The Best Lawn Mower

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If you’re mowing less than half an acre of lawn, the best lawn mower for your grass-cutting needs is the self-propelled, gas-powered Honda HRX217K5VKA. After 60 hours of research and conversations with two landscapers, two service outlets, and Roy Berendsohn of Popular Mechanics (who has tested and evaluated lawn mowers for more than 20 years), we found that the quality, reliability, and features of the Honda—as well as its unique ability to balance how much grass is mulched and how much is bagged—justify its steep price.

Last Updated: Two months ago
For the fourth straight year, the Honda HRX217K5VKA is the best mower for most lawns. Our runner-up remains the Toro 20340 Recycler, and the Ego LM2101 is still our cordless pick. The Lawn-Boy 17732 and the Cub Cadet SC100 11A-A92J710 are still our low-cost options (the Lawn-Boy has a new model number but is otherwise identical).
Expand Most Recent Updates
One year ago: For the third straight year, our pick for the best mower is the Honda HRX217K5VKA. For 2016, we have a new runner-up, the Toro 20340 Recycler, which has the ability to be stored upright, saving valuable garage space. EGO’s LM210 replaces their older version as our cordless pick. The Lawn-Boy 10732 and Cub Cadet SC100 11A-A92J710 remain our low-cost options.
Two years ago: After finishing out the summer testing our pick’s new control system, we’ve added some impressions to the our pick section.
Two years ago: Toro announced a recall of its Recycler lawnmower, model 20337, due to the wrong blades being installed, which the company says poses an injury risk. The recall applies to the models sold between February and March 2015. Note that the recalled mower is similar to but not the same as our runner-up pick, the Toro Recycler 20333. (The recalled 20337 has a 160cc Honda engine, while our pick, the 20333, has a 190cc Briggs & Stratton engine.) So as you shop for a mower this spring, be sure to pay close attention to Toro's model numbers.
Two years ago: If you’re mowing less than half an acre of lawn, the best lawn mower is the self-propelled, gas-powered Honda HRX217K5VKA ($600). After 40 hours of research and conversations with two landscapers, two service outlets, and Roy Berendsohn of Popular Mechanics (who has been testing and evaluating lawn mowers for more than 20 years), we found that the quality, reliability, and features of the Honda—as well as its unique ability to balance how much grass is mulched and bagged—justify its steep price tag.
Two years ago: One of our picks, the Cub Cadet SC100 11A-A92J ($250) sells out quickly every year—but it's in stock for now. Act fast! Cub Cadet has also just released the SC100HW ($280), which is identical to our pick except for the larger rear tires. This means it's a better choice for rough or uneven terrain, but it makes it be a little more difficult to make a quick turn. In addition, we've found more than a dozen new lawnmower models we're considering for a large update to this story in the spring.
Our pick
Honda HRX217K5VKA
This Honda is in a class of its own. Reliability and performance are unmatched, and a unique system dials in what you’re bagging and mulching, making yard work easier.

The Honda ranks very highly in tests by Popular Mechanics and currently has the number-two spot in an epic Consumer Reports rundown (the number-one mower is a nearly identical Honda that costs more and has features we feel aren’t necessary). It has a large 190 cc engine, rear-wheel drive to help traverse tall grass or hills, and a two-blade cutting system that leaves, as Berendsohn put it, “a velvet finish.” It also comes with a nearly indestructible (and fully warrantied) composite mowing dome. It can bag, side-discharge, or mulch whatever it’s cutting. If anything does go wrong with the machine, it has an industry-leading five-year warranty that’s nearly twice as long as what you get with most other mowers.

What really separates this mower from the pack is the Versamow feature, unique to Honda’s HRX line. This lets you control the balance of clippings that you mulch and bag; you can dial in the ratio depending on conditions. It’s great when you’re mowing tall or wet grass, because you can bag enough grass to keep the mulch from being too thick and clumpy. It’s also very useful for fall cleanup because it forces leaves to stay in the mowing dome until they’re fully shredded and deposited in the bag. As one owner told us, “The mower has virtually replaced raking entirely.”

Runner-up
Toro Recycler 20340
Though it lacks the long-term reputation of our main pick, the Toro performs well, costs far less, and can be stored upright, saving valuable garage space.

If our main pick becomes unavailable or is simply too expensive for you, we recommend the Toro Recycler 20340 as a runner-up choice. It costs less than the Honda and comes with several of the same features, like intuitive self-propulsion and excellent mulching performance. The Toro’s standout feature is its ability to be stowed upright. This, according to Toro, reduces the storage footprint by about 70 percent, making this a valuable feature to anyone with a small shed or crowded garage. However, with the Toro, there’s nothing like Honda’s Versamow feature, so you’re either fully mulching or bagging. And though the Toro did well in the Consumer Reports testing, no one puts it on the same pedestal as the Honda—especially when it comes to reliability.

