A loader first and foremost

New features, options place the traditional single-purpose wheel loader into more applications, keeping it working in tough times

By Mike Anderson

The 135- to 174-horsepower wheel loader is often perceived as a throwback: Valued as a highly functional, reliable, yet often single-purpose machine. It’s been a rank-and-file plodder, if you will, diligently working beyond the spotlight.

The times, well they’re-a-changin’ … in large part because those times are, indeed, so challenging, says Mike Gidaspow. “As the economy’s gotten tougher, a lot of our customers have had to go into maybe something they hadn’t done before, and they certainly needed the machines to do more than ever,” says Gidaspow, Komatsu America’s product manager, wheel loaders. He cites, for example, Komatsu’s PZ – representing Parallel Z-bar – an optional version of the standard Z-bar-linkage wheel loaders seen in Komatsu’s WA250-6 and WA320-6 models. The PZ versions of those machine sizes were introduced shortly after the release of the standard Dash-6 models, taking the place of the previous series’ parallel PT versions. “The idea is to get the benefits of both loaders in one,” says Gidaspow. “You get the parallelism of our former PT loader and the digging ability of a Z-bar loader.” With a standard quick coupler and third-spool valve, the ability to move from traditional loading to other applications with a broom or multi-purpose bucket has won over some Z-bar loyalists, says Gidaspow, “because it’s still a Z-bar loader, but capable of so many things.”

At the WA250 size, essentially in the 2.5- to 3.5-cubic-yard-capacity range, the former PT machines would roughly represent 25 percent of the Komatsu output, says Gidaspow. With the PZ versions, the split’s about even, if not even skewed a bit in favor of the new version, he says. “The hydrostatic transmission (HST) is always the heart or soul of these loaders, and the drivetrain on the PZs and the Z-bars are exactly the same. With our HST, as soon as you push down on that left pedal, it feels like you’re using the wet disc brakes, but the beginning of the pedal movement is just de-stroking the pump, activating the dynamic braking. Once you get about halfway down on the pedal, then you’re using the wet disc brakes. As for the operator, he doesn’t feel it. It feels like it’s a normal brake all the time,” Gidaspow explains. “The difference between a PZ and a Z-bar is basically the front end – the front frame and the loader linkage are different.”

At the WA320 level, generally in the 3- to 4-cubic-yard range, there was less of a parallel-machine market historically, says Gidaspow, but the PZ models have drawn attention as an “all-around deluxe” model capable of tackling various applications beyond pure loader production. These include log and auto handling, mine cleanup and especially snow removal – the latter enhanced by the anti-slip S-Mode available on Komatsu hydrostatic models up to the 320 size.

Dynamic dozen

Komatsu is one of a dozen major OEMs serving the 135- to 174-horsepower wheel loader market, carrying general buckets roughly in the 2.5- to 4.0-cubic-yard range. Most offer variable configurations in this range: With JCB, there’s a choice between parallel-lift HT and Z-bar ZX versions of the 426 and 436 models; Kawasaki offers TMV tool carrier variations of the Z-bar 65ZV-2 and 70ZV-2 models; New Holland has the self-leveling TC tool carrier and extended-linkage LR long-reach versions of the W130B; and John Deere’s 524K and 544K are available in Z-bar, high-lift and waste-handler configurations, as well as a “Powerlell” form of the larger model. For the other players in this market – Caterpillar, Liebherr, Volvo, Case, Doosan, Terex and Hyundai – a range of product size and/or versions is typical (see Machine Matters Roundup on page 26).

Doosan most recently introduced a new model size – the 3.0-cubic-yard DL220 – to fit between the existing DL200 and DL250, both of which are available in standard, tool carrier and high-lift versions. The six-cylinder Doosan DL06 diesel engine powering each model in this range uses an internal exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system, described by the company as mechanical, exclusive and more reliable than external electronic EGR systems.

Engine technology is at the heart of another brand evolving its product line. The new Case 721F has “market-exclusive” use of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology, says Tim O’Brien, Case marketing manager. “SCR is an ideal choice for wheel loader engine applications, in which operators are traditionally on and off the throttle continuously.”

