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Long-Term Tractor Test: Fendt Vario 820

It is a well known fact that Fendt tractors carry a hefty price tag. Justification? Inevitably, a major part of the salesman’s argument is the perceived reliability of the German marque, resulting in healthy resale values. But does this argument of standout dependability stack up? To find out we’re back in long-term test mode to see how one owner rates his Vario 820, the current best-selling tractor from the Fendt stable in the UK and Ireland.

The Vario 800 range has been with us since 2003, and over that time it has remained largely unchanged. Among the tweaks were the introduction of TMS in 2005 and then in 2006 the move from a Deutz Stage 2 engine to a Stage 3a motor, when the range also received a modest re-jig. The lower powered models were dropped, leaving the 820 in the sole company of the popular 818. So, apart from these tweaks, it is fair to say that Fendt must feel it got something right from the start; otherwise, surely the firm would have brought about more wholesale 800 design change.

Our host root and arable crop farmer is in a good place to put us in the picture with regards to how the standard 820 model has performed, as he currently operates three Vario 800 series tractors. Back in 2005, a 180 horsepower Vario 818 was the first Fendt in the door when it replaced one of a pair of Deutz-Fahr Agrotron 165s. At this time the host farm was operating a three-year renewal policy, so a new unit turned in the gate every year.

So, why the change in brand? Our farmer had been impressed by the Fendts being operated by a contractor who is called on to help out with potato planting and harvest work. That’s not to say Fendt was the only manufacturer option up for consideration. The farm has also had a flirt with John Deere, running a 6920 model alongside the Agrotrons, which was then replaced with a JD 6930 AutoPowr in 2006. But when it came to chopping in the other Deutz Agrotron in 2007, it was back to the Fendt dealer for another 818.

The test tractor owner points out that the JD 6930 hadn’t quite matched the 818 in the performance and reliability stakes, so the tractor ball was placed back into Fendt’s court for the latest deal. Our test candidate, a Stage 3a-powered (Interim Tier 4) 820 Vario, arrived on the host farm in 2008, replacing the original 818.

The tractor has since clocked up about 3,100 hours. It took over the Deere’s spraying role as well as pulling a big fertiliser spreader, and is by and large operated by the owner. With application work being a major part of the 820’s workload, it spends ten months of the year booted with narrow 420/85 R30 front and 520/85 R42 rear BKT Agri-max tyres. For other jobs, including carting with 17-tonne tandem and 24-tonne triple-axle trailers or cultivating, it gets to wear its wider more general purpose 540/65 R30, 650/65 R42 Goodyear rubber.

Last year the Fendt trio was completed when a second 820 replaced the 6930. The host farmer says that the Deere was proving slightly more expensive to run compared with the Fendts and changing to just one brand made everything interchangeable.

All three Vario 800 tractors have a front linkage and PTO so they can operate a potato topper or any other front-mounted equipment and utilise the same tyres as well. This means that, when there is a problem, one of the other tractors can be quickly hitched up to keep things moving. Each tractor is expected to clock between 800 and 1,200 hours every year completing their share of the work involved with growing 182 hectares of potatoes and 202 hectares of cereals.


Under the bonnet of our test candidate 820 model lies the newer Stage 3a Deutz TCD 2012 L06-4V six-cylinder kicking out 190 horsepower at its rated speed of 2,100 RPM. Unlike many of its competitors there is no power boost feature on the Fendt. But you benefit from some natural growth when engine revs are pulled back to 1,800 r.p.m.; maximum power then climbs to 205 horsepower.

The biggest design difference between this newer motor and its dirtier Stage 2 predecessor was the introduction of exhaust gas recirculation to combat exhaust emissions. Having experienced this and the older Stage 2 power plant in his 818 tractor, our owner says that the latter is a far better lugging engine, adding that sometimes the younger 820 can appear lazy in comparison. Other operators who have driven both generations of tractor feel the same way

Oil drops and servicing are all carried out on farm every 500 hours. The 820 is said to fire up straightaway after a fuel filter change, compared with the 818 that can take a bit of cranking before finally kicking into life. Fuel filters are also thought to be too sensitive compared with other tractors and have been known to quickly clog up before reaching the service interval.

