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On test: Evolution rather than revolution

It seems a long time coming, but Challenger’s latest E Series tractors are now fully available and ready to roll. To find out how the new tracklayers compare to their predecessors, James Rickard and Geoff Ashcroft take to the wheel.

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 To see the latest MT E Series Challengers in action check out the video. 

Launched two years ago at the 2013 Agritechnica event, the latest MT E Series Challenger tractors made their debut in striking black stealth livery.

 

However, since then, the latest MT incarnation has come up against it. Issues with engine emissions compliance saw the 700s delayed, as engines were either swapped or re-worked to meet Stage 4.

 

With a rocky start behind them and issues resolved, units are now rolling onto farms. So, was the new MT E Series worth the wait?

To find out we tried out both top models from each range; the MT775E and the MT875E.

 

Up first, the MT775E

Up first, the MT775E

With its blackened nose, the MT775E exudes a more modern appearance than the larger, MT875E.In the move from D to E Series, changes found on this model are plenty  – but those hoping to find a much more inviting and vastly improved cab still have a wait on their hands.

Cab

Cab

The E’s cabin remains unchanged, save for the inclusion of radio controls on the steering wheel. And you will still find a scalp stripping sun blind awaits you in the doorway. However, MT775E operators do get the MT800’s much better seat, which brings cool air ventilation for the seat base and backrest, in addition to seat heating and air suspension.

 

What is noticeable however, is the lower noise level inside the cab. A big part of this noise reduction is a result of switching to a seven-cylinder Agco Power engine, essential to steer the MT775E comfortably below the EU Stage 4 emissions threshold.

Engine

Engine

Agco says the quieter engine eliminates the need for side panels too, such is the improvement made to external noise levels. It is a sweeter sounding tractor too, and is not unlike a six-pot. The odd-cylindered 9.8-litre engine, already proven in the firm’s combine harvesters, is shared across the MT700 series’ three models – the MT755E, MT765E and MT775E.

 

Equipped with two-stage turbocharging, it boasts a power and torque increase across the board, and the range-topper tested here offers a maximum power figure of 438hp at 1,900rpm, backed up by 1,921Nm of torque at 1,500rpm. These numbers represent a substantial increase over the previous 700D flagship, the MT765D. Its 8.4-litre six-pot gave out 382hp and 1,540Nm of torque.The new engine has resulted in a slightly wider and longer front section of chassis, creating adequate space for the improved cooling pack too.

 

Emissions are cleansed initially using cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), before leaving the exhaust pipe via a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system. This means filling a secondary tank with diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), though its 87-litre capacity should fit comfortably with the E’s revised fuel tank capacity. Where previous models had a thimble masquerading as a fuel tank, all MT700s heading for the UK are now equipped with an additional 114-litre tank on top of the 659-litre standard tank.With 773-litres on board, it should pacify all those operators who have previously groaned at the Challenger’s inability to complete a day’s work without refuelling at tea-time.

 

Usefully, for both the 700s and 800s, service intervals have been increased to 400 hours, up from 250 hours, while the rear end needs its oil changing every 1,200 hours. This can be extended to 2,000 hours, though regular oil sampling becomes a mandatory requirement for those seeking the longer drain period.

Running gear

Running gear

While the running gear is unchanged, tweaks to the track frames allow additional ballast to be put into the middle of the machine. You can add nine weights to each side of the frame, and with 16 front idler weights and a full rack across the nose, the MT775E can be ballasted up to 18 tonnes – two tonnes more than the D-series.

 

All of which should be better at keeping the tracks firmly in contact with the ground, converting that newfound muscle into traction.

Performance

Performance

Shackled to a Keeble Brothers’ 3m Progressive cultivator, and faced with a 20 hectare (50 acre) field to cultivate, the MT775E got a decent workout. The combination of gently rolling Suffolk countryside allied to discs, tines, deep loosening legs and rear packer roller meant the Challenger did not get an easy time.

 

Transmission take-up is smooth, but you need to get past 5th gear to take full advantage of virtually seamless shifts through the next seven ratios. Running in 12th gear at about 11-12kph, and with engine memory speeds set at 1,750rpm for fieldwork and 1,200rpm or headland turns, the 775E handled its role with ease.

 

The underlying impression is that this revised package would be as good at heavy draft work as it would be sat on top running at higher forward speeds handling an 8m seeder.

