Riding Lawn Mowers: A Quick Introduction
If you are fortunate enough to own a large yard area, a reliable riding lawn mower is an essential piece of equipment to keep your grass in check. Even some homeowners with smaller yards still prefer to use a riding lawnmower, as they cut grass quicker than the smaller self-propelled mower.
These days, riding lawn mowers come in all shapes and sizes to suit a variety of different requirements. Technology has developed too – with new steering and transmission systems making these machines more effective than ever.
In this review, we’ll help you navigate the best machines on the market, highlighting the best options for a variety of common use cases. The requirements for small homeowners couldn’t be more different from rural buyers with large yards – so we will explain which features suit each type of owner best.
1. John Deere E120 V-Twin Hydrostatic Lawn Mower
⤍ Powerful cutting from 20hp motor & 42” deck
⤍ Low maintenance, gear-free hydrostatic transmission
⤍ Cruise control and other innovative features
⤍ Bagger, mulcher and other options available
John Deere need no introduction – as one of the United States’ biggest names in machinery. Their tractors and yard equipment continue to impress, and the E120 builds on many years of development and experience.
This riding lawn mower has a great deal of cutting power – beginning with the 20hp motor. This 2-cylinder v-twin motor offers wonderfully reliable starting, and is one of the most powerful units aimed at the homeowner market.
That power plant is connected to a 42” cutter deck, with twin blades. 42” is what we would consider a large swath for a mower like this – only superseded by larger semi-commercial zero-turn machines we’ll discuss later. The deck can be finely adjusted to heights from 1” to 4”. Baggers, aerators and mulchers, along with various other accessories can be added to this machine – so it will fit in with any type of lawn care routine.
Finally, Deere have really taken care of the details with the E120, making it a pleasure to operate. You have plenty of seat adjustment to get yourself comfortable, and a cruise control feature for long mowing sessions. Reliability is a dream, with buyers reporting few issues, and features like a hydrostatic gearbox and quality deck wash system making maintenance on this machine a breeze.
All in all, this was a clear winner for us – offering massive performance at a very reasonable price. A quality riding lawn mower is a big investment, and this machine will not let you down for many years to come.
Best For Small Yards
2. Ryobi RY48111 Electric Riding Lawn Mower
⤍ Compact 38” cutter deck
⤍ 2.5 hours of mowing per charge
⤍ Much quieter than gas mowers
⤍ Replaceable batteries
A few years ago, electric riding lawn mowers were the laughing stock of yard owners – being unable to mow more than 20 or 30mins. Things have moved on in strides however, and we think the RY48111 is a viable holder of the crown for best small yard mower.
This machine features a 38” cutting width and two cutter blades under the deck. It’s a compact mower, which makes it great for maneuvering around small yards and around obstacles. With 12 mower heights available from 1.5” to 4.5”, you can fine tune your cut precisely.
Powered by a replaceable 100Ah battery connected to 3 brushless motors, this machine will give you 2.5 hours of mowing on a single charge – equivalent to about 2.5 acres of grass. With an 8mph top speed it’s fast too – something that has held back electric mowers in the past.
There’s no doubt that the advantages of electric power were always obvious, but they are fully clear in the RY48111. This mower is exceptionally quiet, making it well suited to residential neighborhoods, and allowing you to mow at any time of day or night. There’s no messy fuel storage or spills, and the transmission is significantly lower maintenance due to its electric transmission.
In the Ryobi RY48111, we feel as though the electric riding lawn mower has finally come of age. This machine is a great choice for small yards, and will get the job done faster, quieter, and with a lot less hassle than older designs.
Best For Large Yards
3. Husqvarna Z254
⤍ Large 54” cutting deck
⤍ Powerful and reliable Kohler 26hp motor
⤍ Outstanding maneuverability
⤍ Bagging, mulching and other accessories available
If you own a large yard (2 acres or more), then you need to start to look for more mowing efficiency and a more powerful machine. The Husqvarna Z254 is both of those things, and this semi-commercial mower will offer much improved performance over the traditional riding lawn mowers discussed elsewhere in this review.
Equipped with a 26hp Kohler motor, connected to a 54” cutter deck – you’re looking at considerably more cutting power than most riding lawn mowers, and only slightly less than a full commercial machine. The Z254 also features a floating cutting deck, helping you to navigate bumps and contours in the grass while maintaining a consistent cutting height.
