In this guide, you will learn about TOP-5 best riding lawn mowers, their strong and weak points. Find out which type of these machines is the most comfortable and easy to handle, which one is faster and has more powerful engines and which one is designed for professional lawn maintenance. The guide will also tell you what machines have better maneuverability and what safety measures need to be taken. Read a FAQ section to get answers to the most common questions and look at a chart to compare the features of various products.
Riding lawn tractors reduce the time and effort it takes to mow your yard or acreage. They are safer than walk-behind models and a better alternative if you have to mow a large yard in hot-humid weather or want to reduce aggravating any pre-existing health malady.
These machines are practical for homeowners with big yards as well as for farmers and contract professionals. Lawns that exceed five acres may need a more powerful model. Tractor type unit can be ridden or be large enough to easily tow an attachment behind it. On the other hand, a four-wheeled, zero-radius machine easily steers in and around obstacles and limited space for efficient and precision-clean commercial lawn and landscape cutting and maintenance operations.
What You Will Learn From This Guide:
- How do riding lawn mowers work?
- Types of riding lawn mowers
- What to look for when buying a riding lawn mower
- TOP-5 best riding lawn mowers
How Do Riding Lawn Mowers Work?
All these machines have powerful engines that run the rotating cutting blade belt as well as the wheels. The operator sits on the seat atop the cutting deck. Pedals and levers are used to operate the moving parts. These devices also provide some means of discharging grass clippings (i.e.: via a side discharge or into a bag attachment).
The operator uses the gas and brake pedals and levers to start, adjust the cutting blade height, accelerate and guide, and stop the machine. Many models have a steering wheel and you drive it like a car. Others’ throttle and steering are controlled using levers.
These machines minimize time and effort it takes to mow larger areas. They have electric starts and larger fuel capacities. They are as easy to operate and handle as any other vehicle. Cutting decks are adjustable so you always cut to the “right” height. Replacement parts are also easier to obtain for riding lawn mowers than for standard push models.
Bag attachments are available to collect clippings. Other attachments mulch and facilitate yard debris and leaf cleanup and fertilizer spreading. Larger tractor models may offer plow attachments for snow removal or garden plowing or trailers for hauling wood or livestock feed. Zero-turn models allow you to precision cut within tight spaces and around shrubs and trees with ease.
New models, attachments, and upgrades become available as small engines become more powerful and expand their versatility. In addition to attachment upgrades, riding lawn mowers offer a variety of luxury options, such as adjustable seats, stereos, automatic transmissions, cruise control, and cup holders!
Gas- and electrically-powered engines are quickly being joined by engines that run on biodiesel or hydrogen fuel cells. New robotic models run on rechargeable, emissions-free batteries and need no operator! Some are solar-powered. More powerful robotic machines currently in development will be able to cut acreage, large fields, and golf courses.
Types of Riding Lawn Mowers
These devices reduce your effort and help you finish your mowing quickly. There is a variety to choose from.
Rear Engine Riding Mowers
Rear engine models provide the easiest, most comfortable experience. They tend to be smaller units with smaller cutting decks and narrow cutting widths. They require less storage space and are by far the most affordable in any brand range. The main drawback is that, due to the lower horsepower (i.e.: 14HP), rear engine models are slower. They also are not designed for pull attachments such as bags or trailers. This type is not recommended if you have to mow an area larger than ¾ acre.
Tractor type models are faster, more durable, and have more powerful engines (i.e.: 18 – 24HP) and heavy-duty transmissions. They are not the fastest, however, nor do they easily maneuver around obstacles or tight corners. Various attachments are available that allow you to mow, tow, plow, or haul. The cutting deck is mounted between the front and rear axles. More expensive, full-size tractors are also equipped to tow mowing attachments behind them. Tractor mowers are designed for larger areas of 5 acres or more.
