Mowing the lawn is not usually a fun job, but with a cool riding lawn mower, it can be. You might even be able to get your teenager to help! However, not all mowers are ideal for all lawns. You need to choose the mower that is best for your property. Is it flat or hilly? Is it wide open or landscaped? Will you need to use your tractor as a snow plow in the winter, or pull attachments behind it? All of these factors determine the best riding lawn mower for you. We will help you narrow it down with 9 great choices.
First, let’s look at the main types of riding lawn mower.
Lawn Tractor vs Garden Tractor
Lawn tractors are generally the smallest and lightest riding lawn mowers, which is ideal if you don’t have a ton of acreage and if you need to navigate around a lot of trees or other landscaping. A step up in size is the garden tractor, which works wonders on huge properties. Garden tractors are also helpful if you need to utilize them for jobs like tilling or cultivating.
Lawn tractors are meant for lighter duty than garden tractors. They are built with lower torque transmissions, less horsepower, and smaller rear tires. But that doesn’t mean they are mere toys. A lawn tractor is generally still strong enough to tow light equipment such as a cart or spreader. Most lawn tractors can also be used as a snow blower during the winter, but may bog down in heavy drifts.
You can also count on a lawn tractor to handle rough and hilly terrain. The best riding mower for hills is a model with a locking rear differential. Your maximum forward speed will be slowed a bit by this, but it imparts critical traction and stability on grades.
Garden tractors are heavier and therefore better for heavy-duty jobs. Not only can they take down high grass on rough terrain, they can also tow heavy attachments necessary for plowing dirt or snow, tilling, furrowing, and hauling loads.
You get more horsepower with garden tractors, too. Expect an engine of at least 24 horses and large back tires that provide significant ground clearance. Bigger wheels offer better stability on hills. However, if your land contains slopes of greater than 15%, look for a traction control system or locking rear differential on your garden tractor as well.
Zero turn riding lawn mowers differ from traditional mowers in that they have handlebars that control each powered wheel separately, rather than a steering wheel that turns two wheels on an axle. That allows for nimble navigation. ZTR mowers also turn on a dime and have faster top speeds than lawn and garden tractors – typically up to 8 mph.
The downside to ZTR mowers is that they are more expensive and typically are not ideal for towing attachments due to more delicate hydrostatic transmissions. There is a learning curve to operating one, but once mastered, you’ll find that they are highly efficient mowing machines.
A ZTR might be the best choice if you have a large property with a lot of landscaping to navigate. However, ZTRs don’t do as well on hills; you get superior traction on grades with lawn and garden tractors. Still, if you want to use a zero turn mower for hills, make sure you look for that locking rear differential.
Ergonomic Features to Consider
Ergonomic features are ones included in the design of your riding lawn mower to make it easier and more comfortable to operate. Because you will be spending a lot of time on your mower, it is vital that it doesn’t hurt or cause repetitive stress issues. Following are some features to look for.
Full suspension seats
When the shocks wear out in your car, you can tell because the ride suddenly becomes very rough. Riding lawn mowers can also be quite bumpy to ride on, especially if you have rolling terrain across your land. If you get a model with a full suspension seat, it will help to absorb the shock of bumps before your back gets hurt. Over time, being jostled on a mower with no shock absorbers can cause lasting physical damage.
High, padded seatbacks
Not only do you want to minimize jostling, but you also need to feel secure and comfortable in your seat. Some mowers have seats that are basically just a platform. This isn’t great because if you have to constantly engage your back and core muscles just to remain in place on your mower, you will feel every bump more painfully.
At a minimum, choose a mower with a seat that reaches at least to your mid-back, so that you will have lumbar support. Thick padding on the seat is also crucial. Finally, arm rests do a lot to keep you stable upon your mower.
Padded steering wheel
Riding mowers vibrate a lot when the motor is running. One of the places that this can be dangerous to your health is in your hands and wrists. If you spend a long time mowing, these vibrations can cause numbness and eventually lead to nerve damage. When the steering wheel or handlebars are padded, a lot of the vibrations are absorbed and what you actually feel in your body is minimized.
