Many homeowners dread mowing the lawn. This activity can indeed be tedious, repetitive, and excitement is not really a term we associate with cutting grass.
However, depending on your choice of mower, you can be done with trimming the lawn in a reasonably short amount of time, and this activity can even become somewhat fun.
Some people find riding around on a lawn tractor quite enjoyable, especially on a warm summer’s day, but there’s little controversy that the zero-turn lawn mower offers the best mowing experience, either for residential users or professional landscapers.
As zero-turn mowers go, this machine covers a wide set of demands. Affordable, compact, and easy to use, it wouldn’t feel like going overboard by purchasing for mowing only one acre.
This top scorer threads the line between residential and professional mowers at a hard-to-believe price. And that isn’t just a salesman’s pitch either, most people who reviewed it — either satisfied customers or experts — were surprised by the construction quality and ruggedness they found with a zero turn under $5000.
First, there is the 23 hp Kawasaki FR V-Twin engine, famed for its reliability and ever-popular with contractors. Second, the 52-inch fabricated cutting deck is made out of 11-gauge steel, ensuring it will stand to the bumps and bruises of service for a long long time.
It also features a commercial-style dual-arm lift that can move the deck between 1.5 to 4.5 inches off the ground in no less than 13 preset positions, enough to fit any preference regarding lawn height.
According to people who use it, the IKON-X handles rough patches very well and can give a satisfactory performance even on inclines slightly steeper than 15 degrees, although not rated for such.
It’s fast enough to mow a one-acre surface in less than an hour even in totally inexperienced hands, and the driver won’t get any annoying cramps during this time, as the high-backrest seat, armrests, and padded levers make for an enjoyable riding experience.
What we like:
Very good quality for the price, with a Kawasaki engine, dual-arm deck lift with a four-point hanging system, and other features commonly found on professional models.
The 23 hp engine and dual hydrostatic transmission give this model great dynamic abilities. Expect to have great fun while mowing through your lawn at 7 mph!
At the same time, good speed, ergonomics, and a 52-inch cutting deck make it a fitting choice for use on a 4-5 acres surface.
Due to the powerful engine, it won’t struggle through rough patches, while a good set of rear tires and the aforementioned 23 hp means it easily performs within specifications on rough terrain.
What we don’t:
We should underline we’ve found VERY few complaints relating to this product. The three blades it uses might not be the easiest to adjust; and the chair spring might prove a little stiff on rough patches; but these are minor issues, really.
How we chose the best zero turn lawn mowers
Having many of the same parts as a car and a cutting deck to boot, mowers that you ride on are complicated devices. The fact that many can cost in the same range as a second-hand automobile doesn’t make selecting the best zero turn lawn mower (ZTM) for your needs any easier.
To spare some of your precious time, we’ve selected four of the best machines of this type on the market, which should cover a wide range of needs between them, so you might find the right tool for you by consulting this guide alone. (Although, we naturally recommend for our readers to conduct as much research as possible before reaching a decision)
We’ve made our selection by first looking at what products of this type are available on retail sites. Based on the number of reviews received and the average grades, we selected a dozen or so of the best ones for a more in-depth investigation.
This was done by consulting most of the reviews available on authoritative sites such as Popular Mechanics and The Spuce, many of whom conduct independent tests to ascertain the true quality of a product.
We’ve taken both reliability and performance into consideration when making our selection, but overall build quality and value weren’t neglected either so that people on a budget, who don’t always go for premium products can find a good option among our top four picks.
Made for hours and hours of mowing, the MZ61 is built like a tank and the reliability of Kawasaki engines is a matter of public record.
Our top spot in the “big boys” category goes to the Husqvarna MZ61. This 770 lb beast impressed customers and reviewers alike with its impressive amount of torque, sturdy build, and 61-inch cutting deck.
Heaving a large cutting surface will shave a lot of time off your job if there is a lot to mow. For example, a residential user reported having mowed 2.5 acres of grass in about 90 minutes without the machine breaking a sweat.