Budget pick
Lawn-Boy 17732
If all you need is a basic mower, the Lawn-Boy is fine. It’s quick, simple, intuitive, and fast for its size. But it lacks top-of-the-line features and likely won't last as long as the best mowers.

If your lawn is less than half an acre and you’re after a bare-bones mower, a good choice is the Lawn-Boy 17732, which replaces our previous pick (the identical 10732). It’s a no-frills model liked by the testers at Popular Mechanics, who tried it firsthand and gave it a “best buy” designation, noting its simple, intuitive operation and surprisingly strong mowing performance for its size. At under $300, it’s on the low end of the price scale, but it does have self-propelled rear-wheel drive, which is a nice benefit. The Lawn-Boy has a two-year full warranty (with a three-year guarantee to start easily); Honda offers a full warranty for five years—so don’t expect the level of reliability you’d get with our top pick.

Also great
Ego LM2101 56-Volt Cordless Lawn Mower
The cordless 56-volt Ego is easier to deal with than a gas engine. It has adequate power and is very simple to store, but because it can run for only 45 minutes on a single charge, keep it in mind for smaller lawns about a quarter of an acre in size.

If you’d rather not deal with the seasonal maintenance and exhaust associated with gas-powered engines, we like the battery-powered Ego LM2101 56-Volt Cordless Lawn Mower. At its current price of $450, the LM2101 is no doubt an expensive mower, but it has a very good reputation for easy handling, compact storage, and strong power. It is well-liked by both professional reviewers and homeowners. The downside is that its battery offers only about 45 minutes of mowing time (but with a relatively short 40-minute charging time), so it’s best for lawns of a quarter of an acre or less.

Budget pick
Cub Cadet SC100 11A-A92J710
The Cub Cadet is an excellent, popular mulching mower, and it has a low price. But it’s a push mower—the others are self-propelled—so avoid it if you have to mow a large or hilly lawn.

We also have a recommendation for a simple gas push mower, the Cub Cadet SC100 11A-A92J710, for smaller, flat lawns, up to about a third of an acre. This low-cost, well-made model is so popular it sells out every season. It lacks self-propulsion, but it does have other nice features—easy handling, a premium engine, and a washout port to keep the mowing dome clean.

Table of contents

Why you should trust us

Over the past four mowing seasons, we’ve totaled about 60 hours researching mowers, interviewing experts, and testing some of our top picks. To help us wade through the seemingly endless features and models of mowers available, we started with Roy Berendsohn, the resident lawn mower guru at Popular Mechanics. Berendsohn has written about and tested lawn mowers for 20 years; as his former colleague (and Sweethome editor) Harry Sawyers said, “[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 here, here, 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 Koehler of Koehler Landscape Construction Services, Inc. In addition, I spent some time on the phone with representatives of two different lawn mower retail/service outlets: Nick Ortiz at Kellam Lawn Mower in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, and David of Boston Lawnmower Company, who asked that his last name be withheld. Beyond these interviews, I read everything I could online, paying the closest attention to a Consumer Reports mega-rundown (subscription required) of walk-behind mowers and Berendsohn’s massive collection of articles over at Popular Mechanics. John Neff, The Wirecutter’s former car editor (and now editor-in-chief of Motor1), was a key source of technical info on engines and other details. He also provided long-term test notes on the Honda.

How we picked

The ideal mower for most lawns smaller than half an acre in size is a self-propelled model with rear-wheel drive coupled with a variable speed control.

Before we get into the details, we should note that lawn mowers come in a wide variety of flavors with a wide variety of features. Husqvarna alone has nine 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.

After 60 hours doing research and interviewing experts, we concluded that the ideal mower for most lawns smaller than half an acre in size is a self-propelled model with rear-wheel drive coupled with 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 so you can easily clean the underside of the cutting dome with your garden hose.

The lawn mower buying guides at Lowe’s and Home Depot consider half an acre of lawn (21,780 square feet) to be the upper limit of a walk-behind mower. The guide at Briggs & Stratton, a manufacturer of mower engines, bumps it up to three-quarters of an acre, but that’s almost 33,000 square feet, and unless you really enjoy your time spent mowing your lawn, we think that’s too big. If you’re much above half an acre, consider the benefits of a ride-on mower.

