On the test: John Deere Gator XUV 865R UTV
When John Deere launched its 865 Gator in early 2020, it looked like the American giant had intentionally blurred the lines between conventional UTVs and entry-level pickup trucks.
Deere’s top-of-the-line R-spec machines promised levels of comfort and sophistication never seen before on farm strollers, with luxuries such as air conditioning, power windows, and a pillow-like ride to convince drivers that these once noisy and noisy vehicles have changed their ways.
See also: Explanation of four-wheel drive systems in all-terrain vehicles
The new cabin is the star of the show and it is the main feature that the designers focused on. Benchmarks were taken from JD’s other R machines, featuring quality switchgear, tough plastics and plenty of sound-absorbing materials.
- Engine 3 Yanmar 854 cc cylinders
- Power 22.8 hp
- Transmission Two-speed belt-driven CVT
- Power steering Yes
- Ground clearance 284 mm
- Turning circle 8.2 m
- Towing capacity 900kg
- Bucket capacity 680kg
However, all jokes come at a considerable cost. JD has never shied away from charging a premium for its products, and at Â£ 31,181 this test unit steadfastly sticks to that mantra. We’re told you could see one on the farm for around Â£ 25,000, but it’s still getting closer to new pickup territory.
Deere was keen to point out that these R-spec versions are sold in minimal numbers to farmers, with the cheaper and frankly more practical M-spec being a popular choice.
These models are similar to the Rs, but they have black interior trim with washable vinyl seats and cost around Â£ 23,000 at the farm gate.
The latest R-spec Gator has undoubtedly set a new benchmark in luxury and ride comfort for other UTVs. However, the monstrous price tag is hard to bear, especially since practical drawbacks include poor engine braking downhill when loaded and limited sleeping space to accommodate the cabin.
Price tested: Â£ 31,181
Best for: Driving and cabin comfort
Worse for: Engine brake with loaded trailer
The Gator’s driveline remains largely unchanged from the older 855M, with a 22.8bhp three-cylinder Yanmar engine running through a belt-driven two-speed CVT transmission. It hasn’t lost the slow take-off that has long hampered the performance of these diesel buggies, and it takes a lot of engine revs to engage driving. However, a gear change means the top speed is now healthier at 34mph, rather than the 28mph of the old model, so progress is a bit faster on the road.
Deere has also done work to limit vibration and noise transfer through the chassis, with the engine now resting on five rubber mounts.
Gator users will be familiar with the concept of engine braking, which requires the drive belt to be engaged for the engine to slow down the machine to avoid coasting. Unfortunately, in our timed downhill braking test, his feathers got a bit messy.
With a loaded trailer hooked up, it hurtled down our test hill in 8 seconds with alarming speed – compare that to the snail-shaped Polaris which took 1 minute 53 seconds with the same trailer the same distance. We gave Deere another chance, but the outcome remained the same.
Previous Gators tested performed well in this department, so it was a surprise. We can only assume that this is due to the higher gear ratio needed to achieve a faster top speed and the added weight of the new cab.
The parking brake layout is also far from ideal. With no park position on the shifter, the only option is to use a small, bulky pedal with a delicate pull release lever.
The only advantage is that the vehicle can be started and left running when you go out to open the doors, but it is a hassle to use. Deere says models ordered now will have a park position built into the gear selector, so the pedal won’t need to be used.
Access to service is poor, in part because Deere installed the larger cab on a chassis it already owned. This means that jobs such as accessing the battery involve removing the air filter and a piece of trim.
Some sections of the body are also slightly poor in quality, such as the thin rubber straps locking the hood that didn’t match the car-like grip on Kubota‘s RTV or Corvus Terrain DX4.
The trump card in the Gator’s pack is undoubtedly its cabin, which rises head and shoulders above the windy and noisy cockpits of yesteryear. The most noticeable improvement is the soundproofing between the cabin and the engine – this works wonders and means the noise at idle only registers 67 dBa.
For comparison, Kubota’s RTV reading was 78.5 dBa, a figure the Gator didn’t even hit when towing uphill under load.
Heater and air conditioning fans direct a lot of air towards the occupants, as well as the windshield, and the well-laid out switchgear is easy to navigate – although a cheap indicator toggle switch is a help. slight disappointment.
The benefits of a large window opening in the front and a full-width glass door cannot be overstated. However, the small gas spring JD installed to keep the heavy doors open is a weak spot – the breeze actually caught one of the doors in our testing and the fit was not the same afterwards. .
Storage is thankfully plentiful, with cup holders and dashboard storage holes, useful door pockets, and a passenger bench that folds down to allow floor-to-ceiling storage for oil or gas barrels. other bulky items. The driver is also treated with more floor space for the left foot – this was a common complaint on old Gators, with the wheel arch protruding.
Although plush, the interior is far from everyday. Cloth-covered seats, a leather steering wheel, and a beige dashboard and headliner are all pleasing to the eye, but unlikely against the rigors of a modern farmhouse. A better bet is the M-spec, which gets vinyl seats, a black dashboard, and a stronger roof liner.
The towing capacity is sufficient at 900kg, but one problem when hitching the trailers on our test model was a grueling stretch to reach the ball hidden under the rear bed – this caused a lot of hiss and hiss when inserting the hitch on it. Adopting Deere’s expandable option or getting one would be a worthwhile investment.
Suspension travel on the Gator won’t be the deciding factor either, as it only offers 200mm up front – the lowest in our test group – and 231mm at the rear. What it lacks on travel, however, makes up for in tuning, as it glides along rutted tracks at high speed, with occupants feeling little more than a wobble.
The load bed does not appear to have changed in years and still has the best depth of any test, only having length as the Cavernous Corvus. It can still support the most weight, at 680 kg, but the rear window and roof have been tilted backwards and protrude from the height of the bed. This will likely hamper anyone trying to load an IBC or round bale.
It also lacked decent mud flaps to protect the cab and bed from mud. At the end of the tests, it was by far the dirtiest machine. A wider bed or a set of rear fenders would help solve this problem.
Another issue was the exposed wiring near the wheels for trailer connections and taillights, which is very different from Deere. It could do with the storage to keep the dirt out and help the electrics last a bit longer.
Love and reproach
- Extremely comfortable on rough terrain
- Quiet cab, even at full speed
- Biggest payload
- Poor engine braking when going downhill with a full trailer
- Small bed covers mud at the back of the cabin
- No parking position on the gear lever