The JCB Mini CX

Published:  02 April, 2012

Can JCB create a new local authority market in the UK with its Mini CX? The firm reckons so, Geoff Ashcroft reports.

With 20hp, Mini CX is comparable in performance to a twotonne mini excavator, says the firm. But it weighs less at 1530kgs, allowing it to be moved by trailer. It measures 4530mm in length, 2125mm in height to the top of the canopy and 1470mm in width, measured over its tyres.

Options currently include auxiliary pipe work to the loader and backhoe, a pin-mounted 4-in-1 front bucket, rotating work lights, flashing beacon, bucket float and ISO controls.

Being on general purpose, shallow treaded traction tyres measuring 400/50x15, it also treads reasonably carefully on delicate surfaces – something mini excavators and skid steer loaders can fail to do. As an option, the machine can be shod on 31x15.5 6-ply turf tyres.

Excavating performance

The firm's existing 1CX is a much larger package than the mini CX, as a result of being based on a skid steer loader. It also uses a 50hp engine, offers backhoe side-shift and digging performance equivalent to a 2.5-3 tonne mini excavator.

JCB's 1CX can also be fitted with a cab or canopy, and it uses a sophisticated parallel loader linkage and it weighs 2.8 tonnes. The company sees the Mini CX as a complementary tool to dipper as the central parts of its backhoe.

This also means it has access to buckets from the Micro excavator, which are also common with the larger 801 mini excavator. And like its mini excavator stablemates, Mini CX can power breaker attachments, earth drills and augers.

Buyers also get a choice of control pattern – either JCB's Plus Pattern, or excavator-type ISO controls, which reveals how much emphasis the firm has put on making the machine appeal to existing mini excavator users.

Power comes from a 20hp three-cylinder diesel engine – it too comes from the mini excavator range – which drives the rear-wheels via a two-pedal hydrostatic transmission system. Working speeds achievable are from 0-10 km/h forward, and 0- 6km/h in reverse. The engine drives a variable flow hydrostatic pump for the transmission, and a single gear pump to power the loader, backhoe and steering systems.

Up front, the loader has a rated operating capacity of 675kgs and a load-over height of 2017mm. At the rear, the backhoe has a reach at ground level to the slew centre of 3110mm and a maximum digging depth of 2540mm. With a wheelbase of 1559mm, the Mini CX has a kerb-to-kerb turning circle of 5842mm.

How does the Mini CX operate?

Getting onboard the Mini CX is a straight-forward affair, and can be from either side, thanks to generous, open steel-mesh scraper steps, set in a plastic moulding – the same moulding also serves as a wing for the rear wheels.

Settling into the seat, it soon becomes apparent that there is no need to dismount and climb aboard over the backhoe when changing from loader to backhoe operation. A swivel seat enables the Mini CX operator to spin from front to back, and appreciate the generous foot space made available on the platform, when positioning yourself to use the backhoe.

Such space has been created by mounting the backhoe's valve block under the ROPS frame horizontal bar. A narrow- waist plastic cowling covers the block and creates valuable foot room around it, allowing the control levers to be located direct on the block for precise operation.

It is a good driving position, offering a decent view down over the sloping bonnet to the rear face of the front bucket. Instrumentation is primitive, and restricted to a display of warning lights.

Starting the engine requires the parking brake to be applied. With the throttle set using a hand-operated lever, it is necessary to press and hold down an interlocking safety pedal with your left foot. Doing so releases a lock for the forward/reverse foot pedal that is operated by your right foot – the further you press it, the faster you go.

Such a system makes it easy to feather the machine's speed or adjust traction when pushing into stockpiles or loading. Being hydrostatic also means the transmission provides positive drive and braking functions, leaving only the need for parking brake, which is a cable operated, exposed disc on the front of the drive axle.

Operated by single lever joystick

The wide-profile rear tyres offer a decent amount of grip, despite the Mini CX being only two wheel drive. But there is a little help from an integral limited slip differential.

Operating the front loader is by single lever joystick on the right side of the machine, with the optional 4-in-1 bucket controlled by pressing a button on the lever to divert oil flow. We found the bucket's roll back at ground level to be quite useful, though its full height dump angle is less so. But that was no problem with the 4-in-1 – opening the bucket allowed us to bottom-dump.

Spinning the seat round from front to rear puts you in front of the backhoe controls, just like the full-size versions. It is a fixed-position, centre-mount backhoe, which hints at the machine's leanings towards a North American market where side-shift backhoes are as rare as hen's teeth. Having centre-mount also allows wide spaced stabilisers to provide good levelling and surefooted stability when digging over the side.

Being based on a mini excavator, you'd expect the backhoe to perform well. And it does, which is encouraging given its use of only a single pump hydraulic system. In tough conditions, it does dictate the use of maximum engine revs.

It remains a strong performer and provides more than enough performance for most operators. Given what the alternatives could be for niche applications, I'd take the Mini CX every day of the week.

It's also easy to maintain thanks to hydrostatic components. Service access is good, with most intervals based on the engine oil and filter change at 250 hours. But greasing is a different matter and JCB recommends a squirt with the grease gun every 50 hours.

Summary

While the Mini CX has not been designed as a high performance tool, it seems that JCB has done a reasonably good job in developing a practical alternative to the mini excavator.

For those who insist on the flexibility of a loader, the mobility of a wheeled machine and the digging performance of a mini excavator, the Mini CX has to be worth a second look.

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