Earthmoving Industry Insight, Reviews

JCB 4CN backhoe loader

The new JCB 4CN backhoe features a knuckle boom and centre-mount kingpost

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  • Excellent rearview
  • Easy Control joystick system
  • Reach into areas not possible with a conventional side-shift backhoe
  • Greater boom and arm versatility
  • Greater slewing angle

The latest backhoe from JCB is badged the 4CN and denotes the arrival of a knuckle boom version among the firm’s equal-wheel, all-wheel steer 4CX range.

4CN features

The extra boom movement allows the 4CN to reach into areas that are not possible with a conventional side-shift backhoe, says JCB.

With 30-degrees of sideways dipper articulation available on top of the 180-degrees of standard slew at the kingpost, the 4CN’s geometry reduces the number of machine moves.

It also has the potential to dig around obstacles as well as reaching round, towards the front of the backhoe.

However, the 4CN no longer has an extending dipper stick, though this model does get the long dipper as fitted to the 4CX Super, and the machine also comes with a centre-mount backhoe and folding outriggers – the latter are better suited to uneven terrain and steeper slopes than conventional stabiliser legs, suggests JCB.

Dimensions and control

Sideways reach is 5.93m from the centerline of the 4CN – less than the side-shift equivalent that can offset its kingpost.

Taking advantage of that 240-degree slew has been made more palatable with the use of the seat-mounted Easy Control joystick system. Moving the knuckle joint is achieved using the thumb-operated controller on top of the right-hand joystick.

The 4CN can offset the dipper against the slew, to dig parallel to the chassis but outside the machine’s 2.36m overall frame width. For a backhoe, this is clever stuff.

Surprisingly, you can’t choose a factory-fitted hammer – yet to take full advantage of this machine’s capabilities requires a tilting bucket, which then demands an auxiliary hydraulic oil supply, via a supplying dealer.

This will put the bucket tilt function onto the left-hand joystick, where it can be controlled using your thumb.

Performance and handling

At JCB’s Ashbourne demonstration grounds in the UK, I had the chance to put the 4CN through its paces.

Settling into the 4CN’s comfy perch and adjusting to the seat-mounted Easy Controls is no different than climbing aboard any similar JCB backhoe, but looking out of the rear window demands a different approach.

I’m struck by the intrusiveness of the backhoe, which seems to block my view unless I lean out of the seat – the 4CN’s centre-mount location smacks you right between the eyes.

Where you could previously position the machine and kingpost to allow you an excavator-style view alongside the boom, this one demands that you make more of an effort until the knuckle boom function is brought into play, allowing you to see around the boom and dipper, and straight to the side of the bucket.

There is a great view over the back of the machine though, as the folding outriggers create a less cluttered rear end on the backhoe.

A few moves with the machine in standard mode gives me the chance to adjust to the non-flow sharing Easy Control system, before exploiting the knuckle boom to excavate a wide, square section void without repositioning the machine.

What strikes me is just how much the bucket angle changes when the offset is used. In this guise, there’s no chance of digging a flat-bottomed trench, as the contour it then follows is more like a giant salad bowl with a curved bottom on the outer edges.

I’d need a tilting bucket to make a better job.

But, by tweaking the 4CN’s position on its outriggers, I can lean the backhoe to compensate for the way the bucket’s cutting edge runs off line when the offset is deployed.

Doing this allows me to just about complete that flat-bottomed excavation, but it’s a hefty compromise and not one that could be easily done if the backhoe sat on a slope.

I reach around to the sides of the backhoe to use the slewing capability and throw all the dirt as far round to the side as possible, and it never once unsettles the machine. There is a bit of spillage from the bucket, and that’s down to the constantly shifting bucket angle.

But with outriggers that extend the footprint of the backhoe beyond that of a side shift version, I really need to use the full arc of the slew to prevent the outriggers becoming buried in excavated material.

A few more passes and a tweak of the knuckle allows me to shift the bucket to the opposite side of the machine and exploit its potential even further.

The verdict

There is no denying that the 4CN does give a little bit extra to its operator, but its application and operation need considerably more thought than a conventional machine. The potential to push the bucket way beyond 180 degrees of slew is a useful, though not always necessary, amount of movement.

I’m convinced that a correctly positioned and well-oiled 3CX or 4CX equipped with the usual toys will be hard to beat for most of the time. But there will always be occasions where this unusual version will come into its own.

Photography: Geoff Ashcroft

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