Bought as a replacement for an ageing McCormick ZTX 280, Leicestershire native Mark Hill was the first UK farmer to purchase the firm’s latest range-topping X8.680. But was it worth waiting for? Simon Henley went to find out.
The McCormick X8 series was launched at AgriTechnica in 2015. Yet it would be almost three years before the first production demonstration models began to arrive in the UK, and almost another 12 months before the first examples appeared on British farms.
A result of more than three years work and tens of millions in development costs, the X8 series introduced McCormick to a sector of the market it had only previously dipped its toe into. The previous McCormick heavyweight (the ZTX), offered an 8.3-litre Cummins engine, a Funk power-shift transmission and a Gima-designed transaxle, yet only 11 of the 333 produced found their way onto UK farms.
Of course, a lot has changed since the ZTX debuted in 2004 and McCormick is no longer the fledgling in the UK tractor market it was back then.
Leicestershire farmer Mark Hill was also the first UK farmer to buy one of the new McCormick X7 tractors back in 2015, an X7.680 bought from Catley Engineering, Peckleton, Leicestershire. It replaced a Claas Arion.
Today Mr Hill runs two X7 models, so it is hardly surprising that he chose the range-topping X8.680 to replace his ageing McCormick ZTX. But do not be fooled into thinking that buying the ‘Big Mac’ was an uncontended choice.
Mr Hill explains; “We looked very closely at comparable tractors from MF and Claas. The list price for the McCormick X8.680 VT-Drive sits at a shade over £223,000, which not only represents a considerable investment, but it also places it in line with some pretty stiff competition from the likes of John Deere, Agco and CNH.
“Where the McCormick X8 stands out is that it comes as standard with a lot of features which are listed as options on many competitive models. We particularly found this to be the case when we compared it to the Claas Axion 920.
“In its basic form, the Claas was cheaper, yet it offered a much lower specification. However, once we optioned the tractor up to the spec of the McCormick X8, the cost of the Axion was significantly greater.”
In terms of operation, Mark’s son, Josh, who mostly drives the tractor, says; “If you have driven an X7 tractor with VT-Drive, then driving the X8 is actually very similar. The most noticeable difference is the power. With the X8.680 there is no power boost, you have 310hp on tap whenever you need it and this tractor can really put the power down.
“The first time we used the X8 was back in the spring for working down potato ground with the Sumo Trio. Working at a depth of 13-inches, this was the first time we had used the tractor in anger, which quickly proved to be a more relaxed performer than the ZTX 280, and thanks to the VT-drive transmission, slightly more economical.”
He adds; “Primarily we bought the X8 for ploughing and heavy cultivation work. However, it is important that a big tractor like this is versatile enough to step into a variety of different roles if required. And with the wet weather we have had recently, it has proved indispensable.
“Our tractor is kitted out with 1,300kg of ballast on the front linkage and 600kg on each rear wheel. With the additional ballast, the tractive power is quite exceptional and the X8 has been the only tractor we have had that has been able to pull loaded trailers off the wet potato fields without getting stuck.”
However, while the X8 has proved to be a worthy performer it has not been without some teething issues. The Hill family’s tractor is an early production example and shortly after the tractor arrived on the farm the wiring loom for the SCR (AdBlue) system melted and the emission system shut down.
The wiring loom in question was allegedly a pre-production design which McCormick had already updated on subsequent models, however, for some reason the Hill’s tractor slipped through the net and the wiring loom was not recalled. With support from McCormick UK, Catley Engineering diagnosed the problem and replaced the wiring loom with the updated component.
Mark Hill adds; “We have also had some minor issues with the auto-steering system, however I would say in fairness that there is not a single machine out there today which does not have some foibles.”
Josh Hill says; “I have driven a lot of different tractors while working for a local contractor. And I can honestly say the McCormick X8 is not only an impressive performer, it is actually a superior tractor to some of its competitors in terms of its ability to utilise the full potential of its power. Also, the amount of hydraulic power that is available seems almost limitless.
“I do think there are a few things which McCormick could improve,” adds Josh. “For a start, the cab steps are too shallow and do not provide enough purchase for your foot. You climb the steps on the balls of your feet.
“Another area for improvement would be the back window. Every time you open it, the dust or mud around the window falls into the cab. If I am being honest, the X7 tractors have exactly the same flaw. It is not a major problem, it is just annoying.”
Mark Hill adds; “Another minor gripe I have is that you have to open the bonnet and remove the near side engine cover to check the engine oil. Why they have not put a service hatch in place is anyone’s guess.
“We took a bit of a gamble buying the McCormick X8.680,” states Mark Hill. “We are lucky because our McCormick agent is on our doorstep and we get superb service from Catley Engineering. That was a key element in our decision to buy the tractor.
He concludes; “Overall, a few niggles aside this is a very high-specification and well-built tractor. Obviously we have not been able to really put it to the test with all the bad weather, but from what we have seen so far, once the bugs are ironed out, the X8 should be everything we expected.”
Power to the wheels is directed by a ZF-supplied continuously variable transmission with four mechanical ranges, and distributed to the front wheels by a Carraro axle with active-damping suspension and a locking differential.
Up front, the X8 features a heavy-duty integrated front-linkage system (which comes as standard), with a lift capacity of five-tonnes. Mr Hill opted to add a single front auxiliary spool valve, but not the front PTO system.
At the back of the tractor, the X8 boasts category four linkage with a lift capacity of 12 tonnes. The hydraulic system features a closed-circuit load-sensing pump, which provides 140l/min at the spool valves, while a separate 115l/min pump operates the steering and auxiliary controls including the diff-locks.
The tractor also features a hydraulically-operated Dromone push-out pick-up hitch, which is described by Josh as being extremely powerful and surprisingly easy to see from the driver’s seat.
Josh Hill adds; “The X8 has six rear auxiliary Bosch spool valves. They feature flow-control, timed operation and lock-out ability, which is all controlled through the tractor’s Data Screen monitor.” There is also power-beyond hydraulic capability, in addition to air-braking and dual-circuit hydraulic trailer braking systems.