TOP 9 Best Riding Lawn Mower
TOP 9 Best Riding Lawn Mower
Following are in-depth information on 9 well-reviewed riding lawn mowers, representing ZTR models as well as lawn and garden tractors.
* Zero Turn Mowers*
For superior navigation and top speeds, choose a zero turn riding lawn mower.
1 Swisher ZTR2454BS Response 24 HP 54" Zero Turn Mower
This ZTR from Swisher offers superior navigational control and a huge 54” cutting deck (with 3 Gator mulching blades) to make short work of your mowing job. The engine is a powerful 24 HP Briggs & Stratton coupled with a hydrostatic transmission.
You’ll find that this mower is not only highly responsive but also quite fast, with an 8 mph top speed in both forward and reverse. Swisher is so proud of their navigational controls that it has patented its Rapid Response Control System. There are two joystick-style controls that protrude from either side of the seat. It can take some getting used to, but you’ll be zipping around your landscaping in no time.
Achieve the perfect grass height between 1.5” and 4.5” with the adjustable mower deck. Toggle easily between cutting heights from a seated position with the foot-assisted deck lift. The engine is powered by gas, but it is backed up with an electric assist starter.
Not only does this Swisher excel at cutting grass, but it is loaded with ergonomic features as well. These include a full seatback, a cup holder, and a storage bin. Unlike other ZTR mowers, this one is actually equipped to tow or push attachments with hitches on both the front and back.
79 x 63 x 45 inches
3 year warranty
- High top speed and 360 degree turns
- Plenty of ergonomic features
- Large cutting deck
- Large; requires a lot of storage space
- Requires regular maintenance
- Fairly costly
2 Ariens IKON-X 52" Zero Turn Mower 23hp Kawasaki FR691 Series #915223
Another well-reviewed zero turn lawn mower is the Ariens IKON-X. Constructed out of strong 10-gauge steel and fitted with a powerful 23 HP/726 cc Kawasaki FR V-Twin engine, it is a purchase that you can count on to last. The large 52” cutting swath is achieved with offset blades so that you can cut the grass right up to the edges. Set the cutting height with a dial that controls the 4-point dual arm deck hanging system.
As powerful as this mower is, there are a couple of downsides. One is that it has relatively high emissions and therefore is not for sale in California. You also won’t find a grass collection bag available. If you can make your peace with those issues, users describe the results as “like a carpet.”
You will enjoy the ergonomic high-backed padded seat with armrests. The handlebars are also padded for comfort and arch up over the user’s legs while seated. This may make it easier to learn the trick to navigation because at least your hands are in a familiar position, extended in front of you.
78 x 41 x 64 inches
3 year warranty
- Offset blades support edge mowing
- Beautiful carpet-like results
- Zero turn radius
- No bag available
- Mulching kit sold separately
- Poorer fuel efficiency
3 Husqvarna MZ61, 61 in. 27 HP Briggs & Stratton Zero Turn Riding Mower
This Husqvarna mower features a powerful combination of utility and ergonomics. It cuts a huge 61” swath on each pass and has a three-blade system that slices cleanly through grass without shredding it. The engine is a strong 27 HP Briggs and Stratton Endurance V-Twin. Husqvarna offers the most powerful engine and largest cutting deck of any model on our list.
You will also appreciate the pedal-assisted cutting deck lift that allows precise control over the grass height right from the driver’s seat. The frame is solid, with an oversized chassis that supports oversized tires for superior strength and a smooth ride. The Husqvarna also has a commercial-grade hydraulic system.
There are several ergonomic extras included. For starters, you can ride comfortably in the seat with a high seatback and armrests. The steering levers feature rubber isolators for significantly less operator fatigue. One thing you might miss is a spring-mounted seat, so this may not be the best riding lawn mower for rough terrain. On the other hand, the hydrostatic transmission keeps the ride as smooth as possible with no shudder when changing gears.
You do get a rear mounted collection bag with your purchase. It can hold 9 bushels of clippings before it needs to be emptied. Husqvarna has made maintenance easy via the removable foot pan, which reveals the deck belt pulleys and spindles. You will also appreciate the hours meter that lets you know how long the mower has run and when service is due.
