Halfway through our summer, the Farming Independent was lucky enough to get its hands on something a little different -- a Valtra N142 Direct with CVT transmission. Launched onto the international market last year, Valtra's four-cylinder N142 Direct is only now beginning to trickle onto the Irish scene.
Courtesy of Brian Roche and Lacken Agricultural Machinery, based just outside New Ross, Co Wexford, we got to spend the weekend with this Nordic vehicle from Finland.
Valtra, as most people probably know, is part of the AGCO group, and sister companies include Fendt and Massey Ferguson.
Before becoming part of the AGCO group in 2004, Valtra already had a little history with Massey Ferguson, supplying engines for some of its tractors and combines. Many at the time thought that Valtra would be swallowed up by AGCO and its product lines 'rationalised', similar to what happened to fellow minnows Steyr. However, that never happened. AGCO must have recognised what Finland could bring to the table and the importance of its products. With the exception of front axles, Valtra manufactures all the major components in-house: cab, transaxles and engines. Developing its own CVT when there was one already available from sister company Fendt is a major achievement.
For the past few years, Valtra has been busy launching new tractor ranges, both big and small, its own CVT transmission and introducing its concept tractor, the Antes.
Despite being one of the smaller tractor brands within the AGCO group, it is the only firm to produce its own engines. These engines are sold to other tractor manufacturers, including CaseIH and, more recently, JCB.
Collecting the Valtra N142 Direct was, for me, a big leap into the unknown. The last Valmet (now Valtra) I drove was in the mid-1990s.
Up into the cab and, yes, at last a tractor where you can put stuff ... any kind of stuff, and lots of it! Behind the seat is even more storage room. You could fit a toolbox, coat and boots or even the dog (assuming it's not a St Bernard!) fairly comfortably. There is a cigarette lighter and an ashtray. The ashtray is fierce handy for keeping reserve bacon roll funds or fuses in.
The Grammer seat was rock solid -- no swaying, just a good-quality seat. Comfort was helped by cab and front suspension. McPherson struts, which are a combined coil spring and shock absorber, performed the cab suspension duties, while a pan-hard rod kept the suspension in check. Suspension duties up front were performed by a Dana-Spicer front axle.
It was getting dark by the time we set off home and with the lights on, we aimed the tractor north. Being a novice, I operated the transmission in auto mode and set the CVT lever to the maximum speed of 50kph. It was extremely quiet, though you could hear the transmission 'doing its thing' as we negotiated the smaller back roads outside New Ross.
Out on the main road, it handled really well and on the rougher roads at 50kph you could really see the front suspension working its socks off.
Driving this tractor at 50kph was a peculiar sensation; it suddenly became very quiet and produced a distinctive drone.
In aeroplane terms, it was a bit like breaking the sound barrier. By now it was well dark, and some motorists behind us just wouldn't pass this black Valtra, even though they had the width of almost three lanes to pass. Selecting ECO mode with a rocker switch on the rear right-hand panel, this tractor will do 50kph at a fuel-sipping 1,650rpm. The AGCO SISU 4.9-litre turbocharged and intercooled engine develops a maximum of 160 horsepower with transmission boost (normally 152hp), according to the manufacturer.
Though Lacken Machinery's Brian Roche did give me an overview of the transmission functions, most of this went in one ear and out the other, so I had to dig out the operator's manual and do some studying.
Without getting too bogged down in transmission detail, there is a forward-reverse shuttle lever, clutch pedal, brake pedals, drive (accelerator) pedal and CVT lever for setting maximum speed (underside of armrest controller).
The transmission has four ranges: A (0-9km), B (0-18km), C (0-27km) and D (0-50km). The appropriate range for each task is selected -- for example, range B is for most field work.
The CVT lever on the underside sets the maximum speed in the range, displayed on the cab display. So the engine will reach its maximum rpm pressing the drive pedal to the floor and achieve the speed set by the CVT lever.
Getting in a little deeper, there are three transmission operating modes: automatic, semi-automatic and manual.
