When most people think of John Deere it’s almost certain to be green and yellow equipment rolling across vast swathes of open farmland. That’s the short view. As one of the largest and most respected companies on the planet, the Deere product lines touch on nearly every type of outdoor activity, whether work or recreation. Their GATOR utility vehicles are ready for both. What began as the very work oriented, five wheeled AMT, (for All Materials Transport) has evolved far beyond the end of the field into a very capable performer on both the farm and the trail.
2021 TOP GATOR
Recently we tested Deere’s top-of-the-line Gator, the XUV 835R. This Gator is definitely designed for comfort as much as it is for work. Key details are:
HIGH STRENGTH STEEL FRAME – Designed with fewer bolted joints to prevent squeaks, and higher rigidity. Powder coated for corrosion protection.
3-CYLINDER ENGINE – 54 Hp, liquid cooled and fuel injected gas engine driving a CVT transmission
1500 lbs. PAYLOAD, 2000 lbs. TOWING from 2” RECEIVER HITCHES at both FRONT and REAR.
AUTOMOTIVE STYLE CAB – Excellent styling, comfortable seating for 3, plenty of storage, and full doors with functioning windows
EFFICIENT, QUIET and POWERFUL HVAC SYSTEM. Full air conditioning and heat for year-round comfort.
DUAL A-ARM INDEPENDENT SUSPENSION AT EACH WHEEL with DISC BRAKES
ELECTRONIC POWER STEERING – The perfect amount of feel and steering assist
PREWIRED FOR ACCESSORIES – Pigtails in wiring harness make adding accessories easy.
HEAVY DUTY CARGO BOX – The large, composite box is built for abuse and won’t rust, dent, or rattle like metal boxes. A powered dump option makes it even better!
BODY and CAB
The XUV 835R comes with bodywork designed for abuse. It can take a hit without dents or cracking, and it resists scratches. Body lines flow smoothly from front to back, and driver sight lines over the hood are very good. Front lights are tucked safely inside the bodywork and a recessed winch location is just below. At the rear is a tough, composite storage box with an impact and noise absorbing coating on a steel bottom, removable sides, multiple tie down points, and a tailgate with a trick. Knowing the Gator would be used on every type of project, Deere engineers molded a handy ruler into the tailgate! Great idea! LED tail lights are tucked into the dump bed corners, and the bed can be tilted manually, or with the power dump option. (It’s well worth the money.) As a package, the Gator 835R presents a sleek, yet ready for action look. We like it! It’s the cab where Deere’s mastery of ergonomics really shows.
It doesn’t matter which Deere product you try, whether it’s the operator seat of a combine or the Gator 835R, everything always feels “right”. Deere rightly claims the best in class operator ergonomics, and the entire driver and passenger area presents a very automotive like feel. Control layout is simple to understand with very high-quality switches for lights, the HVAC system, and accessories. Just above the wheel is an EXCELLENT digital display. The numbers are large and easy to read while underway which is extremely important when working at tasks that require precise speeds. The display also offers an assortment of warning indicators for temperature, parking brake engagement, seat belts, battery power, as well as a clock, trip meter, rpm, 4wd, etc. The tilting steering wheel is comfortable, but the perfectly calibrated Electronic Power Steering is its best feature. A shift lever on the dash lets you select gearing, and a ratcheting style foot pedal below provides a parking brake, but it seems a bit out of place on an otherwise very stylish cab. Thankfully, the parking brake also has an alarm with a pitch high enough to make dogs run, and it immediately squeals with a shrill only a mother-in-law could love if you try to drive off with it engaged. We would prefer the Park-In transmission just for ease of operation. We found the standard high-back bench seat to be comfortable, and three-point shoulder and lap belts keep the driver and passenger in place. Down below there is plenty of leg room for both riders, and a center divider helps keep the passenger’s feet out of the pedal area. We also like how the floor feels solid and not flexy. Thankfully, there is plenty of storage in the doors, under and in the dash, and in a huge storage bin under the seats.
The beefy chassis on the 835R is designed for years of abuse, but also casual trail rides on the weekend. Dual A-arms are used at both ends with the front wheels featuring 7.9 inches of travel, and 9.1 inches at the rear. Lightweight yet tough cast aluminum wheels are shod with Maxxis Bighorn tires, and we’ve found them to be good performers in every terrain from rocks to snow. Five-way, preload adjustable shocks do a good job of smoothing out the trail and they can be adjusted for recreation or heavy hauling. A rear sway bar limits body roll and helps the Gator stay flat in turns. The Gator utility vehicles are unique in that many of them feature a 2-inch receiver hitch at BOTH ends. A front hitch comes in very handy when maneuvering wagons or trailers. Below the chassis are steel skid plates for the ultimate in underbody protection.
