David Williams spent a day trying out the new JCB tractors
The new Fastrac 4000-series replaces the current 2000-series but, far from being an updated version, the new tractors are re-designed from the ground up, responding to demands from owners for more power and greater capability, and from users for a better working environment and improved ease of use. David Williams spent a day trying out the new tractors.“The 2000-series Fastracs were great tractors, but they were getting dated,” explained JCB Agriculture sales and marketing manager, Edward Roach. “The transmission and the cab needed improvement and users were asking for more power. Discussions with potential and existing users demonstrated clearly that the main priorities when selecting a tractor are versatility, a high power-to-weight ratio, and the ability to ballast it to suit the application.”Introduced in 2007, the outgoing 2000-series included two models; the 160hp 2155 and the 2170 with 174hp. They shared the same range concept features as the larger Fastrac models; mid-mounted cab, rear load deck, outboard brakes and the ability to travel at high speeds. Optional 4-wheel steer, however, was not available on larger machines.JCB said the new range was designed following extensive consultation with Fastrac and other brand users. “We didn’t want to only ask the opinions of loyal JCB users,” explained Edward. “We also talked with many previous and non-Fastrac users to ask why they don’t use them. The top answer from non-users was that they don’t do a lot of roadwork, but feedback from Fastrac users is that their versatility offers benefits for land and yard work as well as transport tasks.”The top reasons previous 2000-series customers cited for having moved away from the brand were the cab, the transmission and their requirement for more power. We also had more than 20 years’ worth of owner data, as we send out questionnaires 3, 6 and 12 months after a Fastrac is purchased, so we were able to see which features impressed owners and which, they felt, were lacking,” he said.The new JCB 4000-series (right) is replacing the current 2000-series machines.The 2000-series accounts for approximately 25 per cent of Fastrac sales and many are in use with specialist vegetable producers who appreciate features such as 4-wheel steer. However, during the research the transmission came in for a lot of criticism, as users reported that they often found themselves ‘between gears’ to achieve the required operating speeds.As well as the extensive customer research, JCB undertook a massive bench-marking exercise against all the other main tractor brands in the same power sector. “Nine times out of ten, 2000-series Fastracs were purchased as part of a mixed fleet, but issues were caused by their lack of compatibility with traditional tractors,” explained Edward.”When hitching up to PTO-driven implements, the shaft length tended to be ok between all the traditional tractors, but needed to be different for the Fastrac. The linkage height of the Fastrac wasn’t the same either, so swapping from a conventional tractor to the Fastrac meant the implement had to be set up differently, which could cause frustration.”The cab came in for criticism, for its lack of space and poor visibility as well as the control layout, partly due to it having been adapted from an earlier application on a mid-1990s backhoe loader.Bigger but the same sizeAccommodating a larger, re-designed cab and a more powerful engine, which also had to conform to Tier 4 final emissions regulations was a challenge as the company was keen to preserve the ‘footprint’ of the 2000-series machines. Work started on the new range in 2009 and the first prototypes were produced in 2012. A brand new chassis which could accommodate all the features required was designed, and the result was a tractor with 93 per cent totally new components and just 10cm longer.Flexible transmission
Replacing the previous mechanical unit, a full CVT transmission now provides infinite speed availability from 0-60kph, and means the drive ratio can always be optimized for maximum efficiency and economy, as well as to allow a continuous PTO speed, regardless of travel speed. It also provides features such as automatic hill-hold.JCB manufactures many of the new components itself, but also sources some from well-proven suppliers. The new chassis is made and painted by GKN, and is zinc-phosphate treated, to make sure the metal remains covered should any paint be removed. The CVT transmission is manufactured by Fendt, and specially modified to accommodate prop shaft drives to the rear PTO and axle.AgcoPower supplies the 6.6-litre power units and the axles and cab are designed and manufactured by JCB. An important consideration in the new design was that state-of-the-art precision farming equipment was needed which is supplied by Trimble.Prototype machines underwent hot and cold climate testing, and were placed with existing and non-Fastrac users to also obtain feedback compared to competitor machines, and the new machines were greeted enthusiastically.The three new 4000-series models offer power outputs from 160-220hp, fitting in below the 3000-series machines and the largest 8000-series with power outputs up to 310hp.The 160hp 4160 has up to 175 max hp available for transport and PTO tasks, and all new models have totally new front and rear axles but the hub diameter remains the same to ensure that wheels can be swapped front to back and customers’ existing wheel equipment will still fit, although the wheel fittings have been upgraded from 5 to 10-stud.The two larger models; the 189hp (rated), 208hp (max) 4190 and the 217hp (rated), 235hp (max) 4220 both have new deeper hubs on the rear axle for greater torque capacity.The all-new cab will be the biggest improvement as far as most operators are concerned. It is considerably larger, most of the extra space gained by the new styling and the new windscreen which is angled out at the top, providing extra shade.The large screens all around make the cab feel more spacious as well as improving visibility. A six-post design allows the previously fixed rear quarter windows to be opened. An optional roof screen gives the cab a brighter feel and improves visibility for high-level loader work.Full climate control