Views from the driving seat

10 January 1997

Artic v rigid:

Views from the driving seat

Telescopic handler users fall into two camps – those that like articulated steering and those that dont. Peter Hill looks at the relative merits of the different layouts and reviews the growing number of articulated models available

FROM a lift performance point of view, there is nothing in it. A rigid frame telescopic handler, rated at 2t, will carry no more, no less than an articulated chassis model of the same rating.

But its the manner in which the two operate, and what that means to the person in the driving seat, that sets the two designs apart.

Matbro has promoted the articulated telehandler concept for years – and the articulated rough terrain forklift a long time before that – earning a dedicated band of followers that have been rewarded by improved, easier to use and better performing models.

Once convinced of the merits of an articulated steer machine, the company reckons, users rarely switch to the rigid chassis alternative.

Livestock farms have traditionally been the main haunt for articulated telehandlers, possibly because of the familiarity of the central driving position as operators gear up from tractor loaders. Putting the cab at the centre of the machine means it also has to go up high and this results in a commanding view of the machine and its surroundings – which is one of the strongest arguments in favour of this style of telescopic handler.

There is no side-mounted boom to obstruct visibility to the right-hand side, nor a high tail to interrupt the view to the rear. And since the extremities of the machine are readily seen, driving in and around buildings can be done with confidence.

Having the raised boom bang in the middle of the drivers forward view is arguably more of a drawback, but drivers counter that criticism with the argument that being able to see either end of whatever attachment is being used more than makes up for that.

Articulated steer telehandlers had the upper hand when it came to manoeuvrability until the advent of four-wheel steering on rigid chassis machines. These outdo the artic when it comes to a tight turning circle, and with front steer only and crab-steer options also offer greater versatility.

Nonetheless, articulated handlers have a decent enough turning ability for most applications and have the advantage of being able to position the front end of the machine without moving either forward or backward; that can be a useful feature – when placing straw bales over a feeder barrier from the tight confines of a passage, for example.

This facility can also be used like a forklifts side-shift – for precision placement of bales on to a trailer or stack, for example, or of potato boxes onto automated fillers or storage stacks.

The steering characteristics do take some getting used to at speed, however, and on the road new drivers should be cautious before letting the machine have its head. The chassis configuration is also arguably less stable in extreme situations when steering uphill tends, initially, to shift more weight to the outside.

In addition to a commanding view from behind the steering wheel, however, articulated telehandler drivers tend to have the advantage of roomier cabs, with storage space for tools and other paraphernalia, as well as two doors.

On livestock farms, where drivers tend to be hopping on and off their vehicles more frequently, having access to either side of the cab can be quite a time-saving attraction – though the position of control levers often makes getting on and off through both doors less of a practical proposition than it first appears.

Matbros sales success with its TR200 and TR250 models has inevitably attracted competition, and there is now a clutch of telehandlers built to the articulated steer concept. Still, at least these add credence to Matbros arguments in favour of the layout over the years.

The Irish-owned company maintains a two-model range, matched from next spring by JCB Landpower when the 2.7t lift TM270 unveiled at the Smithfield Show joins the smaller 409 Telemaster. The other contenders, Sanderson and Manitou, are at present content with a single model each, aimed at the larger Matbro machine.

The TR200 and 409 Telemaster – a logical development of the JCB 409 articulated wheeled loader – are rated at 2t maximum lift capacity, and both lift 1t at full forward reach. The Matbro has the edge when it comes to lift height, however, at 4.65m (15ft3in) against the Telemasters 4.49m (14ft9in).

Both handlers share the same engine – the 96hp Perkins four-cylinder turbo – but while the JCB comes with a four-speed synchromesh gearbox, power reverser and torque converter, Matbro now fits a 4 x 4 speed twist-grip controlled powershift transmission as standard on the latest TR200 (powershift is a £1112 option on the 409 Telemaster), along with a revised exhaust system and easier cab access to a better seat. Alternatively, the TR200 can be had with a less powerful (75hp) engine and conventional controls to make a useful saving on its list price.

At present, these are the only contenders in the 2t category, but a newcomer is on its way from German manufacturer Schaffer. Principle feature of the Schaffer 870T telescopic handler is hydrostatic drive which drivers of rigid chassis telehandlers are finding is a viable alternative to traditional torque converter transmissions.

