The slow-moving, under-powered John Deere Gators of 10 years ago are long gone. The new 2011 Gator XUVs (crossover utility vehicles) offer speed, power and comfort. The highest-powered model is the 825i with a 50-hp engine and a top speed of 44 mph. The 855D diesel model with a 25-hp engine and the 625i gas EFI model with a 23-hp engine both top out at about 32 mph.

John Deere showed off its new line of Gators at an ATV park in South Carolina where rutted trails, woods and red dirt tested the vehicles. The old Gator models would have struggled over this terrain, but the new vehicles, especially the 825i, easily ran up steep hills and rolled over rocks and logs.

Driver comfort

In addition to the power, the new Gators offer plenty of comfort. Deere redesigned the front and rear independent suspension systems to make the ride smooth. The vehicles now feature a double A-arm suspension system in the front, which increases front travel from 5 to 8 in. The rear travel also increases, from 7 to 9 in. Teeth-jarring bumps over rocks and tree limbs are absent from a ride in these new models.

Deere also updated the braking systems for all XUV models to handle high speeds and large loads. The company installed twin piston calipers with large rotors in the front and large calipers in the rear. As a result, the brakes are very responsive and firm.

Another major change in the Gators is a 2-in.-wider frame to provide more vehicle stability. The company is so confident these Gators won’t roll over that it has kept doors off them. The driver and passenger must use seat belts, though. A nice benefit of the wider vehicle is more room for operators who also are growing wider.

Deere further addressed driver comfort by offering three seat options to accommodate personal preference. Standard seat options include a 21-in. bucket seat and a two-person bench seat. A driver also may upgrade to the 31-in. sport seat.

Hauling

Deere improved the cargo box and made it “deluxe,” which comes standard on all three new models. The box is constructed of what Deere calls a hybrid metal and composite material. It provides 16.3 cu. ft. of cargo space. The sides may be removed to make the box a flatbed. The new bed also has 20 integrated tie-downs to hold a load in place. The new Gator XUVs will tow 1,500 lbs. and handle 1,400 lbs. of payload.

Deere increased the number of wheel options, too. Two standard options are available on a 12-in. steel wheel with either an all-terrain tread or an aggressive tread. An upgrade to a 14-in. alloy wheel comes with a radial tire.

Prices for the new 825i Gator XUV start at $11,199. Prices start at $11,299 for the 855D model and $9,899 for the 625i model. For more information, contact your local John Deere dealer or visit www.JohnDeere.com/gator.

Robotic Gators

Growers sitting in their John Deere tractor cabs with GPS equipment probably never imagined this technology could help U.S. soldiers in the Middle East. But that’s the reality.

Deere displayed its latest Gator that it is building for the military at its recent introduction of new Gator XUVs. It is called the R-Gator and is capable of being robotic. The R-Gators are equipped entirely with off-the-shelf components used in Deere products, including its agricultural machines, according to Mark Bodwell, manager with Deere Military Affairs.

The R-Gator has four modes of operation. The first is manual where it is driven like any Gator. The second mode is teach-and-playback. “You can teach it a route,” Bodwell says. “While you’re driving it, you push the dashboard control unit that says this is the way to go. When you get out of the vehicle, you hit the playback button and the Gator goes back to where it came from using the same route you just programmed it to follow.”

The third mode is remote control. Because U.S. soldiers need to quickly learn to operate the Gator, Deere programmed the Gator’s controls into an Xbox game controller. It takes less than 30 min. for young soldiers to learn how to remotely control the R-Gator.

In the fourth mode, the vehicle is totally autonomous. It is programmed and sent out into the field on its own. Deere uses special cameras and sensors that allow the vehicle to detect obstacles and then determine how to handle them. Based on the type and size, the Gator will drive over an obstacle, go around it, or completely change routes if the obstacle is too large.

Bodwell says the military vehicles can cost from $350,000 to over $1 million, depending on the type of sensors and cameras used on the vehicles.

For more information, visit www.JohnDeere.com/RGator. Or watch the robotic Gator in action at www.farmindustrynews.com/tv/videos.