Fendt’s 900 Vario-series tractors have become a firm favourite with large, professional arable farmers and contractors and the latest Gen 6 model is almost totally new from the ground-up, but offers even greater performance and comfort for additional appeal to prospective purchasers. David Williams tried it out.
“The wheel nuts are the same as on the previous model,” stated Fendt UK tractor product specialist Peter Henson, explaining features of the new 942 Vario. “Apart from that there are few other components in common and everything else is new.”
The new 900 Vario line-up consists of 5 models, the same as before, but a step up in horsepower demand has seen the previous entry-level 275hp 927 Vario deleted from the range, while a new flagship 415hp 942 Vario breaks the 400hp barrier for the first time.
Fendt Gen 6 900 Vario
Fendt is referring to the new series as Gen 6 as the company believes frequent changes to exhaust emissions standards, referred to differently in Europe and the US, create confusion when used to differentiate between models. However, all the latest Gen 6, 900 Vario tractors do meet latest Stage 5 regulations.
Not a mini 1000 Vario
For owners the biggest change is a move from Deutz 6-cyl 7.1-litre power units to MAN 6-cyl, 9-litre engines; driving through Fendt’s VarioDrive transmission – first fitted to the larger 1000 Vario series. VarioDrive achieves efficiency through intelligently adjusting power distribution between the front and rear axles to suit the application and conditions.
For operators the most obvious upgrade from previous models is the all-new cab, also from the flagship 1000 Vario series.
However, Fendt points out that just because the new tractors share several major design features with 1000 Vario models, that doesn’t make the 900 Vario their smaller twin. It is actually a completely different tractor designed for different applications. With 415hp and on the largest 750/75R44 rear, and 650/60R38 front tyres, the 942 Vario is big; but with 5 steps to access the cab it has 2 steps less than its larger brother and compared to similar powered models from competitors the new tractors are quite compact.
The test drive on a Northamptonshire arable farm was an opportunity to assess the 942 Vario cultivating stubble with a 6m heavy cultivator. The Lemken Karat 12 is suitable for shallow or deeper stubble cultivation and for the test the tines were in deep, and pulling it through the stiff, challenging soils at an average 12kph working speed took most of the available power.
Fendt’s demonstrator came with VarioGrip, an integrated tyre pressure adjustment system fitted at the factory allowing pressures to be set from the VarioTerminal display. Fendt Grip Assist was also fitted, allowing the user to enter details including ground conditions, the task and the operating speed; and an ideal ballasting strategy is suggested together with recommended tyre pressures. When ballast is already fitted, details are entered and Grip Assist suggests suitable tyre pressures and operating speed. Accepting the recommendation provides automatic tyre pressure adjustment to match.
Because Fendt’s VarioDrive powers the front and rear axles through independent hydrostatic motors there is no mechanical link, so tyre pressures can be individually set for optimal performnce without danger of axle wind up.
Fendt says it is seeing steady sales growth for the VarioGrip option from professional growers wanting to look after and protect their soils. “It’s interesting that when dealers are asked to demonstrate tractors, there are more requests for the tractor to be equipped with VarioGrip. VarioDrive is an ideal partner to VarioGrip with the systems complementing each other and providing even greater advantage, so we expect increased demand for integrated tyre pressure adjustment for the new models.
“One thing most manufacturers and engineers hate seeing is a powerful tractor with 3t of ballast on the front and a subsoiler at the rear working in hard, dry conditions,” commented Peter. “There is little opportunity for tyre slip so all the drive components in a traditional transmission are under massive stress. This just isn’t an issue with VarioDrive and the system will optimise tyre life too.”
Grip Assist is a stand-alone function available through an unlock code, and for those carrying out dedicated tasks such as tanker work, VarioGrip will allow the user to select pressures to suit the field and road, and there is little requirement for additional guidance.
Easy to use
Peter demonstrated how optimum tyre pressures are easily obtained through Grip Assist and adjusted using VarioGrip on the VarioTerminal.
First the operator selects the implement attachment type – hitch, semi-mounted or three point linkage. Then the working conditions, tyre size, implement type, and anticipated operating speed are all entered. The recommended front and rear ballast, and tyre pressures are displayed.
