Driven: JCB Fastrac 3230 Xtra



 



Power Farming Verdict
Star

Star

Star

Star

Star

New powershift gearbox brings the 3230 fully up-to-date. Headland management system is not perfect, though.





Rumour has it that you can pick a Fastrac driver out in the pub by the bulging muscles in his right forearm. It’s certainly true that the old bicep-building manual gearbox required a certain knack to operate. But things are set to change.


The chassis design and layout of JCB’s legendary high-speed tractor has barely altered since it was conceived 20 years ago. Four equal-sized wheels, the rear load-deck and full-width mid-mounted cab make for a striking silhouette.


And to all intents and purposes, the latest generation of 3000-series machines appears little different. But while things may seem calm on the surface, what’s below deck has undergone the most radical revamp in Fastrac’s history.



The Staffordshire manufacturer has stuck with Cummins’ dependable six-pot QSB engine but it now powers an altogether different drivetrain.


Gone is the truck-type Eaton six-speed mechanical gearbox, garnished with JCB’s own three-speed range box and three-step splitter. In its place, there’s a 100% homegrown 24Fx9R semi-powershift unit.


Borrowed from its larger 7000-series stablemates, the 3000’s new transmission works its way up to 65kph (and beyond) through six powershift steps and a further four-powered range changes.


Most importantly, the tractor gains a clutchless direction shuttle, replacing a pre-selector unit that required the operator to bring the machine to a complete standstill, wait for a bleep as the transmission sorted itself out and then dip the clutch to initiate the direction change – hardly the most rapid procedure.


Now it’s just a case of knocking the joystick either forwards or backwards while squeezing a trigger. Alternatively, there’s the option of a more conventional column lever, which, although familiar, lacks a neutral position.


In fact, with both, to be sure you’re out of gear, you’ve either got to depress the red-labelled Neutral button at the base of the stick or flick the air-operated hand-brake on. You can save the neutral function to one of the black buttons for convenience.



Other than its lazy-legs automation, the transmission brings another big bonus to the 3000. Where some operators might have complained about the tractor’s lack of gutsiness previously, JCB has worked to put that right.


Previous Fastracs’s performance was stifled by the amount of torque loading the old Eaton box could handle. This new homegrown slick-shifter can seemingly handle anything that’s thrown at it, allowing the tractor to make the most of the big Cummins motor’s muscle. Torque levels have been increased by more than 20% and the engineering team has given the 3000 a 40hp power-boost.


For the thrifty, this is selectable. A push-button glows amber when it’s in stand-by mode and lights up green when it’s activated. Disappointingly, the boost function is limited solely to transport work in the top two gears.


The transmission is easy to master. When the tractor is started up, there is a choice of three drive modes to choose from on the colour touch-screen:

PS – PowerShift gives the operator manual control of the box, notching up and down through the gears by knocking the joystick left or right.


A – Autoshift means the controller will run up and down through the six powershift steps, sticking in one range. More on that later.


D – Drive mode is designed primarily for the road, shifting up and down through ranges C and D automatically, according to the load on the tractor.


There is an additional feature that JCB has dubbed Xtra-Drive. In essence, this means the tractor drives just like an automatic car, making the clutch pedal redundant.


To get under way, the operator punches the start-off gear into the touch-screen. Depending on what ratio is chosen, the computer then makes an assumption about how heavily laden the tractor is – ie a low start-off gear would indicate a heavy load and therefore it will make shift points at higher engine rpm.


A flick of the shuttle then sets things moving. The box changes up or down according to throttle position, speed and engine loading. Squeezing the brakes initiates downshifts and brings the tractor to a halt. Releasing the brakes means the P-Tronic box reverts to the start-off gear once more – simple.


Another driver-friendly luxury is the car-style cruise-control function. Again, it’s activated by a push on the relevant symbol on the touch-screen display. Plus and minus buttons alongside the joystick can then be used to set the target cruising speed.


The brakes, clutch or green joystick button kick it out of operation while another press on the screen sets the engine and gearbox working to get back up to speed again.


This really is as effortless as tractor driving gets. The combination of JCB’s all-round suspension and true automatic transmission make for a serene drive.


The system is responsive and smooth enough under load that there really is no reason to use manual powershifting on the road



In the field though, it’s a different story. Once you’ve worked out your target working speed and where you want to sit in the rev range (we opted for midway between peak power and max torque at 1700rpm), Auto mode will shift between ratios as the load varies.


Although the principle is great, as with most other powershift tractors, the Fastrac can get itself into a situation where it is constantly skipping between gears. To try to counter this, JCB provides five key settings laid out on the main computer screen when A mode is selected.


The first selects a cap gear – the box will not shift up beyond this. The second is a start-off gear while the third and fourth look after up- and down-shift rpm points. The final one is a base gear – the lowest ratio that the transmission will select.


Clever as this auto function is (and easy to set up), it’s nice to have but not entirely necessary. Besides, you’ve got to have something to do when running up and down the field – notching up and down through powershift steps isn’t the most tiresome of tasks.


The 3230 we tested came with JCB’s new optional headland management package. Again accessed and altered via the touch-screen terminal, it works like many similar systems with symbols indicating various actions in a sequence.


Colour-coding and clear graphics make it easy to fathom, allowing the operator to automate virtually every tractor function.


Although easy to pre-programme the sequences, it’s not as straightforward to trigger into life. In what could only be a move to please the men from the HSE, an annoyingly complex activation procedure is required that involves dropping both front and rear linkages and repeatedly punching the touch-screen controller.


On the plus side, it‚’s easy to enter distance and time delays once set up, although there is no record function to memorise actions while the tractor is in motion.




What’s changed?



  • 24Fx9R semi-powershift P-Tronic gearbox
  • Clutchless direction shuttle?
  • Car-style auto transmission function
  • Cruise control
  • New cab layout with touch-screen tractor controller
  • Headland Turn Assist system
  • Load-sensing 132-litre/min hydraulic system
  • 22% torque increase
  • Transport power-boost





























JCB Fastrac 3230 Xtra
Rated Power Max torque Engine Transmission Max speed Price
220hp @ 2200rpm (260hp in transport power-boost) 949Nm @ 1500rpm 6.7-litre Cummins 6-cyl common-rail turbo 24F x 9R – 6-speed powershift with 4 powered range-changes and clutchless shuttle 65kph or 80kph £103,945
Suspension Linkage lift Load deck capacity Weight
Service interval
Front: coil-springs and dampers, rear: hydro-pneumatic self-levelling Rear: 7t or 8t, Front: 3.5t 3.3t 7.9t 500 hours
Table markup–>
































THE RIVALS
Model Engine Price
JCB 3230 230hp £103,945
MB Unimog U400 238hp £105,000
Fendt 824 237hp £177,142
JD 7830 225hp £99,269
Case Puma 210 223hp £96,199
MF 6499 230hp £98,250


The JCB Fastrac has at last come of age. Always known for its unbeatable performance on the road, this new powershift box brings it into the 21st century. It can now truly be compared to conventional tractors for fieldwork but retains those key features of full suspension, proper disc brakes and a rear deck for demount sprayers and spreaders. If your workload requires lots of road runs, the 3230 Xtra should certainly be a contender.



LIKES



  • Automatic car-type transmission functionality
  • Simple-to-master cruise control
  • High-speed comfort and legality

GRIPES



  • Complex to activate headland turn sequencing
  • Headland management lacks record function
  • Power boost limited to top two transport gears only