Zero-turn riding models are more expensive, high-performance units commonly used by commercial landscapers and for professional lawn maintenance. They have a 360-degree turning radius and easy four-wheel steering system that allows the operator to precisely mow around obstacles. They offer a wider cutting width, improved maneuverability, and your ability to mow quickly at higher (forward) speeds up to 8mph. These machines can bag, side-discharge, or mulch grass cuttings. They perform the best on fairly flat yards larger than ½ acre.
Mulching models are environmentally friendly, waste reducing units. They work best when the grass is not too high. The blades cut the grass into miniscule pieces that more rapidly decompose back into the soil. It alleviates the need to bag clippings or fertilizer the yard. If bagging is desired, grass cutting may be sent to a composting site rather than ending up in a landfill.
What to Look for When Buying a Riding Lawn Mower
When shopping for these machines, look at recognized brands that have good warranties and convenient servicing locations.
- Be sure the unit has enough power to perform up to your expectations (i.e.: mulch);
- Try the seat for comfort;
- Ensure the pedal is located to suit your easy operation, and
- Look for a machine with power steering and power deck lift that makes your task easier.
There is a wide variety of models in just as wide a variety of types, sizes, horsepower, and blade size. You should be prepared to spend no less than $500. A low-end, 14HP riding mower that is suitable for cutting up to an acre, for example, begins at $1,000 (more or less). Small garden tractors (18-24HP) range between $2,500 and $4,500. Larger tractor type options can run as high as $9,000.
Engine size is particularly important if you intend to use the machine for more than just mowing. Their engines may be larger (16+HP) twin-cylinder or smaller single-cylinder. Twin-cylinder (i.e.: heavy-duty and tractor mower) engines are better balanced, run cooler, provide more power, and last longer.
The higher the horsepower the more expensive the unit will be. The horsepower is the power the engine makes available to run the machine’s components (i.e.: cutting blades, transmission, etc.). To be sure, your mower will not necessarily go faster just because it has a lot of horsepower. But it will mow steep slope or dense grass effectively.
Zero-turning models allow you to effectively mow in cramped spaces and around obstacles. These types usually have separate control levers for steering. The smaller the cutting deck, the more maneuverability your riding mower will have. Larger commercial-sized wide-decked models are more expensive and will not maneuver well in tight spaces. Smaller decks are recommended for yards that have a lot of trees, obstacles, and flower beds.
Always read the product’s manual before operating it for the first time. Check the area you intend to mow for debris, rocks, and other items that can become projectiles or dangerous, or damage the machine if you mow over them.
- Wear proper clothing including shoes, long pants, and ear and eye protection.
- Do not let children (under 12yrs. old) operate your riding mower.
- Keep children, pets, and others away from the machine and your mowing operation and far away from flying debris that may be tossed up by the unit.
- Beware of hot surfaces. Do not add fuel where surfaces are hot or vapors can ignite the fuel.
- Keep hands and fingers away from the machine. Completely turn off the machine before attempting to remove any twig, grass clump, or obstruction.
TOP-5 Best Riding Lawn Mowers
Below, you will find a review of products within the price range from $1500 to $2500. They are equipped with different motors but basically, they have the same maximum speed and cutting width. However, there is a model that can be singled out — Hustler Raptor SD. It can reach speeds of up to 7.5 mph, with the cutting width amounting to 60 inches. There are models that have other benefits, such as adjustable cutting height and the side-by-side foot pedals allowing for controlling the machine’s speed and direction.
Compact Riding Lawn Mower | Cub Cadet — XT1 Enduro Series LT
The compact single-cylinder Cub Cadet XT1 Enduro Series LT is an affordable, “intelligently-designed”, 42-inch double-blade riding lawn mower. Turn the key, select the cutting height from any of 12 easily-adjustable cutting positions, push the pedal, and mow!
It has a powerful 18HP Kohler OHV engine and hydrostatic transmission for smooth forward/reverse mowing and speed changes. The XT1 Enduro Series LT also offers a 16” turning radius with responsive steering that makes maneuvering around trees and obstacles quick and easy! Its corrosion resistant deck system ensures added durability and longer life.
