31 October 1997

Claas Challenger 35

£96,250

209hp, 6598cc, 16 x 9 gears

Test weight 11,755kg

Introduced 1995

Sold across Europe as a Claas since Oct 1, the Challenger 35 is still 100% Caterpillar underneath. It has the biggest price tag, the highest claimed output, the most weight and the smallest capacity engine in the group. Oh, and its got tracks as well

WHY include the Challenger? If youre farming the sort of soil that needs tracks and have deep enough pockets, one will be high on the list. And its interesting to see just how rubber tracks stack up against tyres over a range of work.

Challengers and NH G190s go down a common Winnipeg build line, sharing a transmission, cab, linkage and pto. So much of what goes for one applies to the other, though there are surprising differences. Weight is one – the Claas tips the weighbridge at 11,755kg, the NH (including front hitch) at 9076kg. A lot of this comes down to the Challengers stronger rear axle and weighty tracks.

Engines are definitely poles apart. Caterpillar uses its own small-capacity, unit-injector 3116 diesel. Small in size but a giant on the test bed, it delivers the second highest maximum pto power (203hp), the widest constant power band (41%) and a knee-trembling 72% torque backup. But as torque drops fast below 1100rpm, its best not to lug the motor right down under heavy load. Thrift is OK too, with consumption middling between the "green" Deere/Fendt and the 13% thirstier Case/MF.

So its with the scent of something special in the air that you climb the side steps and execute a smart 90í turn into the single door cab. Expectancy is soon replaced by the familiar whiff of New Holland plastics, for this is business as in the G190; the same beetle-browed, workmanlike interior, the same knobs and widgets.

Hang on a mo; the front wheels have disappeared, so you can see a lot more forward and down. But ahead the curvy bonnet looms even wider, you sit lower in relation to it and the confection of exhaust stack, cab pillar and mirrors to the right is more substantial.

To the rear, the linkage looks a long way off down a lime-green mudguard tunnel. Otherwise the cabs are the same; shiny plastic, reasonable ventilation, good stowage, poor passenger seat.

In work the engine and tracks really show their stuff. What the motor lacks in cubic inches it makes up in sheer guts, purring along at 1800rpm with stacks in reserve both above and below. Its quiet, too – a deeper growl than the Deere when its pulling hard, overlain by more transmission whine from under the seat – and the New Hollands ear-bashing resonance just isnt there.

Throttle down under heavy load then whack the stiff hand lever wide, and back the motor comes. Theres very little track slip so speed and work rate stay up, regardless of whats happening at the implement. The outfit just pushes relentlessly on.

The transmissions eight fieldwork speeds and electronic control are unchanged from the NH. But to peg the Challenger at 18.6mph (30km/hr) forward gears are reduced to 16, and the box is beefed up to take the extra loading from those grippy tracks. So the auto button for road work upshifts is still there, the "three gears up or down approaching a headland" rocker is waiting, and you can pre-programme a reverse gear up to three ratios away from a forward speed. All good driver-helping stuff once youve worked it out.

The Claas was more dubious down below, though. Shift quality compared to the New Holland was poor; the 9/10 change still banged home but now others were bad, and under load the outfit could come almost to a stop while the box sorted itself out. We tried following the manuals clutch pack calibration routine, but the electronics were having none of it.

A track-layers steering naturally raises a lot of interest. Effort needed is low but the system feels like no other – theres a central dead spot, resistance to either side and strong self-centering. During turns, you must positively balance the steering wheel against its need to point straight ahead.

For a while this feels pretty strange, and the first runs up the field are like a donkeys hind leg. And they need care – in the Challengers Stateside home, most big equipment is trailed and decoupled from the tractor. Tackle on three-point linkage isnt, so steering needs a gentle hand to limit implement loading once the sway block stabiliser travel is used up.

After a while its easy enough to keep cultivation work straight, though drilling is something else. The hardest thing is swapping between the Claas, a conventional tractor and back again.

Theres only one brake pedal as the tractor can turn in its own length, if necessary at a standstill. This opens the first of three practical points: Steering input needs to be steady to avoid throwing up a fair earthworks at headlands.

The others concern ground pressure and balance. Pressure is low with a mounted implement in work, but as tackle comes out the ground its weight transfers straight to the two rear driving members. Suddenly the low ground pressure effect disappears to leave two deep wheelings – this is one heavy tractor. And thanks to fixed nose weight and the difficulty of adding more, hoisting hefty mounted equipment soon has the front end dancing.

The rear linkage lifts a test-topping 8278-10,424kg, just pipping the New Holland. Lift arm arc is limited, but this is not so significant as the tractor doesnt squat much on picking up a weight.

&#42 Roadwork

Who drives a Challenger far on tarmac? Not many. But if needed, itll do the job. The ride is hard but not bone-breaking, the gearbox a help, the close-set wing mirrors definitely not. But change direction with the studied calm of a ballet dancer, particularly with something on the linkage. If not, the Cat may bite.

&#42 Sum-up

Engine strength and low-slip tracks maximise work rate. Cab very quiet, steering an acquired art. Ground pressure low until a mounted implement is lifted, suggesting trailed tackle is the best bet.

CLAAS LIKES & DISLIKES

We like

&#8226 Big torque rise.

&#8226 High overpower.

&#8226 Low-slip tracks to maximise work rate.

&#8226 Quiet in work.

&#8226 Manoeuvrability.

&#8226 Moderate fuel consumption.

We dislike

&#8226 High cost.

&#8226 High weight.

&#8226 Powershift change quality on test unit.

&#8226 Sharp steering response in fieldwork.

&#8226 Balance with heavy mounted implement lifted.

&#8226 High ground pressure with implement lifted.

&#8226 Limited roadability.

The Challengers lift arm arc is limited, but this is not too significant as the tractor doesnt squat much on picking up a weight.

Spot the difference. Cab is from NH, complete with moveable side console.