The Case loader engine is tuned for fast response, providing better fuel efficiency versus what O’Brien describes as the “lag” of cooled EGR (CEGR). “Case has taken the approach that we’re going to choose what’s the best technology, either CEGR or SCR, depending on the application. With wheel loaders, it was clear to us that SCR was the best choice.” Electronic engine control has allowed Case to “reformulate” its power curves. “Where you really need the torque, at around 1,400 rpm, it really bulges up and gives you a spurt,” says O’Brien. “What we’ve found is that customers in testing the F-Series say the economy power mode, which gives you the best fuel efficiency, actually works for 95 percent of their applications. It really has plenty of power to get the work done,” he says, “but if you really want to go full production, you can put it on standard or you can put it on max.”

The ability to package SCR technology in smaller space, combined with the machine’s mid-mount cooling module, results in an F-Series loader that is comparatively more compact versus its competitors, adds O’Brien. “You really have a machine that is smaller in terms of the space that it takes up in the rear, which is really good for visibility,” he says. “Some might say, ‘Well, it looks like a smaller machine class.’ It really isn’t. It has all the capabilities; we’ve just highly engineered it so that they get all that capability in a package that’s basically easier to see around.”

Case, with the ongoing introduction of its Tier 4 F-Series, is shifting model designations to make room for new models, such as the 1021F and 1121F at the large end. Their arrival means that models below are in some cases moving down in actual size, the end result being more models offered with less separation between them.

Features catch on

Not new to the wheel loader, but features nonetheless that have developed this machine type beyond its rudimentary ways include operator joystick controls and bump-dampening ride control.

Joysticks have found their place with operators of a machine type once synonymous with the steering wheel, says O’Brien. “It really depends on what they’re doing,” he says. “If they’re in a higher-production job, even some of the older operators, particularly the ones who have demo’d or tried our joystick steer, say, ‘Well, that’s going to improve my productivity; that’s going to be more comfortable over the full shift.’ They also recognize if they’re roading or clearing snow, it’s probably better for them to have a steering wheel. So, we offer them the choice rather force them to choose one or the other.” In tight truck loading, where operators would be forced to constantly turn the steering wheel but not travel far or fast, the joystick reduces their physical wear and tear, says O’Brien, whose company offers the feature from the 521E model up through the 1121F. For those operators who are comfortable even roading the loader with the joystick, the updated Case joystick has a dampening effect at 14 miles per hour, slowing down the joystick’s touchy response for safe higher-speed travel.

Ride control, available from various OEMs, is now a standard feature on all Komatsu Z-bars and PZ wheel loaders, from the WA250 model size up, says Gidaspow.

“A lot of times, we find that the ones who maybe didn’t want it, once they get a wheel loader with it and start to use it, they appreciate it. So, we made it standard … if the operator still doesn’t like it, he can always just turn it off. If all the other loaders have ride control and one doesn’t, you don’t want to operate the one that doesn’t have it if you’re doing any traveling at high speeds,” he says.

Indeed, for the old plodder of the equipment fleet, there’s no more just bouncing along. There’s too much work for the wheel loader to do.



• 162 net horsepower

• 2.56-3.0 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 27,406 pounds operating weight

• 23,249 pounds breakout force

• 24/15.6 F/R miles per hour

721F (new)

• 144 net horsepower

• 2.53-3.25 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 31,510 pounds operating weight

• 32,907 pounds breakout force

• 23.5/15.9 F/R miles per hour

With the ongoing introduction of F-Series models, the Case wheel loader family is undergoing a shift, wherein some model designations for the newer series are moving down in actual machine size to create room for additional models, such as the large 1021 and 1121 first introduced with the F-Series. Specs assembled for the 2011-12 Equipment World Spec Guide indicate the new 721F moving closer in size to the 621E, for which an F-Series model is pending. Case uses selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology to meet Tier 4 Interim emissions standards with its F-Series loaders. A new optional, five-speed transmission with a lockup torque converter provides additional fuel savings, the company says.

John Deere


• 146 net horsepower

• 2.27-2.75 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 27,077 pounds operating weight

• 20,267 pounds breakout force

• 22.4/15 F/R miles per hour


• 167 net horsepower

• 2.6-3.0 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 28,263 pounds operating weight

• 22,461 pounds breakout force

• 22.2/15 F/R miles per hour

Along with such K-Series features as the isolated Quad-Cool system and a multi-function monitor with advanced diagnostics, the 544K takes utility loader operating to another level with single-lever joystick or two-lever fingertip controls providing smooth, “near-effortless” control, says John Deere. Excavator-style hydraulics sense the load and deliver flow required for smooth combined functions and fast cycle times, helped along by a PowerShift torque-converter transmission employing Smart Shift technology to continuously evaluate speed and load conditions, the company says. The 524K is available in Z-bar, high-lift and waste-handler configurations; the 544K additionally has a “Powerllel” version.



