Over the years, tractors have evolved into a variety of configurations that are far from the traditional two-wheel drive design. The most unique, though, may be the Claas Xerion. These tractors are a little like J. I. Case’s older four-wheel drive, crab-steer designs that go back as far as the model 1200 — but only a little.
It might be more accurate to say the hi-tech Xerions are what the old Case design might have been like if it appeared on a Star Trek episode. Even the name sounds trekkie; Clingon, Xerion, Romulan. It fits, doesn’t it?
Seriously though, the Xerions are impressive machines. To really appreciate them, you have to understand what a Xerion is and how it’s engineered.
There are two Xerions, so far: Model 3300 with 330 horsepower and Model 3800 with 359 hp. And there are three versions of both models: the Trac, which is the basic machine, the Trac VC, which has a 180-degree reversible cab, and the Saddle Trac with the cab at front so it can carry a payload like a truck.
Both models have an 8.8-litre, C-9 Caterpillar engine, which is a little surprising given the tractor was born and bred in Germany. You might expect a Deutz or Mercedes power plant.
Having a Cat under the hood, though, is a real bonus as far as Ludze Holtrop is concerned. The producer and custom operator from Lacombe, Alta., added a 3300 to his tractor fleet. “That’s a plus,” he says about the engine. “There’s a Cat dealer around nearly every corner.”
Holtrop says in the past some European-brand tractors he’s owned have left him scrambling to find engine parts in some areas of the Prairies as he travels around doing custom work. That’s not a problem with the Xerion.
These equal-wheeled tractors have a rigid frame with standard front and rear three-point hitches. Lift capacity on the front linkage is 8,200 kg, and a whopping 11,700 kg on the rear. On top of that, the tractor is capable of carrying an impressive 18,000 kg load at maximum speed, which is 50 km/h.
That high-speed capability was another feature that Holtrop liked. His custom silaging business requires a lot of road travel. He says fast travel speeds allow him to move between jobs without loading the tractor onto a trailer. And the Xerion doesn’t guzzle fuel during transport. “Fuel consumption is very low when you’re going down the road,” he says.
Ted Davies echoes those sentiments. “The engine is extremely fuel efficient,” says the producer and custom operator from Lloydminster, Sask.
That’s partly because the Xerions achieve maximum road travel speed at only 1,800 engine RPM on the 3300 and 1,700 on the 3800. Those speeds are delivered through the standard ZF Eccom 3.5 continuously variable transmission (CVT), which allows for a full range of speeds in both directions. When combined with the reversible cab, the tractor can work equally well forward or backward.
Xerion’s CVT has four operating modes. It can function like the automatic transmission in a car. All the operator has to do is apply throttle. The transmission can be set to maintain constant ground or engine speed. And it also has as an ordinary manual mode.
6 STEERING MODES
Xerion has six steering modes, which allow the wheels on both axles to steer separately or together in different arrangements. For example, the tractor can be made to drive in a straight line with the front and rear wheel tracks offset.
That offset steering option is a great advantage for packing a silage pit, says Davies. “You can crab the whole machine so you’re leaving four tracks. You’re covering twice as much ground and pack it all evenly,” he says. And he adds the tractor’s ability to be heavily ballasted adds to its efficiency for this job. The Xerions’ net weight is 10,200 kg, but they can be ballasted to a maximum of 33,000 kg, well above a typical tractor’s weight in this, or any, horsepower range.
When it comes to hydraulics, the Xerions offer some unique options here, as well. Two separate hydraulic systems are standard. One operates the steering and braking functions, while the second handles the three-point linkages and remotes. Xerions can be ordered with up to five rear and four front remotes, and their individual flow rates can be controlled through the tractor’s CEBIS control system.
Each separate hydraulic system is capable of a 190 litre-per-minute (LPM) flow rate. And if that isn’t enough, an optional third system is available with a 235 LPM flow rate for special duty applications, like handling liquid manure pumps on heavy-duty spreaders.
Behind the cab, there are two hitches: a standard rear drawbar and a deck-mounted 110 mm (4.3 inch) ball, which is rated for a 15-tonne tongue load. To handle heavy trailing loads at relatively high speeds, Xerions can be ordered with hydraulic or air brake hook ups for trailers.
Xerions are available with radial tire sizes up 900/50 R42, eliminating the need for dual wheels while still maintaining low ground compaction rates. And an optional, automated tire pressure regulating system is available, which is controlled by the CEBIS system. Those tires can spin the Xerions around in a tight, six-metre (20-foot) turning radius
Inside the cab, a single, multifunction control lever handles up to 16 operations at once, and the single CEBIS screen displays all tractor system data as well as handling the duties for any attached implement compatible with the ISOBUS system. The rotating cab completes a turn in 30 seconds with the push of a single button.
As far as Davies and Holtrop are concerned, their Xerions are really multipurpose machines. “We use it for everything,” says Davies. “It doesn’t sit in the shed as much as the other tractors.” As a result, it accumulates more hours and eliminates the need for other equipment, like a feed truck. With a tow-behind, 800 cubic-foot feed mixer, Davies says he can clear an area of snow with a front-mounted blade and drop a lot of feed in one operation, saving time and fuel.
Both producers have used their Xerions for tillage work, and the tractors have excelled there, too. “The manoeuvrability of that tractor is like a front-wheel assist,” adds Holtrop. He says the versatility of his 3300 means, like Davies’ 3300, it, too, is logging more hours than his other tractors.
But that flexibility comes with a price. According to the sales staff at Kasha Farm Supplies, a Claas dealer in Eckville, Alta., a base 3300 runs about US$350,000. In comparison to that, the largest North American-built rigid-frame tractor, the 8345R John Deere, starts at US$266,784, according to Deere.com.Given the differences in tractor design and available features, though, that may be comparing apples to oranges.
Having heard what they liked about the Xerions, is there anything either Holtrop or Davies don’t like? Holtrop says his drivers complain getting into the cab can be a little awkward. “It’s quite a climb,” he says. “But it’s good exercise.” Aside from that minor comment, both producers are pretty happy with their 3300s.
For a good look at the Xerions, check out www.claasofamerica.comand click on “Hay and Forage.” There is a detailed online brochure available, but reading it will require some patience and head scratching. The translation from German to English wasn’t done particularly well. However if a tractor like the Xerion could improve the efficiency of your operation, stick with it, there’s a lot to learn about them.
Scott Garvey specializes in writing about tractors and farm machinery technology for publications in Canada and Great Britain. He’s also a former affiliate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). He farms near Moosomin, Sask.