Reviewed - Utility task vehicles

We put three of the latest vehicles through their paces and like what we find. Sally Drury reports.

Kubota RTV1140  - image: HW
Kubota RTV1140 - image: HW

Tested This Issue
Kubota RTV400Ci
Kubota RTV1140
John Deere XUV855D
The Review Panel
Jayne Alcock, grounds and gardens supervisor, Bridgwater College,
Cannington Campus
Sam Braund, grounds worker, Bridgwater College, Cannington Campus
Matt Handy, senior gardener, Cannington Walled Garden
Hugh Murray, head greenkeeper, Cannington Golf Club

Since Kubota launched its RTV in 2005, the company has been watching the market and quietly developing a whole range of vehicles. Last year, it introduced the RTV1140, building on the reputation of the original RTV900 but having a second foldaway bench seat. And this year it introduced a range of compact, high-performance all-terrain utility vehicles, the smallest of which is the RTV400Ci. We loved the original RTV (HW 29 June, 2005), but how do the 1140 and 400Ci compare?

John Deere has established a reputation for its Gator vehicles over the years. Looking for the ultimate in performance, it introduced the XUV855 diesel machine, which we originally tested last year (HW 6 April 2012). Continuing development means this utility task vehicle now boasts several improvements, including power steering and downhill braking. It's time to retest it and see if the upgraded version is better.

The tests were conducted in the grounds of the Cannington Campus of Bridgwater College in Somerset on the ATV training and test track and around the outskirts of Cannington Golf Club. Conditions were hot and sunny, and the ground was firm and dry.

Kubota RTV400Ci

This is Kubota's smallest and lightest vehicle and as such it is different to the rest of the range. It still has the rugged, go-anywhere capability of the others, but instead of a diesel engine, it has a single-cylinder, air-cooled petrol engine with electronic fuel injection for cold starts. The variable hydro transmission - something of a Marmite feature that you either love or hate on Kubota's other vehicles - is also replaced. The 400Ci has an advanced transmission with inertial clutch. Kubota calls it CVT Plus.

The wide platform means mounting and demounting is easy, while user-friendly controls make it a breeze to drive. Everything is where you expect it to be, and driving quickly becomes second nature. Within minutes, our testers are confidently riding the rough ground. The machine is confident, too. It has power, is agile, nippy and turns tightly.

"It's quick off the mark," comments Murray. "It has been up the same slopes as the John Deere, over the same ruts." Dynamic engine-braking provided by the CVT maintains control while descending slopes.

The suspension is firm - really firm - providing a much bumpier ride over the baked-hard ruts that Murray finds on land beyond the golf course, as well as increasing the vibration felt through the seat. It's also a noisy machine. "The noise gets tiresome after a while," says Alcock. All the testers find they slide on the bench seat, despite wearing lap belts.

The vehicle's compactness is one of its biggest advantages. "Size-wise it is convenient," says Handy. "It's barely bigger than a quad bike. I can see farmers using it to go out and check animals, or rangers using it to check on the deer in a country park."

A skid pan underneath implies this vehicle is meant for serious terrain. Braund manages to ground it on the peak of a large spoil heap, but its light weight means the problem is soon rectified. For Braund, the load space is also an issue. He needs to carry long-handled tools with him. The compact size of the cargo box means they would hang over the side. Yet for its modest size, this one can carry plenty of weight.

Engine: 404cc, 16hp single-cylinder, petrol, OHC, air-cooled, EFI
Transmission: CVT PLUS continuously variable transmission with inertial
Gear selection: Hi-Lo range forward, neutral and reverse
Drive system: 4WD with 2WD selection
Diff lock standard, hand-operated
Brakes: dry-disc brakes plus hand-operated parking brake
Steering rack and pinion
Suspension: Independent MacPherson strut-type front/semi-independent
Dimensions: (LxWxH) 269x139x182cm
Cargo bed: (LxWxH) 85x103x29cm
Wheelbase: 180cm
Ground clearance: 20.5cm
Turning circle: 7m
Payload capacity: 480kg
Towing capacity: 500kg
Weight: 565-570kg, depending on tyres
Fuel tank capacity: 20 litres
Top speed: 40kmph
Price: £7,800 plus VAT. Free roof and screen until the end of
Tel: Kubota - 01844 214500

Kubota RTV1140

Want a big, tipping cargo area to transport loads of tools and materials? The Kubota RTV1140 has it. Sometimes want to carry four people? That is not a problem with this vehicle, either. The RTV1140 has convenience stamped all over it. It's the utility with versatility.

