It's hard not to find an American, especially in the Midwest, South, or any area with a substantial agricultural industry, that hasn't heard of John Deere. The name is synonymous with rock-solid agricultural equipment. It's a trusted name among farmers, ranchers and land owners that need trusty, reliable equipment. But the company is hoping to branch out beyond its traditional customer base with its latest offering, the totally redesigned Gator XUV line. Although the Gator line itself dates back to 1992, and similar predecessors go back to the mid-1980s, the Gator XUV in its current form dates from 2007, although a case could be made that the Gator HPX laid the groundwork for the current model in 2004.
Work Hard, Play Hard
First and foremost, as a John Deere product, the new Gator had to be functional. To that end, it offers an improved, and best-in-class 16.4 cubic foot bed with 1,000 pound payload capacity and 1,500 pound towing capacity. A power dump bed is optional, and the bed can also be configured to be a flatbed, and offers 20 tie-down points. Although the Gator XUV maintains and improves upon its utilitarian core mission, several features and upgrades were incorporated specifically to make it more appealing to the recreational user.
On-demand four-wheel drive, independent rear suspension, optional factory-installed accessories such as billet rearview mirrors, 14-inch alloy wheels, spray-in bedliner, off-road roof and bumper lights, and a Warn winch are all available to give the Gator a truly custom look. "We do extensive customer research, and have a regular system for customers to provide feedback both directly from our customer loyalty survey and through our dealer channel. This information prompted us to respond with our new features," David Gigandet, tactical marketing manager for Deere's Vehicles Group, said.
Naturally, any recreational users would be interested in power, and in this area as well, the Gator doesn't disappoint. The top-of-the-line 825i model features a 812cc triple with four valves per cylinder and electronic fuel injection, boasting 50 horsepower. This model also has an official top speed of 44 miles per hour.
The diesel model remains the workhorse of the group, built primarily for economy and capability, not for outright speed. Due to EPA regulations, it's limited to 25 horsepower, and can attain a 32 mile per hour top speed. When asked why the diesel model isn't more powerful or performance-oriented, as has been the trend with full-size diesel trucks, the effect of the long arm of federal regulations was explained.
"The desire for higher performance and higher horsepower diesel products is in the marketplace. In this class, the EPA has a max horsepower 25 to stay within the emissions regulations for utility vehicles. To exceed this horsepower level, vehicles would require automotive emissions after-treatments, like a catalytic converter and more advanced exhaust systems," Gigandet said. Company representatives wouldn't completely rule out the possibility of a higher-performance diesel model, but noted that the customer would have to be willing to pay the price premium for the added emissions compliance equipment, which would probably be several thousand dollars over the current model. While there may be faster and more "extreme" models out in the marketplace for purely recreational users, the Gator XUV strikes an impressive balance between utility and recreation, and combined with John Deere's excellent reputation for reliability and durability, will be a compelling choice for many that require capability, but also like to have a little fun.
One of the other models on display at the introduction was the R-Gator. It's essentially a remote-controlled version of the M-Gator, the military-spec version of the Gator. Just out of curiousity, I asked one of the Deere representatives if I could ride along in the passenger seat while in RC mode. They obliged, and I bounced around on the test grounds while someone else was controlling the vehicle under a tent with what essentially amounted to an off-the-shelf video game controller. This seemed uncharacteristically frugal for a government agency that is usually know for its $200 hammers and $600 toilet seats. Deere representatives said that during the testing process, the $20-30 off-the-shelf controllers were just as durable and reliable as official mil-spec models that cost hundreds of dollars.
Of course, the software and hardware that make it all possible are not exactly cheap, and a full-equipped R-Gator runs well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But even here, Deere's characteristic Midwestern frugality and ingenuity comes through in that they integrated many of the GPS solutions used on the company's tractors and agricultural equipment onto the R-Gator, again making it far less expensive than it otherwise would have been if they had started from scratch on the R&D. In addition to being remotely controlled, the R-Gator can also be programmed to automatically run tactical routes on base for deliveries and other duties. Thanks to the multitude of sensors installed, the vehicle will stop if it senses any obstacles in its path.
It was an interesting experience, with all the servo motors and controllers whizzing around me. The funniest and most jarring part was when the gearshift selector physically moved from drive to reverse. The reps wisely cautioned me not to touch the steering wheel or other controls while riding in RC mode. Although the R-Gator is capable of a 32 mile-per-hour top speed, on my ride, the speed never surpassed about 10 mph.