The hill we grow our organic edible cactus on is very steep. This makes it a good spot for the cactus as the south-facing hillside means none of the plants are shaded by the others around them. The soil is good for the plants, and the cold air drifts down the hillside and away from the plants. But while this prime location is good for the plants, the steep hillside makes for extreme challenges in maintenance. We needed a vehicle that could get up the hillside safely transporting stone and soil and cactus.
I looked at several Utility vehicles and ATV’s to find one that would work for our particular circumstances. Our uses for a vehicle in this spot are extreme and very focused in intent and use….. we need to have a dump bed-box behind so that I can easily dump loads of rocks, soil or waste cactus without having to dismount on the steep hillside…. we had to have four wheel-drive as two wheels would not have the traction needed on the steep scree slopes. We needed to have Roll-Over Protection System (ROPS, AKA Roll-Bar), for more safety we wanted to have engine braking so that the vehicle is slowed by the engine when coming downhill…., and we wanted durability and longevity (I prefer not having to work on equipment a lot).
I went to a number of websites and read comments about the various brands available…. and while many people extol one brand/model over another, most people agree that the expectations and uses of the unit determine the relative performance in various uses. For instance, if you want to go fast the Polaris, Bobcat, and JohnDeere brands have several models that are greatly favored by hunters and off-road enthusiasts. I also really liked the idea of the all-electric Huntve. Most of these vehicles can reach speeds of 40 MPH, most are gasoline engines with excellent throttle-response and four-wheel drive capabilities. some also offer electric lifts on the bed to dump items. But it seems none of them have all of the things I was looking for….. and with our steep narrow paths, it’s doubtful I’d be going over 5 mph very often….
In the end it is the Kubota RTV 900 that we chose. It does not go fast, it’s slow getting up hills, it is based on tractor technology with a unique hydrostatic transmission that gives the engine-braking that increases my safety greatly on this steep ground. And I can haul a thousand pounds of rock, back it into a small spot and dump it without having to leave the seat when on a narrow terrace.
The Kubota RTV900 also has hydraulic Quick-Disconnects (QD’s) that can be easily opened and a hydraulic-powered tool added in, to run on the hydraulic system…… for me I can see the use of a hydraulic-powered two-person hand-held auger (for drillling into the ground for posts), a pole-chainsaw, and a hydraulic jackhammer being some tools I might occasionally rent for a day or three of use.
There are a few things that one should know about this machine, and some of them are listed on the complaints that others have posted about it…. one is that the transmission is designed to slow and even stop the vehicle when throttle is reduced….. some people complain this will nearly “pitch you out the windshield”… personally, I like that feature…. if I get scared about a steep spot I am in, I can take my foot off the throttle and the vehicle stops. Also when going steeply downhill with 500 lbs of waste cactus I can stay in low-range and not have to keep my foot riding forcefully on the brakes… the engine itself will keep the engine speed low… in fact, I have to keep my foot on the throttle to even continue going downhill for very long. Another great feature of this transmission’s braking feature is the fact that if I decide to stop going downhill and come to a stop, I can then shift into reverse and reverse direction without a heart-stopping slide downhill while applying throttle… the machine will stay in place until I give enough throttle to overcome the engine-braking feature and it will then continue back uphill. The sense of control with this machine is excellent.
Another item often mentioned as a problem is the sticky shifting, and lack of shifting while in motion. Like many tractors this one does not allow shifting while in movement…. you might start in low-range to get out from the shed, then stop and shift into high range to drive to the work-site, then again down into low or medium-range to move around the work-site. No shifting on-the-fly here…. if you’re going off-road into terrain that calls for frequent shifting, you’ll find yourself stymied by the constant stops to shift into another range. If you are travelling with friends with more conventional ATVs and UTVs, you’ll find yourself behind the pack most of the time while the fast responsive machines whiz by on the road, and fly past you on jumps. This machine is not one built for sport… it is built for work. Another shifting issue often mentioned is sticky shifting, especially into low-range and into reverse. I’ve found this is not really a real ‘issue’ once you learn two things…. one, have the wheels facing straight ahead.. this relieves pressure from the system and allows things to unbind better… two, if you cannot shift easily, ‘blip’ the throttle once or twice, this will allow the shifter to engage, even when the wheels are turned. Ive found shifting from 4WD to 2WD or the other is a bit challenging if the wheels are not straight, I often find I have to drive foward (or back) for a dozen feet in order to stop and shift into/out of 4WD… for some folks this might be a real problem…. but since I automatically shift into 4WD before I need it, it’s not a real issue for me.
Two items I’ve not seen listed as a detraction are the location of the key-switch on the console and the location of the parking brake by the open doorway. The key-switch location and the small cab for my size (6’4” 250 lbs) have resulted in my left knee turning off the engine several times when turning in my seat to look behind me as I back into narrow steep spaces….. and at times I am leaving the cab on a steep slope downhill on the left…. I have to take extra care that I do not accidentally smack myself against the parking brake which is located alongside the doorway opening on the left…. I’d hate to accidentally disengage the brake while dismounting. I am sure the engine braking on the shut-off engine would help prevent a runaway vehicle…. but as I grow more comfortable with it, I’ll be testing the safety on slopes in various modes of operation.
Again, any vehicle, is designed to perform certain functions, and some functions cannot be retained in order to more narrowly focus use. I agree that most people might well be better-off with one of the other UTV vehicles….. but for us the Kubota RTV900 fits our uses better than anything else I’ve seen or driven. I’m VERY happy with our machine and have been using it nearly daily hauling much heavy dirt, rocks and waste cactus. It’s been stable with a low center-of-gravity, a tractor-y low-end torque which feels very strong, and the handling is similar when filled with 750 lbs of rocks as when the large and strong bed is empty.
Another factor in our choice was our satisfaction with our old Kubota tractor we got nearly 20 years ago from a contractor friend who wanted a newer stronger model Kubota. So this old machine had a lot of use before we got it, and it still runs fine. So I like the experience I have had with Kubota in the past.
The video above is a Kubota video that shows what I consider to be the best aspect of this vehicle.. the engine braking transmission and the 900 cc diesel engine. Keep in mind the video is a commercial by Kubota… so I find it amusing to watch the overacting of one fellow driving the John Deere Gator.
The video below is from the Polaris company… they are comparing one of their machines to the Kubota RTV900.
Like the Kubota com-video, this one extoles the virtues of their machine in ways that refelct positively on their product. Yet I cannot disagree with anything they say…. the Kubota has no real storage area in the cab (but I’m not likely to be far from anything I need), no tie-downs in the bed (which I’d just bang up with rocks), little cab-room (but longer would reduce my turning radius), lower wheelbase (and perhaps lower COG?), runs on diesel (but I’m happier with the low-end torque of a diesel), smaller fuel tank (but diesel gives you more hours of operation per gallon), and the Kubota is not nearly as good at higher speeds, or extremely boulder-y terrain.
In short, if you are going to go off-roading, away from home, hunting, or wanting to take jumps, mudholes etc, you are better off with the Polaris or John Deere. The Kubota is heavy, massive and strong and built for slow steady work, not sport.