Earthmoving Industry Insight, Reviews

Review: Manitou MLT-X 960 telehandler

The Manitou MLT-X 960 is touted to be a step up in telehandlers. MATT WOOD heads to Elmore to play with the new one-armed bandit.

French company Manitou has a long history of manufacturing rough-terrain forklifts, and its distinctive red machines can be found plugging away in some weird and wonderful places these days. The company has now launched a new model onto the Australian market, the MLT-X 960.

I caught up with the newer, bigger MLT recently at Emerald Grain’s Elmore site, where the machine had just been delivered for demonstration.

Over harvest, loading equipment can run 24 hours a day only stopping for staff breaks. In one particular night shift last year 1,500 tonnes of grain was loaded out onto trucks. It takes a tough machine to survive these sorts of working conditions.

When I visited Emerald the company was using a Volvo wheel loader for load out duties but the new XLT has turned up with a secret weapon that may just give an edge in this punishing environment — a 4-cubic-metre bucket.

The MLT-X 960 has a 9m lift with a 5.3m reach and can lift 3,500kg at full stretch. Fully retracted, the Manitou can heave 6,000kg into the air. It’s the new big brother to the MLT-X 840 with a bigger footprint to aid in stability for loader and fork tine applications and it tares off at 12,000kg.

At 2.48m wide the MLT is still within a friendly width for transport to and from site by truck.

But while the nuts and bolts all stack up to some good figures it’s the improvements that have been made to this Manitou’s design that really garner attention.

Engine access has never been a telehandler’s strong point as the necessity for a specific engine location can make access to vital areas difficult and cramped; plus a machine like this needs to be able to evacuate engine heat easily.

But in the case of the MLT a redesign has seen improved airflow around the engine. There’s also the option of an air pre cleaner.

I was impressed with the installation of the Tier 3a emissions John Deere engine. The unit is also equipped with a reversible engine fan to help keep the cooling package clear of dust during the working day.

Being Tier 3 means no AdBlue is required and there’s no active regeneration required in the emissions system. This power plant develops 104kW (140hp) which will propel the machine to a top speed of 40km/h for travel.

Power gets to all four wheels via an Aisin continuously variable transmission (CVT) which is also programmable to restrict speed if required. As you’d expect on this kind of machine, there’s also the option of two, four and crab steer for manoeuvring. It’s fair to say this machine should excel at hauling itself through the muck if required.


A cockpit redesign has seen more room inside the Manitou MLT-X 960 telehandler.


In the cab

Inside the cab the JSM joystick controller is now standard across the range. This handles all lift and reach functions as well as direction shuttle control. Sealing has been improved to keep all that itchy dust at bay and a heavier duty air-conditioning unit has been added to keep the cab climate comfortable for the driver.

The cab itself is also now larger and feels positively luxurious compared to some I’ve operated in the past. Visibility has also been improved by adding a loader-friendly curved windscreen.

A safety lock-out has been added, meaning the machine won’t operate with the door open and, in line with the improved cab cooling package and better sealing, the old two-piece door has been ditched in favour of a new one-piece set-up.

Daily checks and general maintenance access points are easily accessed with all filters in one location and all fluid checks are also similarly located. It should, in theory, be hard for anyone to fill the wrong tank with the wrong fluid.


A 4-cubic-metre bucket gives the Manitou MLT-X 960 telehandler big loading capabilities.


On the job

I have the opportunity to watch both the loader and the Manitou working side by side loading trucks. The units are in the hands of experienced operators so both machines move with the kind of fluid grace that comes from so many hours of operating heavy equipment.

While a wheel loader has some strengths in this role it appears a lumbering behemoth next to the more nimble telehandler as bucket load after bucket load pours into waiting tippers.

After watching the professionals at work I climb aboard for a spin.

For the most part the hype is true: visibility has been vastly improved and the right-hand side blind spot has been significantly reduced from the driver’s seat. The CVT puts power to the ground nicely and there’s also braking on all four wheels to pull things up in a hurry.

A forklift-style inching pedal has been added to help keep rpm and hydraulic pressure up when in operation. The system uses a single hydraulic pump and boost pump which maintains 60 per cent stand-by pressure. Stand on the inching pedal and give it some gas and you’ve got 100 per cent pressure available for the heavy lifting.

The larger cab does take some of the claustrophobia out of the cockpit and makes up for the lack of an opening window. The joystick, or JSM multifunction controller as they like to call it, is smooth to use and a good operator with multiple functions such as lift, tilt and reach happening simultaneously quite easily. As the machine has quite a decent footprint it feels stable both at full stretch and at travel speeds.


The bottom line

There are pros and cons to the loader versus telehandler equation.

A telehandler for the most part is the more ergonomic option. Ease of entry and ride as well as versatility play to the tele. Depending on the role, however, heavy bucket work can take its toll on the boom head stock.

A loader has the grunt for heavy work and distributes its load across the front end of the machine. But they are more often heavier and harder on juice.

It’s horses for courses to a certain degree, but the versatility of a telehandler is difficult to pass up especially in situations where the ability to switch attachments quickly and easily is an advantage.

The Manitou MLT-X 960 telehandler is a smart, ergonomic machine to operate and it appears to have the goods in outdoor roles where physical dimensions are not as much of an issue. It’s a nice drive.

The bond between man and machine may be an indefinable one but I reckon a full shift behind the wheel of the MLT may just be the start of a beautiful relationship.

Click here to find Manitou telehandlers for sale.


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