Video: Top Tractor Shoot Out - Winner announced!


Six mid-size contractor class tractors met for the first time in a paddock, going head-to-head in the Farm Trader Top Tractor Shoot Out!

The weather couldn't have been better for Farm Trader's first ever Top Tractor Shoot Out. A quick phone call earlier in the year to Ken Ring, the weather predictor, made me confident that November 22nd would provide the sunshine hours I was hoping for.

I must admit that a couple of heavy downpours only days earlier did make me nervous but, as it turned out, I should never have doubted the Moon Man.

Only a slight breeze carrying particles of chicken manure upset the perfection of the day, but it wasn't worth complaining about as everything else was just right.

A big thanks to the generous team at McFarlanes Contracting who let us rip up a large portion of their land with discs and a power harrow to really test these tractors to their limits. Although, I understand we prepped it nicely for a crop of maize.

So what made this event so unique? Well, it's the first time we've tested a variety of tractor brands of comparable sizes and power in the same paddock at the same time. The purpose? To get an understanding of the differences between each tractor and to discover the areas each tractor excelled in. As you will read over the next 20+ pages, there was little variance between each tractor which made determining a winner no mean feat.

However, the event wasn't just about the results - it was about the opportunity for brand reps to network and meet Farm Trader's machinery testers to get an idea of how we conduct our tests.

To sum up the general mood of the day, I'd have to say it was relaxed but competitive and, with plenty of friendly banter being thrown about the place, it made for an enjoyable and entertaining event.

Of course, we couldn't have pulled it off without the participation and support we received from the manufacturers and dealers, so a huge thanks to them for having some faith in us. We were under no illusion that organising a tractor for this event was going to be easy. Harder still, it's that time of year when contractors the country over are busy at work - not to mention the fact we specifically requested mid-size contractor models making it even harder - so a big thank you for all your efforts.

Of the eight tractors invited, six turned up on the day - with only Deutz and Valtra missing; not a bad turn out.

Apologies if this is starting to sound like an Academy Award speech, but there are more thanks to be dished out, including a big cheers to our cameraman, Graham Ralphs, who spent the day in the hot sun, running up and down the paddock in a pair of gumboots, filming every little detail of the tractors. The only relief he had throughout the day was spending some time in the air-conditioned cabs listening to Jaiden rave about how fantastic all six tractors were. Further thanks to Chris from Diesel Performance Solutions, who was there all day dyno testing the tractors.

Thanks must also go to Dave Donnelly of Origin Agroup for loaning us the mighty Alpego power harrow and to the team at Farmgard for kindly loaning us their discs.

Of course, I mustn't forget to thank the always-helpful Grant Pedersen and the birthday boy, Mike Kitching, for manning the BBQ.

Last but by no means least, I must thank our four judges who spent the entire day objectively judging six of the best mid-size contractor tractors in New Zealand. Their expertise and opinions are valued and we hope you'll think their findings are useful and informative.

Although we chose a winner, we cannot emphasise enough the fact that all six tractors were of a very high standard and all impressed the judges in their own individual ways.

Remember this is only the first of our Top Tractor Shoot Outs. Stay tuned for Top Tractor Shoot Out 2013 - Farmer Range.

 

Claas Arion 640 Cebis

  • Best Suspension

The Arion 640 Cebis was termed the underdog of the day being the smallest tractor in both horsepower and weight. However, this little battler was weighted up correctly and proved to be a real trooper when it came to handling the 4m discs and 5m power harrow. The timing of the Shoot Out did not quite work in Claas's favour as it is soon to release the new Arion, which has some great new features they would have liked to show off. However, the Arion 640 Cebis turned up on the day to fly the flag and that got a big tick from the judges.

The team at Claas began their spiel by presenting each of the judges with a branded cooler bag - a nice touch of originality. Although not filled with ice-cold beer, there was a heap of information on the new Arion that's soon to be released. Dave Knowles then went on to explain the key features of the Arion 640 Cebis.

The serviceability of the Arion was relatively good with its large, lift-up bonnet and the radiators opened out to allow easy cleaning of dirt and dust.

