Whether you face a large lawn or just need an easier means of trimming grass than self-propelled mowers can offer, a riding lawn mower can help with garden chores. These can really lessen cutting times when handled right, all while providing greater ease from the seat.
Will riding mowers work well on your lawn?
Riding lawn mowers are not ideal for mowing every size and type of yard, though. Even small riding mowers need space in a garage or garden shed for storing them. Large gas-powered models, particularly front-engine tractor types, can also need more maintenance while consuming extra gas. These also expel a bit more smoke than self-propelled mowers.
Battery-powered designs are also in the market, these can be also considered for mowing less expansive land of up to an acre or maybe two. But should you get one of these?
Well, for serious work on seriously-sized properties, it is probably best to focus on proven gas-powered mowers. The most powerful will always be capable of handling every task and then some.
Land owners who must deal with mounds of hilly terrain and irregular landscapes must take care in choosing a properly-sized machine. Smaller mowers may not be as maneuverable as classic riding designs. Also, be aware that it can be somewhat dangerous to ride smaller mowers, particularly zero-turn-radius types, around steeper grades of terrain.
If the land you are working is not too large, at half an acre or less, then a riding mower may be excessive. Less expensive self-propelled and even simple push mowers will be more practical solutions for small plots.
As you go about searching for the best riding lawn mower for your lawn work, you will likely be overwhelmed by the many types and sizes being sold at online sellers. To assist you here, we put up this quick article on the best riding lawn mowers available.
Best Riding Lawn Mower – Comparison Table
Looking for a decent mower that works for you should trim your stress levels, not get them growing. We know how it can help to have a few guidelines to work out any decision. We list here a few well-reviewed mowers, with summary reviews of each one’s strengths and issues.
John Deere X350 – Overall best riding lawn mower
Craftsman Pro 27042 – Best-value riding lawn mower
Troy-Bilt 46-Inch Pivot Zero Turn Mower – Best zero-turn-radius riding lawn mower
Troy-Bilt 30-Inch Neighborhood Riding Lawn Mower – Best small riding lawn mower
Cub Cadet XT1 LT42 Riding Mower
John Deere X350 – Overall best riding lawn mower $3,200
John Deere’s designs are highly popular with expert users, but they sell for much higher prices than equivalent models from other manufacturers.
The tractor-style body and 42-inch deck of the John Deere X350 will serve very well in larger jobs. Its heavy-duty features are ideal for tackling expansive suburban estates of more than an acre or two. Among its advantages are electric power take-off for attachments, cruise control, and twin headlights. We think it’s ride and ease of operation is superior to most.
This mower is able to reach a speed of some 5.5 mph moving forward, and up to 4 mph when reversing. The 16-inch Turn radius is good for a front-engine model. The flexible deck can be adjusted to 13 positions in total.
Deere’s models are designed to work with a broad range of accessories, and this model is no different. It can work with a mulcher, bagger, snow thrower, and front-facing thatcher and blades, and so on.
The company’s machines typically rate very highly in surveys of garden equipment reliability. “Nothing runs like Deeres” is a common refrain among homeowners with serious backyard duties. These mowers are sold mainly through local dealers instead of home improvement and garden stores or online sellers.
This model also features a longer than average warranty of four years/300 hours, which is a good sign of the manufacturer’s confidence in its design and durability. Its versatility and performance in many job areas combined and an outstanding warranty, allows us to name the pricey X350 as our pick for the overall best riding lawn mower.
- Superior ride and ease of operation
- Good mowing, bagging, mulching performance
- Advanced power take-off
- Broad range of accessories
- Above-average reliability
- Outstanding warranty
- Not the best turning capability
- Smaller deck less suited to large lawns
Craftsman Pro 27042 – Best-value riding lawn mower $2,200
The great advantage among many of Craftsman’s 27042 leading mower is its category-leading TurnTight feature. At just 5 inches, its turn radius is the smallest that can be found in a conventional front-engine mower. Standard turning radii of 15-16 inches or so are more common in the market for tractors.
The mower mulches and bags well and is competent enough in ejecting cuttings to the sides with forming heaps. Its deck size of 46 inches is more than enough to handle the vast majority of suburban lawns. The cutter mechanism is readily elevated with the spring-assisted lifter into a dozen clipping positions, ranging from 1 to 4 inches in height.
