Versatility on wheels

Today's range of utility vehicles make efficiency, performance and flexibility a priority.

The Gator, used to carry many tonnes of soil and bark chips - photo: John Deere
The Gator, used to carry many tonnes of soil and bark chips - photo: John Deere

Utility means usefulness. And usefulness is a necessary requirement for a utility vehicle. We see them used in numerous places, carrying out different jobs, from topdressing and spraying on golf courses to carrying tools and equipment in country parks and on conservation sites. Although needs may vary slightly, it is the versatility of the utility vehicle that users demand.

At the Thorpe Park theme park in Surrey, landscape manager Dave Hill needs a vehicle that can perform diverse tasks. He also likes to get years of service from them. The park has just taken delivery of a new John Deere TS 4x2 petrol Gator from dealer Golf & Turf of Wokingham, Berkshire, and now runs three vehicles in the landscape department. Back in 1993 the park purchased one of the first 4x2 models sold in the UK.

"We always get at least 10 years hard work out of our Gators, and that's using them every day," says Hill. "In fact, that original machine did 15 years hard labour and it wasn't just used for light duties. It supported the construction of all the big rides here, carrying tonnes of soil and bark chips.

"We design, source and build everything for landscaping around our new rides, and the Gators are used for all this service work, ferrying compost and other materials around, as well as carrying our John Deere walk-behind mowers."

Hill has tried electric vehicles but finds the engined-versions better as there are so many people. "With up to 20,000 visitors a day at peak times of the year, they really need to hear us coming, so the engine noise is necessary for safety reasons," he explains. "Compared with other vehicles, the Gator's lower top speed also suits us, as there's a 10mph (16km/h) speed limit in the park. The continuously variable transmission means there's a gradual pick up of speed, so it's very easy and safe to drive and access is very good."

The Gators are also used with a Gator trailer and special trailed cages to collect cardboard from on-site shops and for rubbish collection - towing refuse bins when required. "We probably have more diverse uses for these machines than many customers - they really do go anywhere and do pretty well anything," says Hill.

The options available with today's utility vehicles means that if you need them to be quiet, you can have quiet. The greenkeepers at the 18-hole Royal Liverpool Golf Club had been happy with their old petrol Toro Workman vehicles and were a little sceptical before the arrival of their new electric counterparts.

Links manager Craig Gilholm explains: "When we first got the machines, the greenkeepers were a bit unsure about them being electric, but now they prefer them to the petrol models. The Toro e2065s are so quiet and comfortable; they are a pleasure for the guys to use."

The e2065 packs all the power and performance of Toro's mid-duty petrol machines but in a quieter, cleaner and more environmentally friendly package - a significant benefit for clubs looking to reduce the environmental impact of their vehicles.

Powered by a 48V, 500A motor, the e2065 can climb hills with a full 363kg load and can run all day without charging. Maximum speed is 16mph (26km/h), while regenerative braking provides extra stopping power and recharges the battery at the same time.

In Sunderland the Kawasaki Diesel Mule 3010 has become a firm fixture in the city council's fleet of vehicles. For over 10 years the Mule has been tasked with everything - from essential maintenance in parklands to weed control and laying chippings. Currently there are 10 Mules in operation around the council's estates, including at Herrington Country Park - a 150ha park developed from a former colliery site.

"The Mule is used for a wide variety of daily tasks, including transporting workers and equipment around the site and much more. We have even used it to pull vehicles out of muddy fields," says Herrington Country park ranger Ian Graham.

With dual-range CVT transmission, tight turning circle and agility over difficult terrain, the rangers have found the 23hp Mule one of their most useful tools. It also features low-ground pressure tyres, allowing the vehicle to be used on soft ground with minimal surface damage - an important aspect as Herrington Country Park has seven major ponds, supporting wetlands, open meadow areas and plantations.

Specialist Peter A Easton Irrigation also needs a vehicle to ferry people, tools and kit around sites. The Scotland-based company develops and installs irrigation systems at high-profile sports facilities such as Premiership football stadiums and golf courses, and also for local authority projects and private gardens. This year Easton has been working on a new irrigation system to cover tees, greens, approaches and fairways at the Nairn Golf Club and used a JCB Groundhog 6x4 to fetch and carry. The vehicle proved particularly effective for moving the electric fusion welding kit and for towing the trailer used for piping.