In automatic, driving is just that: automatic up and down through the ranges (up to the speed set by the CVT lever), all with the aim of conserving fuel. Semi-automatic allows the operator more control over the relationship between the engine rpm and transmission ratio. In manual mode, operators sets these parameters themselves and is used mostly for PTO work.
The driver can store several driving settings with both engine speed cruise control and driving speed cruise control functions, depending on the task being carried out. For example if you are ploughing or one-passing, you could store your preferred driving settings and activate them into each run after turning on the headland.
Valtra has incorporated several easy to use transmission adjustment features, set or operated with either a knob or switch. Speed balance forward/reverse adjusts the forward to reverse speed ratio from the same in both directions to up to a 90pc difference between direction changes -- a useful feature for loader shuttle work.
Automatic traction control sets how fast the transmission engages forward or reverse. A rocker switch quickly toggles between semi-automatic and manual driving modes. Active stop slows down the tractor and will hold it at a dead stop without brakes. Another toggle switch adjusts this engine braking -- active stop function between normal, enhanced and rolling (for icy or slipper conditions).
Two displays, one on the cab's 'A' pillar and one on the armrest controller, show the necessary data, particularly in relation to the transmission. Navigation of the armrest display is quite easy and intuitive. There is a lot of information in there you can set up but I won't bore you with it.
The Valtra N142 Direct was factory-fitted with a front loader from fellow Nordic firm Quicke. This was a Q55 with parallel linkage and soft ride but was branded a Valtra 55. Brackets and pipework were extremely tidy, with Valtra using steel hydraulic pipes up to the tractor half of the loader's multi-dock, loader-hydraulic function connector.
The loader functions were integrated into the tractor's armrest controller and operated via an electronic joystick. The same joystick operated some of the tractor's five electrohydraulic spool valves. Switching between loader control and tractor spool valves was done by a dial under the armrest controller display.
The N Direct series is available with either a 115-litre/min or a 160-litre/min hydraulic pump. Our tractor had the former and loader function was plenty fast.
Moving and turning round bales of hay allowed me to learn a lot about the various transmission functions, including speed balance, traction control driving modes and engine braking. Tweaking all of these functions fine-tuned how the tractor performed with the loader in a grass field and without ripping up the ground.
Shod with (not small) Michelin 650/65R38 tyres on the rear and 540/65R28s on the front, the steering lock and manoeuvrability was very good around the yard. This was probably helped by the fact that this tractor uses a four-cylinder engine.
There was no clear roof panel so, in comparison to much of the competition, working at height with the loader was hindered. Jumping in and out of the tractor was hindered by the passenger seat, which seemed to catch my leg every time.
Lift functions on the armrest controller were simple and easy to use. Externally, buttons on both rear mudguards operate lift and PTO function. Extra mudguard buttons can also operate one hydraulic function from the ground, albeit at a safer 30pc of the user/factory setting set up by the operator in the tractor's hydraulic system.
This extra mudguard function has some useful potential -- for example, operating a hydraulic top link hooking up to a plough or other implement.
Where the lift links attach to the lower lift arms, there are a selection of holes to choose from in the lower lift arms, which give an enormous variety of lifting capacity and height options. In the 'strongest' position, the manufacturer quotes a maximum lift capacity of up to 8.1t. Further down, the lower link stabilisers are very basic, with just a locking pin to lock their position. On the flip side, they are also very practical for working in the extreme cold of Finland's winter, where threaded units and human hands don't work so well.
With a Kverneland four-furrow reversible on board, we set out to plough some tough ground to see what the vario-transmission was capable of. With the transmission in semi-automatic and the joystick hydraulics flipped over to operate the plough's turnover, it was off to work.
It was tough, wet, marly ground with lots of grass and weeds, stones and tree branches that no self-respecting ploughman would attempt to tackle.
The float button assisted getting the plough into the ground, the engine grumbled slightly and the transmission went to work pulling the plough through these unforgiving conditions. This was all effortless for the tractor -- like it was born for hardship -- but I did begin to worry about the fate of the plough. More than once it was choked with debris and then flipped, banged and bounced to clear it.