If you have never driven a ZD326, you have to try one. It's a blast. While it may not be the fastest machine in our test, it still zips down the straights at great speed and is more than nippy round the trees. Furthermore, we cannot fault the quality of cut. This mower also sets the high standards needed by day-in, day-out users working in a commercial environment.
At the heart of the machine is Kubota's bombproof 26hp D1055 three-cylinder, liquid-cooled diesel engine. It's got guts, plenty of torque and power. Importantly, it's known for reliability. In fact, the machine feels rock solid. The shaft-driven ZD326 is also fitted with an integral-type, twin hydro transmission and wet clutch power take-off (PTO), with wet inboard disk brakes.
Maintenance looks a breeze. Everything you need to get at is accessible. Undo a clip to lift the rear cover and access the engine, dipstick, air cleaner, radiator and expansion bottle. Tip the seat and you find the hydrostatic unit. Want to get to the cutters? No problem. This mower has a neat trick. Simply unpin the castor wheels, unclip the handle from the deck, insert it into the jack socket and wind. The deck gracefully lifts up and back to reveal the blades.
Comfort has not been overlooked by the Kubota design team. This machine has a full-flat platform making it easy to access and exit the seat and giving ample legroom. The seat itself is a high-back deluxe suspension type. It's comfy and it banishes the bumps and jolts of driving over rough ground.
The main control console is positioned to the right of the operator. Cleverly, Kubota has used the same colour coding for the mower controls as it uses on its tractors - yellow for PTO and orange for transmission/engine speed - so there is no excuse for being confused. Cutting height adjustment is on a dial and could not be simpler - lift the deck, dial the height, drop the deck.
Ekin likes the sportiness of the ZD326 and finds that the deep deck helps it cut at speed. "It's a really nice machine, easy to handle and steers well," he says. "Vibration is low, noise is low and there are plenty of features to give confidence - the deck skirt, the spindle bearings, the lift linkage - it's all commercial grade."
Both our testers rate this machine highly, as do the horticulture students. We reckon that contractors, local authorities, golf courses, caravan parks and estates would not be disappointed.
Engine: Kubota D1055, three-cylinder, liquid cooled, diesel - 26hp at
3,200rpm (displacement: 1,001cc)
Overall dimensions: (LxWxH) 185.4x222x191.5cm
Forward speed: 0-9.3mph (0-15kmph)
Reverse speed: 0-5.1mph (0-8.3kmph)
Fuel tank capacity: 45 litres
Mowing width: 60in (152.4cm)
Cutting height: 1-5in in quarter-inch increments (25.4-127mm in 6.35mm
Number of blades: Three
Deck: Fabricated, 4.2mm and 4.6mm thick, rear discharge
Mounting system: Parallel linkage
Blade tip speed: 15,100ft/min (4,602.48m/min)
List price: £12,470 + VAT
Tel: Kubota - 01844 214500
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The Review Panel
Mark Ekin, teacher, Broomfield Hall Campus, Derby College
Mike Baldwin, director of learning, Broomfield Hall Campus, Derby College
When you need to mow in a hurry but still want a smart finish, there is nothing quite like a zero-turn mower to do the job. Nippy in the extreme, these machines turn on the spot to save time at headlands.
They zing round trees and obstacles. With the deck towards the front, most can poke their noses under benches and shrubs to save time trimming up with a walk-behind model or corded trimmer. Saving time also means saving money and there are also some incredibly comfortable zero-turn mowers that provide relaxing seating for a full day's work.
But most zero-turn mowers have stick-steer levers in place of a steering wheel. This seems to be the feature that puts most people off. It is more like driving a tank than a ride-on mower. But it is not that difficult. To test how quickly stick-steer novices take to the controls, we invited 20 horticulture and countryside students to have a go.
Within minutes they had mastered the controls and were zipping around the golf course at our test site as though they had been driving zero-turns for years. "It's simple. Just like computer games," one student told me.
The test was carried out at the Broomfield Hall Campus of Derby College. A heavy dew in the morning was then followed by dry and sunny conditions.