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Best Self-Propelled Mowers

By: Carl Laron on April 12, 2018

Honda and Toro make the best self-propelled lawn mowers

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 by different retailers, including the Honda HRX217K5VKA (as it's known at Home Depot) and the Honda HRX2175VKA; all are the same machine.

Among this 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. While the extent of testing is not revealed, Popular Mechanic's Roy Berendsohn, a well-respected lawn mower reviewer, calls it "The luxury car of walk-behind lawnmowers," He also notes that, "The mower stays unusually clean as it cuts, both in wet and dry grass, or even as it plows through a pile of dry leaves." It's a Recommended self-propelled mower at Consumer Reports, too, earning top scores whether bagging or mulching cut grass. Finally, it's declared the "Best Overall" mower at Top Ten Reviews, with Noel Case saying that Honda's blade technology "results in a finer cut, which reduces clumping and makes for easier cleanup."

Ease of use is excellent. 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, as Honda updated the drive control system a few years back. Berendsohn grouses a little about the deck lift adjustment levers, which he calls "small and uncomfortable to use," adding that "they mar an otherwise outstanding machine."

User reviews are strong, including ratings of 4.4 stars based on more than 425 reviews at Home Depot (for the HRX217K5VKA) and 4.7 stars at Mowers Direct based on more than 350 reviews. The HRX217VKA is also durable and reliable, feedback says, and that is backed up by one of the best warranties on the market: Five years on the mower and lifetime on the deck.

If your budget is a little smaller, we saw some solid recommendations for the step-down Honda HRR216VLA (Est. $500). Like the Honda mower above, it is sold with slightly different model numbers through various retailers, including the Honda HRR216K9VLA (as it is known at Home Depot) and the Honda HRR2169VLA. Though it's no longer included in the latest Consumer Reports ratings, in the previous installment it scored a few points less than the Honda HRX217VKA but still earned Recommended status. It has the same Smart Drive feature as the HRX217VKA mowers, and the Clip Director control that allows for no-tools conversion between mulching, bagging or discharging is present as well. However, Versamow and its adjustable mulching/bagging mix is not part of the package. User reviews are solid, including a 4.3 star rating based on more than 400 reviews at Home Depot.

Toro self-propelled lawn mowers also score highly in testing. 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, according to owners. Some love that they can practically trot, others like to set a more leisurely pace.

Among the experts that have looked at this mower, Popular Mechanics writes that "Toro's engineers designed a mower that suits a variety of users and mowing conditions," At Consumer Reports, it scores behind the Honda mowers above, but still well enough to earn Recommended status. It's better at mulching than when bagging, but it's still Very Good at the latter.

User feedback is a little more mixed, but the Recycler 20333 still scores a rating of 4.1 stars based on more than 2,900 reviews at Home Depot. While most owners are thrilled, some report initial quality control shortfalls, while others complain of starting and related issues. Keep in mind that small gas engines used in many mowers and other outdoor equipment don't perform well with gas that's been kept around for too long or that contains too high a level of ethanol. Toro offers tips on gas requirements for outdoor power equipment here. Following them with this -- or any gas mower, for that matter -- should provide more reliable performance and avoid the possibility of an expensive repair that won't be covered under warranty.

The Toro 20333 uses a conventional pull start. If you prefer a mower with an electric starter, the Toro Recycler 20334 (Est. $400) is identical, save for that feature. It's not itself been tested, but Consumer Reports grants it an identical rating to the Toro Recycler 20333 based on its tests of that mower. User feedback is on a par, and nearly as robust -- 4.1 stars based on around 2,650 reviews at Home Depot.

The Toro Recycler 20332 (Est. $360) is also similar to the 20333 but it lacks the popular SpinStop system. It does well enough in Consumer Report's testing to earn Best Buy status there, but user satisfaction at sites like Home Depot seems to be just a touch lower -- 3.9 stars based on more than 3,200 reviews. All of these Toro Recycler mowers have a shorter warranty than the Honda mowers -- two years for residential use -- but Toro includes a three-year, guaranteed-to-start engine warranty that promises the mower will start with only one or two pulls.

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