The Best Lawnmower

After researching the topic for more than 15 hours and talking to a wide variety of experts—from professional landscapers to lawnmower repairmen to Popular Mechanics’ lawnmower guru and more—we believe the best mower for most lawns is the Honda HRX217VKA. It won the top spot at the epic Consumer Reports rundown and it ranked very highly in Popular Mechanics' tests as well (conducted by mower expert Roy Berendsohn, who has been testing lawn mowers for more than 20 years). At $600, the Honda certainly isn’t cheap, but the mantra that was repeated by many of the experts that we interviewed was, “you get what you pay for.” While other mowers might have more features for less money, the Honda excels at leaving a lawn with, as Berendsohn put it, a “velvet finish.” The Honda allows you to bag, mulch, or discharge your clippings and the large 190cc engine makes short work of leaf shredding when it comes time for fall clean-up.

The Honda is more expensive than other models but we can say with confidence that everyone will love having a $600 mowers because it's just nicer to use in every way.
On top of all this, this mower comes with a unique Honda feature called Versamow, which lets you control the amount of clippings that you mulch and bag, benefiting those who want to mulch but are mowing tall or wet grass. Why is this important? While experts unanimously agree that mulching is better for your lawn, if the grass is too high, the mulch will clump and be ineffective. The adjustable mulch level of the Honda lets you account for the times when you skip a week or two.

Does everyone need to spend $600 on a lawnmower? Probably not. In fact, if you have a flat lawn you might be able to get away with a much cheaper front-wheel-drive option for a fraction of the cost (which we discuss further below). But we can say with confidence that everyone will love having the $600 mower because, by all accounts, it really is that much better to use. What’s more, Honda mowers have a stellar reputation for durability and quality (a fact backed by their industry-leading five-year warranty that’s nearly twice as long as most other mowers’).

Also Great
While it's not on the same level as our main pick, the Toro costs less and performs well.
If our main pick becomes unavailable or becomes much more expensive, we also recommend either the Toro Recycler 20333 ($400) or the Ariens Razor 911179 ($479). Both cost less than the Honda and come with a full compliment of features, including a blade brake stop, which allows you to stop the blade but not the mower in order to move some toys or a branch out of the mowing path. While both mowers did well in the Consumer Reports and Popular Mechanics testing, no one put them on the same pedestal as the Honda—especially when it comes to reliability.

Also Great
If all you need is a basic mower, the Lawn Boy is a decent choice. It likely won't last as long as our main pick though and performance is middle of the road.
But if you’re after just a bare-bones, basic mower, a good choice is the Lawn Boy 10732 ($279). It’s a simple, no-frills model liked by the testers at Popular Mechanics. But at the much lower price, it’s likely that it won’t have the long-term durability of the others, particularly the Honda. Consumer Reports has Lawn Boy at the middle of the pack in their brand reliability ratings (Honda has the top spot), not to mention that the Lawn Boy has a two-year full warranty (with a three-year guarantee to start on the first or second pull) while Honda simply has a full five years. Also, Consumer Reports tested a nearly identical mower (Lawn Boy 10734) and found its handling, bagging, and side discharge capabilities to be middle of the road.

We also have some recommendations down below for those who have flat lawns and don’t need the added cost of rear-wheel drive, as well as a simple push mower for smaller lawns. But if you have a really small, flat lawn, don’t mind a workout, and don’t want to deal with gas or electricity, a fully manual reel mower might be a good fit for you. Here’s our guide to the best one.

Lastly, we have some quick thoughts on cordless and electric models below.

Table of Contents

Who should buy this? | But should you upgrade? | How we picked | What kind of mower does my lawn need? | Our pick | Flaws, but not dealbreakers | RWD vs FWD | Runner-up | Also great | Budget mower | The best front-wheel drive | The best push mower | Electric and cordless mowers | Reel mowers | Care and maintenance | The competition | Wrapping up

Who should buy this?

A gas-powered self-propelled mower is going to work for lawns of any size, but it is ideally suited for medium- to large-sized mowing areas where a simpler push mower, whether gas or reel, becomes impractical—larger than ~5,000 square feet, though depending on your fitness and enthusiasm level, you could use a manual reel mower for up to 10,000 square feet (but you probably wouldn’t want to). Rear-wheel drive offers maneuverability benefits, particularly on hills and inclines. And a mower with a mulching function not only makes things easier for you, but also increases the health of your lawn.

If you have a flat lawn, you can opt for a front-wheel-drive mower, which will give you a price break but less traction on wet grass.

For smaller lawns, or people who like a good workout, a push mower provides another step down in cost.

Electric mowers (corded and cordless) are best for “small manicured lawns,” according to Berendsohn. While they don’t puff exhaust into the air and they eliminate the overall hassle of maintaining a combustion engine, they do have other shortcomings, such as inconsistent power.

But should you upgrade?

