By Paul Hope
April 06, 2017
Your Yard: lawn mowers Up to ¼ Acre
Best Choice: Electric Push Lawn Mower
Smaller yards are best for electric push mowers, because you can cover the area on a single battery charge. This size lawn is typical of newly built homes, tightly knit suburbs, and urban row houses.
Assuming your neighbors are close by, they’ll appreciate how quiet your electric mower is. In our tests, electric mowers produced an average 67 decibels at 25 feet. That’s about the same level as a car going by at 65 mph at that same distance. That’s a little less than half the loudness of gas models, which averaged 75 decibels—the same level as busy traffic. That means you can get out there first thing on Saturday morning without worrying about waking the neighborhood.
For yards that are relatively flat, the best bet is the Ego LM2101. Its $500, electric push mower, which tops our ratings for electrics.
Ego also makes a number of other yard tools that CR recommends, all of which can use the same battery. So if you had your eye on, say, Ego’s top-scoring string trimmer and leaf blower, you could save money by buying them as bare tools—meaning without a battery—and powering them with your mower’s battery.
If your yard is hilly, however, you might want to consider a self-propelled electric mower. Which means that the motor powers the wheels to make pushing easier. Because that consumes up to 20 percent of a single battery charge, most come with a larger battery or a second one, which adds to the cost. Self-propelled electrics usually cost at least $100 more than comparable electric push models.
There are plenty of very good self-propelled gas mowers. Any of them could handle a small hilly yard. The choice is up to you.
Your Yard: ¼ Acre to ½ Acre
Best Choice: Gas Self-Propelled Lawn Mower
Yards this size, which are typical of upscale subdivisions and older suburbs.Are too big for either a gas or electric push mower but not quite large enough to justify owning a riding tractor.
So your best bet is a self-propelled gas mower.Which cuts grass faster and takes some of the chore out of doing your lawn.
This type of walk-behind mower has powered wheels, which make the task of pushing it around the yard easier.
If you have a sloped yard, our experts advise choosing a mower with rear- or all-wheel drive. They tend to have the easiest time on inclines.
Among gas models, the top-scoring Honda HRX2175VYA, $700, wins out in performance. With top scores in each of the three cutting modes: mulching, bagging, and side discharging.
There’s also the option of electric self-propelled mowers. Mentioned before, but here you’ll start to see the limitations of a battery-powered machine. You’d need a second battery to cut the entire yard without stopping to recharge. We haven’t seen many self-propelled electric models,there are only three in our ratings.With this year’s batch we recommend only the Ego LM2102SP, $600. It cuts as well as many of the gas self-propelled models we tested. Except for some models from Honda and Toro.
Both the Ego and the top Honda have multiple drive speeds, rear-wheel drive, and 21-inch cutting decks.
If you’re willing to give up some cutting performance for a better-handling and quieter mower. Also don’t mind buying a second battery—the electric self-propelled Ego could be worth considering. Otherwise, we would steer you toward the gas-powered Honda.
Your Yard: ½ Acre or More
Best Choice: Gas Riding Lawn Mower
If you have more than a half-acre of turf, you’ll need to trade up to something with a seat. That means you’re probably looking at a model with a gas-powered engine. There are two types of gas models: a riding tractor and a zero-turn-radius lawn mower. Both are equally well-suited for cutting large yards, because they’re designed to run for hours. The distinctions come down to cost, cut quality, and speed.
Lawn tractors feature front-mounted engines and a proper steering wheel. They generally provide a more even cut but sacrifice some maneuverability. We recommend the John Deere X350-42, $3,200.
Compare that with zero-turn-radius (ZTR) models. They turn in place around one of the rear wheels when you push one of the two steering lever.As if you were putting on the emergency brake for one wheel. That makes ZTRs easy to maneuver quickly around flower beds and such. Their engines are in the back, providing a clear view of the shaggy area ahead before you trim it. We recommend the Troy-Bilt Mustang 42, $2,300.
But ZTR mowers are usually more expensive, and they don’t steer as well as tractors on sloped terrain. Also, because the rear wheels control the steering, they can dig up your yard if you turn too quickly.
If you’re struggling to choose between the two types, consider a test drive. Some stores, including Lowe’s, will allow you to rent a mower for the day. (Plan on renting a trailer, too, to get it home.) And if you find that you like the freedom to turn in place but can’t get used to the push-lever controls. A ZTR model, Troy-Bilt offers a version of the Mustang Pivot 46. $2,900, that turns in place but uses a steering wheel.
Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the May 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
As a classically trained chef and an enthusiastic DIYer. I’ve always valued having the best tool for a job—whether the task at hand is dicing onions for mirepoix or hanging drywall. When I’m not writing about home products, I can be found putting them to the test. Often with help from my two young children, in the 1860s townhouse I’m restoring in my free time