000 plus Eco for each
- The double acting with load relief control for the front linkage (set and monitored from in the cab) is a huge advantage for applications such as front mowers. Since implement guidance quickly adjusts to uneven surfaces, the only real downside is the absence of a reversible fan option. This is great for front mowing, particularly in the scorching Australian heat.
The Visoplus cab offers excellent visibility. The unique five-pillar cab combines the ease of shutting a smaller door while retaining unobstructed visibility out the right-hand side.
Inside really is next level in terms of techno gadgets, and although slightly overwhelming at first, is all relatively easy to grasp. All the functions are in one place, which Fendt calls the Variotronic control system. This is now standard in the new 500, 700, 800, 900 and 1000 series tractors, giving familiarity across the product range.
The control system includes a Varioterminal 10.4-inch colour screen, which can be used as either a touch screen or by using the navigational button. The ‘home’ page can be split into four screens to show tractor parameters, or on the Profi Plus guidance spec the navigation can be used as full or half screen.
While not the biggest cab on the market, the Fendt’s panoramic front windscreen, large two-piece mirrors, climate air and 300-degree wiper make it a more than satisfactory place to spend the day, particularly if it’s 40 degrees and more outside.
The 720 Profi Plus version is jam-packed with all the goodies I think really differentiate the Fendt in this market.
Headland management: While headland management is not a new feature on farm machinery, the two sets of Go/End buttons make tasks such as mowing odd-shaped paddocks a breeze, with a sequence for the front mower and one for the rear.
Highlights include a memory that holds up to 25 implements. The technology also allows you to record up to 74 functions; such as lift, lower, GPS on/off, cruise control on/off, PTO on/off, etc. A sequence can have up to 39 individual steps, and these can be started by five different triggers (time, path, front linkage, rear linkage, manual).
The GPS offers several options and during our test we had full RTK (without a base station) giving accuracy of plus or minus 2cm even at night or in poor visibility. Put simply, you can go to work on a 20ha paddock and use the exact amount of diesel, seed, fertiliser, etc; the savings can be anywhere between 10% and 20%.
One new feature I particularly like allows automation on the headland. The VarioGuide talks to the headland management system, detecting the position via GNSS and automatically launching all recorded steps on the headland.
All we had to do while discing at the headland was turn it around, and even that’s made easy with VarioActive steering allowing one turn of the steering wheel to give lock-to-lock turning. It’s all just too easy.
For high-end Profi Plus machines with the capability of loading geo-specific evaluation maps, these show yields, soil samples, plant nutrient availability, etc, and are used to create application maps to show inputs needed. This is where VariableRateControl really is next level.
It allows up to five inputs to be applied simultaneously and metered independently of one another. For example, when seed drilling, the application rates of seeds, fertiliser and insect baits can all be metered independently. This means areas of the paddock with poor fertility can be fertilised more intensively.
Like the VaribleRateControl, the automatic SectionControl offers a massive advantage: ISOBUS sprayers, spreaders and planters with 36 individually controllable width sections.
The savings on inputs quickly mount up, with section control handled automatically via the VarioGuide – ideal for field boundaries close to streams, and oddly shaped paddocks.
VarioDoc and VarioDoc Pro are the Fendt versions of data sharing of the mapping created in the field by the machine. This allows data such as guidance lines, field boundaries and application maps to be shared between Fendt machines or third-party guidance systems via Bluetooth or a USB stick (integrated as standard). Information from multiple jobs can be stored in the tractor’s computer. The files can be locked so they can’t accidentally be changed by an operator aimlessly navigating around the touchscreen.
But wait, there’s more
Other things worth mentioning are the new ZF front axle. This gives great comfort with the self-levelling front-axle suspension with 100mm suspension travel (50mm +/- midpoint), and also enables a higher payload.
The gross weight of 14 tonnes allows a healthy payload of six tonnes. The dual-circuit air-braking system is efficient and powerful. Exhaust brakes mean you can use engine braking during transport. This helps extend the life of the main brakes.
The Fendt 720 was kitted out with staunch-looking 600/65R28 and 710/70R38 tyres on a rear bar axle, although a flanged rear axle and various other tyre options are available.
The way everything is integrated seamlessly and works together is the overall standout for me. When spending this sort of money on a tractor, you do want plenty of bang for your buck.
After spending the day working and evaluating the machine, I concluded it’s definitely designed to save money on inputs – not only diesel and oil, but other high-value commodities such as seed and fertiliser.
The level of integration through ISOBUS with other leading manufacturers of implements allows you to have fewer higher-value machines to maximise productivity. It really does start to make financial sense over the lifetime of the machine.
- High-level integration of tractor components
- Smooth, user-friendly transmission
- Light, bright and well-laid-out cab
- Excellent visibility with five-pillar cab, panoramic windscreen and large two-piece mirrors
- Pressure-controlled front linkage
- Very advanced guidance features
- Excellent ride comfort thanks to air cab suspension
- Ability to change control layout to suit individual operators
- No reverse fan options
- When the spool is in timed mode there is no proportional control. You either have off, timed, or float, with nothing in between.