TESTED THIS WEEK
THE REVIEW PANEL
Simon Goodson, park warden, Charlecote Park, Warwickshire
Eddie Nolen, park and garden assistant, Charlecote Park, Warwickshire
Paul Smith, gardener, Charlecote Park, Warwickshire
Lisa Topham, parks and garden manager, Charlecote Park, Warwickshire
The team at Charlecote Park, a National Trust property in Warwickshire, continues to search for a utility vehicle that satisfies the needs of the garden and parkland work.
The estate includes both formal and informal gardens, plus more than 30ha of parkland where fallow deer have roamed since Tudor times. A vehicle is needed as a fast response unit and also to move personnel, equipment and tools.
In this test, we look at the suitability of the Kawasaki Mule and the Kubota RTV. Conditions on test day were cold and frosty.
An industry standard, who hasn't heard of the Mule? The original and perhaps the best-known side-by-side utility vehicle on the market, this is a gutsy and determined workhorse loved by many. But what will our test team make of the most recent incarnation - the 4010 diesel 4x4?
Updated and refined from the previous model, the 3010, this Mule remains a well-thought-out vehicle but has all-new automotive styling and electronic power steering that is light at low speeds to make for easier manoeuvring when carrying a heavy load.
It is powered by a 953cc three-cylinder, high-torque, liquid-cooled, diesel engine, which Kawasaki says combines frugal economy with stamina to keep it going in the toughest of conditions. It is certainly smooth and relatively quiet, the engine bay being boxed more to deaden noise.
This is a machine built for brute torque and for many should prove ideal for getting personnel and equipment to inaccessible places. It is also built for hard work. It will carry around 500kg or lug 545kg of trailer and materials. There are mounting points under the front bumper to match a choice of winches.
Driving the Mule is simple. The automatic continuous variable transmission uses belts. It accelerates well, is smooth and provides ample power to make this machine a confident hill climber. There is one gearstick to give forward speed in two ranges - high or low - although we find most of our terrain can be covered in high. Move the stick down through the dogleg and you get reverse.
The new transmission gives improved engine braking on the downhills compared to previous models, but you still feel the need to brake on steep slopes. "In terms of speed control, the Kubota has the advantage travelling downhill. The Mule tends to get faster and faster, until you get to the point where you have to brake," Goodson explains. Topham would like to see Kawasaki's Trans vehicle, believing the ability to convert between two and four seats would be an advantage for the estate.
Overall, the machine feels stable and its performance is definitely nippy. It is also a comfortable drive. The chassis on the Mule 4010 rides on a DeDion rear leaf-spring suspension. McPherson struts take care of the front end.
There is a little bounce when the cargo box is empty and the long bench seat means that you can slide around when driving aggressively or cornering sharply. Seat belts are provided and the roll cage is sturdy.
The cargo box is a good size and well constructed. Latches on the tailgate are simple to operate - just like opening a gate - and we appreciate the mesh guard between the box and the driving compartment. It means that nothing is going to bounce out of the box and clout you in the back. There is more storage space in the form of a locker under the front hood.
With water iced over on test day, we miss the opportunity to check the engine and transmission air intake on the Mule, although it is clearly visible within the top of the ROPS frame. This should ensure ample clean, cool air is always available - even when travelling through deep water.
Engine: 953cc liquid-cooled, four-stroke, three-cylinder diesel
Transmission: Two-range automatic plus reverse, 4WD
Final drive: Front limited slip differential, dual mode rear differential
Wheel travel: Front: 100mm/Rear: 70mm
Tyres: 23x11-10 tubeless
Suspension: Front: independent McPherson strut/Rear: semi-independent DeDion axle
Brakes: Dual hydraulic drums front and rear
Ground clearance: 175mm
Fuel capacity: 24.2 litres
Curb mass: 788kg
List price + VAT: £8,909
Contact: Kawasaki Motors - 01628 856600
In shape and style it looks every bit your regular utility vehicle. But drive the RTV900 and you will soon feel the difference. This is a rough-terrain machine that runs on tractor technology. That makes it perform like no other utility - and it is packed with class-topping, go-anywhere, do-anything features.