Kawasaki was the first to introduce a utility that could be converted into a four-seater (the Trans 4x4). Such a good idea was bound to be taken up elsewhere. Murray folds down a section of the rear box and puts up the second row of seats. "It's so intuitive," he says. "There are diagrams here, but you don't need to look at them because it's clear what you need to do." Converting the vehicle from big box to four seats takes less than 30 seconds - no tools needed.

Powered by the Kubota D1105 three-cylinder diesel engine, with 24.8hp, this utility has plenty of muscle, good acceleration and the ability to take on most tasks and terrains. Murray appreciates the versatility of the vehicle and enjoys the ride too. "On the flat it is a nice smooth ride, but this one also gives a comfortable and stable ride over rough tracks. It feels controllable and doesn't bounce you around too much," he says. "I've just found some ruts that are at least nine inches deep but I maintained good control - it climbed out the ruts easily; there was no tugging at the steering."

In terms of power, the RTV1140 packs a punch, and the three gear ratios and speed ratios are spot on. Lo is adequately low and Hi gives a good speed for open ground areas. What's more, the engine-braking is first class. You may or may not like the RTV's Variable Hydro Transmission, but there is no denying it means you can tackle hills with strong acceleration, hold the vehicle steady on a slope and descend under engine-assisted deceleration. Wet disc brakes stop the machine quickly.

Murray is impressed: "It's got a good speed on the flat, you can easily whizz around the site and the brakes are good. There is plenty of grip and going downhill is fine. It goes down on the transmission - the engine braking is good - I didn't even have to touch the brake."

MacPherson strut-type suspension on each of the front wheels provides good shock absorption and also minimises body tilt when traversing slopes. Each rear wheel has a semi-independent suspension-type DeDion axle - the leaf spring and shock absorber act together to reduce bumps and jolts. "It's a good vehicle, really grippy," says Alcock. "It didn't struggle at all. I found it a very comfy ride."

We like the instrument panel; it is clear and easy to read, which allows you to concentrate more on the driving. This one has a dial speedo, in mph, alongside the fuel gauge and monitor lamps for oil level, battery function and handbrake.

Kubota RTVs were the first in their class to be equipped with hydrostatic power steering. The 1140 has it too. And it's appreciated. It makes cornering and turning easier, giving this long wheelbase vehicle some agility. Having a long wheelbase also aids stability, but it does mean the turning circle is wide. "When you are manoeuvring in tight spaces, you have to do more reversing to get the vehicle round," says Handy.

We reckon this vehicle will prove ideal in lots of situations. On different tyres, it could be useful on golf courses as part of a fleet of kit - though perhaps not if you need a utility that can carry topdressers, spreaders or sprayers on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. Certainly, the 1140 will appeal to estate and site managers. Offered in forest camouflage colours, it will no doubt be at home in parkland, nature reserves and, of course, out hunting.

It is worth remembering that the long wheelbase can cause ground clearance issues on peaks and the tops of banks. I still don't know which tester took the vehicle up a double-bump spoil heap - when I saw it, the 1140 was firmly wedged between the two peaks and attempting to reverse it down had merely planted the tow hitch firmly into the ground. Anybody got a winch?

Engine: 24.8hp Kubota D1105-E3-UV 3-cylinder, water-cooled, OHV diesel
Transmission: variable hydro (VHT PLUS)
Gear selection: Hi-Med-Lo range forward, neutral and reverse
Drive system: 2WD or 4WD
Diff lock standard, foot operated
Brakes: dry-disc brakes plus hand-operated parking brake
Steering: hydrostatic power
Suspension: front/rear Independent MacPherson strut/semi-independent,
Dimensions: (LxWxH) 348x155x200cm
Cargo bed: (LxWxH) 136x132x29cm
Wheelbase: 241cm
Ground clearance: 21cm front axle/19cm rear
Turning circle: 10m
Payload capacity: 730kg
Towing capacity: 590kg
Weight: 1,075kg, depending on tyres
Fuel tank capacity: 30 litres
Top speed: 40kmph
Price: £14,260 plus VAT. Free roof and screen until the end of
Tel: Kubota - 01844 214500

John Deere XUV855D

This is the latest version of the XUV855D from John Deere. We liked the original. We love this one.

