Reviewed - Utility vehicles

How will models designed for different working locations cope under test conditions? Sally Drury finds out.

John Deere Gator XUV 855D - image: HW
John Deere Gator XUV 855D - image: HW

Tested This Week

John Deere Gator XUV 855D

CityFort

The Review Panel

Scott Bellinger, deputy greenkeeper, Cannington Golf Club

Ian Phipps, grounds mechanic, Bridgwater College, Cannington Campus

Moving staff, tools and sacks of seed or fertiliser from A to B is all in a day's work. But what is the best way to do it? What if you work in an urban environment and need to travel between contracts so you can keep an eye on how well the jobs are going? Or perhaps you need to service indoor plant displays across campus. Movement is an essential part of most people's work.

In this review, we look at two totally different vehicles. The John Deere Gator 855D is a diesel 4x4 all-terrain utility vehicle, ready for off-road work whether moorland or estate grounds. The CityFort, as its name implies, is a road-going vehicle suited to life on the street or work in the park - but it has many other applications too.

We asked Bridgwater College grounds mechanic Ian Phipps and Cannington Golf Club deputy greenkeeper Scott Bellinger to put the machines through their paces.

The John Deere 855D was driven up hills and long ridges, manoeuvred round the quad-bike training track and raced across ground between golf course and farmland. We look at its responsiveness and stability as well as its suitability for use in the grounds care and horticulture sectors.

The CityFort was tested on concrete driveways around the college. Find out how the testers got on with the controls and speed. Conditions on the day of the test were cloudy but dry.

John Deere Gator XUV 855D

John Deere describes the Gator 855D as a "fun-tastic performer". We know exactly what it means. This is the latest member of the Gator family and it is strong, tough and has sheer power. What is more, it makes going to work fun.

The engineers were given free rein when they designed the 855D - and it shows. Holding it all together and providing all the stability you need is a robust steel frame. It gives confidence for climbing hills, coping with slopes, dashing over fields or wading through water.

Independent double-wishbone suspension adds the feeling of being in control at all times and the new sway bar on the rear axle reduces body roll - even in extreme conditions. It is simple to adjust the suspension for varying payloads.

"I could sit in this for hours. It's far superior to anything else I have tried in this class," says Phipps. "The seating is comfortable, it feels sturdy, handles well and it has guts."

Power comes from a high-torque, liquid-cooled, three-cylinder diesel engine. It is a Yamaha and has endless reserves of power to speed the vehicle up to 52kmph (32mph). The transmission (CVT) features two ranges and requires no shifting. It is fully enclosed for protection when fording streams and it feels efficient.

"I like the diesel engine and the belt drive is very responsive," Phipps stresses. "You put your foot down and it goes - no delay."

What really sets the 855D apart from most other utilities of this class is its true on-demand four-wheel drive. It allows you to switch quickly between a turf-friendly traction-mode to a locked rear differential to On-Demand True 4WD for maximum traction. An electronic interlock engages to prevent power from being transferred to a wheel that has lost all traction.

"You can see where we started to get stuck," confirms Phipps. "But the instant you put it into four-wheel drive it grips and gets you out of trouble. I would imagine it could cope with most situations."

Driving the 855D is more like driving a car. The specification has been upped and includes fully-adjustable seats with inertia seat belts and a small storage area in between.

"It really is comfortable to drive," says Bellinger. "You don't get thrown around when off-roading and you feel glued to the seat." Meanwhile, Phipps has already worked out which spanners he can fit in the storage box.

The cargo box has a 460-litre capacity - ample for most things you need to transport around an estate or golf course - and the tailgate is easy to fold down for unloading. Electric tipping is an option worth considering.

There are lots of other options too. Add a windscreen, canopy or cab, brush or fender guard, rear bumper or fender guard, cargo box mat, electric tip, extensions or dividers, front rack, drawbar hitch, winch or dozer blade. Choose turf tyres, knobby, all-purpose, all-terrain, Ancla Extreme, Extreme, Aggressive tread or Maxxis Extreme Terrain tyres. You can even add alloy wheels. Whatever next?

