Over the course of the last couple of years, John Deere has been at work revamping its mid-size loader lineup. The new L-Series generation of these utility loaders features a redesigned Z-Bar linkage and a host of other updates to make an operator’s life easier. This video has all the details on what’s new with Deere’s mid-size loader lineup.
Over the last couple of years Deere has been at work refreshing its loader lineup with the phased introduction of new L-Series models.
We’ve detailed the changes that have been made to three of Deere’s larger production loaders—the 744L, 824L and 844L— but here we’re going to be focusing on Deere’s latest mid-size or utility loader models. This mid-size lineup has been refreshed in two phases, the first of which came in early 2019 with the introduction of the 524L, 544L and 624L—the loaders that sit in the middle of the lineup.
This year though Deere has rolled out the rest of the L-Series lineup with the introduction of the 444L at the bottom of the lineup, the 644L and its Hybrid model, and finally the new 724L at the top of the lineup.
The updates within this new lineup reveal a focus on improving productivity, operation feel and operator comfort. So, with the updated lineup now complete, let’s discuss all of the major changes with Deere’s mid-size loader lineup.
Redesigned Z-Bar Linkage
Let’s start off with what is the most substantial update across each of these seven new Utility Loader models and that’s the redesigned linkage.
Unlike the Z-bar linkage on the K-Series loaders, which could only get whatever you’re picking up within about 21 degrees of being completely parallel with the ground, the new linkage significantly improves that parallel lift capability to 8 degrees. Which, in terms of visibility and the visual appearance of the work tool or load to your naked eye is nearly parallel.
The big deal here is that this linkage update alone makes these loaders much more versatile.
In the past you had to choose between the higher breakout forces and better bucket rollback that you get with a Z-bar linkage or the visibility and level lifting of a parallel or tool carrier linkage. And while this new Z-bar that Deere has come up with can’t achieve completely parallel lift, it’s way closer and much less of a compromise than what you had on the K-Series.
Obviously, if you’re a big user of forks on any of these models, this new linkage could make your life a lot easier.
“If an operator is using forks, throughout that lift cycle, there are fewer adjustments the operator has to make to keep that load level,” Deere product marketing manager for wheel loaders, Grant Van Tine says. “So that’s huge; especially when we talk about the versatility of these machines, knowing that many are equipped with couplers, and they’re using buckets, forks and other attachments.”
I just mentioned the better rollback you get with a Z-bar and that’s actually another improvement that Deere has made on the new mid-size L-Series. With this new linkage, Deere has increased bucket rollback by 15 degrees over what you had on the L-Series models.
So in the end, with this new linkage Deere has actually improved tool flexibility in both directions, giving you better material retention when digging and carrying dirt and better parallel lift performance and visibility when carrying and dumping.
The new linkage is available in standard and High Lift configurations across the lineup. The High-Lift models gives you an additional 12 inches of hinge-pin height over the standard configurations. However, if you’re opting for the 724L, you’re going to already have a bit more vertical reach even if you go with the standard configuration. That’s because the new Z-bar linkage improved hinge pin height by 3 inches on the 724L over the 724K.
And on the 524 through the 624 models, Deere is offering a new High-Lift Plus configuration, which gives you yet another 12 inches. So in the end, if you opt for the 524L or 624L High Lift Plus you’re going to get 24 extra inches of lift height over those models standard equipment. And no matter what height you’re lifting to, the new linkage delivers that near-parallel lift throughout the cycle.
Another available configuration is the tool carrier linkage which is only available on the 524L and 624L.
Another big part of the improvements to the business end of these new loaders is that they also feature a new enhanced production bucket with profile side cutters and integrated spill guards. Not only does the new design make filling the bucket easier, but the combination of this new bucket and the increased rollback the linkage offers is the ability to fill the bucket with 10 percent more material without worrying about spillage.
“We have these available in a pin on configuration, in our John Deere High-Vis coupler—which is our ISO-style coupler—as well as a JRB-style coupler configuration,” Van Tine says. “In addition to to these new improvements, we also have new sizes available as well that we didn’t previously have on on K-Series.”
