News media gathered recently at Highlands Motorsport Park at Cromwell, Central Otago saw Japanese giant Kubota launch three new products for farmers and heard it announce it will open a New Zealand subsidiary.
To recall, the X850 has a twin cylinder, water-cooled Subaru engine pushing out 48hp and it can hit a top speed just short of 70km/h.
First impressions: the machine has a superior build with quality materials, good fit and finish and substantial chassis components capped by a beefy bullbar up front.
The machine we tested had a few extras including glass front and rear screens, a moulded plastic roof and an electrically activated tipping load bed.
Stepping into the cockpit is via moulded plastic half-doors opened by a simple latch on the inner face. Seating is deep and comfortable, with the ideal driving position aided by the adjustable steering column and a wheel that is straight across its bottom edge. Inertia-reel seatbelts ensure occupant safety. The right side seat tips forward to reveal a useful storage bin, although it needs a fixing to prevent it opening forwards when reversing fast.
Start-up is in neutral using the main key, with the engine starting easily and settling to an even tickover. This point is important, as trying to select forward or reverse before the tickover has settled will result in a distinct ‘grinding’.
A conventional handbrake sits next to the driver’s left thigh, with a warning buzzer -- it mimics a strangled cat -- ensuring no-one drives off with the handbrake still set. Acceleration is smooth and linear, easily controlled by the gas pedal and, if required, the unit will quickly hit its 68km/h maximum.
The driveline works well, using a maintenance free CVT setup with a centrifugal clutch that keeps the heavy duty drive belts under tension, so minimising slippage. The unit also acts as a shock absorber and works in union with a one way sprag clutch to give downhill engine braking.
Ride quality on the road and smooth surfaces is smooth and comfortable, with the all-round independent suspension using dual A-arms, coil springs and solid anti-roll bar to soak up bumps and imperfections well.
On rougher terrain, 2- or 4-wheel drive is selected by a lever next to the right heel. And if it gets really tough find the diff lock located behind the left heel and engaged tractor style. In these kinds of conditions, the machine’s 799kg kerb weight also seems to help ride quality, effectively preloading the suspension and eliminating too much rebound damping.
Steering is by electrically assisted power steering which assists most at low speeds then decreases as the speed increases. This point came up for mention by the domestic manager who said “it’s easier to steer than my sports car”.
On that theme, our demo unit was fitted with an optional electrical tipping system on the rear load tray. This also proved to be a great hit with the DM, who used it to move compost in the garden and return with firewood.
Towing farm trailers and calf feeders proved easy with plenty of power, leaving this tester wondering why some competitive machines are up to 90hp -- surely just a recipe for high fuel costs.
As expected of such a well thought out package, a central display gives all the important data including seat belt and park brake alarms, and 4-wheel drive and diff lock status.
Anything not to like? Maybe the throttle position when trying to maintain a low throttle opening when driving cows down the farm race. And the difficulty of cleaning all the nooks and crannies after a few days work. But that’s not exclusive to Kubota.