It does not seem two minutes since John Deere (JD) launched its 7R Series back in 2011, however, that has not stopped the manufacturer giving it a raft of updates to meet customer demands and comply with emissions regulations.
Main updates include; more power across the range, about 10hp extra for each model; the addition of a sixth model – the 7310R; a new optional full 23-speed powershift transmission, cleaner engines and a revised cab.
And it is this 7310R model fitted with the new e23 transmission we are going to focus on for this test.
Launched last year, it has been developed to meet the demands of Europe, mainly contractors who require a versatile tractor which has a high power to weight ratio enabling it handle top work, but be equally at home when ballasted up for heavy draft work.
Having tested the original 7R Series in heavy draft work, and found it quite capable, we wanted to see what this new machine was like in top work mode and what differences the updates have made, in particular the new transmission. To do this, we concluded grassland work, with its frantic paced nature and agile requirements, was the ideal environment to find out. For this, we armed the tractor with a
set of nine metre Kverneland triple mower conditioners and pointed it at 93 hectares (230 acres) of grass.
Under the bonnet is where a lot have changes have been made and the 7310R model represents the first tractor in JD’s line-up to meet Stage 4 emission legislation by using AdBlue. You may remember Deere was quite aggressive in its ‘single fluid use only’ marketing campaign, practically condemning the use of AdBlue. However, it says it is all part of its building block strategy to cleaning up emissions and that its solution will be the most fluid efficient system. And because it is only using AdBlue to clean up the last little ‘bits,’ Deere says it will use a lot less compared to other systems, only 2-3 per cent in relation to fuel use rate.
One of the criticisms the original 7R Series came under fire for was the heat haze which used to rise up out of the bonnet due to a push-type cooling fan. This has now gone in favour of a more conventional pull-type fan (still vistronically driven for variable speed), but the firm has cleverly rearranged the radiators to make the most of the incoming cooling air. This has seen the designers create a box-style cooling package with the main radiator and air-conditioning radiators mounted vertically at the front, a charge air cooling radiator mounted horizontal at the top, and the hydraulic radiator mounted horizontal at the bottom. To the sides are panels which you can access from ground level and easily get your arms in. Heat is then redirected over the engine and through new side vents away from the cab.
Our initial concern with this arrangement was the positioning of the hydraulic radiator which is just above the front pto gearbox and looked like it could potentially soak up some of the radiating heat. However, we did not find this to be a problem in our situation even though we were running a front mounted mower and the rear mowing units also needed a constant supply of oil.
More importantly, the engine was well on top of the job, which you would expect from 310hp (352hp when boosted). In uncharacteristic heavy third cut conditions, the only limiting factor to forward speed was field conditions - easily reaching 20kph before things started to get a bit bouncy, mainly for the
It is the back of the tractor where things start to get interesting though, namely the new transmission.
While you still have the option of the AutoPower continuously variable transmission, the new e23 transmission is set to replace the out going semi-powershift AutoQuad gearbox and is seen as a halfway house between the two.
Available on the 7250R and above, it offers a full 23-speed powershift transmission and actually achieves 40kph in 19th gear. The top three gears are effectively economy gears allowing the tractor to run at its top speed of 50kph but at reduced revs – about 1,800rpm on group 49 tyres.
Transmission is controlled by a small right-hand gear lever, and in this case it also included reverse control with the gears changing up in the direction of travel. A left-hand reverser, more conventional shuttle, is available as an option.
The transmission can be effectively driven in one of three main modes; fully manual, fully automatic or a blend of both in custom mode.
Suffice to say you can pretty much set this transmission up to exactly how you like it and/or for the job in hand.
For example, manual mode does what it says on the tin with gears and revs controlled by the operator. However, for cultivating duties for example, you can set one of two target speeds, which the tractor tries to achieve by optimising the engine rpm with the ideal gear to try and use the least amount of fuel. One target speed could be selected for work and another for headland turns.
These can also be incorporated into a headland management sequence and are set by a simple scroll wheel on top of the gear stick. Target speeds, or
Efficiency Manager as Deere calls it, can be turned on or off at any time.
Custom mode takes this a step further with efficiency manager turned on all the time. The gear selection lever then becomes a ‘travel’ lever, not changing gear but altering target speed in incremental steps. For finer tuning the scroll wheel is still used. Economy modes can also be selected which limits engine revs.
In Automatic mode everything looks after itself with every transmission parameter turned on. You can also set a cruise control speed for on the road.
For all modes, engine droop settings can be adjusted to suit, which changes down at a pre set engine load. Start up gears can also be pre-programmed through the screen.
Automatic clutching can also be turned on or off and its aggressiveness adjusted in three levels. This activates when the brake pedal is depressed allowing you to drive it like an automatic car.