Thanks to a 24 hp Kawasaki engine, the MZ61 has enough power to cut through tall grass and thick weeds with the best in its class. More remarkably, you will get all this performance at a smaller price than you will pay for comparable semi-professional equipment.
Husqvarna also paid a lot of mind to operator comfort, fitting this machine with vibration dampeners, an ergonomic chair with good back support, armrests, and padding on the main levers.
Safety features are also quite impressive. The choke is sensitive enough to prevent kids from taking it for a joy ride, and the motor won’t start unless all steps required to do so are taken in the correct order.
What we like:
A very solid build, it uses 11-gauge steel for the deck and reliable internal parts, including a Kawasaki engine and hydrostatic transmission.
The 24 hp engine offers a lot of power and torque, which makes the MZ61 suitable for some of the toughest jobs a residential owner or landscaper might put it through.
Good safety features that prevent accidents and ensure irresponsible hands won’t be able to start it, as well as a roll bar for unfortunate accidents.
With a combination of good power, speed, and a wide cutting deck, this machine will mow through large areas fast; around 90 minutes for 2.5 acres.
Its cutting abilities have been positively commented on.
What we don’t:
Somewhat difficult to move through gates and other tight spots due to its size.
Some remarked that it will require some assembly (namely the roll bar) and might be a handful to start up and operate initially. However, getting used to it requires little time.
2. Snapper 360z
Snapper 360z is a sturdy enough build, with a welded steel frame and deck, that offers all the features you would expect from its class.
Although hard to attach the term “budget solution” to any mid-grade zero turn mowers, this Snapper is a bit less expensive than comparable models, while offering about the same level of performance and quality.
It comes in four versions, featuring each combination of a 21.5 and 23 hp engine, and a 42-inch and 48-inch mowing deck. All of them are quite compact and relatively light, with the 23 hp/42-inch one weighing as little as 525 lb.
The small deck should make it ideal on landscapes where obstacles are a problem and maneuverability is paramount, although models in its weight class aren’t the best fit for large estates.
Small size also means easier storage, less difficulty in pushing around, and easier maintenance, as this unit can be turned around on its side for repairs.
You can choose between 13 deck positions within a 1-inch journey, by either adjusting a dial or pushing a foot pedal.
What we like:
Decent build quality, with a thick-walled front axle and fully welded frame.
This is achieved without weighing the unit too much. At only 525 lb, this Snapper is easy to push and can be turned on its side for maintenance.
Two good engine options, offering either 21.5 and 23 hp. This model’s high power and small size make it easier to accelerate and maneuver.
The small deck might limit effective use to about 3 acres of turf, but high engine power and a hydrostatic drive give it enough heft to handle tall grass and other ill-kept surfaces.
What we don’t:
A number of people found factory defects in the Briggs and Stratton 24 hp engine that some versions of this mower use.
These complaints seem to be few and far between, but you can opt for the 21.5 hp Kawasaki to be 100% certain.
The Ryobi is comparable in functionality and performance to the best gas-powered zero-turn mowers.
One of the most popular electric options out there, the Ryobi RY48ZTR100 offers functionality and performance en par to any mid-grade gas ZTM.
It can mulch, bag, and side-discharge as fast and reliably as any competitor, and it does so without breaking your eardrums and terrifying family pets.
Keeping up with its futuristic style, this Ryobi includes some interesting functions, such as a low-speed setting, which offers more control in tight spots. The 12 deck height settings are controlled either via an easy-to-access lever or a pedal.
Powered by four brushless motors, it’s fast enough to go through one acre of land in about 45 minutes, according to people who tested it. This is quite a performance, considering the relatively small 48-inch deck, but more impressive still is the autonomy this thing has:
With a full charge of two 100 Ah batteries, it can run for up to 150 minutes (manufacturer specifications), or effectively cover 3 acres with some room to spare, according to consumer reports.
Although at 700 lb it’s not the lightest 48-inch deck ZTM, this machine is relatively compact, making it easy to maneuver through tight spaces and gateways.
