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Best Small Riding Lawn Mowers

By: Carl Laron on April 13, 2018

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Best Reviewed

Best small riding lawn mower

Ryobi RY48111

These rear-engine riding mowers are perfect for smaller properties

Rear engine riding mowers are smaller and less powerful than lawn tractors, which place the engine up front. Just like zero-turn mowers, which also have their engine at the rear, rear engine riding mowers also tend to handle a little worse, especially on hilly terrain.

Lots of shoppers for lawn tractors opt for riding mowers instead for their lower price, and we'll cover some low-cost alternatives later in this section. However, if price is less of a concern, and you'd like to ditch the high maintenance that gas-fueled tractors require, the Ryobi RY48111 (Est. $2,700) jumps to the head of the pack. This is a battery powered rear-engine riding mower that's attracting good feedback from experts and users. It's as costly as a mid-priced lawn tractor, but fans note that getting rid of the noise, emissions and extra maintenance of a gas engine are worth that trade off. In addition, and especially if you do your own maintenance, the ongoing costs can be lower than with a gas model. Paul Sikkema at TodaysMowers.com does a cost comparison.

There are two versions of this mower. The Ryobi RM48111, also known as the Ryobi RM480ex, is powered by a 100 Ah sealed lead-acid battery that provides 2.5 hours of runtime. The Ryobi RY48110 (Est. $2,500), also known as the Ryobi RM480e, is powered by a smaller 75 Ah battery and will run for 2 hours without requiring a charge, but is otherwise identical. Unless you have a smaller property, or are budget constrained, we suggest opting for the longer-running RM48111, though Consumer Reports estimates that even the RY48110 has enough juice to cut around two acres. Sikkema's estimate of run times for that riding mower are a little more conservative, but he says "I would feel quite comfortable buying the Ryobi RM480E for my one acre yard."

Consumer Reports has tested the RY48110. It's the top-rated riding mower there, and earns a Recommended label, though that doesn't mean that there aren't some reservations. While the use of lead-acid battery technology helps keep costs down, and the weight of lead-acid batteries (opposed to newer lithium-ion batteries) isn't a concern in a riding mower (where it would be a major concern in a push mower), there are some drawbacks -- chiefly long recharge times; figure on around 12 hours between uses. Despite a high-backed seat, it's judged to be not as comfortable for long mowing sessions as a standard lawn tractor, but that's something that can be said of just about every rear-engine riding mower.

On the other hand, Paul Hope says "It cuts well, runs quietly, and eliminates the need for buying gas or worrying about any engine maintenance." Performance is very good across the board, whether mulching, bagging, or discharging clippings out of the side. Ditto for handling and overall ease of use. The editors do note that there are better performing traditional lawn tractors at this price point. However, most are larger than this 38-inch model -- a plus for speed of mowing, but a minus when it comes to storage, which is one of the reasons homeowners often opt for smaller riding mowers in the first place. In addition, none are cordless electric models.

User reviews are excellent. Though they can sometimes be found elsewhere, Home Depot is the primary retailer for these Ryobi cordless riding mowers, and feedback there is largely positive and extensive enough to be meaningful. Though the totals includes feedback posted at the Ryobi web site, the RY48111 receives around 200 reviews and enjoys a rating of 4.6 stars, and recommendations from 96 percent of owners. The RY48110 has just over 240 reviews, and identical satisfaction metrics. Complaints about mowers that arrived damaged or defective are not unheard of, but those are more than offset by comments praising the ease of use, ease of assembly, and the joy of being free of gas and related maintenance woes.

Cheap riding mowers that are worth considering

If you are fine with gas, and price is a concern, we found some pretty good riding mowers priced at $1,500 and below that could be perfect for properties of up to one acre.

For this report, we found the best overall feedback for the Cub Cadet CC30H (Est. $1,300). It earns recommended status at Consumer Reports, and a recommendation from Jose Castellanos, product expert at Mowers Direct. It also gets good overall feedback from owners, including a 4.2 star rating at Home Depot based on more than 140 reviews.

Consumer Reports' Hope notes that, although its 30 inch cutting path is less than what you will get from most riding mowers, "This Cub Cadet behaves like a scaled-down version of larger tractors." The big plus is the "hydrostatic drive system which improves its handling in comparison to most rear engine riders, Consumer Reports says. Castellanos chimes in that this drive system makes the CC30H "as easy to drive as a car - no shifting!" Beyond that, Consumer Reports rates performance as Very Good whether mulching or discharging clippings, though only Good if called upon to bag. The warranty is for three years.

The Cub Cadet CC30 (Est. $1,300) remains available, but no longer enjoys the price advantage that caused us to elevate it to Best Reviewed status last year. It's virtually identical to the CC30H, powered by the same 382 cc Cub Cadet OHV engine, and gets identical performance ratings from Consumer Reports. However, it replaces CC30H's automatic transmission with a manual one, knocking it down a peg when it comes to handling, and in the impressions of the editors. Since both tractors are now priced identically, we can't see a case for opting for the manual transmission CC30 -- and be careful shopping as with very similar model numbers and identical pricing, it's easy to mistake one for the other.

Cheaper riding mowers don't fare well in reviews, but if money is tight, the Troy-Bilt TB30R (Est. $1,000), is still available. It's one of our former Best Reviewed picks, and a model that was recommended at one time by Consumer Reports, but not any longer as some changes in the marketplace have knocked it down a few pegs. Now a Lowe's exclusive (a version sold through independent dealers seems to no longer be available), user feedback is good at 4 stars based on more than 430 reviews, though durability issues -- particularly starting challenges -- do crop up.

On the plus side, the TB30R is an able performer when mulching or discharging clippings in Consumer Reports' testing, but bagging performance is sub-par. Some handling issues are also noted, but ease of use is very good. Overall, the editors opine that while better performing options cost just $200 to $300 more, you "could do worse" at this price point.

The TB30R is powered by a single cylinder engine Briggs & Stratton engine. The cutting deck is small at 30 inches, which makes for easier storage in a crowded garage or shed. Of course, as is true for all riding mowers in this size class, that means more passes are needed to cut a lawn -- and that's a major reason why this and similar small lawn tractors are only recommended for smaller properties. With its six-speed manual transmission, the mower can obtain a top speed of about 4.25 MPH. The cutting height can be adjusted in five steps between 1.5 and 3.5 inches. The high back seat is judged to be comfortable. The warranty is for two years.

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