Homeowners with an acre to mow but little cash to burn should be perfectly happy with the Troy-Bilt Pony (Est. $1,050) . An 18-inch turning radius and 42-inch deck mean this riding lawn mower can handle reasonably tight turns and cut fairly wide swaths of lawn. It really shines with an easy-to-use shift-on-the-go transmission and intuitive controls, reviewers say, and they like its compact step-through design. It's also compatible with a wide range of attachments including a snow thrower and snow blade. A cup holder and headlights -- rare for cheaper riding lawn mowers -- add to this mower's plusses. But some reviewers complain of too much vibration, while others say the Pony doesn't trim quite as effectively at cutting heights over 3 inches. Troy-Bilt also doesn't fare quite as well as other brands in a large consumer survey.
Riding-mower traditionalists who simply want an inexpensive workhorse should look no further than the Ariens 42 inch 17.5 HP 6-speed (Est. $999) , reviewers say. This lawn tractor mows in reverse, a feature often reserved for pricier models and one that the Troy-Bilt Pony lacks. It's also adept at mulching and bagging, and reviewers praise its performance on hills. Controls are simple to understand, and the compact frame won't hog space in garages. Most reviewers are happy with durability and say it's easy to keep the mower in good shape with routine maintenance. On the downside, the Ariens has an old-school transmission that requires operators to shift into higher or lower gears to go faster or slower, and many reviewers complain shifting causes the mower to buck and jerk. Others say the cutting deck doesn't trim their yard as evenly as it should.
Homeowners with smaller yards and less storage space who still want a riding lawn mower should look into the Craftsman 420 cc 30-inch 6-speed Rear Engine (Est. $1000) . This very compact lawn tractor fills a unique niche with its narrow 30-inch cutting deck, which can fit through standard fence openings. Despite its small size, reviewers say it still has the power to cut, mulch and bag with ease. It also boasts cruise control, which the Troy-Bilt Pony and Ariens 42 inch 17.5 HP 6-speed lack, and gets high marks for a comfortable seat and telescoping steering wheel that can adjust for tall and short riders. Unlike the Ariens, the Craftsman does not mow in reverse, however. Reviewers also say the mower can be unstable on hills and doesn't respond well to tight turns because of its rear-engine design, which shifts most of the weight to the back of the frame.