At a sneak preview introduction of the company's new 185- to 255-hp, rubber-tracked, MT700 row-crop tractors, Caterpillar President Bob Strube pumped the crowd: “These tractors are new from the ground up. We've ripped off the rear-view mirror and thrown it in the back seat.”

It was a painful metaphor for anyone in the audience who has ever literally ripped off a mirror by cutting a corner too close. But Strube's meaning was clear. Although the new MT tractors look similar to Cat's previous generation of row-crop machines, their engineering and performance are considerably improved. And if there is any value in looking back, it's to see how much better the new tractors are than the old ones.

Cab

The new cab features improved visibility over a hood that's 15 in. shorter than that of previous models. Inside, surround-flow ventilation and fingertip hydraulic controls are functional and comfortably positioned. The steering wheel is ergonomically designed for tracks and includes a refined one-hand spinner knob and optional auxiliary radio controls. Speed-sensitive steering makes the machine steer more like a wheeled tractor, especially at road speeds up to 25 mph. Nightbreaker high-intensity discharge lights illuminate far down the road or field.

Tracks

A look at the undercarriage reveals more vibration-reducing rubber, including marshmallow springs to isolate the hardbar and chassis from track vibration.

Where the old row-crop tractors were sometimes hard on implements in the turns, many growers soon realized that wide track widths turned easier. It wasn't so easy to widen the tracks, however. Now the new MT700s make width selection less hassle with an in-line reaction arm to allow fast track width changes without detensioning the belts. Three factory-installed gauge configurations offer a variety of width choices. Standard gauge adjusts from 60 to 88 in.; wide gauge goes from 80 to 120 in.; and ultrawide goes from 120 to 160 in.

For narrow-gauge turns, an optional Caterpillar-designed floating 3-pt. hitch smooths the turns even more by coordinating the hitch with the steering system. Whether used with standard implements or specially designed Caterpillar tillage tools, tight turns on narrow-gauge setups are less tension-filled for the driver than they used to be. Standard hydraulic capacity of 43.5 gpm paired with load-independent flow division helps guarantee steady flow under varied conditions. Standard hitch lift capacity is 16,000 lbs.

Auto control

For steering in the field, an optional Auto-Guide system uses GPS to steer the tractor down the row with sub-meter accuracy. An auto-shift feature on the 16 × 4 transmission is programmable to let the tractor self-select the best gear for maintaining preferred engine speed, ground speed or engine load. An optional creeper transmission adds 18 additional gears.

In the past, the hard-working diesel engine had to be idled down to cool it before shutdown. Now a delayed engine shutdown timer lets the operator walk away from the tractor as soon as the work is done, without worrying that the machine will overheat. If anything goes wrong in the field, an optional Product Link system can alert Cat technicians to the service need via satellite signal.

Because the MT700s won't be available to buy until next year, Caterpillar hasn't released prices for them yet. For more information, contact Caterpillar Agricultural Products, Dept. FIN, 1201 Barber-Greene Rd., DeKalb, IL 60115, 815/765-5600, www.cat.com.