A new mower is a large investment and if you have one that you’re happy with, there is really no need to get a new one. That said, the strongest argument for upgrading is if your current mower doesn’t have a mulching function. What mulching does is slice and dice the clippings into very small pieces, leaving them on the grass to decompose and feed your soil. It’s not only good for your lawn, but also has other benefits. The traditional side discharge mode puts grass clumps on your lawn that need to be raked up or quickly turn brown and unsightly.

Bagging, the other option, is cleaner, but you need a place to put the clippings. And depending on the size of your lawn, you may need to stop three or four times per mow to unhook and empty the bag. Mulching feeds the lawn as you go, so it really is the best of all worlds.

Also the mower you have might not be right for your lawn. For example, if your mower struggles on your lawn’s inclines, it is likely a front-wheel-drive model. In this case, having the greater traction of a rear-wheel mower would make your life a lot easier. We get into the specifics of more features below.

How we picked

After all our interviews and research, we concluded that that ideal mower for most lawns is a self-propelled model with rear-wheel drive and variable speed control.
After all our interviews and research, we concluded that that ideal mower for most lawns is a self-propelled model with rear-wheel drive and variable speed control. It should also have three options for disposing of clippings: side discharge, bag, and mulch. Other nice features to have are a blade brake clutch, which allows you to stop the blade but keep the mower running, and a washout port to easily clean the underside of the cutting dome.

To help us wade through the seemingly endless features and models available and come to this conclusion, we spoke with Roy Berendsohn, the resident lawnmower guru at Popular Mechanics. Berendsohn has been writing about and testing lawn mowers for many years and, as his former colleague (and Wirecutter contributor) Harry Sawyers told me, “[Berendsohn] has more info than you could possibly need, and he is seriously one of the most seasoned industry experts you could consult.”

It’s worth noting that many of the lawn mower articles that Berendsohn didn’t write, he was interviewed for (see hereherehere, and here). It’s difficult to overstate his credibility when it comes to lawn mowers.

I also spoke with two full-time landscapers: Chad Crosby of West Michigan Lawn Services and Paul Kohler of Koehler Landscape Construction Services, Inc. In addition, I spent some time the phone with two different lawnmower retail/service outlets: Nick Ortiz at Kellam Lawn Mower in Glen Mills, PA, and David [last name withheld] of Boston Lawnmower Company.

I also consulted with John Neff, former editor-in-chief of Autoblog and a self-proclaimed lawn mower enthusiast.

Beyond these interviews, I read everything I could online, paying the closest attention to Consumer Reports’ mega rundown of walk-behind mowers (subscription required) and Berendsohn’s massive collection of articles over at Popular Mechanics.

What kind of mower does my lawn need?

First off, it’s very important to note that lawn mowers come in a wide variety of flavors with a wide variety of features. Husqvarna alone has 13 different gas-powered walk-behind mowers listed at its site. Toro has a whopping 24. Many features are specific to certain lawn and terrain conditions. To cover their bases, most manufacturers offer mowers with different feature combinations to make sure that they’re going to have a model that will work for your particular lawn.

…the mower that is going to be perfect for one person will be a hindrance to another.
Put another way, the mower that is going to be perfect for one person will be a hindrance to another. Because we had to draw the line somewhere, we focused on medium- to large-sized lawns (more than 3,000-4,000 square feet), with some trees to mow around, probably some walkways and flower beds, maybe some inclines, and maybe some odd humps. Basically, a lawn that has a little of everything, both areas where precision is needed and places where long straight runs are in order. If your yard deviates considerably from this, you may want to familiarize yourself with the available feature options so you can better customize to your own situation.

For example, mowers that come with pivoting front wheels increase maneuverability. This is all good, but they’re also harder to adjust, not very good on hills, a little trickier on a straight line, and, according to Consumer Reports, the wheels extend out from the front of the mower, preventing it “from cutting close up against foundations and walls.” If your yard is a maze of high-precision turns and pirouettes, then the pivot wheels are worth investigating. But for most people, regular straight wheels will do just fine.

Another example: Mowers with oversized rear tires are best for rough and bumpy terrain. The tradeoff, according to Consumer Reports, is that they’re harder to maneuver, specifically when making a quick 180-degree turn, like on the end of a mowing line. Again, for most people, regular wheels will be fine.

Also, not everyone needs a gas-powered self-propelled mower. If you have a smaller lawn (under 3,000 sq. feet) you can get away with a push mower or even a cordless or electric model. But once you have some significant area to cover, these other styles all have their drawbacks, from runtime (cordless) to strength and convenience (electric) to sheer back-breaking exhaustion (push mower). Even with a smaller lawn, a self-propelled model is helpful, letting you concentrate on the mowing and not so much the pushing.