 

Hauls up the hill thoroughly tested the engine’s torque and traction reserves. As the field slope increased, the engine note hardened – but not intrusively so. There was no immediate need to drop a gear, as the extra power and capacity from the seven cylinder’s characteristics create such an improved powertrain package.

 

Yes, revs would drop back, but not without putting up a fight. Where its predecessor would be more inclined to give up sooner, the MT775E will hang on a lot longer. This gives you more confidence to run one gear higher, safe in the knowledge that the motor could hang on better when the going gets really tough.

Big daddy, the MT875E

Big daddy, the MT875E

If more muscle than the MT700s can muster is what you require, then the 800s have also been given an update, although you would be hard pressed to tell judging from the outside.

 

Jumping straight from C to E Series designations, main changes to the 800s include new engines and a refined transmission. They also get an improved side shift mechanism on the rear linkage, with rear linkage also now available for the top model, the MT875E.

 

Four models make up the MT800E Series – 845, 855, 865 and 875 – ranging from 492hp to 648hp. Power for each model has been upped right across the board, with the top model gaining 39hp over its predecessor.

Engine

Engine

Providing power for all models is a 16.8-litre, V12, Agco Power engine. Shoehorned under a bonnet which you could play a team sport on, it replaces the 18.1-litre, straight six engines as used in the two largest models and the 15.2-litre Cat engines as used in the two smallest.

 

As well as bringing engine production in-house, the new engines are also Stage 4 emissions level compliant, using a combination of SCR and EGR, along with a DOC. With that though comes an exhaust the size of a cooling tower, although it is not as obtrusive as you might think.

 

To keep the engine responsive, two pairs of high and low pressure series turbos are used (one set for each bank). As a result, the engine hangs on well, highlighted by the 11-leg subsoiler it had to pull.

 

Torque-wise, compared to the old Cat motor, you could not put a feeler gauge between the performance difference, however, the biggest smile-inducing difference comes from the fuel use figures which are significantly lower than the previous C Series. Challenger reports average savings of about 15 to 20 litres per hour depending on job and conditions.

 

With the memory of the old Cat engine roar, those expecting an impressive noise from the new V12 will be sadly disappointed. Thanks to sound deadening exhaust after treatment some of the Challenger’s character has been lost – a Spitfire it is not. On the upside though, and probably more importantly, it does make long days much more tolerable, with your ears not feeling like you have just come out of a Prodigy gig.

Rear-end

Rear-end

From the bell housing back, including track units, things are pretty much the same as before. However, refinements have been made to the full powershift Cat 16 by 4 transmission which has resulted in more progressive and smoother changes.

 

However, it is still in desperate need of a greater choice of gears for reversing, rather than the massive jump between third and fourth.

 

At the rear, the manufacturer has tweaked the geometry of its novel side shift linkage mechanism, with its two hydraulic rams positioned wider apart for increased stability and less sensitivity.

 

This can be operated in either manual, with the ability to offset the linkage, or in float. For us, float was the mode of choice which did a good job of reducing lateral loads, particularly when pulling out of a bout, as you start to turn and the implement is still partially in the ground.

 

Downside of specifying the rear linkage, apart from extra £21,000 cost, is the reduced rear visibility over the top of the linkage.

 

And if you are thinking of putting the tractor on a chaser bin, an optional pto costs £10,000, fitted at the dealership.

FG Insight verdict

FG Insight verdict

So have the changes gone far enough to keep customers happy until the next ‘major’ updates occur? Or is it a case of if it aint broke then don’t fix it? Probably a bit of both. Certainly with the MT700s you feel like you are getting a bit more to justify the extra cost of cleaning up emissions, and the massive fuel savings with the 800s cannot be ignored.

 

However, it is still only essentially an engine change and fans of the crawler will have to wait a while before substantial updates are carried out.

 

That said, the operating environment remains decent and is now a lot quieter and more bearable thanks to the hushed Agco Power motors.

MT775E and MT875E specifications

Model

MT775E

MT875E

Engine

9.8-litre, Seven-cylinder, Agco Power

16.8-litre, V12, Agco Power

Maximum power

438hp

648hp

Maximum torque

1,921Nm

2,840Nm

Maximum permissible weight

18 tonnes

24.5 tonnes (with linkage)

Base retail price

£235,750

£323,300

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