What we like:
As an electric model, this Ryobi is extremely quiet and offers a smooth ride without emitting any noxious gasses into the atmosphere.
Its mode of propulsion also offers an additional degree of reliability since there are no engine and fuel system parts to break down.
It has a maximum speed of 7 mph and can mow through one acre of grass in about 45 minutes.
What we don’t:
For an item in its class and size, it certainly doesn’t come cheap. However, you can’t put a price on helping the environment, and lower operating costs will make up for the initial purchasing price over time.
As we’ve previously suggested, zero-turn mowers are complicated pieces of machinery, and there’s a whole list of features to consider in choosing the right one for your needs.
Overall, these are intended for use on medium and large lawns, exceeding ½ acres, or even 1 acre according to some conservative opinions.
These don’t handle uneven terrain as well as lawn tractors and have a tendency to slide; but during our investigation, we found nothing to suggest their performance on inclines smaller than 15 degrees would be wanting.
What is a zero turn mower?
The latest in lawn mowing solutions, zero-turn mowers are much appreciated for their ability to turn in place, akin to a tracked vehicle (don’t worry the wheels won’t damage your lawn). This is achieved by independent control of the two back wheels, which are connected to the drive.
How to drive a zero turn mower is simple enough. The operator controls the vehicle via two levers, corresponding to each of the back wheels. The levers are pushed forward for acceleration and back for reverse.
When only one of the wheels moves forward and the other one goes into reverse, the machine turns around its axis. A regular turn of any radius is achieved by simply pushing unevenly on the two levers.
The front wheels are generally free to swivel, pretty much like a supermarket trolly, allowing for excellent control and maneuverability.
Unlike a lawn tractor, the cutting deck is placed in a forward position, which means patches of grass won’t be flattened by the small front wheels to any significant degree and potentially escape the blade.
This is why the cutting quality offered by the best zero turn mowers is considered superior to everything else out there.
Performance-wise, zero-turn mowers tend to have the highest specs, although there is some overlap between “small” ZTMs and large lawn tractors in this regard.
Why go for a zero turn mower?
Due to their unique construction, zero-turn mowers can cut the grass without leaving an uncut patch where the machine made a U-turn.
This means the operator won’t have to spend any time leveling these small surfaces out, which decreases mowing time considerably.
Besides this, zero-turn mowers are very fast and “sporty”, with powerful engines, and a good amount of torque, which will further decrease the amount of time dedicated to mowing. Even a residential ZTM, will regularly finish a job twice as fast as a lawn tractor.
Their good maneuverability will make it very easy to negotiate obstacles such as lawn furniture, bushes, or trees. This makes them ideal for work around a garden or golf course.
On the downside, zero-turn mowers have an added level of complexity over virtually any other lawn mowing solution available. All other things being equal, this will make for slightly higher maintenance demands.
By and large, this is the most expensive category of mowers out there, and if there isn’t any clear requirement for their particular qualities, most homeowners would be advised to look towards something cheaper and simpler.
There is quite a deal of talk about this design’s ability to handle inclines. While many owners have noticed their machines struggling on hills, experts consider that most models will do well on as much as a 15-degree gradient.
Regardless, there seems to be a consensus that ride-on mowers are better suited for uneven terrain.
Zero-turn mowers are seen as the go-to for professional contractors, who need to mow large surfaces day in and day out.
However smaller models are considered a good fit for residential use, especially on cluttered turfs. Opinions regarding the smallest property that would make investing in a ZTM “worth it” differ among experts, but upwards of ½ acres or 20,000 square feet are widely cited figures.
Types of zero turn lawn mowers
Zero radius mowers can be classified in a number of different ways.
Most reviewers tend to go by their intended purpose, which breaks these into four categories.
Entry-level zero turn mowers
These consumer-grade mowers are ideal for those who want to have some fun while trimming grass but aren’t so keen on parting with a substantial sum of money.
Expectedly, these make for the flimsiest option out there and shouldn’t see much more than weekend use. Their decks tend to be made from stamped sheet metal, which should help with the weight but will see a lot of bending on impact.
