Kubota U15-3 mini-excavator

Variable track width, zero tail-swing, two-speed travel and a clever anti-theft device — this mini-excavator has all the technology you would expect from a leading Japanese manufacturer. What’s more, it has strength. Its high-powered lifting force is among the largest in the one- to two-tonne category.
Being zero tail-swing, there’s only one way into this 1.6-tonne machine. Two hand-grabs on the down posts of the ROPS/FOPS canopy help access into the seat. This is a comfortable, high-back, suspension seat and there’s plenty of leg room. The controls seem well laid out. But how do we start it?
Every Kubota excavator comes with a red key and four black keys. The red key has a factory-programed chip, which ensures that it’s the only key able to program that particular machine. Once the program is set, any of the black keys can be used to operate it.
For plant-hire companies with dozens of excavators of various sizes, having to keep track of each key for every machine may seem a bit of a bind. But with escalating insurance premiums, it’s surely an acceptable nuisance.
The tester familiarises himself with the controls and then, engaging the safety/anti-theft device on the right, he lets out a yelp. “That hand-grab is in the wrong place when you are sat here,” he says, rubbing a bruised elbow.
The engine on this excavator purrs. It’s a three-cylinder, 9.6kW diesel — Kubota of course — running at 2,300rpm and is water cooled. The tester starts to creep across the lawn — smoothly at first but then in nodding, jerky movements. “The forward levers are very sensitive,” he says. He takes a little time to settle into the machine and then extends the undercarriage to stabilise the unit for work.
Drainage needs to be installed in a grassed area where vehicles park to unload supplies for the hotel’s kitchen. The trench is quickly dug — the U15 has all the power needed for heavy loads (bucket breakout force of 15.2kN) — and the spoil dumped onto a trailer. The intention is to use the spoil in a project to landscape around the boiler house.
The tester now needs to track the excavator to the boiler house in order to help unload the trailer and move the spoil to its new position. It’s a good opportunity to check out the Kubota’s dual speed. High and low ratios are engaged by a simple click-on, click-off switch to the right of the operator. Gaining more experience and confidence, our tester speeds up to a flat-out 4.3km/h in high ratio.
With the trailer emptied and the spoil dozed loosely into place, we head back to the trench for more digging. White takes a turn at the controls and is quick to announce: “I’m totally sold on Kubota. The valves are so nice and smooth, and Kubota has really matched the engine to the machine.”
We reckon there are a lot of features that make this mini-excavator ideal for use on nurseries, in landscaping and for construction projects. With the undercarriage retracted it’s just about slim enough to nudge through a gateway (990mm). The zero tail-swing makes it perfect for working in confined spaces and tight up against walls and fences. The pipework is tidy — everything is tucked away and there are no protruding hoses to catch on obstacles. The boom cylinder is located above the boom and is well protected during dumper operations. Servo-controls mean a feather-like touch is all that is needed to operate the unit. Auxiliary points are at the front ready to take a variety of attachments such as breakers or augers.
Daily maintenance is also simple. Side openings give access to the battery and radiator, while the air and fuel filters and engine oil gauge are all located just behind the rear engine cover. Remove the rubber matting and a panel in the platform floor and you find the hydraulic hoses — all colour coded. There’s even a tool box on board, so there’s no excuse for losing the grease gun.
But what we really like about the U15 is an optional extra that will set you back another £1,000 because it will mean you require new buckets. It’s called the KLAC quick-hitch system, and we reckon if you are fed up with hammering pins through holes that seemingly never quite line up, then you will love this. There are no screws, no bolts, no nuts, no washers, no clips and no pins. What’s more, there’s no greasing, adjustment or servicing.
With the KLAC system you size up to the bucket, crowd it and then it simply snaps into place. Admittedly, we have to refer to the manual to understand how it works — it’s not something that is self-evident — but we reckon it’s brilliant and worth every penny of the extra money.

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