Reviewing John Deere’s 5101E Limited tractor

For our third and final look at one of the models in Deere’s new family of tractors this winter, we drop down the horsepower ladder into the utility segment

In the November issue of Grainews we published the results of our first tractor evaluation of this winter with a look at Fendt’s 714 Vario. Then, we turned our focus to John Deere’s mid-range 7R and 6R models in January. This time we finish our three-part look at Deere’s new family of tractors with a review of the popular 5101E Limited, which falls into the utility tractor segment.


The 5101E limited


The 5101E Limited was introduced to the market in August of 2008, debuting with a 4.5-litre (276 CID), four-cylinder Tier II diesel. But last year Deere upgraded that engine to meet Tier III emissions requirements, boosting the compression ratio from 17:1 to 19:1 in the process. With that came a jump in available horsepower.


An original, Tier II version of the tractor was sent to the Nebraska Tractor Test Lab in September of 2007 and managed to deliver 82.81 horsepower on the PTO at rated engine speed. Last spring in a second Nebraska test, an updated 5101E Limited proved tractors with serial numbers above 340000 can now supply 90.42 horsepower. Deere still advertises the engine horsepower rating at 101 — hence the 5101 model number designation. Given the latest Nebraska test results, that may now be something of an understatement.


“To meet Tier 3 requirements, we added a charged air cooler to the existing engine,” says Chris Rhodes, Deere’s marketing manager for 5 Series tractors. “It turns out that this cooler not only enabled us to meet Tier 3 requirements, but it also reduced parasitic loss of PTO power. The result was, by our testing, an increase of 3 horsepower to the PTO. The tests at Nebraska showed an even greater improvement.”


When it comes to fuel economy, the engine’s uprated horsepower output means newer models can drink fuel a little faster than the previous versions — if you’re trying to squeeze all the power you can out of the tractor. Fuel consumption at maximum power at rated engine speed went from 21.27 litres per hour in the 2007 test to 21.81 on the newer Tier III versions. 


But the good news on the fuel-use front is the newer tractors give you a bump in efficiency, with horsepower hours per gallon jumping from 14.74 to 15.69.


Hydraulic flow rate in the newer models has grown a little as well. The initial versions delivered a 59.5 LPM spec at the SCV when tested in Nebraska, while the latest test showed the current models can now produce 63.2. Officially, Deere currently advertises the rate at 60.1, again underselling the tractor’s specs a bit. The overall hydraulic flow available for all tractor systems, according to Deere, is 85.1 LPM. 


Operators will find another pleasant change built into the newer models, this time inside the cab. Sound levels have fallen from 82.4 decibels to 78.4 when tested at no-load in gear B2 (sixth). “There have been some minor updates to the cab that made it quieter,” says Brad Aldridge, product manager for the 5101E. “But there was no overhaul to the design.”


In the cab


The cab comes standard with a single door, but a second, right-hand door is available as an option. 


If you really want to cut down the purchase price, you can now delete the cab entirely. As of a few months ago, the 5101E was made available in an open-station configuration. 


The standard transmission in this model is a 12F/12R partly synchronized gearbox with a power reverser. And with a wheelbase of 85.7 inches (2.178 metres), the 5101E Limited is a small-framed, short-wheelbase tractor, all of which makes it convenient for loader chores. 


The 5101E Limited’s relatively basic features will appeal to the value conscious producer that doesn’t need high-end capabilities in a utility tractor. Base price for an MFWD 5101E Limited with a cab is US$52,815, about the price of a reasonably-equipped, four-wheel drive pickup truck.


Our impressions


So, how does a sample 5101E Limited perform when put to work on the farm? Having access to a 2009 model on our own farm, we had a chance to get a lot of seat time in one and find out first-hand how it performs under a variety of conditions.


The tractor we based our driving impressions on has accumulated just under 600 engine hours and has been put to use in a variety of tasks. Primarily, this 5101E has logged most of its hours cutting hay and baling with a round baler.


PTO power delivery is more than adequate to run a 5 x 6 round baler at 1,800 r.p.m., even when lugging it up a steep hill with a nearly-full bale chamber. In order to adjust ground speed to changing windrow conditions, the partly-synchronized transmission actually accommodates the process pretty well. On-the-go gear changes are possible within ranges, so clutching and gearing up or down makes a passable — and economical — alternative to bumping a power shift lever when baling.


When powering a pull-type swather, the economy PTO feature has proven to be a money saver. In fact when staff at the Nebraska Tractor Test Lab did a comparison, fuel consumption in the test tractor was reduced by 2.34 litres per hour when powering the same PTO load, which was set at 58 horsepower.


That reduced fuel use pays another dividend by extending the number of hours the tractor can stay in the field without refuelling. At 30 gallons (113 litres), overall fuel capacity in the 5101E isn’t exactly generous. We’ve found that less than eight hours in the field working at a high throttle setting can leave the fuel gauge needle very near “E.” 


One disadvantage relating to PTO is the lack of a 1,000 r.p.m. shaft. It isn’t even an option on the 5101E, unlike some competitive models.


When it comes to drawbar pull, the 5101E proved itself to be more capable than expected when we hitched it to a 20-foot deep tillage cultivator. The light weight of the tractor, ballasted only with fluid in the rear wheels meant there was some occasional power hop when the cultivator shovels hit very hard ground. But overall, the tractor handled that load easily.


Spending hours inside the cab with the engine working hard isn’t bad, but it’s far from the quietest operator’s environment we’ve experienced. This tractor is one of the original models, so it doesn’t have the advantage of the quieter cab rating of the newer versions.


With its short wheelbase, the 5101E makes for a nimble loader tractor, which can be pretty manoeuvrable in tight corral spaces. Equipped with a 563 loader, the tractor has been a capable bale handler. But when carrying a heavy weight up front, the short wheelbase means an operator needs to keep the tractor’s speed down for stability. 


The conclusion


Overall, our driving impression of the 5101E Limited is that it’s certainly capable of delivering on the promises made by Deere’s marketing people. But the most impressive feature of the 5101E Limited is that with its US$52,815 price tag it does it on a budget.


Would you like to participate in a future Grainews tractor evaluation? If so, we’d like to hear from you. We’re looking for people willing to share their experiences with various tractor models — either new or used. Email Scott Garvey at the address below to take part. †


Scott Garvey is machinery editor for Grainews. Contact him at [email protected].


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