As a zero turn mower, this machine is exceptionally maneuverable, and will cut around trees and other obstacles with ease. When it comes to mowing performance, it’s really hard to understate the extra efficiency this design brings over the traditional riding lawn mower. The sitting position is much more comfortable, and it’s much easier to see things on the ground before you run over them. Steering becomes very intuitive, and you quickly find yourself spending hours on the machine!
As you would expect for a commercial grade machine, the Z254 is built with reliability in mind. The hydrostatic transmission requires very little maintenance, and the chassis and cutter deck have been built to last.
If you’ve got a large area to mow – then look no further than the Z254. This is an outstanding machine that will help you mow much faster and more accurately compared to a conventional machine. Sure it’s a little more expensive, but the time saved over years to come is a worthy trade off in our opinion.
4. Cub Cadet XT1 Enduro LT 42”
⤍ 42” Cutter deck with twin blades
⤍ Reliable hydrostatic transmission
⤍ Digital engine management system
⤍ Cruise control
Cub Cadet’s XT1 Enduro LT was a very close contender for best overall mower, and only just lost out to the John Deere on popularity. Cub Cadet have a long history producing quality lawn equipment, and produce a variety of different mowers. The XT1 Enduro LT fits in at the top end of their riding lawn mowers, and with a feature packed spec sheet, it’s easy to see why.
Looking a mowing capability first, the XT1 is fitted with a 42” twin cutter deck, which is a great size for most average size yards. Cub Cadet have included some interesting technology into the engine, IntelliPower, which digitally monitors and adjusts the throttle depending on motor load. This is most noticeable when mowing wet grass, as it’ll bump the revs very slightly to accommodate the higher power requirement from the cutter.
Transmission is hydrostatic, so there’s no clutch on this model – you simply press the throttle with your foot to go forwards or press it backwards for reverse. Hydrostatic transmissions also require substantially less maintenance than their mechanical counterparts, which is a huge improvement.
Taking a step back to look at the XT1 as a whole, this machine is just packed with helpful features. Push button cruise control is a great addition, you have plenty of seat adjustability, and Cub Cadet have worked hard to make this machine as maneuverable as possible, with a 16” turning radius.
With a generous 3-year warranty program, there’s little to worry about with this machine. It’s an excellent investment for any homeowner, and will be a perfect choice for anyone looking for a solid machine for a medium sized yard.
5. Craftsman T210
⤍ Exceptionally maneuverable
⤍ 42” twin blade cutter deck
⤍ Hydrostatic transmission
⤍ Made in the USA
Along with the Deere and the Cub Cadet XT1, the Craftsman T210 is yet another very solid riding lawn mower. Craftsman pride themselves in manufacturing their products here in the USA, and this particular machine is assembled in their plant in Martin, Tennessee.
Running a 42” cutter deck like the two models discussed earlier, this machine is slightly less powerful, coming in at 18hp compared to 20hp for the John Deere. The motor is a Kohler 5400 series, which is a highly reliable power plant you’ll find in a variety of lawn machinery.
The main talking point on this mower is the exceptionally tight turning radius – which Craftsman claim to be as tight as 5”. Reviewers have been thrilled with the turning performance, with many noting it’s a noticeable improvement on any other similar machine they have used. There’s no doubt that being able to spin the mower on a dime is a huge help, and if you have a particularly tight garden or a lot of planted trees, this could be a reason to choose this machine over the two previously mentioned.
As you’d expect for a mower at this level, there’s a hydrostatic transmission on this machine, so all you need is a simple forward-reverse pedal. There’s no cruise control on this machine – which cements it as a potentially a better choice for those looking for a maneuverable machine in a traditional riding lawn mower design.
All in all, this is another great machine. Comparing it to the Deere and the Cub Cadet – we would say this is a better selection if you aren’t as demanding on your cutting power, and really need the maneuverability. We imagine owners with highly manicured yards getting more from this machine than those who just need to cover a large area of grass.
6. Husqvarna YTH18542
⤍ 42” twin cutter mower deck
⤍ 3-year warranty
⤍ 18.5hp Briggs & Stratton motor
Although better known for their zero turn mowers, Husqvarna nonetheless do also produce several models of riding lawn mower. The YTH18542 fits in at the mid-to-lower end of their range, aimed firmly at the home owner rather than a commercial buyer.