However, we would have preferred to have seen the oil dipstick on the left side of the tractor, to make sure it doesn't get missed when you do your pre-operation check.

Rear linkage provided good lift (8000kg max) with strong, quality build.

When it came to attaching the discs, the drawbar assembly was solid and at a good height, plus it was easily adjustable to swing out of the way when using PTO equipment.

As mentioned, the well weighted Arion 640 also handled the 5m power harrow pretty well considering the size and power of the tractor and the PTO operation was simple to operate and worked well.

There was also storage for implement balls on the left-hand mudguard, so you will always know where they are. The slide-across dust covers on the rear remotes corresponded with the colour of the electronic spool valves in the cab, which is always handy.

The pressure release valves on the Class are a great idea, saving time and frustration.

The judges concluded that of all the tractors on the day, the Arion had one of the best setups of remotes on the rear mudguard - a very good day-to-day time-saving feature.

The Class Hexa shift transmission provides six changes for each of the four ranges. Range changes can be made with just a slightly firmer push on the drivestick and the changes are nice and smooth.

However, there was noticeable lag between the ranges, especially under load; but this is something that most tractors with a powershift transmission suffer from.

The Arion also comes with a 14 light package, but like most tractors, this can be scaled up by adding xenon/LED options if you wish.

Operator comfort was very impressive. Although the smallest tractor on the day, it actually had one of the biggest cabs and coupled with a great suspension system it was a pleasure to ride in.

The ride quality is right up there with the best and the judges all agreed it was the superior tractor on the day.

With four-post cab suspension, an air-suspended cab and the independent front suspension, you will feel like you're driving on tarseal when you're actually in the rough - no more getting shaken to bits in this machine.

As all good operators will know, the smoother the tractor is to ride in, the more attention you can pay to operating the machine effectively.

Inside the cab, all the important functions are well laid out. The 21cm Cebis colour monitor is easily operated with the rotary wheel to scroll through and ESC button to go back to previous screens. All four judges found the controls simple to operate. Although not a touch screen, it has its benefits in the agricultural industry where dirty hands and touch-screens are not a great mix.

Overall, this tractor proved to be an impressive workhorse. It has certainly set the bar high for Claas and all the judges are very much looking forward to checking out the new model early in the new year, with all its refinements including improved cab visibility and a Tier4i compliant engine.

Postives

  • Although the smallest tractor on the day in both power and weight, this tractor was correctly weighted for pulling the gear (4m discs, 5m power harrow) and handled the task incredibly well
  • Air sprung, low-frequency seat
  • Independent front suspension combined with 4 point cab suspension provided the smoothest ride of the day
  • Pressure release valves make coupling hydraulics more convenient

Negatives

  • Being the only powershift tractor tested on the day, the lag between the ranges stood out as a key area that could be improved

 

Case-IH Puma 230

  • Highly commended
  • Best linkage
  • Best cab layout

As the Puma was the first tractor tested on the day, we were always going to use it as a benchmark to compare against. The team at Case IH led by Ivan Wildbore (product support manager) was a hard act to follow for his competitor product specialists, and overall we felt he gave us the best sales spiel on the day. Having said that, Ivan began his tour of the tractor by pulling two tools from the toolbox - something that got a chuckle out of the test team.

The Puma 230 is the flagship model in the tier 4a-compliant Puma CVT series, equipped with SCR using Adblue. The new model is powered by a 6.7-litre four-valve six-cylinder engine which, in conjunction with Engine Power Management, boosts to 269hp under load. The CVT transmission has three ranges available to set specific speeds, and adjusting or shifting between ranges is done on the go via the Multicontroller armrest. We felt the armrest was very well laid out, comfortable and the best on offer on the day.

The split-throttle idea on the Puma allows the operator to set the maximum and minimum rev setting, allowing the tractors APM (Automatic Productivity Management) to look after the engine and transmission ratios to create the most fuel efficient settings. This is very simple to get your head around with an easy manual setting, so there's no fishing around the monitor to try and find what you want.

The split-throttle worked very well on both the discs and the power harrow, as you can set one right at the bottom to allow the tractor to lug down into the torque zone, or rev right up to allow momentum to build. The cab is very comfortable, with the multi-controller being the main attraction; 96 percent of the tractor's functions are controlled through this.