Specifications

Engine: 854cc liquid-cooled, three-cylinder, four-cycle diesel

Power: 24.9hp (gross)

Max torque: 50Nm at 2,400rpm

Fuel tank: 20 litres

Fuel consumption: 1.89 litres/hour (half load, average speed)

Drive system: Two-speed CVT

Diff lock: Standard, hand operated

Ground speed: 0-52kmph (homologation 0-40kmph)

Suspension: Front: Fully independent dual-control arm, adjustable spring preload. Rear: Fully independent dual A-Arm, adjustable coils and sway bar.

Suspension travel: 203mm front/229mm rear

Weight: 877kg

Towing capacity: 680kg

Payload capacity: 635kg

Cargo box: 114x132x30.5cm

Box carrying capacity: 454kg

List price: £11,425 + VAT (basic)

Tel: John Deere - 01949 860491

CityFort

With its stylish looks and green credentials, this electric vehicle is bound to find favour in cities and towns, where it will surely be at home dashing from street to street or travelling around parks on loadshifting or litter-picking duties.

Yet, while it may be called the CityFort, this eco-friendly and quiet machine is also likely to attract the attention of those maintaining college campuses, grounds around schools and hospitals, racecourses and estates in rural locations. The applications seem endless - with no emissions, this one is even suited to nipping in and out of buildings.

The CityFort is bespoke. You start with a lightweight aluminium chassis and cab and then add what you want to it. So you might want a flatbed, a tipping cargo box or a box-van on the back - the latter might be just what the interior landscaper wants when changing displays in town-centre buildings. The tipping cage option would be just the ticket for shifting leaves or litter from collection points around the park.

"It looks great and ideal for service workers driving around a site. It's clean and you would save on fuel costs," suggests Phipps.

Getting into the CityFort is like getting into a car. It is right-hand drive, which makes a change for a utility vehicle. And while the seating looks unusual - verging on the basic - it is surprisingly comfortable. The only thing missing is the adjustment that delivers the steering wheel at the right height and angle for any size of driver. Although I could reach the pedals without difficulty, the steering wheel felt stubbornly lorry-like horizontal.

But Bellinger likes the steering. "It's nice to drive and so easy to use. You can get in and drive it straightaway," he points out.

Driving the CityFort is sheer simplicity. There are just two pedals - stop and go - but you drive this vehicle with both feet. Forward, reverse and neutral are on a rocker switch. There are two speeds, helping you up the hills if needed.

A gear cannot be selected while the handbrake is on, so with your foot on the brake pedal, you release the handbrake, select the direction, ease off the foot brake and simultaneously depress the accelerator. There is little else to think about, leaving the driver totally free to concentrate on the road, other traffic, pedestrians, cyclists and the usual chaos of driving in a city. The full-length glass doors are a great help to visibility. Top speed is just 27.9mph or 45kmph - but it is reached relatively quickly.

"It drives well, picks up nicely and is steady on the roads," says Phipps. "I can see a lot of applications for it."

A feature that impresses us is the proper fuel gauge so you see how much power you have left. But, in the event of staying out longer than expected and being caught in the red zone, there is a reserve to get you up to 10 or 16km at half speed.

The question on everyone's lips, however, is how far can you go on a single charge? The answer is around 56km. Then it will be on charge for eight hours, or overnight.

Specifications

Body options: Fixed, tipping, box van

Motor: Electrical asynchronous three-phase, 48v

Transmission: Differential reduction gear (oil bath), two speeds

Power: 5.4hp (4kW)

Maximum torque: 65Nm at 110rpm, 45Nm at 2,000rpm

Maximum speed: 45kmph (27.9mph)

Electric engine braking: Automatic with energy recovery

Traction battery type: Eight 6V batteries (240Ah)

Recharge time: Cycle charging time: eight hours

Maximum slope: 30 per cent empty, 20 per cent with maximum load

Gross vehicle weight: 1,445kg

Carrying capacity: Fixed body: 530kg. Tipping body: 510kg. Box van body: 600kg.

Tyres: 154/70 R13

Disk brakes: Hydraulic command, disk 240 front/209 rear

Frame: Aluminium rectangular section 120/50mm

Bodywork: Composite material

Suspension: Independent/MacPherson/three points

Options: Spare tyre holder, 238kg hitch ball

List price: Chassis and cab £19,150 + VAT

Body options: Fixed with sides: £2,090. Electric tipping: £3,000. Box van with double swinging doors: £6,040.

Tel: Electric Powered Solutions - 05600 759558 (local rate).


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