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LAMMA 2021

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On-test: Third generation Kubota packs impressive performance

Now in its third generation, Kubota’s latest M7 tractor series comes with a host of updates and added features. James Rickard finds out more with a test drive.

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On-test: Third generation Kubota packs impressive performance

First introduced in 2014, Kubota’s M7 tractor series has gradually evolved over the years. Along with moving to Stage 5, its latest round of updates and additions include improved engine characteristics, a brake to neutral feature, the ability to adjust steering ratios, assignable spools, the availability of Tractor Implement Management (TIM) and greater lighting options.

 

As before, this third generation M7 Series is made up of three models; M7133, M7153 and M7173 – the last digit in the model number representing the generation, while the two middle digits relate to power levels.

 

Power ratings have not changed either which are 130hp, 150hp and 170hp respectively. While the two smallest models get a 20hp boost feature, the top model receives just 5hp.

 

Thanks to JA Bloor Agricultural Services, we got stuck into finding out more about the M7’s latest features and functions, with a drive of the most powerful powershift model, the M7173 Premium.

Specifications

  • Test model: Kubota M7173 Premium
  • Engine: 6.1-litre, four-cylinder, Kubota
  • Rated power: 170hp
  • Boosted power: 175hp
  • Maximum torque: 711Nm
  • Transmission: 30- by 15-speed, semi-powershift, 40 or 50kph
  • Rear linkage lift capacity: 9,400kg
  • Front linkage lift capacity: 3,500kg
  • Hydraulic pump capacity: 110-litres/minute (at the spools), closed centre load sensing
  • Wheelbase: 2,720mm
  • Retail price: M7003 Series starts from £92,000 for a powershift M7133 (£126,623 for the M7173 Premium as tested)

Engine

Engine

Sticking with the same engine, power for the M7 comes from Kubota’s own 6.1-litre, four-cylinder motor. And it is definitely the jewel in the M7’s crown. That big capacity four-cylinder means bores and strokes are large, equating to bags of low down torque.

 

Coupled to revised power and torque curves, which now sees a constant power band delivered from 1,800 to 2,100rpm and constant torque levels from 1,200 to 1,600rpm, engine performance is seriously impressive.

 

On the plough, it was eager to deliver, giving lots of confidence to push up through the gears. While maximum torque arrives at 1,500rpm, the tractor is happy enough to sit at 1,400rpm all day long and still achieve a decent forward speed. Granted, this will depend on your conditions.

 

We can also see this low-revving, high torque performance being useful for economy pto work, with 540rpm pto speeds achieved at a considerably reduced engine speed. Power deliver is surprisingly smooth too – you could be forgiven for thinking that this big four-cylinder would be a bit ‘knocky’, but it is not.

 

It certainly seems this engine is capable of a lot more and begs the question as to why did Kubota not take the opportunity to create a more powerful model with this new series, especially when you consider the transmission in this tractor is capable of handling up to 240hp? According to the manufacturer, it places reliability and longevity as much higher priorities than out and out performance.

 

However, it would also suggest that this tractor could easily accommodate a six-cylinder, such as the engine the firm showed at Con-Expo earlier this year.

 

Also, given that the tractor produces boost above 2kph and/or when the pto is engaged, why not give the M7173 the same 20hp boost level as the two smaller models? As it is, you are nearly better off saving your money and buying the mid-model M7153 and still get a similar output as the top model.

Emissions control

Emissions control

As for achieving Stage 5 emission compliance, this is done through a combination of exhaust gas recirculation, a diesel particulate filter (DPF) and selective catalytic reduction (SCR).

 

It does mean the tractors will use a tad more diesel exhaust fluid (AdBlue) compared to Stage 4, but usefully, DPF cleaning intervals have been doubled to 6,000 hours. The latter can be done as a service part exchange with Kubota, with the customer receiving a clean filter. Interestingly, filter cleaning and flow testing is carried out by Volvo Truck and Bus.

 

In addition, where the SCR canister sits, at the front right-hand corner of the cab, it is now insulated better in a heat-resistant plastic which has a positive effect on sound levels, with less noise finding its way into the cab.

Transmission

Transmission

As per the two previous generations, the M7003 gets a choice of two transmissions; a 30-speed semi-powershift or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Both are supplied by ZF, but it is the semi-powershift which has seen the most development and is the transmission we wanted to find more about.

 

Major updates to the semi-powershift came with the second generation M7. This saw it gain more gears, but with fewer ranges – while first-gen tractors featured six ranges with four powershifts in each range, the latest models get five ranges with six powershifts in each. This results in more gear choice overall with less range changes to make, which, for a job like ploughing or any other draft work is a good thing as it means you have more flexibility over speed within each range.

 

Gear shift characteristics were also improved with the new gearbox introduction, which sees slick and smooth powershift changes. Gear changes are speed matched when changing between ranges and you can ‘block change’ too by skipping ranges entirely. You can also use the transmission in automatic and set upper and lower gear limits, along with a start off gear, giving you a set number of gears to work in.