This rear-wheel drive riding lawn mower features a 3 gal. see-through fuel tank w/gauge, a battery that also has a gauge, built-in LED headlights for improved visibility, pushbutton cruise control that ensures uniform mowing, built-in hitch, pneumatic tires, and a cup holder! It has an open, high-back, adjustable seat for comfort situated on a large base for added stability. The rubberized, soft-touch, comfort-grip steering wheel gives you greater control. When you’re done mowing, use the high-pressure, quick-connect deck cleanout system to clean accumulated grass and debris.
The XT1 Enduro Series LT also offers multi-season attachments from mulch kits and rear spreaders, twin baggers, sun shades, and steel and poly carts to snow blades, blowers, and snow cabs. These attachments are optional and sold separately.
The Cub Cadet - XT1 Enduro Series’ seat, steering wheel, hood, and assembly are fairly easy for someone with moderate skills. An assembly video accompanies the crated riding lawn mower and the Owner’s Manual is available online. It includes a 3-yr. limited manufacturer’s/power train, 2-yr. emissions control system, and 5-year chassis/front axle warranties. CA Prop 65 warnings apply.
Cub Cadet: Check the current price
Durable Riding Lawn Mower | John Deere E120
The durable John Deere E120 riding lawn tractor is an affordable, smooth operating, side discharge, 42-inch mowing machine. It has a 12-gauge, 11-inch, fully-welded steel frame, solid cast iron front axle, and a sturdy, fade- and rust-resistant composite hood. Its powerful 20HP JD OEM V-twin engine is suitable for hauling as well as for mulching, cutting through dense grasses, and bagging.
Its hydrostatic transmission allows smooth accelerating and speed changes. And its 300cca battery ensures easy starts after winter storage and the EZ under-the-hood, 30-second oil change system simplifies routine servicing.
ReadyStart technology allows you to simply turn the key and start the JD E120 choke-free, like you would your car! The redesigned deck allows you to easily adjust the cutting height (up or down, 1” to 4” in ¼-inch increments) using the single lift lever. The side-by-side foot pedals allow you to control this lawn tractor's speed and direction with ease. Just start it up and mow!
The JD E120 also features side cool air openings that reduce engine noise, cruise control that allows you to effortlessly and consistently mow large areas, and a cup holder! Its extra-wide, redesigned, ergonomic operating base has a high-back, 10-position adjustable seat for added comfort. You can easily adjust your seat 5½ inches (forward or back) while you sit in it. A wash port is also included that allows you to connect your hose to clean grass and debris from the underside of the deck.
Optional multi-season attachments such as mulch kits, aerators, baggers, carts, and snow blades and blowers are sold separately.
The JD E120 is suitable for mowing ½ to 2 acres of steep, hilly, or flat areas with many obstacles. White Glove home delivery service is available for online purchases. White Glove service includes a 10 Point pre-delivery inspection to ensure product quality and customer instruction on the operation and maintenance of your JD E120 riding lawn tractor, upon delivery. Your JD E120 purchase includes a 2-yr. or 120-Hour warranty (whichever comes first). CA Prop 65 warnings apply.
John Deere E120: Check the current price
Powerful Riding Lawn Mower with Automatic Drive | Troy-Bilt Bronco
The durable Troy-Bilt Bronco riding lawn tractor is a powerful, easy-to-use, side discharge, 42-inch, twin-blade mower. The 13-gauge, fully-welded steel StepThru frame design allows you to get on-and-off this machine with ease. It is powered by a reliable 19HP 540cc single-cylinder Briggs and Stratton® Intek engine.
An automatic, foot pedal-controlled transmission allows you to drive your Bronco lawn tractor like a car. It, with the aid of vibration-absorbing rubber foot pedals, provide a smooth forward speed change and operator-controlled reverse. Just turn the key, select the cutting height from any of 5 easily-adjustable cutting positions, and go!
The Bronco also offers an 18” turning radius that makes maneuvering around trees and obstacles quick and easy. Its rust-resistant deck system ensures added durability and longer life.