The 855 has rear independent suspension and a top speed of 50kmph - it's fast. Now that it has electrically assisted power steering (optional), you never feel as though you are struggling or fighting for control. It also has downhill braking. Engine deceleration takes you down to about 2.5kmph. If you need to slow down further, just tap the brake.

The rear electrically tipping (optional) tailgate has also been improved. It now has an easy-to-use central lock rather than fiddly side catches and it has a handy measuring strip on the edge. The sides and tailgate are easy to remove if you want to carry a large load or palletted item. And, if you are into bling, you can opt for alloy wheels. The cab gives you lots of options. It can come with or without front and rear glass. Doors, if you want them, simply drop into the slots - no tools needed.

Operation is straightforward. Ratios are Hi and Lo, there is a Diff Lock and 4WD. This latest model also has a digital speedo and a bigger fuel tank to lengthen work time between refuelling. And, as we expect, there is the cup holder. Does anyone use those on a shake-it-up and spill-it-all-over all-terrain vehicle?

As John Deere's representative departs, he challenges us to get the vehicle stuck. We try. We fail. In fact, we use the John Deere to tow the RTV1140D out of its predicament between the peaks of the test site - a task it performs with ease. But first Murray checks out the hill-climbing ability by driving straight at an embankment. Much to everyone's surprise - and relief - the 855 simply hops up the bank and plants itself on the top. "It's impressive," shouts Murray. "They have kept the wheels right to the outside of the vehicle so it will climb a bank that is right in front of it."

Then he disappears, at speed, down a long track, but on his return he is a little concerned. "We did 32mph and it was running smoothly. I found some serious rutted ground - the vehicle was almost on the sump plate - but we sailed through even in Hi ratio," he says. "And then it wouldn't accelerate properly and was vibrating. I think the brakes seized. We rocked it and it seems fine now."

We are the fourth to test this demo vehicle in a matter of weeks and on each occasion there is no doubt it will have been pushed to its limit. For the rest of the test we have no problems.

We like the cab and the seats, while the whole build of the vehicle instils confidence. "It feels very stable and the seat holds you in place. You feel secure - even when traversing an incline. That's also helped by having three-point seat belts rather than lap belts," comments Murray.

The XUV855D sounds powerful and it is. It has bags of grip. The short wheelbase helps keep all the wheels on the ground and it's got lots of suspension travel. "It's my favourite for manoeuvrability," says Handy. "It is rugged and feels well put together. I like the electric tail lift; saves starting the engine."

Braund adds: "I found it really responsive and the suspension is so comfortable. It's fast and its off-road capability is fantastic."

Alcock agrees: "It's a comfy ride and if you ignore the alloy wheels it's not gimmicky. We tried our best to get it stuck, but we didn't succeed."

If you bought the original XUV855, you might like to upgrade to the new version as soon as possible.

Engine: 854cc, 24.9hp 3-cylinder, water-cooled, OHV diesel
Transmission: 2-speed continuously variable (CVT)
Gear selection: Hi-Lo range forward, neutral and reverse
Drive system: 4WD selectable
Diff lock standard, hand-operated
Brakes: hydraulic disc brakes plus hand-operated parking brake
Steering: electrically assisted power
Suspension: front/rear independent dual A-arm with adjustable
coils/fully independent dual A-arm and sway bar
Suspension: travel 203cm front/229cm rear
Dimensions: (LxWxH) 302x157x190cm
Cargo bed: (LxWxH) 114x132x30cm
Carrying capacity: 454kg
Ground clearance: 26.7cm
Payload capacity: 635kg
Towing capacity: 680kg
Weight: 877kg
Fuel tank capacity: 20 litres
Top speed: 52kmph
Price: Starts at £12,227 plus VAT
Tel: John Deere - 01949 860491

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