For anyone with a small enough lawn for a walk-behind mower, self-propelled designs are very easy to handle because the drive wheels move the machine forward, so all you have to do is steer—not push. Berendsohn, in a mower guide at Popular Mechanics, recommends self-propelled mowers (as opposed to a basic push mower, or a reel mower) for any lawn bigger than 4,000 square feet.

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All of the landscapers and service/retail guys we spoke with said that they recommend rear-wheel drive (RWD) over front-wheel drive (FWD), mostly due to the superior traction. Crosby told us that he has “never used anything with front drive.” FWD is cheaper, but ultimately, we think RWD offers enough benefits to justify its price premium. Though no one likes to pay more, the feature makes a huge difference.

If you bag your grass, RWD is a much better option. As the bag gets filled with clippings, the weight of the mower starts to shift toward the rear, which actually increases the ability of the rear wheels to gain traction. On a FWD mower, this same situation lifts weight off of the drive tires and makes them less effective at pulling the machine. It’s also easier for a RWD mower to get traction on hills and inclines, and, according to Ortiz, the wheels can grip better if you hit a patch of thick grass.

Looking through 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 while tipped back with the front wheels raised, preventing scalping the turf or damage to the blade.

For making quick 180-degree pivots, like at the end of a mowing line, it’s crucial to pair the rear-wheel drive with a variable speed control. To do this move, you usually push down on the handle, lifting the front wheels off the ground, and turn. FWD mowers can easily do the maneuver because the drive wheels are immediately disengaged, but a RWD mower that keeps advancing can make it awkward. However, you can do it with a RWD model as long as you have full control over the mower’s speed: You just throttle down, execute the turn, and throttle back up. Once you get used to it, it’s simple. John Neff has used a RWD Honda for over four years and is a former owner of a FWD Troy-Bilt. He told us that he didn’t think there was a huge difference in maneuverability between the two systems.

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 lawn 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, “Otherwise, I’m not a big fan of bagging. Mulching puts clippings (and their nitrogen [a key nutrient]) back into the lawn.” A rundown of the benefits of mulching at Honda’s website notes that, “If you live in a municipality that charges extra fees to landfill yard waste, mulching will also save you money.” If you’re considering replacing an older machine, being able to mulch may be the strongest argument for upgrading.

Another nice (and expensive) feature is a blade brake clutch. This allows you to shut off the blade and step away from the mower without shutting off the engine, which is nice if you need to empty your bag of grass or move some lawn furniture or a fallen branch out of the way. If you have kids, you probably already understand the benefits of not having to stop your mower to rescue a half-buried Optimus Prime action figure. Paul Koehler, one of the landscapers we spoke with, even told me 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.

Manufacturers will try to wow you with the size and make of the engine. But in normal conditions, it doesn’t really matter too much.

A washout port is another nice feature—this is a small hose connection on top of the mowing dome. After every few mowings, you 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 airflow and makes the mower less efficient.

Manufacturers will try to wow you with the size and make of the engine. But in normal conditions, it doesn’t really matter too much. Both Berendsohn and Consumer Reports warned against getting too caught up in the numbers. Berendsohn told us that “engines generally range from 159 to 190 cc. Frankly, any of these work.” Consumer Reports agrees. In this video it notes that “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, leaf mulching, or tall, wet grass) you should shoot for the upper side of the engine spectrum.

One thing to know about engines is that an overhead-valve engine (OHV) is preferred over the less-expensive side-valve engine. According to this article at Consumer Reports, as it gets older, an overhead-valve engine will be “less likely to give you trouble. Because overhead-valve engines have a more efficient design (cleaner for the environment), they use less gas and leave fewer carbon deposits, which can wear down any engine over time. They also tend to run more quietly.”

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 in the US.) Honda engines have long been OHV; Briggs offers both side-valve and OHV. The general consensus among the retailers and landscapers is that Honda engines are better because they’re a little quieter and more reliable, but they’re also a little more expensive. But Berendsohn felt that the differences between the manufacturers are a matter for the professional users and not homeowners. He told us, “Bottom line: Briggs, Kohler, and Honda engines are all great for homeowner purposes, but you have to take care of them.”

Regular-size rear wheels and non-pivoting front wheels will do just fine for most people. Though larger rear tires and pivoting front wheels are an option, each have advantages and drawbacks. Mowers with oversized rear tires are best for rough and bumpy terrain. The trade-off, according to Consumer Reports, is that they’re a little harder to maneuver, specifically when making a quick 180-degree turn. Pivoting front wheels increase the turning ability of the mower, but they’re harder to adjust, not very good on hills, a little trickier on a straight line, and, Consumer Reports points out, the wheels extend out from the front of the mower, preventing it “from cutting close up against foundations and walls.” But if your yard is a maze of high-precision turns and pirouettes, pivot wheels are worth investigating.

