Hoping to make a dint in the agricultural telehandler market, Bobcat is back with a range of new machines. James Rickard put its latest TL358+ Agri to the test.
Hoping to emulate the success of its skid steer loaders, Bobcat is on a mission at to reassert itself back into agriculture.
Armed with a new range of telehandlers, we test the firm’s latest model, the TL358. Billed as a compact, high capacity machine, it effectively replaces the old T2250.
Three versions of the TL358 are available; the entry level 358, the 358+ and the 358+ Agri. While all three share the same engine power and hydraulic flow, lift capacities vary; the TL358 has a maximum lift capacity of 2,600kg, whereas the TL358+ and the TL358+ Agri have a maximum lift capacity of 3,000kg.
A low profile version is also available, which sees the whole cab lowered by 150mm, without sacrificing any in-cab space. Tyre choices include 20 or 24 inch, with the latter affording more traction and increased ground clearance.
As the name suggests, the Agri model is targeted directly at the agricultural market and will be going toe to toe with the likes of Manitou’s MLT 629, JCB’s 527-58 Agri and Merlo’s 32.6. Tough competition, so is the TL358+ Agri up to it?
As telehandler cab layouts go, it is all pretty standard stuff in the 358+ Agri, with primary controls located on a console-mounted joystick, and switches for various functions conveniently placed to the right of the steering column. Impressively though, especially for a machine of this size, is that everything just seems to be in the right place, allowing a very natural driving position.
For old school operators, a left-hand, steering-column mounted lever can be used for direction changes, or for the more adventurous, changes can also be made by a switch incorporated into the joystick. However, the latter will keep your thumb busy as it has to cope with boom and third service control.
Visibility is pretty decent all-round. Its bulbous bonnet was an initial concern, but from the seat its profile just seems to fall away revealing decent sight lines to each corner of the machine. The boom also sits low in its lowered position helping with views.
Under the bonnet is a generously-sized, horizontal cooling package, with air drawn in through it from the top of the engine bay via a hydraulically driven fan – also reversible. Positioned under the cooling package are pumps for hydraulics and transmission, which benefit from a shower of cool air. Air is then expelled out the rear/upper part of the engine bay.
Power is channeled to the wheels via a two-range hydrostatic drive unit affording a smooth and progressive transition from 0-40kph. Ranges can be switched between, on the move, via a button on the end of indicator stalk. In low range, speed is limited to 10kph, providing plenty of pushing power and accurate control over speed.
In addition, an Eco mode can be used to limit the amount of engine revs used, while still maintaining hydraulic flow. You can also independently set engine rpm and forward speed, ideal for tailoring the telehandler to powered attachments such as bedding machines.
Round the yard, the transmission is eager to get going, needing only 950rpm to get underway, and provides a good amount of engine braking when slowing down. A slight downside though is its lack of ability to hold station when on a slope, something which several of its competitors can do to a certain degree.
It means a bit more reliance on the brakes for the 358, but the combined inching/brake-pedal does allow you to conveniently blend ground speed and engine revs, allowing hydraulic performance to be kept up with the throttle.
An impressive 100l/min hydraulic system takes care of loader movements, affording impressive cycle times. Thanks to the joystick being directly linked to the valve block, you get a proper feel of the hydraulics and a good response with no delays in movement.
Designed to tailor the machine to your requirements, the 358 also features the firm’s Smart Handling System whereby you can adjust hydraulic flow rate to the lifting, telescoping and tilting rams. Done via a switch on the dash, a fast setting is ideal for mucking out, for example, while a slow setting is useful for more precise work such a stacking pallets.
Up front, headstock options are a bit limited at the moment, currently only offered with Bobcat’s own Quick Tach headstock or a Manitou-type system. However, we are told the manufacturer is working on other options.
Manual or hydraulic attachment locking is available. Our test machine featured the latter offering a single switch to unlock attachments, with sprung loaded pins for safety.
On the boom’s neck is mounted a well laid out hydraulic connection block, which also has the ability to detect certain powered attachments and automatically adjust the machine’s hydraulic auxiliary flow rate to match the attachment – a rotary yard brush, for example. It also features an automatic, integrated pressure release system – handy for connecting or disconnecting pipes under pressure.
Continuous flow rates can also be manually adjusted via the plus and minus buttons incorporated into the joystick.
Regarding its overload protection system, it is one of the simplest on the markets. Essentially it warns you when you are approaching the load limit. If you do hit the limit and boom movements cut out, you can use a ‘bailout’ function which allows you to perform any movement as long as the weight it brought closer to the machine, or the load can be dumped.
Reassuringly, a lot of the machine’s components are tried and tested in the construction industry, which look well put together with a high degree of fit and finish.
Cab space and layout is another plus point, particularly for a machine in this class.
Transmission is good for the most part, but it would be good if it could ‘hold’ the machine when stationary. A few more headstock options would not go a miss either.