Driven: Valtra Powershift v CVT

Power Farming Verdict

The CVT version of Valtra’s mid-sized T202 is a very competent performer. However, if the tractor was destined solely for heavy draft work, we’d opt for the relative simplicity of the powershift version.

Valtra’s N and T tractors now boast new powershift and CVT transmissions, designed in-house by the Finnish company and unveiled early last year. So what’s the difference between the two systems in action?

There’s something appealingly comforting about a powershift gearbox. It does exactly what is expected, and it’s easy to understand. Click up and you go up a gear, click down and revs reassuringly rise and you know you’ve come down again.

Turn to CVT, however, and things have a tendency to get more complicated. This means operators have to understand what can often be complex computerised controls. It not just as simple as jump-in-and-go.

Valtra has taken a different approach to CVT. Whether the driver climbs into a Versu powershift model or its Direct CVT one, the controls remain remarkably similar. And it’s not just the layout that’s the same, either.

Like other brands in the Agco group, Valtra has been keen to differentiate its version from its siblings and in doing so has designed two transmissions for use in new N and T tractors – an automatic five-step powershift and a CVT stepless transmission.

Introduced in spring 2009, the powershift Versu model went into full production in the middle of last year. The Direct CVT offering, meanwhile, went into full production in January of this year at its factory in Suolahti, Finland.

The Direct continuously variable transmission has the same guts as its powershift stablemate.

The Versu uses four multi-plate clutches positioned in front of the main gearbox. A five-step powershift gives 20 forward and 20 reverse speeds and UK spec comes standard with a creeper which adds an additional 10 speeds.

The stepless Direct transmission replaces two of these multi-plate clutches with a hydrostatic drive unit and vario displacement pump, which is then combined with the two powershift ranges and planetary gearset to give four stepless speed ranges.

In simple terms, there are two different breeds of CVT gearbox.

Companies like ZF and Deere automatically integrate range changes to give one seamless transition from lowest to highest. Transmissions in the Agco stable instead require the driver to select ranges manually to achieve optimum efficiency.

In Fendt’s case there are two travel ranges and, in Valtra’s, there are four.

Range A operates from 0-9kph and is designed for heavy draft work and for pulling pto-driven trailers, B is a universal field work range for drilling and broader cultivation tasks from 0 to 18kph, C is designed for transport in the field and for starting with heavy loads between 0 and 30kph and the D range is aimed solely at transport, giving full 0 to 50kph capability.

In the Versu’s powershift guise, there’s automatic shifting between C and D ranges to ensure that when pulling off, even heavy loads are handled quickly.

The powershuttle-and-park is located, in common with other tractors in the Valtra range, on the steering column and there’s the option of changing shuttle calibration if required.

Come to a stop and the Direct has an active-stop feature that prevents the tractor rolling back (great for junctions and roundabouts) and if you don’t do anything for 30 seconds an automatic parking brake is engaged.

Like its predecessor, the Delta-powershift, the Versu has two automatic options, one which auto-shifts when the engine reaches a certain speed and rpm and another operator-controlled setting which allows engine rpm shift points to be set according to what’s needed at the time.

In Auto, speeds shift automatically between C and D ranges without the need to press the declutch button. Each range has five gears and, for overlap, third gear in one range is equivalent to fifth in the range below.

Select direction of travel using the familiar red-topped lever (which also acts as an electronic park brake) and put your foot on the throttle. Pressure needed is more than you’d expect to get started but, once you’re going, the tractor accelerates up to the max speed of the range pre-selected.

Once it gets up to the speed required, engine revs drop back to more fuel-sipping levels.

For those familiar with other CVT brands, the idea of a fully foot-controlled CVT is slightly foreign, so Valtra has opted to change the hand throttle on the underside of the armrest on the Versu to a lever control that, once activated, controls the sensitivity of the pedal itself and acts as a CVT lever.

Jumping in and out of the two models, it’s worth making a mental note that you’ll need to use the clutch on the Versu – you can’t just slam your foot on the brake when you come to a junction. Even so, automatic shifting between C and D ranges makes on-the-road travel smooth, with up to 10 ratios to choose from.

Once you’ve selected your top speed and engaged cruise, the Direct transmission smoothly climbs in revs and speed until 50kph is reached, when the increasing revs drop back to 1650rpm.

The Direct is also the first CVT on the market to offer ground speed pto, says the company. The models tested both had cab suspension and are available with reverse drive while transmission response modes and engine braking functions are also standard.

There’s no question that, on the road, Valtra’s Direct transmission offers clear efficiency benefits.

Using the display (shading it with a hand so we could see it clearly), fuel usage can be measured in litres/ha and litre/hr.

On a measured road run of about 7km with a 20t NC loaded dump trailer, the CVT Direct used 4.2 litres and the powershift Versu used five litres. In the field, the difference was less but still noticeable: the Direct used about 3.6 litres to cover an area of 0.43ha and the Versu used four litres.

There are, what Valtra calls, eight “sweet spots” within the four ranges providing mechanical power and, for those more adept at navigating settings, there is a number of transmission modes to play with.

For most, fully automatic CVT will be enough, but for those wanting to have more control, there’s a semi-automatic mode which allows operators to control the transmission ratio using the CVT lever.

Another option is to switch to Mode 2, which splits the relationship between engine revs and gear ratio, effectively making it into a powershift transmission.

We tested both Direct and Versu models with a 4m Kongskilde cultivator in light Norfolk soil. The Versu settled in B3 at just over 1500rpm at 8kph.

There were three ways to get a similar speed in the Direct. In B range it settled at 1650rpm but going up a range to C saw this drop to 1300, too mean on torque. By selecting semi-automatic, we were able to tailor the rpm to 1500 by using the CVT lever as a hand throttle and fix the speed.

There’s an Eco button on the left-hand console which controls engine droop from 1-10. This shouldn’t be confused with the Eco feature the Finnish company has had previously.

Default will be 5 but, for things like transport without load, this would be set to 10, keeping engine rpm down with a high transmission ratio. Equally, for draft, it should be set to 1.

The distinctive exhaust-like air intake on the opposite side to the exhaust adds a certain symmetry to the bonnet, while styling remains very similar to previous sub-100hp models.

Sit in the cab and you’ll struggle to see many differences between the two models. But subtle button differences on the armrest and a red badge on the front grille denote the different transmissions.

Most controls nestle neatly on an armrest similar to those on the Advance models. Ergonomically, the armrest is pretty intuitive to use and the +/- buttons that control both up and down shifts on the Versu are handily, if discreetly, located just where the driver’s thumb falls. On models before the T202, up and down shift was on the gearshift lever.

Cruise control is also on the armrest but reducing and increasing either revs or speed is done slightly awkwardly via a toggle switch on the right-hand console, unlike on the Direct model.

The hand throttle that lies directly behind the declutch button under the armrest on the Versu transforms into a CVT lever on the Direct and is reassuringly mechanical to operate.

A simple but small and difficult-to-read LCD monitor at the end of the armrest gives access to transmission and hydraulic settings while a second, clearer, A-post display shows direction, forward speed and range. Valtra says that it will be introducing a colour screen later this year.

On the Direct, the buttons used to change gears on the Versu instead adjust the cruise speeds and there are two memory settings also located on the armrest, as well as the cruise on- and off- switch.

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