12 January 1996

Dual identity for

latest telehandler

Matbros latest telescopic handler targeted at the most competitive sector of the handler market, comes with a choice of colours. Peter Hill puts the new machine through its paces

THIS First Drive is of two machines, or rather of one machine with two identities. In its green-and-yellow colours, illustrated here, it is the John Deere 4500. In Matbro yellow-and-grey, it is the TS280, successor to the firms mainstream TS260.

The dual identity is a result of John Deeres decision to cash in on the telehandler boom, both in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, by rebadging an existing product rather than going to the expense of developing its own.

Outwardly, and in most mechanical respects, the two machines are identical. The principle difference is that the Matbro TS280 packs a 106hp (gross) Perkins four-cylinder turbo engine in its tail, whereas the 4500 has a Deere engine of similar configuration and power output. Performance in all respects is pretty much identical.

The TS280/4500 four-wheel-drive, four-wheel-steer telehandler is one of the first machines to emerge from Matbros new factory at Dungannon in Northern Ireland.

Effectively, it is a stretched TS270, the 2.7t lift compact four-wheel-steer machine introduced in 1994, with an extra 400mm (16in) of chassis steel slotted between the two axles. A number of components are shared, such as the cab, axles, transmission and electrical and hydraulic components. But the boom stretches 1.2m (4ft) further and is, therefore, a little more substantial.

More lift, less reach

Differences over the TS260 include 200kg extra lift at the expense of a little less reach – 6.7m (22ft) at full stretch against the TS260s 6.99m (23ft). And although overall length is unchanged, overhangs are redistributed so there is less metal sticking out at the rear. This makes the machine a little more wieldy around buildings.

That feeling of more manoeuvrability comes despite a turning circle which is slightly larger than before – the chassis is a touch wider to accommodate a wider boom more able to cope with the stresses of being used as a loading shovel. The axles can, therefore, not put on quite so much lock but the machine can still make a 360í turn within the confines of a typical silage clamp.

The shorter tail also brings slightly better visibility to the rear – not up to the standards of the Merlo or Caterpillar side-engined machines, it has to be said, but certainly competitive with other rear-engined handlers with offset cabs. Keeping cab roof height as low as possible has pared headroom to a minimum and tall drivers may find there is not quite enough.

Boom control

Single-lever control of the boom and attachments is standard and, although Matbro has had some problems with this in the past, it insists these have now been overcome. The control stick operates a bank of solenoid valves mounted in an easily accessible location on top of the fuel and oil tanks between the two offside wheels, beneath a canopy which also shrouds the battery.

Valves are proportional where appropriate and, though there is little "feel" to the light control lever, feathering the system to control the speed of movement of the boom and, in particular, the attachment, is easily mastered.

Four buttons on top of the control lever are used to extend and retract the boom and to operate the third service – a top grab on a muck fork, for example. The buttons are a bit on the small side, with very little movement, so require positive thumb pressure rather than a vague stab. It is a far neater arrangement than the tacked-on control button found on some single lever designs and there is little possibility of the functions being operated accidentally while manipulating the control lever.

Supplementary rocker switches lined up behind the control lever operate the trailer pick-up hitch and tipping hydraulics where fitted, with another to operate the attachment locking pins. Two more banks of rocker switches to the right of the instrument binnacle look after such things as a roof beacon (for which the cab is pre-wired), hazard warning lights, rear fog lights and work lamp on the front of the cab.

Three steering modes

Switches also select the three steering modes – front wheels only, co-ordinated and crab – and the transmission dump facility for the brake pedal. With that engaged, light pressure on the pedal interrupts the transmission so that extra engine revs can be used to get more power or speed out of the hydraulics without having to first move the forward/ reverse control to neutral.

But it is important to disengage this feature when either travelling on the road or working on slopes, to retain engine as well as wheel braking. Although the pedal dump facility can be used for gear changing, it is better to use the transmission interrupt button on top of the gear lever to avoid also applying the brakes when they are not wanted.

The gear lever itself, a lengthy rod that snakes out from beneath the dash panel, hints at ungainly gear changes but, in practice, ratio changes are very positive. Only short movements of the lever are needed and the synchromesh smooths the meshing of gears. Take-up of drive once the transmission interrupt button is released is unruffled.

Gear lever vulnerable

Forward and reverse are selected as per common practice by a control lever sprouting to the left of the steering wheel. Like other such devices positioned here it is vulnerable to being caught as the driver either gets into or out of the cab. But at least on this machine there is a substantial detent in the neutral position to discourage accidental movement. It demands a firmer grip when changing direction under normal use, but that is a small penalty for the extra safety the feature affords.

The verdict: In choosing to put its name on the flanks of another manufacturers machine, John Deere is putting its reliability and performance image on the line. In the Matbro-built telehandler it has a competitive machine for the class, with responsive hydraulics and transmission and decent in-cab ergonomics.

As long as the machines reliability comes up to scratch, Deere should be pleased with its choice. &#42

&#8226 Model: Matbro TS280/John Deere 4500.

&#8226 Engine: TS280 – Perkins four-cylinder turbo, 106hp (gross); 4500 – John Deere four-cylinder turbo, 106hp (gross).

&#8226 Transmission: Four-speed synchromesh gearbox, torque converter, electro-hydraulic forward/reverse shuttle.

&#8226 Drive: From engine to central gearbox, then shafts to front and rear axles with limited slip diffs; selectable two- or four-wheel-drive, with auto 4WD disengage in top gear.

&#8226 Steering: Front wheel, co-ordinated, crab; 2.99m (9ft 10in) turn circle to outside wheels.

&#8226 Lift to full height: 2.8t to 6.7m (22ft).

Compared with its Matbro TS260 predecessor, the TS280/4500 lifts a little more but not quite as high. More compact tail improves the machines manoeuvrability and helps to increase visibility to the rear.

The John Deere 4500, equipped with Strimech muck fork and grab, takes a hefty bite from the heap. Cross-ply tyres are not considered to be the best for traction, but good weight distribution helps and they give better ground clearance than squatter radials fitted to smaller models.

Matbro fits a John Deere four-cylinder turbo in the tail of the 4500 but sticks with a Perkins engine of similar configuration and power for its own version. Solenoid valves, transmission oil dipstick/filler and battery are housed beneath steel cover over oil and fuel tanks.