On test: JCB Fastrac 4220 iCON tractor
This time last year we pitted JCB’s Fastrac 4220 against a Fendt 724 Vario to see just how close the high-speed specialist’s in-field performance could get to that of a top-spec conventional tractor.
It stood up to the challenge admirably, with its auto-levelling suspension offering peerless driver comfort, as well as balancing the tractor to make the most of the available grip.
See also: Forward-control Fastrac ups spreading output by 30%
Power was also decent, and the four-wheel steering made it surprisingly manoeuvrable for its size.
But its success was hampered by some illogical controls, a basic joystick and an archaic in-cab screen, none of which had seen a significant refresh since the tractor’s launch back in 2014.
So, while competitors were offering customisable controls and slick Isobus-ready screens, Fastrac owners had to clutter their workspace with aftermarket equipment and displays.
All that changed earlier this year, with JCB jettisoning the dated gear in favour of a much more modern setup akin to those gracing the cabs of its rivals.
This so-called iCON spec has been adopted across the Fastrac range, bringing a new armrest, multi-function joystick and large touchscreen display to the party.
How good is the new control setup?
JCB’s revamp is a huge improvement on what went before, with all major controls grouped neatly in one place.
But the move hasn’t just reorganised the buttons; it has fundamentally changed the way the tractor is driven. And it has done so for the better.
Although the Fastrac shares its ML180 transmission with several Fendt models, the old joystick controlled it differently.
Nudging the lever forwards and backwards used to initiate a direction change, while side-to-side shunts altered the speed.
We always thought it was less intuitive than the Agco method of fore-and-aft speed adjustment, with direction changes and cruise engagement on the lateral movements.
Well, JCB has now accepted if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, and embraced the more conventional way of thinking.
Engineers have also dropped the convoluted drive modes and made it possible to operate the tractor on the foot pedal or joystick without having to press a button to switch between them.
Thoughtfully, the designers have considered that not everyone will be won over by the new approach.
So there is the option of selecting a “Classic” mode that puts functions back in their original positions.
The joystick is home to several new controls, some of which allow operators to switch between cruise settings and adjust them on the move.
There are also five customisable buttons that can be set to operate everything from autosteer and headland management to spool valves and link arms.
A completely new addition is a separate cross-lever that will be standard fitment on higher-spec models.
This offers proportional control of hydraulic functions and plays host to four more custom buttons.
The lever has multiple uses, including operating the front linkage, spool valves or a loader and taking control of Isobus-compatible implements such as a sprayer or spud harvester.
It’s a handy feature to have and means there is less of a need to bolt in extra joysticks and control levers.
Another notable upgrade is the neat packaging of the front and rear linkage controls in a stacked “wedding-cake” style arrangement.
This falls to hand much better than the old setup and takes up considerably less space.
However, the lack of a physical depth indicator makes it tricky for operators to return to their base setting after making adjustments.
Media, phone and climate controls have also been grouped at the driver’s fingertips, making it effortless to skip to their favourite Taylor Swift tune, answer a call or demist the windows.
JCB Fastrac 4220 iCON specs
- Engine Six-cylinder, 6.6-litre Agco Power
- Max power [email protected],900rpm
- Max torque [email protected],500rpm
- Transmission Agco ML180 two-range CVT
- Top speed 60kph
- Weight 7.99t
- Max permissible weight 14.5t
- Rear lift capacity 7t (or 8t option)
- Hydraulics 195 litres/min
- Base list price £164,453
- Other Fastrac models available 4160 (175hp), 4190 (208hp), 8290 (306hp), 8330 (348hp)
What about the new screen?
Following in the footsteps of almost every other major tractor manufacturer, JCB has chosen to mount its new 12in touchscreen at the end of the armrest.
This is a far better position than the chunky B-pillar monitor of old, putting it clearly in the driver’s eyeline. It’s also attached to a swivelling bracket with plenty of adjustment to get it into the ideal spot.
Thanks to decent processing power, a series of slick menus and some smart graphics it is as nice to use as any of the screens on the market.
Switching functions around on the joystick, cross-lever and custom buttons is child’s play, with diagrams where the user can simply place their finger on a specific function and drag it to where they want it.
We particularly liked the setup for switching spool valve locations.
Again, this is a drag-and-drop affair, but every time a change is made all the spools flash like a 1970s disco before changing colour.
It might sound unnecessary, but it makes it clear to the operator that the move has been completed.
One spool can also be set as the priority, so oil will be robbed from others before its flow starts to drop – ideal for a drill fan, for example.