Build quality is unquestionably good and the slightly darker cab interior allows it to be harder wearing without showing up grease and scuff marks. Visibility is panoramic with full glass doors, a roof hatch, electric mirrors and the narrow 'wasp' bonnet allowing excellent views all-around, although we would have liked more cab-mounted lights for night time driving.

Some features on the Puma that weren't standard but are worth noting were the exhaust brakes and the pick-up hitch drawbar. The conversation around the pick-up hitch brought to light the question as to why more tractors in New Zealand are not equipped with this feature. Most farmers would have a three-point linkage hitch and this is a far safer and more practical alternative, so maybe something to look forward to in the future.

As a side note to finish on, we (the test committee) feel it is prudent to point out that this tractor was the only one our tester Andrew Reymer managed to stall all day (twice actually).

We'd like to make it very clear that this was absolutely no fault of the tractor, but purely 'pilot error'.

If you would like to see this for yourself, check out the video above.

Postives

  • Multi-controller armrest
  • High-quality build
  • Split throttle design
  • 'Wasp' bonnet increases forward visibility
  • 600-hour service intervals
  • 170lpm hydraulic flow with five remotes standard and 10.5-tonne lift capacity

Negatives

  • PTO knobs were easy to knock back into neutral
  • Tools needed to open bonnet and disengage the hand park brake if it is applied accidently

 

Massey Ferguson 7624

  • Best engine

The Massey Ferguson 7624 is the flagship model in the recently released 7600 series and was kindly loaned to us by Cookson Trust Farms. Thanks to Peter Scott and the Cookson team for ensuring the Fergy flag was flying on the day - no doubt Peter had a few beers to shout after that.

Readers familiar with the 6400 and 7400 series will be eager to see the changes to this new model, which can still be specified with either Dyna 6 or Dyna VT transmission - although that's where the similarities end.

The 7600 has benefited from a complete restyle, both externally and in the cab, to create what was in our opinion the best-looking tractor on the day. The 7624 we tested was the Dyna VT version with all the fruit and put out a healthy 235hp from the 7.4L SISU engine.

To meet stage IIIB emission regulations, the Massey uses Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) with AdBlue and is equipped with a handy 430-litre fuel tank (with 40-litre AdBlue tank). The Massey's hearty engine made light work of both the discs and power harrow and had the ability to achieve the highest forward speed while power harrowing out of all the tractors tested.

The biggest change in the cab is the Command Control Armrest, complete with Multi-Pad lever and Multi-Function joystick. As the name suggests, operators can perform multiple tasks on the Multi-Pad lever including transmission speed, by pushing forward or pulling back the joystick. This level also incorporates engine speed memory, cruise control, PTO, quick-control buttons for the linkage and one spool valve, headland management and shuttle. Alongside the main Multi-Pad lever is the Multi-Function joystick, which we felt made this the best tractor of the lot for tasks such as buckraking.

Move it in all four directions to work spools one and two, then push an additional button to operate a third spool.

This joystick also allows the operator to change direction as well as alter the speed of the CVT, meaning all functions for the buckrake and the tractor are performed without having to take your hand off one joystick.

Our only gripe was the six-post cab design, which we felt let the tractor down as the low roof and the large B-pillars didn't allow for as much visibility as others, although the curved rear windows did help.

The ability to control all four hydraulic remotes externally was a major benefit for hitching and unhitching implements and getting the hoses to each user's personal preference. The added bonus of having separate transmission and hydraulic oil means the CVT is constantly immersed in clean oil, which is certain to extend working life.

Positives

  • All four rear remotes can be controlled externally
  • Two joysticks perform a variety of functions, making the tractor suited to a range of applications
  • Strong, hearty engine
  • Hydraulic and transmission oils are separate
  • Adjustable cab suspension, in the cab on the move
  • Transmission speed and shuttle can be adjusted from three separate locations

Negatives

  • Low cab roofline and large B-pillars made the cab feel small
  • The air intake for the air-con located near operator's head, increasing cab noise

 

New Holland T7.270

  • Best serviceability

The New Holland T7.270 was the last tractor up for testing on the day, which is a tough slot after a long day in the hot sun for the judges. Greg Moore gave us a great overview of the tractor, running through the maintenance and servicing, which we all thought was a standout feature and certainly the reason we gave it our 'best serviceability' award.