All of the landscapers and service/retail guys I spoke with said that they recommend rear-wheel drive (RWD) over front-wheel drive (FWD). If you have hills and inclines, a RWD mower, like the Honda, is going to be essential due its greater traction. According to Ortiz, the same can be said if you hit a patch of thick grass. But they have other benefits that even non-professionals will appreciate, like better weight distribution when bagging your clippings and the ability to lift the front tires (and blade) and still be able to move the machine. FWD is cheaper, but ultimately, we think RWD offers enough benefits to justify its roughly $40-80 premium. We discuss this topic in greater detail in the “RWD vs FWD” section below if you want to know more.

Many mowers have two modes of clipping disposal (bag and side discharge), but Berendsohn says he prefers those with an additional mulch feature. Mulching slices and dices the grass clippings into very small shreds and leaves them on the cut grass to compost. According to Berendsohn, “I spend most of my time in mulch mode but I do resort to side discharge if grass is high or wet, or if I’m mowing down weeds and doing utility-type mowing.” He added that, “Otherwise, I’m not a big fan of bagging. Mulching puts clippings (and their nitrogen) back into the lawn.” A rundown of the benefits of mulching at Honda’s website noted that “If you live in a municipality that charges extra fees to landfill yard waste, mulching will also save you money.”

Another nice, albeit expensive, feature is the blade brake clutch. This allows you to shut the blade off and step away from the mower without shutting off the engine. It’s nice if you need to empty your bag of grass or if you have to move some lawn furniture or a fallen branch out of the way. If you have kids, then you probably already understand the full benefits of this feature.

Nothing is more annoying than having to stop your mower to move a half-buried Optimus Prime action figure out of the mowing path.
Nothing is more annoying than having to stop your mower to move a half-buried Optimus Prime action figure out of the mowing path. Paul Kohler, one of the landscapers we spoke with, even told me that he thinks at some point this might end up being a standard feature on mowers. But for now, you can expect to pay about an extra $100 for it.

A washout port is a small hose connection on the upper side of the mowing dome. To use it, connect a garden hose and run both the hose and the mower for a couple minutes. This sprays water into the spinning blades and removes all the grass clumps and debris from the underside of the machine. As this article on mower maintenance says, grass buildup in the cutting dome messes with the airflow and makes the mower less efficient.

Manufacturers will try to wow you with the size and make of the engine. Both Berendsohn and Consumer Reports warned against getting too caught up in the numbers here. According to Berendsohn, “Engines generally range from 159 to 190cc. Frankly, any of these work.” Consumer Reports agreed. In this video they said, “higher power, often measured in torque, is no indication of higher cutting performance.” Berendsohn did include the caveat that if you’re going to be doing a lot of mowing in extreme situations (heavy weeds; tall, wet grass; or leaf mulching) then it’s worth it to shoot for the upper side of the engine spectrum. But for normal conditions, it doesn’t really matter too much.

There are two primary engine manufacturers, Honda and Briggs & Stratton (Subaru, Kawasaki, and Kohler, among others, also make engines, but they are nowhere near as prevalent). The general consensus among the retailers and landscapers is that Honda engines are better (a little quieter, more reliable, and a little more expensive), but Berendsohn felt that the differences between the two are a matter for the professional users and not homeowners. To him, an engine’s performance is more in the care and maintenance of it than the name on the label (change the oil, make sure there’s enough oil, treat the gas, store it properly in the off season).

It’s important to note that this maintenance is not just for the well-being of the engine, but also maintains the mower’s warranty. Of the many warranties we looked at while researching, all of them require the owner of the mower to engage in proper upkeep and storage of the unit for any of the repair coverage to apply. Complaining that your mower seized up because you weren’t keeping an eye on oil levels will earn you no sympathy from customer service representatives.

Our pick

The Honda is more expensive than other models but we can say with confidence that everyone will love having a $600 mowers because it's just nicer to use in every way.
According to our research and interviews, the mower to get for most lawns is the Honda HRX217VKA. At $600, there is no doubt that it’s on the expensive side, but all indications say that it is worth the cost, both in performance and long-term durability. The Honda not only took the top spot at Consumer Reports, but is also well-liked by Berendsohn, who called it “the luxury car of walk-behind mowers.” The Honda has a great reputation propped up by fantastic user reviews. And while I didn’t get the pleasure of using it myself, we got plenty of ownership insight and long-term test notes from former Autoblog editor-in-chief John Neff, who has owned and operated one for two and a half years.

honda_candid

The rear-wheel, self-propelled Honda has comfortable controls and a composite deck that not only resists dents, dings, and rust, but is also less prone to getting gummed up with clippings.
The rear-wheel, self-propelled Honda has comfortable controls and a composite deck that not only resists dents, dings, and rust, but is also less prone to getting gummed up with clippings. It is equipped with a powerful and reliable 190cc engine that starts so easily that it obviates the benefits of an electronic ignition. It also features Honda’s unique Versamow system, which gives it the ability to shred leaves in addition to mulching, bagging, or disposing of clippings through the rear discharge port. The leaf-shredding feature sounds like a minor thing, but it’s actually effective enough to replace a gas leaf blower, which certainly improves the Honda’s value proposition.

