Want a sensational lawn without the sweat? This year’s options include two pricey tractors that coddle you with carlike comforts. But Consumer Reports’ tests of 116 tractors, mowers, and riders confirm that you can make mowing less laborious without the sticker shock.
John Deere’s X310, $4,000, and Cub Cadet’s LGTX1050, $2,700, are part of a new breed of lawn tractors with power steering and cushy seats. Smooth mulching and bagging helped both score well, although a poor showing in our brand-reliability surveys kept the capable Cub Cadet off the magazine’s list of winners.
A better value: Husqvarna’s new YTH21K46, $1,600. A 46-inch deck speeds mowing over narrower models without requiring three blades, which compromise cut quality.
Consumer Reports also found some bargains among self-propelled gas mowers. The best Honda and Toro models are now priced about the same, and include Honda’s new HRR216VKA, $400. But Toro has the edge when it comes to features; its Recycler 20333 costs the same but adds a blade-brake clutch that stops the blade rather than the engine if you step away to clear a rock or branch from its path.
Overhead-valve engines that start and run more efficiently are also part of the picture as mowers meet tougher emissions rules. If you want faster, wider mowing without buying a tractor, you have new choices. But weeks of tests show that paying a little more often buys a lot more machine.
Value vs. cheap. Craftsman’s 37044, $350, is the lowest-priced pick among multispeed mowers, which can go from a crawl for long, thick grass to a brisk walk for the lighter stuff. It includes electric starting. Two new single-speed Toro models cost even less without giving up cutting performance. But unimpressive mowing put Walmart’s self-propelled Brute BTXPV226750HW, $290, and BTPD22625, $240, last in their categories.
Some assembly required. Murray’s new 11A-A23K, $195, is one of three Best Buys among gas push mowers. But Consumer Reports was less impressed with three lower-priced Murrays in that group. What’s more, you’ll have to assemble most of the parts on the Murray M20300 and Weed Eater 961120115 push models and remove the wheels whenever you change the cutting height. The low-scoring Murrays and Brute BTPD22625 also began rusting beneath the deck after routine cleaning.
When more buys less.John Deere’s new D100 tractor, $1,500, might seem like a deal at the store. But its jerky gear drive can’t match the smooth, infinitely variable drive systems on Consumer Reports top picks, including Craftsman’s 28885, just $1,300.
How to choose
A self-propelled gas mower suits most lawns, especially those with hills. Consider a gas or electric push mower for flatter lawns smaller than a quarter-acre. Have a half-acre or more? You’ll probably prefer a riding machine. Here’s other factors to think about before you buy:
Consider your mowing. Most mowers come ready to mulch, bag, or side-discharge clippings. But mulching or bagging with a riding machine usually requires a kit that costs $50 to $500.
Check features and controls. Most tractors and riders let you speed up or slow down with a convenient pedal instead of a lever. Among self-propelled mowers, Toro's Personal Pace system lets you vary speed simply by pushing the handlebar, and Honda's Smart Drive puts two tabs beneath your thumbs. Both beat the awkward controls on the Troy-Bilt TB-330XP and TB-350XP and Snapper SPXV22725.
Think twice about zero-turn riders. Rear-steering wheels give zero-turn-radius riders their tight turns but make them difficult to control on steep slopes. Two exceptions: The 46-inch Cub Cadet Z Force S 46 17AF5BHH and 42-inch RZT-S 17WF2BDT, which have steering wheels instead of levers and steerable front wheels, rather than casters. But as with Cub Cadet’s tractors, a relatively high repair rate kept its riders off the list of picks.