The New Holland's engine oil change interval can be extended up to 600 hours depending on circumstances, which is the longest of all the tractors tested.

Just a little annoying was the fact that a small tool, screwdriver, or pen is required to pop the bonnet open. But we were told this is a new European regulation, and once the bonnet is open there is good access around the engine.

The radiators are hinged for easy cleaning and it was great to see this tractor fitted with a reversible fan as an option. Around the back of the tractor we were talked through the hydraulics, which with a flow rate of 150-litres-per-minute, plus a power beyond coupler and four sets of electronic remote valves as standard (with an option for more), should be more than adequate in most situations. It was nice to see the remotes colour-coded and in sync with the buttons in the cab to save any confusion, too.

Furthermore, the three-point linkage had a healthy lift capacity of just under 10.5 tonnes.

Being one of the larger tractors on the day, the New Holland handled both the discs and power harrow with ease. The joystick on the armrest controlled the two hydraulic functions required for operating the discs, making it straightforward and easy.

Setting up and operating the power harrow was just as easy, as the maximum height and speed of lift can be adjusted with dials under the padded section of the armrest.

The raise/lower function is then controlled with a button on the main control handle on the armrest. A dial with the choice of four PTO speeds and neutral is located behind the driver near the rear pillar, which is a little out of the way to find at first.

The cab is often what can make or break a tractor: let's face it, you're going to end up spending a lot of time in there. The New Holland we tested featured the Sidewinder II armrest, which everyone agreed is very well laid out and keeps almost everything within easy reach, providing great control of the tractor. A panel on the side of the armrest contains over 20 buttons with symbols, which may sound confusing, but they are laid out on a plastic membrane displaying an outline of a tractor, so are surprisingly straight forward and logical to use.

Everything else required by the operator is on the armrest and on a customisable touch screen Intellview monitor, which can display a massive amount of information.

Although the cab has plenty of space, is quiet and gives good visibility, most of us agreed there were just a couple of areas that let this tractor down; the grey plastic that appears to mark and lose its shine easily, and the air-conditioning controls located behind the driver on the left-hand pillar, which can make them a bit difficult to adjust on the move.

The grouping of small buttons at the top of the dash are also quite a long way from the operator: hard to reach and hard to read.

Overall though, the New Holland had no problems coping with the implements. It was easy to hook up and relatively easy to just jump in and drive due to the controls being laid out in a logical pattern.

Interestingly we all came to the conclusion that this was a great tractor and with only a few improvements to the cab, it would be a top contender.

Positives

  • Sidewinder II armrest: great control and easy operation
  • Buttons well laid-out on a membrane panel
  • Colour coded and easy to use hydraulics
  • Good steering lock with the option of Supersteer
  • Smooth ride with front axle and cab suspension
  • 40hp boost gives plenty of power when required while remaining economical
  • Engine service at 600 hours

Negatives

  • Light interior will mark easily
  • Buttons on top of dash quite a distance from operator
  • Air-conditioning controls located behind driver

 

John Deere 6210R

  • Highly commended

So with the extended lunch over and more than enough photos of all six tractors lined up, as well as a few shots of Jaiden's marginal attempt at Movember behind us, it was back to the business of ripping up some turf and putting the next three candidates through their paces. And what better post-lunch start than John Deere's impressive new range-topper, the 6210R.

The R series is arguably the biggest leap in tractor design for John Deere since the early 1990s, when it released the radical new 6, 7 and 8000 series.

The old rounded front grille has now given way to the tall-standing, aggressive look of the new R series. Some of the innovative features they launched back in the '90s remain, including the chassis design with OSO mounted engine and transmission, the command arm's style and feel, and the wide, flat-floored cab with the traditional brown colour scheme (which, as one tester pointed out, was an ingenious colour that hides the dirt).

