We have been to the Netherlands to pit some new names against familiar faces in the world of small tractors. James Andrews and Oliver Mark gave all eight models the Farmers Weekly shakedown.
This summer’s big tractor test involves an almost-forgotten part of British agriculture.
Turn back the clock a couple of decades and 80hp machines were on the frontline for many farmers, but they have had to watch helplessly from the confines of the cowshed as implements and field sizes have out-grown them.
Our line-up of tractors is a mix of household names from western Europe and some faces less familiar to UK farmers.
It is not every day we are able to put a Fendt toe-to-toe with a tractor from Iseki, or even Zetor for that matter
Granted, there is a chasm between Fendt and the other two, but it is the only way of comparing what all that extra dough gets you in return.
Bear in mind that you could pick up almost three Zetor Majors, or even a couple of McCormick X4s, for the price of a flashy new Fendt.
We have tried to factor this into the final scores by weighting the price/hp fairly heavily, but in most cases the deciding factor comes down to how much of that technology you think you might actually need.
- Download a pdf showing each of the tractors specifications and test results side by side
- Download a pdf showing how each tractor fared in the Farmers Weekly shakedown
- About the test
- Fendt 209 Vario
- Steyr 4085 Kompakt
- John Deere 5085M
- McCormick X4.50
- Massey Ferguson 3640 Xtra
- Kubota M8560
- Iseki TJA 8080
- Zetor Major 80
About the test
✔ Fendt 81hp
✘ Iseki 66hp
✔ Fendt 340Nm
✘ Kubota/Iseki 292Nm
✔ Steyr 229g/kWh
✘ Kubota 369g/kWh
Noise in cab
✔ Massey Ferguson 76.1dBa
✘ Zetor 82.7dBa
Just like the automotive industry, tractor makers shop about for component parts to try and streamline production.
It means several manufacturers in our test share bits, but the final results still differ.
A good example are the engines – Fendt, Massey Ferguson and Iseki all have the same Sisu block, yet they are tuned very differently.
The Iseki pushes out a paltry 66hp from its Sisu-sourced oil-burner, while its Agco rivals churn out about 80hp from the same three-pot lump.
Most of the other manufacturers still have an engine-building division.
John Deere remains a big name in powerplant production, while Steyr is part of Fiat, which has a huge motor manufacturing department. Kubota, too, makes its own engines, as does Zetor.
Surprisingly enough, it was the Czech’s block that proved the most efficient at max power but, sadly, its days are numbered because it won’t be able to meet the ever-tightening emissions regs. A Deutz engine has already been eyed-up as its replacement.
We tested the tractors along with our friends at Dutch magazine Boerderij.
All the field work was done at a test farm near Lelystad, north-east of Amsterdam. We tried each one out with a three-furrow plough and various other cultivators, as well as hooking on a fully loaded 8t trailer and feeder wagon.
Manufacturers were asked to send a standard spec production tractor, though bear in mind that base specifications might differ slightly between continental Europe and the UK.
Power, torque and fuel consumption were analysed by testing specialist Maha, before the tractors were transported to Dutch tractor dealer LMB de Nieuwstad to measure oil pressure, flow and lift capacity.
Working gears 4-14kph
✔ McCormick 12
✘ Iseki/Zetor 6
✔ Massey Ferguson 42kph
✔ John Deere 42kph
✘ Iseki/Zetor 35.5kph
✔ Massey Ferguson 7.8m
✘ Zetor 11.1m
✔ Fendt 4,420kg
✘ Iseki 3,240kg
Sharing parts is not restricted to engines, either. It is the same story further along the driveline. Zetor and Massey Ferguson buy the same gearbox from Carraro, but the Czechs can’t match Massey when it comes to driving characteristics.
Aside from the Fendt, which pinches its Vario transmission from the 300-series, all the tractors have simple gearbox arrangements. At best you will get a high/low splitter and an electro-hydraulic shuttle, but in the Zetor and McCormick drivers will still need to dip the clutch pedal each time they want to change direction.
Linkage and hydraulics
✔ Kubota 4,960
✘ Zetor 2,250kg
✔ John Deere 72-litres/min
✘ Zetor 48-litres/min
These tractors are destined for yard work, so linkage lift won’t be the deciding factor in many buying decisions. Nonetheless, Kubota posted an eye-catching score of almost 5t. The McCormick was also ox-strong, particularly when sat beside the Zetor.