Due largely to the very tight turn radius and close-cutting performance, users regard its operating characteristics and ease of use very highly. The tractor’s powerful engine matched to a continuously-variable automatic transmission is able to produce speeds of 5.5 mph going forward and 3 mph while reversing.
High backrest seating is easy on the rider, along with controls that are readily reached. A built-in washout port makes for snappy clean ups after each job. The deck is readily detached if there’s a need for more thorough wash downs or maintenance.
Users find the integrated Bluetooth connection a useful utility in tandem with Craftsman’s Smart Lawn app. These tools enable owners to track maintenance conditions as well as source service and parts for the mower. The general two-year warranty is only average, although the forward axle is warranted for the lifetime of the tractor.
Some may think that these Smart features may not be all that important, but user reviews on these conveniences have been rather positive. Android and Apple mobile users can use the app to monitor the operating condition of the battery, air filter, and blade as well as check on the oil-level status. User guides and a log for regular maintenance are available at a tap, along with a facility for ordering spares.
This model like all Craftsman mowers integrates a host of standard protections, including protective interlocks. These stop engines from starting whenever parking brakes are locked, or when power take-offs are still connected.
The system also locks if a rider exits the chair without setting the parking brake or disengaging the power take-off. Reverse mowing is available, although it is not recommended for novice users or while negotiating inclines beyond 15 degrees in slope. For greater safety, the reversing mode will not engage unless the user remains seated.
The capability for close-cutting makes this the ideal mower for tidying up large lands that contain much more than level stretches of grass. The advanced handling and great set of features at a reasonable price make this our choice for best-value riding lawn mower.
- Turn and cuts closely around plantings
- Good mowing, bagging, mulching
- Excellent ergonomics and handling
- Smart maintenance and service utilities
- Readily removed blades
- Average warranty
Troy-Bilt 46-Inch Pivot Zero Turn Mower – Best zero-turn-radius riding lawn mower $2,999
Troy-Bilt’s Pivot 46-Inch Zero-Turn-Mower has steerable tires and regular steering. This reduces the amount of time required to learn the unit over that of conventional Zero-turn-radius (ZTR) designs that are steered via levers. Great ergonomics complement thoughtful features throughout.
The mower is particularly fine when it mulches or bags leaves while working in close confines. It is similarly excellent at ejecting discards to the sides without clumping. Cutting quality is quite decent, given that this is a no-compromise ZTR model.
The benefits begin with the steering wheel scheme. In place of dual levers that you use orient each wheel in differently as the unit turns in place, there is a familiar steering wheel for pivoting the front tires. This regular scheme is easier to control and use for gaining traction on the hilly ground. The ability to turn easily towards the bottom of a slope is also plus.
Other designs may be more efficient at one or several tasks, such as bagging, mulching, or side discharging cuttings. This model is good enough at all and excels at a few, such as close cutting along the edges of densely packed shrubs.
General performance is generally dependable, whether it is mulching, bagging, or ejecting cuttings to the side. The cutting deck can be adjusted to 8 different heights. The excellent power take-off mechanism allows for quicker engagement of blades.
Ease of riding is where Pivots shine, in contrast to conventional zero-turn-radius mowers. In place of casters and lap-bars or lever controls that take a while to master, this mower has forward tires that are oriented via a classic steering wheel, for a familiar and much easier to learn the style of handling.
The system also enhances handling characteristics on rolling ground. Classic zero-turn-radius designs do a lesser job on sloping terrain. These can become unstable and more likely to tip over on occasion.
Other than the ease of regular steering, other features include cozy seating with an 18-inch high backrest that is readily adjusted. You can readily check the fuel gauge without moving off the seat. There is a convenient cup holder as well, while an integrated washout port in the deck allows for quick clean ups after every job.
Although the enhanced stability on the hilly ground provides for generally safer handling, other protective features contribute. An interlock automatically uncouples the blades whenever the parking brake is set, or when the rider exits the seat. The parking brake sets automatically whenever the mower is powered down.
Ride quality and ease of operation are the advantages that Pivots have over most other zero-turn-radius types. It is our choice for the best zero-turn-radius riding lawn mower.
