Review - Utility vehicles

Electric, diesel and heavyweight models put through their paces, but which fares best? Sally Drury reports

Toro Workman HDX-D 4WD
Toro Workman HDX-D 4WD

The vast range of side-by-side utility vehicles available in the UK continues to grow. Many are perfect for racing over the parkland to attend emergencies, transport the vet and his bag to the deer or carry tools and fencing materials to furthest reaches of the estate.

Others are hill climbers, tracking up and down steep slopes with all the requirements for a day’s shoot or with chainsaws and kit to attend to a remote area of woodland. Then there are those vehicles best suited to grounds maintenance and golf course tasks. Able to deliver sacks of seed and fertiliser, many also have removable cargo beds and will take top dressers or sprayers out to work.

We look at two of the latest machines from Toro. These Workman vehicles are designed for use in grounds maintenance and especially on turf but are also suitable for parks and garden tasks. One is electric, one is diesel. Which will our testers prefer?

We also look at the Brutus from Polaris. This is a heavyweight player with a front power take-off. It is less off-road than our testers expect. Is it a compromise too far?

Conditions on the day of the test were cool and largely dry, though earlier heavy showers meant the going was soft on much of the golf course and surrounding land.

Toro Workman MDE

It’s electric, so it will be like driving a golf buggy, right? Wrong. This is an excellent drive — nippy, grippy and doesn’t mind rough ground. It is also comfortable and productive, and that’s what you need from a utility.

The rear cargo bed is made of durable plastic, so it won’t rust, and holds 363kg. It has got electric lift and there are eight batteries below. There are also plenty of personal storage areas — where the fuel tank would be and under the driver’s seat.

The best bit about an electric motor is the peace and quiet. It allows you to work early in the morning, late at night and around noise-sensitive sites. There are no emissions and it has far fewer maintenance tasks than a petrol vehicle — but you must remember to check the batteries at least once a week and top up as needed.

Braund is first in the driving seat. He turns the key. Silence. He presses the accelerator and pulls away. All we can hear is the noise of the tyres on the track. When he hits the grass, there’s silence again. He takes the vehicle up steep inclines, tries hill starts and emergency stops.

"It’s good," he smiles. "It’s really comfortable. The seat is moulded nicely to fit your body shape, the pedals are the right distance and all the controls are within easy reach."

He does a few circles. "Turning is good considering it doesn’t have power steering. It grips well on the corners. It feels stable and it handles really well. I had no wheelspin up any of the hilly parts of the course despite the grass being wet."

Regenerative braking means it starts to slow as soon as you take your foot off the pedal. It slows you automatically going downhill and power is fed back to the battery. Next he tests the Twister joint by driving down a short bank. "All four wheels stay on the ground — that gives you confidence," he says.
Handy finds the top speed just right. "Any more would be ridiculous, and I appreciate the engine braking on hills," he says. "It’s a really smooth ride and very responsive, although there is an annoying bit of play in the accelerator pedal." Baker agrees: "You can depress it for a couple of inches before anything happens."

But what we really dislike are the steel diamond-plate floorboards. They might be easy to clean, but they can be slippery when wet. A wide range of attachments is available, including cab, windshield, canopy, side extensions for the cargo box, snow plough and groomer.

Specifications
Motor DC with external fan
Batteries Eight 6V T145
Drive Direct, double reduction with differential
Brakes Rear hydraulic drum, front hydraulic disc
Maximum speed 16mph fully charged
Suspension Independent A-Frame with coil over shock absorbers — active in-frame twister joint
Total vehicle capacity 545kg
Bed payload capacity 363kg
Cargo bed (LxWxH) 124x132x25cm, doubled walled, polyethylene
Length 3.04m
Width 1.50m
Wheelbase 2.11m
Turning circle 221cm inside rear tyre, 653cm outside front tyre
Ground clearance 25.4cm front, 17.8cm rear
Tyres Front and rear 22x9.5-10, four-ply, all-terrain
List price From £10,918 + VAT
Tel Toro UK — 01480 226800

Toro Workman HDX-D 4WD

Braund eyes up this Workman with a little suspicion. He is used to the Cushman Turf Truckster. This utility vehicle looks somewhat different. It is Handy who says what is on his mind: "It’s like an airport baggage-handling truck."