• 143 net horsepower

• 2.4-2.6 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 25,851 pounds operating weight

• 23,149 pounds breakout force

• 21.7/15.5 F/R miles per hour

DL220 (new)

• 143 net horsepower

• 2.9-3.0 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 27,205 pounds operating weight

• 22,928 pounds breakout force

• 23/16 F/R miles per hour


• 153 net horsepower

• 3.1-3.5 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 31,085 pounds operating weight

• 29,101 pounds breakout force

• 21.1/14.6 F/R miles per hour

Sized between the established DL200 and DL250, a new Doosan wheel loader model, the DL220, is a prime fit for the municipal market, the company says. Compared to the DL200, the DL220 has a 15-percent greater tipping capacity at full turn and, at a maximum 9 feet 4 inches, about 4 inches of additional dump height. All Doosan wheel loader models in this range are powered by the company’s six-cylinder DL06 diesel engine, featuring high-pressure common-rail direct fuel injection and four valves per cylinder, for improved combustion efficiency and reduced particulate matter. The DL200 and DL250 come in standard, high lift (HL) and tool carrier (TC) variations.



• 143 net horsepower

• 2.5-3.0 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 27,699 pounds operating weight

• 24,460 pounds breakout force

• 23.4/16 F/R miles per hour


• 149 net horsepower

• 2.7-4.1 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 28,725 pounds operating weight

• 28,334 pounds breakout force

• 23.8/15 F/R miles per hour

Bringing compatibility across the Caterpillar small and medium wheel loader families, from the 924 to the 972 model sizes, the Fusion interface is now available on the VersaLink-equipped 930H. “Virtually identical to pin-on but with all the flexibility of a quick-coupler system,” the Fusion coupler sits back close to the loader arms, where an advanced wedging system creates a tight, rattle-free fit that minimizes offset, says Caterpillar. The Z-bar 928Hz is available in an Aggregate Handler configuration with a 3.5-cubic-yard sand and gravel bucket, added counterweight, and remote axle and transmission breathers for fording depths up to 40 inches. The 930H is available with Cat’s Flexport solid tires.



• 149 net horsepower

• 2.8-3.3 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 25,580 pounds operating weight

• 22,530 pounds breakout force

• 22.3/22.3 F/R miles per hour


• 174 net horsepower

• 3.25-4.0 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 31,590 pounds operating weight

• 27,875 pounds breakout force

• 23/23.3 F/R miles per hour

The most significant updates to the core models of the Kawasaki utility-class wheel loader family are found in the cab, redesigned with increased leg room and personal storage space, a new air conditioning package, an auxiliary communications input and a back-up camera ready feature. Additionally, a new standard automatic reversible cooling fan and swing-out hydraulic cooler provide added cleanliness and access, the company says. The Z-bar 65ZX-2 and 70ZX-2 models are available with High Lift and Super High Lift arms. Their tool carrier counterparts, the 65TMV-2 and70TMV-2 have a skidder tire option, in response to feedback from southern site developers working on slippery terrain.



• 138 net horsepower

• 2.5-3.5 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 25,560 pounds operating weight

• 27,210 pounds breakout force

• 23.6/23.6 F/R miles per hour


• 167 net horsepower

• 3.0-4.2 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 31,680 pounds operating weight

• 29,060 pounds breakout force

• 23.6/23.6 F/R miles per hour

On the Dash-6 wheel loaders, Komatsu introduced a standard variable traction control system that, compared to the previous single traction control setting, increases machine movement on soft ground and reduces tire slippage, the company says. Komatsu’s HST hydrostatic transmission offers quick acceleration with its high drive torque and, conversely under deceleration, acts as a dynamic brake capable of holding the machine on slopes, thus increasing the life of the dual wet disc brakes. S-mode is designed for operating the loaders under slippery conditions, such as during snow removal. Combo parallel/Z-bar versions – designated PZ – have been added since the Dash-6 introduction.



