Review: Caterpillar 301.8 mini excavator

By: Ron Horner

Presented by
  • Earthmovers & Exacavators

Caterpillar was on the road recently, showing off its range of Next Generation Mini Excavators. Ron Horner caught up with them for a spin in the 301.8

Recently we accompanied the Hastings Deering Team on a road trip to promote and demonstrate the next generation of mini excavators from the Caterpillar range when the team ventured into the heartland of rural, and some not-so-rural, areas of South East Queensland.

In a bold move, Hastings Deering (the Qld Caterpillar distributors) decided to take a fleet of Next Gen mini diggers to the public and held Field Days in Bundaberg, North Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Toowoomba.

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Scott McGrath, Hastings sales manager (left), and Ron Horner

It was all-aboard the Toowoomba road train as we hooked onto the fleet of diggers on route up and over the mountain, which consisted of the 301.5, 301.7, 301.8 and 302 mini excavator machines.

The fleet of little diggers were offloaded on the pre-determined field day site where a great deal of interest was shown by the local industry leaders. The day was the opportunity for everyone to down tools early or just get to the site before sunset and have the chance to discuss the brilliant range of under-two ton speciality excavators and indulge in the technology industry firsts Caterpillar has introduced with these models.

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Ronnie was left impressed with his turn in the 301.8

WALKAROUND

There is a reason we chose the 301.8 Next Gen digger to have a crack at – it’s air conditioned and comes complete with an enclosed rollover protection system (ROPS) cabin, which I found brilliant.

For a machine of such a small size it comfortably accommodated my frame and Cat has created a practical, efficient and technically advanced digger which will undoubtedly have a lot of the other competitors worried.

First impressions count a lot for me and with this little digger I was suitably impressed.

The ROPS certified cab looks as big as the machine but when you are focusing on breaking new ground you have to come up with something totally out of the box and Cat certainly have with this series of mini diggers.

Blades count and I am one of the world’s biggest critics when it comes to blade design. Cat has got most of it sorted with this one. Plenty hanging out the front and operator vision of the blade is excellent but I think it could have been a touch higher as this machine will push more than it’s designed to do and plenty of material will end up over the blade. That is an issue you are better having than the machine not being able to push a blade full so the operator will have to be on the ball but will not be disappointed.

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The Caterpillar 301.8 mini excavator at work

ON THE JOB

This little digger is pretty well sorted at climbing anything under that 30 degree mark. It’s short in the track frame so climbing anything a bit steeper certainly has the operator sitting well forward in the seat trying to gain that extra bit of "over the front" weight.

Needless to say, whatever goes up has to come down and the same operator pressure is applied but in reverse. Steep down slopes will cause you some concern but stick to the manufacturer’s guidelines and you will have no issues.

That said, I don’t think it is designed for that steep gradient climbing but I know Aussie operators and if the specs say there is a limit, you can bet your balls that the operators will try to extend that by another 25 per cent where possible.

Believe me it will not work on this one.

What this machine is designed for is to gain access into the most miniscule of places, tight spots, difficult to access back yards, parklands where pedestrian access is the only method of access, garages, underground carparks and the list goes on. You get the drift but you’ll be doing it in the comfort of an A/C cabin.

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There is great vision to the blade from cabin

The retractable track frame opens up to a healthy 1.3m and retracted to very tight 990mm, which puts you through a door frame width. My suggestion is if you are working in the open, engage your full width/expanded option, you will find the balance is much better and safer as it is possible to tip it over if you have a full bucket and some rough operator engaged.

The 301.8 has the cab fitted but the 301.7 (which is the canopy version) could be removed, giving you access to a much tighter area in height, possibly 2m (but don’t quote me on that).

Side shift positioning, hammer piping for auxiliary attachments, low height access, confined width areas, and an air conditioned and noise resistant cab are all great forward steps for the industry, which will be greatly accepted by the owner operators of machines this size.

In the field, the technological improvements really shine. There’s keyless ignition, a huge informative LCD monitor and stick steer travel option where you flick a switch and your left joystick controls the track movement of your digger. Left, right, forward and reverse, all with the flick of the left wrist and this works just brilliantly.

I found it quite easy to get used to the controls and a good operator can really get the little digger mobile when in good materials.

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Very well appointed air conditioned ROPS cab

IN THE CAB

There is nothing to beat the smell of that brand new cabin. Operator vision is excellent and the operator can see and almost touch everything around them. That cab is almost as big as the machine itself so it is something to behold first time in and the pressurised air conditioned cabin is the big winner for me.

The view to the blade is excellent, with all corners clearly visible and the long box section frame protruding well in front of the cabin. This blade is great for pushing dirt and is an excellent stabiliser for digging, loading and lifting.

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You can tilt the cabin to access to the insides

That lovely large LCD monitor that houses every bit of information one could ever possibly require sits you fair and square in the face. There’s information overload as I quickly press every button; checking every gauge, changing all the settings, putting in the password for the keyless ignition and getting the results for the upcoming Federal election in record time (and that’s before it was even called).

The comfortable suspension seat, air con, retractable undercarriage lever, float blade control and stick steer control all add up to make this little digger a beauty in my opinion. It even has a fluorescent retractable seat belt for night shift and a heap of lights fitted externally so the night shift operator can have his smoko under the stars and not get scared of the dark.

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There are Tradie Pack deals available from Caterpillar

UNDER THE HOOD

A Tier 4 final Cat C1.1 litre diesel engine delivering close to 20hp (15kW) powers up this mighty (under two ton) workhorse.

Running 66 litres a minute from the load sensing variable displacement piston pump, it delivers enough flow and bar pressure to run many hydraulic attachments from either the primary or auxiliary hydraulic circuits and, with a massive 26 litre fuel tank, is guaranteed not to break the bank nor require a house re-mortgage to pay the monthly fuel bills.

Access to the engine bay, hydraulics, radiator and batteries are all ground level accessible, with central greasing and an easy to operate lever (and removal of a few bolts) to tilt the cabin to gain that access to hoses, etc. This all contributes to some pretty severe, yet positive, changes that Caterpillar has developed.

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The oil cooler is easily accessible

THE BOTTOM LINE

In my opinion, Cat has opened up a can of worms in developing the Next Gen Mini Excavator range and will make huge inroads into this market.

Some of the industry firsts in this range of diggers will certainly open up the market and Cat are hoping that this range will assist them in pushing them closer to market leaders. This area of mini diggers has seen Cat languishing well behind in the market sales stakes, however the technological advances and operator friendly additions are not the only weapon Cat has up its sleeves.

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Neat little 20hp Cat engine

Some of the deals on hand are definitely directed at the owner operator and hire fleet market with an unbelievable deal based around "The Tradies Package" where you can get a great financial deal for a fully equipped mini excavator with a full range of buckets and a brand new plant trailer complete with ramps.

Caterpillar has developed a really good product line here with the Next Gen range of diggers.

When you take into consideration those finance packages already in place, firmly directed at those looking for a chance to either break into the market or expand their existing fleet and the technological advancements incorporated into the new models, anyone involved in the game would agree that Cat are onto a winner.

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