While entry models can have some with pretty powerful engines — up to 25 hp — and cutting decks up to 54-inches, their relatively small speed of around 7 mph together with low fuel capacity makes them ill-suited for surfaces above 1-2 acres.
Mid-grade zero turn mowers
A lot sturdier than their entry-level counterparts, these middle-of-the-range models feature welded steel decks, stronger transmission, hydraulics cables, and foot-controlled deck height adjustment.
The best zero turn lawn mower brands will offer at least one model in this category, which is quite affordable to the discerning homeowner.
Overall better performing than entry-level machines, you can find mid-grade mowers covering a wide range of specs: 16 to 25 hp from twin cylinders engines; 34 to 60-inch decks; and between 3 and 4 gallons of fuel capacity.
Semi-pro zero turn mowers
Semi-pro or “prosumer” zero radius mowers address the needs of residential users who need to contend with large areas, as well as those of professional contractors on a budget.
Performance-wise, these don’t differ much from mid-grades, but you could easily tell them apart by their sturdier construction, which features single-piece steel frames and heavy-duty transmission parts.
Made for daily use, prosumers can mow up to 5 acres with a single load of gas, thanks to a significantly increased fuel capacity of up to 8 gallons.
Commercial zero-turn mowers
Not really justifying their price tags in residential use, commercial ZTMs are intended to handle the toughest of jobs.
Their parts are built to put up with many hours of work every day, and these machines can swiftly mow through large tracts of land, with 31 hp engines, up to 13 gallons of fuel capacity, and as much as 72 inches of cutting width.
Choose the right amount of power for your needs
The motor on a zero radius mower must meet two tasks: propelling the machine and spinning the blades.
Consequently, both speed requirements, dictated by the size of the turf, as well as the state of the grass, should be taken into account when determining the amount of power you will need.
Naturally, more powerful models will make the job go much faster on bigger estates of four acres and above. Landscapers and contractors who need to mow large surfaces like golf courses, public parks, or football fields shouldn’t consider anything less than 20 hp.
If you are expecting to work every day, most experts recommend models with 25 hp or above, as more power will translate into less strain on the engine and longer life.
This also applies to the best residential zero turn mower, but in this case, the nature of the terrain and the state of your turf are more important factors than the frequency of use.
Home users can get away with as little as 10 hp for half an acre, assuming the surface is even and the grass isn’t allowed to grow tall.
More powerful models might be needed when that isn’t the case, sometimes combined with a smaller cutting deck so you can still effectively negotiate tight spaces in a residential yard.
While engine power should correlate with the size of the cutting deck (longer blades means more grass to cut through), manufacturers offer plenty of options for compact but powerful mowers.
ZTMs are never all that suited for uneven terrain, and their performance in this regard will only diminish when powered by a low yield motor.
As stated previously, most models struggle on gradients higher than 15 degrees, but you might find even such gentle inclines too much for a 10 to 15 hp engine.
Consider something a bit beefier If your yard has some inclines and bumps, but not severe enough to justify going for a ride-on mower.
Advantages and disadvantages of an electric motor
Electric motors are becoming an increasingly popular propulsion solution for zero-turn mowers. Due to their relatively small power, these are favored mostly by residential users, who don’t have to deal with difficult jobs.
While not generally as powerful as combustion engines, electric motors accelerate almost instantaneously and don’t wear themselves as much when doing so. This can be of great help in a yard littered with obstacles, which will require frequent speed adjustments and even full stops.
Electrics are also liked for their exceptionally smooth running and very low noise level. Actually, you will be able to hear the blade cutting through the grass over the sound of the motor. If happy neighbors and comfort at work are important considerations, an electric model is definitely worth looking into.
On the downside, batteries won’t usually last as long as a full tank of gas and spare parts or servicing will be rarer to find. However, this is somewhat made up for by the motor featuring fewer moving parts that could break.
Cutting deck width
Cutting deck diameter is one of the most important factors to determine how fast you will be finishing your job. This can range from 30-inches for the smaller residential models to a little over twice that for mowers used by contractors.