Corded electric mowers are also available. Though perfect for some, they have so many limitations that most would find them frustrating. Because they need to be plugged in, mowing around trees, hedges, or any other obstruction becomes an exercise in extension-cord management. Due to these drawbacks, we did not research corded electric mowers. Plus, with cordless mowers making so much recent improvement, anyone with a strong bias against gas engines could be very happy with our cordless pick.

Many mower companies make many different mowers. Because we did only minimal hands-on testing ourselves, we had to rely almost entirely on the 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.

Our pick

Photo: Honda

Our pick
Honda HRX217K5VKA
This Honda is in a class of its own. Reliability and performance are unmatched, and a unique system dials in what you’re bagging and mulching, making yard work easier.

According to our research, interviews, and testing, the mower to get for most lawns under half an acre is the Honda HRX217K5VKA. (If you have a lawn larger than half an acre, consider getting a riding mower.) Costing $600 at the time of writing, no doubt 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 is up near the top spot at Consumer Reports and is also well-liked by Berendsohn, who called it “the luxury car of walk-behind mowers.” The Honda has rear-wheel drive, a powerful 190 cc engine, and a two-blade cutting system, so it offers great traction and can tackle tall, thick grass with no problems. Though most high-end mowers can bag, side discharge, and mulch, the Honda can also shred leaves to the point that it can replace raking entirely. And it comes with a nearly indestructible (and fully warrantied) composite mowing dome.

All of these features are enough to set a mower apart from the pack, but what really launches the Honda into new territory is the unique Versamow system. Versamow, simply put, lets you control how much grass is being bagged and how much is being mulched. It does this via a 10-position toggle that adjusts the opening between the mowing dome and the bag opening. On other mulching mowers, the dome is either completely open or completely closed off, so 100 percent of the grass gets bagged or mulched. But with Versamow, you can, for example, set one-third to be bagged and two-thirds to be mulched, which really helps you respond to your yard’s conditions to make mowing easier.

If your grass is too wet or too tall, for example, the blades can get overwhelmed and your mulch will come out as a bunch of annoying clumps on the lawn. Versamow lets you distribute your clippings between bagging and mulching, so you can still produce decent mulch and minimize how much grass you have to rake, bag, and dump. Set it right and you won’t have to go back to clean up a clumpy mess all over the yard.

lawnmowers, honda hrx

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

In the fall, Versamow also gives the mower the ability to shred leaves. The leaf-shredding feature may sound like a minor thing, but it’s actually effective enough to replace a leaf blower, which can cost hundreds of dollars. 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 sends them back into the lawn or disposes of them in the bag.

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.”

The Honda has a unique drive control system called Select Drive. Neff explained, “[It] allows you to set a speed that matches your stride, but you can still use your hands to vary the speed manually a little bit, like when you’re approaching a tree.” Honda has a video of Select Drive here.

Some of the Honda’s features are things you’d find on other high-end mowers. For example, it’s a RWD machine. Our landscapers told us RWD gives it much better traction on hills and inclines. That is also a key feature if you bag your grass. As the bag fills, the center of gravity shifts to the back, which actually increases the traction of the tires (on a FWD mower, this weight shift would try to pull the drive tires off the ground).

The Honda’s control system. You set a speed that matches your stride, but you can still use your hands to vary the speed manually. Photo: John Neff

The composite deck is a nice detail that helps ensure a long-lasting mower. Most mowers have steel or aluminum decks that dent on impact, but in the same situation, the Honda will only flex. The deck also has a lifetime warranty on it, and if you’re not convinced that it’s a durable item, Honda has a video of it being run over by a car.

Most mowers have a single blade, but the Honda has two. This doubles the amount of cutting edges and results in a lawn that, as Berendsohn put it, has a “velvet finish.” With the two blades, the Honda cuts grass into smaller pieces than the competition, which leads to better mulching (because smaller pieces decompose quicker) and more efficient bagging (you can fit more grass per bag).

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 (PDF) for this mower (and the others in this model’s family, 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.

At Home Depot, the Honda has 4.4 stars (out of five) after 205 commenters responded. Most comments praised the tool for its reliable start (normally on the first pull). Others express that such a nice machine is worth the cost.

The sense that we had after completing our research was that Honda mowers deliver a consistently high level of quality. Of the top eight spots in the Consumer Reports rundown, six are Hondas, including the top five spots (our pick is number two). So if the specifics of this one don’t match your needs, any of the others are likely to be very solid mowers, ranging from this basic push mower to this $850 model. Our pick is actually the least expensive of the five mowers in Honda’s premium HRX line.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Even at its high price, the Honda is not a perfect machine, and it lacks a few features.