- Familiar steering wheel system
- Short turning radius for better maneuverability
- Decent clipping quality
- Decent protective features
- Inappropriate for taller grasses or rougher ground
Troy-Bilt 30-Inch Neighborhood Riding Lawn Mower – Best small riding mower $1,249
If you need an inexpensive mower for properties of up to a half-acre, Troy-Bilt’s Neighborhood rear-engine model will perform for you. Nearly all users report superb performance on level lawns.
Among the more compact sized models, the unit itself is robustly built. The 30-inch deck readily negotiates most standard garden gates and passages. It does well at mulching and ejecting clippings, although bagging performance is less than spectacular.
The 420cc power plant matched to a 6-speed transmission is capable of a 4.25 mph forward speed, while the 18-inch turn radius allows for good control around corners and edges. A 1.3-gallon fuel tank integrates a sight gauge, which is easily checked while seated.
Although the cutting deck is smaller than most, it’s the mower’s compact form that makes it easier to find storage for it in a cluttered garage or shed. As with smaller models, this also means that more passes will be required to finish cuttings. It is for this reason that compact models are mainly recommended for small lawns.
Ride and ease of operation are both excellent for the class. You will learn to regulate speeds better with the manual transmission, enabling faster take-offs. The blade can be adjusted to any of 5 elevations, allowing you to match cutting heights to the kinds or levels of grasses to be clipped.
Seating includes a comfortable backrest that can be adjusted to a mid-back height, to fit those with long legs. The steering shaft can also be elevated to a height that suits you best, and the steering wheel has a nice soft grip. Things will eventually get a bit less comfortable after long hours in the backyard though, which is par for the course for most small models.
There is a tendency for iffy handling on steeper downward slopes. This is not an uncommon a behavior for this type of small rear-engine mower, though. The manufacturer’s recommendation is to be more cautious on sloping ground, adding that it is better not to ride at all on 15-degree or more inclines.
There is no washout port to allow for easier clean up afterward, one of the few lapses in an otherwise good design. Fortunately, assembly of the unit once it is out of the crate is not too challenging.
Reviews indicate a few issues with durability. Shifting manually into reverse gear from forward can be tricky sometimes. We think these can be resolved by future versions that feature automatic transmissions.
Overall, this inexpensive but capable rear-engine mower has attracted many positive reviews. It remains our pick for the best small lawn riding mower.
- Excellent at mulching and ejecting cuttings
- Fits through nearly all garden gates
- Needs less storage space
- Manual transmission allows for speed control
- Adjustable seating
- Average bagging performance
- Cumbersome shifting into reverse
- Not for large yards and tall grasses
- Some parts not as durable as that of rivals
Cub Cadet XT1 LT42 Riding Mower $1,890
Users say that on regular suburban lawns, this mower is capable of a near-perfect cut. If your estate does not feature lots of plantings and obstacles to be maneuvered around closely, the XT1 LT42 represents great value.
The capable 42-inch deck is good for evenly mowing mostly level and uncomplicated properties of some 2 acres or so in the area. Side ejection could be better at dispersing stuff, but bagging and mulching are quality jobs with this rig.
The Pro front-engine models of Craftsman are actually constructed on similar chassis. Cub Cadet’s versions do not offer the nice tight turning capabilities of Craftsman’s best models, however. They feature the usual 16-inch turn radius.
A washout port is built-in for quick clean ups, and the adjustable high seat is comfortable enough. Advanced features such as smart wireless connectivity are lacking, though. On the other hand, the LT46 has decent ergonomics and comes completely at a much lower price than its rivals.
The slightly lesser specifications do not compromise ride and ease of operation much, so this mower can be a good alternative for homeowners on a budget. If the 42-inch deck proves too tiny, the next larger-sized LT46, with its more capable 46 inches of cutting deck, sells for a similarly reasonable price.
- Excellent quality bagging and mulching
- Washout port for ready cleaning
- Decent ergonomics
- Reliable operation
- Average turning radius
- Lacks smart utilities
- Smaller deck not suited for large acreages
Best Riding Lawn Mower – Buyer’s Guide
Lawn Mowers For Large Estates
If your property runs to two acres or more, you should first consider classic front-engine mowers. These dependable tractor-style designs feature sturdy frames and capable drive trains. The better models introduce well-designed ergonomics and conveniences for a less tiring time spent seated.
