What every best Lawn Tractors has:
- Cuts, bags and mulches cleanly and evenly.
- Mows closely around obstacles.
- Offers a comfortable, intuitive ride.
In the past two years, we saw some heavy-duty love from experts for the Craftsman Pro 20442. That lawn tractor is now discontinued, but it has been replaced by the equally respected Craftsman Pro 27042 (Est. $2,200). By the specifications, it looks to be very similar to the older Craftsman -- including a high-quality Kohler engine -- with one sort of significant upgrade, which we will get to in a moment.
ConsumerReports.org currently offers the most comprehensive reviews of riding mowers, and it thinks very highly of the Craftsman Pro 27042. It shares the top score in its class with a John Deere model, but as Paul Hope notes, the Craftsman is around $1,000 less, has a larger deck, does a better job when mulching and is equipped with Craftsman's TurnTight Extreme technology, which reduces the turning radius to just five feet. That makes the Craftsman tractor a reasonable, cheaper alternative to zero-turn mowers, which are discussed elsewhere in this report. It also makes it a far better alternative for hilly lawns, as zero-turn mowers can be tricky, and even dangerous, to use over steep terrain.
In ConsumerReports.org's testing, the performance is impressive across the board, only slipping a notch when judged on how well it disperses clippings to the side (though it's still very good in that regard). The ergonomics are excellent, and the tractor is equipped with a comfortable high-back seat. Handling is judged to be top shelf as well, with features such as cruise control to help maintain a constant speed (maximum of 5.5 mph in the forward direction) and minimize user fatigue. The Craftsman lawn tractor is powered by a 24-hp "premium" Kohler V-twin Elite engine that's well regarded. Build quality continues to be first rate, including a cast-iron front axle, which is backed by a lifetime warranty. The rest of the warranty is more typical, and less generous: two years overall, plus five years for the frame.
Now, for what's new with this model: Craftsman's Smart Lawn app compatibility and Bluetooth connectivity are built in. While that feature might not be a must have for every lawn tractor owner, expert and user feedback for Smart Lawn has been quite good so far. Available for both Apple and Android smartphones, the Smart Lawn app monitors battery, blade, air filter and engine oil conditions. It also provides information on routine maintenance, in-app access to owner's manuals, and the ability to order parts. For those that find this to be a compelling feature, it can also be added to some 2010 and newer Craftsman lawn tractors and zero-turn mowers via the Craftsman Smart Lawn Connect Kit (Est. $80).
If you have a smaller lawn and don't have a lot of obstacles to cut around on your property, the Cub Cadet XT1 LT42 (Est. $1,500) is also a very good choice. It's part of the Cub Cadet Enduro series line that was updated in 2015. This mower is best for smooth, flat lawns and properties of no more than 2 acres (although smaller is probably better). But Paul Sikkema says that for a typical sub-division property, the Cub Cadet "is going to give you a perfect cut." ConsumerReports.org largely agrees, and names the XT1 L42 a Best Buy. Side discharging could be better, but mulching and bagging performance are top rated
If 42 inches is a bit too small for your needs, the Cub Cadet XT1 LT46 (Est. $1,700) is very similar but with a 46-inch deck. ConsumerReports.com also names this tractor as a Best Buy, with similar ratings as the LT42 in all performance categories.
The Cub Cadet tractors, especially the LT46, are in many ways similar to the Craftsman 27042, but significantly different in others. Sikkema notes that Craftsman Pro tractors like the 27042 are built on the same chassis as the Cub Cadet. However, Cub Cadet tractors lack the Craftsman TurnTight Extreme feature, instead having a more typical 16-inch turning radius. That undoubtedly does cost it a notch in ConsumerReports.org's ratings when it comes to handling and ease of use, though both are still considered very good. There are also no smart features or Bluetooth. Counterbalancing that, however, is a lower price -- the LT46 is some $500 cheaper than the Craftsman, while the smaller LT42 is $700 less.
One concern voiced with Cub Cadet lawn tractors is their reliability, with them rated as the least reliable brand in some older ConsumerReports.org's surveys of lawn tractor owners. Sikkema acknowledges the issues that had plagued Cub Cadet tractors in the past, but says that this and other riding mowers in the same series are "completely redesigned and will not suffer the 'sins' of the past engineers." His view seems to be borne out in the latest ConsumerReports.org reliability survey as Cub Cadet is now a mid-pack finisher, essentially tied with Craftsman when it comes to reliability. User reviews are ample enough to show that most are satisfied thus far. For example, the Cub Cadet XT1 L42 earns a 4.6 star rating at HomeDepot.com based on more than 675 user reviews, and gets a recommendation from 94 percent of owners. The warranty doesn't offer lifetime coverage for the front axle -- only five years for it and the rest of the frame. However, the balance of the tractor is covered for three years, which is one year longer than the Craftsman.
John Deer tractors are also extremely popular with experts, although they tend to be pricier than many other brands. Among John Deere tractors, one of the highest rated in expert testing is the John Deere X350 (Est. $3,200). In an article for ConsumerReports.org that's free to the public, Hope says that the X350's performance and high-quality features make it worth its premium price. These include an electric power take-off, two headlights and cruise control. Handling and ease of use are both judged to be excellent.
The John Deere brand also finishes at the top of the pack in ConsumerReport.org's reliability survey. "Turns out it's true, nothing runs like a Deere," says Hope. Because this John Deere tractor is largely sold by local retailers rather than online or through major home improvement/garden center stores, user reviews are tough to come by, but what's available -- primarily at the manufacturer's web site -- shows very high satisfaction.
The 42-inch John Deere X350 has a top forward speed of 5.5 mph, and a reverse speed of 4 mph. Its turning radius is 16 inches. The mower deck is highly adjustable with 13 possible positions. It also is compatible with a wide variety of attachments, including a mulching system, rear bagger, front thatcher, front blade and a snow blower, among others. This makes it a highly versatile machine, and it also comes with one of the best warranties for riding mowers: four years or 300 hours.