First, Neff reported that the speed-control dial can vibrate down to a lower speed when used on a bumpy lawn. “Once I realized what was happening, it happened less because I would keep an eye on it.” he said.

Second, the Honda HRX217K5VKA doesn’t have a blade brake clutch or an electric start. We don’t feel that either of these features justify the added cost, particularly when considering Honda’s great reputation for easy pull-starts. But again, if these are important features to you, Honda offers appropriate models: the HRX217K5VYA (blade brake clutch), the HRX217K5VLA (electric start), and the HRX217HZA (both).

Third, if you want to change the cutting height, the adjustment needs to be done individually at each wheel. If you have areas of your lawn that you like to cut to different heights, this may become tedious. The majority of mowers have this same four-point adjustment, but some, like our Lawn-Boy budget pick, have a two-point system (front wheels, rear wheels). Our cordless pick, the 56-Volt Ego, reduces that even further to a single adjustment lever. Though it would certainly be nice to have a one- or two-point adjustment, it’s definitely not something worth losing sleep over. As long as the adjustment is easy (as it is on the Honda), it will take only a couple extra seconds to change the cutting height.

Last, the mower lacks a washout port, which provides an easy way to hose off the underside of the mowing deck. Without it, you’ll do things the old-fashioned way: tipping the mower back and spraying it down (oh, and safety first—turn the mower off beforehand). 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, no doubt, 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 mowers have received at both Consumer Reports and Popular Mechanics, as well as the excellent customer feedback, we felt confident we could recommend it, even if getting down to this price does cut out a couple of convenient features.

Long-term test notes

Neff has done three summers with his Honda HRX217K5VKA, and he reports no problems with it so far. He said the engine still starts on the first or second pull. Aside from changing the oil every year and changing the air filter once, “In terms of repairs, I’ve had no issues at all with it.” He continued, “The wheels still have good rubber tread on them, and the engine seems bulletproof so far.”

A space-saving mower

Photo: Toro

Runner-up
Toro Recycler 20340
Though it lacks the long-term reputation of our main pick, the Toro performs well, costs far less, and can be stored upright, saving valuable garage space.

If the Honda is too expensive or you’re extremely tight on storage space, we also like the Toro Recycler 20340, which has the unique ability to be folded up and stored in an upright position. According to Toro, this reduces the storage footprint up to 70 percent over a traditional mower. Consumer Reports rates the 20340 favorably, placing it in the ninth spot, but it doesn’t have the finesse or long-term reputation of the Honda (nor the Versamow feature).

The headlining feature of the Toro 20340 is the SmartStow system, which is the mower’s ability to be stored upright. Due to the unique design of the Briggs & Stratton engine, the machine can be placed on its side and not leak oil into the cylinder (which fouls the spark plug). To stow the Toro, you simply fold the handle over the body of the mower and lock it in place. Then you can place the mower upright or wheel it around like a piece of luggage. The pivot point of the handle provides a flat spot for the mower to “stand” on. The locked/upright position also makes replacing the blade or cleaning the underside of the mowing deck easy. Toro has a video of SmartStow here.

The 20340 comes with Toro’s unique control system, the Personal Pace. In a nutshell, the variable-speed mower adjusts to how fast you’re walking based on the pressure applied to the control bar (up to 4.8 mph). If you’re walking fast, you’ll naturally be pressing it forward, and if you’re walking slower, the pressure will be less. This takes a little getting used to, but based on customer feedback, most users are satisfied with how it works. The same system is used with great success on the Toro SnowMaster (our current snow blower pick).

Consumer Reports ranks the 20340 in the number-nine spot. This may seem low, but consider that six of the first eight spots are closely related Hondas and the other two are much more expensive Toros ($550+). The 20340 is the highest ranking mower in the $400-and-under price range.

In its write-up, Consumer Reports notes that the 20340 succeeds in all three modes; it “mulched impressively,” “filled its bag to capacity,” and “dispersed clippings smoothly and evenly in side-discharge mode.” The site also writes that the mower “had no discernible flaws in its performance.”

In late 2016, Toro gave the 20340 a new engine that no longer requires oil changes. Toro told us in an interview that the engine swap was the only change made at the time. The new 163 cc engine “is OHV and is much lighter and more efficient than the discontinued 190-cc side valve engine that it replaced,” said Wade Tollison, a senior marketing manager at Toro.

