Caterpillar 303CR mini hydraulic excavator

If you need the versatility of a large excavator in a smaller machine, take a look at the Caterpillar 303CR.

We reckon it’s an ideal solution where you need a mini machine with a long reach and where a small footprint is important. What’s more, this Cat has style, attitude and is extremely versatile. And it’s all in a “zero tail-swing” package.
Complete with cab, this excavator has an operating weight of 3,420kg. It has sleek, modern styling in those instantly recognisable Caterpillar colours.
Power comes from a 26.1hp Mitsubishi S3L2Y1 three-cylinder, naturally aspirated, four-cycle diesel engine. There is not a lot of smoke when you start the engine and during work, both emissions and noise were low.
Our tester, an experienced operator, uses the 303CR to dig a deep pit. He says: “This is a very responsive, very powerful machine and the operation is smooth. It’s also really compact and there’s nothing to worry about behind.”
This machine has a boom swing angle to the left of up to 90? and 50? to the right. Swing speed is 9.2rpm. The Cat 303CR features fully automatic wet disc swing lock, designed to provide protection during transport and to help prevent drift on slopes.
Fitted with standard sticks, the 303CR gives a 3.03m maximum digging depth. Long sticks are also available.
But, of course, it’s not just the digging depth we are interested in. While this machine digs deep, it has that all-important zero tail swing that enables it to work next to walls and obstacles. The tail swing radius is a mere 0.775m and is within the width of the undercarriage. This means you can concentrate on operating the machine and not worry about the back of it.
And then there’s the hydraulics system. The high-performance hydraulics and engine’s variable-flow hydraulics put power where and when you need it. This machine boasts high bucket digging forces of up to 2,722kg and features an open-centre hydraulic system with 11-section valve control, a fixed single-gear pump and two cross-sensing variable displacement piston type pumps that give smooth, low-effort, responsive control through the pilot hydraulic pump. Operating pressure is 3,550psi for the equipment, travel and swing circuits.
Next, we needed to break up and level ground.
The two-speed hydrostatic transmission provides an impressive “walking pace” travel speed between the work sites. This machine is capable of 2.7km/h at low speed and up to 4.8km/h in the high setting.
An independent two-speed motor drives each track. We find this helps with the steering and eliminates much of the effort needed to guide the excavator. Another good feature is the straight-line travel function, which assists control when tracking and simultaneously using the front linkage or swing circuit.
Another tester has limited experience with excavators but has no trouble getting to grips with the operation of this machine. “As soon as I got in the cab, I could see everything was self-explanatory,” he says. “I got the hang of it in 15 minutes.”
The three members of our test panel have had just a short time to use the 303CR. For many operators, ground levelling and digging work means many hours spent in the cab — and that is a fact that Caterpillar recognises. This Cat has all the features you would expect to find on a larger machine.
You don’t need a lot of room to access this machine. The door slides open and makes entry into the cab easy. The suspension seat in the 303CR shouts luxury. It is fully adjustable and has a reclining backrest. The cab itself is spacious. There is plenty of room to stretch your legs, yet the pedals are just where you need them. The compactness of the upper structure also means there is an excellent view to the rear and sides, and the large, opening windscreen to the front gives a clear view of the operation.
For ventilation, there are two opening windows. The heater and windscreen defroster should make winter mornings more comfortable. There’s also a fan in the rear corner. One tester thinks this will be noisy and distracting, but he fails to notice it is switched on. The environment in the cab is comfortable, quiet and free from any noticeable vibration.
The armrests move with the seat to accommodate the operator. Implement controls are console mounted — the console rotating to isolate all controls and give more space when entering or leaving the cab. For safety, the joystick console can be lowered only when the engine is running.
We also check accessibility for servicing and general maintenance. The engine is easily reached via a door.
All major engine components, service points and sight gauges are visible and there is a hydraulic-oil sampling port.
We are told that the front linkage and dozer-blade have low-maintenance pivot joints, giving 50-hour service intervals for the bucket, linkage and swing bearings and 500 hours for all other pivots. Greasing points are easy to reach.
One tester says: “The general appearance of the machine is one of quality. When it comes to maintenance, everything is convenient for daily checks — but I’m not sure about having a diesel filler so close to the battery.”
Work tools for the unit include digging buckets, ditch cleaning buckets, augers and hydraulic hammers. An optional mechanical quick-coupler makes it simple to swap the tools. The auxiliary hydraulic valve allows easy field installation of hydraulic work tools. A blade float function is intended to enhance performance when backdragging or working on finished surfaces.
Summing up, our tester says: “This is a brilliant piece of kit — strongly built and compact. It should prove good for big and little jobs alike and is capable of covering a range of work situations.”

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