Experts say you should consider spending more than the minimum for a lawn tractor if you mow more than two acres or if your yard has slopes. Better lawn tractors also can handle a variety of attachments, such as tillers, carts, snow blowers and blades. Build quality makes for superior durability, so you may well end up spending less in the long run than if you bought a budget model.
The John Deere X304 (*Est. $3,600)lawn tractor continues to earn high marks for build quality, performance and capability of handling attachments. Four-wheel steering provides extra maneuverability. This unusual feature, combined with a 15-inch turning radius, means the X304 leaves a circle of uncut grass (at the end of a row) with a radius of about 16 inches when the deck has a 42-inch cutting width. (This is the deck size reviews recommend for the most even cutting.)
In a detailed comparison review, Family Home and Garden, a German publication, gives top ranking to the John Deere X304, based upon ratings of 16 different factors. Editors there praise the tight turning radius and four-wheel steering, noting that this gives the X304 a big advantage in mowing close to obstacles. A detailed comparison review in the Telegraph, a U.K. newspaper, also ranks the John Deere X304 at the top.
The current John Deere X304 lawn tractor meets EPA emissions limits and uses an 18-horsepower V-twin engine, an upgrade from the 2010 model. The basic X304 doesn't meet the strict emissions limits regulated by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), however. So, to buy this John Deere lawn tractor in California, you need the more expensive CARB-certified version (*Est. $3,600). It doesn't cost much more to get it with a 48-inch deck (*Est. $3,600), but wider decks don't earn the highest ratings for evenness of cut.
Tests show that the 42-inch Cub Cadet GT2042 (*Est. $3,600) doesn't bag as well as the John Deere X304, but mulches clippings better. Lawn experts recommend mulching clippings if at all possible, since this fertilizes the lawn while you mow (and can save on fertilizer costs). The Cub Cadet lacks four-wheel steering and has an 18-inch turning radius (compared to 15 inches on the John Deere X304) -- but still earns top marks for handling and ease of use.
The Cub Cadet's main drawback -- and it's a big one -- is that Cub Cadet has a poor repair record as a brand. Landscape pro Paul Sikkema reviews the Cub Cadet GT2042 at his review site, TodaysMower.com. He praises the cast-iron shaft-drive transmission but is skeptical of the build quality of the rest of the tractor, concluding that it's overpriced.
The less expensive 46-inch Snapper NXT2346 (*Est. $2,800) also lacks four-wheel steering and doesn't bag as well as the John Deere X304, but earns high ratings for performance, handling and ease of use. The Snapper offers some attractive new features, including LED headlights (rated for 100,000 hours) and a mesh suspension seat. The Snapper NXT2346 has push-button start (instead of key start), and the operator can adjust the cutting height electronically. The turning radius is just 14 inches.