Neff felt that the Versamow feature is the real standout of the mower. It’s unique to Honda mowers and needs some explaining. Other mowers only have straight-up mulch and bag settings with no grey areas. The Honda’s Versamow lets you manage the process. A 10-position lever sets the width of the mower’s rear opening, allowing either a little or a lot of clippings to pass through to the bag while the rest get mulched. This is useful if you’re dealing with tall or wet grass that you want to mulch. With other mowers, a full mulch setting will likely leave unsightly clumps on the yard. But on the Honda, you can set the mower to bag a third (or whatever) of the grass, leaving the other two thirds to be diced up and mulched. This distributes the clippings between the two places and prevents clumping.

The Honda’s unique Versamow feature lets you bag and mulch at the same time in adjustable ratios.

The Honda’s unique Versamow feature lets you bag and mulch at the same time in adjustable ratios.

The Versamow also helps with shredding leaves. According to Honda (and confirmed by Neff), if you set the mower at a certain spot between bag and full-mulch, it forces the leaves to stay in the mowing dome longer, which completely shreds them and then disposes of them in the bag. Honda actually markets the Versamow mowers as four-in-one with leaf shredding as an actual feature.

“The Honda mower has virtually replaced raking entirely for me.” – John Neff
Neff elaborated on the benefits of this process: “In the fall, I use the Honda to mulch the leaves into the grass as far as I can into the fall season. When the leaf cover gets too thick, I switch to half mulch and half bag, and eventually I use the mower to pick up all the leaves and bag them. The Honda mower has virtually replaced raking entirely for me.” With this in mind, it’s no surprise that Neff called it the mower’s best feature. Honda has a video on the feature here.

The speed control is paddle driven and can be adjusted to operated by your thumbs or palms.

The speed control is paddle-driven and can be adjusted to operated by your thumbs or palms.

As far as using it goes, the speed control of the Honda is done with a two-pronged paddle setup that can be operated with the thumbs or the palms.

According to Neff, “The resistance is a little too high to control them with your thumbs the whole time; I rest my palms on them.” He continued, “What’s nice about these controls is that they’re adjustable on the bar. You can basically set the paddles at any particular angle. Maybe it’s just me, but the angle I have them set at is perfect for my palms.”

As for long-term durability, Consumer Reports stated that the premium Honda engine, “is likely to run more efficiently and start more easily than traditional side-valve engines for years to come.” In general terms, they refer to Honda as, “among the least repair-prone for self-propelled mowers.” If something does go wrong, Honda also offers a long five-year warranty for this mower (and the others in the HRX line). On top of that is a limited lifetime warranty that covers the composite mower deck. The warranties of most other mowers top out at two or three years.

Over at Home Depot, the Honda has garnered a high 4.5 stars based on 328 reviews, with 90 percent of the reviewers recommending the mower. Most comments praised the tool for its reliable start (normally on the first pull). There is also a lot of discussion on the high price, but in the end, most of the commenters said that the overall quality of the mower justifies the high cost.

The sense that I had after completing my research was that Honda mowers deliver a consistently high level of quality. So if the specifics of this one don’t match up with your needs, any of the others are likely to be very solid mowers, ranging from this basic push mower ($350) to this $850 model. The number two spot in the Consumer Reports rating was another Honda, the HRR216K9VLA ($500), which is similar to our recommended mower, but because it is part of the HRR line and not the HRX line, it doesn’t have the much-touted Versamow, the composite deck, or the five-year warranty (HRRs have a three-year warranty). HRRs also have a less powerful engine (160cc) and a different blade design, which translates into slightly poorer mulching ability. Our pick is actually the least expensive of the mowers in the HRX line.

Flaws, but not dealbreakers

Unfortunately, the Honda HRX217VKA doesn’t have a blade brake clutch, which gives you the ability to stop the blade but keep the engine running. With this feature, if you need to step away from the mower, say to empty a bag of clippings or to move some lawn furniture out of the way, you won’t need to restart the engine when it’s time to get back to mowing.

This is certainly a nice option to have, but it’s also an expensive one. A blade brake clutch usually adds anywhere from $80 to $100 to the price of a mower, which would start edging the Honda up into a range that makes it a tougher purchase to justify for residential use. Also, the Honda engine is known for its smooth and easy starting ability, so it’s unlikely to be a difficult process, especially once the mower is warmed up and has been running for a bit. But if the blade brake clutch is something that you feel you need, Honda’s HRX217HYA ($700) is the one to get. It is similar to our pick, but has the blade brake system and a different control setup. The user feedback at Home Depot is very good (4.7 stars with 503 reviews), but according to Neff, who has used both mowers, the thumb/palm paddle control on the HRX217VKA is more comfortable.

