ITS a competitive business, making and selling tractors. And buyers win as manufacturers vie for a competitive edge with new and improved models displaying better more well-developed features.
More power, more responsive transmissions, greater reliability, more operator comfort for long days in the driving seat, and more technology to make that time more productive. These are the principle targets that designers set themselves when it comes to producing a replacement range or making significant improvements to existing models.
With the Deutz-Fahr Agrotron II and Landini Legend Top, it has been a case of subtle changes to tackle shortcomings. For others, the changes have been more substantial.
The most significant newcomer this year? The Case Maxxum MX, surely. A pretty much all-new design with its separate chassis construction bringing greater strength to handle big front and rear mounted implements. And a longer wheelbase that gives extra traction, more stability and banishes the previous models hip-hop road manners.
Most improved model? Massey Fergusons MF4200-series must warrant that title. It draws heavily on proven components from the popular 300-series but brings the tractor bang up to date with a comprehensive package of changes that warrant its new designation.
Principal among these are the backbone-strengthened gearbox/transaxle assembly on six-cylinder models to cope with an extra one tonne lift capacity, and the stylish and spacious cab.
Four cylinder versions of the top selling series 40 tractors get the New Holland family look to reflect a smart new cabin interior, increased lift linkage capacity and better performing engines.
With the designated TS-series, there are 80hp, 90hp and 100hp versions with powerstar engines that provide improved power and torque characteristics.
Automatic engaged-disengaged diff locks – the front unit being a proper locking design rather than limited slip – are also part of the package. Revised controls and improved interior mouldings and a generously sized air suspension seat are the principal changes inside the cab.
Renaults Ares range also draws on its predecessors for some key components and assemblies but marries these to more economical engines, topped with a masterly cab design.
The interior style of the Ares, coupled with the practicality of its control layout and first-rate visibility, sets new standards while the refined cab suspension offers the best driver comfort this side of a JCB Fastrac.
Most technologically advanced newcomer? Arguably, the Claas Xerion 2500 with its combination hydraulic/mechanical transmission offering a choice of different driving methods, three cab positions and any number of implement mounting locations.
But will farmers and contractors adopt this latest concept in multi-use power units?
For practical application of advanced technology, the Fendt Favorit 900-series Vario has the advantage of wrapping it up in an otherwise conventional tractor. It also has a simpler hydro-mechanical transmission than either the Claas unit or the forthcoming design from Steyr. No gear changes are needed throughout its 0-50kph speed range.
The Vario transmission is a challenge to understand but provides the smoothest possible speed changes and speed versatility. Used to the full, it promises valuable productivity and economy gains.
Best recycling of old ideas? An uncharitable way, perhaps, to describe John Deeres 8000T and Case-IH Quadtrac rubber tracked tractors, which in common with the Claas-Caterpillar Challenger, exploit modern rubber track technology to give new life to a long established concept.
The John Deere has the acknowledged performance and control features of the wheeled 8000-series models; the Quadtrac offers the mechanical simplicity of a US prairie tractor with rock-steady, smooth riding stability on four separate tracks.
A question mark remains over the true performance differential between tracks and a good set of big tyres. But that will become clearer as more operators get experience of these machines under differing conditions in the field.
Tractor buyers are enjoying a feast of new models. Peter Hill reviews the highlights.