Review: Argo Frontier Amphibian

By: Barry Ashenhurst, Photography by: Barry Ashenhurst


Australian-based machinery tester Barry Ashenhurst reckons the Argo 8x8 Frontier amphibian does everything an ATV can do but with greater safety and real load-carrying capacity

From time to time, we like to put a machine through its paces for no other reason than it’s too much fun to resist.

Australian-based machinery tester Barry Ashenhurst reckons the Argo 8x8 Frontier amphibian does everything an ATV can do but with greater safety and real load-carrying capacity. And while you won’t see many of them (yet) on Kiwi farms, there’s no doubt there’s much to like.

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It climbs better than a quad and feels safer everywhere 

Over the years, I’ve reviewed a wide range of equipment, but this is the first time I’ve jumped into an amphibian that can do what an ATV can do on land, then do it again on water.

The Argo is produced in Canada by Ontario Drive and Gear (ODG) in six- and eight-wheel drive variants and with petrol or diesel engines. Argo insists its vehicles are not boats but land-going cross-country units that can operate in calm water.

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Tyres provide propulsion for a swimming speed of 5km/h. Operating in water is easy, in fact, a day’s familiarisation is all you need to be confident in an Argo.

The top speed of our Frontier 8x8 was about 35km/h. Since tyres provide the only propulsion while the Argo is swimming, speed in water is restricted to about 5km/h. But frankly, that’s unimportant. The Argo’s useful ability to deal with boggy, swampy terrain – and haul all the booty while doing it – outweighs the speed at which it does it.

Argos have a reputation for safe operation (no fatalities caused by an Argo have occurred in Australia) and in conditions that would king-hit a conventional ATV or at least raise the threat level. The supplier makes a great deal of the Argo’s safety record in his promotional material and why wouldn’t he?

Driveline

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The CVT, diff, and gear selector

The driveline is similar to that of an ATV, in this case, a 650cc, carburetted V-twin petrol engine with 17kW (23hp).

A CVT belt-driven transmission delivers drive to the wheels through an ODG differential, then eight chains, one for each axle. The chains are housed in the ‘hull’ under an internal floor. 

You might think chains are a weakness in the design. The thought occurred to us. However, Argo’s Gary Olsen insists that if lubed regularly, the chains can operate trouble-free for up to 1000 hours.

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Drive chains are housed in a well-sealed hull

They’re self-tensioning as well so that takes care of that little chore. We looked at the chains after a day flogging around our test track and they looked in good nick. In fact, the entire hull in which they were housed looked spotless.

Controls

Controlling all this frantic motion underneath you is a simple handlebar arrangement with a motorcycle-type throttle on the right-hand end and a brake lever on the opposite end. The gear selector is to the driver’s left under the lip of the dash but still easy to reach.

It gives you the choice of low or high range, forward or reverse. A bright LCD screen directly in front of you shows what tech geeks call the operational parameters. You wouldn’t call any of this equipment flash but it’s functional and easy to use.

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Handlebar controls with LCD instrument pack

As for operation, to put it in simple terms, since this vehicle skid-steers, when you turn left, the right-hand set of wheels continues to drive while the left-hand set momentarily ceases to. You don’t ‘turn’ in the normal meaning of the word and since an Argo can spin 180 degrees on-the-spot, ‘turning circle’ is meaningless. These machines change direction faster and tighter than any ATV ever made.

The supplier told us that on standard tyres and fully loaded this machine has a ground pressure slightly less than a man walking. On tracks, it has a signature four times less than a walking man.

Verdict

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The Argo climbs trees, too

I had testing companion Reg Grant with me when we previewed the Argo. We’ve been testing ATVs together for more than a decade. I never test anything without Reg. He picks me up when I fall over and shows me which end of the nail to hit. Reg can drive or ride anything, make anything, fix anything and is never wrong.

Having both driven the Argo that day, and after a lunch of locust-on-toast, I asked Reg what he thought of this odd little machine. More or less an accurate translation of his Ipswich twang, this is what he said:

"It’s crazy, over-the-top stable, so it can do a lot of things an ATV can’t do. It can turn around on a slope, for example, which can be tricky or even dangerous on an ATV, and it’s a better climber.

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To roll this thing you’d have to do something crazy insane

"It’s wider than a quad, too, and has a low centre of gravity, so you always feel safe. Once you get used to how engine braking works, and get the revs just right, it feels good on downhills too.

"The fact that you can carry six people on land, or a whole lot of gear in the back, is really useful. ATVs can carry bugger-all really, so if you asked me if this vehicle could find work on a farm I’d say yes, particularly where the terrain favours it. It’s much safer than an ATV, climbs better, carries more, and can drive straight from land into water.

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Speed on-road is 35 to 40km/h, about the same as most diesel side-by-sides

"About the only thing some farmers would question is the relatively low land speed of about 35kph. It isn’t fast by any means. On the other hand, most diesel side-by-sides don’t go much faster than that so unless you’re covering big distances every day, top speed isn’t an issue.

"You can get a lot of accessories for Argos, too, such as a cab, tracks, ROPS, roofs, windscreens, racks, outboard engine fittings and so forth, so it’s versatile as well."

If the question is whether an Argo 8x8 could replace an ATV on farm, the answer, in my opinion, is yes.

Argo 8X8 Frontier specifications

Engine  650cc carburetted petrol V-twin
Output  17kW (23hp)
Seating  Six on land, four on water
Drive system  CVT tranny and differential
Final drive  Chain 
Running gear  Steel offset rims with 24-inch tyres 

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Watch the Argo Frontier Amphibian in action

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