In-cab controls are suitably basic. Electrically controlled lift and fender controls are fairly rare, yet some manufacturers do find space in the budgets to include meaty hydraulic pumps.
Average output was just under the 60-litres/min mark at 150bar, but Deere outshone them all at 72-litres/min. Zetor once again finished bottom of the pack with a paltry 48-litres/min.
The power stats quoted by manufacturers differ from our test results because Maha measures output at the pto shaft rather than directly from the engine. It is also worth noting that prices have been converted from those quoted by Dutch importers, so may differ slightly from UK prices.
Fendt 209 Vario
The Fendt’s cab is a sophisticated workspace and comes with a comfortable seat for a friend. It’s a bit on the small side though, so you and your passenger will be well acquainted by the end of the day.
Likes and gripes
✔ Comfortable cab
✔ Plenty of clever automatics
✔ Torquey engine
✔ Smooth Vario transmission
✘ Small throttle and brake pedals
✘ Engine noise penetrates cab
✘ Disappointing visibility
✘ A fiddle to set up
Claustrophobia sufferers can swing the front windscreen open or the small, half-width glass roof window, but the right-hand door is pinned shut.
Views outwards are distinctly average, with high fenders rising almost to the operator’s ears and thick B-pillars limiting things left and right.
Interior layout and quality pretty much match the larger 500- and 700-series tractors, but without the big monitor.
Instead, things are adjusted through the dash.
Fendt’s other ergonomic gremlin is the awkward position of the throttle pedal, which meant our Dutch friends had problems getting at it with their clogs on.
The three-pot Agco/Sisu is the spitting image of the block under the bonnets of both Massey and Iseki.
However, the Germans are able to squeeze a little more torque from it and, in doing so, finished top of our scoring charts.
The engine runs economically in the lower half of the rev range, but it is naturally busier than a four-pot.
Vibrations from the engine shiver their way into the cabin as well, which made it surprisingly noisy.
Agco’s oil-burner is paired to the only stepless gearbox on test. It’s similar to the transmission used on Fendt’s heavy horses, but has just one range for both field and transport.
Top speed comes at reduced revs and there are various drive modes to pick from, using either the pedal or golf-ball-style handstick. It also has the luxury of two cruise speeds.
Rear lift was 4t and the Cat 3 hooks can be controlled on the fenders.
Three mechanical valves are also included in the price, with flow rate adjustable on two of them.
Unlike most of the other tractors, the Fendt comes with a trio of pto speeds. Selection of 540, 540e or 1,000 is done through a rotary knob, and there’s also an adjustable automatic function.
Four-wheel drive and diff-lock can be automated, too.
The weight of the tractor, combined with the transmission and suspension, make it almost Range-Rover-like on the move.
The small brake pedals are a bit clumsy, though, and it takes plenty of turns of the wheel to get it locked tight.
Steyr 4085 Kompakt
Steyr’s office space feels unduly cosy because of chunky pillars and a low-hanging roof. The dash section pivots with the steering wheel in a similar fashion to the McCormick and the wide cab affords seat space for a big-bottomed passenger.
The front windscreen and side windows also swing open to provide fresh air by the bucket load, and there are plenty of air vents dotted around the dash, too.
Likes and gripes
✔ Comfortable ride
✔ Well equipped
✔ Economical engine
✔ Ample hydraulics and lift
✘ Quite expensive
✘ Big turning circle
✘ Low cab roof
✘ Shuttle neutral position
Views forwards are limited by the broad bonnet, which might make hooking-on loader attachments hard work. The view down to the hitch is also interrupted, but up top there is a full-width roof window.
Unfortunately the roof lining limits the driver’s line of sight, so you still have to lean forwards to see out of it.
The Steyr’s hood can only be popped with a screwdriver or something similar, but the Fiat engine underneath finished third in the rankings. It was never found wanting of torque or power and also managed to deliver the best average economy.
The 24-speed gearbox houses four gears in each of the three ranges, plus a splitter. The electric shuttle works seamlessly, but we still can’t understand why the CNH designers decided to put the neutral position on the end of the stick.
We would sooner see it return to its traditional position between forward and reverse. On a brighter note, shuttle aggressiveness is adjustable in three stages by a rocker on the B-pillar.
Switches and dials deal with depth, lowering speed and draft sensitivity, and the arms can also be lifted and lowered by fender-mounted buttons.
Linkage lift was a pretty unremarkable 3.5t, but hydraulic output was more competitive with the top ranking tractors. Spools are colour-coded to make life easier, but incoming and outgoing valves on the block sit either side of the top link. That will make longer implements such as ploughs a drag to couple up.