Once you have got past the bamboozling way you can set the transmission up, it is quite simple to use. For our mowing purposes, manual was the desired mode as due to the shape and size of fields, constant gear changing was required. This showed up the smoothness of the transmission and relatively snappy gear changes, although you can feel slightly when the clutch packs swap over.
Direction change was good too being swift and smooth. In concert with the automatic clutching, this was really handy on tight headlands.
Another little bonus is the ability to move the tractor immediately after starting up, as a lot of modern tractors will not let you move until they have finished booting up.
Maintaining the same physical size, the cab has also undergone a refresh. Main changes are to the right-hand console which has been re-sculpted to be more ergonomically friendly and a bit more logically laid out.
Ours also came with a new optional joystick which primarily controls front linkage and spools, but features various buttons whereby you can incorporate other functions such as guidance and headland management activation and/or gear selection.
Before, you could only select one of two headland management sequences, generally an ‘in’ sequence and an ‘out’ sequence. This has now doubled to four, allowing a bit more flexibility. These activation buttons are also logically laid out in a row on the console with a guidance activation button at the top of the sequence.
All tractor functions and performance monitoring is now done by the new, Generation 4, 254mm (10 inch) 4600 touch screen terminal (a 178mm (seven inch), 4100, lower spec version is also available). With it you get more functions which means you do not necessarily have to have another screen for functions such as guidance, variable rate control or section control.
Specifically designed for the tablet generation it has a much more fluid feel to it with interface characteristics associated with a tablet.
This includes the ability to drag and drop, resize, zoom and swipe.
However, if fingers get dirty or the terrain gets rough, short cut keys and/or a scroll wheel, now located along the bottom of the screen, can be used.
For immediate settings, such as rear linkage height, draft and drop rate, these can be accessed via new dials on the console, with their new settings flashed up on screen. Similarly, this happens when you access any function via a physical switch or dial. Essentially, it gives you three ways to access functions in the terminal.
Thankfully, the logic and screen navigation is the same as the previous generation. And there are no two ways about it, this is the most intuitive, logical and easiest screen to navigate on the market - essentially see it, hit it, and adjust it. But in case you get lost, handy help menus can be accessed to take you through the desired functions. Also, John Deere’s new remote display access service is now available which allows a dealer, for example, to remotely see what you are doing on screen and then talk you through it.
For our guidance purposes, we used the entry level SF1 satellite signal correction service. This has a guaranteed accuracy of plus or minus 250mm depending on area, but in our test area (Preston) we found it was more like 40mm – consistently too.
Guidance shut down time can also be set which delays when it is turned off, so it does not have to go finding satellites after lunch.
However, it does find satellites very quickly – better than before.
Technology aside, the refreshed cab is a very pleasant place to work – very light and roomy. A slight downside is the access, with the steps slightly offset to the cab kind of kinking your entrance.
Steps are quite narrow too and the door handle could do with placing lower so it can be opened from ground level, without having to balance on a step. You also have to climb the steps to access the toolbox.
Drawbar storage is literally a pain too, especially in the back as it requires a long reach over the front, right-hand fender to where it is located next to the engine, just in front of the cab. Access can be made easier by turning the wheels to the left, but it is still a bit of a reach.
On the plus side, positioning of the AdBlue filling point is nice and low, bearing in mind you may initially be filling up out of drums.
Looking past the niggles, the tractor started to shine in the field. As well as keeping you comfy, the front suspension does a very good job of maintaining a constant height, particularly important for mowing. Mowing also highlighted the tractor’s agility provided by its short characteristics. Also, having the front linkage nice and close to the front axle is kinder to the implements, particularly when they are trying to follow contours. The front linkage also folds neatly away.
At the rear, while the independent twin cylinder hydraulic lift rams worked quite well to raise and lower the pick-up hitch, this has been abandoned in favour of a more traditional lift rod system which takes lift from the main linkage.
As we found the first time, the previous version was quite bulky and could catch on trailer drawbars.
Trouble is, the new version, because of the linkage from the lift arms, it obscures your view to the hook ends. And what is with JD using inferior key ring style clips to retain things such as top links and adjuster levers?
Surely the manufacturer can supply some R-clips or lynch pins.
It remains to be seen which transmission will be most popular in the 7R Series, but Deere sees a big market for the e23. And why fork out more for the CVT when the e23 will do the job? We found it to be a capable transmission and would be hard pushed to opt for the CVT.
And when made the most of, you should really be able to see some fuel benefits, as we found out the last time during cultivation duties.
The new changes have shown John Deere is willing to listen to criticism and react, and two years to make changes, quite significant changes, is a good reaction time for a large manufacturer. Now it just needs to tidy up the other niggles. Granted, a lot of our criticisms are small things and are probably the result of an engineering compromise, but it is the small things which make the difference between a good tractor and a really good tractor.
Physically, the tractor is a relatively compact machine for its intended market and ideal for mixed work.
However, for all its foibles, you can forgive this tractor once you get in the seat. Operation is very logical and the cab is good place to work.
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