The Toro comes with a two-year warranty that fully covers everything “under normal use and maintenance.” So in order to hold the warranty, it is very important that you closely follow the service instructions provided by the manual. The mower also has a three-year “guarantee to start” that states that “if it doesn’t start in two pulls, we’ll fix it for free.”

It comes with eight-inch front wheels and 11-inch rear wheels. These larger rear wheels are going to assist the mower over uneven terrain, but, as we discovered in our research, they may make tight turns a little more difficult. That said, we looked through the majority of the customer feedback at Home Depot and didn’t see anyone making an issue of this.

Also, it does not have a blade brake clutch to let you stop the blade but not the mower in order to step away from the machine, maybe to clear a branch or a toy out of the way. It’s a feature that adds convenience to mowing, but it’s not essential. If not having that feature is a dealbreaker for you, we recommend the Toro 20333, our previous runner-up (which can’t be stored upright).

A lightweight mower under $300

Photo: Lawn Boy

Budget pick
Lawn-Boy 17732
If all you need is a basic mower, the Lawn-Boy is fine. It’s quick, simple, intuitive, and fast for its size. But it lacks top-of-the-line features and likely won't last as long as the best mowers.

If you’re on a tight budget and are looking for a decent RWD, self-propelled, variable-speed mower for less than $300, we suggest the Lawn-Boy 17732 (our former pick in this category, Lawn-Boy model 10732, is the previous version of the same mower). In his RWD piece, Berendsohn gives it his “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 and the Toro, it doesn’t have any sort of innovative drive-control mechanism. Instead, it comes with the basic standard bail (the metal bar) that you pull against the handle. Though it is not a fancy system, it doesn’t have a learning curve, and it could probably even be comfortable in its familiarity.

At 66 pounds, the Lawn-Boy is very light when compared with other mowers—even lighter than our 70-pound cordless pick. (Our Honda pick weighs about 90 pounds, and the runner-up Toro weighs 80 pounds.) For context, the eight other rear-wheel mowers in Berendsohn’s tests ranged in weight from 87 pounds to 132 pounds, so the Lawn-Boy isn’t just a little lighter than the pack—it’s a lot lighter. This adds to its maneuverability (and makes it much easier to load into a car or truck to be serviced).

The Lawn-Boy also has an overhead-valve engine, which Consumer Reports prefers over side-valve engines because the style is more efficient, a little quieter, and less inclined to have maintenance issues over time.

The Lawn-Boy is a very stripped-down mower, which is not surprising given its low price. It lacks a blade brake clutch, a side discharge, a washout port, and (of course) Honda’s Versamow system. These are all features that are extremely helpful to have, and they make mowing a much easier experience, but if you’re just looking to cut grass on a budget, you can certainly get by without them.

Also, the 149 cc engine on the Lawn-Boy is on the small side. Though it should work fine under normal conditions, it might struggle in very tall, dense grass.

A good cordless mower

Photo: Ego

Also great
Ego LM2101 56-Volt Cordless Lawn Mower
The cordless 56-volt Ego is easier to deal with than a gas engine. It has adequate power and is very simple to store, but because it can run for only 45 minutes on a single charge, keep it in mind for smaller lawns about a quarter of an acre in size.

If your mowing usually takes less than 45 minutes and you want to bypass the hassles involved with owning a combustion engine, we recommend the Ego LM2101 56-Volt Cordless Lawn Mower. The LM2101 is an expensive machine, roughly $100 less than the recommended Honda, but the feedback on it is overwhelmingly positive.

The LM2101 has a 21-inch cutting deck and comes with a 5.0 Ah battery, as opposed to the older LM2001, which has a 20-inch cutting deck and comes with a 4.0 Ah battery. Consumer Reports, which tested both models, rates the newer LM2101 higher in the categories of mulching, bagging, and side discharge (the side-discharge chute is mailed free of charge when the mower is registered with Ego). Berendsohn hasn’t reviewed the newer model, but lauded the older LM2001 for its power, handling, and stowability, all of which are the same or improved with the LM2101. The older LM2001 is now selling for $50 less than the new LM2101, but we feel that the upgrade is worth it. We also wouldn’t be surprised if the older LM2001 is slowly phased out.

With no engine to deal with, the Ego offers a level of convenience gas-powered mowers can’t match. It starts with the push of a button, requires no gas or oil, and can be folded up and hung on a wall when not in use. It’s also a good deal quieter than a regular mower—20 percent, according to the manufacturer. Marc Lyman of HomeFixated.com reviewed the original Ego LM2001 and writes that “you’ll have no doubt the motor is going with the Ego, but the sound is downright pleasant when compared to the incessant, mind-numbing, mildly-deafening drone that accompanies most of the gas-powered mowers in our ‘hood.”