Ride and handling tend to be predictable. These big mowers normally feature comfortable seats with high backrests, which can be more relaxing in use on day-long jobs compared to rear-engine designs. Conveniences like cruise control are sometimes available. These help to maintain constant speeds, minimizing driver fatigue.
Conventional tractor-type mowers are typically very competent at bagging, mulching, or ejecting cuttings out the side. They are also good for more than just mowing lawns. You can get attachments to plow/throw snow with, or a heavy-duty accessory cart for haul planks. Other accessories for fertilizing, spraying, and other tasks are normally available.
You may face issues in parking and shelter their large bodies, though. This is among the reasons why Homesteaders frequently choose small models in the end.
Zero-turn-radius (ZTR) mowers feature engines at their rear, allowing the forward deck to remain clear for additional leg room and clearer views. These highly maneuverable machines are prized for their proficiency at clipping irregular shrubbery quickly and closely.
The more complex navigation and controls and lesser stability of traditional ZTR designs, particularly on sloping fields, are widely disliked. However, the arrival of zero-turn-radius technology featuring regular steering wheel systems has changed the market. These feature steerable tires, instead of the casters that older designs rely on.
Newer models are easier to handle, providing greater stability on the hilly and depressed ground. They do away with the daunting learning curve that goes with classic lever operation. Nearly all are well-suited for mostly level lands that contain plantings and other hurdles in great variety.
That said, a regular front-engine tractor will normally offer greater traction and stability in open settings. Zero-turn-radius mowers can bag cuttings and gather leaves finely but are generally unsuited for hauling attachments like heavy-duty garden carts.
Zero-turn-radius mowers are usually as expensive as many conventional front-engine tractors. Still, if you plan to ride a zero-turn-radius model on larger expanses of up to an acre and a half, one with a 46-inch deck would be a smart choice.
Small Riding Mowers For Small Lands
Small rear-engine riding models are usually less capable than big front-engine mowers. As with zero-turn-radius types with rear engines, these designs are quieter but do tend to ride a little worse than their big cousins, particularly around hilly grounds.
These compact models generally can handle yards of around 1 or 2 acres in area. As they are typically less bulky, they are easier to store or move past standard garden gates, although they are slower and less exact at regular mowing tasks.
Many buyers not only appreciate their efficient storage and knack for negotiating narrow passages, but also the generally lower prices. If you only need to get a small backyard cleaned up, these inexpensive mowers good for light-duty mowing, mulching, and bagging.
Good mower design
Clean and even cutting, mulching, and bagging. Good designs disperse cuttings as they clip without leaving unsightly clumps around. They also do not leave scalped turf or other markings in the grass. Models that are most efficient at bagging are generally best at filling their bags to capacity before they need to be emptied.
Handling precision around obstacles. Fine maneuvering for close-cutting around landscaping and other hurdles such as fence lines can save you the hassle of further edging shrubbery using push mowers or string trimmers. For estates with mounds of plantings, a zero-turn-radius model may be in order, but you must still weigh the handling issues of the type.
Relaxing, intuitive ride. Control levers and wheels should be readily reachable and easily learned. Padded seating and high backrests should be easily adjusted for better comfort. The entire mower should ride as smoothly as possible without excessive vibrations or be lurching.
Integrated protective features. Other than standard protective features, the engine should automatically power off if the rider exits the chair whenever the machine is not set to park. All models must require special settings in order to enable mowing in reverse.
Things Worth Knowing
Landscape features such as hilly ground, trenches, flower beds, and pools can be difficult to keep in order. For hilly areas, particularly those featuring grades of 15 percent or steeper, consider a stable mower with a tractable power to spare. Reverse mowing capability can lessen your riding time and result in less frequent cleanups if you’re up to it.
Estates with varied plantings and obstacles to overcome are best served by a zero-turn-radius model (or perhaps a tight-turning tractor). Newer designs with steering wheels in place of levers and lap bar control mechanisms are easier to learn and ride from the start.