ENGINE and TRANSMISSION DETAILS
The XUV 835R is powered by a DOHC, liquid cooled, triple cylinder engine, and if that’s not unique enough, it has three valves per cylinder! The engine cranks out a healthy 54hp, with enough torque to tow a wagon and the barn it sits in. This engine and transmission are designed to rev! More on that later. Mated to the engine is a traditional CVT transmission with Low, High, Neutral and Reverse. Access to the engine is excellent when the rear dump box is raised, and there’s a handy dip stick for quick oil checks. On the right side of the engine is the compressor to power the HVAC system. Deere couldn’t get a center mounted driveshaft with this engine package, and the driveshaft begins on the right side, then through a couple U-joints, it finds its way to the vehicle center. We have noticed in previous Gators a “clicking” sound as these U-joints get dry and begin to wear. As a whole, the engine and transmission package isn’t really compact or terribly light, but it works.
Maintenance is part of ownership, and thankfully that’s not difficult on the Gator 835R. A handy engine oil dip stick is right under the cargo box, the air filter is easily accessed on the right side, and the drain plug is center mounted under the chassis, with a hole in the skid plate for easy access. The only trouble area is the spin-on filter location. It’s immediately under the exhaust manifold so you’re not going to want to do oil changes “hot”. Oil filter access isn’t bad, but getting a wrench on it was not easy until we bent the aluminum manifold guard slightly. The oil filter was the same that Deere uses for practically all of their small equipment.
FARM and TRAIL TESTED
You never really know a machine until you live with it. We spent the better part of a spring and summer with the Gator XUV 835R using it for everything from picking rocks in the field, to hauling dirt, and casual trail rides.
We really like the toughness and durability of the 835R. The chassis can handle hard work, and on the trail, there are no annoying squeaks from bolted connections or suspension pivots. Deere calls the 835R a “crossover” class machine, but it definitely draws on previous model Gators hard working heritage.
On the trail or across a rough field, the engine easily pulls the Gator along with authority thanks to enormous torque, although we wish it picked up speed quicker, and with more top end. Shifting between forward and reverse gears is smooth and easy, and the engine pulls steadily to 6000 rpm where it hits the rev limiter. The top speed we could squeeze out of it was 42mph. At top speed it’s extremely stable, with no tendency to wander or do anything crazy, even when crossing steep slopes or hills. A wide footprint and low center of gravity keeps it firmly planted, which is all the more reason this unit could handle speeds in the +55-mph range and still remain stable. The quickest way to make that happen would be to opt for larger tires, and if there were ever a unit that could pull larger tires, this would be it. The stock MAXXIS tires have always been a good choice for traction, but they’re loud on hard surfaces, and they lose their edge rather quickly. We would definitely opt for a larger size aftermarket tire like the Maxxis Carnivore, the Tusk Terrabite, or similar.
Suspension is plush over choppy, rutted terrain, but at times we could feel tire sidewall flex. Turning radius is acceptable, and the electronic power steering feels excellent. Even when using 4WD there was no effect on steering effort at the wheel. Only with the differential lock engaged was there a difference. Getting a load stopped is even more important than getting it moving, and the response from the hydraulic disc brakes is excellent, with good pedal feel, and the brake bias from front to rear is well proportioned.
Inside the cab on the XUV 835R is an experience in trail luxury. The doors fit very well, the seats are comfortable, and the air conditioning system quickly cools the cab interior. When the compressor kicks on you’ll notice a slight change in engine tone, but no noticeable drop in power. Visibility and sight lines over the hood are excellent. About our only issue with the cab is with engine and tire noise. Both are annoying, mostly due to an engine that has to rev high to achieve any speed. Overall, though, the 835R is a very capable performer for both work and play.
NOT ALL HAPPY NEWS – ROOM TO IMPROVE
As much as we like the Gator 835R, there is one area it needs immediate further development, and a couple areas of concern. Let’s get through the tough end of the field first.