The RTV900 is powered by a 21.6hp Kubota three-cylinder, water-cooled, diesel OHV engine. We know Kubota understands engines, so this one should prove reliable. It is certainly strong and powerful. It is happy to haul and ploughs through the dirt. But what really sets this vehicle apart from the crowd is its three-range variable fully hydrostatic transmission, instead of continually variable transmission. That is VHT, not CVT. Put simply, there are no belts - this is direct drive using gear-driven shafts.
The VHT means there is a single foot pedal to give infinitely variable forward speed in three ranges - hi, med and lo - with no need to clutch. There is no change on the move but it makes for simple driving. Select the speed range that suits the terrain, then put your foot down. Bring the vehicle to a halt to engage a different range or reverse.
Acceleration is quick. Top speed is 40kmph (25mph). But what impresses most is how the additional hydrostatic assist motor kicks in just when you need it - automatically shifting down and instantly delivering more torque to the drive wheels for climbing steep slopes.
Even more impressive, albeit slightly disturbing if experiencing it for the first time, the VHT provides dynamic braking for downhill runs. Take your foot off the throttle and the vehicle stops - there is no freewheeling with this one. A foot brake gives you instant stopping ability.
"You have to get used to that transmission," Topham comments. Goodson finds the engine braking a bit of a surprise. "That is something else. It has real advantages coming downhill. It doesn't run away from you," he says.
There's a 2WD/4WD lever on the dash. A rear-mounted diff lock is operated by the driver's heel if needed. Also on the dashboard are the gauges for temperature and fuel, plus an hour metre. The 12V charging socket can be used for a beacon accessory.
Because off-road is a tough environment, Kubota has given the RTV hydrostatic power steering so that you can respond quickly and easily to changes in terrain. Better still, we reckon, is the suspension. The vehicle has ample ground clearance for a confident ride over unpredictable ground.
But it is the advanced rear suspension that delights our test team. The semi-independent suspension-type DeDion axle, leaf spring and shock absorber on each rear wheel work together to minimise bumps and jolts. The front suspension is fully independent suspension using McPherson struts. Goodson is impressed. "It gives a smooth ride over rough ground," he says. Nolen agrees: "You can't feel the bumps."
Smith is a Kawasaki fan but admits: "The Kubota feels that bit sturdier and meatier when hitting the bumps." The bench seat is generously padded and it is contoured so there is less sliding when cornering quickly.
Daily check points are under the cargo bed and seat. Topham is pleased about access for servicing. "I like the way everything is so accessible. You can get at the radiator, the battery, air filter - it's all straightforward," she notes. Making it particularly suitable for summer use, the RTV has a fan to provide additional cooling when work involves short travel distances on hot days.
We check out the exterior. At the front is a reinforced steel guard for protection. The ROPS frame is lightweight but strong. The high-capacity cargo bed will take a 122cm (48in) pallet and has lever-operated hydraulic tipping to dump material. This one powers up and down.
The tailboard is user friendly. The locking mechanism allows it to open and close with a single touch. We like the real-tree camouflage, although the RTV900 is also available in Kubota orange. Another option is the Streetlegal Special version, complete with heavy-duty ROPS, bucket seats, rear-view mirror, headlights, indicators, reflectors and license plate board.
The RTV900 is so different that some folk are bound not to take to it instantly. But get to know this machine and you will find there is not much to dislike.
Engine: 898cc Kubota four-stroke, three-cylinder, liquid-cooled diesel
Transmission: Three-range variable hydro transmission, top speed 40kmph, 4WD with 2WD selection
Diff lock: Foot operated with mechanical holder
Tyres: 25x10-12 various profiles
Suspension: Front: independent McPherson strut/Rear: semi-independent DeDion with leaf springs and shock absorber
Brakes: Wet-disc front and rear
Turning diameter: 7.9m
Ground clearance: Front: 215mm/Rear: 195mm
Fuel capacity: 24.2 litres
Payload capacity: 770kg
Towing capacity: 590kg
Curb mass: 830kg
List price + VAT: £10, 395
Contact: Kubota UK - 01844 214500.
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