TLS front suspension that was first seen on the 10 series finds itself again holding up the front end of the new R series - after all, if it ain't broke, why fix it?

Before loading up the discs, we were given a run-down on the 6210R's features and its radical new engine design which doesn't require fuel additives. This has the added advantage of eliminating the need to carry additional liquid fuel tanks.

Other features pointed out by the boys in green-and-yellow were the dipstick and filler, which have been relocated to the front corner where they are easily accessible, and a high pressure turbo and fuel system.

The EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) system that treats exhaust emissions, resulting in a high power with low emission tractor - just what the doctor ordered.

Access to the engine for servicing was also very easy due to the intercooler having its own horizontal perch in the front, which leaves an uncluttered space for radiator cleaning.

Five hundred hour service intervals make this an impressive redevelopment over previous models.

Our 6210R had the 'auto power' transmission (IVT) which we found very quick and simple to fathom. The controls will be familiar to John Deere users, with the cab layout being spacious, simple and friendly. Even with a passenger on-board, there was plenty of room and passengers all enjoyed a comfortable ride in the spacious cab.

With both implements attached, the cab offered great visibility out all corners. The new Command Centre has a large, intuitive, easy-to-use seven-inch touch screen that you will immediately become accustomed to. Perhaps the large array of buttons ('hot keys') could have been grouped a little better and colour-coded to give it a more intuitive feel, but all-in-all the cab is a great feature of the new four-post 6R, which also proved very quiet at 68db.

Worth noting is the lighting package, featuring Xenon lighting (optional), which has been well-thought-out. All John Deere tractors come auto-trac and greenstar-ready, and boast Bluetooth connectivity as standard: a cabin environment set for the future.

During the test run, the 6210R handled the discs with ease and were easy to hook up. The tight turning lock also made short work of the headland turn.

Similarly, the power harrows were a breeze to hook up and setting the height limiter was simple - just press the 'max height button' and a small box pops up on the screen, then wind down to the height required and off you go.

We particularly liked the fact that 'winding down' the max height brings the linkage down as you go, which is something that not every brand offers. The PTO engagement switch is firm and positive, and not prone to being bumped off easily.

John Deere claims the 6R series is the perfect balance of evolution and revolution. We came away from our time with the tractor believing this to be very true.

Positives

  • Lighting package second to none
  • Single fuel (diesel only)
  • Wide, spacious cab
  • TLS front suspension still up with the best on the market
  • CommandArm and CommandCentre
  • Tight turning radius
  • Simple SCV controls and colour coding

Negatives

  • High bonnet with a 'big nose': limited forward visibility
  • Engine generates a lot of heat

 

Fendt 720

  • WINNER
  • Best innovation
  • Best transmission
  • Best build quality

With a close battle emerging throughout the day for the top spot, the final decision was not easy. After much deliberation the Fendt 720 came out victorious. Although there was very little between the tractors, attention to detail, and the vast amount of innovation in this tractor, really did make it the deserving campaigner.

Packed full of innovative features, salesman John Metcalfe had to think carefully about how he used his allocated 10min slot to talk us through the key features that would make our test ride easy, enjoyable and leave us with a lasting impression that would see this tractor win the Shoot Out. The designers of this machine have really gone the extra mile and thought outside the box in terms of both operator comfort and overall tractor efficiency. We know there will be some scepticism as to the fact that we picked the most expensive tractor on the day, however by the end of this article we hope you'll understand that, price aside, this really is an innovative workhorse that is not only fully-deserving of its price tag, but more importantly it's new badge as the winner of Farm Trader's Top Tractor Shoot Out.

To achieve the Stage 3 (Tier IV interim) compliance certification, Fendt has gone back and rethought fuel economy and power and has developed the engine around these parameters. This allows the SCR to do all the work after the gases are released from the engine so performance isn't a trade off with emissions. Under the three- piece hood, the result is a 6.06-litre Deutz 6-cylinder diesel with common rail injection producing 200hp/147kw. Achieving 189hp on the dyno is excellent given it had completed only four engine hours. The SCR component in the engine is running AdBlue at about seven percent. Assuming this is correct the 400L diesel and 38L AdBlue tank will allow you to use 540L of diesel before you need to fill it with AdBlue.