Another big change on the new L-Series Utility loaders comes through the transition from pilot controls to electro-hydraulic controls. Beyond offering more intuitive operation, the E/H controls allow quick access to programmable functions, as well as operator-specific control settings, and attachment-specific settings.
Unlike the L-Series models found in its larger production loader lineup, Deere is still equipping its mid-size models with a steering wheel.
“You think about mid-size loaders and they’re pretty versatile. They’re used in a wide variety of applications. You may have a case where you’ve got multiple operators per machine and operators that run multiple machines,” Van Tine says. “So, you know, just going back to that versatility piece, the customers just prefer to have a steering wheel. That’s what most of those operators are more comfortable with.”
However, if you do want joystick steering in lieu of a steering wheel, it is an available option, but only on the 644L, 644L Hybrid and 724L models.
And when it comes to the loader control, you can choose between a joystick or a single-axis style stick. No matter which style you opt for, you’ll get two programmable multifunction buttons. Through the in-cab display you can assign one of 10 E/H functions to each of these buttons.
Some of those functions include soft and hard hydraulic stops, a Precision Mode and bucket vibrate. You can even use these buttons to toggle on custom hydraulic flows or a whole custom configured modes consisting of preset hydraulic flow or responsiveness for up to 10 different attachments.
Beyond the multifunction buttons though, these E/H controls open up even more time saving functionality and shortcuts to operations you may perform many times throughout a day. And though you get the two multifunction buttons when you opt for the single axis control, you get the most bang for your buck in terms of multitasking capability when you go with the joystick control.
With the joystick you get the multifunction buttons, a standard F-N-R switch, plus you can equip it with thumb rollers for auxiliary functions. In total, with this one E/H joystick you can control up to six different machine functions.
“So what the operator can do is choose from a variety of functions that they may commonly need to activate or engage for whatever task they’re performing, and they can have those functions right at their fingertips,” Van Tine says. “So it could be something as simple as the horn, or they could change it to diff lock or transmission kick down, just as a few examples. And that’s all programmable through the monitor.
“We have new soft stops, which helps with the cushioning. At the end of the stroke of the hydraulics, we have a new precision mode, which allows for fine metering of the boom or bucket. Maybe it’s a sewer and water type contractor and they’re setting a piece of pipe or a manhole or something.”
The loaders also feature a return to dig that can be activated from a sealed switch touchpad for quickly recalling the bucket to a preset dig position. That return to dig function can be activated in both the curl and dump positions.
Plus, the E/H controls also provide a new constant auxiliary flow function that allows you to continuously run attachments without having to hold a lever or roller.
“From an attachment standpoint we have a lot of capabilities with E/H and we can actually have up to four auxiliary functions controlled on a single joystick—if equipped properly and depending on the model—so that really gives us new capabilities there for some of these more sophisticated attachments that some customers are using,” Van Tine says. “In addition to that, we have specific settings for individual attachments that the operator can set through the monitor—things like flow settings and speeds can be tailored to a specific attachment.”
You know you’ve got a great generational update on your hands if you’re this far into an overview about a new loader series and we’re just now getting around to talking about a completely redesigned cab.
On these seven mid-size L-Series models Deere is offering a standard cab as well as a premium cab option. That premium option gets you a leather-trimmed, heated and ventilated, air suspension seat; remote powered exterior mirrors that are also heated; a premium radio with Bluetooth connectivity and automatic climate control.
But even if you opt for the standard cab without all those bells and whistles I just mentioned, you’re still getting a pretty nice upgrade from the cab found on the K-Series machines.
For starters, Deere has made the whole thing a bit roomier by moving the HVAC system outside of the cab. You get 3 inches more legroom and you get more functional storage space and mounting locations.
The new cab also features a dual tilt steering column, a new 7-inch color display and that relocated HVAC system has also been upgraded for better heating and cooling performance. Plus you get a rear window defroster and easier to access controls.