is standard, and there are extra air vents at the side of the steering column to keep the front screen clear. The new cab has plenty of storage for odds and ends, in response to requests from operators.Access to the cab is now very good – large open steps provide plenty of space for both feet on the same step and the slats provide lots of grip and effectively clean the bottom of the boots each time the steps are used, noticeably effective when climbing in and out of the test tractors in the muddy clay fields.The wide opening doors make entering the cab easy, and there is plenty of space provided by the movable steering column, a simple release latch allowing it to be moved forward while a second lever is used to set the operating position, to which the column automatically returns once the operator is seated.The operator seat is available in standard or deluxe specification and can be leather-trimmed for greater comfort. Keeping an eye on rear-mounted implements is made easier by the large amount of swivel available; 50 degrees to the right and 20 to the left. The passenger seat is full-sized, and folds to provide a useful flat surface.The new Fastrac features improved mudguards, and their effectiveness was proven at the JCB driving event, where pouring rain had mixed with the sticky red clay. Despite numerous trips through the many puddles, the mud stayed under the fenders, and the cab screens remained clean. Optional inner skins will be available for the rear fenders to ensure maximum coverage.LightingThe 4160 Fastrac has four front and two rear working lights as standard while the range-topping 4220 will have eight front and six rear. An optional high performance Led lighting package provides 14 lights in total. Another useful feature is that the lights remain on for a while after the tractor is parked.With its popular optional 4-wheel steering, the previous model was designed for manoeuverability, but the new machines have a much tighter turning circle; just under 10m with 540-65R30 tyres fitted when 4-wheel steer is specified.Increasing performance during low speed field work, the steering ratio is now selectable. Five modes are available; front wheel steer, proportional 4-wheel steer in which the front wheels turn two degrees for every one degree at the rear, true tracking; where the wheels track precisely, delayed 4-wheel steering adjustable from 10-50 per cent, and crab steer.Also available is Fast Steer, in which the operator can select between two steering ratios; standard for road use and general work and fast steer, the system reducing the number of steering wheel turns required lock-to-lock to just two, at low travel speeds, a particular benefit for yard work and headland turns.As the travel speed increases the fast steer system disengages, and at more than 25kph, the 4-wheel steering progressively disengages and the back axle steering locks, the 4-wheel steer function re-engaging when the speed falls below 25kph. SuspensionA significant improvement over earlier models is the suspension, performance of the standard system upgraded considerably with the addition of self-levelling front suspension to complement the rear, and maintaining the correct ride height wherever the implement is mounted.A new option, which dramatically improves performance, is double-acting suspension, giving greater suspension control in all situations. As well as leveling the tractor front to rear, it provides side-to-side levelling, increasing stability, driver confidence and productivity.With the new double-acting suspension, it is also possible to lower the tractor to ‘squat’ below implements such as demount sprayers or spreaders for ease of attachment, or to reduce the total height for ease of filling. JCB explained that because the weight distribution is so well controlled, it is possible to run the tyres at lower pressures than would be the case with a standard system, as the load is always shared across all four.The Fastracs available to test-drive were all equipped with the double-acting system, and the performance was excellent. The ride at speed across bumpy ground was smooth and comfortable and when front or rear-mounted implements were raised or lowered, the suspension quickly adjusted to compensate for the different weight distribution.Brakes are outboard air-operated twin-caliper discs, and the tractor is equipped with ABS. Travelling at 30kph across the greasy field and standing hard on the brake pedal proved the efficiency of the system, as the tractor was brought to a stop quickly and without any loss of traction, while the superb suspension compensated instantly for the rapid deceleration.HydraulicsTo meet the demands of modern high capacity implements the new Fastracs all have a 148-litre/min on-demand axial piston pump, with a separate gear pump providing flow for the steering.The rear lift capacity is up by 30 per cent, to 8,000kg on the two larger models, and the front linkage lifts up to 3,500kg. The rear linkage, axle mounted as on other Fastracs for efficient draft performance, has built in dampers to absorb stresses during transport. The rear linkage geometry is altered to give a better kick-up, providing extra room for large reversible ploughs to turn over.New on this size Fastrac is Headland Turn Assist, programmed through the colour touch-screen terminal which is used for setting functions such as linkage lift height and drop speeds, spool valve flows and timings and the headland control sequences. Up to 15 control actions can be programmed, and stored for up to five different implements.The system is very user-friendly, and the chain of functions displayed makes it easy to work out how and where to make alterations without having to resort to completely re-programming it. This was apparent particularly when working around trees in the field with the drill and front-mounted hopper, the hopper left in its raised position while manoeuvring, and then returning to the normal sequence when the obstruction was passed.Up to five hydraulic spool valves can be specified at the rear, up from four previously, and power-beyond is also available. Mudguard-mounted hydraulic and PTO controls are provided, on both rear mudguards, and they also allow operation of one of the first three spool valves externally.