The Vario transmission remains a key feature and is usually why people opt for Fendt when making their purchasing decision. Most take comfort in knowing the separate 64-litre hydraulic oil tank results in the elimination of foreign bodies ending up in the transmission oil, which is undoubtedly going to extend working life. The ML180HD refers to the particular transmission in this series, with '180' meaning it is rated to 180kw and 'HD' standing for heavy duty. The new models have a 700kg increase in tare weight over the existing 700 series which is almost entirely made up in the transmission.

In the past, the main gripe of Fendt owners was the size of the cab so the new larger VisioPlus cab with its full one-piece, curved windscreen has sorted this out. Not all the judges were keen on the new-look Fendt, but what it lacked on the outside was made up for in the seat.

As the name suggests, the VisioPlus cab offers excellent 360-degree visibility with its unique five-pillar-style cab which combines the ease of shutting a smaller door while retaining unobstructed visibility out the right-hand side (a one piece door can be spec'd). Inside the cab, Fendt really has taken things to the next level in terms of 'techno' gadgets but, although slightly overwhelming at first, it is relatively easy to grasp. All the functions are in the one place, which Fendt calls the 'Variotronic control system', and it's now standard equipment in the new 700, 800 and 900 series.

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. On the 'home' page this can be split into four screens - for example engine revs, PTO, hydraulics and a reverse camera can all be viewed on the same screen in colour and in real time. From an operator's perspective it doesn't get much better than this with all the functions at your fingertips and owners, who are teaching staff to operate the Fendt, can pre-set the tractor's parameters - max speed, hydraulic flow rates and PTO speeds. Multiple job information can also be stored in the computer and locked in so that operators cannot change them.

One quirky and very impressive cab feature is the monitor rail on the right-hand side of the cab, which allows the monitor to slide across the width of the door to be at the perfect position for the operator, no matter their size. Furthermore, climate control, radio and RT/CB slots are all in a neat cluster on the right-hand roof line - convenient and practical positions.

In total, seven hydraulic spools can be spec'd on the machine with five at the rear and two on the front. All can be electrically timed, flow rates adjusted and switched from the joystick to the main drivestick, or to the colour-coded paddles all from in the Varioterminal. Colour-coding of the remotes makes hooking up the implements a breeze, with the sway arm stabilizers on the rear linkage - which were by far the best on the day.

Speaking of linkage, another Fendt innovation is a feature called 'load drop compensating'. This maintains the set linkage drop-speed, irrespective of the load, which is handy for linkage-mounted spreaders or seeders where weight varies depending on the amount of material on board. The front linkage also has a new suspension control system which allows the operator to set a specific relief pressure for the lift-arms from inside the cab.

A couple of other features worth mentioning on this particular machine are the air-brakes, which also double as a compressor for inflating flat tyres, and cleaning-radiators, reducing down time. Three-point pneumatic cab suspension and lockable, self-levelling, front-axle suspension provides a smooth ride for the operator and a safety night-light on the steps is a nice touch.

There were only a couple of minor issues with the tractor up for debate, these being the small front-linkage oil holder that's bound to be knocked off at some point, as well as the light-coloured cab interior which will show up dirt and grease easily. The hand air-brake is a great idea, although is tucked on the left of the steering column and appears to be a bit of an after-thought in terms of placement.

Overall, for the purposes of this Shoot Out, when it came to innovation and build quality, no other tractor brand quite rivalled the Fendt and for our judges who were in the difficult position of picking a winner, it was the Fendt that impressed them on the day. Remember that this isn't the only Farm Trader Shoot Out - the larger tractors and farmer tractors are still to have their day in the sun - could Fendt take out the trifecta? Until the next Shoot Out…

Positives

  • Rail-mounted monitor along the full side of the cab
  • Lighting on the steps
  • Strong back end, weight where it counts
  • 10.4-inch Varioterminal, touch screen or navigation button operation; a sensible feature when you have dirty or greasy fingers
  • The three-point linkage adjustment was the most user-friendly of our tractors on the day

Negatives

  • No door on the right side (however, this feature is still available as an option on other-spec models)

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