Switching between 540rpm and 1,000rpm on the pto is done by a clumsy plunger. There is also a ground-speed setting, as well as rockers for both four-wheel drive and diff-lock on the side console.
Despite having a shorter wheelbase than the Deere, Steyr pretty much matched it for road comfort, even from a passenger’s point of view.
The only drawback is its sprawling turning circle, which was the second biggest behind the Zetor and won’t be practical around small yards.
John Deere 5085M
The M-series uses a stack of components from earlier-generation Deeres, so drivers will have no problem navigating the controls. However, the black plastics and dark pillars make the dingy cab feel more like a cave.
The high bonnet, small windscreen and thick pillars aren’t conducive to good views either, but the side windows can be opened, which lands it with a few brownie points. Deere’s old six-post cab also comes with tiny doors, which are easy to haul shut.
Likes and gripes
✔ Driving comfort
✔ Plenty of hydraulic power
✔ Good second-hand value
✔ Simple linkage controls
✘ Engine at low speeds
✘ Complex external pto control
✘ Low lifting power
✘ Lack of driver’s seat adjustment
The cab itself is big and there is plenty of space for a dog in the footwell. It is pretty comfortable too, but sadly for lanky operators, the driver’s seat doesn’t have enough adjustment to accommodate their long pins comfortably.
The noise of Deere’s engine is typically tinny in sound and that rattle penetrates the cab walls. Miraculously, it still managed to finish second in that particular test.
The four-pot delivered fairly high consumption figures with the crankshaft spinning slowly, though economy improved as the engine rose above 1,400rpm.
Gearbox offerings extend to 32 speeds going forwards – four ranges, four speeds and a high/low splitter – and 16 in reverse.
However, the gears are notchy and the splitter is aggressive, so the tractor can be pretty jerky to drive. The electric shuttle was also joltier than Massey’s version, but on the road the Deere matched the Fendt and Steyr with its car-like qualities.
Despite its physical size, the Deere is no powerhouse. It managed a 3.2t lift, but the slug-like controls will be familiar to anyone who has driven Deeres of any vintage stretching back to the 1990s.
The hydraulic pump is more generously sized. It will push out up to 78 litres/min through the three mechanical valves (the third of which is optional).
Elsewhere, buyers can pick from either 540e or 1,000 to pair with the standard 540rpm speed. There are also controls for the pto on the left fender, but the safety system requires a complicated combination of pressing and holding to get things moving.
The diff-lock button between the brake and clutch is another trademark Deere feature.
There aren’t any automatic functions, but we reckon the existing setup is just fine in this power bracket.
Four-wheel drive has made the move to an electric rocker switch, though labelling is a little erratic. Unfortunately the turning circle is pretty average, though.
McCormick’s smaller tractors have undergone a serious overhaul over the past 12 months.
The X4’s cab has been turned into premium real estate and is the only one in our test to be built on four pillars.
Likes and gripes
✔ Bright and airy cab
✔ Good rear lift
✔ Quiet when working hard
✔ Reasonably priced
✘ Uncomfortable seat
✘ Stiff mechanical shuttle
✘ Poor rear visibility
✘ Low ceiling for tall drivers
The result is conservatory-like space and light and full-length glass doors that provide unobstructed views sideways.
A thick crossbeam interrupts hitch visibility, but generally speaking there are few – if any – tractors on the market that could compete with McCormick’s glass box for views.
McCormick has made the big decision to switch engine suppliers for the X4, which has seen Deutz elbow-out Perkins’ long-serving powerplant.
We reckon it is a good move by McCormick. The engine was powerful and torquey, and goes about its business quietly, even with the engine at full chat.
The basic spec is generally pretty generous, though the long-gated mechanical shuttle provides an exception to that rule. You can upgrade that to an electro-hydraulic version for less than £1,000 – money well spent in our opinion.
Bosch supplies the linkage controls, which include drop speed, lift height and draft adjustment. Rear lift was second best at 4.5t and it also comes with a linkage damping function, which none of the other tractors could offer.
Hydraulic output was a smidge higher than the group average at 60 litres/min. The three mechanical spools are colour-coded, but the lever handles have an unpleasant sharp edge.
Standard pto speeds include 540rpm and its eco equivalent, and can be engaged by controls on the fenders. You can also spec 1,000rpm if you have a use for it. Two toggle switches turn four-wheel drive and the diff-lock either on or off, but there aren’t any automatic functions.
