It's also practical: its extendable tracks means it can access narrow entrances, yet is stable in use, and the 17hp Mitsubishi engine provides enough grunt to tackle a wide range of jobs. What's more, it shows itself to have an extraordinary working range.
Our testers are impressed when the machine turns up with a technically minded demonstrator, a choice of buckets and lots of manuals: an operation and service manual, an engine and parts manual and a machine parts manual.
“It’s good that everything has come with the digger,” says one, studying the booklets. “These are really clear and easy to understand, and they’ve got cartoons to explain things.”
The first 18 pages of the operation manual deal with health and safety, then the various parts are named. An “explanation of devices” section is followed by advice on how to use the machine. This is a manual you won’t mind reading. Now that makes a change.
The machine has a diesel engine that, after a three-hour journey on a trailer from Manchester, is cold. We give it five seconds pre-heat and then turn the key. Returning the accelerator lever to idle, we let the machine warm up until all the warning lights are out. “It’s a nice quiet engine,” remarks one of the reviewers.
Extending the tracks on this model is a two-handed operation. One switch has to be held forward, then the dozer-blade lever is used to extend or retract the undercarriage.
The control layout is similar to other 1.5-tonne excavators. The left console, which must be in the down position to start the engine, houses the heater and wiper switches. The left lever moves the arm up and back, and provides left and right slew. On the right are the dozer and accelerator levers and starter switch. The right lever lifts and lowers the boom and closes and opens the bucket. At the front are the usual travel levers. Our man in the driver’s seat spins the machine, lifts and lowers the arm and opens and closes the bucket. “It all seems very positive,” he confirms. We use the H15B Plus-2 to dig out a bed, level and grade a plot of earth and create several planting pits. It may be a small engine but there’s ample power —and it’s smooth. The hydraulic pump is a basic triple-gear pump, so it is dependent on the engine revs. But there is no more noise than we would expect. Visibility is good all round.
“It is a very compact machine and performs well for a 1.5-tonner,” says the other tester. “The controls are simple to follow and easy to use. And it’s positive and smooth. It’s small but powerful and it copes well with the digging and trenching.”
The cab has a heater, although on a warm, sunny day like today, what we would like is air conditioning. Being such a compact machine, this model is handy for getting into tight spaces but it means the engine is right behind the operator. And being just 17hp, this engine is small and working hard. “It’s a bit warm; air con would be a good option,” says the reviewer. On a positive note, the door will lock in the open position and the front screen lifts to get air into the cab.
The operator has to get out of the cab to change the bucket, but it is a quick and simple process and is made even easier when you use the quick-hitch device. This is a half-hitch system and should prove popular. It automatically lines up the holes and eliminates the struggle often associated with putting the pins through.
“I think the quick-hitch device is worth it. There are health and safety issues with handling weights, so anything that makes changing buckets easier is good. With this, it is just a matter of swinging the bucket to pin it.”
What we particularly like about the H15B Plus-2 is its construction. This is a tough machine. Everything is metal apart from the plastic on the console and the lever ends, the glass panels in the cab and the rubber floor mat. All components are well protected.
“It’s big on toughness,” says our man. “There’s guarding on the main ram, hose guards and a nice solid cab. Even the filler cap is tucked away and protected behind a flap.”
The dozer blade has bolt-on extensions for dozer work with the undercarriage expanded. We agree they are a good idea since you don’t want tracks marking nicely graded ground, but one tester is concerned they might become lost. “It all depends how conscientious the operator is,” he remarks.
The bonnet lifts and is held in position by a strut. It’s a bit on the low side for the taller of our reviewers — he has to bend to get under it — but he reckons servicing should be straightforward. “Filters are very conveniently placed,” he says. “I can’t fault the machine. It’s ideal for landscaping and light construction work, it’s nice and compact, well balanced
and stable, and has plenty of power for the work a 1.5-tonne machine would be required to do.”