When it came to hydraulics and PTO, which tractor came out on top?
Our 550 featured four spools, two of which could be redirected, via taps, to the front and used with a joystick. As an option you can specify mid-mount spools which do the same job.
Spool connections are clearly colour coded and feature an ejection system which really takes the effort from yanking pipes out at the rear, avoiding having to be stood in the perfect position and smacking your elbows on the implement.
Someone practical must have conceived the storage around the Arion – both the linkage balls and drawbar can be conveniently stowed at the rear, where they should be. Top link retention is also good, although the link’s winding mechanism which also serves as a lock to prevent the link from un-winding, can bite you if you are not careful.
Rear fenders incorporate buttons for linkage, a spool and pto control. The spool button is also assignable to any spool, via Cebis, which comes in handy.
For safety, and in part accuracy, the linkage fender controls lower/raise in short stages, requiring another prod of the button to go a bit further.
In-cab, the Cebis terminal allows the set up of comprehensive headland management sequences. These can either be pre-programmed, or done via the simpler route of just recording as you go.
Four active headland management sequences can be used at once and ready to go with a button assigned for each one. However, we found two sequences quite sufficient, one for a go sequence and one for an end sequence. You can also have the full sequence, incorporating a pause, on one button.
Providing both position selection and incremental control for the linkage, is a cross-gate button mounted on the Cmotion control lever. By far it is the best out of the five affording simple and precise control. Depth is set via a wheel on the armrest, while further settings for draft, upper limit and drop rate are done via quick access knobs on the right rear pillar. Pto speed selection buttons also reside here.
While pretty much all of the Deutz’s controls are easy to suss out what they do and how they work, the rear linkage control is a different matter.
This is done by a three-position finger switch which is convoluted to say the least. At its most rearward position it locks out the rear linkage. A central position then allows incremental control of the linkage, and at its most forward position it toggles forwards and backwards for position control, determined by the depth control and upper height limit.
There is also a danger when working, that you can accidentally pull the switch through the gate which separates position and incremental control, resulting in your plough still sat in the ground at the headland while you are trying to turn.
The rear linkage also locks every time the tractor is keyed off, so it needs resetting by pulling the switch into the lock position, then holding in the upper position of the incremental control until you hear the beeps stop.
Thankfully, all this it is being changed to make it easier for 2015 models.
Spools are a much simpler affair, with a cross gate lever taking care of spools one and two while individual levers look after spools three and four. All are mechanical on this spec of tractor and offer decent proportional control, with chunky levers giving a good sense of ruggedness.
Spool valve access is pretty good but labelling could be better to correlate which valve belongs to which lever.
As for rear linkage, someone should have got the tape measure out before signing off the design, as even with the link arms closed in as tight as possible, they only just manage to fit a category two hitch width, with no lateral movement. It was almost too tight to fit our Lemken plough.
On the plus side, all adjustment to stabilisers and drop links are screw type and could not be simpler.
For storage there is a tool box near the right hand steps which is handy to get at, though it sits just on top of the battery housing and is prone to catching mud being flung off the front wheels.
Drawbar storage is a bit of an afterthought – it is bolted to either the front or back of the exhaust bracket.
Before we even hitched up to anything, we fell out with the MF’s toolbox as it needs a key to get at. So the tractor has to be stopped every time you want something from the box. However, more conveniently, this tractor does offer linkage ball storage at the rear.
Like the Claas, the MF features upside down lift rams, preventing any dirt sitting on the seals.
Also in common, they feature buttons at the rear of the cab to independently control the linkage when operating the pickup hitch. A diverter tap on one of the spool valves also means one spool is never constantly taken up with the pickup hitch push-out function.
Draft control comes from two lower link sensors, providing a very sensitive and quick reaction to changing conditions.
Primary linkage control comes from three buttons on the armrest; one to lower to a pre-determine depth, one for neutral and one to raise to the upper height limit. Incremental control is afforded by the use of all three. Unfortunately, the buttons take a bit of pressing and do not offer the same confidence or feel of the old rocker switch used on previous models.
Also, a lot of the linkage set-up dials have moved to the B pillar, including draft, upper height limit and drop rate, but using these on the go is difficult as you cannot steady your hand on anything. The flimsy nature of the knobs looks like they could easily be snapped off.
While setting up a headland management sequence is straightforward via Data Tronic, it lacks the Cebis monitor’s intuitive navigation.
Headland management sequences can be activated by any of the SV, headland management or guidance buttons located on the armrest.
A sequence can be pulsed through by pressing a button once, or a full sequence played by holding the button for a little longer.
Fuss free and well laid out are our findings of the McCormick’s rear-end.
Spools are clearly labelled and grouped towards the left hand side of the tractor, negating the need to walk around an implement.
Both rear fenders incorporate buttons for linkage control, one spool and pto activation. Usefully, if you press and hold the spool buttons, you can dump the hydraulics taking pressure out the line.
Linkage control comes from a roller switch incorporated into the armrest’s grip. While this allows easy selection of up (to top limit), neutral or down (to depth setting), it does offer limited incremental control. For precise control when hitching, we resorted to the position control wheel.
For other settings, draft is done via a knob located just behind the position wheel, while top limit and drop rate are tucked away under the armrest.
For hydraulics, flow timings and rates are easily adjustable through the dash’s LCD screen via a scroll wheel, although inputting a flow time can take a while as the scroll wheel is a little tardy to react.
Once set though, we found the controls ideal for ploughing, with your hand never leaving the grip.
Like all the contenders here, the McCormick features automatic pto activation, if selected, which is automatically kicked in or out at a pre-determined point in the lift range of the linkage. This point can be altered by pressing and holding the auto pto button at the desired height.
What is not so convenient is the bolt-on pto stub which all machines used in the group, except Valtra.
Annoyingly, when the tractor engine is stopped, the pto will rotate as you try to undo the bolts. The best way we found is to use a rattle gun, providing the speed and force needed to overcome free rotation of the shaft.
First thing you notice with the Valtra when hitching up to a mounted implement is its orangutan-like link arms. The distance between the pto and the link arm ends is by far the greatest of the group, requiring a longer pto to attach to our power harrow. Incidentally, all the others managed with a shorter shaft.
However, it does mean pie eaters can get between the back wheels and implement without too much squeezing.
Spool valves are equally split between the left and right hand side of the tractor, which means if you are plugging in a flow and return pipe, one needs to plumbed in on the left side, before walking around the implement because one needs plumbing in on the right.
Only Valtra and Claas offer drawbar storage in the proper place - at the rear.
Our N163 featured pin-adjustable stabilisers, which are probably the easiest type to adjust, but can suffer from rapid wear in the pin holes. Automatic locking stabilisers are an option.
Its top link impressed, with a proper handle which locates in a retainer for storage.
Swapping the pto shaft though, is a messy affair. It is held in by a hard to grab circlip, even with proper circlip pliers. Once that is out, along with a dollop of oil, a collar seal also needs taking off the shaft and putting on the replacement shaft. Finally, getting it back in is a four-handed job to get enough pressure on the circlip to achieve positive retention.
The Vatra does however, have a decent toolbox, although it does require the right hand steps to be folded out. And opening the toolbox requires it to be completely taken out of its location.
Primary linkage control is a simple rocker switch, although you could be forgiven for not finding it at first as it is not clearly labelled.