A narrower cutting deck means a more compact machine, easier to get around obstacles, and turn around tight corners.
Many prefer increased maneuverability over cutting speed when working on small properties, where a bigger deck won’t significantly decrease mowing time.
On a 0.5 – 1 acre turf, 12 inches of the extra blade will make only a dozen or so minutes of difference, usually at the expense of a higher purchasing cost.
A 42-inch deck is seen as optimum for lawns between 1 and 3 acres in size, while estates of up to 5 acres will be best served by a 52-inch model.
It is important to note that the benefits of a larger cutting deck will become all the more apparent as the surface in need of mowing increases.
If you need to care for ten acres of landscape, for example, choosing a 61-inch model over a 42-inch one can potentially shave hours off your job.
Cutting deck travel is deceptively important
A deck that leaves you a lot of leeway in controlling the distance between the blades and the ground will allow you to trim a lawn to any height you desire, as well as better negotiate rough patches.
A mower with a wide range of vertical deck travel is somewhat of a must for professionals contractors, since they will need to meet a wide set of demands from their clients. Some people like their lawns cut very short, while others would favor the look of luscious green grass.
Not having the right tool for each job might very well lose you customers. But that’s not to say that residential operators won’t find some joy in experimenting with different “looks” for their lawns.
So if you care about the esthetics of your front yard, don’t neglect to check a mower’s maximum allowed deck travel before purchasing. (Judging by the reviews we’ve consulted for this guide, a lot of people do!)
On the practical side of things, elevating the deck through rough patches of tall grass will make cutting substantially easier. Even some of the better 24 hp models out there can struggle with thick weeds, so the taller the deck gets, the better.
Cutting deck height adjustments
Adjusting the deck height on a zero-turn mower can be done in one of three ways:
- Almost all models have a dial that lets you raise or lower the deck to a number of preset positions. This requires the operator to release one of the levers, so it can’t really be done “on the go” without some awkward elbow contorting.
- Most of the better ZRMs feature a pedal that allows for free adjustment of the deck height. This doesn’t impede driving the mower and it offers a clear advantage when negotiating uneven terrain. With a little skill, going over a small crest won’t put you at risk of the blades touching the ground.
- You can tighten or loosen the hanging bolts connecting the deck to the frame during maintenance. Depending on make and model, you’ll need either a screwdriver or wrench for this, but there’s otherwise little difference between how to adjust the deck on a Husqvarna zero-turn and, say, a John Deere.
The last procedure is most often done in order to adjust the pitch of the blades for optimum cutting performance. There is a number of easy to follow online guides on how you should go about it.
Zero-turn mowers usually need to transfer a lot of power to the rear wheels, which requires them to have a heftier gearbox than all other types of mowers. That’s why all manufacturer’s with a reputation to defend only use a hydrostatic transmission for their ZTMs.
A hydrostatic transmission might be something of a premium option for a lawn tractor, but all the best zero turn mowers should feature this state-of-the-art device in order to deliver optimum performance.
A hydrostatic gearbox uses tilting swashplates to press on transmission fluid, which in turns acts on cogs adjacent to each wheel.
Since it doesn’t have a myriad of metal gears to grind on one another, the hydrostatic transmission is a lot more resilient and runs a lot smoother than its mechanical counterpart.
Zero-turn mowers in the US can operate on either flex-fuel, gasoline, diesel, and propane. Weigh in your options depending on what’s easier to access in your area and more convenient.
For example, diesel burns more efficiently than gasoline and you’ll get a better range for the same amount; propane is cheap and eco-friendly, but it does put some wear on the fuel lines, etc.
Naturally, the tank’s fuel capacity will dictate how much surface area you can cover before needing a refill. By and large, the 4-gallon tank on a mid-grade mower should last you enough for something between 3 to 4 acres.
Even if your turf is half that size, don’t assume that an entry-level mower will handle it in one fill of a 2-gallon tank. A smaller deck means you’ll need to travel a greater distance to cover an area and a poorer quality motor doesn’t offer the same efficiency as a premium choice.
