Self-propelled lawn mowers are equipped with a transmission to drive the lawn mower to make it easier to skim across your lawn. With outstanding mulching and cutting, reviews say the Honda HRX217VKA (Est. $600) is at the top of its class. This mower is sold under a few different model numbers, including the Honda HRX217K5VKA and Honda HRX2175VKA; all have identical performance, features and pricing.
Among the Honda mower's premium features is Versamow, which lets users decide how much grass to mulch while bagging the rest. The deck-mounted Clip Director knob sets the bagging/mulching mix. You can also set the mower for side or rear discharge. The end result is a pristine looking lawn every time, regardless of the mowing 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," says Doug Mahoney at The SweetHome.com, which names the Honda HRX217K5VKA as the best lawn mower overall.
Ease of use is otherwise excellent as well. With an effortless pull cord and automatic choke, owners say the HRX217VKA starts on the first try almost every time. Its powerful four-stroke engine can tackle unruly yards with thick or wet grass. The automatic transmission lets you set your own pace -- up to 4 mph. We spotted a few reviews that say the paddle controls can be awkward to use, making for uneven acceleration, but those comments might now be dated because, as Mahoney reports, Honda has updated the drive control system for 2015. "With the new system, called the Select Drive, you no longer have to apply constant pressure to the control paddles to maintain a speed-it's more like cruise control," he says. The site had not yet tested the mower with that feature, but plans to do so during the 2015 mowing season.
Reliability is also nearly unbeatable. Two leading consumer organizations say Honda is one of the most reliable mower brands, and the HRX217VKA carries one of the best warranties on the market: a lifetime deck warranty and a five-year mower warranty.
If your budget is a little smaller, we saw some solid recommendations for the step-down Honda HRR216VLA (Est. $500), which is also sold as the Honda HRR2169VLA and Honda HRR216K9VLA. Though you need to be a paid subscriber to read the full review, in a free article, ConsumerReports.org's Ed Perratore calls out the Honda mower (in this case, the Honda HRR2169VLA) as one of the best mowers for 2015. He notes that for your $500, you get "superb mulching and bagging, no-prime starting, and an electric-start feature whose battery gets charged while you mow." It has the same Smart Drive feature as the HRX217VKA mowers as well. Versamow and its adjustable mulching/bagging mix is not part of the package, but the Clip Director control that allows for no-tools conversion between mulching, bagging or discharging is present.
Toro self-propelled lawn mowers also score highly. Among those, we saw some strong recommendations for the Toro Recycler 20333 (Est. $400) as another excellent choice that's packed with features many owners love. It also gets respect from most expert reviewers, with special kudos for its SpinStop blade-break clutch system, which stops the blades from spinning but keeps the engine running. That makes it possible to stop the blade but not the mower if you need to get ahead of it to clear an obstacle in your path, improving efficiency without compromising safety. The Personal Pace Self-Propel system, which matches the mower's speed to the user's walking pace (up to 4.8 miles per hour), is another significant plus. "The faster you walk, the faster you complete the job," says Grant Morgan at TopTenReviews.com, which grants the 20333 both a Silver Award and an Excellence Award.
The Toro Recycler 20332 (Est. $360) is very similar to the 20333 but it lacks the popular SpinStop system. It does well enough in one professional review to earn Best Buy status, but user satisfaction at sites like HomeDepot.com seems to be just a touch lower.
The Toro Recycler mowers have only a two-year warranty, but Toro includes a three-year, guaranteed-to-start warranty that promises the mower will start with only one or two pulls. Toro also rates highly in the most recent (2012) study of lawn mower customer satisfaction study conducted by J.D. Power and Associates, with a noticeably high score in the performance category. However, in a large brand-reliability study, while Honda leads the field among self-propelled mower makers, Toro finishes mid-pack.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Reviewed Lawn Mowers: Editors look at the different types of lawn mowers -- electric, gas and reel -- including push and self-propelled models. Top picks and worthy alternates are named.
Best Push Mowers: Push mowers are perfect for smaller properties and smaller budgets. Editors name the best gas-powered push mowers from brands like Lawn Boy, Cub Cadet and Husqvarna.
Best Electric Mowers: Electric mowers are more energy efficient and decidedly quieter than gas models, and might make the most sense for smaller properties. These are the top corded and cordless electric lawn mowers.
Reel Mowers: A people-powered reel mower is a cost effective and environmentally friendly way to keep a small lawn looking its best. These are the top ones.
Buying Guide: Not sure where to start in finding the perfect lawn mower for your property and your budget? These helpful pointers will help steer you in the right direction.
Our Sources: These are the expert and user reviews we used to select the top lawn mowers, along with our assessment of each reviewer's expertise, credibility and helpfulness.