The German machine is the only articulated telehandler with this form of drive and it also has a different engine than most – a 60hp five-cylinder Kubota diesel. A more powerful turbocharged version is promised.

It all but matches the TR200 in terms of lift height – 4.6m (15ft) – and lift capacity – 2t maximum, 1t at full forward reach – but is slightly narrower on standard tyres and – to its detriment – more than 150mm (6in) taller.

Schaffer importer Nuneaton Mechanical Handling hopes to bring in the UKs first 870T before long.

There is more choice in the 2.5t class, where a substantially revamped Matbro TR250 faces competition from the stylish Sanderson GX525, Manitou MLA627 and JCB TM270 Telemaster.

The TR250 again holds the advantage in terms of lift height at 5.5m (18ft) in comparison with the Manitous 5.45m (17ft10in), Sandersons 5.3m (17ft5in) and JCBs 5m (16ft5in). But Manitou and JCB have given their machines more lifting power for a maximum capacity of 2.7t against the 2.5t of the other two.

A powershift gearbox, giving quick twist-grip selection of the four forward and three reverse ratios, was added to the TR250s specification a couple of years ago and is standard on the Manitou and JCB newcomers.

In both cases, this gives drivers ready access to different gears – a quick down change for more pushing power into compacted yard manure, for example, then a quick up change to speed across the yard.

Despite offering powershift on its TL7 high capacity rigid telehandler, Sanderson sticks with a 4×4 synchro/shuttle transmission for the GX525. This model does earn strong marks for its cab and visual appeal, though. The four-pillar cab design provides lots of glass for good visibility, which to the rear is enhanced by a rounded, stubby tail over the 106hp Perkins engine. The cab design also creates enough space to make getting on and off the machine easier than on some.

Manitous cab design is more conventional but well up to standard, while JCB has opted for a compact design for its new machine, with deep curved windows and small instrument panel giving good forward visibility over a stubby arm mounting post.

Matbro, meanwhile, has developed a new glassier cab for the TR250, giving improved visibility to the rear as well as forwards through deeper glass.

The machine also steals a march on its contemporaries by packing a more powerful – 110hp BS – engine in its tail, 4hp up on the others. Its 4×3 powershift also now has an extra gear kick-down as a result of software changes and there are numerous other improvements including standard air-conditioning, a flat cab floor and an all-new, five-function joystick control fitted to the drivers seat.

Lift capacity and height are unchanged, but larger rams reportedly give faster response and more tear-out force.

, while uprated bushes and wear pads reduce maintenance requirements.

Matbros TR200 is among the smallest articulated telehandlers with the lowest overall height. It lifts 2t to 4.65m (15ft 3in) – the best lift height of its category contemporaries. Powershift is now standard.

Stubby tail and large glass area of the Sanderson GX525 build on the articulated machines side and rearward visibility advantage.

JCBs 409 Telemaster can be had with powershift transmission in place of the standard 4×4 synchro box.

The Manitou MLA627 comes with powershift as standard and, at 2.7t, has equal best lift capacity.

Lift height

Matbro TR2505.5m (18ft)

Manitou Maniscopic

MLA6275.45m (17ft 10in)

Sanderson Teleporter

GX5255.30m (17ft 5in)


Telemaster5.00m (16ft 5in)

Matbro TR2004.65m (15ft 3in)

Schaffer 870T4.60m (15ft 1in)

JCB 409

Telemaster4.49m (14ft 9in)

Articulated v rigid chassis telehandlers

Pros: Familiar central driving position gives commanding, uninterrupted side and rear views; see either side of buckets, forks, etc.

Roomier cab.

Side-shift effect for precision load placement.

Chassis configuration allows machine to be "walked" out of boggy ground.

Cons: Ungainly steering characteristics on the road.

Not the tightest turning circle.

Interrupted straight-ahead visibility.

Questionable stability in extreme situations.

Lower maximum lift heights.

Lift capacity

JCB TM270 Telemaster2.7t

Manitou Maniscopic MLA6272.7t

Matbro TR2502.5t

Sanderson Teleporter GX5252.5t

JCB 409 Telemaster2.0t

Matbro TR2002.0t

Schaffer 870T2.0t

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