The overall handling of the EGO is also nice. Consumer Reports writes that the original Ego mower is “easy to push, pull, and turn” (it ranks the two mowers the same in the handling category). Aiding this is the design of the handle—the same between the two models—which Lyman says “is extremely easy to use, and more solid than other handles we’ve used.”

According to most reviews, the run time on the Ego mower is about 45 minutes. A battery can be fully recharged in 40 minutes, so even if you don’t get your mowing completed, the downtime isn’t too significant. In the past, cordless mowers could require all night to recharge, which could obviously be a big inconvenience. For added run time, stand-alone batteries can be purchased, but they’re costly. Depending on the Ah, they currently range in price from about $130 (2.0 Ah) to about $375 (7.5 Ah). With a second 4.0 Ah battery (about $200) or even that 2.0 Ah battery, you could potentially keep one on the mower and another on the charger, swapping them out as needed to extend the run time indefinitely.

Berendsohn, who is generally wary of cordless mowers, tested the original EGO LM2001 and writes that it “does a commendable job of not only cutting grass but also of overturning my hard-bitten view [that gas engines are better for yard work].” The mower uses a single joystick to control its cutting height, a feature Berendsohn called “the easiest height adjustment I’ve seen on any mower.” During his test, the Ego filled the clippings bag to the point that it was bulging, which is “rare, even with gas engine mowers.”

Lyman was also impressed with the headlight, which he called out as one of his favorite features. Admitting that he laughed at the feature at first, he wrote that “the last section of lawn I mowed was in near total darkness, but the headlamps actually let me finish the task and still see what I was mowing. Plus, it kept me from mowing the flowers, which my wife tends to frown upon.”

Another benefit of the Ego is that once the mower and battery are purchased, you can buy other tools in its 56-volt lineup at a reduced price as bare tools (blower, chainsaw and string trimmer).

In its “Lithium-Ion Powered Lawnmower Round-Up!,” ProToolReviews states that the Ego, “is still the best overall design that we’ve seen from setup to storage and mowing in between. With a battery capable of running over an hour and a half, you can easily mow a 1/2 acre or more with this model.”

Ego also has another version of the mower, the LM2102SP. This model comes with a 7.5 Ah battery and is self-propelled. It also currently costs about $550, which we think is a lot, considering it’s the same cost as our main Honda pick that has the Versamow feature and no run time limitations. Also, as one Home Depot commenter points out, the LM2101 is so light and easy to handle that the self-propelled feature really isn’t necessary. Still, it’s an option if you feel you need it.

A low-priced gas push mower

Photo: Cub Cadet

Budget pick
Cub Cadet SC100 11A-A92J710
The Cub Cadet is an excellent, popular mulching mower, and it has a low price. But it’s a push mower—the others are self-propelled—so avoid it if you have to mow a large or hilly lawn.

If you have a small lawn (less than 3,000 square feet), and you don’t mind the exertion, you can reduce your price level even further and get a push mower. This is just a walk-behind mower without a drive system on the wheels. So with no self-propelling feature, the machine moves only with someone pushing it from behind. Consumer Reports hailed the Cub Cadet SC100 11A-A92J as the top push mower. The site liked it for its mulching ability, easy handling, premium engine, and washout port. Concluding its review, Consumer Reports referred to it as “a stand-out in its category.” At Home Depot, it has one of the highest feedback ratings that we saw of any mower we looked at: an average of 4.5 stars (out of five) across 442 reviews, with 92 percent recommending the mower. At 63 pounds, it’s also light and will be easy to load into the car if you have to take it to the shop.

This is an extremely popular mower, and it is prone to selling out. We spoke to a representative of Cub Cadet about this, and they told us that during the height of the summer, it may be in stock only a few days at a time. Cub Cadet also sells the SC100HW, which is the same mower but with larger rear wheels. This means that it will perform better on uneven terrain but will be a little more difficult for tight turns. Still, it’s a nice option if the SC100 is sold out.

Sweethome editor Harry Sawyers added that he used a “painfully heavy” Craftsman push mower in the 1990s on a hilly Georgia lawn of nearly half an acre. Though he would have strongly preferred a self-propelled model at the time, he says he’s living proof that, with enough sweat and determination, a basic push mower can get the job done.

Care and maintenance

A mower is a big investment, so take care of it. Proper maintenance breaks down into two parts: a mid-season checkup and proper storage in the off-season. Though there are many online resources for mower maintenance, the most important reference for details on what exactly to do is going to be the mower’s owner’s manual. Not only is this information specifically tailored to your machine and engine, but following it closely also 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, you won’t get much sympathy from the customer service department.