This compact, rear-wheel drive lawn tractor features a two 5-inch anti-scalp, lawn grooming, deck wheels, automatic headlights for improved visibility, and a cup holder! It has an 11-inch, mid-back, adjustable seat that affords comfort for any operator regardless of height.
The Bronco also offers optional multi-season attachments from baggers that collect cuttings and mulch kits that help return nutrients to the soil to carts and snow blades. These attachments are sold separately.
The Troy-Bilt Bronco performs best on ½ to 2 acres of hilly or flat terrain that has obstacles that must be mowed around. Some assembly is required upon delivery. It includes a 2-yr. limited warranty. CA Prop 65 warnings apply.
Troy-Bilt Bronco: Check the current price
High-Performance Riding Lawn Mower | Husqvarna YTH18542
This compact, high performance Husqvarna YTH18542 riding lawn tractor is an affordable, smooth operating, side discharge, 42-inch double-blade mower that is easily used and stored. It has a solid cast iron front axle that endures rough terrain and operation.
Its compact size and powerful 18.5 hp 540cc Briggs and Stratton® Intek engine makes hauling, mulching, and mowing tasks fast and easy. Its hydrostatic transmission allows smooth accelerating and variable (forward/reverse) speed changes.
The foot pedal-controlled CVT automatic transmission allows you to keep your hands on the wheel and retain optimal control over your driving speed and direction. The model also gives you a 16” turning radius and responsive steering that makes maneuvering around trees and obstacles effortless!
The choke-free ReadyStart technology allows you to turn the auto-key or “Start” pushbutton and drive it like your car! Its Advanced Vibration System technology ensures superior comfort and smooth riding while you work.
The model also has Advanced Debris Management deflect/eject and full-pressure lube systems that contribute to this riding lawn tractor’s longer engine-life more than any other Husqvarna models. The Husqvarna YTH18542 also features air induction tractor mower technology that improves deck airflow that helps produce clean, consistent cutting.
In addition to its easy step-through design and conveniently-located cutting height lift lever (up or down, 1½” to 4”), the YTA18542 features a 2.5 gal. fuel tank, anti-scalp wheels, ergonomic steering wheel with the “Reverse” operation switch on it, and extra-wide, 13-inch, mid-back, adjustable seat that affords comfort for any operator regardless of height.
This Husqvarna riding lawn tractor performs well in all seasons. Multi-season attachments such as lawn fertilizer mulch kits, aerators, baggers, snow blades and blowers, carts, and other towable accessories are sold separately.
The versatile Husqvarna YTH18542 riding lawn tractor effectively mows 1 to 2 acres of steep and uneven terrain as well as flat areas. Your Husqvarna purchase includes a 3-yr. Bumper-to-Bumper warranty. CA Prop 65 warnings apply.
Husqvarna YTH18542: Check the current price
Commercial-Grade Riding Lawn Mower | Hustler Raptor SD
The heavy-duty, commercial grade, Hustler Raptor SD riding lawn tractor is a reliable, zero-turn, 60-inch PTO (electric blade engagement), residential side discharge mower. The welded steel open deck, and fabricated steel frame and front axle provide superior durability.
Its quietly powerful 24 hp 726cc Kawasaki V-twin engine guarantees smooth mulching, mowing, and bagging operations. The Raptor SD’s dual hydrostatic hydro-gear transmission also delivers seamless performance allowing you to smoothly accelerate and change speeds. It has a patented automatic parking brake that assures you the unit will not move or roll when parked and not in use.
The Raptor SD offers exclusive SmoothTrak™ Steering that allows more precise and controlled steering for easier zero-turn maneuvering around trees and obstacles. The Raptor SD also features a large 3 gal. fuel tank, foot-operated deck lift, air cooled tractor mower technology that improves deck airflow that helps produce clean, consistent cutting, and a cup holder!
