Test Drive – A higher grade pass

2020-07-01T13:18:14+00:00 July 1st, 2020|Test drive|

Operating the Bell 620G Motor Grader on a hot summer’s morning in Empangeni, makes you want to do it again, writes Leon Louw.

A clear view of the Bell ADTs in the distance from the comfort of the Bell 620G Motor Grader cabin.” A clear view of the Bell ADTs in the distance from the comfort of the Bell 620G Motor Grader cabin.

There’s something about setting foot on the red-brown soil of Bell Equipment’s farm close to Empangeni in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Maybe it’s the east coast humidity, or the cool sea-breeze dissipating the aftereffects of the Bell welcoming party the night before. Whatever it is, it makes one’s fingers itch and one’s legs shake in anticipation of mounting those powerful yellow beasts, turning the key and driving them up the same heights and through the same thick sand that Irvine Bell once did, way back in the early 60s, when he started testing his Tri-Wheelers and Cane Loaders.

Equipment connoisseurs will have a field day attending one of Bell Equipment’s open days. Blue skies, hot sun, ‘boerewors’, a range of equipment solutions and expert advice, that’s what you get. And, as a bonus, you get to test drive all the equipment on display. And if that doesn’t make your day, you can always sit in the shade of a thorn tree, and watch 60-ton Articulated Dump Trucks (ADTs) devour monster inclines with a bottle of magic water in your hand, just in case the fuzziness in your brain tries to convince you that what you see cannot be true.

Getting into the spacious cabin of a Bell 620G Motor Grader clears a fuzzy head. | All images by Leon Louw

There’s nothing fuzzy about getting into the spacious cabin of the Bell 620G Motor Grader though. On a clear morning, the dust plumes kicked up by the B60E ADT way in the distance as it makes its way up one of the bigger hills on the test circuit, is as visible as the thick sand road in front of me (the one I am grading while testing the new grader). When two Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) like Bell and American-based John Deere team up, the results are bound to be rewarding. The partnership between Bell and John Deere dates back to 1999 when Deere acquired 31.59% stake in Bell, underpinned by an agreement giving Bell exclusive distribution rights to the premium range of John Deere construction and forestry equipment in Southern Africa, which is sold under the Bell banner.

Built to be lighter

Getting into the spacious cabin of a Bell 620G Motor Grader clears a fuzzy head.

I am told that the 620G Motor Grader is a lot lighter than its predecessors, although it doesn’t look or feel like a lightweight. Not that it is difficult to handle, it is much easier than my preconceived idea. At the risk of comparing apples with oranges, it might, in fact, be easier to steer and manoeuvre than my favourite B30E ADT, which I am, of course, a lot more comfortable with. But once the 620G’s blade starts levelling off the pile of fine sand in the gravel road, the 6.8-litre Deere engine underneath the comfortable front seat grunts and delivers its 215-horsepower blow with force.

For a moment, the blue sky becomes dust clogged in thick sand as the grader’s tyres spew out red-orange particles, which prompts me to adjust the diff lock (which, by the way, can be done while continuing operating the machine). The digital screen in front of the operator tells him or her what gear they have selected, so when the going gets tough and I get a sinking, and then a sliding feeling, a quick glance at the electronic device makes me realise I should gear down, and again the 6.8 rumbles underneath. The grader negotiates the bumps and ruts with ease.

The aim when designing the 620G was to provide the ideal weight distribution for the 6.8L engine which in turn produces over 14 tons of blade pull. The 620G now weighs in at about 17 509kg. The rather lofty 516.5 litre diesel tank has been replaced by a niftier and smaller 303 litre tank. The 6.8 litre engine is extremely fuel efficient and according to Stephen McNeill, group marketing manager at Bell Equipment, the engine will result in savings of as much as 10% in fuel consumption compared to previous models. “And if you turn on the Ecomode it will save you at least another 10%,” assures McNeill.

Information and data about all aspects of the machine can be accessed on the digital screen right in front of the operator.

Information and data about all aspects of the machine can be accessed on the digital screen right in front of the operator.

Grade Pro configurations

The increased horsepower and torque, I am told, are something experienced operators should feel once they get into the seat of the 620G, especially when the machine pulls through tough spots and when climbing hills.

Additional features

The 620G also features ripper-stow automation, courtesy lighting and an updated high-resolution reverse camera monitor. Ripper stow returns the ripper to its fully raised position at the end of a pass with a double tap of the control.

The courtesy lighting feature turns on the machine lights as the operator exits the machine at the end of the day – a helpful feature in dark conditions at the end of a shift.
It was not entirely dark when we departed Bell Equipment’s test ground, it was just after lunch and after yet another ‘boerewors roll’. By then, the fuzziness had departed, but that ‘something’ one only feels at the Bell farm still lingered. Operating the 620G for only a short while, makes you want to do it again, which says a lot coming from an operator who kept on eyeing the dizzying heights of the hill, which the B60E negotiated with so much ease.

Bell Equipment’s two open days for customers, which were attended by Plant Equipment & Hire, included a walk through the factory at the facility in Richards Bay, as well as a visit to the famous farm where it all began just after the second World War, when Irvine Bell started repairing old farm machinery on the outskirts of Empangeni in KwaZulu-Natal.

The 620G Bell Motor Grader is a lot lighter than its predecessors, although it doesn’t look or feel like a lightweight.

The 620G Bell Motor Grader is a lot lighter than its predecessors, although it doesn’t look or feel like a lightweight.

The open days were attended by a large group of Bell customers from the quarrying, mining, construction, timber and agricultural sectors. Six different areas were set up on the farm property where a range of different products were on show accompanied by product specialists and the sales team to provide answers to any questions. Product specialists gave the customers a walkaround of new equipment and explained new features. The product range included Bell ADTs, Bomag drum rollers and pavers, Kobelco excavators, John Deere graders, TLBs and wheeled loaders, Matriarch’s forestry equipment and Finlay’s screeners, crushers and conveyors.

The highlight for many was test driving the Articulated Dump Trucks (ADTs) and with Bell introducing their new Mark 3 upgrades, there were many questions to answer. Three ADTs (B30E, B50E and B60E) were put through their paces around the challenging test ground. Plant Equipment & Hire was given the opportunity to test drive all the ADTs, the new generation 10 Kobelco SK300LC excavator, the new Bell 620G Grader, Bomag’s BF300P Paver and BW120AD Single Drum Roller, the F-series Logger and a static model of Matriarch’s LogPro.

The Bell 620G Motor Grader in a nutshell