Review: Claas Axion 870 tractor

By: Brent Lilley, Photography by: Justin Bennett

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New Zealand's Brent Lilley went to see a Claas Axion 870 in operation mowing some early silage

The Claas 870 was well balanced with the mowers
The Claas 870 was well balanced with the mowers

On a recent South Island road trip, I caught up with the busy team at Carrfields Contracting. Based in Ashburton, the long-established business (dating back to the early 1970s) offers an impressively full range of services to farmers across the Canterbury region. Although, early on, the business specialised in hay and straw baling, these days the team is widely regarded as experts in all things relating to sourcing and providing new feed preservation techniques and machinery.

CLAAS MOWERS

While in the past Carrfields have run a set of Claas 9200 triple mowers on a Claas 850 tractor, they felt it was slightly underpowered for the task, so purchased a new Claas Axion 870, which at a max 295 horsepower (220kW) should be just the machine for the job.

This is the first 870 they have added to their constantly growing fleet of Claas machines, and while it’s lined up to run their triple mowers initially, later in the season may see it on a baler or a large chaser bin; hence the need for a high horsepower all-rounder.  

When I arrived, the tractor in question was getting its final check-over at Claas Harvest Centre in Ashburton – a perfect opportunity to see it close up, with salesman Adam Clement more than happy to point out the finer details. Once farewelled from the yard, Carrfields operations manager Gerald McKerchar was heading up to Mount Somers to mow some early silage, so we tagged along to see just how the big Claas would perform out on the job.

Claas Axion 870 6.7L FPT engine with 295hp
Under the bonnet, a 6.7L FPT engine has been tuned to put out a max 295hp

ENGINE

Claas has been using Fiat Powertrain Technologies (FPT) engines in its larger tractors for a while now, which has proven to be a great match. Tucked away under the large single-piece bonnet is the 6.7-litre six-cylinder variant, which is found across the entire 800 range. This has become extremely popular and is now found in several other manufacturers’ ranges, too, proving to be powerful and exceptionally reliable.

A point of difference is the Claas Power Systems (CPS) system, which has been developed in-house to match the engine to the tractor, ensuring maximum output and efficiency. This system manages to squeeze the max 295hp out of the engine when required. Also worth a mention is the variable geometry turbo, which adjusts intake air pressure to suit the load, maximising available torque across the rpm range. A variable speed fan on the large cooling pack at the front sees the fan speed change with the cooling demand, maximising power and minimising fuel consumption.

The emissions target of Tier Four final has now become the standard for European engines and Claas has met this using a diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC) and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) AdBlue. This is relatively simple compared to some other systems, with the tractor said to have low AdBlue usage, which helps minimise the amount of fills for the more than adequate 42-litre tank. The diesel tank sits at a generous 455 litres that can easily get you through a long shift. Servicing intervals are pushed out to 600 hours on this machine, helping minimise downtime, and 1,200 hours for the transmission.   

The engine runs smoothly and performed well under load, with the grass being mown thick and sappy, although not overly tall. The conditioners on the mowers were all the way in; we were cutting a nine-metre swath and managing forwards speeds of up to 15km/hr. In a heavier patch or on a hill, you could certainly hear the tractor working, with the transmission slowing it down to maintain the power take-off (PTO) rpm.  

TRASMISSION

In my opinion, when it comes to mowing, a variable transmission is the ultimate. The Claas Axion 870 uses a ZF built Terramatic, dubbed the CMatic. Once again, this is a well-proven and reliable component frequently used by Claas and others. The standout for this transmission is that although it’s completely variable with a range from 0 to 50km/hr, there are actually four mechanical ranges automatically changed through with a series of multi-plate clutches. This results in minimal power losses, efficiency and low fuel consumption associated with a full mechanical transmission, all in a fully variable transmission.

The transmission has a choice of three modes to suit the job at hand. It can either be controlled via foot pedal, the CMotion controller on the right armrest, or from a manual mode where the operator chooses the engine rpm and speed. On the day we were mowing, we used the CMotion controller, which gives great control of everything happening. Simply nudge it forward to cover the acres when the conditions allow, then easily slow up on the headlands. Another great feature is the fact the operator can set the engine droop on the Cebis screen, giving the ability to set the minimum engine rpm the tractor will drop to before transmission speed is slowed to maintain rpm. This is handy for fine-tuning the task at hand to maximise productivity.

