Utility vehicles come in all kinds of formats. There are electric versions suitable for use in indoor environments such as greenhouses and warehouses or where the quiet running of a battery is the best option in a noise-sensitive location.
Then there are those utility vehicles designed for turf maintenance tasks in situations such as golf courses or sports fields. These may have a cargo bed that can be swapped for a top dresser and almost certainly will ride on turf-friendly tyres.
And then there are the go-anywhere, hill climbing, water wading, all-terrain utility vehicles. These find work in many sites from campuses, urban parks and hotel resorts to country estates and farms.
The Kubota RTV-X900 we test today fits into this category, having been designed to tackle the harshest of terrains while still providing a functional work vehicle to get personnel, tools and equipment to those outlying and hard-to-reach areas of the estate.
We took the vehicle to the Cannington Campus of Bridgwagter College, the land-based studies centre in Somerset, and put it through its paces on the ATV training facility. Would it cope with the challenging banks and mounds of this endurance course?
Then we took to the farm areas, speeding down the lanes and negotiating rutted, muddy tracks. Would it require a tractor to tow it out of the quagmire?
Heavy rain then sunny days interspersed with showers preceded the test. Test day itself was mostly cloudy and cool for the time of year.
Whether you have driven one of Kubota’s RTVs before or not, you should try this one. It’s the company’s latest model and while it is still a roughty-toughty utility, the stakes have been upped in terms of comfort, convenience and performance.
Two years ago we tested Kubota’s petrol RTV400Ci and the two/four seater RTV1140 but today we find the X900 a whole new experience. It’s smoother, has better driveability and a host of improvements we think you will like.
Of course it’s a rugged Kubota engine – the 21.6hp D902 three-cylinder, four-cycle, diesel, OHV – that powers this machine. It packs a punch. And the vehicle still has variable hydraulic transmission, demonstrating Kubota tractor heritage, to offer a wide torque band. Unlike previous RTVs however, this model has one pump and one motor; it doesn’t have a mid-range – just Hi and Lo, plus Neutral and Reverse, with in-line shifting. But more about that later.
Of quality build inside and out, this vehicle has a high-rigidity steel chassis frame which is intended to take rough terrain in its stride while isolating the occupants from noise and vibration. It inspires confidence and should take the punishment of heavy loads and extreme conditions.
A little wider than previous models, the X900’s cargo bed has been slightly squashed up. It is still hydraulic tipping, has a tailgate which folds down completely and still has a capacity of 500kg.
We like the lash-down points inside the bed, protected by covers. There are further lash-down points on the outside. The bed is a little high if you need to manhandle a rotary mower into the box but there is sufficient room for most tools needed by the grounds staff. Where Kubota has increased performance is in towing. This unit will now tow a one tonne load.
Under the bonnet we find a larger radiator siting in a new position. It has been moved forward and the intake is higher where the air is cleaner and cooler. Furthermore, not only does the new position simplify maintenance, it should mean less heat is felt by the driver when the vehicle is under strain on a hot day.
Raising the bar
Underneath the frame we find the RTV-X900 raises the bar in terms of ground clearance. There is a full 10.4" of clearance with 8" of suspension travel. CV joint protectors and heavy-duty skid plates protect the machine’s vital organs in the event of running over obstacles such as stumps or boulders. We notice the independent suspension on all four wheels, with Kubota’s extra duty independent rear suspension technology at the back. It’s all height adjustable front and rear so, whether you are carrying a heavy load or not, the tension on the springs can be increased or decreased to provide proper vehicle height, great control and a smooth ride.
This vehicle also boasts true four-wheel drive with a limited-slip front differential and a locking rear differential to reduce wheelspin in wet and muddy conditions.
We open the doors on our test vehicle climb inside the cab to find more improvements. For starters there is a lot more leg room between the seats and dash and, if you banged your knee on the parking brake of previous models, you’ll find the lever is now dash mounted. The windscreen fully opens, which is useful if you are shooting.
The dash is brighter, with large easy-to-read displays for speed, hours and distance travelled. An overheat alarm gives audible and visible alert.
The seats are 60:40 split-bench seats, the non-homologated version having storage areas underneath. The driver’s seat is adjustable backwards and forwards and, to Handy’s amusement, the steering wheel also tilts. "Look," he says adjusting the wheel from sloping to flat, "you can drive it like a car, or like a bus."
Time to buckle up and get on with the drive; first on the flat to get used to the vehicle, then round the training course and finally we go cross-country.
The turning circle seems good, top speed is around 25mph on the flat and the suspension is superb. "You can tell it has independent suspension," says Kemp flying over the bumps. "We bounce over bumps in our vehicle, but this one is in a different league – it’s lovely."
Handy agrees: "We went at speed over those bumps but didn’t feel a thing. It handles well on the bends and feels stable. With the power-steering it is manoeuvrable at low speeds."
Acceleration compares to previous models but we reckon the engine braking gives more – taking your foot off the accelerator brings the vehicle to an abrupt halt. You are likely to only need the foot brake when going down steep slopes.
Climbing hills labours the engine a bit but not what could be described as a struggle, and the X900 handled muddy, water filled ruts without blinking. On mounds the skid plates behaved like a cheese grater but protected the engine and transmission. And when we hit low branches, we are glad the break-back on the overhead beacon works well.
All in all we find this a fun ride from a true workhorse. If we have a grumble, then it is with the gear selection. The vehicle has to be stationary to change from Lo to Hi. To change from Hi to Lo it is necessary to depress the brake pedal in order to release the pressure. But both Handy and Kemp find they have to juggle the gear selector. "You think you are in Lo, but it’s not quite there," explains Handy. Then he finds a trick. If you put it in to reverse first, then it’s easy to select a forward gear. "I reckon there is a knack to it," agrees Kemp.
For the X900 you can choose between the bright orange worksite-vehicle or for an extra £200 take it in camouflage for those situations where you would rather blend into the background. The basic model comes with a ROPS frame and canopy. Then there are options.
Up-grading with Kit 1 gives a windscreen, wiper and wash. Kit 2 provides doors to slot into existing hinges and gives protection from the outdoor elements and noise. Kit 3 includes a heating console, sun visor and radio. All three options will set you back an additional £2,063 +VAT.
Engine: Kubota D902 3-cyl, 4-cycle, diesel, OVH
Net power: 15.4kW/3200rpm
Cooling system: liquid
Fuel tank capacity: 30 litres
Transmission: continuously variable hydrostatic (VHT-X)
Gears: Hi-Lo range forward / neutral / reverse
Max speed: 25mph (40kmph)
Four-wheel drive: Limited-slip front differential/foot operated diff lock rear
Steering: hydrostatic power
Brakes: wet-disc front and rear/hand-operated rear-wheel parking brake
Front suspension: independent Dual A-arms with adjustable spring preload
Rear suspension: independent with coil over shock
Ground clearance: 266mm front / 263mm rear
Dimensions: LxWxH 3.11m x 1.6m x 2.02m
Turning radius: 4m
Payload capacity: 679kg
Towing capacity: 1000kg
Cargo bed: WxLxH 1.03m x 1.47m x 0.29m
Prices: (all ex VAT) worksite orange £13,300, camouflage £13,500, Kit 1 £418, Kit 2 £1,135, Kit 3 £510, all options £2,063.
Contact: Kubota (UK) 01844 268000
The Review Panel
Matt Handy, senior gardener, Cannington Gardens, Somerset
James Kemp, part-time gardener, Cannington Gardens, Somerset