“A Super Huge Win” – Test Run of Cat’s 420 XE Backhoe

Updated Sep 25, 2023

In this episode of The Dirt, equipment operator and host Bryan Furnace tests out and reviews Caterpillar’s flagship backhoe, the 420 XE, which he found has some “awesome new features.”

The XE model is Cat’s premium version with a variety of operator comfort and convenience features that brought a smile and some relief to an operator who admits he hates backhoes.

“We’ve finally reached a point where someone has done something better for a backhoe,” Bryan says of the 420 XE.

One of those innovative features involves being able to rotate the seat 90 degrees, perpendicular to the boom so you can see down the side of the arm and bucket for better visibility. Joystick controls replace pilot controls and are attached to the seat, moving with the seat when it is rotated between loading and digging operations. Bryan found the controls provide some other conveniences that will make backhoe operators happier.

To find out more about why Bryan called the 420 XE a “super huge win” for backhoe operators, check out this episode of The Dirt.

Quick Specs

  • Max operating weight: 24,251 lbs.
  • Engine: 92 net hp, Cat C3.6
  • Dig depth standard: 14’
  • Bucket size: 1.25 cu. yds.

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In This Episode:

  • 00:00 - Cat 420 XE Backhoe Review
  • 01:00 - Cab Layout and Touchscreen
  • 01:58 - Operator Seat and Controls
  • 03:32 - Spinning the Seat 90°
  • 06:57 - Moving While Trenching
  • 08:13 - Dual Mode Trigger Sensitivity
  • 08:51 - Performance
  • 09:56 - Final Verdict and the Future of Backhoes


Bryan Furnace (00:00):

Today we're here to talk about the new 420 XE backhoe from Caterpillar. And I got to say, when it comes to backhoes, I'm going to be very straightforward and honest. I hate them. I hate backhoes. I spent a whole year in a backhoe bouncing up and down a job site, and it totally did me in for backhoes and so I've never wanted to set foot in a backhoe again.


And then I've got to the 420 XE. Now it is still a backhoe, so if you're thinking that backhoes have changed to the point that they aren't backhoes, I hate to inform you it's still a backhoe. Which means you still have a pretty bouncy ride down the road and you've still got a lot of the same big footprint issues that you have with a traditional backhoe.


But I will say this, the ride comfort has gotten significantly better. And I will say also the XE packs some awesome new features. So let's get into it.


If you're jumping into the 420 XE and you have any experience in a 420 E, 420 F, anything along those lines, you're going to be pretty well versed in cab layout. They haven't changed a whole lot. Most of your buttons are generally in the same spot. Most of your features are pretty well about on par with what they were in the old machines. Now you do have a touchscreen over here on your right as opposed to the old standard style screen that doesn't really give you that much information, so that is really helpful.


Another thing that screen unlocks, along with your EH controls for your pilot controls, you finally get to adjust sensitivity and response time in a backhoe. And that is awesome. I cannot tell you how long I've waited for this because there's so many times where I want to speed up the machine for hogging, but when I'm getting around utilities and I want to do some light work, I want to be able to slow the machine down and I don't want to have to do it with the throttle and I don't have to want to do it with being dainty with my controls. I want more finesse. And with the 420 XE, you finally have that option available to you.


Now we're going to get into the actual seat because this is where all of the redesign happened. This is where the cool stuff lies. The first thing you're going to notice is there are no controls in the back. You just have two joysticks and they're built directly into your armrest. When you're faced around forward using the machine in its front forward configuration, you're going to notice that the left joystick is totally dead and the right joystick is your boom and bucket controls for the front bucket. Now when we spin our seat around, you're going to hit a button and now all of a sudden, like a traditional backhoe, you can use them for your rear controls and that's really awesome.


Okay, Bryan, really? They renamed it the XE because they moved the joysticks to the armrests? Wait, guys, it gets cooler. The really cool thing is if I press a button on my left hand joystick when I'm in the front configuration, now I can operate the rear.


Let's say that fence way back there was actually a lot closer, something that I'm worried about my rear implement. Instead of having to reach behind me and do this whole thing, I just hold my button down over here and I can swing my boom off to the side. No big deal.


That's right. I can actually move the swing tower and I can actually use my boom and stick in this machine while I'm facing forward. Now, it's not going to let you dig. You don't have that kind of functionality, but as most of us who have run backhoes before know every once in a while you're doing some grade work and all of a sudden you get up tight against a fence or a building behind you and you just need to swing that boom over.


What really does it for me is the fact that you can now spin your seat 90 degrees if you want, and you can lean that baby right back and you can operate from that position.