It also lacks a washout port, which provides an easy way to hose off the underside of the mowing deck. Without it, you’ll be doing things the old-fashioned way by tipping the mower back and spraying it down. To Honda’s credit, the composite deck is going to be a little less likely to attract grass clumping (and it won’t rust), but there’s no doubt that you’ll still have to maintain the cleanliness yourself.

In the end, these missing features are nice to have, but they don’t change the actual performance of the mower. With the accolades that the Honda has received at both Consumer Reports and Popular Mechanics as well as with the customer feedback, to not recommend it because it doesn’t have a couple convenient features would be short-sighted.

RWD vs FWD

Looking over landscaping and mowing forums, some say that rear-wheel mowers are easier to keep in a straight line, and others like the fact that they can propel across a hump or a driveway with the blade raised, preventing scalping the turf or damage to the blade. They are also better if you bag your grass. As the bag gets filled with clippings, the weight of the mower starts to shift toward the rear, giving the front tires less traction and making it more difficult for them to pull the load. With a rear-wheel mower, the filled bag puts more weight over the tires and actually increases their ability to gain traction.

“Ultimately, I felt which wheels are driven is less important than the quality and capability of the machine.”
But it’s crucial to pair the rear-wheel drive with a variable speed control. This lets you quickly slow the engine speed in order to make a quick 180 pivot at the end of your mowing line. There is definitely an added cost to the rear-wheel drive. The rear-wheel Husqvarna HU700L goes for about $380 while the nearly identical front-wheel HU700F is $340. So we’re talking about $40 or $50 upcharge. While no one likes to pay more, that amount of money spread over the life of the mower really isn’t a large investment.

FWD mowers have their benefits too. For one, they make it very easy to quickly pivot the mower 180 degrees. But if you pair a RWD mower with a nice variable speed control, this is a moot point because, once you get used to it, you’ll be able to lay off the gas, pivot the mower, and then quickly accelerate.

John Neff has been using the RWD Honda for 2.5 years and was a former owner of a FWD Troy-Bilt so he offered us some hands-on perspective on the topic. Ultimately, he didn’t think there was a huge difference in maneuverability between the two systems. So with the playing field evened out in that regard, Neff chose his mower based on the overall build quality and the reputation of the manufacturer. He said, “Ultimately, I felt which wheels are driven is less important than the quality and capability of the machine.” Honda does not offer any FWD mowers, but their reputation is through the roof and by all accounts, this $600 mower is worth the exorbitant cost regardless of how flat or hilly your mowing area is.

Runner-up

Also Great
While it's not on the same level as our main pick, the Toro costs less and performs well.
If you want the full compliment of recommended features, including the blade brake system and the washout port, we recommend the Toro 20333 Recycler ($400). It’s about $200 less than our main pick and, by most accounts, is a worthy mower. But it just doesn’t have the finesse of the Honda (or the VersaMow feature). Also, the user feedback doesn’t have the overwhelming positives that the Honda has, lending credence to the “you get what you pay for” thing.

One of the main selling points of the Toro is its unique control system called the Personal Pace. In a nutshell, the variable-speed mower adjusts to how fast you’re walking based on the tilt of the control bar. If you’re walking fast, you’ll naturally be pressing it slightly forward, and if you’re walking slower, you’ll be pulling it back.

Consumer Reports rated it highly and praised it for its value, commenting that it was an excellent mulcher, but the bagging and side discharge were a “notch below the best, but were still impressive.” This mower can also handle leaves, but unlike the Honda, you’ll always be in either full bag or full mulch mode, which gives less flexibility in a thicker bed of leaves. As Neff said, partway through the fall season, he switches his Honda to half bag/half mulch which allows him to mulch longer and lessens the amount of bagging that he has to do when he eventually gets to it.

Berendsohn, reviewing the Toro 20332 (the same model, but without the blade brake) wrote, “Toro’s engineers designed a mower that suits a variety of users and mowing conditions.” He also called it out as a “value-packed product.”

The Toro has a 190cc Briggs & Stratton engine and comes with a two-year warranty and a three-year “guarantee to start” which states that “if it doesn’t start in two pulls, we’ll fix it for free.”

The user feedback at Home Depot is solid, with the mower getting 4.1 stars from 1,362 reviews with 84 percent recommending the mower. But the Toro doesn’t fare so well in the comments at Amazon or Consumer Reports. At both places it has a rating in the twos. The negatives are a laundry list of mechanical failures and warranty problems. One that was repeated a few times is that the engine guzzles oil and once it runs empty, the engine seizes up. It’s noted that the manual says to check the oil before each mow, so apparently Toro doesn’t cover it under the warranty.

But one thing worth considering that may explain these overwhelmingly negative comments is that Amazon doesn’t realistically sell the Toro mower and Consumer Reports (obviously) doesn’t either. Currently, Amazon offers it through a third-party seller for the bizarre and completely unrealistic price of $800. With that in mind, it’s likely that most of the reviewers have purchased it elsewhere, had a bad experience, and are looking for a place to vent, as well they should with an underperforming item.