The Fastrac has four PTO speeds as standard; 540, 540Eco, 1,000 and 1,000Eco.Loader work
For the first time, and responding to the need for greater flexibility of use, the new Fastracs are available front loader-ready. A loader can now be easily fitted to provide a solution for those using the Fastrac for transporting produce or for spreading applications as it will remove the need for an additional machine for loading.One of the test tractors had a loader fitted. Visibility down to the forks was good, the narrow bonnet allowing a clear view down both sides. As the loader is raised the new large windscreen provides a clear view through most of the travel, until right at the top, the cab roof window provides a more convenient view and removes the need for the operator to lean forward over the steering wheel to see upwards.The new transmission provides excellent control for loader work, without the need to slip a clutch, and the loader itself is easily dropped off or attached and is operated by a small electronic joystick on the main control panel.Servicing
Fuel, Adblue and hydraulic oil fillers are all grouped together. Production machines will have a hexagonal cap for the hydraulic tank, to prevent confusion when refueling. A handy site gauge on the tank allows at-a-glance checks when mounting the steps. The narrow bonnet is rear-hinged and lifts completely clear of the cooling packs allowing ease of access for cleaning. Service intervals for oil changes are 500 hours. VerdictCompared with its predecessor, the new Fastrac is worlds apart. The new cab is comfortable and quiet, with plenty of space and a very user-friendly feel, with everything laid out logically for ease of control. Climbing in and out of the cab, the steps give an immediate impression of a solid capable machine, and all the controls are a good size to use; small enough to look neat and uncluttered, but large enough to grab hold of. The dashboard is clear and well-designed, and makes it easy to access information, while the control display screen is clear with well-lit colourful symbols which look functional.Following a day spent driving the new Fastracs, with a variety of implements; the tall Farmers Guide test driver had just one criticism; the cab is superb, but after only short journeys in the passenger seat, the low position proved uncomfortable. The seat itself was good, and a generous size, but it is so low to the cab floor that the passenger’s knees were above his waist. The reason for the low position is obvious; to maximise the space and visibility available to the operator, and this it achieves well, but the lack of passenger comfort is a high price to pay.Long-term user experience One of JCB’s test machines has been working with Ely, Cambridgeshire-based PJ Lee & Sons which farms approximately 2,600ha (6,500 acres) of cereals, sugar beet, maize and vegetables, and the company also produces approximately 40,000t of potatoes/year for the fresh produce market.As well as conventional wheeled and tracked tractors the farm operates four 2000-series Fastracs and partner, Andrew Lee, says the improvements and performance of the new 4000-series tractor compared to its predecessor have made a massive difference. “We started off using it to subsoil down to 16in ahead of potatoes post-harvest,” he says. “We then used it to haul potatoes before replacing a conventional tractor on our Grimme GT harvester with the new Fastrac.With its CVT transmission and selectable transmission operating modes we are able to tailor it for optimal performance in variable conditions. Previously, with the older Fastracs we would have been looking for additional gear ratios between those available. The headland sequence system is excellent and users are finding the flexibility it offers in terms of programming makes the job much easier.”The main operator had recently been to see his own brand new tractor coming off the production line at the factory, but it has been parked up in the shed since harvest commenced as he has been using the Fastrac instead on the harvester. He has already told me he would rather keep the Fastrac so I am going to have a hard job converting him back to his own machine when the Fastrac is returned. He loves the ease of altering the gearbox characteristics to suit the task and the headland management system, as well as the cab and its excellent visibility. He is certainly impressed,” adds Andrew.The farm has not been told which model Fastrac it is testing as it’s un-badged, but carrying out similar field and transport tasks to conventional tractors working alongside, as well as next to the 2000-series Fastracs, the dashboard fuel consumption display is showing the new Fastrac to be more frugal and the performance is better too, which Andrew believes is largely due to the superior suspension. “It has lost its lumpiness in the field,” he says. “Even travelling diagonally across the harvested potato rows it has a smooth ride,