"We have evaluated the JCB Groundhog over a period of time, and it has been faultless - doing everything we could wish from a robust utility vehicle," says the firm's owner Peter Easton. "We are not the largest company but we have been successful through priding ourselves on integrity, the quality of our work and attention to detail. As part of this offering, we must ensure we operate the best equipment available.

"The JCB Groundhog looks the part, the specifications are excellent for our needs and the service and advice from our JCB Groundcare dealer have been first class."

The 6x4 configuration, permanent four-wheel drive Groundhog is powered by a 768cc, liquid-cooled, 20hp diesel engine and features CVT transmission, including manual differential lock with a Kevlar drive belt. The machine has a maximum speed of 18mph (29km/h), maximum payload of 500kg and a towing capacity of 500kg.

Part of the benefit of utility vehicles is their "go anywhere" capability. Managing the grounds of a large estate near Dungannon, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, head gardener Connor Gillen is asked to tackle to variety of tasks on many types of terrain. He uses a Kubota RTV900.

"We transport equipment, leaves, grass sod and men to different areas of the garden," says Gillen. "And we often have to go to wet areas and travel up steep hills. The RTV not only handles these jobs, it excels at them."

He is enthusiastic about the RTV900's versatility, power and gearing. And he speaks highly of the vehicle's value. "The RTV gets more done, so it saves us man hours," he asserts. "Also, we used to use twice the amount of fuel for our old all-terrain vehicle, so we save there too."

NEW VEHICLES

New on the utility-vehicle market, the Blueline Husky UTV comes from tractor manufacturer New Holland. This four-wheel-drive vehicle has off-road capabilities but is EC approved and safety tested so it can also be registered for use on the road. Currently only available in a petrol version, the Husky is powered by a 24hp Honda engine. It has continuously variable transmission and gives a ground speed of 25mph (40km/h). Load capacity and towing capacity are 680kg. The vehicle is available with all-terrain or turf tyres. A diesel version is expected in 2009.

Having delivered the Groundhog 6x4 two years ago, JCB Groundcare has added a Groundhog 4x4 to its offering. Designed to open up a vast range of potential applications in landscaping and estate and golf course management, on or off road, this latest Groundhog is powered by a Tier 3- compliant 26hp diesel engine, to deliver a top speed of 31mph (50km/h). It has continuously variable transmission, with high/low gear ranges and selectable two- or four-wheel drive plus engine braking. The cargo bed will hold 500kg and the vehicle can tow another 500kg at the same time.

Kawasaki's 953cc Mule receives a makeover for 2009, with all-new automotive styling and electronic power steering (EPS) among the main changes to the Mule 4010 4x4 diesel and four-seater Mule 4010 Trans 4x4 diesel utility vehicles.

Now similar in style to a modern pick-up, the "cab" panels are made from durable, colour-impregnated material that is designed to resist minor knocks and hide scuff marks. The front hood lifts to reveal a deep storage locker with D-ring lash points built into the floor. Beneath the front bumper are mounting points for a choice of winches.

Ransomes Jacobsen has introduced an engine upgrade to the diesel engine power unit on the Cushman Turf-Truckster. The change to a 25hp Kubota three-cylinder diesel engine is part of an ongoing drive to add value, quality and functionality to all Jacobsen equipment and will ensure the vehicle fully complies with new Tier 4 Environmental Protection Agency standards in the US.

The new engine operates at a lower sound level, has almost eight per cent more torque in the mid-range and features an increased cooling capacity.

The latest off-road utility vehicle from Polaris Britain is the Ranger 6x6 EFI. A high-end machine, this unit has a carrying capacity of 793kg and towing capacity to match. At its heart is a 40hp liquid-cooled Polaris Liberty 700cc parallel-twin engine, paired with a Bosch multi-port semi-sequential electronic fuel injection system for response and performance. Top speed is 40mph (64km/h).

Other features include on-demand six-wheel drive, independent centre and rear-axle suspension, plus the Polaris Lock & Ride cargo system to carry and organise equipment, gear and loose materials.


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