Once upon a time, it was a case of jump on a tractor, pick a range, pick a shift then go. And while that is still the case to some extent, the latest electronics now mean you have a bewildering choice of how you want these transmissions setting up and operated.
For instance, gear change and shuttle modulation can be altered, start up gears can be chosen, target speeds can be set, as well as a multitude of other options.
While this does mean you can tailor the tractor to how you want to drive it, is it just too much choice/complication? As we found, some manufacturers have done better than others when it comes to making setup and control simple- even when some of them are using the same fundamental components.
In addition, these tractors are not as compact as you might think. Yes, wheelbases are slightly shorter, but they are every bit as full-sized as their six-pot equivalents. It is a trend which is set to continue too according to manufacturers. As they strive for greater efficiency expect more of their six-cylinder models to be replaced by four pot motors.
Our findings in summary then. When it comes to doing things logically, Claas has it sorted from the transmission to the cup holders.
Relatively simple control and tractor setup meant the Arion was rated highly. However, it was let down by some inferior cab trim and a lack of low-down grunt from its DPS motor.
With its striking looks, the Deutz is noticeable. It has several standout features including visibility and exceptional manoeuvrability, but it does suffers from poor linkage usability and geometry.
However, of these five, we reckon the Deutz is the simplest to just start up and drive. Ideal then casual staff.
Over complication is the Massey Ferguson’s biggest downfall. On paper, and in practice, this tractor has all the features and functions you could ever want, but some are just too complicated to setup and or use. To get the best out of it, this is a one-man tractor.
However, there is no denying the sheer power of its Agco Power engine, which gives bags of confidence especially for heavy draft work.
A four cylinder has never been so good.
The McCormick revealed a cracking combination of usability and technology.
A genuinely new tractor, there are still a few creases to iron out. For example, finger trapping armrest and software updates, but rest assured, this will be one to watch as it evolves over the next few years.
Valtra’s N163 might be ready for a refresh, but the tractor stood its ground among a strong line-up of contenders. Scandinavian build quality backed up with meaty performance proved the N163 a solid all-rounder, capable of handling a wide variety of tasks with ease.
With some tweaks to the rear end and a more contemporary cab, the next generation of N series will be one to look forward to.
Clearly, none of these tractors are perfect, though all have useful strengths. And with the stylish-looking Kubota entering this market, manufacturers are going to have to cash-in on those strengths to eliminate weaknesses if they are to build on the downsizing formula.
While dealership backup and a healthy residual value will have a big influence on purchasing decisions, we can only base our decision on our findings. And it is with its logic, intuitive systems and overall ease of use, we concluded the Claas Arion 550 Cebis as our tractor of choice. But only just, as you can see from the scores.