Consumer Reports' latest mower tests show that Honda is on a roll for performance and value. Testers also found some bargain-priced riders, including two new models from Troy-Bilt that turn on a dime and are as close as your nearest Lowe's.
Honda took four of the five top spots among the multispeed, self-propelled mowers most people buy. But you don't have to buy the $700 HRX217VKA to get a stellar machine; the brand's new HRR216VKA costs $479 and scored just 2 points lower overall.
A well-placed bump beneath the deck helped it ace the mulching tests by sending clippings back into the blade. And like the other new Hondas, it toggles between mulching and bagging with a flip of a lever.
Two new CR Best Buy mowers from Troy-Bilt did almost as well for even less. The TB-280ES has an electric start for just $340. And Ariens' new Razor 911179, $400, held the most clippings of any walk-behind mower tested, thanks in part to an extra-deep deck that helped it suck up and route clippings.
Got a half-acre or more to mow? Zero-turn-radius riders combine the wide-cutting decks of a lawn tractor with rear-steering wheels that let them trim tightly around trees and posts. But because most that have been tested offer less control than tractors on hills, Consumer Reports Recommends them only for relatively flat properties with slopes less than 10 degrees.
How to choose
You'll probably want a self-propelled gas mower for most lawns or a tractor or riding mower if you have a half-acre or more. Powered push mowers are fine if you have a flatter lawn that's less than a quarter acre and you like more exercise. Here's what else to think about before you buy:
•Consider your mowing. Many mowers and riders handle some mowing modes better than others. For example, Honda's new self-propelled mowers were superb at mulching and bagging but dropped clippings directly behind them when discharging. With tractors and riders, mulching and bagging kits can cost $500 or more and take an hour to install, which might explain why most people simply send clippings out the side and onto the lawn.
•Look for a reliable brand. Snapper was among the top performers for self-propelled mowers. But like Cub Cadet, Husqvarna and John Deere, the brand has been repair-prone in reliability surveys. As of 2013, Snapper mowers are built in the same place and are similar to the ones made for the more reliable Troy-Bilt and Craftsman brands. Time will tell whether reliability for Snapper self-propelled mowers improves.
•Consider weights for two Deeres. Even without the bag attachment, the John Deere Z235, $2,500, and Z255, $3,000, zero-turn-radius riders tended to tip up if you take off abruptly. Whether or not you expect to bag, consider spending $60 each for the 42-pound weights Deere sells with the bag kit to get rid of the lift.
•Don't buy just by the numbers. Mower brands often tout larger or higher-torque gas engines. But as with horsepower for riders, neither ensures better mowing.