This mower is great for personal use but is also classified as an entry-level commercial zero turn mower. You get a three year warranty for personal use, but that reduces to one year if you use it commercially.
75.5 x 76 x 42 inches
3 year warranty (personal); 1 year commercial
- Huge 61” cutting swath
- Handles and maneuvers beautifully
- Comfortable seat with armrests
- May slide on steep downgrades
- Skid marks possible with inexperienced users
- No low gas indicator or washout hose connectors
4 Snapper 2691319 360z Mower, Riding, Zero Turn, Red
Another ZTR mower that can haul light attachments is from Snapper. It actually comes with an integrated cargo bed behind the seat with a weight limit of 50 pounds. There are also rails affixed that allow for the attachment of some aftermarket ATV accessories. The entire body is sturdily constructed with a fully welded steel frame, thick-walled front axle, and ball bearings in the caster spindles.
The ReadyStart technology makes it easy to fire up the 23 HP Briggs & Stratton Professional series engine, and the hydrostatic transmission provides a smooth ride. The cutting height can be adjusted between 1.5” to 4.5” with 13 stop positions for a reliably beautiful result. This is easy to manage with the commercial-style, foot operated lift.
There are a lot of ergonomic extras to appreciate. This ZTR has a high seatback as well as dual cup holders plus a handy storage bin for keys or cell phones. The larger cargo area directly behind the seat is great for hauling supplies as well. The 48” cutting deck is sufficient, though a bit smaller than many other models on our list. However, a smaller cutting deck can be ideal if you have a lot of landscaping to on your property.
72 x 59 x 42 inches
3 year warranty
- Powerful engine and smooth hydrostatic transmission
- Plenty of cargo space
- Manufacturer is great about honoring warranty
- No hour counter
- Bagger is somewhat awkward to install
- Optional mulching kit may leave a strip that needs a second pass
5 Troy-Bilt Mustang 54 25HP 54-Inch Zero-Turn Mower
Troy-Bilt offers a solid ZTR mower called Mustang. It is designed with a smooth ride in mind. The hydrostatic transmission is coupled with a 25 HP Briggs & Stratton Intek Twin Cylinder Engine. The cutting deck is 54” and is supported by 4 caster wheels for additional stability. The floating front axle and high-back seat with dual suspension springs complete the picture.
The Electric Power Take-Off (PTO) feature gets the engine fired up and the blades engaged. The maximum forward speed of the Troy-Bilt is 7 mph and the top reverse speed is 2.5 mph, but the blades stay engaged in both directions. There are 8 cutting heights to choose from.
When it comes to routine maintenance, the Dual Deck Wash port makes it easy to keep the mower clean. Built-up grass clippings and dirt are easily rinsed away by attaching a standard garden hose. Another worthy addition is the fuel gauge, as not all riding mowers let you know when the fuel is running low.
This Troy Bilt riding mower comes with a generous 3-year limited warranty on the internal parts for personal use. You also get limited lifetime warranty on the frame.
83.5 x 35.5 x 60.8 inches
3 year warranty
- Dual hydrostatic transmission
- Incredibly smooth ride
- Integrated deck washout port
- Collection bag is sold separately
- Lower top speed in reverse
- No armrests
* Lawn & Garden Tractors*
Your basic riding lawn mower can handle rougher terrain than a zero turn model, and it can tow or push attachments as well.
6 Craftsman T135 18.5 HP Briggs & Stratton 46-Inch Gas Powered Riding Lawn Mower
So while zero turn mowers deliver the most nimble handling, a regular lawn tractor may actually handle better on hilly terrain. And if you don’t have a ton of landscaping, there is really no need to shell out extra money for a ZTR.
This Craftsman riding mower has an 18.5 HP Briggs & Stratton gas engine, a 46” cutting deck, and CVT foot pedal transmission. It has a few features that make it ideal for rough terrain. First, there are 15” front wheels paired with 20” rear wheels, providing extra clearance when you mow over bumps. The tires come with deep treads for even more traction that won’t tear up turf.
Often, standard lawn and garden tractors don’t keep the cutting blades engaged in reverse, but this Craftsman does. It is a helpful feature that means you rarely have to cover ground twice. That’s great, but you won’t be in a rush to finish due to the built-in ergonomic features.