This Gator needs clutch work. Badly. While other units in the same category are rolling along at 3500 to 4000 RPM’s, the 835R clutch has barely engaged and it drones on as it slowly picks up speed. Topping out at just over 42 MPH, the engine is revving it’s guts out at 6000 RPMS and the constant drone is enough to drive the operator into a ditch. The problem is the clutch. The calibration is so far off it’s almost unworkable. It’s like driving every competing model in LOW range, and LOW range on this unit is unneeded. Even more annoyingly, when you let off the throttle at the end of the field or a corner, and then get back on the throttle, there is a solid jerk in the back-shifting that rocks your head back. We know it’s the clutch because Kawasaki uses the identical engine in their Mule Pro FX, (with identical load and tow ratings) and the Kaw engine and transmission package runs smoother, much quieter, with far better clutch engagement and calibration. Deere engineers clearly wanted the 835R to be clutched low enough to pull a heavy load, but this clutch needs further development, preferably with a consulting company (like Team Industries) that specialize in CVT systems. It’s like Deere could not get the clutch calibration right, so they attempted to make it up with higher engine RPMs. That failed, and it’s the biggest downfall to an otherwise very good machine. Need more proof? As a simple test, we pitted the 850cc, higher horsepower, feature rich Gator 835R against the smallest displacement UTV we know, the budget model, Taiwanese made 450cc KYMCO UXV 450i, and the Gator still lost in acceleration, top speed, and the less easy to measure “fun factor”. That can’t happen for a machine listing at 3X the price.
A secondary area of concern for us is the seats. Unlike every other UTV, the Gator 835R comes with light colored, cloth seats. We suggest investing in a seat cover before your muddy hunting dog or a buddy in dripping coveralls, fresh off a truck engine rebuild jumps in. You know they both will without a second thought. Darker seats with a washable cover would be our preference.
Finally, we did manage to whack our head with the door when getting in, as did a few passengers. The doors are excellent, but above the handle they sweep towards the rear, and when opening they get closer to your face than your hand. A better design would be a door top that swept forward (like they do on your truck for this reason) to match a redesigned cab opening.
The Gator XUV 835R is very well built with excellent attention to detail and it certainly lives up to Deere’s hard-working heritage. It’s not going to win any races, but if you’re looking for a very comfortable, year-round machine that you can take for a weekend adventure but also work all week it’s worth checking out. And if you are one of those that “bleed green”, this machine will fit nicely between its cousins in your barn.
JOHN DEERE GATOR XUV 835R Specifications
ENGINE 812cc Fuel Injected, Liquid cooled, 3-cylinder, Gas, 54 hp.
TRANSMISSION Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with High, Low, Neutral, Reverse
PARKING BRAKE Park in transmission std. Optional secondary foot operated park pedal.
DRIVE MODES On Demand 2WD / 4WD Dash switch actuated four-wheel drive system with limited slip front differential plus locking rear differential
HILL DESCENT MODE Standard
POWER STEERING Standard
BRAKES Front/Rear Brakes Hydraulic disc with twin piston front calipers.
TIRES – FRONT 25x9-12 Terrahawk AT, or 27x9-R14 Maxxis Bighorn radials on aluminum alloy rims, or Maxxis Bighorn radials on steel rims
TIRES – REAR 25x11-12 Terrahawk AT, or 27x11-R14 Maxxis Bighorn radials on aluminum alloy rims, or Maxxis Bighorn radials on steel rims
SUSPENSION Independent Dual A-arm with adjustable spring preload. Sway bar at rear
TRAVEL Front Suspension - 7.9 in., Rear Suspension Travel 9.1 in.
GROUND CLEARANCE 11.2 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 11.2 U.S. gal.
LIGHTS Front – Single beam halogen (single-beam LED on R Trim), Tail lights
DIMENSIONS H x L x W - 78 in. x 127in. x 69.4in.
WEIGHT 2,316 lb. wet
TOWING CAPACITY 2,000 lb.
CARGO BOX Dimensions, in. 45 x12 x52, Weight - 1000 lb.
HITCH 2” Receiver - Standard
INSTRUMENTATION Digital display with gear, system diagnostic light, speed, rpm, 4WD indicator, rear differential indicator, fuel level, coolant temperature, hour meter, miles, and service interval warning light
STORAGE Four cup holders (two additional for cab units), in dash, under seat, glovebox, Under Hood except for HVAC units or units with dealer-installed heater kit
COLORS JD Green and yellow, camouflage, olive and black
MSRP Beginning at $ 25,599 U.S.