With a brand new control concept offering for its high-spec Direct and Versu models, is Valtra’s fourth generation tractor series now the complete package? James Rickard finds out.
Since Valtra’s T4 Series tractor range was launched in 2014, and subsequently its N4 Series in 2015, we always thought there was something missing with the new look fourth-generation tractors.
Though we were more than impressed with the complete overhaul of the T Series, we felt the Finish firm had not gone far enough with the controls, particularly for the top-spec Versu and Direct variants.
Valtra’s controls have always been a little bit quirky, and the only slightly updated controls as shown in 2014 did not do much for ‘moving the job on.’ Fast forward to 2017 and the company answered its critics with the introduction of the SmartTouch control concept.
It essentially takes over from the previous set of controls used for Valtra’s Versu- and Direct-spec tractors, available now from the N134 upwards. This now compliments the lower-spec armrest controls as found on Active-spec models and the fender controls as used on the entry level HiTech machines.
To see what the new controls are capable of, we tried out a T234 Direct (see spec panel). Taxing SmartTouch’s brain and setup flexibility, we hitched a set of Vicon’s latest IsoBus-compatible triple mowers to the tractor, providing an evaluation of both tractor and mower setup, and both tractor and mower control.
As what is now an almost industry standard on high-spec tractors, SmartTouch comprises an armrest, onto which is incorporated a main multifunction control lever for all primary controls, a secondary joystick taking care of various assignable functions, a touch screen terminal for all set-up and monitoring. Buttons and switches, such as diff, 4WD and engine memory, are neatly recessed into the armrest, with frequently used buttons raised ever so slightly for quick location.
The armrest is almost minimalist in appearance with virtually zero clutter. Unlike the old control concept, SmartTouch is a lot more modern with no hidden switches to go hunting for. And unlike several other makes of tractors which muddle their consoles with buttons and switches to set and adjust the tractor, then duplicate the same set of functions onscreen, Valtra has gone in almost the opposite direction with most tractor setup done through the screen. Some would argue this way is more complicated, but as we found, the usability of SmartTouch means you do not miss any physical adjustment of functions.
Compared to Valtra’s old screen, which only looked after tractor functions, the new touch screen is a quantum leap away, both in terms of capability and ease of use. To view tractor functions, the screen is split up into four tiles, which can show virtually any piece of information you wish. These can be expanded to show a single function on screen, but it would also be good if there was a split screen option.
Brightness can also be adjusted and day and night modes can be switched between. However, it could do with a boost in anti-glare properties.
Featuring a new touch screen terminal, much of the tractors’ functions can be setup through the terminal. With the ability to handle automatic steering, IsoBus and section control functions (variable rate to come in 2019), the screen features a lot more functionality compared to its predecessor. This means you do not need a second screen, though you can specify the firm’s C1000 screen for IsoBus functions if you wish, with a second SmartTouch screen available in 2019.
Greeting you on the home screen is an eye catching 3D image of the tractor, overlaid with icons of key tractor functions. A front quarter image of the tractor features icons relating to all the adjustable elements you would find at the front of the tractor; front linkage and pto, front hydraulic services, engine and transmission management, joystick and lever configuration, and guidance, for example. Swipe the tractor image left or right and it rotates to reveal an image of the rear of the tractor, again with relevant features to adjust such as rear linkage and spools.
For us, the requirement to get the mower to ‘talk’ to the tractor gave us a good insight of what the tractor was like to setup, what the mower was like to control via IsoBus, and how the guidance and headland management systems fared. All aspects scored well thanks to simple and obvious navigation of the screen. It literally is a case of seeing an icon, hit it and adjust it.
Still to come, you will be able to assign IsoBus functions to any of the tractor’s three multifunction ‘M’ buttons, which are currently reserved only for tractor functions. To get around this, and rather than control the mower using onscreen buttons, we used Vicon’s IsoBus compatible joystick, simply plugged into the tractor.
A good chunk of the main control lever’s workload is taken up with transmission control. Whether this be in one of the firm’s Versu (powershift), or its Direct (CVT) tractors, the control philosophy is the same; push the lever forwards and it goes faster, pull it backwards and it goes slower. When reversing, this control method logically works in the same direction of travel.
The lever has a good feel to it with a decent amount of resistance. This prevents any accidental nudges, but is fluid enough to give good proportional control. Similar to its Fendt cousin, cruise speeds can be activated by nudging the lever to the right. But unlike its Bavarian brethren, you do not need to go through the screen to set a cruise speed, just shove the lever to the right and hold briefly. Likewise, a scroll wheel on the lever avoids a trip through the screen to tweak the cruise speed.
As well as lever, the accelerator pedal can be used for speed control, with no need to manually switch between the two. In addition, the tractor can be driven fully manually whereby you look after the revs and the transmission, or in automatic with the tractor decides the ideal revs and ratios to attain the desired forward speed. The latter is ideal for most scenarios, but you do have to put the tractor into manual for pto work, to maintain a constant rpm. This would be good if it happened automatically, with no need to switch. Also, pedal mode does not work in manual mode, which is a bit of a dropped ball.
You could argue that the new SmartTouch control concept is a case of Valtra catching up to the rest of the competition. However, we think Valtra has surpassed any sort of industry standard to create what is possibly one of the best control interfaces on the market.
It is easy to navigate and use and is loaded with a wealth of features and functions. However, it does face some stiff competition. John Deere has always been a dab hand at producing a good screen, and new developments from the likes of Claas with its touch screen Cebis will give it a run for its money.
If we had a slight niggle with SmartTouch, then the option of a larger screen might be useful for some users, particularly those wanting to view multiple applications on one screen, though there are options of second screens.
2021 marks the 70th anniversary for Valtra.
Your working machine since 1951, Valtra tractors are now on their 5th generation, and we are already thinking forward. Milestones are of course celebrated, but the work is never done. Whatever the future brings, our machines are built to work and built to last. They are built for you.
Our award-winning A, N and T Series have undergone a major upgrade into 5th generation versions, packed with improvements to make your life easier. Valtra U-Pilot headland management system boosts precision, and the brand new A-Pillar display puts information right where your need it.
To celebrate Valtra’s 70th anniversary we are taking things to the next level with a limited edition Valtra T Series in a deep, metallic red. The most powerful colour for a journey that spans generations. Only 70 limited edition machines available worldwide – so act fast. Visit our website for more information.