Comfort-added features include a mid-back seat that provides crucial lumbar support. The seat is mounted with a spring suspension system to absorb the shock of rolling over rough terrain. You can grip the steering wheel comfortably through padding designed to reduce the vibration taken by your hands and wrists.
70 x 47 x 35.5 inches
2 year warranty
- Keeps cutting even in reverse
- Excellent traction
- Easy to clean out and maintain
- Foot pedal is stiff
- Cutting deck is on the smaller side
- Seat supports only up to mid-back
7 Troy-Bilt 540cc Briggs & Stratton Intek Automatic 46-Inch Riding Lawnmower
This Troy Bilt riding mower is comparable to the Craftsman in many features, though the Briggs & Stratton Intek engine is slightly more powerful at 19 HP. A single cylinder CVT automatic foot pedal transmission, 46” cutting deck, and 15” front wheels paired with 20” rear wheels complete the structure.
Like the Craftsman, you can mow in reverse with this model. There is a mid-back seat coupled with a soft touch steering wheel for ergonomic comfort. A lever on the dash controls the deck height; choose from 5 different positions to get the best cut. The “step through” frame makes it just as easy to mount and dismount from either side.
The Troy-Bilt tops out at 5.2 miles per hour, which is admittedly slower than ZTR models. But the cut is great and the deck washout port makes maintenance easy. This mower comes with a 2 year limited warranty.
69.8 x 46 x 35.5 inches
2 year warranty
- Mows in reverse
- Nice ergonomic features
- Good traction
- CVT transmission a bit more finicky than hydrostatic
- Relatively slow top speed
- Limited special features
8 Husqvarna YTH24V48 24 HP Yard Tractor, 48-Inch
If you are looking for a lawn or garden tractor with lots of power and features, consider this Husqvarna model. The engine is a robust 24 HP Briggs & Stratton V-Twin paired with a fast hydrostatic pedal transmission for a smooth ride.
A really nice extra feature that you won’t find on many riding lawn mowers is cruise control. You may not always want to use it, especially when working around landscaping or on rough terrain, but it can make your life much easier on flat sections and shorten overall mowing time.
You get a clean cut every time with the Air Induction technology designed to improve airflow through the deck. This lifts grass blades before they are cut and keeps the engine healthier to boot.
The Husqvarna has some nice ergonomic features as well. The seat comes just to the mid-back, but it also has arm rests to improve comfort and balance. Even better, the seat’s distance from the wheel can be adjusted to accommodate people of different heights. The steering wheel has a padded grip to reduce vibrations felt in your hands and wrists.
For all this, the Husqvarna is a surprisingly small riding lawn mower at only 200 pounds. However, the power of the engine makes it strong enough to tow a range of accessories. With all of the power, performance, and ergonomics of this mower in a relatively compact package, it could be the perfect choice.
69.3 x 59.8 x 41.4 inches
3 year warranty
- Lightweight and compact yet powerful
- Adjustable seat with arm rests
- Cruise control
- Reverse pedal can be difficult to push
- The mandrels/spindles are aluminum rather than steel
- Difficult to get service under the warranty
9 Ryobi 38 inches 100 Ah Battery Electric Rear Engine Riding Lawn Mower RY48111
And now for something a little bit different. Many push mowers are battery powered, but this Ryobi is a brand alone in terms of a battery-powered riding mower. Generally speaking, batteries aren’t powerful enough to reliably move a vehicle as heavy as a tractor. And indeed, this model is heavy at 595 pounds. But four large, deep cycle batteries provide the power and the battery life necessary to take down a large property.
This flashy acid green and black mower charges through a standard 120 volt outlet. A full charge provides about 2.5 hours of runtime. With a 38” cutting deck, you should be able to accomplish a full 2.5 acres of mowing. There are 3 brushless motors that contribute to the effectiveness of this mower.
Battery-powered mowers have their drawbacks, but they are undoubtedly the more environmentally-friendly option. They also run nearly silently, making it possible to mow in the early morning or evening without driving your neighbors crazy. Ryobi has added LED headlights to this tractor to make that even easier. More than just your neighbors’ comfort, though, the under-70 dB sound level will keep you much more comfortable as you mow.