This machine is equipped with a Briggs & Stratton 18.5hp Intek motor, hooked up to a 42” cutting deck like many other models discussed in this review. Largely buyers have been pleased with their machine, but some have commented on feeling a little more vibration and noise on this mower than others they have used.
Transmission comes in the form of a hydrostatic setup – which delivers reliable and easy to use performance. The position of the foot pedals has not been to everyone’s liking though – and some find it a slightly awkward reach to the main pedal.
Taking a look through the rest of the machine, we have many of the features you’d expect to see on a mower of this type, with a deck wash connection, and mowing height adjustment from 1.5”-4”. Husqvarna offer a 3-year warranty on this machine, which is a great addition should anything go wrong with it.
Coming in at a similar price point to the machines mentioned above, we found this machine to be ok rather than outstanding. The additional noise and vibration is not something we’d expect on a mower of this level, and generally this machine is not as feature-rich as others in this review. Nonetheless a decent machine, we just feel it can’t better some of the others in this discussion.
7. Troy-Bilt Pony 42”
⤍ Affordably priced 42” mower
⤍ Geared transmission
⤍ Mow-in-reverse feature
Troy-Bilt are another heritage US-based brand, and tend to pitch their machinery toward the more affordable end of the market. Aimed at yards up to 2 acres, the Pony 42” is aimed at a similar sized yard as many of the models we’ve already discussed, but comes in at a lower price point.
Taking a look at the power plant first, this machine features an auto-choke 439cc OHV motor of Troy-Bilt’s own brand. Slightly less powerful than other mowers we’ve looked at, this motor won’t quite have as much cutting power despite being connected to a similar 42” cutter deck.
Compromises are also made on the transmission, which is a gear drive system. Generally, gear drive systems are a little higher maintenance than hydrostatic drives, and you’ll also need to shift to change the mowers speed. Shifting on this machine can be done while on the move, which is an improvement over some of the most basic transmission systems.
Turning radius and maneuverability are mid-range compared to other mowers in this review, which is nice to see. Generally though, this machine just has a clunkier feel to it when adjusting the cutter height and shifting the transmission. All of the usual accessories are available – including baggers and mulchers – to help you perform whatever lawn care routine you have on your schedule.
So, what is our conclusion? Well, this machine does come in at around 25% cheaper than the Deere, so there is certainly a saving when it comes to your wallet. That said, all of these riding lawn mowers are a bit of an investment, so we really would recommend spending a little more to get a slightly more expensive and reliable machine. You’ll be working with it for years to come, and that is when the quality typically becomes visible.
8. Husqvarna MZ61
⤍ 61” cutting deck for 2 acre mowing
⤍ Powerful 27hp Briggs & Stratton Motor
⤍ Triple cutting blades
⤍ Great for people with lots to mow
For a demanding buyer with a large yard to cut, the MZ61 will be a gamechanger. This mower is pitched toward the semi-commercial and commercial market, and is an exceptionally high-quality machine designed to get the job done fast and efficiently.
As a zero turn mower, this machine has excellent maneuvering via it’s hydrostatic transmission, and will spin on a dime. The driving position is comfortable and intuitive, and designed for long mowing sessions.
Power comes from a 27hp Briggs & Stratton motor – making this machine one of the most powerful on this test. That is connected up to a huge 61” cutter deck, allowing you to take on large areas of grass with maximum efficiency. As you would expect on a quality riding lawn mower, the cutter deck has a huge degree of float, allowing it to hug the contours of the ground and deliver a consistent cut over undulating terrain.
This machine has been designed for easy maintenance and cleaning, and keeps all the key parts easily accessible. You can lift up the foot bed to clear grass away, and the air filter has been positioned to allow easy cleaning.
One thing to bear in mind with these larger mowers is that they are more specialist. There aren’t snow blower or shovel attachments available, as the machine is really intended for folks who do a lot of mowing. If you need to tow trailers or clear snow, we recommend looking to a more traditional design.
9. Troy-Bilt 30” Neighborhood Riding Lawn Mower
⤍ Compact 30” riding lawn mower
⤍ Works well in limited space
⤍ Relatively affordable, but not by a huge saving
This machine is the closes you might come to an “old style” riding lawn mower design, and offers a simple solution for buyers with relatively small yards. Many will remember similar machines from the 70s and 80s – when the riding lawn mower first burst onto the residential stage.
