How does Vario shape up
on small hp?
Can stepless transmissions
offer similar performance and
efficiency results for
tractors in the lower
Andy Moore tried Fendts
Farmer 411 Vario out for size
FENDT waited five years before launching its mid-range Farmer 400 series with Vario transmission in the UK because the German manufacturer wanted to give the hydro/mechanical system a thorough testing on the larger 700 and 900 Vario series.
With 2000 being the first year of limited production for the 400 series, Fendt sold 15 tractors in the UK market – three more than expected.
"Fendt was unsure how the 400 series would sell in the UK because the Vario has historically been geared towards the higher horsepower league," says Tony Bourne of AGCO. "But the series has opened up a niche market and proven popular with owner-drivers and contractors seeking greater efficiency for carrying out specialist operations on smaller acreage farms."
Based on the 700 Vario models, the pint-sized 400 series includes the 409, 410 and 411 which are rated at 86hp, 100hp and 110hp, respectively.
To see how a Farmer Vario 411 performs when working under load – pulling a five-leg subsoiler – farmers weekly paid a visit to a Cambs-based farm.
Developing a modest 110hp, Mr Bourne believes the 411 will become the best seller in the range.
In appearance, the 411 is very similar to the 115hp 711 Vario. A sturdy half-frame with built-in front linkage is designed to give optimum strength and rigidity at the front of the tractor, while the Vario box at the rear remains robust to absorb high draught loads and reduce any transmission whine.
In construction, the Vario transmission is a scaled down version employed on the 700 series, although in operation the system works exactly the same.
Like the 700 series models, the 400 models are equipped with a single hydraulic pump and motor rather than the 900 series which is fitted with one pump and two motors.
The 400 series also inherits water-cooled 3.8 litre Deutz engines which develop power through four rather than six cylinders.
Climbing into the cab of the 411 should bring no suprises to operators familiar with larger Vario tractors because its interior has managed to stay reasonably modern over the past five years.
The only exception, perhaps, is the right-hand joystick and control console which remain in a fixed position to the right of the operator.
Incorporating these controls in the seat armrest like other cab layouts would enable the operator and controls to float up and down as one entity.
The cab retains its roomy feel, while the same market-led levels of glazing give good visibility beyond the tractors stocky physique.
However, operating the Vario transmission is an interesting experience. With the engine on tickover, simply press the neutral button next to the joystick to activate the transmission. Then press the button on top of the joystick and move it forwards for the Vario to take up drive.
This might be old news for the experienced Vario operator, yet understanding the transmissions numerous operating modes is perhaps not so easy to master.
Most Vario die-hards will probably recommend at least a day is spent with an operators manual, tractor and not to mention patience before becoming used to such high levels of technology.
Unlike the 700 series, 400 models have an oval console with black and white rather than colour display. And there are no graphics to indicate oil flows and pumping times.
Pulling a five leg subsoiler through light fen soil at 90cm (3ft) depth put the Varios Automatic Output Control function to the test. This facility enables the transmission to automatically downshift when the tractor encounters a sticky patch.
Automatic Output Control is designed to compare the set engine speed (1800rpm) with actual engine speed and determine how much rpm is reduced.
Twisting a rotary control on the console so the display shows 14% is used as an average value to mark a reduction in engine speed.
Using this value, the Vario is designed to automatically adjust the transmission ratio to prevent a further reduction in engine speed.
All of which probably sounds more complicated that it actually is to operate.
With all five subsoiling legs firmly in the ground, the 411 achieved 8kph forward speeds at 1800rpm with the maximum output control tuned to 14%.
Knock the maximum output control up to 30% and the 3.8 litre Deutz unit whines its way down to 1400rpm. Tweak to 0% and the engine roars up to 2200rpm.
The net result, says Fendt, is greater fuel economy when driving at lower engine speeds under load and accelerating.
Despite its hefty £55,000 price, the Fendt 411 Vario could be an invaluable investment for contractors wanting to boost efficiency in specialist operations. *
Engine 110hp 3.8-litre Deutz.
Transmission Stepless Vario 50K.
Hydraulics 75-litre/min load sense.
Lift capacity 6568kg.
Fendts Farmer 411 Vario combines an intelligent transmission with a poky 110hp block giving it all-round performance.
400 series models have an oval console with black and white rather than colour LCD display; joystick could be integrated with the seat armrest to aid comfort.