On test: Merlo’s new heavy-duty 50.8 telehandler

Merlo 50.8 telehandler moving muck

©Martin Rickatson

Merlo has added another model to its line-up of heavy-lifting farm-spec telehandlers in a bid to satisfy the insatiable demands for more capacity from Europe’s biggest arable farmers and biogas producers.

The 50.8 is the third of the new-look machines to hit the UK market and steps straight in as the flagship of the increasingly popular heavy-duty range.

The major revamp will eventually see every green machine on the market get a new cab and redesigned body frame, so we can expect to see more models in the coming months.

See also: Top tips for passing your telehandler test

How’s the market looking?

This year’s telehandler sales look set to reach about 2,750 units, which means they are due to slip below the 3,000-a-year mark for the first time since 2010.

Although they haven’t nose-dived quite as viciously as tractors, the figures have still fallen by about 22% as potential buyers hang on to their machines for a few extra years in a bid to ride out the poor farmgate prices across the board.

Merlo 50.8 telehandler engine

©Martin Rickatson

Merlo still has reason to be cheerful though. The company had just 10% of the UK market as recently as three years ago, but since then has muscled its way to a 20% share and a comfortable third place behind seasoned market leaders Manitou and JCB.

Vital stats: Merlo TF50.8T

  • Engine Deutz 4-cyl
  • Power 156hp
  • Transmission Two-speed hydrostatic
  • Hydraulic pump 152-litres/min load sensing
  • Lift capacity 5,000kg
  • Lift height 7.8m
  • Weight 9,700kg
  • Turning radius 4.1m
  • List price £87,400
  • Approx on-farm price £65,500

What’s new with this one?

We first got a look at Merlo’s telehandler redesign with the 42.7 in September last year.

The premise was to simplify Merlo’s manufacturing process, so the chassis, cab and engine/transmission sections are all made separately before being bolted together.

Getting rid of the traditional heavy-duty steel framework has simplified production and saved a fair bit of money in the process.

It also means it is now possible to match different combinations of engine, chassis and cab spec depending on what you are after, and should cut down the waiting times on machine orders too.

How big is the engine?

The cheaper option comes with a 122-horse Deutz block, while the bigger version has 156hp. Asthma-inducing emissions are mopped up by a particulate filter only, so there is no AdBlue to worry about.

Merlo has managed to shoehorn the lot into a well-organised engine bay that lies low enough to get a good view of the rear wheel from the driver’s seat.

Filters are easily accessed as well, though a pull-out grille in front of the radiator would ease maintenance given that there’s not enough space to fit a reversible fan.

Merlo 50.8 telehandler moving bales

©Martin Rickatson

Is there a choice of transmissions?

Merlo has stuck with the tried and tested hydrostatic two-speeder, but it is more complicated than before.

The slower of the two speeds will take it up to 15kph and is perfect for pure pushing power and, if you have the range-topping CVTronic, you can set it to switch to the second range automatically.

It is the simplest way to drive it, and will likely to be the only driving mode used by 99% of buyers.

For running a sawdust bucket, or other dairy-specific tasks, it is possible to set the engine revs on a dial and use the foot throttle to control forward speed but, realistically, cruise-type speeds will be left redundant by most people.

It is also worth mentioning that there’s no shuttle, though Merlo is due to add one on machines later this year.

Three buttons take the place of the traditional stick but are near-impossible to use without glancing down each time.

Instead, you will have to get used to using the F/R buttons on the joystick, and we think buyers should at least have the option of speccing a shuttle stick when they are parting with the fat end of £65,000.

Likes

✔ Ultra Weighing system

✔ Cab suspension

✔ Views forwards and to the right

✔ Power

Gripes

✘ No shuttle stick

✘ Joystick trigger

✘ Short seat base

✘ Views rearwards

Has it got the power?

Potentially, yes, but there is one big limiting factor. In 2008 European rule-makers pushed through a piece of legislation called EN15000, which has forced manufacturers to fit cutout systems that engage when the loader nears its overload limit.

In most cases this severely curtails hydraulic functions, so buyers have to dig deeper into their pockets to get a bigger machine for the same performance.

The 50.8 is proof that the regs have sapped the potential for machines to over deliver on muscle. It has oodles of power and a diff-lock to help get the grunt to terra firma, but the overload limiters kick in frequently on muck-related jobs where you are operating near the limits of the machine’s capacity.

Obviously in less power hungry situations, such as shifting bales, it isn’t such a problem. But the rules remain a frustration for manufacturers and buyers alike.

The hydraulics also feel sluggish at times, particularly when tilting and crowding the headstock.

For peppier performance you need to wind-up the engine to get the huge headstock ram moving during fast-speed tasks like collecting bales.

What about the cab?

Merlo 50.8 telehandler cab

©Martin Rickatson

The Italians are the only telehandler manufacturers to offer cab suspension, which is standard on the 50.8.

You can blat across tramlines at 25kph without your fillings falling out and it can also be lowered to drop the whole lot 50mm closer to the deck.

However, all that work to cushion the cab on the outside is let down by the interior.

The short seat base means it feels more like a perch than a proper pew and it doesn’t go far enough back to comfortably accommodate long-legged drivers, either.

Though the spec sheet suggests it is the widest cab in its class, it feels a lot smaller than most of its rivals.

That said, views from the driving seat are generally very good.

Operators get a nicely unobscured view over the right shoulder to the rear wheel so there should be no excuse for clouting shed RSJs.

Thanks to a curving front windscreen, visibility of the headstock as it travels through its lift arc is also pretty good.

Unfortunately, the view backwards is another story altogether. Because the AC unit sits in the roof, it is like looking out of a letterbox and means accurate reversing with a trailer must be done while hanging your head out of the door.

And controls?

Given the number of engine and transmission settings, it’s no surprise that there are a heap of buttons and switches to get your head around.

One of the Merlo’s biggest letdowns is the joystick trigger, which must be compressed to operate the hydraulics. It is a real pain and, though it’s not the done thing, we ended up tying it down with baler twine once the engine was running.

If you can wait until next year to put in an order, the 2016 machines will come with an invisible driver sensor to replace the trigger.

Merlo loaders also come with a weighing system that would have to be a retrofitted on most rival machines.

As well as showing how close the machine is to being overloaded and how much weight it’s possible to lift relative to the boom position, it will also record the weight of each load and add it to a cumulative total.

There are plenty of scenarios where this might be useful, from loading muck or grain to feeding livestock more accurately. 

Farmers Weekly verdict

On paper, it has all the right ingredients and more.

The generous base spec includes a pick-up hitch, cab suspension and weighing system, which are all useful, but the average Joe scooping grain or shifting bales most of the year won’t touch half of the more complicated transmission settings.

It has heaps of power, but from a driver’s point of view the basics also let it down in too many places.

Seat comfort, position of the cab door and rear views are disappointing, and the current lack of a shuttle stick also gets a thumbs down.

However, a few of the changes due on 2016 machines are definitely worth waiting for. School report reads: Good, but could do better.