Representing more than just a tweak, Fendt has given its 300 tractor series a fairly serious overhaul. To find out how the new tractor performs, James Rickard put a 312 Vario to the test.
Fendt is hoping to appeal to livestock and mixed farmers with its new 300 Vario tractor series.
Previewed two years ago in the shadow of the highly anticipated 1000 Vario Series tractor, Fendt took the wraps of an almost completely re-vamped 300 tractor series.
And like that grand occasion, the 300 Series has largely gone under the radar in the UK, where larger Fendt six-cylinder models are more popular and well known. In contrast, the 300 Series is actually the manufacturer’s most popular range overall, mainly on the continent in dairy areas.
Four models make up the new 300 Series; 310, 311, 312 and the 313, with the last two digits of the model number roughly relating to rated power - a 312 is 120hp, for example.
Two main spec levels are also available for each model; Power and Profi. While Power models get mechanical spool valve control and a less sophisticated console, Profi versions get electric spools and the addition of the firm’s full-sized TMS joystick and a cab terminal, offering extra functionality such as IsoBus and headland management.
Now sporting a new cab, a completely new front-end and family styling, the manufacturer hopes to emulate some of that continental popularity in the UK.
To find out if Fendt are on the money, we took a 312 Vario Power equipped with loader to a beef and dairy farm and introduced it to various tasks including handling, pto, transport and field work.
The most noticeable update on the 300 is the new cab. And much like the firm’s larger tractors before they received major updates, the cab was one area which was desperate for a change.
Based on that used on the latest 500 and 700 Series tractors, incorporating a one-piece, curved windscreen, it now provides a very light and airy place to work.
Its five post cab design offers a proper sized door with plenty of space to enter and exit through, and does not wobble about like some of these big barn doors as found on four-post cab designs.
A full length, panoramic window on the right hand side also affords unrestricted views to the right, however, we think Fendt has missed a trick by not having a left-hand opening window for some fresh air, although it does provide a roof hatch.
The 300’s cab employs practically the same layout and control logic as its bigger brothers, giving a sense of familiarity. Main difference is the right-hand console which is mounted on the fender and not on the armrest. For Power-spec machines, this leaves room for mechanical spool levers which reside down near the operator’s right leg.
A cross-gate lever, which was handier to use than we first thought, takes care of two sets of spools and also controls the loader and front linkage, depending on the position of two taps. It is an easy hydraulic system to configure with plenty of flexibility.
All spool levers can be locked via individual, colour-coded knobs which relate to colours on the rear spools. However, there is no labelling on the levers, which requires a bit of working out as to what lever corresponds to which spool.
A new mini joystick, which replaces the old ‘golf ball,’ takes care of tractor drive when in lever mode. It works in the same way as the full size ‘stick’ as found in bigger models and on the 300 Profi-spec machines, and incorporates ‘end and go’ buttons for linkage or pto control, and engine rev memory and cruise speed selection/activation buttons.
Up-front, it is out with the structural, load-bearing Deutz engine and in with a new half-chassis design, into which an Agco Power unit (formerly known as Sisu) is dropped. As a result of the chassis, load carrying capability is increased, a fully integrated front linkage is now an option and a loader can be fitted more easily.
A slightly longer chassis also allows bigger boots to be fitted, now up to 600/65 R38 tyres at the rear.
Supporting the nose is a new, optional front axle suspension unit. Based on that used on the larger 500 Series, it comprises a ‘swing arm’ design with the arm pivoting from the back of the half chassis. In concert with the cab suspension and the operator’s air seat, the ride is a relatively pleasant one, despite the best efforts of rough tracks and pot-holed, riddled roads.
Together, the new engine and single range continuously variable transmission provide a very drivable powertrain. It offers an unsurpassed level of finesse when it comes to speed control using either pedal or lever mode.
Tuned to be grunty at low revs, the tractor soon picks its feet up for most tasks, requiring few revs to get going. In addition, it responds well to changing demands in speed.
However, is 40kph enough on a tractor of this size these days, particularly when compared to the competition?
Stopping the 300 is a bit questionable too. Brakes are alarmingly spongy, but they do work well when you eventually find them.
A few Fendt-isms still get in the way of absolute control convenience such as cruise control and engine rev memory set-up which require a trip through the dash.
While they are fairly easy to do using buttons on the console, why not just have the ability to get up to the desired speed/revs you want, press and hold the cruise/engine memory button to save that speed/revs, then hit cruise/engine memory whenever you want to recall that speed/revs.
Also, why not get rid of the necessity to manually switch between pedal and lever drive modes. Many manufacturers employing CVTs do not require you to do this, with several systems such as New Holland’s, McCormick’s and Claas’, automatically recognising which drive mode you are using.
Finally, and particularly for loader work, it would be more convenient to have a button to select neutral near the left hand shuttle control, as well as the one on the main console.
Our machine came fitted with the firm’s own Compact 4X75 loader. Close coupled towards the cab, the main loader brackets now fasten directly onto the tractor’s new half chassis, with no need for extra chassis rails or bracing. In turn, steering angle is not compromised, which offers up a nimble tractor.
The loader looks a tidy unit too, with majority of pipework kept inside the loader’s framework for neatness and improved sightlines. Also, its mechanical parallel linkage mechanism is positioned under the first portion of the loader arms which helps with visibility over the tops of the arms.
From the cab, the curved windscreen provides good views to a raised loader, however, views to attachments when the loader is on the floor are severely hampered, particularly when trying to hook up to an attachment. It is not just a Fendt problem, extra cooling because of the requirement to meet stringent emissions legislation is the main culprit, which means bonnets are getting bulkier on all makes of tractor.
Third service coupling is also mounted on the main loader frame and not on the loader’s carriage, which means hydraulic hoses have to be that bit longer and more unwieldy, taking away from the overall neatness and user friendliness.
Thankfully, getting the entire loader on and off is a doddle. Self adjusting stand legs and a simple locking mechanism make light work of frame removal and re-attachment.
Thanks to an optional 110litre/minute closed centre load sensing hydraulic system, loader actions are proper swift. As a result, tractor engine rpm can also be kept down, particularly around the yard. In our case, we were lucky if 1,200rpm was reached, which has got to be good for fuel consumption and wear and tear.
Coupled with direct mechanical control from the cross-gate spool lever, both feel and response of the loader is good.
Steering is super light on the 300, even with a sizeable load on the loader, and only four turns lock to lock help in and around twisty building.
With the finesse of a ballerina and the attitude of Scrappy Doo, the Fendt 312 Vario Power is a good reminder of what a 120hp tractor is capable of.
Loaded with enough standard features to keep most operators happy and at the same time offering operational simplicity, we found the Power-spec machine a good place to start for any Fendt-fearing sceptics.
As with any tractor, it has its fair share of niggles, particularly the amount of reliance on the dash to set up certain functions. No automatic guidance option is also a bit of an own goal, particularly for those seeking extra efficiency during tillage and fertiliser application work, or for just shear convenience when mowing and raking, for example.
That said, any deficiencies the 312 may have are more than made up for with its fit and finish and refined performance.
However, the hardest thing to sum up about this tractor is who would want one. We can see who it is aimed at, but with so much competition from equally well equipped tractors such as Claas’ Arion 400 Series, John Deere’s 6RC, Massey Ferguson’s 5700 SL Series, it is a tough decision. In addition, and particularly in this power bracket and sector, there is also severe alternative competition from the likes of Zetor, Kubota and McCormick.