Getting from lock-to-lock takes very few spins of the steering wheel and the turning circle is pretty tight, so the tractor is quite responsive.
But at its 40kph top speed it is more difficult to control than some of the others. The mechanically suspended seat is also pretty hard, which affects the ride comfort. We would pay a few extra quid for a more comfortable one.
Massey Ferguson 3640 Xtra
The Massey’s light-coloured interior is fresh and nicely finished, but picks up dirt too easily and feels a bit empty. Just the bare essentials adorn the right-hand console.
Likes and gripes
✔ Tight turning circle
✔ Quiet, comfortable cab
✔ Electric shuttle
✔ Torquey engine
✔ Gearstick has long stroke
✘ Awkwardly positioned throttle
✘ Shortage of ventilation
✘ Physically too small
The controls include the odd vintage throwback, with the light dial and upwards-pointing indicator stalk both apparently pinched from veteran Masseys.
Views forwards and sideways are tiptop, though fans rammed in the roof lining might restrict loader visibility. On the plus side the Massey had the quietest cabin on test, so you can hold conversations with your passenger at a whisper.
The Triple Triangle has stuck with a three-cylinder Agco/Sisu engine that comes with a speed memory, but the engine bay is a jungle of pipes, cables and boxes that make it impossible to access anything other than the basic service points.
Carraro supplies the gearbox, which is a carbon copy of the one used on the Zetor, but with the luxury of an electric shuttle.
Jumping through the three ranges, four gears and high/low splitter will take the tractor up to a 42kph top speed. However, it is a long shift from cog to cog and clumsier drivers will find the gearstick gets in the way of the throttle or crashes against their right leg.
Depth and draft are controlled mechanically through silky smooth sliders, though that means it is not possible to control the linkage from the outside.
Rear lift is 3t, which on paper seems a little unremarkable, but is pretty good going for such a teeny tractor. Three valves all have float and one has flow control, which can reach a maximum of 65 litres/min.
The pto switch is protected by an awkward safety lock. Two speeds are standard and the rpm is displayed on the dash, so there’s far more integration than some of the more basic tractors.
Four-wheel drive and the diff are both activated by rockers, which is always going to score higher than the footswitches of Deere and Kubota.
Despite the short wheelbase the MF is pretty steady on the road and comes with some pretty good anchors.
Those diddy proportions also play out favourably in the 7.9m turning circle, even if it takes a fair few turns of the wheel to get to full lock.
The Kubota’s high seat and low dash leaves the driver hunched over and with an achy back, but it does have its benefits when it comes to visibility.
Likes and gripes
✔ Tight turning
✔ High ground clearance
✔ Strong rear lift
✔ Lots of gear choices
✘ Thirsty engine
✘ Stiff range lever
✘ Limited steering wheel tweaks
✘ Awkward park position
Pair that uncomfortable arrangement with the supermodel-skinny hood and only the McCormick can better its views, despite the old-school exhaust pointing out the middle of the bonnet.
The only downsides are the big, bare metal side pillars that get in the way looking left and right. There’s no space for a passenger seat either, so you won’t be able to retro-fit one.
A check of the Kubota’s paperwork suggests it’s got plenty of grunt, yet it fell well short on torque and, not for the first time in our multi-tractor tests, drank fuel at an alarming rate.
Consumption figures were fairly settled between 1,300rpm and 1,700rpm, but either side of that they shot up. Economy was particularly bad under full-load at steady engine speeds.
The tractor also comes with a system that should help maintain cruise speeds by squirting extra diesel into the cylinders when the tractor starts to struggle, which might be handy if you use it for field work.
The 36 gears in Kubota’s three-range, six-speeder provide heaps of choice. Gearshifts are fairly easy on the biceps, but the range lever is sticky and needs a bit of muscle to move. The tractor picks up smoothly too, reaching 41kph at a reduced 2,000rpm engine speed to try and save some fuel.
The clutchless hydraulic F/R shuttle is also a slick operator but the long throw makes shifting it a whole-hand job.
Despite its unassuming looks the Kubota packs a serious punch. Rear lift was almost 5t and over twice the Zetor’s max, although the short levers for draft and depth can be difficult to control. It is also too easy to bypass the manual limiters.
There’s a mechanical system to externally lift and lower the linkage, but the ratchet system is a serious faff. Only one link-arm has a turnbuckle and, although the tractor’s hydraulic stats were fine, labelling was clumsy.