We can all see the resemblance but don’t judge by appearance. This is a nippy vehicle with a tight turning circle and it is surprisingly good on steep slopes, tracks and even through a quagmire. The latter was a mistake, one of the testers deciding on a short cut between the Cannington Golf Club and the college’s equestrian centre. But it proved a point.

Power comes from a Kubota 9020 three-cylinder, liquid-cooled diesel engine. We find it at the rear, under the cargo bed. A seven-guage steel-channel safety support, stored behind the seat, fits neatly over the extended lift cylinder to prevent accidental lowering of the cargo bed.

The engine is rated 23.3hp (18.5kW), governed to a maximum speed of 3,600rpm and direct coupled to the transaxle. It is also Biodiesel-ready for use up to B-20 and is EPA Tier IV compliant. The radiator is on the side, rather than behind the driver, and it has a removable screen for easy cleaning.

Driving the HDX is easy, though at first it feels a little strange. To start the engine, it’s clutch in — just like the tractor — and then turn the key. For safety, the remote hydraulic lever must be in neutral and rear power take-off must be disengaged.

The transmission has two ranges — high and low — with three forward gears in each. Controls include the throttle, brake and clutch pedals; gear shifter and range shifter; and parking brake, differential lock and hydraulic lift levers. All of the instrumentation — temperature gauges, hour meter, oil pressure, glow plug and battery charge indicator lights, tachometer and speedometer — is easy to read.

"It’s a bit strange sitting almost in front of the front wheels, but you soon get used to it and then you find it is an agile vehicle," says Braund. "I tried a hill start on a wet grassy slope and the wheels started to spin but I put it in 4WD, engaged the diff lock and it flew straight up."

He also "flew" down the track beside the golf course. "The top speed is useful if you have long distances to go. I got it up to 20mph no problem. The brakes are good," admits Braund. "And it’s got a very good turning circle, especially for such a long vehicle."

Baker agrees: "It doesn’t look like it would have a good turning circle, but it does. What you have to remember is where the wheels are underneath you — especially when you are aiming for a gateway."
"I found it very nippy," says Handy. "But it’s a smooth ride. The steering is light, gear changes smooth and the seats comfortable. It’s a very stable vehicle." He is also impressed with the engine tone. "It’s a low tone and it doesn’t sound noisy. It doesn’t wear you down like some engines do."

The smoothness of ride is down to the suspension. At the front, independent dual A-frame control arms, dual coil springs and dual shock absorbers with anti-sway bar provide 14.6cm travel. At the back, dual leaf springs and dual shock absorbers provide 7.6cm travel.

A useful feature is the third gear lockout. If the vehicle is to be used by a novice, a key switch can be set to limit the engine to 2,220rpm. Should the driver shift to third gear in the high range, the engine cuts out.

The size of the cargo bed impresses everyone. A new uprated I-section steel rear axle gives it a carrying capacity of 1,229kg. It will take a pallet. Also useful is the wide range of attachments. The cargo bed can be removed and a demount top dresser or sprayer fitted. A vicon spreader and Pro Force debris blower can be towed or bed-mounted.

Specifications

Engine 23.3hp (18.5kW) Kubota 9020 three-cylinder, liquid-cooled, diesel
Transmission Three-speed synchromesh (forwards only), H-shift pattern with high-low range providing six forward and two reverse speeds
Cooling system Aluminium radiator with 10 fins per inch dual pass
Fuel capacity 17 litres
Sound level 85db(A)
Steering Hydraulic power steering
Four-wheel drive Fully automatic on demand, bi-directional system
Differential lock Manual engage rear
Brakes Four-wheel hydraulic disc
Ground clearance 18cm (no load)
Tyres Front 20x9-12 six-ply, turf tread — rear 24x12-12, six-ply rating turf
Turning circle Two-wheel drive: inside 81cm, outside 493cm; four-wheel drive: inside 254cm, outside 726cm
Ground speed Forwards in low-range gears: 2.9/4.5/7.7mph; forwards in high-range: 7.6/11.5/19.8mph; reverse in low/high: 2.8/7.1mph
Overall length 3.3m with bed
Overall width 1.64m
Overall height 1.93m (top of ROPS)
Weight 953kg
Total capacity 1,411kg
Cargo bed capacity 1,229kg
List price From £24,111 + VAT
Tel Toro UK — 01480 226800