Troy-Bilt themselves describe this machine as having the convenience of a ride-on and the cutting power of a walk behind, which we find to be an accurate description. With a 30” cutting deck and a 382cc OHV motor, this machine has slightly more power than a walk behind, and only a very slightly wider cutting width. The cutter deck is equipped with a single blade, and features a manual 5 height adjustment system.
One of the major benefits of a machine like this is the compact size – if you have a cramped garage, this is about as small as a riding lawn mower can get. Certainly, for older folks or those who can’t use a self propelled lawn mower, a machine like this makes a lot of sense.
The most accurate comparison is the Ryobi, which is starkly different in almost every way. Firstly, price point – the Ryobi is substantially more expensive. Then there’s the noise question – obviously the Ryobi’s electric powerplant is a lot quieter. Our conclusion is if you own a smaller yard and are shopping with a tighter budget, then this is a good machine. But if you have a yard much above 2 acres, you might want to consider another mower unless you have a very limited amount of space available in your garage.
10. Troy-Bilt Super Bronco XP 42”
⤍ 42” twin cutter deck
⤍ 547cc V-Twin motor
⤍ Tight cutting height range (1.25”-3.75”)
Troy-Bilt’s Super Bronco range features improved power plants over their regular range of riding lawn mowers. The XP 42 slots into the middle of the range, with the slightly larger XP 50 sitting just above it. All these mowers are new this season and incorporate Troy-Bilt’s latest features.
Looking at cutting power first, this machine runs a 42” twin cutter deck, very similar to the Deere, Cub Cadet and Husqvarna. Interestingly, however, this machine is powered by a 547cc V-Twin motor, which is still smaller than the Deere. So while we might say it has enhanced cutting power over the other Troy-Bilt 42” machines, it’s still not the most powerful machine out there. That said, for a standard lawn, the power will be perfectly adequate – it’s only when cutting rougher grass that you need that extra power.
The deck features a handy deck was port which can be connected to a regular garden hose. While some mowers to incorporate this feature these days, not all do, and it’s a great way to prolong the life of the cutter deck. You have quite a tight cutting range on this machine – just 1.25-3.75” – so it’s slightly compromised if you have a particularly uneven lawn or you like to cut the grass long.
The Super Bronco features a digital engine monitoring system – which is something we’re starting to see more a more on riding lawn mowers. This will give you warnings when a service is due, much like your car.
All in all this is a reasonable machine, but fails to truly stand out in any one area or as a great all-rounder. Sure, it’ll get the job done, but with so many great mowers out there at a similar price, it’s hard to see this machine as a standout.
What To Consider When Choosing A Riding Lawn Mower
Riding lawn mowers are complex pieces of equipment – and there’s so much to consider when buying one. Even more so, people use their riding lawn mowers for so many different tasks – from simple mowing to snow blowing. In this section, we’ll take a look at the key elements to consider before you buy – and help you find the perfect machine for your needs.
Mowing Vs. Accessories
The first thing to think about is what do you need to do with your riding lawn mower? This might sound simple – but actually many people use these machines for a wide variety of things.
If you’re looking for all out mowing performance, then a zero turn mower is definitely the way to go. These machines come in various sizes to suit different sized yards, but they are designed specifically for mowing and little else. They do it exceptionally well, and you have much better visibility, a more comfortable position and much better maneuverability.
If you need to tow carts, or use snow blowers, shovels and other accessories, then go with a more traditional riding lawn mower. Many machines will take these types of accessories, but they compromise their mowing ability slightly to do so. If you have rough terrain, then these machines are also better than zero turn mowers.
Next up, how much engine power do you need? For small flat lawns, where you’re only mowing well-kept grass, you don’t need much power so a self-propelled mower is suitable. But for towing, or rough cutting fields, you’re going to need up to 20hp.
This is also true of accessories like snow blowers and shovels – all of which need additional power to operate properly. Our rule of thumb is to aim for 17hp or less for well-kept yards under 2 acres. For larger yards and rough cutting, you’ll need a machine with 20hp or above, like the John Deere E120 in this review.
A bigger cutting deck equals faster mowing, it’s that simple. But you need to think about whether you have tight obstacles in your mowing routine. Most machines in this review have a standard 42” cutting deck, which is great for most situations. However, it pays to walk around your yard and give it additional thought before you purchase – you don’t want to have a machine that doesn’t fit.