• 162 net horsepower

• 2.62-4.58 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 27,558 pounds operating weight

• 24,425 pounds breakout force

• 25/25 F/R miles per hour

When the TL210 was introduced, it became the first mid-sized Terex wheel loader with a “hydrotransmatic” transmission, a progression from the hydrostatic transmission that features two regulating motors. Each piston hydraulic motor provides drive to the transfer case when high torque is required; only one is used when speed is the goal. Traction force and speed are optimized automatically and without interruption across the entire speed range, says Terex. The company’s modified tool carrier linkage is claimed to combine the breakout force, bucket reaction force and unloading time of Z kinematics with the precise control of the parallel kinematics in the bucket and forks.


L 538

• 141 net horsepower

• 3.3-5.3 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 28,120 pounds operating weight

• 25,403 pounds breakout force

• 25/25 F/R miles per hour

L 542

• 141 net horsepower

• 3.5-6.0 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 29,370 pounds operating weight

• 23,605 pounds breakout force

• 25/24 F/R miles per hour

L 550

• 173 net horsepower

• 4.0-7.2 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 36,430 pounds operating weight

• 28,101 pounds breakout force

• 25/25 F/R miles per hour

Reintroduced to the United States this year, the L 538 completes the full Liebherr offering of mid-size loaders, the company says. At a base capacity of 3.3 cubic yards, the L 538 has the option of either parallel lift or Z-Bar lift arms, with the same power output as the slightly-larger-capacity L 542 model. Catering to contractors in need of “a large-sized multiple application loader,” Liebherr developed a new linkage for the L 550, boasting industrial lift arms and parallel guidance equipped with a hydraulic quick hitch. As an addition to traditional Z kinematics, the industrial lift arms have increased torque when unloading material and when retrieving material in upper lift positions.


426HT / ZX

• 152 net horsepower

• 2.4-3.5 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 27,999/31,570 pounds operating weight

• 31,000/32,570 pounds breakout force

• 23.5/15.6 F/R miles per hour

436HT / ZX

• 166 net horsepower

• 3.0-3.5 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 31,974/35,860 pounds operating weight

• 30,240/36,418 pounds breakout force

• 23.5/16.8 F/R miles per hour

With JCB wheel loaders, customers can choose between parallel-lift (HT) and Z-bar (ZX) arm designs to best suit their applications and conditions. Explains JCB: Parallel lift provides consistently high torque throughout the motion of the arms, as well as better operator visibility and load placement; Z-bar gives greater breakout force, yet has fewer pivot points for reduced maintenance. An optional Smooth Ride System reduces machine bounce, boosts bucket capacity and enhances operator comfort during load-and-carry cycles. Recent model updates include new valve blocks that, says JCB, improve the smoothness and responsiveness of the hydraulics.



• 143 net horsepower

• 2.6-3.7 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 26,460 pounds operating weight

• 24,800 pounds breakout force

• 24.3/15.6 F/R miles per hour


• 170 net horsepower

• 3.0-4.2 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 32,000 pounds operating weight

• 27,620 pounds breakout force

• 23.5/15 F/R miles per hour

Operators of these 9 Series wheel loaders from Hyundai can customize engine power, automatic transmission shift timing and clutch cut-off based on job conditions and personal preference. Additionally, if the machine’s equipped with optional ride control, it can be turned on or off via an overhead switch. A newly-designed cab provides operators a larger field of view, thanks to a rounded front glass area 17-percent wider than that on previous 7A Series machines. Pilot-controlled joystick controls, a tilting and telescoping steering column, a new 5.7-inch-wide color LCD monitor screen and an automatic climate control system with 11 vents are among cab amenities.



• 154 net horsepower

• 2.2-6.5 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 24,250-27,120 pounds operating weight

• 18,020 pounds breakout force

• 26.8/26.8 F/R miles per hour


• 168 net horsepower

• 2.6-8.4 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 28,000-30,860 pounds operating weight

• 20,213 pounds breakout force

• 27.7/27.7 F/R miles per hour


• 172 net horsepower

• 3.0-9.2 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 33,070-37,480 pounds operating weight

• 26,650 pounds breakout force

• 28.7/28.7 F/R miles per hour

Rendered by load-sensing hydraulics and the “quick-reacting” APS automatic power shift transmission, high production rates are a hallmark of Volvo wheel loaders – the longest established product family by what is today a full-line construction equipment manufacturer. High rimpull in first gear provides strong pile penetration, says Volvo, and the company’s TP-Linkage system combines high breakout torque and parallel movement throughout the lift range for “more-than-heaped” bucket capacity. Volvo Advanced Combustion Technology – or V-ACT – engines reduce emissions via an internal exhaust recirculation system that reduces peak combustion temperatures.

