Offers a powerful 726cc engine and a 52-inch fabricated deck that work together to tackle medium to large yards quickly and efficiently. Hydrostatic transmission is reliable and easy to adjust. Requires very little assembly when it arrives. Built to last for years.
Relatively bulky and expensive. Fuel efficiency is not great.
This powerhouse has a Kohler 7,000 series, V-twin automatic OHV motor that delivers 24 horsepower, making it up to the task of mowing small to huge yards. Has 12 cutting heights that are easy to adjust. The 50-inch cutting deck gets jobs done quickly. In spite of the power, the ride is comfortable and smooth. Cruise control.
Oil drain plug is in an awkward location. Mower requires only a little assembly, but it's difficult to put together.
Its 26-horsepower motor is about as strong as they come, affording it a max of 6.5 mph without being bogging down, even on thick grass. It matches with a mulching kit and bagging accessory that, while sold separately, are immensely convenient, especially during fall.
The deck is stamped, which makes it a bit less sturdy than fabricated models. Luckily, it's slightly more reinforced than many other stamped decks.
Runs on a rechargeable battery that can run up to 2 hours with each charge. Brushless motor operates smoothly and delivers 48 volts of power. Has a midsized 38-inch cutting deck with 12 manual height settings. Very easy to operate and maintain. Quiet compared to gas-powered models.
Ride is slightly bumpy. Underpowered compared to gas riding mowers. If you have more than about 2 acres to mow, you'll probably have to recharge the battery.
Zero-turn capability along with shiftless hydrostatic transmission make it straightforward and easy to use. At 7 mph, it goes faster than most. Its flip-up foot platform provides easy access to the internals for cleaning and general maintenance.
Doesn't have a fuel gauge and may tend to go through a lot of drive belts.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
A riding lawn mower is a wise investment, but finding the right one can be a daunting process. Advice abounds on the internet and elsewhere, but much of it comes from manufacturers themselves.
When faced with questions about a large purchase like this, it helps to get an unbiased opinion. That's where the BestReviews team steps in. We’re proud to deliver a complete, balanced view of the options available to you.
We identified five riding lawn mowers, also known as lawn tractors, that deliver top performance and superb value. Each hails from a respected manufacturer, and each provides an excellent fit for particular needs. Please see our product list, above, for information about these fine products.
And if you want more in-depth information on the subject, please delve into our shopping guide, below.
The size of your land helps dictate the size of mower you should buy. You might need a simple walk-behind mower, or you might need a riding mower with a cutting deck of 30, 40, or 50 inches.
Two significant riding mower types exist on today’s market. The first is the traditional riding mower that looks pretty much like a smaller version of a real tractor. On this type of mower, the driver changes direction via an ordinary steering wheel.
The second type is the Zero Turn Radius (ZTR) mower. A ZTR’s caster-type front wheels enable the driver to make tight turns (hence the name). The vast majority of ZTRs are steered with lap or upright levers. This feels unusual at first, but once mastered, it allows for faster maneuvering around curved beds, borders, and other intricate areas.
A riding mower’s engine splits its power between driving the vehicle forward and turning the blade. As a result, most motors are comparatively large, ranging from an entry-level 400cc to a whopping 700cc+ in the biggest models. Some manufacturers prefer to quote specs in terms of horsepower. Invariably, more hp is better!
Regardless of how the manufacturer describes the motor’s power, you can count on a speed of about four to eight mph. This is more than adequate for mowing, especially on uneven ground. Equally important to a machine’s mph rate is the fact that a more powerful motor generates more torque. Torque plays a vital role in the effective turning of the cutter blade.
Riding mower engines are either single cylinder or v-twin. The latter runs smoother and lasts longer than the former, but v-twins are also pricier and trickier to maintain.
All the motors we've discussed so far run via gas power. Electric motors have made their debut on the market, but they remain expensive by comparison. What’s more, people criticize their lack of power, short run time, and long recharge time.
As technology marches on, electrically powered riding mowers are certain to improve, but we cannot recommend one at this moment in time.
Should you buy a riding mower with manual, automatic, or hydrostatic transmission?
Lots of owners prefer a machine with a manual gearbox. The best modern mowers offer clutchless changing, so you only have a single lever to deal with. But mowers with automatic transmission offer the benefit of smooth power delivery. The speed control is like that of a car; you press down harder if you want to go faster, and you release your foot from the gas to stop. Those who do a lot of stop/start mowing are bound to prefer a ride-on with automatic transmission.
Rather than using the belts or chains of a standard automatic lawn mower, a machine with hydrostatic transmission employs hydraulic oil in a closed system. Riding mowers with hydrostatic transmission are costly but durable, and they require very little maintenance.
This type of blade cuts grass and releases the clippings into a rear-mounted bag or via a side discharge for later collection. 2:1 describes the double action of discharging and bagging. The “high lift” version of a 2:1 performs the same function but with greater clearing efficiency and airflow.
All riding mowers feature one of two blade types. The first is the 2:1 blade. The 2:1 also has a variation called the high lift. The second is the mulching blade.
A mulching blade is typically more curved than a 2:1, and you’ll often see mulching blades with extra cutting edges. This blade produces fine clippings that don't require collection; they can be left on the lawn as mulch.
On the downside, mowing with a mulching blade consumes more time. These blades don’t “throw” as well as 2:1 and high lift blades, and damp grass can clog the blades. However, there are no clippings to empty.
As you search for a new riding lawn mower, you may wish to consider products with the following extras and accessories:
In addition to these cool features, a number of front- and rear-mounted attachments can extend the use of your mower beyond just cutting grass. Not all riding lawn mowers can accommodate these attachments, however. It depends on the model.
Optional front-mounted attachments include dozer blades/plows, snow blowers/throwers, scoops, and lawn dethatchers. Optional rear-mounted attachments include various dump carts, dethatchers, leaf sweepers, lawn aerators, rollers, and spreaders.
Before investing in a particular model, ask yourself if the product will be able to help you complete the tasks you do the most. For example, if you aerate your lawn four times a year, a riding mower that cannot accommodate an aerator is probably not the best choice for you.
A Note About Attachment Safety
Any attachment you add to your riding lawn mower could potentially interfere with its center of gravity and, therefore, its stability. Make sure the riding mower you buy can safely accommodate the add-on attachments you want. For example, some mowers have a lower center of gravity than others and are therefore more accommodating of attachments on the back.
The five riding lawn mowers in our product list represent a fairly accurate spread of prices in the homeowner bracket. When shopping for a riding mower, keep the following price tips in mind:
Luke recommends that you post a written tracker on your wall or computer that monitors your adherence to a regular schedule. Use this schedule to remain mindful of the following:
Before you begin any at-home maintenance, always ensure the ignition is turned off. It's also a good idea to disconnect the battery terminal or spark plug wires so the mower can't be started by accident.
Maintenance tasks specific to the mower components are as follows:
Always follow manufacturer recommendations if performing your own maintenance, or ask a professional to service your riding lawn mower.
One of the most important steps you can take toward successful maintenance of your riding lawn mower is regular blade sharpening. As a general rule of thumb, Luke advises that you sharpen your blades after every eight hours of use. If you cut grass for two hours per week, this means that you’ll need to sharpen your blades every month.
Establish a plan for how you will remove the blades from the mower, and follow a safety protocol when you do. In many cases, it makes sense to buy your own sharpening grinder and complete the task yourself.
Sharp blades are important to the health of your mower, but that’s not all. If you fail to mow your lawn with a sharp blade, you will soon see yellow tips develop on your grass, ruining the look of what otherwise might be a green and healthy lawn.