Fiat Panda 4x4 vs. New Holland CR 9090: A Comparison
Harvester of Jalops
They are both Fiats and both feature all-wheel drive, but that's where the similarities end. We are looking for the intersection of Panda 4x4 and the harvester New Holland CR 9090.
Drive a harvester? That's easy enough, say the hayseeds of our staff. But what do they know about this colossal giant, a world-record close-to-30-feet-wide-monster? That's why its driver, Stefan Wolff, gives me a few instructions. Ignition on. Put the round gear selector to "3", push the little rocker switch in the back of the rather thick gear lever, then push the lever carefully forward. I can feel the caterpillar wheels crawl like aliens, and its red front teeth pivot towards the nearest corn field as if to devour it. A quick glance to the monitor on my right shows 4.2 mph! Ah well, East Germany's vast fields are patient. So is Stefan.
The Rolls-Royce of harvesters
Disparate Fiats. It seems as if the Panda 4x4 could park inside the New Holland. The harvester is manufactured by the company's farm machine division.
His workplace is inside this New Holland CR 9090, an 18-ton behemoth built somewhere in the infinite vastness that constitutes the Fiat corporation. It's considered the Rolls-Royce of harvesters. For PR purposes, the New Holland reaped 551 tons of wheat in eight hours to earn a spot in the Guinness Book of Records – making it the perfect companion for the new Panda 4x4, which even in its latest incarnation remains the smallest all-wheeler in Fiat's lineup. I’m meeting up with these guys on the big boy's turf. Near Bismark, postal code 39624, in the Altmark, on ground so fertile that the corn stands high despite the summer that never was. Here, Stefan Wolff and his New Holland sometimes harvest more than 100 tons of corn per hour – and some of his work days have 22 hours because a harvester like this costs around 400,000 Euro, and you need to recoup that kind of investment. His season lasts only half a year, from June through December, which means putting your nose to the grindstone. Stefan and his CR are a hard-working pair.
A tale of two brothers
This monster works fast, but on public roads it has a speed limit of 18.6 mph. On blacktop the Panda shows it's heels to his bigger brother.
The drive along the highway is already an adventure. With its width of 12 ½ ft the New Holland needs a special permit to crawl along the road at its top speed of 18.6 mph. The crawler tracks eat away at the soft shoulder, and on the other side, reach 3 feet into the oncoming lane. Everything else on the road is a bit intimidated by this rolling house with its blinking warning lights; here in Bismark, even tanker trucks make way, respectfully mind you. Only the small Panda whips by like a flea. Now in its third generation, the light, agile Jumping Jack still transports the mail in Austria and emergency medical teams in the Dolomiti. In the more northern metropolitan areas, it has the feeling of a rather rustic small car. As such, its designers have given it an appropriate body: a precipitously boxy shell framed by dark panels and with two-tone seat upholstery inside – if you don't look too closely, the Panda could pose as a SUV.
The rather tranquil driving characteristics emphasize that impression. With its higher center of gravity, the Fiat feels quite relaxed as it swings around the countryside. The small, rumbling 1.3-liter diesel seems to have found its ultimate purpose. Speed and running characteristics don’t really matter too much in the all-wheel Panda as long as it's going forward – even when it's getting muddy. Then the new ELD-switch in the center console acts as saving grace, braking the wheels that lose traction through the "electronic locking differential" up to 31 mph. Take that, cornfield!
Entering New Hollands terrain shrinks the Panda further
The Panda has been raised by 1 ½ inches, yet the corn still scratches the subframe.
After a few hundred yards up a stone path, we arrive on the New Holland's home turf: Corn as far as the eye can see, and it's so high that the Panda disappears behind it, including the roof rack. Unless the CR already has gone through, leaving knee-high stalks sticking up into the air. It's a rather treacherous section for the little one, and the additional 1.57 inches of ground clearance over the standard Panda won't make any difference. The sheared-off stalks are extremely stiff, and they scratch the unprotected subframe of the Fiat with a plopp-plopp-plopp. We hope gearbox and exhaust will make it. Right next to us, Stefan Wolff lowers the nine meter wide cutting unit and its red teeth attack a wall of corn. Like a giant razor, the New Holland shears through the rows of corn. Chains rattling, harvester roaring, the thresher shoots heavy corn clippings out the back like a cannon. Stefan warns us to keep the Panda out of the firing line. "If you're lucky, you'll only have dents." Two minutes later, the CR has cut a wide lane through the corn. The top model (tag line: "Better by tons!") features all-wheel drive, 12.9 liters of displacement, exhaust gas aftertreatment and GPS, which enables the machine to harvest by itself to the exact inch while the Generation i-farmer drives the giant by remote control from the side of the field – quite the development since the first self-driving harvester was built in Belgium in 1952.
They both have offroad-capabilities
I climb the six steps into the air-conditioned "Harvest Suite." Stefan's empire has a refrigerator, a 17-inch monitor showing countless sensor data direct from the harvest factory, and behind that a row of switches. One with a hare? You don't mean to say... "Oh, no. That is fast-forward if the corn stalks are wider spaced." Okay, but has he ever gotten stuck with his 30-foot wide crawlers? "Never, and if I do, I can always switch on the differential lock." Comments like that put ideas into the head of the photographer, and he asks us to move to another field for the final shot. There's no corn there, just plenty of mud. The Panda digs in bravely then gets stuck. Ha, now's the time to push the ELD button — too bad the narrow tires are already caked with mud. The New Holland, meanwhile, goes through the swamp like it's laughing about its little brother. But with a little back-and-forth, with a heave and a ho, the 4x4 gets back on its feet again. Don't even think about it. A Panda simply does not embarrass itself in front of a farm machine.