But more recently we got a full look and proper demo of this machine at Caterpillar’s BCP headquarters in Clayton, North Carolina. Below we’ll run through the specs for you, but one thing that stood out to us that didn’t get a lot of emphasis in the press release was what Cat calls “stick steer” by which they mean joystick steering.
No big deal you say? Already have that on skid steers? Yes, but when you put the travel functions on the left hand joystick of an excavator rather than the floor pedals and levers it turns out you can do a whole lot more with this than any other design. Here’s why.
You can check out our in-depth video breakdown of the 306 just below, and read on to find out more.
Load and carry
The 306 CR comes in three versions: a standard straight blade, a power angle blade and an XTC or extra tool carrier version. The XTC is where it gets interesting. This design uses a clamshell style bucket on the front. You can open up the bucket and doze as you would with a straight blade but also load the bucket, lower the top half of the clamshell and ride away with a full bucket of material. You can even dig up a bucket of dirt or material with the boom and stick and drop it into the clamshell for high-output load-and-carry.
That’s where the stick steer travel comes earns its keep. Instead of pushing forward on the floor pedals and awkwardly leaning forward with your left hand on the steering levers, you can sit back in the seat, work the travel function on the joystick and comfortably take this load into the next county if need be. Cat left the floor pedals and steering levers in the cab anyway, but these can be removed with just four bolts. You switch between the two travel styles with just a click on the joystick.
Backfilling a trench with any of these blades also gets a lot easier with the stick steer travel. Again instead of the awkward forward-leaning posture, you sit back in the seat and make minute adjustments with the joystick. Doing this with the travel levers and floor pedals is always a bit jerky—you are off balance the whole time. Doing it with a joystick makes you more comfortable, precise and ultimately productive. Stick steer also offers creep control which just makes that travel function even better, especially when you have to travel with the cab perpendicular to the tracks. It will be offered on all Caterpillar Next-Gen excavators from 1.5 to 10-ton.
This load-and-carry ability of the 306 CR XTC gives it essentially some of the same capability as a skid steer or compact track loader. Granted these two machines can do the work faster, but for the owner operator or a guy who gets stuck working solo on a job with no support equipment this is—dare we say it—a game changer.
All the rest
All the 306 CR mini excavators come with a 59.9-horsepower Cat C2.4 turbocharged engine. Weights range from 14,299 to 15,821 pounds. The “CR” here stands for compact radius, not quite zero tail swing, but at 58 inches, close enough for most tight jobsites. Standard dig depth is 146 inches, and with the long stick option you can dig down 162 inches.
Cat pumped up the hydraulics on the 396 CR in particular to help out with the ability to hold additional weight on the end of the stick at a distance. At a 9.8 foot radius it will lift up to 7,839 pounds using its load sensing, variable displacement hydraulic pump pushing out 46 gallons per minute. The auxiliary hydraulic circuit puts out 24 gpm. All three models can use front shovels with pin on buckets or couplers. Hydraulic thumbs are also available in certain regions.
The cab is sealed and pressurized, but a ROPS model is also available. A new 10 inch color monitor in the machine allows you to set operator preferences, jog dial for simple navigation, adjust machine performance parameters and keep track of maintenance needs. The monitor is Bluetooth enabled, which means you can answer phone calls in the cab without taking your hands off the controls—a nice feature for the guy who runs his business from the operator’s seat.