 

New to the semi-powershift’s repertoire is Kubota’s Xpress re-start feature, which is effectively a brake to neutral function. As included on many tractors these days, the feature allows you to stop/start the tractor by only having to use the foot brake, with no need to press the clutch pedal. It is a handy feature for many jobs, such as loader work and round baling, and added an extra level of convenience even when ploughing, particularly at the headlands.

 

The feature is standard on all powershift models and can be turned on or off. It is also progressive in its operation, meaning it will not just pull the clutch straight in, but does it gradually based on the speed of the tractor. This gives a decent level of control which is smooth and predictable.

Cab and controls

Cab and controls 1

In terms of a place to work, the cab is relatively spacious. Cab width in particular, along with a lofty driving position, gives an ‘open’ feel. Right-hand console is also minimal, unlike many other makes where it can dominate the cab, which has a positive impact on all-round visibility. However, the sunblind solution is a big clumsy fold down visor – a roller blind would be much neater.

 

For extra upwards visibility it does have a bit of ‘token’ roof window, more useful for letting in a bit of fresh air rather than providing decent sightlines to a loader, especially compared to some other full width windows now on the market.

 

Layout is all fairly self-explanatory and simple to fathom. Like many tractor designs these days, most controls reside on the right-hand armrest, with primary controls located on the main control lever. The lever can be nudged forwards and backwards to change gear and also includes buttons for forward and reverse, linkage control and two proportional spools.

Cab and controls 2

As well as the buttons on the main control lever, a left hand shuttle can also be used to change direction. The shuttle lever is a return to centre type, so by feel alone you cannot tell which way has been selected, but this is clearly shown on the dash and the terminal.

 

As an option, a secondary joystick can be specified which can control the front linkage and/or a loader. In addition, to make spool valve control more flexible, Kubota now offers the ability to assign spool valve functions to any of the spool control paddles or the joystick. While this is handy and adds convenience to implement control, unfortunately you cannot save tractor set-ups for each job, so this will have to be configured manually each time.

 

However, you can store up to 20 headland management sequences which can be set by either recording a sequence or pre-set while stationary. In both instances, the sequence can be tweaked afterwards.

Smart features

Smart features

New to the M7003s is the ability to adjust steering ratios. Called Multispeed, it means you can alter the amount of steering wheel turns it takes to achieve lock to lock. The number of steering wheel turns can be reduced in three levels; 20, 40 or 60 per cent. In its quickest setting, lock to lock can be achieved in one and half turns when travelling forward and 2.4 turns when travelling backwards.

 

For safety, the system kicks out above 18kph and automatically re-engages once speed has dropped below this. If you go over 25kph, then the system will need manually re-engaging, once at an appropriate speed. It is a handy feature, particularly for jobs with a lot of headland turns, but we can also see it being useful for repetitive loader work.

 

If specified with Multispeed, the tractor will come auto-steer ready, as the system uses the same steering valve, or you can just specify auto-steering.

 

Our Premium test model came with the firm’s top-spec, 12 inch touch screen terminal, known as K-Monitor Pro. It is certainly a good sized terminal, offering decent navigation via large, clear icons, along with some useful shortcut keys enabling quick access to vital functions such as engine, transmission, hydraulics and pto.

 

You can also specify a smaller seven inch terminal, or if you do not need one altogether, you can have the tractor without a terminal, for which settings can be made through the dash. However, the biggest downside of the terminal is the amount of glare it produces from sunlight reflections. Though, you can move the terminal around to try and avoid this, it really needs some anti-glare properties.

 

If specified with the top-spec touch screen terminal, you can also specify Tractor Implement Management (TIM). Via IsoBus, this allows a compatible implement to take control over the tractor, such as the firm’s round balers. On a CVT-equipped tractor, this would allow the baler to control forward speed and the ability to bring the tractor to a stop while the bale is tied and discharged.

 

Cleverly, the tractor features an incline sensor and will prevent the baler from dropping a bale on a slope, for which you will have to manoeuvre the tractor into a safer position.

Practicalities

Suspension

Ironing out the bumps, front axle suspension is standard while a choice of mechanical or air cab suspension can be specified.

Lighting

Lighting on the M7 has been boosted, now with three different configuration levels to choose from, including a 14 LED worklights.

Dash

Though it looks dated, the dash is clear, featuring large analogue gauges and monochrome LCD display.

Options

Options now include automatic climate control and electrically adjustable and heated mirrors.

Verdict

It is clear Kubota has put a lot of effort into getting the fundamentals of the tractor right with the M7. This latest third generation model can definitely hold its head high when it comes engine and transmission performance, particularly the updated powershift version.

 

As for the cab, while it is a decent place to work, a few finishing touches would not go a miss to elevate it to the levels of its competition, such as to the sunblind and roof window.

 

And while we understand Kubota’s ‘reserved’ engineering philosophy, we reckon the lack of an M7193 is a bit of a missed opportunity with this latest generation. But who knows what is on the horizon?

 

Overall, the M7 is well worth a look and should not be a victim of brand snobbery.

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