Hydraulic output sits at 150L/min, more than adequate in most situations
Hydraulic output sits at 150L/min, more than adequate in most situations

HYDRAULICS AND PTO

An upgraded hydraulic pump puts out a respectable 150 litres per minute. There is an option for up to five sets of remotes at the rear and two at the front. These are all electronically controlled and fully customisable on the Cebis screen, including the ability to assign any remote to any buttons (including the rear mudguard buttons). The rear linkage has whopping 10-tonne lift capacity, which is ideal for ploughs and other large cultivation gear. The front linkage can handle almost six tonnes, so the front mower presents no problems.

The rear PTO has a choice of four speeds: 540 and 1000 with Eco in both, covering all bases. The front PTO offers just a single speed, which is pretty standard, although, I have seen others offering a two-speed front PTO on a tractor this size. 

OPERATOR’S ENVIRONMENT

The four-pillar cab and wide door offer great access when climbing up the steps. Once in the cab, visibility is good in all directions from a comfortable operator’s seat. While it’s not the largest cab for a tractor of this size, it’s more than adequate. When the tractor and mowers were running at full noise, it’s noticeable how quiet the cab is – a feature to be appreciated when you’re driving all day. Large double wide-angled mirrors are electronically adjustable from the cab. These help with visibility and proved ideal for this job, allowing you to keep an eye on both the front and rear mowers on each side in the lower mirrors.

Admittedly, I had a flight to catch so wasn’t sticking around until dark, but there’s an impressive LED lighting package. With six work lights across the top of the cab (both front and rear) and four headlights at the front, these can easily be blocked with implements such as the mower on the front linkage. Fortunately, Claas has thought about this and included two sets of additional headlights half way up each of the front cab pillars.

The ride is really smooth when operating. A couple of key features contribute to this: firstly, four-point mechanical suspension on the cab and secondly, the ProActiv front suspension. With 85mm of travel in the front axle, this automatically adapts to maintain a central position, offering a great ride even with heavy implements such as a mower on the front linkage.

Controls are well laid out with a large Cebis screen. Highlight is the CMotion controller

CONTROLS

Controls are relatively well laid out and mostly found on the right armrest console as you would expect. Those who have spent time in a Claas will immediately feel at home with familiar colour-coding: yellow for the PTO, orange for the engine and toggle switches and an electronic joystick for the hydraulics (all customisable). One slight let down for me is the fact the PTO speed select buttons still haven’t made it to the Cebis screen and are found on the rear right pillar.

Central on the armrest is the CMotion controller. This is the primary control for the transmission and is also home to buttons for the linkage, engine rpm, cruise control and autosteer. It’s nice to see a direction change button, which allows easy direction change with the right hand or with the left-hand shuttle.

For me, the standout on the CMotion controller is definitely the 11 programmable function keys. You can essentially assign almost anything to these keys: linkage, hydraulics, headland sequences, or even any ISOBUS functions. When mowing, we had them set to control the raise and lower of the mowers together or individually through the S10 ISOBUS monitor running the mowers. This offered nice customisable control.

The improved 12-inch (30cm) colour Cebis touchscreen is well-positioned at the front of the armrest. This screen allows the operator to customise most of the functionality of the tractor and also displays a wealth of information. There are road mode and field mode home screens displaying the relevant information required. Although a touchscreen, Claas has also kept the scroll dial and select buttons on the armrest, which can navigate through the pages on the screen; this is great if you’ve got dirty hands.

As mentioned, there was also a Claas S10 ISOBUS terminal running the GPS guidance and the mowers. This gives great control all from one screen. With a split-screen view as well as the ability to handle four camera inputs, it provides all the functionality that you would expect with a GPS receiver and ISOBUS monitor.

Developed in-house, the Claas Power Systems system ensures maximum output and efficiency
Developed in-house, the Claas Power Systems system ensures maximum output and efficiency

VERDICT

This tractor fits perfectly into a new emerging tractor class: that of higher horsepower while still relatively light and nimble. This new all-rounder was perfect for the task at hand, mowing with enough horsepower to run the triples and also nimble enough for efficient headland turns. When mowing duties have finished, the Claas Axion 870 is agile enough to handle any tasks the Carrfields team have lined up for it. With a few exciting new options to choose from, with most manufacturers releasing higher horsepower yet relatively compact tractors, I’m sure price, brand preference and dealer back-up will ultimately help make the decision, making the Claas Axion 870 well worth a look in my opinion as a great all-round package.

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