JCB Mini CX 4x4 backhoe loader

“Tonka!” Our tester is clearly excited when the Mini CX arrives on a trailer, towed by a four-wheel-drive pick-up truck. This is JCB’s smallest backhoe loader ever, but it’s no toy. The model we are using is the brand new 4x4 version launched January 2007. It’s a perfectly scaled-down digger. And there is something immediately attractive about it.
“Everyone was staring at it as I drove down the A34,” admits JCB’s area sales manager Rob White. This machine is going to turn heads. It’s got that “I want one” factor. And it’s likely to get you — and your business — noticed. But looks aren’t everything. We need to know that it is up to the job.
It’s certainly compact. It’s one for the smaller spaces and, with an operating weight of only 1,960kg, it is easy to transport. It also has low ground-bearing pressures. We are using the pre-production model and it’s fitted with industrial tyres — a half-way house if, like us, you can’t quite make up your mind whether you should be on turf tyres to run across lawns or big-chevron tyres to give the grip needed on wetter sites.
The Mini CX is aimed at the rental, ground care, gardens, building and landscaping sectors. With designed-in versatility it should be fit for a variety jobs — from digging footings to shovelling top soil — and should be equally at home on the golf course, estate and even in cemeteries, as well as construction sites. We start with loader work using the general-purpose bucket. Gravel needs placing in the drainage trenches dug earlier in the week. There’s a distance of several hundred metres to travel. Our tester familiarises himself with the controls and prepares for work.
It’s hard to comprehend just how easy it is to operate the Mini CX. There’s a throttle pedal and a lever for forward/reverse — this really makes loader work a doddle and gives outstanding productivity. There’s no brake. Let go of the accelerator and the machine stops. An “inching” pedal should provide the comfort factor desired when working on slopes. All in all, driving the Mini CX is simplicity itself. This should be a great drive for the novice.
When you drive into the pile, flick it into neutral and use the power for loading. A closed-loop transmission gives anti-stall — well, nearly. The machine can be stalled in tick-over, but the transmission is supposed to be clever enough to back off if the unit is going into something it can’t lift. The tester manages to stall twice when loading with gravel. “Don’t think I’m giving it enough wellie,” he says. “It takes a little getting used to the foot throttle. I think it’s just a case of judging how much gas to give it.”
We find the Mini CX works at a cracking pace. And with a top speed of 10km/h it travels three times as fast your average mini-excavator. It’s also light on its feet and causes only minimal damage to the ground where we work.
After a few more minutes, the tester is more confident and is speeding along, bucket full of gravel, to infill the drainage trenches. “The steering is very good — very positive,” he notes. “The speed is also very good and matches the steering perfectly. There’s no need to cut back on the speed when you turn a corner and the machine isn’t bouncing when flat out. The suspension, irrespective of whether the bucket is loaded or not, is very positive. I like it a lot.”
The next job for the Mini CX is to shift some spoil to continue the landscaping works around the boiler house. The trailer is ready for loading. The first few loads of spoil were easy to shift but the heap has been sitting there for several years. Settlement, along with weathering, has resulted in a hard crust and concrete-like interior.
Already, the back wheels are starting to spin. The four-wheel drive kicks in — pity only the back wheels are now on the ground. Perhaps we can loosen the heap with the backhoe?
To gain the backhoe operating position it’s simply a case of pulling a lever and spinning the seat round, lifting your legs clear of the mudguard as you go. Next, the European-style vertical jack legs are lowered and the backhoe slid into a working position. Being a side-shift backhoe, and having vertical legs, this unit could work tight against a wall. Street pads are standard to minimise damage to Tarmac. Incidentally, being one piece, the jack legs and hoe are quickly detachable — simply lower the legs and drive away. Although the Mini CX is construction kit and should not be confused with a tractor, it is superbly compact and in time we expect to see it fitted with a PTO to run mowing equipment.
The construction of the Mini CX is sound, yet it is light and has excellent manoeuvrability. Power comes from a 23hp diesel engine and four wheel-motors give 27 per cent more torque than the two-wheel-drive version.

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