31 October 1997

Fendt Favorit 920 Vario

£tba

197hp, 6.87 litres, Vario gearbox

Weight 8370kg

Introduced Nov 1997

New 900 series tractors with steplessly variable transmission now run alongside the 44×44 box 800s, with power from 260hp to 170hp. Made in Bavaria.

DRIVING this Fendt is all about the gearbox, so thats the place to start. Your main point of contact is a stubby lever built into the seat armrest. Hit the neutral button to activate the box, thumb the sticks top switch, ease the stick forward and the tractor moves off. Push further and speed picks up, as with a conventional hydrostatic drive. Let go the lever and it springs back to neutral. To slow, pull the lever back. So far, so good?

Drop an implement into the ground and bring engine revs up on the hand throttle. Forward speed stays constant until you feed in more from the stick – this is one clever gearbox. Then, once youve settled at a comfortable forward clip, just concentrate on the job. The transmission will either hold engine rpm steady and vary speed to overcome load (on pto work) or let engine revs drop to a level you pre-set before gearing itself down. Everything happens completely seamlessly; all the driver feels is a gentle slowing and speeding up, as though land and tractor are attached by a large elastic band.

To change travel direction, click the stick left once for reverse, once again for forward. Clutchless drive take-up is smooth, even at high engine speed. Theres plenty more to play with; set cruise control – which holds speed steady by juggling gearing against load – or pre-set forward and reverse travel rate for headlands. This changes mode too, so now throttling up or down changes speed. Choose how fast the transmission responds to control stick inputs; and on the road, bowl along at 31mph (50km/hr) with the motor spinning at around 1500rpm.

All very neat. But does a smart gearbox help? Too right it does, albeit with a couple of cautions. First, getting used to driving by oil and wire (rather than through the seat of your pants) takes time. Second, the control lever and buttons could be more intuitive to use, and are not foolproof – its possible to miss-click the lever and end up with a direction change rather than a slowing-down, which is embarrassing with a plough in the ground. To drive this tractor – at least until a days work is under your belt – the brain definitely needs to be engaged.

Surely theres an efficiency cost? Not so, say the DLGs figures. By redesigning the hydrostatic side and mixing it with a two-range, generous-overlap mechanical drive, Fendts box of tricks achieves 82% efficiency – equal to the Massey, better than the Case (78%) and worse than the Deere (84%). And on concrete its able to generate high pulling power over a wide speed range, unlike the Deutz and Massey which see a quick decline either side of the optimum gear.

Now for the rest of the tractor. The cab is standard Fendt light grey/green issue, with steep steps up, two doors and a good feeling of space inside. Stowage is at a premium, with only the floor and a flimsy-covered bottle holder to take lunch and papers. Vents are all over the shop, letting two fans and car-style direction controls deliver gale-force ventilation.

View forward through the opening front screen is helped by a low dash panel, a narrow-ish bonnet and thin pillars. To the side the view is OK, to the linkage its excellent.

Noise is a big let-down. Measured worst at 79dB(A), not only is sound pressure high but the various drones and grumbles get on your wick.

The engine itself is no problem. Low specific consumption, along with the Deere, rightly earns it a "green engine" tag. And the big MAN is not short on output, with a measured 26% constant power band, 6% overpower and 46% torque backup.

Mind you, the driver never feels much of what the engine is up to; the transmission filters and softens feedback. Its enough to say that backup holds pto speed steady, on ploughing theres plenty of urge, and with a cultivator the 920 fairly steams up to speed. The driveline (which includes Fendts turboclutch) protects the motor from abuse. You cant stall it, and with an implement in the ground can move off without spin or stress.

Now to the linkage. Its lift arm winding handles are the easiest to use of the group, and Fendts lock-on-lift stabilisers are simple to work with. The test tractor came with a hydraulic top link, so nuff said there. The suggested payload accommodates big tackle, lift capacity spans a healthy 6081-8176kg. Lift range is good and draft response is up to the mark.

Chunky linkage controls tendril up from the side console to the cab pillar, with duplicate sets for front and rear lifts complicating the layout. All the usual functions are there and readily used. The seat armrest carries fast lift-lower buttons but these are a dead loss; theres too much delay before anything happens, and their tacky feel and marking are poor. Spool valve levers are badly placed down by the seat, too.

&#42 Roadwork

Here the Fendt is streets ahead. Again the gearbox is king, aided and abetted by front springing and a suspended cab. But you must learn how to set the box, dialling allowable engine speed drop to the suggested 14%. Set thus the Fendt turned out fastest up the test hill, partly as its always pulling the highest possible ratio and partly as it weighs 1600kg less than the next-quickest Deere 8200.

Other roadwork pluses are limited bounce, quiet cruising with high gear/low revs and self-cancelling winkers. Negatives are tyre noise over 28mph (45km/hr), and the need to think about slowing down. Using only readily-available transmission braking for fast stops means the trailers anchors wont be helping.

&#42 Sum-up

A capable and economical tractor, hoisted head and shoulders over the others by its transmission. Needs work on noise and the layout/ simplicity of various controls. Write the big cheque, learn it and love it.

FENDT LIKES & DISLIKES

We like

&#8226 Engine power, low fuel consumption.

&#8226 Vario transmission with auto functions.

&#8226 Universality.

&#8226 Roadability.

&#8226 Front suspension.

&#8226 Easy linkage adjustment.

&#8226 50km/hr speed.

We dislike

&#8226 Noise.

&#8226 Spool lever position.

&#8226 Armrest fast lift/lower buttons.

&#8226 Complexity of Vario controls.

&#8226 Limited cab stowage space.

&#8226 Small passenger seat.

Single lever controls driving direction and speed. Buttons (below right) activate the box and shift range.

Plenty of things to pull and prod make the cab no place for technophobes.