In fact, the first time you experience a range change you might be forgiven for thinking there is something wrong. The controller drops the engine rpm to smoothly negotiate the range change. It's all a bit unnerving for the first couple of times but it works well. In the field, a switch on the right hand 'B' pillar switches the transmission between 'field' and 'transport' mode. In field mode, you need to press another button in front of the power-shift buttons to disengage the transmission and make the range change.
The forward visibility is exceptional, even with a loader on-board. The wide windscreen is cinema-like in the view it offers. The front wheels are set quite wide, ideal for loader work, but where Carlow County Council managed to mark the sides and the middle of the road, it was at times a pretty tight squeeze. In fact, there was more than one roadside flower petal ruffled travelling through Ballymurphy.
It is with great regret I report from the tractor seat that the road badly degenerated when I crossed the border back into Wexford. In my own county's defence, I can only assume that Carlow County Council is far wealthier than Wexford.
Comfort levels unfortunately went through the floor as this road, like many on the island, was not suited to vehicles lacking in suspension.
I had to pull over to make sure that the loader's 'shock eliminator' -- as Claas likes to call it -- was switched on. It was. Their definition of 'shock' is not shocking enough for conditions here; we need an Irish setting please, Claas.
We arrived home in time to complete the last couple of acres of the first tedding of the hay. We duly went about swapping the six-metre tedder to complete the job. The Arion's lift controls were a little different to the norm but I figured them out eventually. Like some of the competition, there were no 'manual' lift controls in the cab. This is usually in the form of a rocker switch to raise and lower the three-point linkage, useful for hooking up either to an implement or trailer.
On the plus side, their lift controls are a gem to use in work. The switch for raising and lowering the implement when the lift is activated is positioned just right of their console. If there is any adjustment of the linkage required in work, a big dial falls right to hand. Claas says that the three models in the 400 series all have a maximum lift capacity of 6.5t at the ball ends -- pretty decent for a tractor in this class.
The next day the weather wasn't quite playing ball for making hay -- it had rained in the morning. With hay off the menu for that day, we set about some loader tasks. The first thing that became apparent was the steering lock -- it was phenomenal. I mentioned earlier that the wheels were set out quite wide. This, plus some thoughtful front-loader design, allowed the Arion, equipped with a Carraro axle, a steering lock akin to a two-wheel drive tractor. At full lock there was still plenty of daylight between the wheels, mudguard and engine bonnet. Manoeuvrability around the yard was excellent -- a big plus where working in the tighter spaces of older yards.
Hooking up to the bale trailer was easy with the Dromone telescopic hitch. The PTO guard flipped up to offer a better view, if required, and of course was handy for hooking up awkward PTO shafts.
Loader function was super smooth thanks to servo hydraulic controls -- or 'flexipilot' as Claas calls it. These are my favourite type of loader control, responsive and effortless but controllable. For another €372 + VAT you can specify the electric joystick version integrated into the seat's arm rest when ordering the tractor with the loader. This also gives you two electric and two mechanical spools at the rear. Normal specification is two or three; the test tractor had three. One had a manual diverter valve for the telescopic hitch, the same as the Massey Ferguson in the previous test.
This tractor features the 93-litre/minute hydraulic system; this, like the Massey Ferguson, is achieved by combining the flow from the tractor's two hydraulic pumps, which is achieved by pressing a rocker switch on the right-hand 'B' pillar, and effectively switching off the rear lift. With the two pumps combined, the loader works at a fantastic rate of speed. Cycle times are good, even at low engine rpm.
Loading bales onto a trailer and then stacking them in the shed was all done at a relatively sedate engine rpm, but still productively. Forward and reverse manoeuvres were smooth when loading and unloading the trailer.
The Claas FL100 loader was equipped with euro-hitch, third service and single hydraulic/ electric coupler -- or 'multi-dock' as we know it here. An unusual feature was that it was equipped with hydraulic self-levelling. The second hydraulic ram between the main lifting ram and boom displaces the oil from the implement's tilt and crowd rams. This keeps the implement carriage in the same position from top to bottom, without having to manually level it as the loader is raised or lowered.
The FL100 had excellent reach: I could drop the third bale into the shed on its end and there was enough room to get the fork out.
A large clear roof panel gave an excellent view of the loader at height. It could be left open but that would leave it vulnerable to tree branches and low shed roofs.
Air conditioning is standard on the CIS Arion 400 and would certainly prove welcome in the coming days.
When the weather cleared up we were back in the field on hay duty. The Arion 420 was equipped with an eco-speed PTO, so we ran the tedder in that mode for a while.
The John Deere engine or DPS (Deere Power System) engine, as it is preferably named, was comfortably driving the six-metre tedder in a heavy, butty hay crop. We then ran it in the 1,000 rpm PTO, and the DPS engine obliged, in heavy sections, up hill and down.
To run the tedder at about 600rpm, the engine was only doing 1,300rpm or thereabouts, which is not really in its working range. The four-pot turbocharged engine complied without a single protest.
On the flip side, running the engine at such a low rpm really slowed down the three-point linkage speed at the headlands. It's not overly fast to begin with, and in the 1,000rpm PTO you cannot give it some throttle to speed it up either.
As mentioned earlier, the steering lock was incredible. In the field, this proved to be a big plus on headland manoeuvres where, as a rule, you compensate for the poor steering lock of most four-wheel-drives (by comparison to two-wheel-drive tractors). Not so with the Arion. Up and down through the power-shift gears and ranges was a pleasure.
In the following days, the in-house temperature was kept under control by air-conditioning. A cooler compartment under the steering wheel provided enough room for a 1.5-litre bottle. The air-conditioning kept this at a refreshingly cool temperature -- a nice touch for keeping the dust-rinsing liquids cool. It would have been useful to have more regular storage space in the cab, though.
To sum up, the Arion 420 surpassed all expectations and proved itself to be a worthy contender in the category of mid-sized, all-rounder tractors. It uses proven technology in a likeable and user-friendly Claas package, with a few extras to make it stand out in this hotly contested sector of the market.
The selling price of the test Arion 420 CIS, equipped with FL100, is €57,440 + VAT (€69,500 including VAT).
Many thanks to Claas area sales manager Karol Duigenan, and Kelly's of Borris for the loan of the Arion 420.