Polaris Brutus HD PTO

If you are looking for a great off-road drive, do not expect it from this one. Polaris offers a fantastic range of all-terrain, go-absolutely-anywhere vehicles. The company has a reputation for them — witness the Ranger and RZR side-by-sides and the huge choice of Sportsman quad bikes. But Brutus is different, and it has a different purpose in life.

Brutus is the world’s first utility task vehicle to deliver full front-end power take-off (PTO) capability. It does not have full off-road capability, it does not have independent suspension — because it lifts and uses attachments — and it does not have continuously variable transmission.

But it can lift, sweep, scoop, clear snow, shift piles of sand, even mow and will have a blower attachment soon. Because it will constantly be asked to go forwards and backwards, it has hydrostatic drive and a treadle pedal, providing quick and easy forward and reverse travel.

So is it like a tractor with front linkage? No. It is not a rigid axle. Brutus has work-grade suspension. That does limit it, but it can successfully handle the implements offered and will lift up to 204kg on the pallet forks.

Bearing in mind that it is more of a prime mover than an ATV, we take it for a test drive. It is easy to drive. There is a lever to select "Hi" or "Lo", and then you use the treadle pedal. We take it down the lane but on the shortcut to the equestrian centre we have to call for a tow.

Slippery conditions land us in a deep rut — but Polaris’s rep subsequently negotiated the quagmire without needing help.

The beauty of this beast lies in its front PTO. It is the only machine like it and if you need a vehicle — not your tractor — to sweep the yard, shift pallets around, keep access roads clear of snow and gritted against icy conditions, as well as carry bags of seeds or tools, then this could be the truck for you.

We put the pallet forks on and move some weight around. It’s good. Next we put the broom on the front. Hooking up could not be simpler. The Pro-Tach system lets you drive up to an implement and lift. Pop in the pins, connect any hoses and you are away again. It only takes seconds. We are impressed with the angled broom. It has a 1.78m working width and you can rely on Brutus putting its back into sweeping.

The seats are excellent and all the controls are where you would expect them to be. But it is somewhat noisy, especially when you push it uphill. "It takes quite a lot of revving to pick up speed on anything other than the flat and can be reluctant on the hills," notes Braund. Handy adds: "Yes, going uphill, that’s when it is really noisy. But it is a nice, smooth ride, even over bumpy ground, and the steering is light."

Despite its compromises, we do see a place for the Brutus. With its strength and four-wheel drive it could be a solution to many jobs in university and college campuses, sports centres, business parks, work depots, airports, racecourses and anywhere with car parks.

Specifications

Engine 904cc, 24hp, three-cylinder diesel, indirect injection, liquid-cooled
Transmission Automatic (treadle pedal)
Drive system On-demand True AWD/2WD/VersTrac Turf Mode
Engine braking Hydrostatic system
Suspension Front: dual A-Arm providing 15.2cm of travel; rear: multi-link coil over DeDion suspension providing 15.2cm of travel
Brakes Four-wheel hydraulic disc with dual-bore front callipers
Power steering Hydraulic
Tyres Carlisle All-Trail II, front 25x9-12, rear 25x11-12
Wheels Stamped steel
Wheelbase 2.13m
Dimensions (LxWxH) 3.56x1.63x1.88m
Ground clearance 17.8mm PTO, 2.54mm vehicle
Cargo box 111x137x29.2cm
Rear cargo box capacity 567kg
Hitch towing rating 907kg
Hitch type Standard/2in receiver
Dry weight 974kg
Colour Avalanche grey
Cab Standard, fully enclosed, with heater, defrost and air-conditioning
Cargo system Polaris Lock & Ride with integrated box tie downs
Lighting 55W low/60W high, LED tail lights
Electric cargo bed lift Standard
PTO Standard
List price From £21,499 + VAT
Tel Polaris Britain — 0800 915 6720


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