2011 John Deere Gator XUV 825i 4x4 Utility Review
We put the XUV to work
Story by Matthew Elmer, Photography by Matthew Elmer, May. 03, 2011
After spending some time with the new 2011 John Deere XUV 825i, we think some people are going to have to rethink their notions of what a John Deere is.
One of our first jobs was driving an old Gator around a local Golf course. It was stiff, pretty slow, and built for nothing but working. The old adage of “make no assumptions” came to mind soon after I got behind the wheel of the new machine.
The old utility units had this feeling of reliability and confidence but you never felt like pushing them too far performance wise. John Deere has built on this feeling by taking proven Gator dependability and adding the ability to take on some tough terrain – not just rolling grassy hills on a Golf course or park.
This has a triple cylinder 812cc four-stroke gas motor and puts out 50hp, according to John Deere. This amount of power coupled with 47 ft-lbs of torque means the XUV can handle anything you can throw at it – work or play. During our test ride we had a chance to test the Gator in both the off-road and work arenas.
We had an entire weekend of work planned for the XUV which began the minute the unit came off the trailer.
Every fall we go through the oh-so Canadian ritual of splitting firewood for the winter. As we drove the unit into the job-site we noticed the immediate differences over the old Gator. Most notable was the impressive torque and acceleration.
The XUV’s fully independent dual control arm front and rear suspensions allow for 8.0 in. of travel in the front and 8.9 in. in the rear. Running over a series of rocks, fallen logs, and dry creek bed banks really lets the suspension system work as it soaked up the bumps with ease.
This suspension system also allows the unit to sit at a comfortable ground clearance of 11.0 in. Sitting nearly a foot off the ground is perfect for anyone navigating rocky terrain as you avoid damaging your undercarriage. This was a relief as our logging site was a ways back in the bush.
Near the end of our rough trail was a swampy section with about two feet of water (thanks to a wet summer). The air intake on the XUV is up high, mounted just under seat level, which proved more than sufficient when making waves in the swamp.
We put the unit’s true on demand 4WD system to work in the mud and it performed excellently. Other machines have gotten stuck in the mud before but the XUV pulled through and came cleanly out the other side. The floor of the cab is steel with a textured surface to provide grip for the rider’s boots but we found that once it got wet the surface was quite slick and your feet slid around quite a bit. The driver has to find a place for his left foot as well. We found that the floor design left few options for foot placement and sometimes left your toes hanging out the side of the unit.
Once out of the mud we had a couple more trails to traverse before we got to the logs. A couple of high speed corners really gave us a good impression of the unit’s stable cornering abilities, wide body design (61.8 in.), and low center of gravity. Overall the unit performed exceptionally in the corners; at no point did we feel uneasy about a rollover.
When the fun was over it was time for the Gator XUV to show us how well it could work. We backed the unit up next to the log-splitter and started loading it.
The XUV’s bed is constructed of steel and glass filled polyurethane. This makes the bed tough and resistant to minor dings and scratches. The overall weight rating for the cargo bed on the 825i is 1000 lbs. The bed has a truck-style tailgate which features a rudimentary measuring device ruled in inches so you can quickly measure things while working in the field. This came in handy for sure. One of our wood stoves is smaller, only fitting 12- to 14-inch logs, while the other can fit up to 20-inch pieces. Being able to roughly measure meant that none of the wood went to waste and we evenly divided the pile 50/50 for both fireplaces.
The bed can be dumped using two release handles on either side or (as in the case with our test unit) a hydraulic assist dump feature can be activated from the cab. This came in handy when dumping full loads of firewood. In addition to dumping the heavy wood this was an excellent feature which allowed a single operator to haul the wood, dump it without getting out, and get back to the log splitter before we’d gone through too many more logs.
Translating the engine’s power into motion for moving our wood around was the XUV’s CVT (continuously variable transmission) with selectable drive modes. The unit can be operated in high range, low, neutral, and reverse with the selection from a floor-mounted gear shifter. Another automotive-style lever operates the unit’s parking brake.
This had an interesting feature we all liked. If you put the XUV into drive without releasing the parking brake the unit would emit a warning alarm (a loud beeping noise) to let you know that you’re about to drive with the parking brake engaged. We nicknamed it the “anti-idiot” alarm after we heard it several times over the course of the work day.
A couple of times we got to use the Gator’s accessory winch to pull some logs out of the more inaccessible areas. The 3,000 lb. Warn winch is mounted low on the front in the Gator’s integrated winch mount. This let us drag some heavy logs out of the forest to our work site.
Cutting firewood is a very monotonous job. It get’s mind numbing and boring after a while. Thankfully our test unit came equipped with a cage-style protection plate behind the cab to stop branches and debris from hitting the driver and passenger. This had a second function also; when our wood-throwing arms were getting tired and we took less and less care we started hitting the cage with logs – sometimes when the driver was still in the cab! Thankfully the 2/16 steel plate stopped all of our lumber missiles. This plate is not solid, of course, and still allows the driver to look back through it and navigate the unit.
In an effort to start hauling more wood we decided to put the bed’s tie-down points to work. Using a bungee-cord net let us put larger loads in the back without the fear of losing pieces on the trips from jobsite to the woodshed. Rails running down either side of the bed make hooking and unhooking simple, but there are also four tie-down loops in the bottom of the bed. These were great for moving around our chainsaws, fuel, and other hand tools we needed during the day.
Those same sidewalls can be removed from the bed easily as well. This creates a flatbed on the back of the XUV which would be great for hauling larger items – we never got around to testing this as we were focused on making sure our heat source for the winter was all taken care of.
As we started to lose daylight we hitched up our trailer to the XUV to start moving more wood per trip. The convenient two inch hitch receiver made doing this a breeze and the 1,500 lb. towing capacity let us move a combined mass of over 2,400 lbs. That’s a lot of wood! With the trailer and bed fully loaded the Gator still handled quite well. The strong motor made light work of all the extra weight and hardly seemed to struggle with the full load.
As the sun began to set we had no real worries about losing the light. Our test unit came equipped with Warn floodlights on the front end and, in addition to the dual 37 watt halogen headlights, provided plenty of light to work in the dark.
Building on a tradition of utility and function John Deere has taken an excellent step forward into the sport and utility market. This vehicle really is ready to work or play. What are you in the mood to do?