“Users know that optimising tyre pressures for each task improves efficiency, results in higher work rates, extends tyre life and protects soils from compaction,” said Peter. “But, without a system like VarioGrip it takes time and effort so often compromise pressures are chosen to protect the tyres, without making the most of their potential. A system to set pressures easily from the cab makes it much more likely that users will adjust the pressure for every task to obtain best performance.”
VarioDrive is an infinitely variable CVT system using a pump and two motors. For high torque situations where maximum power and traction are needed, both motors drive both axles. Below 25kph both motors are working but at higher speeds the front motor swings into neutral position so no more oil can be supplied and a clutch for the front motor disengages reducing drag losses. At top speed the second motor is also in neutral position which leads to a mechanical drive and reduced engine revs, for maximum efficiency, reducing fuel use and wear and tear. Drive distribution between the axles means there is no 4wd selector and because it is fully automatic the operator can concentrate on the task while the tractor’s management system maximises efficiency and economy. Differential lock selector buttons are retained, as VarioDrive distributes power between the axles, but not between the left and right wheels. There is no high/low range selector either – instead there is just one speed range from 0–60kph.
Peter explained that additional VarioDrive benefits include a more comfortable ride. “We have little experience with the new 900 Vario so far, but users of the 1000 Vario have commented on the complete absence of ‘power-hop’, which often occurs with other high horsepower tractors. This is because of our transmission’s constant adjustment of power distribution between the front and rear as it reacts to working conditions. In fact, it reacts so quickly and easily that it’s impossible to feel when it adjusts. Even painting marks on the wheels and attempting to video it as it redirected power between the axles proved unsuccessful, as slip compensation started before the loss of grip was detectable.”
A further benefit of Fendt’s VarioDrive transmission and its ability to direct power where needed is that during tight headland turns, power to the front axle is increased, speeding up the front wheels and effectively pulling the front of the tractor in the direction of steering. This, Fendt claims, results in a turning radius 10 per cent tighter than a conventional tractor with the same wheelbase, saving time and reducing the space needed for manoeuvring.
Compact but capable
The new 900 Vario is the same overall length as the previous version despite having a longer 3,150mm wheelbase. Width and height are slightly increased, although a 60in track width can still be achieved, and unladen weight is approximately one tonne more mainly due to the new engine and transmission.
Hydraulic performnce is uprated. The rear linkage capacity is increased to 12,410kg and the optional front linkage is similar to previous models at 5,584kg. Cat 3 or Cat 4-narrow are options but Peter suggests most UK users will select Cat 4 as it is better suited to heavy mounted implements which are likely to be the primary application.
New handy features include a profiled top-link bracket which helps guide the ball into place making it easier to hitch up to mounted implements. There are also graduation markings on both lift rods allowing the user to check at a glance that both are of equal length before attaching the lower link arms.
Hydraulic flow rates are available to suit the most demanding implements. 165 litres/min is standard with 220 litres/min an upgrade option, but a massive 430 litres/min is also available from 2 pumps providing 220 and 210 litres/min – the different outputs necessary to prevent resonance at maximum flow. Rear spools can deliver 140 litres/min as standard but a larger diameter coupling allows delivery rates up to 170 litres/min from 2 pairs of valves.
At the front end there is a choice of one or 2 hydraulic spools, plus an option to fit an Isobus socket.
The MAN engines and Vario CVT transmission work together to achieve Fendt’s iD low engine speed concept. Benefits include constant adjustment to maintain lowest fuel consumption for the task and speed selected, by allowing the high torque engine to work at lowest possible revs. This also extends the service life of the engine oil and filters. The result is a change to 1,000-hour service intervals, up from 500 previously.
The new 942 Vario achieves maximum 1,970Nm torque at 1,150rpm, and maintains the high torque up to 1,450rpm. Idle is now at just 650rpm with maximum horsepower achieved at 1,700rpm. 40kph transport speed is available from just 950rpm. “We have no official fuel figures yet but with considerably more torque at lower revs and based on comments from early users, everything points to significant fuel savings,” said Peter. According to the VarioTerminal display, consumption during the test drive cultivating at the target 12kph was typically 14–17 litres/ha.
Fuel tank capacity is slightly increased to 625 litres and Adblue tank capacity is now 70 litres – almost double that of the previous model and more than compensating for the MAN engine’s increased additive use, up from approximately 4 to 8 per cent.