On the other hand, Home Depot actually sells the mower (and sends the email requesting feedback after the purchase), so it seems likely that they would have a better representation of the overall customer experience with the mower, positives as well as negatives. I’m not saying that I think the Toro is a perfect tool or there aren’t real points raised at Amazon or Consumer Reports (check your oil!), but the ratings breakdown at Home Depot is not only a much larger sampling, but likely a more realistic representation of the mower as well.

This interpretation also falls in line with the Consumer Reports manufacturer reliability graph, which says that for every 100 Toro self-propelled lawn mowers, 17 needed some kind of repair or had a serious problem (Honda scored the lowest with 11). Also, the Toro 20332 (the same as the 20333 but minus the blade brake clutch), has a 3.9-star rating with more than 1,500 reviews at Home Depot. Again, this isn’t to say that the Toro is perfect, but rather to add some context to the ratings.

Also great

But if you’d rather stay away from the Toro for whatever reason, the Ariens Razor 911177 ($459) is more expensive, but appears to be a very nice mower as well. This one scored close behind the Toro in the Consumer Reports testing and was tied for best overall in Berendsohn’s Popular Mechanics test of rear-wheel mowers. Berendsohn called it out for its rugged construction and Consumer Reports liked it for its mulching and bagging abilities, but less so for the side discharge.

The Ariens comes with a 159cc engine, which is on the smaller side of the scale, so this one might have some difficulty in tall, wet grass or blazing through a thick layer of leaves. On the plus side, the height of the cut can be adjusted with a single lever, as opposed to the four on the Honda and Toro.

The drive control on the Ariens is a squeeze-style handle that looks sort of like the brake handle on a 10-speed bike. Berendsohn called these out for being ideal for push, pull, stop, go-type mowing, so it will be good if you have a lot of areas where high maneuverability is necessary.

The customer feedback on the Ariens is better than that of the Toro, but it’s also a smaller sampling. The 911177 has only a single five-star review, but the Ariens 911175 ($419), the same mower minus the blade brake clutch, has a 4.3-star rating from 37 reviews, with 86 percent recommending the mower.

Budget mower

Also Great
If all you need is a basic mower, the Lawn Boy is a decent choice. It likely won't last as long as our main pick though and performance is middle of the road.
If you’re on a tight budget and are looking for a decent rear-wheel-drive, self-propelled, variable-speed mower at under $300, we suggest the Lawn Boy 10732 ($279). In his rear-wheel drive piece, Berendsohn gave a nearly identical Lawn Boy the “best buy” designation, calling it “a delightfully simple, light, basic mower.” He added that he was “pleasantly surprised by how fast and effective it is despite its small Kohler engine.”

Unlike the Honda, Toro, or Ariens, this mower doesn’t have any sort of innovative drive control mechanism. The Lawn Boy comes with the basic old standard bail (the metal bar) that you pull against the handle.

At Amazon, all of the Lawn Boy models scored well with customer feedback, with most of them in the four to 4.2 range. At Home Depot, the average is a little lower at 3.6. According to Consumer Reports, Lawn Boy actually ranks right alongside Toro for brand reliability for self-propelled mowers.

Also great: the best front-wheel drive

…there is no doubt that front-wheel drives offer a price break.
While the consensus is that rear-wheel-drive mowers offer better traction, particularly if you bag clippings or have inclines to deal with, there is no doubt that front-wheel drives offer a price break.

For this, we recommend the single-speed Snapper SP70 ($275) or, if you want the large rear wheels, the nearly identical Snapper SP80 ($300). The SP70 ranked highly at Consumer Reports for single-speed mowers, and Berendsohn had it “Tied for Best Overall” in his round-up of front-drive mowers. In addition, the customer feedback at Walmart.com is very good, with the SP80 getting 4.5 stars from 119 customer reviews.

According to Berendsohn’s write-up, the two pro landscapers who tested the mowers, “heaped praise on the Snapper for its power and responsive drive system, operated with a comfortable handle.” Of the mowers tested for the piece, the Snapper was the “most clog-resistant grass mulcher and our best leaf mulcher”

The Snapper’s primary competition in this category is the variable speed Toro 20339 ($350) which took the top spot in the Consumer Reports testing and was the other model “Tied for Best Overall” in Berendsohn’s rundown (the 20339 is a variable speed model, but for some reason was included in CR’s single-speed section, which covers mostly front-wheel mowers). The one feature that really sets the Toro apart from the pack is its ability to be stored upright, greatly reducing the footprint needed in your garage. On the down side, Consumer Reports called it out as being “difficult to push, pull and turn.” Berendsohn noticed these handling issues as well, writing that, “Speed control via a bar pressed against the handle is not bad, but it’s not exactly easily adjustable either.” These maneuverability problems, coupled with the higher price, are what tipped the scales in favor of the Snapper.