Headland management is more user friendly too, and has space to store up to 50 sequences for different implements and operators.
Once set, users can programme this to engage and disengage using any of the tractor’s nine customisable buttons.
Rather than teaming up with a seasoned GPS maker, JCB has chosen to put its own autosteer system together using a Novatel receiver on the roof and an AgJunction steering setup.
It works well and does all the basics, including section control, but it lacks some of the sophistication offered by rivals.
For example, there’s no automatic field recognition, wireless data transfer at the end of a job or an automatic headland turn function.
Twin-steer – a unique Fastrac feature that allows the front and rear axles to be steered by separate GPS receivers – also requires one or two extra displays to be brought in, depending on the provider.
JCB says development is ongoing, so features like this might be added over time.
For buyers that want more than the in-house setup can offer, there is still the option of using a separate screen from the likes of Trimble or John Deere.
However, opting for a Deere kit requires an electronic bridge from Solsteer or Agra GPS to make it work.
Another feature that’s worth mentioning is the ability to display up to four camera feeds.
Our test tractor came fitted with one trained on the pick-up hitch, which was a nice upgrade over the standard mirror.
Has anything else changed?
Save for some yellow paint on the cab handrails and a couple of iCON graphics, there’s little to distinguish the new tractor from its predecessor.
However, the door design has been tweaked slightly to reduce wind noise and there is now a cup holder tucked away in the back corner of the cab.
The rest of the workspace is unchanged, which is fine by us as it offers loads of space for driver and passenger, a comfortable seating position and good visibility.
As for the models and power outputs, nothing has been altered.
So, unlike some makers that might accompany updates like this with an engine tweak and a new bonnet number, JCB has kept the 235hp 4220 as its flagship.
Perhaps this is because the platform can’t handle the extra oomph, but it means the firm still has a notable gap in the 240-300hp sector, before the two-model 8000-series comes in at 306hp.
There is still no option of a factory-fit central tyre inflation system either, which will be a disappointment to some customers.
The last significant update to the 4000-series platform came in 2019, when there was a move to a Stage 5 engine, a tougher front axle with beefed-up diff, 12- rather than 10-stud hubs, and the fitment of a larger 195-litre/min hydraulic pump, up from 148 litres/min.
Likes and gripes
✔ Touchscreen is a huge improvement
✔ Controls are far more logical
✔ Smooth suspension
✔ Legal 60kph on the road
✘ In-house GPS system has limited functions
✘ Engagement of drive could be smoother
✘ Noisier than some rivals
✘ No custom settings for auto-transmission mode
What’s it like to drive?
In our opinion, the new control layout and screen has made the Fastrac significantly easier and more enjoyable to drive.
But the fundamentals were already good. On the road, there is nothing that can touch it, with the hydro-pneumatic suspension ironing out the bumps and the ABS giving drama-free stopping power.
It’s also reassuring to know that these features mean it is legal to barrel along at its top speed of 60kph.
In the field, it shines for any job that requires a turn of speed, giving a pillow-like ride, even when crossing tramlines at top speed.
It can also hold its own for heavy cultivation work, although we’ve never quite got it to match the performance of conventional tractors of a similar horsepower.
Part of this is because it can take time to get the ballasting and tyre pressures dialled in on these tractors. But we also found it didn’t pull as well as it could in “auto” mode.
This is JCB’s version of the Fendt TMS system, which continually adjusts engine revs and gearing to reach the target speed as efficiently as possible.
We felt that it wasn’t giving its all when dragging a six-furrow plough, so we switched to manual and managed to eke out a bit more performance.
Currently, there is no option to customise the auto settings, so turning to manual control of the engine and transmission is the only option if you feel like you can squeeze some more potential from it.
Up until the launch of the iCON, Fastrac buyers had to be convinced that the tractor’s other selling points were strong enough to outweigh the downsides of the antiquated control layout.
Luckily for JCB, plenty of buyers did make that call, won over by attributes such as its excellent suspension, stellar towing ability and its clever four-wheel steering system.
Now, that compromise has largely evaporated, leaving potential customers with few excuses to start looking elsewhere.
According to JCB, it’s already making a marked difference, with order books swelling considerably since the update was announced.
Though the change has been dramatic, JCB still has some room for improvement.
One area is its fledgling in-house GPS system, which lacks some features and means users carrying out complex tasks will still need to bring in extra displays.
The lack of a more powerful version also leaves JCB with a yawning power gap from 235hp to 306hp, where its larger 8000-series comes in. A 6000-series might just fit the bill…