2018 John Deere Gator XUV835 and XUV865 Review: First Drive

Geof Fowler
by Geof Fowler
The new 2018 John Deere Gator XUV and HPX lineup was introduced at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill. and we had a chance to test out the new machines.

John Deere sent us a low-key invitation to see and drive its new 2018 John Deere Gator XUV and HPX models at the Farm Progress Show, an event I was covering for sister site Tractor.com. I wasn’t expecting much beyond some new colors, but I was very wrong.

The event began an hour before the showgrounds opened. Judging from the media present, there were a lot of others thinking ho-hum and let’s sleep in. Mark Davey, marketing manager, opened a PowerPoint presentation beginning with the full size 2018 John Deere Gatopr XUV835 and XUV865. The 835 is powered by a 54 hp gasoline engine and has a top speed of 45+ mph. The 865 is powered by a 23 hp diesel engine and has a top speed of 30 mph. Three trim levels are offered: E, M and R.

2018 John Deere Gator XUV835M Camo

E trim XUVs are open station-only and have a tilt wheel, shifter on dash, 15 gallons of under seat storage, adjustable driver seat, 1500-pound payload rating and 2000-pound tow capacity. M trim XUVs add color choices of green and yellow, olive, camouflage and black, power steering, winch-ready wiring (saves four hours of install time), fully opening front window, and factory HVAC option. R trim XUVs are the deluxe offering adding a quiet, insulated cab (no open station), deluxe headliner for better insulation, premium cloth seats, three-wide seating, full HVAC system including heat, defrost and air-conditioning, LED headlamps, and plug and play wiring for adding rear lights.

The 2018 John Deere Gator HPX615E and HPX815E have updated styling and are designed for more heavy-duty applications, with the 615 powered by a gasoline engine and the 815 a diesel. Both are heavier and come with a 16.3-cubic-foot cargo box that has removable sides, pickup truck-like tailgate with one-hand operation, 20 integrated tie-downs, and can easily transition to a flatbed configuration. Cargo capacity is 1,000 lbs, towing capacity is 1,300 lbs, and payload is 1,400 lbs. Ground clearance is 6.0 inches and 4WD is standard. Top speed is 25 mph.

2018 John Deere Gator HPX615E

After the PowerPoint presentation, we headed to a test track to see how the new 2018 John Deere Gator XUVs compared against the previous generation 825i and 855d Gators, which were also on hand. The test track encompassed an acre or so and included a tight 180-degree turn at the paddock that had to be taken wide (A) to avoid having to reverse and reposition, a stretch between rock piles that allowed close to max speed (B), and a second shorter stretch (C) where heavy braking came into play. The rest of the track had plenty of deep ruts, usually not square to travel, rock piles, esses, jogs, and hairpin turns.

2018 John Deere Gator XUV Test Track

We started off with a gasoline-powered 2018 John Deere Gator XUV835, immediately appreciating the changes to the operator cockpit. The adjustable driver’s seat had plenty of travel and along with the tilt steering made for a nice, customizable cockpit. The seat back was fixed, but comfortable, although odds are the next itineration will have a recline/adjustment. The relocation of the shifter to the dash was a big improvement over the floor location of the 825i/855d, which was also necessary to go to three-wide seating. The floor ratcheting parking brake now is a ratcheting pedal with a release just below the steering wheel. A safety feature Davey mentioned in his presentation also got notice – the addition of a small aluminum raised feature that prevents the middle passenger from inadvertently stepping on the gas pedal.

Shop for John Deere Gator Accessories

Other features we noted were the windshield that opens fully or can be locked in a cracked-open position, side windows that roll fully down, doors that click shut with automotive quality, cup holders, glove box, and digital dash that even has an automotive-style indicator for an unfastened seat belt. Firing up the 49.6 cubic inch three-cylinder, dual overhead cam engine on a cool midwestern morning was a non-event with the EFI providing instant start and a smooth idle. John Deere rates the engine to deliver 54 hp at 6000 rpm with a torque rating of 47 lb-ft at 3200 rpm.

John Deere Gator Rock Garden

Heading away from the paddock to the tight first turn, the power steering felt communicative though it did require some effort as we flicked the wheel from lock to lock. Hitting the first rock pile while navigating a second turn, everything felt tight as it should. Accelerating out from the 180 and into the second and third rock piles, the CVT transmission keeping the engine at peak torque, the front A-arm suspension with 7.9” of travel and the rear IRS with 9.1” of travel and a sway bar, nicely dampened the shock. At the longest straightaway (B) the digital speedometer briefly touched 40 before having to stand on the brakes as the fourth rock pile neared. Braking was controlled, straight, and with good pedal feel.

2018 John Deere Gator XUV835M

The flea flicker jog and ruts that followed tried the suspension travel, but it was pedal to the metal around the left-hand bender to the largest rock pile on the track where we got a little air time before wrenching it around to the left and the (C) straightaway where we managed 34 mph before having to really stand on the binders, skidding into and over the last rock pile. Then it was through the esses and back to the paddock for subsequent laps.

Getting into a 2018 John Deere Gator XUV865 and exploring the track, the diesel was definitely slower, but with low rpm power reserves that cried for more challenging terrain to explore. In the short test track, we could find no real difference between high and low range, imagining low with the diesel power for only the most ridiculously steep of slopes. Climbing into the previous generation 825i/855d, the ergonomics, though time-period nice, definitely felt dated. The shifter on the floor required effort to access, the parking brake a reach, and the fixed steering angle not nearly as comfortable as angles found on the new generation XUVs.

2018 John Deere Gator XUV865M

After a few laps around the track, with performance similar to that of the new models only with a little less comfort and ease, we returned to the paddock and spent some time with the John Deere product folks who told us that the new 2018 John Deere Gator XUVs utilized the same rear setup and spacing as the previous generation, but added width in the front to accommodate the third seating position. We didn’t get to measure turn radiuses, but the wider front new generation machines seem as nimble as the previous generation machines.

John Deere with the new XUVs join a marketplace that already has three-wide seating, horsepower to 80+, and speeds in excess of 80 mph. But as on its compact and utility tractors, the refinement has come through improved ergonomics – things an owner comes to appreciate over the lifetime of ownership. With availability fall 2017, anyone in the market for an Utlity Side-by-Side looking for refinement and comfort might do well to put the new John Deere models on list to check out.

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Geof Fowler
Geof Fowler

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