For the most part, regular maintenance is easy. It involves checking the oil, checking the air filter, cleaning the mowing dome, and sharpening the blades from time to time. At the end of each season, you’ll need to drain the gas tank. Also, it’s important to use stabilizers with your gas. This stops the ethanol in the gas from damaging the engine during periods of long storage (longer than 30 days).

The competition

The number-one spot in the Consumer Reports rating is the HRX217K5VYA (also known as the HRX217VYA), which is around $100 more and has a blade brake clutch. Though certainly a nice option to have, we feel that $700 for a mower starts to push the limits of reasonable pricing. The third-place Honda, the HRX217K5VLA is nearly identical to our pick, except that it costs about $80 more and has an electric start. We read so much about the easy pull-start of the Honda that we don’t feel this to be an essential feature worth the additional cost. CR’s second-place Honda, the , is around $100 more and has a blade brake clutch. Though certainly a nice option to have, we feel that $700 for a mower starts to push the limits of reasonable pricing.

Honda also has the HRR line (our pick is part of the HRX line). These don’t have the Versamow or a composite deck. Also, the warranty is only three years long, not five. HRRs also have a less powerful engine (160 cc) and use a thumb-paddle control system that was once used on HRX mowers and was phased out in 2015. The HRR mower that is most comparable to our pick is the HRR216VKA, which costs around $170 less than our pick. This is a sizable difference in cost, but we feel that the combined benefits of the HRX features warrant the upgrade, especially considering that a mower that should last a decade or more.

In general, none of the other mowers we considered have the stellar reputation of the Honda or the vertical storage of the Toro.

The Toro 20333 Recycler is very similar to our runner-up pick except that it can’t be stored in the upright position. It does have a blade brake clutch, which is a nice feature, but we feel more benefit will come from the compact storage of the Toro 20340.

Husqvarna mowers, like the LC221RH, sit in the mid to low range of the Consumer Reports ratings with lower mulching scores than both the Honda and Toro.

The Ariens Razor is a highly regarded mower, with Berendsohn putting it in a first-place tie with a Honda mower. Consumer Reports has it in the middle of the pack, below both the Honda and Toro. At over $450, we feel the less-expensive Toro, with its vertical storage, is a better option.

Also in the middle of the Consumer Reports rundown are mowers from Snapper, Cub Cadet, Troy-Bilt, and Craftsman. These all seem fine, but again, none of them compare with the Honda or save space like the Toro.

For cordless mowers, not many can compete with the Ego, either in the Consumer Reports roundup or with the enthusiastic customer feedback. Tied in CR’s number-two spot (alongside the Ego LM2002) is the Echo CLM-58V4AH push mower. According to Consumer Reports, this mower cuts “really well” and is $50 to 100 less than our Ego pick. The Echo has no headlight and it can’t side discharge. The testers at ProToolReviews preferred the Ego for its better storage and handling.

Between Consumer Reports and ProToolReviews, there aren’t any other cordless models that stack up against the Ego. Models from Ryobi, Troy-Bilt, GreenWorks, Black + Decker, Worx, Craftsman, and Sun Joe all fall short of the Ego in one or both of the comparison reviews.

For other push mowers, there is the Lawn-Boy 10730, which doesn’t have the stellar customer feedback of our pick, the Cub Cadet.

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

If you really like the idea of a Honda mower but are on a budget, the company also offers a really pared-down push mower, the HRS216K5PKA. This one doesn’t mulch or bag. It just side discharges like your grandfather’s old mower. At $350 (at the time of writing), it’s the least expensive Honda mower. Again, there is little doubt about the quality (along with the Honda price), but the trade-offs are the mulching and bagging functions—significant features we feel you’d appreciate if you went instead for our runner-up pick, the slightly more expensive Toro model.

(Top photo by Honda.)

Honda HRX217K5VKA

The best lawn mower

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Sources

  1. Roy Berendsohn, lawnmower guru at Popular Mechanics, interview
  2. Chad Crosby, West Michigan Lawn Services, interview
  3. Paul Koehler, Koehler Landscape Construction Services, Inc., interview
  4. Nick Ortiz, Kellam Lawn Mower, interview
  5. David [last name withheld], Boston Lawnmower Company, interview
  6. John Neff, Former editor-in-chief of Autoblog, interview
  7. Lawn mowers & tractors, Consumer Reports (subscription required)
  8. Roy Berendsohn, Best Lawnmowers of the Year: Comparison Test, Popular Mechanics

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