There are 12 stop positions for the cutting deck with settings between 1.5” - 4.5” to customize the grass height. This mower also has cruise control, which in the case of a battery powered machine, goes a long way toward preserving battery life and extending your run time between charges. If you don’t need the full 2.5 hours of battery life to mow your lawn, you can also charge your mobile device with the built-in USB charger.
63 x 46 x 38 inches
3 year warranty
- Long battery life for a mower
- Environmentally friendly
- Quiet operation, headlights allow for night mowing
- Bumpy ride; no suspension seat
- Reverse motion is a bit jerky
- Factory tires are lower end
Regular Riding Mower Maintenance
There are certain types of maintenance that are important to perform at the beginning of each cutting season. Examples include having the blades sharpened and changing the spark plugs and air filter. It’s also good, at the end of the season, to drain the gas and oil before putting the mower in storage.
There are additional tasks that are important to do before each use throughout the season. For safety’s sake, please attend to the following.
* Steps to Take Before Each Mow
- Check all shields and deflectors to verify that they are in place and undamaged. Replace damaged or worn parts.
- Ensure proper inflation of the tires.
- Brush away any accumulated dust or grime, especially from the areas around the fuel tank and oil compartment.
- Check fuel and oil levels; top up if necessary.
- Tighten any loose screws or bolts.
* Safety note
Disconnect the battery or spark plug wires before performing any work on the internal components.
Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Lawn
So you’ve found the perfect lawn mower and are ready to get to work, right? Go for it – just remember these pointers for mowing to keep that grass thick and healthy.
A scalped lawn occurs when the grass is cut all the way down to the turf, exposing the ground underneath. Scalped patches are unsightly and allow weeds to grow and spread. Scalping tends to occur when you have uneven terrain but don’t adjust the cutting deck height as you mow to accommodate that.
But even if you’re not scalping your lawn, be careful not to cut your grass too short. Grass that consistently has very short blades won’t develop a healthy root system. That makes it more prone to damage caused by drought or extreme heat.
Keep Mower Blades Sharp
Grass is pretty soft, but it still requires a sharp blade for a clean cut. When the blade on your mower dulls, it tears grass blades rather than cuts them. That can create a ragged appearance of your lawn. Those torn blades also allow pests and plant diseases easy access, which can simply ravage your grass.
A clue that your cutting blade has become dull is when the grass develops a whitish or brown hue. But rather than wait until the lawn is suffering, plan to routinely sharpen your mower blades a couple of times each season.
Leave Shaded Grass Longer
Like almost all green plants, grass uses photosynthesis for nourishment. It requires sun to stay healthy, but is very good at surviving on limited amounts. However, that job is difficult for blades to manage if they are cut too short.
Longer grass has more surface area upon which to receive sun rays, so the process of photosynthesis is easier even if the light is filtered or limited. If your lawn is shady, help the grass stay healthier by leaving a bit more length after a mow.
Only Mow Dry Grass
There are a few problems with mowing wet grass. Wet blades clump together and that will prevent an even cut across your entire property. Also, if the soil is really wet, your grass tends to be ripped out by the roots instead than cut. And finally, wet grass clippings notoriously stick to everything, including mower blades and other mechanical parts. That has the potential to jam up the works.
Vary Your Mowing Pattern
Riding mowers are heavy, and when you mow in the exact same pattern every time, that weight causes compacted earth where grass will struggle to survive. Much like the high-traffic patterns in your indoor carpets, you will eventually create stripes in the lawn where healthy grass no longer grows. To avoid this, simply vary your mowing pattern each time you go out.
Larger lawns require a riding mower, unless you are a glutton for punishment and want to be mowing your lawn all day long. Whether you choose a ZTR or a standard lawn or garden tractor depends on the terrain of your property as well as your budget. ZTR mowers are more expensive but they maneuver really well once you get the method down. More affordable lawn and garden tractors, on the other hand, need a good deal of room to turn around but may serve as an ideal lawn mower for steep banks. Whatever your property demands, we hope we have shown you the best riding lawn mower to tackle it!