When pulling the 4,400-litre sprayer, complete with its air-filled 24m boom, the 820 tends to use 140 to 150 litres of measured fuel per 12-hour day. Compare this with the farm’s previous John Deere 6930, which would sup 170 to 180 litres over the same period — slightly more than the 6920 it replaced.

Unlike other tractors with exhaust gas recirculation, our owner says that he hasn’t had any particular problems with the EGR valves sooting up.

All three 800 series tractors have had an issue with bonnet clips snapping off. Replacement latches are 17.25 (about CDN$25.80) a pop. The test 820 is also currently working with a cracked manifold, which will need sorting out once the 462 (CDN$693.00) part has been ordered.


The Vario transmission is probably the Fendt trump card and one that rates very highly in the eyes of our host farmer. With suitable land for potatoes spread over a wide geographical area, the top speed of 55 km/h. allows the tractor and sprayer combo to cover a decent patch of ground, while the crawling speeds are ideal for planting and harvesting spuds.

The 800 series tractors drive through the ML160 Vario transmission, which has proved a reliable box in all three tractors. The host farmer points out that his drivers always select the lower of the Vario’s two ranges for field work, even spraying, and he believes this is a key part to ensuring reliability. Brakes come in for criticism, with the owner saying that sometimes the pedal is nearly pushed to the floor before anything happens — with both mounted and trailed equipment. Interestingly, all the farm’s trailers are kitted out with air brakes for the higher transport speed.

One grumble: the 820 has required three new seals in its front axle, which is put down to the 820 having to travel through water-filled ruts when spraying.

ted out with air brakes for the higher transport speed.

One grumble: the 820 has required three new seals in its front axle, which is put down to the 820 having to travel through water-filled ruts when spraying. Focusing for a moment on tractor ride, this particular 820 has pneumatic cabin suspension, which is definitely superior to the previous mechanical damper arrangement, according to the owner. And on the subject of suspension, the 820 permanently carries an 870 kg front weight block, not only to aid traction on some of the steeper ground but to make the front axle suspension work more effectively and give smoother travel.

It is a similar story with the Dromone Engineering ball and spoon drawbar used with the sprayer. Again, the owner says this drawbar setup has made a big difference in terms of a more comfortable ride and additional manoeuvrability from the closer tractor/ sprayer pivot. As there is no massive demand for hydraulic flow, this 820 has the standard 110-litre per minute pump. Sticking hydraulic spool valves have become a recurring problem on the test 820, even when the hoses are coupled up — so it’s clearly not down to dirt. Up until now, this “sticky” issue has manifested itself twice, at 1,700 and 2,900 hours.


Now for what is seen by many operators as the Fendt’s Achilles heel, the cabin. While most controls fall conveniently to hand, the owner feels things could be improved dramatically. More space is high on the user wish list, along with a quieter ventilation system, which is said to be especially noisy when blasting at full bore.

Being a family farm the passenger seat is often in demand, but the owner says the current extra Fendt seat may as well not be there; it’s that bad — especially when he compares it to what was in the Deeres. The air-suspended driver’s seat is said to be comfy enough, considering it’s the standard chair.

TMS is appreciated. With little time for computers, the owner says he regularly had to call on his son to set the tractor up for certain applications, but the advent of TMS makes this task much easier. His son adds that the headland management system is especially useful when planting potatoes, as he can have the 820 set up so that he just has to press two buttons, rather than flicking several, to get turned around and then back into work again. The front linkage is controlled by the armrest joystick spool valve.


Despite a list of niggling faults, some of which have a habit of recurring, our host farmer is happy with the hardware sitting in his yard. He adds that, if things continue to improve with farmgate prices, a possible fourth 800 series could then be added to the fleet.

Tips for other users: our host believes that operating the Vario CVT in the appropriate range is critical in preventing costly damage to the CVT.

On the wish list of improvements is more space in the cramped cab. More positively, the 820’s low fuel consumption is seen as a major benefit in terms of reducing running costs, combined with the key CVT advantage of being able to operate at any travel speed.

So, despite his criticism of the accommodation, our 820 user is more than happy to stick with the current 800 series. That said, he’s looking forward to the arrival of the next generation.



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