REVIEW: Cat Challenger MT865C tracked tractor

By: Tom Dickson, Photography by: Andrew Britten, Video by: Andrew Britten

Presented by

The Challenger MT865C marks the end of an era for Cat powered Challenger tractors. TOM DICKSON reports.

In March 2002 Agco Corporation took over production of the Challenger line of tractors, continuing to manufacture the line at Jackson, Minnesota in the United States. The Cat C18 ACERT is a Tier 3, 18.1-litre, 6 cylinder turbocharged 525hp (391kW) diesel. 

The newly launched model will be installed with an Agco Power 16.8-litre, 12 cylinder, turbocharged diesel engine increasing output from 525hp to 540hp (391-402kW).

However, the transmission will still be stamped with the iconic Cat logo and the rest of its features and components will remain the same.



The test


Power and transmission

Controls and comfort

Cabin access

Linkage and hydraulics





Cat Challenger MT865C: The Test

Swan Hill in northern Victoria, where we are testing the Challenger MT865C has dished up a beautiful day. Our host for the day is William Adams agricultural sales representative Anthony Miliado.

Miliado leads the way and we fall in behind for the hours’ drive north to where the Challenger is waiting for our arrival.

In the agricultural world even the best laid plans can often come unstuck and as the morning ripens we are thrown a few curve balls which threaten to prevent us even seeing the MT865C in action.

To his credit Miliado suggests we go back to the dealership, fuel up a brand new MT865C he has in the yard and take it out to a mate’s farm for a spin.

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Cat Challenger MT865C dimensions

9419_Cat _Challenger _MT865C_fuellingup

The fuel tank capacity of the MT865C is 1,249 litres and highlights the importance of it having a locking fuel cap. Leaving the cap unlocked when unattended and losing a tank of diesel to theft will cost in the vicinity of $1,600.

Maximum road speed in the Challenger is 40km/h. This is more than adequate for moving from job to job and never going to break any road rules.

The weight of the MT865C is a touch over 19 tonnes, 19,142kg to be exact, and added to this is 32, 45kg front weights plus wheel weights on the track assembly. This brings the total weight to about 22.5 tonnes.

When its total weight is distributed over the area of track on the ground it probably applies less downward pressure on the ground than its wheeled counterparts and achieves considerably more traction.

The 30-inch (76.2cm) Extreme application belts fitted have a thicker tread than the lighter general ag belts and make a good alternative.

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Cat Challenger MT865C power and transmission

In the paddock the Caterpillar 16F x 4R electronically controlled powershift transmission is simple to operate and provides options to best suit the each working environment.

Changing gears requires no clutching, only triggering gear up and gear down buttons on the armrest mounted transmission control lever.

The transmission control lever has four positions for forward, reverse, neutral and park.

Challenger has quite intentionally placed eight gears from fifth to 12th in the popular 6.4km/h to 14.9km/h operating range to provide the responsiveness and productivity your application needs.

To maximise performance the Challenger MT865C is equipped with power management with the option of two different modes activated by a rocker switch on the Tractor Management Centre (TMC) on the armrest. It operates in either maximum power output or constant ground speed.

The former automatically changes down gears to maintain revs for heavy draft loads while the latter adjusts gear selection and revs to maintain preselected speed, cruise control, economy and fuel efficiency.

There is nothing more frustrating than trying to start the engine only to have the batteries fail.

After searching around I find not two, not three but four healthy sized batteries tucked neatly behind the weight package at the front of the tractor to power the 12-volt system.

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Cat Challenger MT865C controls and comfort

9842__Cat _Challenger _MT865C_cab

The beauty of these big machines is that they are getting easier to operate.

The seat is super comfy and visibility is great. With my left-hand making tiny moves on the steering wheel for direction my right-hand rests comfortably on the armrest with only a minimum amount of tasks to operate the tractor namely throttle and transmission control lever i.e., forward/reverse and gear selection.

The TMC has a colour screen and is ISOBus-compliant it allows the driver to easily monitor all tractor, engine and transmission functions, check and adjust hydraulic flow setting, keep track of service intervals, operate the steering guidance system and collect data that can be used later for planning and record keeping.

This is the first time I’ve been in the Challenger MT865C but without any instruction at all I can work out most of the driving functions.

The last feature I discover is how to turn off the air-conditioning. It works that well I nearly freeze.

For the most part the MT865C will be under the command of Topcon System 150 satellite-assisted guidance, auto steering for completing long straight runs and the only time manual steering will occur will be during turns at the end of each run.

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Cat Challenger MT865C cabin access

The most basic feature that’s more memorable than any other, apart from the Cat engine of course, is gaining access to the cabin.

Every other conventional type tractor requires climbing a ladder to get in but the MT865C has a staircase beginning at the front of the tractor and rising up over the tracks.

It makes for a casual stroll in and out of the cab without risk of falling. Mind your head though because you step in at floor height and I did bump my head the first time I jumped in.

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Cat Challenger MT865C linkage and hydraulics

9800_Cat _Challenger _MT865C_remotevalves

There is nothing out of the ordinary regarding hydraulics. We have at our disposal 224l/m of oil flow from the optional high flow pump servicing five sets of remotes.