Also great: the best push mower

If you have a small lawn (under 2,000-3,000 sq. feet), and you don’t mind the exertion…
If you have a small lawn (under 2,000-3,000 sq. feet), and you don’t mind the exertion, you can take another step down on the cost notch and get a push mower. Consumer Reports hailed the Cub Cadet SC100 11A-A92J ($250) as the top push mower. They liked it for its mulching ability, its easy handling, and its washout port. At Home Depot, it has one of the highest feedback ratings that we saw of any mower we looked at: 4.7 stars from 67 reviews, with 98 percent recommending the mower. Unfortunately, the mower is currently out of stock online at Home Depot and Mower’s Direct has it back-ordered. We called Cub Cadet and they told us that when the mower is in stock, it’s usually only for a couple days.

Following the Cub Cadet in the Consumer Reports piece are the Yard Machines 11A-B96N ($240) and the Lawn Boy 10730 ($240), both of which scored well and are in the same price range. The percentage of positives in the customer feedback for both models is consistent with other well-regarded mowers.

Strangely, Consumer Reports did not test Honda’s push mower, the HRR216PKA ($440). While it’s definitely expensive, this model appears to offer the same overall high quality and fantastic mulching ability as our main pick. Being part of their HRR line, it doesn’t have the Versamow function. But otherwise, it is likely be a very nice mower if you’re willing to deal with the seriously high price tag.

If you really like the idea of a Honda mower, but are operating on something of a budget, they also offer a really thinned-down push mower, the HRS216PDA ($350). This one doesn’t mulch and it doesn’t bag. It just side discharges like your grandfather’s old mower. At $350, it’s the least expensive Honda mower. Again, there is little doubt that the quality is there (along with the Honda price), but the tradeoffs are the mulching and bagging functions.

Electric and cordless mowers

We didn’t spend much time researching corded or cordless electric mowers, which due to runtime and cord length constraints aren’t well-suited for larger mowing areas. According to Berendsohn’s research, most cordless mowers can cover anywhere from 3,000 to 7,000 square feet (with one Homelite he tested making it all the way up to almost 15,000 sq. feet). The buying guide at Mower’s Direct gives a general estimate of an hour of mowing time for a fully charged battery. Because corded mowers are tethered to an outlet, their mowing ability is linked to however many extension cords you own. If you have a lot of trees or other obstacles to mow around, a corded mower is not the best choice. Making sure you don’t mow over the cord is certainly a concern as well.

But beyond this, Berendsohn made the larger point that cordless mowers “are marked by inconsistent power output and cut quality, and the occasional frustrating design flaw.” But he also noted that it is a category that is really at the “beginning of [its] development cycle.” If the battery advancements that are taking place in the power tool industry are any indication, cordless mowers will be advancing in large steps in the coming years.

Still, electric models do offer significant benefits to those with lawn conditions that are a fit. Most importantly, the overall hassle of owning a combustion engine is gone. No spark plug, no oil, no air filter, and no spilled gas. They’re also quieter and cleaner.

Over at Consumer Reports, the top two models in the cordless category, the $500 EGO LM2001 and the $325 Black & Decker CM1936 both can mulch and bag and have very good customer feedback. Of these two, the EGO is a bit pricier, but comes more highly recommended. Marc Lyman of HomeFixated did an in-depth review of the EGO and found it to have impressive power and fast battery charging. Berendsohn also looked at it here, saying that it “exceeded [his] expectations.”

The Homelite UT13126 ($270) was liked by Berendsohn who wrote that it “came closer to gas engine mower performance than any other product.” Consumer Reports said that it was “subpar at mulching.” The customer feedback at Home Depot is a so-so three stars.

For more general information, Berendsohn has a cordless mower buying guide here and a comparison test of seven different models here.

For electric corded, at Consumer Reports, the Black & Decker MM875 ($260) was deemed to be the best, but over at Amazon, it’s hovering around four stars. The Greenworks 25022 ($170), which Consumer Reports didn’t test, has a higher rating of 4.3. These models also have mulching and bagging abilities.

A good buying guide is over at Mower’s Direct.

Reel mowers

If you have a small lawn and like the exertion of a push mower, but don’t want the hassle of gas (or even electricity), a reel mower might be a fit. Beyond the zero emissions, reel mowers need virtually no maintenance beyond a good sharpening every few years. See our full guide on the subject here.

Care and maintenance

A mower is a big investment, so you’re going to want to take care of it. Proper maintenance breaks down into two parts: a mid-season check-up and proper storage in the off season. For information on these topics, there is no better place to turn than Berendsohn’s articles over at Popular Mechanics. His advice on off-season storage is here and a piece on what to look for during a mid-season tune-up is here.

