The dealer arrived with a brand new, striking looking Gator, to my property where I had organised some high hour pilots on Rhinos and Quads to assess the newcomer on what we describe a grey run. Not extreme but enough to put a bit of fear into the dealer boys. They sent out a couple of salesman and the shop mechanic for what was their first experience outside the dealership with the new model.
First impressions: Very stable, fantastic bed, bugger all storage but plenty of room in that bed especially with the tool-less accessories available. Being a long-term JD fan I am disappointed the Gator didn’t have a screen on the radiator, had the air intakes and clutch exhaust way too low and possessed a non flat floor plan with a very low rear engine skid plate. That fuel tank has got to be too small for such a high revving petrol motor. The group expressed some trepidation with respect to the Chinese engine but all agreed it sounded good.
The instant clutch engagement in both high and low range was a breath of fresh air and the options with diff lock and 4X4, perfect. The only omission, a transmission park which gives peace of mind when you need to disembark in steep country. Starting our first climb of the trail with about 450 lbs payload in the bed, diff lock and 4X4 engaged I experienced fairly severe understeer. With the front\rear weight ratio fairly well biased to the rear with the rear mount motor, payload, all-be-it in the front of the bed and a 4X4 on demand system which may not be pulling the steering tires into the corner this is the nature of the beast.
Ok the first steep descent. Armed with knowledge from the Gator forum we tried keeping the “throttle bubbled up a way”, no throttle at all, more throttle and then less. At the end of the day if you are getting acceptable engine breaking from this clutch the descent is not steep enough. To be fair the rhino’s engine braking on these hills is also underdone and a fair amount of brake pad needs to be burned as well but it is a lot more effective than on the gator and it doesn’t just leave the belt to squeal when it is no longer required. My Bombardier Traxter ATVs can handle this trail and even black runs in first gear, low range with no brakes, so our expectations are high and no they are not CVTs.
The suspension is very good over rocks, perhaps too good as the rear skid plate had a go at pulverizing some of them to dust. We wound the springs to their highest position which improved the performance some but we considered ourselves lightly loaded. (Pilot, passenger and the 450 lbs load). Perhaps we would need to consider the fox shocks option for our conditions.
We came to a 12 inch diameter log on a reasonable climb which, with a bit of skill was traversed easily, however, the next log in a dry creek bed was larger and became lodged in the inevitable trap, the high spot in front of the engine skid plate. This can’t be good design and required some serious winching. I hope and trust that JD have a level skid plate option to address this issue.
The water crossing made us all nervous but I expect adding intake and exhaust snorkels is just one of those necessary jobs before real work starts. Lets face it all brands of UTV need some modification before being ideal for our varying needs.
Overall the gator was appreciated and enjoyed by all comers. One farmer who intends to use it for general rural jobs especially spraying reckons he’ll order one but with the better known Yanmar engine. Most were of the opinion that with a mod that introduced proper engine braking the gator could be their next UTV\ATV