The MT865C comes standard with four sets and can be optioned up to six, though not on our demo vehicle, Cat four linkage and 1,000rpm power take-off (PTO) can be added as an option.

What is impressive however, is the drawbar construction. The supporting frame appears to be constructed from approximately 1-inch (2.54cm) plate steel and is a roller type with 32 degrees swing.

Being Category 4 and having a 4,536kg load capacity will make it more than strong enough for hauling heavy tillage and seeding equipment and even drawn scrapers.

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Cat Challenger MT865C performance

9486_Cat _Challenger _MT865C_at Work

These crawler tractors handle very differently to conventional wheeled types. At low speed it is very twitchy and responds aggressively to just the slightest movement of the steering wheel, resembling that of a skid steer.

As speed increases the sensitivity of the steering decreases so as I approach 40km/h it holds its direction quite well and has a much more traditional feel.

The soil around Swan Hill is light and sandy and so the tracks tear into it quite dramatically during tight turns, but during work this won’t be an issue.

To my surprise and pleasure I find the Challenger a lot smoother to ride in than I had assumed it would be.

First the MT865C’s longer wheelbase helps but more credit can be attributed to smaller idler wheels in the track assembly.

The four idler wheels are made up of two pairs that pivot to follow the exact contours of the ground, maximising traction and levelling the ride. Each idler wheel has a glass centre indicating oil level at a glance.

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The Verdict

I am very impressed with its power and pulling capabilities but believe it is most suited to straight line work. It will be right at home using controlled traffic farm practices and great for minimising compaction while maximising traction.

It is a bit twitchy in the steering at low speed, but overall I love the experience of driving the big Cat.

Miliado says there are still a few Cat-powered Challengers out there for the enthusiast in the market but I have no doubt the Agco-powered machines will be just as good.

Cat Challenger MT865C Hits

  • Massive traction
  • Stairway into cabin
  • Cat c18 acert engine
  • Great cabin layout
  • Minimal instruction required to operate

Cat Challenger MT865C Misses

  • Over responsive steering at low speed
  • Ground scuffing

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Cat Challenger MT865C specifications             

MAKE/MODEL: Challenger MT865C crawler tractor


Make: Cat C18 ACERT

hp/kW: 525/391

Capacity: 18.1 litres

Cylinders: 6


Type: Cat powershift with power management

Gears: 16 forward / 4 reverse    

Speed range: 0-39.6km/h            


Type: Extreme application belts

Size: 18, 30, 36 inches (457, 762, 914mm)


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For the full test report, don't miss the upcoming issue of New Farm Machinery magazine, on-sale March 2. Subscribe to the magazine to never miss an issue.

Find Challenger tractors for sale.

Look up Challenger tractor specifications.

9372 Cat Challenger MT865C CATengine The Cat C18 ACERT engine delivers 525hp with built-in torque reserve. 9372 Cat Challenger MT865C CATengine
9373 Cat Challenger MT865C batteries Four 12V batteries are wired in parallel to power the 12V electrical system. 9373 Cat Challenger MT865C batteries
9419 Cat Challenger MT865C fuellingup It’s worth using your shopper dockets when fuelling up at the bowser. 9419 Cat Challenger MT865C fuellingup
9467 Cat Challenger MT865C VicRoads runin Vicroads transport safety services officer Colin Goldsmith provides some valuable information on transporting wide vehicles on public roads. 9467 Cat Challenger MT865C VicRoads runin
9486 Cat Challenger MT865C at work Tom puts the MT865C through its paces In a five hundred acre wheat stubble on the outskirts of Swan Hill. 9486 Cat Challenger MT865C at work
9696 Cat Challenger MT865C tracks Four oscillating, suspended idler wheels mould to the surface of the ground, maximising ground contact while reducing ground pressure and soil compaction. 9696 Cat Challenger MT865C tracks
9776 Cat Challenger MT865C airfilter The air intake and cooling package draw fresh clean air through carefully positioned grills in the bonnet. 9776 Cat Challenger MT865C airfilter
9785 Cat Challenger MT865C cabaccess Challengers stairway means you can walk into the cab rather than having to climb in. 9785 Cat Challenger MT865C cabaccess
9797 Cat Challenger MT865C trackalteration Track widths can be altered between 2,286mm and 3,251mm by sliding the assembly along the hard bar. 9797 Cat Challenger MT865C trackalteration
9800 Cat Challenger MT865C remotevalves Four sets of remote valves are standard with the option of installing up to six. 9800 Cat Challenger MT865C remotevalves
9803 Cat Challenger MT865C drawbar The standard Category 4 drawbar can swing 32 degrees from the tractor centreline when unpinned. 9803 Cat Challenger MT865C drawbar
9831 Cat Challenger MT865C frontweights Extra weight on the front is equivalent to a mid-size family sedan, with the family on board. 9831 Cat Challenger MT865C frontweights
9842 Cat Challenger MT865C cab Vision, comfort and space. The suspension seat even has a built-in heater. 9842 Cat Challenger MT865C cab

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