In addition to the new 7-inch display, Deere is offering a second display that is dedicated to displaying the view from the machine’s rear view camera.
“Another cool thing that we have available as an option is our seatbelt minder system which includes a beacon on top of the cab that alerts bystanders or it illuminates green when the seatbelt Is latched,” Van Tine says. “And then that’s also tied into our JD Link telematics system. So owners and others that are tied into that fleet managers can get alerts just based on the status of the seatbelt in the cab.”
Engine and Maintenance
As far as engines go, there have been no changes on the majority of the lineup in this jump from K-Series to L-Series. However, there have been horsepower increases on the 644 and 724 models.
On the 644L Hybrid and 724L, the bumps are minor. The 644L Hybrid went from 229 hp to 231 hp while the 724 went from 264 hp to 268 hp.
But the conventional 644L saw a fairly significant 7-percent power increase from 232 hp to 249. Beyond the fact that the conventional 644L is the only machine in this lineup with a different engine in terms of displacement than what was found inside the K-Series, what’s interesting about the horsepower increase you have with this machine is that Deere actually went from a 9-liter engine in the K-Series down to the same 6.8-liter engine that powers the Hybrid model.
“And really, that comes down to efficiencies that we’ve made just in terms of power density within the engine. And we’re able to meet our performance targets now on the 644 with the 6.8 liter,” Van Tine says.
And if you’re curious about that Hybrid 644, there hasn’t been much of a change from the K-Series. The benefits operators were already enjoying on the 644K Hybrid remain unique to the L-Series update of this hybrid machine.
“From a drivetrain standpoint, it’s the same proven drive system that we used on the 644K Hybrid. So essentially, you’ve got an engine powering a single generator. Then we have an inverter that controls an electric motor on a simplified transmission. From that point out, it’s a conventional drivetrain,” Van Tine explains. “So you’ve got drive shafts, you’ve got differentials and axles.
“And one of the cool things with that machine is some of the features that we get with that hybrid electric transmission. One of them being coast control that provides dynamic braking similar to a hydrostatic transmission. So, the loader can slow down without the operator having to touch the brake pedal. There are many benefits there, with one being [decreasing] wear life on your brakes. But operators, a lot of times comment on the 644 Hybrid’s ease of operation, performance in ramp climbing, the ability to load the bucket, the crowding power, the pushing power—benefits that we get from having the ability to run the engine at a constant speed. So your hydraulics are right there and when as the operators will stay when you need them, and really just giving that machine a little extra performance boost in addition to the fuel savings we see with the drivetrain.”
On the maintenance side, Deere has worked to ensure that these new loaders are easy to maintain. Because, as Van Tine told me, Deere feels that the easier the loaders are to maintain in terms of your daily checks and routine maintenance, the more likely it is that those things get done in a timely manner.
“So we have things like left side daily service points right on the same side as the fuel fill. So it’s really easy for the operator to check fluids. We’ve added remote jumpstart terminals, so it’s really easy to access those and jumpstart other machines if needed,” Van Tine says.
Then there’s the cooling package which Van Tine says is a design feature that Deere is particularly proud of.
“Our quad-cooled system which we’ve had for years is really a feather in our cap,” he says. “We feel very strongly about our cooling package, having it isolated from the engine compartment and just the overall box design, making it really easy to access the coolers and clean them out from both sides.”
These loaders also feature a swing-out hydraulic variable speed fan in the rear grille, but you can also equip them with a reversing fan as well.
“Our DPF strategy and exhaust filter cleaning strategy is another advantage I’ll point out,” Van Tine says. “It’s a system-managed approach that the operator can just do what they normally do and the system will take care of itself. In most cases when it’s managed properly, the DPF won’t need to be replaced or physically removed to be cleaned until an engine overhaul. So there’s no preset intervals we’re asking to be changed over time.
“We’ve also got available features like environmental drains, fluid sample ports, engine compartment light, quick fluid service and tire pressure monitoring on our 644 and 724. So there’s really a lot there that is available to customers that are looking to simplify maintenance and make it easier on their mechanics as well as their operators.”