But beyond what can be found online, the most crucial knowledge for you is going to come from the mower’s owner’s manual. Not only is this information specifically tailored to your machine and engine, but following it allows you to maintain the warranty. Like we said above, if you don’t check your oil and it runs dry, causing the engine to seize, your warranty probably won’t cover the pricey repair work.

The competition

…while many of the other manufacturers appear to make nice mowers, here are the reasons we discounted some of the other models.
There are a lot of mower companies and each one makes a lot of different mowers. Because we didn’t perform any hands-on testing ourselves, we had to rely entirely testing data of others, information from the manufacturers, and customer feedback. Even the mega Consumer Reports piece doesn’t cover every model (or even come close to doing so). Because of this massive number of models, we had to make some generalizations based on the ones that were tested. So while many of the other manufacturers appear to make nice mowers, here are the reasons we discounted some of the other models.

The Husqvarna mowers that Consumer Reports tested all sat in the lower half of the spectrum. On top of this, in one of his reviews, Berendsohn made the point about the Husqvarna drive system that “if you need to pull the Husqvarna backward, then you must first roll the mower forward a foot or two without the drive system engaged.” In another round-up he wrote that the control bar is uncomfortable.

Snapper and Troy-Bilt both have nice-looking rear-wheel models that scored well at Consumer Reports, but in Berendsohn’s testing, they were both beat out by a Honda and the Ariens Razor.

The Cub Cadet and Craftsman mowers all landed in the mid to low range of the Consumer Reports testing, with the exception being the Cub Cadet push mower. Berendsohn generally seems to like Craftsmans, but they never land in the top spots of his tests. Same with the Cub Cadets.

Gravely makes mowers mostly for professionals, but have a few models appropriate for the homeowner, specifically the XD3. Unfortunately neither Consumer Reports or Berendsohn has done any testing of the brand, so information is scarce. They’re also only available at authorized dealers which may or may not be near where you live. The customer reviews that I could locate were mixed.

At Consumer Reports, Yard Machines is all over the map with ratings; some models rank well, others don’t. The company does have very good customer feedback at Home Depot, but less so at Amazon where there is a smaller sampling.

Wrapping up

In the end, the best mower is one that suits your specific lawn. But once our research was done, we felt that the best all-around mower for most lawns is the Honda HRX217VKA. It’s simply a highly regarded mower from a company known for excellent quality.

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Sources

  1. Roy Berendsohn, Lawnmower guru at Popular Mechanics, Interview
  2. Chad Crosby, West Michigan Lawn Services, Interview
  3. Nick Ortiz, Kellam Lawn Mower, Interview
  4. David [last name withheld], Boston Lawnmower Company, Interview
  5. Lawn mowers & tractors, Consumer Reports (subscription required)
  6. Roy Berendsohn, Best Lawnmowers of the Year: Comparison Test, Popular Mechanics

Originally published: June 30, 2014

  • Joe Rybicki

    I spent six years mowing a half-acre lawn with a John Deere that I grew to loathe but couldn’t justify replacing until something bad happened to it. (It’s conceivable that I may have been a wee bit lax on maintenance as a result.) Once it finally died I replaced it with this Honda. It is, hands down, the best tool I’ve purchased in my eight years of home ownership. Last fall’s leaf cleanup had me pretty convinced, but when I got back from vacation last week and took down two weeks of June growth without having to bag, I knew with absolute certainty that this thing was worth every penny.

  • Tractor Dealer

    Ranchland Tractor & ATV is your leading provider for Mahindra, Polaris, Bad Boy Mowers,Cub Cadet, Husqvarna, Kohler,Briggs, Kawasaki Engines, Land Pride, Rhino and Texas Bragg in Mississippi.

  • dannynovo

    Son of a… I took your advice and replaced my broken mower with the Honda, but the model one step up, for another $100, has a feature that is worth it and I should have gotten: you can stop the blades without stopping the motor.

    This way you can drive it over gravel, over your mulched bed, over your paving stones without worrying about the blade hitting any of that.

    HRX217HYA folks, it is what Sweethome should have suggested.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      We mentioned it above, and discussed the pros & cons of it under the section titled “Flaws, but not dealbreakers”

      • dannynovo

        Hm. Yes, I see that now. My apologies. The lesson here is to RTFM. To anyone reading this far: I consider this feature worth it.

        Below is from the review above, thanks Mr. Kaye for being kind.

        “But if the blade brake clutch is something that you feel you need, Honda’s HRX217HYA($700) is the one to get. It is similar to our pick, but has the blade brake system and a different control setup. The user feedback at Home Depot is very good (4.7 stars with 503 reviews), but according to Neff, who has used both mowers, the thumb/palm paddle control on the HRX217VKA is more comfortable.”

  • Craig Penrose

    I got rid of my gas mower and purchased an EGO Power Electric. For around 10,000 sq. ft and minor undulations, it was the best purchase. Quiet, no more fumes, gas, oil, and mulches as good as my Toro Super Recycler it replaced.