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Best Riding Lawn Mowers

By: Carl Laron on April 13, 2018

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Riding Lawn Mowers Zero-turn Mowers Small Riding Lawn Mowers Our Sources
Best Reviewed

Best riding lawn mower

Craftsman Pro 27042

For value and performance, the Craftsman 27042 is our top pick

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 That lawn tractor is now discontinued, but it has been replaced by the equally respected Craftsman Pro 27042 (Est.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.

Consumer Reports 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 when it comes to performance, but as Paul Hope notes in a free-to-the-public article detailing their testing, the Craftsman is an outstanding value. It also has 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 Consumer Reports' testing, the Craftsman 27042's 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.

Paul Sikkema of TodaysMower.com is also a fan. "I really can't say enough good things about the Craftsman Pro Lawn & Garden Tractors." he says. "Since their introduction in 2015, they have quickly become the best in the industry for reliability and build quality for the price."

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.

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). Craftsman mowers are currently a Sears exclusive, but Lowe's is expected to start offering the brand in the second half of 2018. Hope speculates that this could lead to a little bit of price war, making what's already a top value even a bit better.

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." Consumer Reports 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. Consumer Reports 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 costs it a notch in Consumer Reports' 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 -- depending on what sales are in effect at the time, 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 Consumer Reports' 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 Consumer Reports 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 4.5 star rating at Home Depot based on almost 1,125 user reviews, and gets a recommendation from 92 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 Consumer Reports that's free to the public, Hope says that the X350 "has all the features we consider most important, including a washout port, a comfy high-back seat, automatic drive, cruise control, and the ability to check the fuel level right from the seat."

The John Deere brand also finishes at the top of the pack in Consumer Reports' reliability survey. 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.

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