Editor at Large: Getting a Contractor’s Perspective on Cat’s Next Gen 255 and 265 Track Loaders

The press watch the unveiling of the 255 and 265 track loaders at Cat’s Edwards facility.

To make great products, manufacturers need real-world testing from real-life contractors. There’s only so much that can be done in the lab. Before going into full-scale production, Caterpillar’s Field Follow Program puts a test machine out in the field for months, allowing customers to help evaluate it on everyday jobs. Cat’s next generation 255 and 265 compact track loaders are recent graduates of the Field Follow Program. Back in October, I got the opportunity to meet the customers behind the testing process. Caterpillar convened an exclusive customer panel at its Edwards Demonstration and Learning Center near Peoria, Illinois, to discuss insights on these newly unveiled track loaders — contractors like Chris Ford, president of Ford Companies in Clayton, N.C., which specializes in residential and commercial landscape installs.

“We do a lot of work on slopes for large scale communities,” explained Ford. “As they cut entrances, a lot of times we’ll have grade changes where there’s 40-, 50-, 60-ft-tall slopes. With the 255, we work up and down those steep slopes with no problem. It has a lower center of gravity because they dropped that engine down and moved the counterweights around to the bottom of the machine. In my personal opinion, it’s not even a comparison what this new machine does compared to what the old one does.”

The voice of the customer left a big imprint on these next generation Cat track loaders — from more stability to class-leading lift height to the X-grip cell phone holder in the cab. The world’s largest maker of earthmoving equipment relied on its greatest resource — owners and operators — to help produce an impressive new generation of CTLs. The 255 and 265 elevate Cat’s loader reputation with improved engine performance, enhanced hydraulic power, class-leading lift and tilt specs, kingly operator comfort, cool technology and (what the customers loved most) raw power — all of which equates to completing jobs quicker.

“We’re in a subdivision, we’ve got several loads of dirt sitting there and we need to push this house pad out and get it ready so the guys can concrete,” said Derrick Rogers, owner of Coast 2 Coast Lawn Maintenance in Biloxi, Mississippi, specializing in grading, building house pads and landscape installs. “I can save a lot of time with that 255. I would say I can shave 20 percent, 30 percent of my time with this 255. I can push more dirt. I can carry a grade farther. About a month ago, we pushed out 36 loads of dirt that had been sitting there for two months. If anybody knows anything about dirt, if it’s been sitting there for two months, it’s not like a fresh load. What would’ve taken me a full day on [Cat’s previous D3 Series] 259, took me about five hours.”

Let’s learn more about these units from both Cat experts and the contractors who tested these next gen track loaders (shown above).

Power and Stability Enhancements on Cat’s Next Gen Track Loaders

Cat has been revamping a lot of its compact equipment using the next generation badge — like its next generation 906, 907 and 908 compact wheel loaders and its line of next generation compact excavators. These next gen machines include big upgrades in power, comfort and technology, and Cat’s new 255 and 265 compact track loaders take those next generation improvements even further with a complete redesign. Cat currently offers seven models of D3 Series compact track loaders, but the 255 and 265 will be replacing three of these models (the D3 259, 279 and 289). Both of these new models will be vertical lift, as Cat is moving away from producing the 279 radial configuration compact track loader.

The vertical-lift linkage on the new 255 loader delivers a class-leading lift height of 124 in., and compared to the 259D3, delivers 36 percent more tilt breakout, 26 percent higher lift breakout force and a 24 percent increase in rated operating capacity (ROC). Height to the B-pin for the 265, compared to the 289D3, increases by 7.6 in., resulting in a class-leading maximum lift height of 11 ft for easier truck loading. The 265 also delivers 19 percent higher tilt breakout force and 22 percent higher lift breakout force. This again equates to getting more work accomplished.

“Those additional inches of lift height allows you to dump closer to the center of a truck, which can allow you to help support a fuller truck load when it’s leaving,” said Dante Thomas, skid steer loader and compact track loader marketing manager at Cat. “It also helps when you’re picking and placing or moving things with a set of forks. Having that additional lift height just increases the versatility that we have to offer with the 255 and 265.”

That impressive lift height pairs nicely with impressive auxiliary hydraulic flow, which is the pressurized oil system that powers the variety of attachments from brush cutters to brooms — spec’d in gallons per minute (gpm) and pressure (psi). There are three aux flow options on the 255 and 265 track loaders — standard, high flow and high flow XPS (the latter a Cat exclusive). The 255 options include standard at 23 gpm/3,500 psi, high flow at 30 gpm/3,500 psi and high flow XPS at 30 gpm/4,061 psi, and the 265 has options of standard at 23 gpm/3,500 psi, high flow at 30 gpm/3,500 psi and high flow XPS at 34 gpm/4,061 psi.

“We increased standard flow and standard pressure on the 255 model specifically,” explained Kevin Coleman, Cat senior product specialist. “That valving architecture that we put in these machines allows us to run all of our attachments, including our Smart Attachments. Even at the standard hydraulic flow level, you’ll be able to power and work all of these attachments — every attachment we make.”

For Cat next gen track loaders equipped with standard flow, models will be shipped from the factory outfitted as “high-flow ready,” meaning high flow can be easily activated via a new software enabled attachment (SEA) system, permitting on-machine or remote activation of increased hydraulic flow to 30 gpm at the standard system pressure. The new 255 and 265 loaders are also powered by Cat C2.8T and Cat C2.8TA engines, which both offer 74.3 hp. Staying below that 75-hp threshold means no diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) will be needed. A redesigned engine compartment on both units mounts the engine and cooling package lower into the frame for improved stability, giving the operator confidence in handling heavy loads and navigating precarious slopes.

