Introduced two years ago, this is John Deere's first commercial rear discharge/rear collect diesel-powered lawn tractor. It is aimed at professional groundsmen, landscape contractors, schools, colleges and estates. With a fully welded steel frame and commercial-grade, stamped steel mower deck and powerful drive, it is a rugged machine that will take tough terrain in its stride. But what we like about it is the smooth ride.
"There is hardly any bounce with the John Deere," notes Baldwin. "The seat is certainly comfortable and it turns well. I think it seems slightly quieter than the Kubota."
The X950R has a high-torque 24.3hp diesel engine, powerful hydrostatic drive and large-capacity hydraulic rear wheel motors. There is a hydraulic differential lock to supply extra traction for challenging terrain and the shaft drive plus a heavy-duty gearbox to provide the power needed to drive the deck through tough conditions - providing you have the cutting height suitably set. Our first run grinds to a spluttering halt as we ask the machine to cut too low.
With the cutting height lifted, we set off again. Driving this mower is easy. Everything is colour coded. All orange controls deal with movement and engine speed. Yellow is the colour for power take-off (PTO) functions and anything black looks after the implements. The seat is adjustable for comfort, as is the steering wheel.
Boasting John Deere's hydrostatic Twin Touch pedal system, the tractor has two pedals - a bigger one for forwards and another for reverse. Take your foot off the pedals and the machine stops. There is a foot brake, but we did not need to use it. This works in combination with the parking brake lever - press down on the foot brake to release the lever. There is also a foot-operated diff lock.
Controls for the implements are intuitive, even more so if you play computer games, as some of the students prove. John Deere's exclusive multifunction lever gives fingertip control over deck lift/lower and collection hopper dump/close. It is the same as on JD's loaders and is so simple to use - pull the joystick towards you to raise the deck, push away to lower. Pulling the joystick backwards empties the collector, pushing it forwards closes it again. We use the low-dump model but a high-dump version is also available for tipping into trailers or onto heaps.
Just in case you should forget what controls what, John Deere has printed a large, easy-to-follow crib sheet on the floor of the operator station. Mowing height is adjustable via a dial on the floor.
While grass normally flows freely through the chute and into the collector, as with many ride-on collectors, bringing the machine to a halt can cause grass to be left in the chute. John Deere has overcome this with a lever that moves a paddle to push grass clear of the deflector - a trick we soon learn to employ once the collector has been emptied.
Another trick is the reverse implement option. When the tractor is reversed, the PTO automatically disengages. To override this safety feature, a yellow button can be pressed to allow the operator to cut in reverse mode and thus catch any odd corners of grass missed by the mower. Initially Baldwin has trouble with this. "I had to really listen for it otherwise I just reversed without cutting," he says.
"There is not a lot of difference between the two machines. Both had issues with blockages but they are easily dealt with," says Baldwin. "Some of the students prefer the joystick on the John Deere, but others prefer the separate levers on the Kubota. Some prefer two pedals, others the single pedal." So we put it to the vote. Six out of 10 students would prefer to use the John Deere if they had to mow all day.
Engine: Three-cylinder Yanmar diesel, 24.3hp at 3,400rpm
Transmission: Hydrostatic, Twin Touch pedals
Drive: Two-wheel drive
Diff lock: Standard, hydraulic traction assist
Speed: 16kmh forward, 9.7kmh reverse
Brakes: Internal wet disc
Fuel tank capacity: 20.4 litres
Power steering: Standard
Deck: Stamped steel, two deep stage, rolled edges
PTO engagement: Electric drive clutch
Deck lift/lower: Hydraulic
Width of cut: 48in (122cm), 54in (137cm) optional
Height of cut: 13 positions, 25-112mm via dial
Number of blades: Two
Collector capacity: 570 litres
Fill indicator: Standard - audible and dashboard indicator
Turning radius: 183cm LH, 155cm RH
Weight: 784kg (with mower and collector)
Width: c/w 48in deck 1.3m
Ground clearance: 14.5cm
Wheel base: 1.47m
Tyres: 18x8.5-8 front, 26x12-12 rear
Options Deflector kit, collector parking stand, road homologation kit, comfort seat with optional armrests
List price £14,461 + VAT
Tel John Deere - 01949 860491
Tested This Issue
John Deere X950R (low dump)
Kubota G23-II (low dump)
The Review Panel
Mike Baldwin, director of learning, Derby College Broomfield Campus
Level 3 horticulture students, Derby College Broomfield Campus
Covering the ground quickly, ride-on mowers are popular in commercial situations. More often than not, the clippings will be left in situ and gradually decompose. But sometimes it is important to collect them - perhaps in play areas in housing estates, lawns outside country houses and the part of the park where office workers take their sandwiches at lunchtime.
In such places it is increasingly accepted that clippings should be removed, not only because large clumps of mow grass can look unsightly but so they are not carried away on feet and trampled into the carpets of houses and work centres.
In this test we look at two collecting mowers. Both work on the same concept, having mid-mounted twin-bladed rotary mowers of the same cutting width. They have similar sized engines and almost the same collector capacity. Both are hydrostatic, feature low dump of the clippings, offer visual and audible warnings when the box is full and have a mechanism for unblocking the chute from the seat. We really are testing like-for-like in this one.
The test took place at the Broomfield Campus of Derby College with director of learning Mike Baldwin leading the review. He was assisted by level 3 horticulture students, enthusiastic to gain as much experience as they can before leaving college this summer. Many already have jobs in the industry. Conditions on the day of the test were dry, warm and sunny.