If you are using the machine for landscaping work, that will rarely suffice. The golden standard when it comes to professional mowers is about 8 gallons, but “big jobs” such as golf courses or soccer fields will require well above 10 gallons.
Don’t overlook weight
As mowers go, zero radius ones aren’t exactly light. While most mid-grade models hover around the 700 lb mark, their weight can vary to a substantial degree between categories.
Consider that you might need to push the machine around for easier access to storage spaces or to get it over curbs. A model that’s well in excess of the average weight might not be the best idea for those who aren’t in such great shape.
On the plus side, a heavier ZTM might be better suited for uneven terrain due to better traction, as long as it has the torque and tires to match.
Most models require to be lifted by a jack for basic maintenance, but the lightest can simply be turned on a side like go-carts.
A simple rule of thumb in this regard is that the longer you expect to spend driving the mower, the more comfortable it must feel. Most experts advise that for any job in excess of two hours, ergonomics should be as important as performance in making a pick.
Manufacturers go to great lengths to make commercial and semi-professional models as easy on the driver as possible. The best zero turn mowers in this category should feature adjustable seats, armrests, and an ample backrest.
Since you won’t generally have to spend hours on end driving a mid-range mower, comfort can take a back seat for this category.
Be advised though, many customer reviews we’ve looked through offered complaints about the absence of a backrest on otherwise highly praised residential mowers.
How the main levers feel is deceptively important in regards to operator fatigue. Consider that you will have to constantly hold your hands on these devices when driving the machine.
There are a number of padding options available, and which one feels most comfortable is really a matter of preference.
Some models come with a steering wheel, which is arguably (opinions are mixed) a better place to rest your hands on than the levers.
There is also the familiarity factor, but this shouldn’t really weigh in on your decision, as most people become adept at manipulating the levers in less than half an hour of use.
Do zero turn mowers have brakes is a question that seems to come up a lot. The answer is yes and no. ZTMs don’t feature brake pads activated by a pedal as you have in a car. However getting the levers into neutral blocks the wheels, effectively acting the same.
You can also get the regular chokes and kill switches found on most mowers, depending on the model.
A roll bar is present on some models. This protects the operator in the unfortunate event the mower rolls over on uneven terrain.
The roll bar may require to be installed separately sometimes, but it can ease maintenance in the long run by allowing you to turn the mower on one side.
How to maintain a zero turn mower
Regular servicing should be conducted at 6 to 12 months intervals with the dealer. The common opinion is that occasional repairs should likewise be conducted by authorized professionals, otherwise there’s a risk of voiding the warranty.
Regular maintenance, like oil changes, can be left to the owner. Other requirements include cleaning the deck after each use and sharpening the blade when needed. Depending on the warranty, the end-user can be responsible for other procedures.
For example, guides on how to change blades on a zero-turn mower can be found online.
It is very important to drain the gas from the mower before winter storage. Modern gasoline doesn’t last over two weeks because of its many additives.
Our top pick, the Ariens 915223 IKON-X, bears one of the greatest names in the industry and does it justice. This semi-professional machine can serve contractors and residential users alike in a variety of mowing tasks.
It has the performance for medium-to-large jobs and the manageable size for residential use. It is comfortable, resilient, and tough. What’s not to like?
Like the Ariens, the Husqvarna MZ61 gained a great deal of popularity for the surprisingly high amount of value it offers. Big and powerful, our 61-inch pick does just what you would expect from a premium option in its class while sparing you some couple of grand over the competition.
The aptly-named Snapper 360z is ideal for estates of up to 3 acres, no matter the number of obstacles there are to navigate around. Small and relatively light, it’s one of the more affordable options out there but doesn’t cut corners when it comes to quality.
The Ryobi RY48ZTR100 on the other hand, might not offer the best price for its size-class, BUT, this electric model has qualities that gas-powered counterparts can never hope to match — smoothness, low noise level, no expensive and dirty fuel required.
However, in terms of functionality and performance, the Ryobi is more than a match for any mid-grade gas mower.