What every best Lawn Tractors has:
- Cuts, bags and mulches cleanly and evenly.
- Mows closely around obstacles.
- Offers a comfortable, intuitive ride.
Best zero-turn mower
Troy-Bilt Mustang Pivot 46
Up to now, zero-turn mowers were appreciated for their ability to cut fast and cut close, making them ideal for large, flat properties with lots of plantings and other obstacles to negotiate. However, their more complicated steering and control mechanisms (compared to lawn tractors) and poor stability, especially on sloped ground, was not as widely liked.
That has changed markedly with the introduction of zero-turn mowers with conventional steering wheel controls. With steerable front wheels in place of the caster-style wheels found on traditional zero-turn mowers, these newer models navigate easier, offer better stability on hills and dips, and remove the learning curve that other zero-turn mowers demand, experts say.
We saw strong feedback for the Troy-Bilt Mustang Pivot 46 (Est. $2,900), a Lowe's exclusive. Advantages start with the steering system. Instead of using levers to run one wheel in one direction while the other spins in the other to turn the mower practically in place, the conventional steering wheel and steerable front tires make control much easier, with better traction on hills, including the ability to more easily turn at the bottom of slopes -- although a conventional lawn tractor, which we cover elsewhere in this report, will have better traction still and be even more stable.
Expert feedback is strong. Consumer Reports makes the Troy-Bilt Mustang Pivot 46 the highest rated ZTR riding mower with conventional steering, and the second highest rated ZTR overall. It's especially impressive when mulching or bagging, and even very good when it comes to discharging clippings to the side. Ergonomics and handling are top rated, too. Tools in Action also likes this Troy-Bilt ZTR. "Troy-Bilt did a good job designing a zero turn for the homeowner," says Eric Jopp.
The only caveat here is that user feedback is found primarily at Lowe's, and only around 40 owners have weighed in. Most are happy, and the Mustang Pivot 46 earns a score of 4 stars. However, there are some reports of durability issues. One thing to keep in mind with this, and any ZTR for that matter, is that these are not lawn tractors, as Sikkema points out. Using them on tall grass or on anything other than standard lawns is a short cut to disappointment. "Bouncing through the pasture will quickly destroy your deck, crack your frame and/or transmissions," he says. That said, the reinforced steel frame does carry a limited lifetime warranty, while the rest of the riding mower is covered for three years.
All zero-turn mowers are pricey compared to lawn tractors, and the Troy-Bult Mustang Pivot is no exception. But if you are comfortable with the traditional steering levers used in most ZTRs (or are willing to take the time it takes to master their use) you can save a few dollars and get an outstanding zero-turn mower in the form of the 42-inch Troy-Bilt Mustang 42 (Est. $2,300). It's the top-rated ZTR at Consumer Reports, and a Best Buy as well. In a free article, Paul Hope of Consumer Reports says, "It's quick, nimble, and easy to use—and the only model to earn scores of Excellent in all three modes (mulching, bagging, and side-discharge)."
While handling will obviously take a back seat to steering-wheel equipped ZTRs, it's still very good on the Troy-Bilt Mustang 42, and ease-of-use is top rated. Cited small pluses include a comfortable high-backed seat and a fuel gauge that's easy to see without getting out of that seat. There's a cup holder, too. A washout port makes clean up a snap when the mowing is done. The narrow deck means that it will take more passes to cover your property compared to a 46-inch or larger model, but, like the SW4200, as long as that property is an acre or less, that's not a deal killer.
Again, you'll find the Troy-Bilt Mustang 42 primarily at Lowe's. We spotted some complaints about durability, issues with Lowe's itself, and, of course, handling in the more than 100 user reviews posted at Lowe's, but most offer this zero-turn riding mower kudos, as reflected in its 4 star score. The warranty is for three years, plus lifetime (limited) on the frame.
For smaller properties, a 42 inch or 46 inch zero-turn mower will certainly get the job done, but wider deck models might be a better choice for those with acres to mow. If that's you, the 54-inch Cub Cadet RZT L54 (Est. $2,900) looks like a winner. It's Recommended by Consumer Reports, with Hope saying that "Cub Cadet's wide-deck ZTR is the best value of any model we've tested." It earns Excellent scores in its side discharge and bagging modes, and a Very Good when mulching. "It's nimble, particularly for a mower of this size, and comfortable for the user, too." Hope adds.
Jose Castellanos at Mowers Direct is also a fan. He notes that the 24 HP Kohler 7000 series engine is "known for its reliability and all-around top performance." He adds that the rugged design with a full welded, 12-gauge steel frame should allow for "unbeatable durability." Like Hope, he says that comfort for the user is a plus. "The industry's largest, widest operator station along with dual-adjustment lap bars and a high-back Cub Comfortª seat make for the most spacious, most comfortable residential zero-turn experience."
User reviews aren't abundant, but are on the high-side of pretty good among all ZTRs -- for example a 4.35 star rating based on more than 60 reviews at Mowers Direct.