Also, take time to think about what cutting height you are looking for. If your yard calls for a particularly close or a high cut, make sure you can accommodate that on your machine. A slightly longer length of grass in the springtime can help reduce weeds by crowding them out.
Finally, check the terrain in your yard. If you have lots of undulations, then you need to look for a cutting deck that has a lot of float. This helps the deck move independently of the mower, and prevents scalping, which is when the blades scrape the grass. Cheap mowers won’t have a high degree of float (or any at all). Jockey wheels also help in this regard and should help prevent scalping.
Larger and more powerful mowers unfortunately make more noise. This generally isn’t a huge consideration if you have a large yard, but when you have a smaller yard and neighbors who complain, it’s worth considering.
The best way to eliminate noise problems these days is to go electric. The Ryobi riding lawn mower in this review is exceptionally quiet, allowing you to mow anytime you want. The semi commercial machines on the other hand aren’t as kind on the ears, so give it some thought before you make your purchase.
We could go on for pages and pages about transmission, but we’ll keep it real simple for you here. Get a hydrostatic transmission if you can. These modern systems require no shifting of gears, and no clutches or engagement. You simply push the pedal forward, and you go forward. It’s that simple!
Why are we so keen on them? Well firstly, they are considerably lower maintenance, because they use fluid rather than mechanical parts. There’s much less to go wrong. Secondly, they are much easier to use, and you don’t have to stop when you shift gears, or even worry about gears at all.
Maneuverability & Turning Radius
Some riding lawn mowers are designed with maneuverability in mind, while others aren’t. The zero turn mowers are the most maneuverable, but come with very limited use options beyond mowing.
If you are looking a standard machine, take a walk around your yard and check how much maneuverability you will need. It can be hugely annoying to have to make multiple passes around certain obstacles in your mowing routine, and getting the right machine will prevent that. In this review, machines like the Craftsman offer exceptionally tight turning radiuses, which are great for small yards.
All mowers need regular maintenance, but some maintenance shops are friendlier that others. Check to see what your local store works on, and which brands they will accept. IT’s really worth building up a strong relationship, and potentially even testing your mower out before you buy. We can’t recommend this enough – you will hopefully have this machine for a long time, and you’re going to get friendly with them!
Riding Lawn Mower Buyers Guide Questions
We see loads of questions from buyers looking for riding lawn mowers every year. These range from very specific ones to general questions which are helpful to everyone. We figured we’d put pen to paper and note down the ones we see most often.
What is the best cheap riding lawn mower?
Interestingly, most of the mowers in this review came in at a very similar level. For the best cheap riding lawn mower, we recommend looking at the John Deere E100, which is the smaller cousin of the E120 in this review. That machine will set you back $1600, but the superior E120 in our review is only slightly more at $1900 when purchased from Home Depot.
What is the best riding lawn mower to buy?
Really, it depends what you are looking to use your riding lawn mower for. If you are looking for mowing and nothing else, the Husqvarna Z254 is a great choice. If you need to use trailers or shovels and other accessories, then we recommend the John Deere E120, which is a standout performer in all areas. One final mention goes out to the Ryobi RY48111 which is a great machine if you have a small yard. It’s electric, so it’s exceptionally quiet and much less messy than a traditional gas riding lawnmower.
How long should a riding lawn mower last?
We believe you should aim for at least 5-10 years of solid use from your riding lawn mower. These machines are expensive, and if well cared for, should last you at least 10 years.
There are a few things you can do to prolong the life of your mower. Firstly, keep it undercover. It sounds obvious, but machines stored in a warm and dry workshop will last much longer than machines stored outside, even with a cover. Secondly, avoid cutting wet grass. This will both clog your mower, and cause rust in your cutter deck and blades. It’s a simple thing to remember, but most forget it and their mowers rust out. Finally, getting quality of regular maintenance will help prolong the life of your mower. Specific guidance for your lawnmower maintenance can often be found in online forums or at your local dealer.
What is the best riding lawn mower for 1 acre?
In our view, the Ryobi RY48111 is the clear standout for a 1-acre yard. In yards of this size, it’s unlikely you’ll be hauling much equipment, but noise could certainly be a concern. The electric RY48111 offers 2.5 hours of mowing on a charge (about 2.5 acres) so you can easily complete the job on a single charge. The battery is replaceable, and with no gas, this machine is much cleaner and easier to use. With a 38” cutter deck it’s also fairly compact, so great for smaller yards which improve overall health.