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March 26, 2012 by  
Filed under John Deere, Tested


Don’t let images of farm tractors, lawn mowers and construction equipment deceive you. John Deere has packed plenty of trail excitement into its new Gator XUV 825i 4×4. During the press launch last summer, John Deere representatives claim that the XUV (Crossover Utility Vehicle) rivals similar vehicles from the top competing manufacturers of UTVs, and we’d have to agree with that – for the most part. Recently, we put the Gator through the paces, both on the job and out on the trail during two weeks of extensive work-related tasks and off-road testing. How did it stack up, you ask? Well… let’s get right to the heart of the matter.

If you’ve spent any time behind the wheel of a Joyner side-by-side vehicle, such as the Trooper or Renegade, then you might notice a little familiarity the second you turn the key. Like Joyner, John Deere has selected an engine manufactured by Chery International of China. The 812cc inline triple cylinder engine was originally manufactured for use in Chery automobiles, small Chinese-built cars to be exact, and it does have a good track record for “on-road” use. The engine is electronically fuel injected with dual overhead cams, making use of twelve valves – four per cylinder. Deere claims it puts out fifty horses, which matches or beats competing class vehicles – but we also had to take into consideration the Gator’s overall weight, which is also considerably higher than similar vehicles from Deere’s biggest competitors.

The engine purrs with that same sound and unique smell we remember from testing a Joyner Trooper a few years back. It is quiet enough to easily carry on a driver-to-passenger conversation while in motion, even with helmets on. The smell is nothing harmful or bothersome – it’s just different. You can rest assured that the Gator exceeds all EPA standards for exhaust emissions.

The Gator comes with the usual automatic CVT belt driven transmission that most UTV manufacturers make use of. It includes high and low forward selections, reverse and neutral which is located low between the driver and passenger seats. The engine will not fire without the gear selector set in neutral. We would like to see them change that to starting the vehicle with the brake pedal depressed while in gear like a lot of other UTVs.

On the trail, we really like the distribution of power all around. The Gator builds excellent torque levels down low, even with a load in the bed. The 44 mph top speed seemed more than adequate, and the power is strong and constant from idle to top speed without so much as a hiccup from the EFI system.

While we liked the power, we don’t care for the engine braking, or lack thereof. It’s especially noticeable on steep descents, even in 4WD with the transmission in low range. Once the belt drive disengages with the foot off of the accelerator, the Gator freewheels. Even with the dual piston caliper disc brakes, you can really feel the weight of the Gator when pointed downhill. John Deere has informed us that they will address the issue of missing engine braking in the future. We hope to see an update soon.

Selection between a turf friendly drive mode and “on demand 4WD” can be made with the flip of an electrical switch on the dash. The front wheels only engage when the rear wheels begin to slip. We feel the addition of a driver activated front differential lock would allow us to conquer more trail obstacles, but 4WD worked fine for us in most situations. While in 4WD, the rear differential can either be used as a limited slip style system, or with both rear wheels fully locked together. Rear diff lock is engaged/disengaged by pulling a cable activated lever along the cab console.

The Gator’s fully independent front and rear suspensions really tame the small stuff at speed – surprisingly well! We hardly noticed any difference between blasting down wide sand washes and careening over embedded rock trails. It won’t get on top of the whoop-de-doos, but it will roll through them at a good clip, and with very little abuse to the driver/passenger. The standard shocks work well, but you will find the bump stops in a hurry in spirited runs over the big bumps or g-outs — reminding you that it is more utilitarian. We’re glad to hear that a FOX Shox factory installed upgrade is also available, but the standard shocks do work really well.

A wide ratio steering box (at least a little wider than we’d prefer) allows the Gator to track well at any speed, and over any terrain. While John Deere has announced future plans for a power steering option, we hardly noticed any feedback to the steering wheel from rocks and bumps. The Gator also has one of the shortest turning radiuses we’ve ever experienced on any UTV, virtually eliminating the need for the usual three-point U-turn. The only thing we did miss about steering control is the inability to adjust steering wheel placement – no tilt steering. Steering position isn’t uncomfortable, but you’re forced to drive this one like a bus with the wheel angled up and forward.

We mentioned before that the Gator is a little heavier than the competition, but it’s also remarkably stable, especially through corners at speed. The wheels track precisely where we pointed them every time. We never once felt uneasy or vulnerable while on the gas.

John Deere claims the Gator has 11 inches of ground clearance, which should be plenty. There is a healthy steel skid plate protecting all vital parts underneath – very cool! The skid plate works well for sliding over logs; however, we did unexpectedly bounce off of a few rocks here and there. We also got hung up a few times because there wasn’t enough clearance under the rear suspension skid plate.

The dash is laid out really well. We especially like the inclusion of a temperature gauge (rather than an indicator light), although we never noticed any overheating issues. There are multiple switches for lights and at least three power ports that we found. All are powered by a 75-amp generator that can put out a massive 1,012 watts. You could probably run all of your accessories at the same time with this much power!

Our test unit came with a Warn winch, headlights, driving lights and a set of off-road lights. Night time trail rides are a lot more fun with this much lighting, almost as good as daylight!

The cab frame is OSHA ROPS certified, meaning it should stand up to some heavy abuse. Bucket seats are very comfortable for all-day use, but offer little adjustment other than tilting forward. Passenger side leg room leaves a lot to be desired. All of our test riders over 5’ 10” mentioned they bumped their left knee on the dash repeatedly. Passenger hand holds are adequate, but could be placed better for more comfort.

There is more than adequate open and sealed storage for personal items inside the cab and additional storage under the front hood. We especially like John Deere’s unique accessory clamp design for attaching signature products to the cab frame, such as the cargo guard on our test unit. We also appreciate the equipped side protection on the Gator in the front and the back of the unit.

Before we ever hit the trails with the Gator, we put it to work on the Hazlewood Arabian Horse Farm, located in Cave Creek, Arizona. The chore list included unloading multiple 80-pound bags of horse pellets, cleaning stalls and hauling off that which we shoveled. The Gator was up to the task – every task! We never once found ourselves wanting more power, and the Gator handled the extra weight as if it was unaffected.

The 1,400-pound payload capacity was more than plenty, and the bed sides/180-degree tailgate easily convert into a flatbed for large projects – a unique feature that comes in really handy. The Gator will also push and pull trailers up to 1,500 pounds with standard front and rear, 2-inch receiver hitches.

For unloading the bed, a standard Gator comes with hydraulic assist to manually lift the dump box. Our test unit was equipped with an electric power lift, allowing for easy dumping with a switch on the dash. If you plan to use a Gator for heavy work chores, get the power lift.

John Deere has created the ideal, all-purpose vehicle. It plays on the trail as good as any UTV but is built like a truck for the toughest chores. Hardcore John Deere fans won’t be disappointed in trail or work performance, and newcomers to Green and Yellow will find a whole new respect for the brand.



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