March 9, 2011

5 Min Read

The ads are everywhere. John Deere touts its Gator 825i as being the fastest and most powerful Gator yet.

I tested the new crossover utility vehicle on my beef feedlot, cow/calf and grain farm, located on the border between Minnesota and South Dakota, last fall. We used the Gator for a variety of jobs — from basic transportation and cattle roundup to fixing and fencing.

This machine really catches the eye with its all-aluminum John Deere yellow wheels with polished aluminum accents. The machine I tested had the green and yellow color scheme and a bench seat. 



When my dealer drove the Gator off the delivery trailer, its new 50-hp, 3-cyl. electronically fuel-injected motor made it sound as if it were a race car. With dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, the motor is probably the most advertised part of the machine.

The motor is very snappy and sounds pretty cool. Watching the rpm display on the digital gauge display tells me that at 20 to 25 mph this engine is running somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,800 to 4,800 rpm. At the top published speed of 44 mph, the motor runs just shy of 6,000 rpm. 

I was able to use the machine all day without having to refill the 5.3-gal. fuel tank, which is easily accessible, located directly under the driver’s seat with an easy-to-read gauge on the tank.

The Gator is well built with a full metal covering on the underside of the machine. This was important to me because I did a lot of travel in the cornfields driving over corn stalks. I also used it to put up fence to graze the cattle in the cornfields after harvesting. It seemed to straddle the 30-in. corn rows well; it could be used when spraying fence lines without running down the corn.

Because it is well built, the ride is extremely smooth. I believe it rides even better than a pickup truck would through the field. The Gator handles well, but if there ever was a place for power steering, this would be it. In fact, John Deere reports it will release power steering models in the coming year.

Steering wheel, brake, cargo box

My biggest complaint would have to be that I did not like the position of the steering wheel. It was too low; it felt like it was in my lap. It made it difficult to enter and exit the driver’s seat, especially because I have long legs. My suggestion would be a tilt/telescope arrangement or a different design. 

I did like the bench seat, but the parking brake and the shift levers were still located in the middle on the floor, which made it difficult to enter on the passenger side and slide over to the driver’s side or to have three people ride on the seat. The parking brake was a bit tricky to use. It needed to be fully engaged to hold the machine, and then once it was engaged fully, it was difficult to disengage. The brake lever would also pinch my fingers if the shifter was in low gear and the brake was in the disengaged position. The location of the shifting consol made it convenient to shift between high and reverse.

The cargo box was nice. It was sturdy and had many places to tie things down. It also had good capacity with a rated carrying capacity of 1,400 lbs. This particular machine had a bed mat in the bottom of the box, which helped to keep things from sliding around, and also a removable and adjustable plastic organizer. I liked the organizer for keeping hammers, wrenches and nails from being strewn about the box.

There is an air intake under the driver’s-side seat that has a foam insert in it. This I believe was an air intake for the clutch, and the foam filter was generally dirty and would get sucked halfway down the ducting.

Maintenance, ease of use

The suspension has grease zerks on it, which is a good thing. The oil filter is a spin on type, but a shield has to be removed from the underside to get to it. The crankcase dipstick is easily accessible under the box.

This machine was equipped with a winch. I have never had a winch, but this came in very handy when stretching wire for fence installation. Since it had a winch, it also had additional lighting. That was nice at harvest for nighttime repairs, and there were more options for lighting. I think this additional lighting would be nice at calving time. All the lighting controls are easily accessible and conveniently located on the dash of the Gator. The 4-wd switch also is located on the dash. I only used it one time, but that one time I really needed it. All I had to do was flip the switch and I was able to crawl out of the situation I had encountered.

The Gator is in need of some type of downhill braking, as it tends to freewheel when going down a hill if your foot is off the gas pedal. Another consideration would be to have a transmission option that would let you be able to tow the vehicle behind a tractor to use as your ride home once you were in the field. With the carrying capacity and travel speed, it has the ability to be a mini service vehicle. It also is small enough to fit into a fifth-wheel-type livestock trailer to take with when rounding up cattle.

Overall, I had a good experience with the 825i John Deere Gator and found it interesting to compare it to the competitive model that I already own. My final thought: With a list price of around $11,199, one has to consider if the handiness and agility of this machine makes it a better buy than a used pickup truck.

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