Aiming to improve operator comfort, John Deere has updated its popular diesel-powered Gator.
Richard Bradley takes it for a test drive.
Favoured for refuelling simplicity, diesel-powered utility vehicles (UTVs) look after a whole host of jobs on livestock and arable farms alike.
And John Deere’s 855D Gator has taken its fair share of the market, but appeared to fall short of the competition when it came to the cab.
Not one to let the competition run away too far, Deere saw it fit to launch a new 865M model late in 2017.
While differences are mostly on the surface, there is a brand new sealed cab as well as a larger fuel tank.
With the new models, lettering denotes spec level in line with the firm’s tractor range.
While available in the US, top spec R Series models will not be coming to the UK.
To see how the diesel-powered workhorse fares, we put it to work on a mix of yard, road and sodden off-road duties.
Underneath the Gator’s slick new bodywork, the same 854cc, 23hp Yanmar diesel engine is featured.
As standard this comes coupled to Deere’s own continuously variable transmission (CVT) which boasts a 50kph top speed and high and low ranges.
Another feature to boost its operating range, fuel tank has grown by more than 50 per cent, now offering 42-litre capacity.
As with many CVT-driven UTVs, the transmission requires a decent amount of revs to get the Gator moving.
Once you have got the machine rolling, its perky engine quickly picks up to 30kph, however, getting past the 40kph mark and up to its top speed takes a little more doing.
Drive from the transmission is sent to the ground via a lockable rear differential, with the option of engaging four-wheel drive via a switch on the dash.
As before, the rear diff locks with a reassuring lever, and the front axle uses an automatic locking set up.
The transmission handled itself well without over revving and spinning out in sodden fields, even when we dragged a trailer filled with a few hundred kilos of grain out for duck feeding duties.
Like the powertrain, the 865M shares its underpinnings; power steering, all-round independent suspension and disc brakes, with the existing 855D.
However, the 865M has an increased towing capacity, now up to 907kg, and has a payload of 635kg, including passengers.
This means a total of 454kg can be carried in its gas-strut assisted manual tipping rear bed, which can be fitted with an electric motor as an option.
For those wishing to regularly use the Gator for load lugging duties, the independent suspension can be stiffened to prevent its rear-end sagging too much.
The biggest differences to the previous 855D can be seen inside Deere’s new cab.
Gone is the low-mounted two seat set up, in favour of a 60/40 split bench seat.
On the driver’s side, this affords an adjustable seat, while the passenger’s side can be flipped up revealing a large 56-litre storage compartment.
And storage improvements do not end there.
A sealed glovebox is now fitted and to suit its American users, four large cupholders in the dash and another in each door pocket are now featured.
To allow the Gator’s new bench-style seat, the cab now runs to the full width of the machine.
Inside, transmission controls have shifted up to the dash, and the handbrake uses a foot pedal to engage, with a lever underneath the steering wheel to disengage.
This not only affords more space inside the cab but also allows you to jump in from either side and slide across to the driving seat, without the same obstacle course of the 855D.
Its rubberised, almost flat floor also makes for easier cleaning with a hosepipe.
Another revised element inside the cab is the much improved digital display which has shifted to sit in front of the rally car-esque sports steering wheel. To suit different users, the steering wheel also boasts rake adjustment.
Unlike the all-glass doors on the 855D, the new half and half design uses plastic doors with winding windows.
While they look heavier and open the opposite way, accompanied with the better seating layout, getting in and out of the Gator is a far easier task.
Winding windows also allow you to assume the Land Rover Defender driving position with your elbow sticking out wide.
Featuring substantial door seals and a revised air intake position, the 865M does not suffer from the same ear-numbing drone as its predecessor.
A cab heater is also fitted as standard, with the option of upgrading to an air-conditioning unit too. In its standard form, this was able to clear the windscreen and provide plenty of heat on a sub-zero morning.
Engine: 854cc, three-cylinder, Yanmar, 23hp
Transmission: Two-range, continuously variable, 0-50kph
Fuel tank capacity: 43-litre
Drive: Electrically selectable four-wheel, manually locking rear differential, auto locking front
Suspension: All-round independent, 206mm travel (front), 231mm travel (rear)
Ground clearance: 267mm
Turning circle: 8.2 metres
Cargo bed: 1,143mm (length) by 1,321mm (width) by 305mm (depth), 454kg
Towing capacity: 907kg
Retail price: £20,783
Having proved a popular tool on farms, Deere’s Gator looked to be falling behind the competition, most of which have recently undergone updates.
To combat this, the firm has piled its efforts into upgrading the operator’s station, and in usual Deere fashion, have made a good job of it.
Plus points come in the form of a greatly improved cab, ample concealed storage and powerful lights.
However, considering the near pickup truck price tag, you would expect plenty of bang for your buck.