The diff is engaged through a foot pedal, which has to be held down and a rocker switch engages four-wheel drive. Its 8.4m turning circle was beaten only by the Massey Ferguson.
Iseki TJA 8080
The Japanese-built Iseki is generous in its spec, but much of the interior is reminiscent of 1990s Nissans and distinctly short on quality.
The cab feels half the size of the big Zetor, which leaves no space for a passenger’s pew.
Likes and gripes
✔ Compact tractor
✔ Tight turning
✔ Lightweight electric shuttle
✘ Poor fit and finish
✘ Engine disappointing
✘ No speedo
✘ Small cab
The front windscreen reaches high to try to account for the lack of a roof window and, despite battling against the wide dashboard and chunky hood, visibility down between the bonnet and wheels is good, too.
The slim B-pillars are also inoffensive, but there is no rear windscreen wiper, which is more annoying than it sounds.
Iseki uses the same Sisu engine as its Agco-owned rivals. But, while Fendt and Massey scored well with low consumption and heaps of torque, the Iseki somehow managed to finish bottom of the pile.
Torque dipped particularly badly between 1,300rpm and 1,400rpm and it delivered just 66hp at the pto.
Filling the gap between the block and the wheels is a three-range, six-speeder.
Shifts between gears are prompt, if a little clunky, and we found the ratios were a bit too closely matched.
The layout of the stick is also reversed so that second gear is where you would normally find first but, on the plus side, the clutchless shuttle is good.
It comes as no surprise that the dinky Iseki’s rear lift amounts to a princely 2.8t. Depth control is mechanical and draft is controlled electrically, but there are also raise/lower buttons on one fender and a knob under the seat for tweaking the drop speed.
Elsewhere, hydraulic output is a respectable 68 litres/min, but neither spool has a float position or any sort of identification. The levers are near neighbours too, so there’s no space to fit fat fingers between them.
Two speeds – 540rpm and 750rpm – come as standard, but buyers can also spec 1,000rpm for a few more quid.
A lever in the cab selects the gearing, so there’s no need to climb out to change things like you do in the Zetor, but drivers will have to take a guess at the spinning speed because there’s no read-out on the dash.
Elsewhere, a knob switches between two- and four-wheel drive, as well as a speed steer function that helps the tractor turn sharper. In fact, the Iseki recorded a turning circle that was a full 2.5m tighter than its Czech rival.
The diff-lock is engaged by a pedal that is too easily mistaken for the steering wheel pivot.
Zetor Major 80
The Major is a stocky character, but the downside of that is the girth of the bonnet. It restricts the view between the wheels, and things aren’t a lot better out the back window.
Given Zetor’s progress in western markets, the crudeness of the cab comes as a bit of a surprise. It is mainly upholstered in cheap, shiny plastics and is incredibly basic. That said, there’s enough space for an entire Czech family, though they’ll have to fight it out to decide who gets the plastic passenger seat.
Likes and gripes
✔ Low-cost horsepower
✔ Economical engine
✔ Simple to operate
✘ No electronics
✘ Poor lift capacity
✘ Large turning circle
✘ Weak hydraulics
While rivals such as the Steyr house heaps of controls along the right-hand side, Zetor’s side console is bare. Even the hand throttle is mounted on the dash, which leaves two lonely looking mechanical spools sticking out from the trim.
Zetor still builds its own engines, but the emissions police are closing in on the Major. Deutz has already been lined up to provide the replacement powerplants.
The existing Czech-made motors are basic and free of electronics, so are well suited low-powered tractors.
Torque is average among its rivals and managed to beat tractors of higher value in having the most economical engine at max power, but it was vocal in its endeavours.
The Zetor’s engine drives through a three-range, four-speed gearbox straight out of the 1990s.
The gearstick is a lanky affair and feels a little lost in its loose gate, while range changes are unsynchronised and can take the skin off your knuckles.
The clunky F/R shuttle and heavy clutch are the biggest downsides for loader work.
The Major’s tail-end is lightweight – lift was 2.25t and the hydraulic pump pushed out a paltry 48 litres/min, both of which put it bottom of the pack. There are no external controls either, and spools are labelless and mounted too close together.
The big yellow lever neighbouring the handbrake is a pto clutch. You can’t start the tractor unless you lift it, so it also works well as an immobiliser for the uninitiated.
The diff is engaged through a stand-on pedal, while four-wheel drive is lever-operated. It is fairly comfortable on the road too, but painfully noisy at full chat. At 11.1m, it also had the clumsiest turning circle.