The previous cab was popular with operators but the latest version is larger, with improved visibility, more storage for tools and smaller items, and improved comfort.
There are three cab suspension options including base mechanical which won’t be available for the UK. Mid-spec includes three-point suspension with a cone at the front and two pneumatic dampers at the rear, and maximum comfort is provided by full pneumatic suspension front and rear – which was fitted to the demonstration model.
The new cab provides easier access including a large plastic moulded grab handle on the lower rear mudguard, improved step lighting and a wider entry door. The passenger seat has a revised folding arrangement reducing obstruction.
Steps on the right of the cab fold in for protection but fold out for ease of use when needed. Also on the right is a space for a cantilever toolbox which slides out on a tray at a convenient angle for access.
Mirrors adjust from in the cab including telescopic arms which can be extended to see around large implements and trailers, but which can be retracted to avoid damage when not needed.
Optional front and rear cameras can be specified including a wide-angle camera mounted at the front of the bonnet. This is especially useful for situations such as pulling out from field gateways onto roads where the view from the cab is obscured by hedges, by allowing the driver to safely check on the VarioTerminal screen for traffic.
Improved security includes a unique key pattern for each tractor, plus an optional immobiliser which is specified by most buyers
An automatic parking brake adds convenience, setting and releasing automatically when the drive selector is pushed to park, and when pulling away.
There is also an effective exhaust brake, providing approximately 50 per cent more braking force than the previous version and saving wear and tear on the mechanical brakes during transport tasks.
There are four specification levels; Power, PowerPlus, Profi and ProfiPlus. The top two levels have additional functions available through a multi-function joystick and the ProfiPlus top version has a 10.4-in touch-screen VarioTerminal. The 942 Vario demonstrator was the ProfiPlus specification and fitted with many upgrades to the standard set-up.
A superb sound system is available offering Bluetooth connectivity for phones and media. Eight microphones distributed around the roof mean that no matter which way the operator is looking there is a microphone nearby making it easier to hear and be heard during phone calls.
The new Gen 6 942 Vario is easy to drive and it takes little time to get used to the user-friendly controls and screen menus to adjust operational settings. Although there are a host of automatic functions to help users, for those with more experience there is plenty of potential to use the performance aids to get the best from the machine. Excellent visibility means it doesn’t feel particularly large, even on the biggest tyres. It’s very manoeuvrable, with light steering and light controls, and the automatic steer-in-turn provided by the VarioDrive takes effect without being noticeable from the cab. Automated headland management functions mean headland turns are achieved without fuss, even with complex implements.
The demonstration tractor had full pneumatic cab suspension and, with the tyres suitably inflated for the task according to the VarioGrip system, the ride was superb; both when travelling at speed on the headland and while cultivating the cereal stubble.
The new cab is very quiet, allowing easy conversation even with the 6m cultivator demanding most of the engine power available when typical engine speeds ranged between 1,450–1,600rpm to achieve the 12kph set on the cruise control.
Fendt’s VarioDrive transmission is already well proven on larger 1000 Vario models and offers significant benefits over conventional systems including the ability to direct power to whichever axle can use it most efficiently. It achieves this without any fuss or operator intervention and its ability to adjust automatically and progressively means there is no indication to the operator that drive distribution is changing.
The new Fendt 900 Vario line-up are premium tractors designed for professional farmers and contractors and come with a premium price tag, but investing a little extra in features such as VarioGrip and Grip Assist will ensure optimum performance and efficiency can be achieved for field tasks, increasing work rates and reducing fuel consumption, and should enhance resale values too.
The new 942 Vario has a list price of £300,887 in the base Power specification, rising to £317,150 for the top ProfiPlus spec. Average price premium over previous equivalent models is £9,000 across the series.
VarioGrip adds approximately £13,454 while Grip Assistant adds a further £301 and it is likely that with VarioDrive transmission offering increased benefits over conventional systems, many of the new tractors’ buyers will invest in the technology.
Of the previous 900 Vario model line-up, the most powerful 939 accounted for almost half of total unit sales so it is likely the new 942 Vario flagship will become the new best seller, with the 939 Vario and 936 Vario sharing most of the remaining sales volume.