It runs on large 13” front and 20” rear drive tires and three 5-inch anti-scalp, lawn grooming deck wheels. Its hourly meter and engine guard are standard. A deluxe, adjustable high-back seat (w/lumbar support), armrests, and premium suspension offer a smoother, more comfortable ride.
The maneuverable Hustler Raptor SD riding lawn tractor rear (dual) bagging attachment (sold separately) efficiently collects grass cuttings. The mulching attachment (also sold separately) revitalizes lawn by returning needed nutrients to it. Light, stripe, flex fork, and steering lever extension kits are also available and separately sold.
Your zero-turn Hustler Raptor SD riding lawn tractor efficiently mows 2 to 3 – 3.64 acres of tree and obstacle-laden flat terrain per hour. Hustler offers the best industry warranty for this class of riding lawn tractor. The Raptor SD comes with a 3-yr. or 300-hour limited residential warranty (whichever comes first).
Hustler Raptor SD: Check the current price
Comparative Chart of Effectiveness of Riding Lawn Mowers
Motor/Power: Kohler 18HP
John Deere E120
Motor/Power: OEM Branded 20HP
Motor/Power: Briggs & Stratton 19HP
Motor/Power: Briggs & Stratton 18.5HP
Hustler Raptor SD
Motor/Power: Kawasaki 24HP
Which riding lawn mowers are the best?
Of those reviewed, the John Deere E120 is the most affordable, easy-start, easy-maintenance, easy-operating model.
Which machines are the best for hills?
High horsepower models climb and hold on hills the best.
What is the average life of a riding lawn mower battery?
It depends on the battery. Example: a NAPA Lawn & Garden battery lasts a min. of 3 yrs.; longer if well-maintained.
How do you test a riding lawn tractor’s starter?
Clean posts with a stiff-bristled brush. Attach black jumper cable to black wire/negative battery post; attach the other end to tractor/mower metal. Attach the red cable end to the red/positive battery post; attach the other end to the positive red side of the starter. The starter turn over if it is good.
How do you clean the deck of a garden tractor?
Empty the gas tank and remove the battery first. Hose off underneath and scrap/pry off grass clumps. Wash with hot (dish soap) soapy water. Rinse. Remove/clean/blow dry the air filter.
Pros and Cons of Using Riding Lawn Mowers
Comfortable user-friendly features and assorted attachment options are prime benefits of having a riding lawn mower that allows you to mow massive areas easier, faster, and safer. They are beneficial if you need to mow in hot, humid conditions or are, yourself, prone to health issues. These machines also increase professional landscaping or maintenance operations’ productivity and revenue.
A primary drawback of these devices is the initial cost to purchase the unit. They also require maintenance and servicing that generally means the owner has to load and haul the unit to a center that services the particular brand. At-home servicing or pickup and delivery of the product incur additional costs, providing those services are even available!
Tips on How to Best Use Riding Mowers
Many models are versatile and can effectively be converted from mower to autumn leaf/debris cleanup or winter snow removal by just changing, removing and/or replacing the power deck with a different attachment. You can seed, de-thatch, plow snow or perform other operations quickly and efficiently using a powerful unit that has easy-change attachments that adapt it to a variety of conditions.
These devices reduce the time and effort it takes to mow your yard or acreage. They may be small affordable rear engine models, heavy-duty lawn and garden tractor models, or more expensive zero-turning 360-degree, high performance commercial models. Heavier tractor type models are best-suited for mowing 5+ acres. Smaller rear engine riding options are best for ½ - ¾ acres or more. Zero-turning machines offer the fastest maneuverability on flat lawns.
Their technologies include more power and versatility upgrades as well as a variety of luxury attachments such as adjustable seats, stereos, automatic transmissions, and cruise control. New solar and battery-powered robotic models are being developed. Biodiesel and hydro-cell engines are being improved as alternatives to gas and electric engines.
Be prepared to spend $500 or more for a riding lawn mower. A low-end, 14HP model starts at $1,000. Small garden tractors (18-24HP) range between $2,500 and $4,500. Larger tractor options can run as high as $9,000 or more.