Kubota’s M7001 tractor series has had an unusually long gestation period, but models are finally starting to land on farms. Geoff Ashcroft headed to Cornwall to see if the range-topping M7171 Premium with KVT transmission is worth the wait.
M7171 Premium KVT packs 170hp from a 6.1-litre, four-cylinder Kubota engine.
Kubota first took the wraps off its prototype M7001 tractor range in September 2014.
Since then, the Japanese maker has established European production close to the port of Dunkirk, France, and is currently structuring a dealer network as it seeks to become a serious player in the UK tractor market.
Finally, the first few models are heading out to customers, and early indications are encouraging says Kubota Agriculture’s business development manager Rob Edwards. But with every other tractor make out there considered to be a competitor, the European-built M7001 needs to be more than just good. It needs to be very good indeed.
Premium-spec gets seat-mounted armrest console. Test tractor had the optional 12in touch screen terminal.
So what does the M7001 series bring to market? Currently, there are just three models - M7131, M7151 and M7171 - which span 130-170hp. Kubota sees them as versatile all-rounders, which should appeal to the livestock and arable sectors.
And while higher powered - perhaps five-cylinder or six-cylinder - models are still some way off, the M7001 platform clearly has potential.
Rob Edwards says; “M7001 is available in S and Premium specifications, with a choice of powershift or KVT transmissions, manual or electronic spools and a 7in or 12in touch screen terminal.”
“These tractors sit right at the heart of the mainstream tractor market and their specifications can be tweaked to suit needs and budget.”
Access to the 6.1-litre engine for daily checks is straightforward.
Power comes from a 6.1-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged Kubota engine which is shared across all three models, but in the M7171 it delivers 170hp, with a 5hp boost during pto and transport.
KVT (Kubota Variable Transmission) is essentially a ZF 7200-series continuously variable transmission, offering a 0-50kph working speed.
You can choose from two effective speed ranges; 0-20kph and 0-50kph, with the only difference being responsiveness and sensitivity of control. The slower range can also have its maximum speed of 20kph set lower, using the tractor terminal.
Driving the tractor can be via foot pedal or joystick, with each offering a simple method of driving, without the need to select or choose a control process.
Zuidberg front linkage and pto integrate with M7171’s suspended front axle.
Shifting from forward to reverse can be done using either a left-hand reverser on the steering column, or thumbing direction arrows on the joystick controller - using the joystick requires a simultaneous push of a concent button on the back of the joystick.
Rear lift capacity is 9.4 tonnes, with auto-stabilisers and twin lift rams. There is plenty of room between the rear tyres and the linkage area, making it difficult for mud and dirt to build up too.
Up front, an optional Zuidberg front linkage and pto system offers a 3.9 tonne lift and integrates neatly with the M7171’s heavy duty front axle and suspension. And the ability to fit the Japanese maker’s four-tonne front-end loader is not far away.
Rear linkage offers 9.4 tonne lift capacity.
Toolbox storage is, like many others, woefully inadequate for anything other than linkage balls and a drawbar pin.
Access to Kubota’s four-post cab is easy enough, and the right-hand door gives you a useful emergency exit strategy too. Once seated on the Premium-spec’s air seat, you are greeted with a cab that feels uncluttered, open and spacious, with good visibility all around.
Unfortunately, the cab’s interior plastics feel low rent despite their bright, light colour.
There is plenty of adjustment for the seat and steering column, though a bulky roof-mounted sun visor eats into headroom and space, and is not a solution befitting a premium-spec tractor.
Up to five rear spools and two front spools can be fitted to the M7171.
In-cab storage space is hardly generous either, and you will be putting your lunch bag on the floor in the right-hand front corner of the cab. There are small cubby holes beneath and behind the passenger seat, but that is about it.
Premium-spec though, does treat operators to a seat-mounted armrest console. And our test tractor carried the optional 12in touch screen tractor terminal. A smaller 7in version is fitted as standard and both are based on the Kverneland Group’s iM Tellus and smaller Tellus Go universal terminals. The tractor is also auto-steer ready.
Navigation of the terminal is easy, and many touch screen functions are duplicated as buttons with a scroll wheel for those who find touch screen functionality challenging on a bumpy field.
The M7171 gets its power down well.
The terminal features a main information display flanked by three, smaller screen images down the left-side of the terminal. It is possible to choose from a row of icons across the bottom of the screen to tailor the tractor information on display.
All you do is tap the screen and tap the location where you want the screen image to sit. It is very user-friendly and quickly becomes second-nature.
The joystick is simplicity itself. It carries linkage raise/lower, forward/reverse, thumb rollers for two spool valves and cruise control setting. Simply push forward to go faster and pull backwards to slow down.
KVT transmission can be operated in two ranges; 0-20kph or 0-50kph.
Working with a fully-mounted Kverneland five-furrow reversible plough proved easy enough for the M7171 - the engine lugs happily between 1,300-1,500rpm.
With 1,600kg of ballast up front, tractor balance and stability on 540/65 R28 and 650/65 R38 tyres was never in question, though the grass ley being turned over proved a tougher challenge at wider furrow widths.
In-cab noise levels are not intrusive, though the KVT can be heard whining beneath the cab floor as it constantly shuffles engine revs and load to meet the set target speed of 7.5kph while ploughing.
Time in the cab reveals that Kubota has made great strides with the development of the M7001. User-friendliness is impressive, operational simplicity greets you everywhere you look and the fact you do not need to wake the rear linkage to operate confirms our findings that this is not a complex tractor to use.
But a retail price of £113,000 as tested suggests that the M7171 Premium KVT is far from a cost-effective 170hp tractor. And there are areas in the cab that suggest it could be much better finished when compared to some of the competition (see FG Pocket Rocket tractor test, October 2014).
We feel the firm still has a few more hurdles to jump if it is to challenge others in the premium sector. That said, Kubota does back it up with a five-year 5,000-hour warranty and it is only a matter of time before an extensive dealer network is in place.