If you simply want a clean-cut lawn, there are a few riding mowers that can mow, mulch and bag for less than $1,500. These are best for smaller yards of about 0.5 to 1.5 acres in size. Smaller decks of 28 to 38 inches keep the mower's profile slim, a handy feature for small gate openings.
Most riding mowers lack the standard features of larger lawn tractors such as comfortable seating and cup holders. Many can't mow in reverse, which can be inconvenient, and they aren't built for hauling or using attachments like a snowplow. Durability is also reduced, so many don't last as long as deluxe lawn tractors.
Even so, experts say the Craftsman 28885 (Est. $1,300) offers excellent cutting performance and is a great value. It has "plenty of power," says lawn care professional Paul Sikkema of TodaysMower.com and can mow up to 1.5 acres. Its straightforward controls and automatic transmission make it easy to handle, although a few users say shifting can feel a little rough. It lacks some comfort amenities such as a high-back seat, cruise control and large gas tank.
Craftsman covers the 28885 with an impressive two-year mower warranty, five-year frame warranty and limited lifetime warranty for the cast-iron front axle. A leading consumer organization calls Craftsman one of the most reliable brands.
Professional reviewers say the Troy-Bilt Horse XP (*Est. $1,400) is another good choice for a riding mower. In performance tests it cuts smoothly and mulches well, but isn't as skilled at bagging clippings. Overall, it's a good value with extras such as reverse mowing and a comfortable high-back seat.
Most users say the Horse XP handles well thanks to a hydrostatic transmission and 22-horsepower Kohler engine. Although most owners at Lowes.com say it's durable, many users point out mechanical problems, mostly with the transmission.