Level yards of an acre or so can be efficiently worked over by riding tractors or smaller mowers with decks of 42 inches in breadth. Lawns ranging up to two acres in an area are better served by medium-duty front-engine mowers with decks of at least 46 inches. For small acreages, compact, rear-engine models with decks of 30 inches should be enough. These are less expensive as well as simpler to store than their larger counterparts.
If you plant employ your mower for jobs beyond mowing, accessories such as a cart, frontal blade, and a snow plow or thrower can be attached for other uses throughout the whole year. Not every mower is capable of hauling wood or plowing snow, though.
Zero-turn-radius mowers are particularly burdened with hauling heavier loads. So, if you are intent on using your mower for other tasks, ensure that it has the power to haul the loads you require and that suitable accessories are available.
You should ask dealers for demonstrations of riding and features. Take care to have them explain deck adjustment as well as control and safety mechanisms. Users invariably say that these instructions have helped them handle their mowers with better understanding, improving their operating skills.
Before starting off, check all fluid and speed settings. Even after pre-purchase check-ups, owners have found that oil needed adding or that decks could use adjustment prior to initial mowing. Owners of new mowers frequently complain about unevenly mowed fields. Many do find easy fixes in correcting the adjustment of deck elevations and cutting levels from default settings.
Long-term Operation and Value
Expert users say that front-engine mowers and zero-turn-radius designs are some of the more repair-prone items they own. Although extended warranties may make immediate sense, the economics are not always inviting. Service schemes are a profitable sideline for dealers that see regular complaints by customers.
That said, hardly anyone cares for a unit that spends much time under repair. To avoid this, go for brands that are reputed to be dependable, do not skip regular maintenance checks. Manufacturer warranties of two years are routine, but certain firms support their models with three- or even four-year warranties, with some parts covered for longer durations.
Protection is essential
The majority of models feature similar protection schemes, such as mechanisms that automatically cut power when you exit the chair while the unit is not set to park. Safety involves other aspects, especially when clipping grasses on sloping ground. Always review your model’s user guide for instructions on safe operation.
Do not ever bypass the mower’s integrated interlocking protections, no matter how inconvenient they may seem. Before deciding on a particular type and model, check for recent recall histories that report laceration and burn hazards. As with all mowers, make sure to wear eye protection while the unit is operating, along with ear protection from high noise levels.
Tending Your Lawn With The Best
Among the most highly-rated mowers in John Deere’s line is its X350 tractor, with a cutting deck of 42 inches that makes quick work of level lawns. This front-engine model is superb at completing mulching, bagging, and clipping tasks efficiently.
The quality of operation and well thought-out design comes with premium pricing, though. However, if you have huge spans of acreage to work on and require a reliable mower to finish all jobs without hitches, the X350 is the machine for you. It is our overall best riding lawn mower.
We think that Craftsman’s Pro 27042 is a contender with a real twist: the manufacturer’s advanced steering mechanism, which shrinks the turn radius about five feet or so. This model’s ability to make tight turns for a tractor may let you skip buying a pricier zero-turn-radius design for cleaning up varied landscapes.
The Craftsman’s front-engine design also renders it safer for riding about hilly grounds. Zero-turn-radius designs can be fiddly and therefore a bit more risky over steeply inclined slopes. All-around handling competence makes this model a possible good alternative to zero-turn-radius mowers. It is our pick for best-value riding lawn mower.
If you are dealing with a compact yard that does not present many obstacles for you to mow around, then Cub Cadet’s XT1 LT42 should the job efficiently. Although you won’t enjoy as many riding conveniences as with the pricier tractors, the lower price may make the ride more compelling.
Troy-Bilt’s 46-Inch Pivot Zero Turn Mower is simply the best zero-turn-radius riding lawn mower, for those who need one. It handles well and turns on a dime, so it can be a smart choice for when much intricate landscaping is in your schedule. It’s 46 inches of cutting deck should be well-suited for an acre of land or larger.
For small yards that range up to a half-acre at most of the level ground, Troy-Bilt’s Neighborhood Riding Lawn Mower deserves a serious look as our pick for the best small riding lawn mower. Homeowners who have not ridden a small model before will find that these compact mowers are easier to store than larger tractors.