Six months after discontinuing its Buck ATVs, John Deere announced it is expanding its Gator line of utility vehicles (UVs) to include three new models: the upgraded Gator TH Diesel 6x4 and the new Gator 620i and 850D XUV. The new Gators are classified as heavy-duty, trail-ready models.

John Deere marketing manager Kevin Lund says UVs are a rapidly growing market with a cumulative average growth rate of 25% over the past four years. Trail-ready and heavy-duty vehicles represent the bulk of that growth. “Customers are looking for a work vehicle that also has advanced performance features that make it suitable for recreation,” Lund says. “These features include larger engines, faster acceleration, higher speeds and independent rear suspension. So that is where we are going with these products.”

Farm Industry News editors were invited to preview and test-drive the new heavy-duty machines at the “Turn It Loose” media event at John Deere's Commercial and Consumer Equipment headquarters in Raleigh, NC. The test course was set up in the foothills of Morrisville, NC, at John Deere's training center. Deep puddles, mud, ruts, trees and downed limbs lined the course so we could test the UVs' high-performance features.

New XUV series

The Gator 620i and 850D XUVs make up an entirely new John Deere series of UVs that run a class size above the Gator High Performance (HPX) series that Deere launched in 2004. The 620i is a gas model with electronic fuel injection (EFI), and the 850D runs on diesel. Both are billed as “higher-performance” UVs, offering 20% more horsepower, double the suspension and double the ground clearance of the HPX series.

“We wanted to continue to deliver the work capacity but expand the recreational capacity of the vehicle, and that is really what the XUV is all about,” Lund says.

The XUVs reach a top speed of 30 mph, the highest speed of any Gator John Deere has ever built. While some competitive models can go up to 40 and 50 mph, work capability can be sacrificed with high top speeds, according to David Gigandet, Deere's senior product marketing manager. “The higher the speed the more you lose in low-end power, torque and acceleration,” Gigandet explains. “We wanted to provide both a boost in acceleration, torque and power, as well as higher top speeds.”

I was able to test the speed of the XUV 620i along the straightaway of the course. The pickup was fast, and the vehicle's continuously variable transmission made it easy to operate. It has only three gears: forward, reverse, and a low-speed gear that allows you to creep along without jumping forward.

Most of the time I drove in high, and I could feel the machine's power while climbing hills. The ride was smooth even in the roughest terrain due to four-wheel independent suspension.

The drivetrain features rear differential lock that locks the back two wheels. You can also engage the front differential by flipping the 4-wd switch on the dash. “This will put you in true 4-wd mode, which will provide full-torque power and traction to both of the front wheels rather than just one, which is typical in competitive limited-slip 4-wd products,” Gigandet explains.

6×4 Diesel

The new Gator TH 6×4 Diesel is classified as a heavy-duty work vehicle that replaces the 6×4 Diesel Deere launched in 1996. It is built on the same platform as the M Gator, which is Deere's dedicated military unit that is being used in Iraq.

Like the old model, the new 6×4 is configured around six high-flotation wheels to minimize soil compaction, with the back four serving as drive wheels. But it has a bigger engine to provide a significant boost in power and acceleration. “We went from a 658cc engine to an 854cc engine to provide a big jump in displacement,” says senior product manager Lynnette Sapienza. “This allows us to provide the user more low-end torque and top-end speed.”

The new 6×4 has 30% more displacement, 20% more maximum torque and 11% more speed. It also has more hauling capacity than the older model, featuring a 1,600-lb. payload capacity, a 1,400-lb. towing capacity and a cargo box load height of 25 in.

We were asked to pay attention to power and acceleration while driving the course. The 6×4 has only one forward speed so I didn't have to worry about shifting gears. Its fastest speed is 20 mph, which was more than ample for the course.

It has independent front suspension only, so it rode rougher than the fully suspended XUV. But the rear flotation wheels provided plenty of absorption over bumps. Under load, the ride was even smoother. The vehicle handled nicely, despite its large size, and I was able to make tight turns around trees.

Like the XUV, the TH 6×4 Diesel features differential lock that you can switch on when you need it. It also features new gearing and an improved transmission for smoother operation. “It eliminates the grinding that sometimes occurred with our old model during shifting,” Sapienza says. Other features include dual radiators for optimum engine cooling, a roomier operating station, high back seats, optional ROPS and a 12v outlet.

The 6×4 Diesel has a lot of load capacity with a minimal amount of ground compaction due to the fact that its weight is distributed on six wheels instead of four. It is also built lower to the ground than the XUV to make it easier to load and unload. If speed, terrain capability and ride quality are most important to you, then the XUV is the better option, Lund says.

Price and availability

The TH 6×4 Diesel is available now with a suggested retail price of $10,299. The XUV 620i will be offered in two color schemes: green and yellow; and olive and black. The XUV 850D will be offered in John Deere green and yellow.

The XUVs will be released to dealerships in March. The suggested retail price of the XUV 620i is $9,499 for the green and yellow version and $9,599 for the olive and black version. The XUV 850D will have a suggested retail price of $10,599. That puts the XUV 620i $1,000 above the Gator HPX gas version that remains in the lineup and lists for $8,499. Customers can choose from more than 130 OEM attachments and accessories.

More products coming

Lund says the launch of these three new models is part of Deere's effort to remain number one in the UV market. “We were the first company to market a UV, with our launch of the AMT in 1987,” Lund says. “And we still hold the largest market share, but other companies have gained a foothold. So we are bringing new product into this category every year to maintain the largest product portfolio of any utility vehicle supplier.”

Deere is continuing to develop vehicles that will deliver even more performance features than the XUV. “We see continued growth in the high-performance line,” Lund adds. “This is just the beginning.”

For more information, contact John Deere, Dept. FIN, 11145 Thompson Ave., Lenexa, KS 66219, 866/993-3373, visit www.johndeereag.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 103.

JOHN DEERE GATOR LINEUP
COMPACT (C) SERIES TRADITIONAL (T) SERIES HIGH-PERFORMANCE SERIES XUV SERIES
COMPACT, POWERFUL UVs
CS 4×4
CX 4×4
HEAVY-HAULING, DURABLE UVs
TS 4×4
TX 4×4
TH 6×4
TH 6×4 Diesel (new)
HEAVY-DUTY, TRANSPORT UVS
HPX 4×4 Trail
HPX 4×4 Diesel
HEAVY-DUTY, TRAIL-READY UVS
XUV 4×4 (new)
XUV Diesel (new)