New Holland


• 151 net horsepower

• 2.56 cubic yards bucket capacity

• 28,127 pounds operating weight

• 26,577 pounds breakout force

• 24/15.6 F/R miles per hour

The W130B’s four power modes allow the operator to, says New Holland, match machine performance to the job at hand: standard mode is suited for normal loading condition; economy mode is ideal for lift-and-carry applications; maximum mode tackles extreme conditions; and automatic mode matches the power curve to the application. In addition to the standard Z-bar offering faster cycle times and greater visibility to the bucket, the W130B is available in self-leveling tool carrier (TC) and extended-linkage long reach (LR) configurations. Available as an option for all W130B versions, the LTS load travel stabilizer absorbs shocks to smooth the ride on rough terrain, says New Holland.


Machine Matters More

In line with loaders

With their vocational models, truck manufacturers offer jobsite tools rather than just a truck with a dump body

Labeled “utility” or not, wheel loaders in the 135- to 174-horsepower range still, quite frankly, load trucks.

Most loader models are available in different linkage configurations, including high lift. These arms make it possible for smaller loaders to easily load vehicles with higher sides, says JCB, which in this range offers the 426 and 436 wheel loaders, both available with high-lift arms.

“When looking at such applications where there is a need for truck loading,” adds Liebherr product specialist Nick Rogers, “our loaders offer operational features such as a multi-functional joystick to increase operator comfort and productivity, and a single-piece molded windshield for exceptional visibility.” Liebherr wheel loaders come standard with an integrated inching pedal that acts to reduce the speed to the tires without losing the speed of the working hydraulics, “and this feature directly affects the productivity of truck loading,” says Rogers. “Also standard is the automatic hoist kick-out feature. With this feature, operators can set the lift arms to automatically stop at a certain height during the lifting cycle, and then can commence loading material into a truck.”

On the receiving end, “it is also all about productivity and uptime on the job – the ability to be on the job and maneuver efficiently in and out and back and forth on the site, load, and then efficiently negotiate the terrain to the unloading or drop-off point,” says Curtis Dorwart, vocational products marketing manager with Mack Trucks. “The Mack powertrain provides excellent low-end pulling power. Coupled with options like transmissions with multiple-speed reverse, operators have the tools they need to pull heavy loads within the comfort of well-appointed, climate controlled cab. Mack Trucks are jobsite tools, not just a truck chassis with a dump body attached to it.”

At CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2011, Volvo-owned Mack debuted an MHD or “medium heavy duty” version of the Granite, a top-selling, heavy-duty conventional straight truck.

Peterbilt offers the Model 337, available in gross vehicle weight ratings from 26,000 to 33,000 pounds, along with the larger vocational 348, 365, 367 and 382 models. “The Peterbilt advantage is providing our customers with the highest lifetime value at the lowest-possible weight and cost,” says Charles Cook, market segment manager, vocational products. “We allow the user to specify a truck optimized for the application, to maximize payload and profitability.”

A fellow PACCAR company, Kenworth offers its T440 or “Baby Eight” truck model, built on the same Class 8 heavy-duty chassis and cab as the T800 model line but with fewer “fancy” options. The T440 is well suited to the utility wheel loader in either a single- or tandem-axle configuration, says Alan Fennimore, Kenworth vocational marketing manager.

The Volvo VHD and sleeper-equipped VHD 430 trucks, available up to 500 horsepower, feature T-Ride suspensions with trunnion-mounted springs and rubber towers for traction and articulation on off-road sites. Hydraulics for dump or other vocational bodies can be powered with an engine or transmission Power Take-Off integrated into the chassis and operated by dash-mounted switches.

Other players in the vocational truck market are Navistar International, Daimler Trucks’ Freightliner and Western Star, and most recently Caterpillar, which introduced its first vocational truck, the CT660, at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2011.