Video: We test John Deere’s four-track 9RX tractor

Rarely has there been so much preamble and orchestrated PR faff for the debut of an agricultural machine as there has been for the launch of John Deere’s four-track 9RX tractor.

For the past year, leaked pictures, teasers and chance sightings have been floating around the internet and across the farming press.

But finally the flagship of the range – the 620hp 9620 RX – has landed on UK shores and we’ve put it through its paces.

Watch the video and read the full report below.

This machine is one of only three in Europe. One is heading for the Agritechnica show in Germany, one is doing the rounds in France and the other is in the UK.

Deere says our island has one of the biggest populations of articulated tracked tractors in Europe, acre-for-acre.

Case sells roughly 25 Quadtracs a year and, with Versatile shifting seven DeltaTracks in its first 18 months, Deere sees British farmers as one of the key target audiences for its new tractor.

See also: Hotly anticipated John Deere 9RX crawler gets launch date

Last Friday, we caught up with the 9RX in Staffordshire coupled to a 7m Vaderstad TopDown shifting some silty loam soils.

Whose track units are they?

They have been developed with input from rubber belt supplier Camoplast and use a big central wheel to engage drive-lugs on the track. The overall footprint generated is the same as a Quadtrac but Deere says that with a much bigger drive wheel and a longer belt, everything is travelling at slower speed, generating less heat and potentially extending track life.

John Deere 9620 RX

  • Rated power 620hp @ 2,100rpm
  • Max power 670hp @ 1,900rpm
  • Peak torque 2,800Nm @ 1,600rpm
  • Engine 14.9-litre Cummins QSX15 with AdBlue
  • Transmission 18F x 6R powershift, 40kph
  • Hydraulics Closed centre 220 litres/min @ 2,900psi (435 litres/min option)
  • Linkage Optional 6,804kg lift or 9,072kg lift
  • Fuel tank 1,514 litres
  • Turning circle 12.07m
  • Working weight 28t
  • Price Base £388,688, as tested £431,00

In the centre of the track frame are just two idler rollers. Designs employing three (like the Quadtrac) and four were trialled, but Deere decided that the two-roller set-up suited the 9RX best.

Powerplant

Rather than using an in-house Deere engine, a 14.9-litre Cummins six-pot provides the grunt in the biggest two 9RXs, while smaller models get 13.5-litre John Deere blocks.

This might well play into the company’s hands when it goes up against a Quadtrac head-to-head in the future since Case’s decision to change from Cummins engines to Fiat ones apparently hasn’t gone down well with all North American farmers

Suppressed noise levels are matched by deep, leather armchairs and a nice-quality trim finish in the familiar Deere cockpit, which shares pretty much the same internals with every tractor in the company’s current high-horsepower line-up.

Gearbox

The 18-speed powershift box used in the 9RX is pretty run-of-the-mill, but easily controlled through the latest touchscreen CommandCenter. That’s partly thanks to some natty features nicked from more mainstream computer gadgetry, such as iPad-style fingertip swiping to switch between screens.

The main transmission control page has three tabs that relate to the driveline’s three control modes: full auto, custom and manual.

In full auto, the computer takes over and works to achieve a target speed with minimum possible fuss and fuel use.

Interior of John Deere  9RX tractor

At the other end of the spectrum, manual mode separates the engine and gearbox leaving the operator to select rpm and ratio.

In custom mode, you can choose between eco and power rpm settings, which means the computer will strive to run the tractor at those revs.

Grip

The combination of four-track grip and all-American muscle means that even with the 7m TopDown’s tines sunk in to 25cm, the 9RX just sits, grips and trundles off from a standing start like Geoff Capes hauling a double-decker and the cultivator hardly tested it all day.

On the road the ride is smooth. Four coil springs and dampers at each corner of the cab are backed by anti-roll bars and a trailing-arm arrangement to limit fore-aft sway.

Farmers Weekly verdict

The 9RX’s designers have drawn upon the good points of the Quadtrac, refined them and put together a package that, at first glance, seems that little bit better.

The ride is as good as you could expect from a heavyweight articulated crawler and sticking with two rollers in the track units seems to have worked out well for Deere.

However, it remains to be seen how large a dent Deere’s new flagship can make in a market that Case has had sewn up for so long.

Don’t just take our word for it…

While we are pretty impressed by the 9RX, we also sought the views of two experienced track-layer operators.

Simon Ranson

Simon Ranson

Simon Ranson has spent thousands of hours at the wheel of various high-horsepower tractors and for the past three years has piloted a Case-IH Quadtrac STX600.

“The first thing you notice about the Deere is the amount of low-end power it has got. When you pull away from a standing start, the engine note doesn’t drop.

“The whole thing feels very refined, especially in the cab, and it seems smoother on the road than the Quadtrac.

“In the field I rarely use the auto gearbox mode on the Case because it couldn’t settle in one gear and constantly changed up and down.

“The custom mode on the Deere feels like a good compromise between auto and manual, and there aren’t any random jolty up and downshifts, possibly because the engine has got so much more torque it doesn’t need to keep changing.

“On the downside, visibility from the 9RX isn’t as good, particularly down to the hitch and past the big air-intake and exhaust stacks either side of the A-pillars.”

Grenville Beekes

Grenville Beekes

Grenville Beekes knows a fair bit about John Deere artics and tracklayers having operated a 9620 for the past nine years with bolt-on H-Tracks (developed by Leicestershire farmer Steve Heard) as well as its twin-track cousin and a brace of 8345RTs.

“I’ve never been in any tracked tractor as smooth as the 9RX – it’s almost too easy to get up to 40kph on the road.

It might be 28t but with the cab suspension and active steering reducing the lock-to-lock turns at speed, it is a real driver’s machine. I liked the engine, too.

The old 9620’s Deere motor would be at its limit with the 7m TopDown but the 9RX’s Cummins motor barely feels like it’s working. It ran all day at 1,850rpm at about 11kph.”