One of my biggest beefs with backhoes is this side picture right here. You can't see down the boom. You're constantly looking from side to side to see anything of what's going on. Well, the cool thing about the XE with the controls integrated into the seat is we're going to unlock, and immediately my controls go dead just like any other backhoe. But the cool thing is once I get myself comfortable, and you know what, let's lean back, because we really want to get comfortable, but actually more importantly, I want to be able to see down my boom. So we're going to get comfortable and then I'm going to hit my dual controls button and guess what? My backhoe controls are live. And I can dig in this position, looking right down the side of my boom. And, let's be honest, it's not anywhere close to an excavator in visibility, but it's a heck of a lot better than it is in a traditional backhoe setup. So that gives you a tremendous amount of flexibility just in your straight digging application.


And Caterpillar has smartly, I will give them full credit, they have smartly allowed you to use those controls even while the seat is not locked into its rearmost position. And so that's really given us some great advantages for sight. Now, I do have to put the caveat in there. This only works one direction, right? Because our backhoe seat doesn't swivel 360 degrees. So unfortunately, it means that only when you're swinging off to the left-hand side of the machine are you going to be able to do this. But it's really convenient if you've got a truck where you're setting up, where you're digging into a trench and dumping into a truck beside you or something similar, to be able to swivel that seat and operate where you are in perfect view of both the hole and your dump site? That's huge for backhoes.


Now, we've all been in this scenario because we've all ran a backhoe and we know that the most efficient way to trench is to raise your front bucket up and shove yourself forward using your back arm, and then you set your lower bucket back down. And what are we all doing as traditional operators? The floppy handshake? Yep. Trying to find that control. No more.


From this position, and with the dual control setup, I don't even have to mess with anything up front. I'm going to squeeze my button here, which puts me into lower mode. I'm going to raise my front bucket. My front bucket's now off the ground. Now I'm going to push myself forward, maybe, and now dual button again, put the bucket down. All I do is let off of my dual button and we're back to digging in the backhoe.


You don't have to spin around. You don't have to do anything magic and you don't have to flail around. It's so convenient. We finally reached a point where someone has done something better to a backhoe, because backhoes are, I mean, let's face it, it's ancient technology these days. Backhoes have been around forever. And so for someone to actually make an improvement that materially changes the way you use the machine, in my mind, is a super huge win.


Now, one of my small beefs with this machine is the trigger that you have to pull in order to make the other function work is not as sensitive as I would like it to be. So I really had to mash on that button and there were multiple times where I would have it locked in I thought and I would start to move and then all of a sudden my finger would let go just a little bit and it was enough to kick it out and my front movement started moving. So that happened with a fairly regular occurrence. Now, the one thing I will say is this was Cat's demo machine. I don't know if that's from the factory it's not that sensitive, or if this one has just been put through its paces and ragged on a little bit and maybe that button's starting to get worn out. So don't hold me to that one.


Now, Caterpillar has actually downsized the engine in this machine and I know that makes us as operators really, really, catch our breath. Why would you downsize the engine? But I will say confidently, this machine has got a phenomenal amount of power. And Cat's done some really smart things with it. They've increased the size of the boom cylinder on the rear. So now you have other companies like John Deere and Case that have their power boost function, or power lift, or whatever fancy word you want to call it, where they would actually increase the pressure on the machine to give you extra lifting oomph off the rear. Cat just did away with all that and said, "No, we'll just put a bigger cylinder on it." And this thing has got some oomph. It is exactly what you would expect out of a Cat backhoe. You can lift the front of the machine using the rear arm. There's a ton of power there.


And that translates to the front as well. I went into multiple piles of stone, and instead of really trying to lift and fill the bucket, I intentionally buried that bucket and tried to lift half the pile just to see what I could get away with. And I was not disappointed with how much production I was able to get out of it.


Now, unfortunately, this is kind of a short review because at the end of the day, a backhoe is a backhoe is a backhoe. We don't have a ton of crazy improvements. Like I said, if you jump in the seat of the XE, if you're coming from an E or an F model, you're going to feel right at home in this one. So if you have new operators on the job, they should be okay fumbling their way through all of the new buttons.


So it's a backhoe, but I will say check it out because the technological improvements that are coming to backhoes, they're getting us somewhere. I don't know if it's ever going to come to fruition, but some of the cool features, like the E-fence that we're seeing on excavators, or swing assist, now that the backhoes have gone totally EH, I don't see why there couldn't be some crossover there. Which means that backhoes could now be getting some really advanced tech features.


So with that being said, thank you guys for watching. I appreciate your time. I hope this helps your business. We'll catch you on the next episode of The Dirt.