“We do a lot of frack pond mowing, so we’re on slopes greater than 45, 50 degrees,” said Michael Alvarez, superintendent with Cowboy Oil Field Services, which serves the oil and gas industries in west and south Texas. “We have a Cat 289, and I would not dare do a turn on the slope with that machine, but with this new [265] I just feel so close to the ground. We’ve turned it with the attachment up high and everything, and it just gives that operator confidence to be able to do that.”

A new undercarriage also helps with confidence and stability. Reengineering of lower machine components resulted in a stronger and stiffer undercarriage for improved machine stability and less pitching when filling the bucket with material. These units continue to use a torsion suspension undercarriage, which delivers better operator comfort, track wear and material retention. Another big plus here is that the stiffer undercarriage design also results in smoother graded surfaces, and track loaders are being used more and more for grade control operations. For nimble operations, the 255 loader offers a new 12.6-in. bar-tread narrow track option.

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Operator Comfort and New Joystick Options on the 255 and 265

The cab of a track loader is someone’s office, and a comfortable workspace usually means a more productive and happier operator. “When you’re in a machine all day, you want to be comfortable,” confirms Rogers, whose Coast 2 Coast Lawn Maintenance works in the Mississippi heat. “We buy cab air machines. You’re going to expect a guy to sit in this machine in the dirt and sun all day — eight, 10, 12 hours — I want them to be comfortable. I’m going to get more productivity out of him, and these machines allow me to do that. When he gets out, he’s not tired. [Cat] really focused on operator fatigue and comfortability, and it works. Oh, and that AC, that’s a big improvement too. I don’t know what part of the world y’all are from, but that is definitely a creature comfort [down South].”

Listening to customer insights, the Cat 255 and 265 compact track loaders feature a much larger cab design with 22 percent more overall volume and 26 percent additional foot space. It’s roomy. With a 2.75-in. increased interior width, the new cab expands footwell-to-ceiling height by 1.8 in. and allows for an additional 1.5 in. of hip room. There’s also a buttload of seat options. A range of new mechanical and air-ride suspension seat options are available for the 255 and 265 loaders, including a high-comfort seat that is both ventilated and heated. “On a hot day,” said Thomas. “You’re running the AC. As the air conditioning is cooling the air around you, the ventilated seat is also ventilating that air underneath you as well.” New auto temperature control and vent outlet positioning above the operator also help the new HVAC system to quickly cool or heat the cab’s interior.

Readers can check out the cab and creature comforts in the video above.

A lot of this cool technology can be controlled via the monitor. Next gen loaders are equipped with either a 5-in. standard LCD monitor or an optional 8-in. advanced touchscreen monitor. Like the previous D3 Series’ advanced display, the standard monitor features Bluetooth connectivity and supports functionality for the rearview camera feed, creep control, job clock, maintenance reminders and 32 languages. The new 8-in. monitor comes with an option for three back cameras, giving a 270-degree view from the rear and allowing operators to see behind their back tracks.

“For those of you that have seen the Cat next generation mini hydraulic excavators or small wheel loaders, they have a display that is very similar [to this new advanced 8-in. option],” said Thomas. “The look and the feel, the screens and menus, they operate in a very similar fashion and you’ll find commonality across many of the Caterpillar machines. Radio function. Bluetooth control. Ride control. You can adjust the movement, the aggressiveness or the conservativeness of how the tracks and lift arms work.”

Along with this new advanced monitor, Caterpillar is also introducing new advanced joysticks, which have a crazy number of buttons and toggles, allowing operators to control multiple auxiliary hydraulic functions, backup camera, sound levels and way more. The advanced joysticks integrate with the advanced touchscreen monitor so all machine function controls and adjustments can be made (using the joysticks) without the operator removing their hands from the controls. These new joysticks look very cool but were a little intimidating to the Field Follow customers.

“It was a little different getting used to,” said Rogers about the new joysticks. “If you operate a skid steerer a lot, you operate it a lot from the top of the joystick. It’s a little different because they’re a lot bigger, but as you keep moving them you get used to it. I think it’s a good change. You can sit there and keep doing what you’re doing, keep operating. I can adjust the volume or talk on the phone, the radio, I can change this attachment or do something and it’s all the touch of a button.”

Getting in and out of the cab has also gotten easier. Featuring a low entry point, the 255 and 265 actually allow the operator to open the cab door without the lift arms being fully lowered to the frame stops. It’s also easy to get that door off. A super simple two-step door removal process allows operators to quickly remove it without tools. Sometimes it’s nice to operate with the cab door off. Such options make for happy operators.

A New Perspective on Equipment

Getting to meet real contractors that help test construction equipment is a pretty fun way to experience a new set of compact track loaders, and Cat’s next generation 255 and 265 are an exciting new set of CTLs. Just be warned: That excitement could lead to some possessiveness on the jobsite.

“Our operators fight over the machine,” said Adam Butterfield, manager at Snow Canyon Construction, which provides utility adjustment services from its home base in Santa Clara, Utah. “We kind of assigned the [next generation track loader] to one guy just so that we could have consistent feedback, but he doesn’t want to give it up. He’s turned into a bit of a princess about it, so it’s becoming our preferred machine for sure.”

Keith Gribbins is publisher of Compact Equipment.