If you have a large area to cover or want to tackle hills and tricky terrain, a rider lawn mower is the best way to mow your lawn quickly and with less effort. Known to some as tractor lawn mowers, rider lawn mowers are more expensive than the best gas lawn mowers and robotic lawn mowers on the market, but they’re also more powerful and larger. If you’re a professional, or are sick of spending hours trying to achieve a perfectly striped lawn, the best riding lawn mowers will help with tricky tasks such as sloped, rough ground.
There is a huge variety of rider lawn mowers to choose from. Entry-level rear riding lawn mowers bridge the gap from a standard push along lawn mower to a lawn tractor, whereas lawn tractors are high-end, with pedal operation for maximum control. To make sense of it all, you may want to check out our guide to how to pick the right rider lawn mower for you, and to find out what your need to consider when shopping for a rider lawn mower, read our guide on what to consider when buying a rider lawn mower. The John Deere E180 is our top pick for versatility, but we’ve got ride-on lawn mowers for value, size, and professional-level lawn finishes in our roundup of the best riding lawn mowers. Keep reading to find out about our top picks.
1. John Deere E180: Best rider lawn mower overall
This machine makes quick and easy work of cutting any size yard, and it easily navigates terrain other mowers may struggle to traverse. It features a front-mounted V-twin engine that produces up to 26 horsepower and can reach speeds up to 5.5 miles per hour. The fuel gauge sits in plain view as you mow so you know exactly how much gas you have left.
The John Deere E180 has an impressively wide cutting path of 54 inches. You can adjust the blades to 11 different height positions, anywhere between 1 inch and 4 inches, and it has a turning radius of 18 inches. These features make it easy to customize the cut to your lawn so it looks just the way you want. The machine’s hydrostatic transmission is pedal-operated, so you don’t have to take your hands off the steering wheel while you drive. This John Deere mower also has a cruise control that lets you set the speed you want to mow at. Both of these features limit distractions, so you can focus on your lawn and not the lawn mower.
- Read our John Deere E180 Lawn Tractor Review
2. Troy-Bilt TB30 R: Best value rider lawn mower
An inexpensive riding lawn mower doesn’t really exist, but if you don’t have thousands of dollars to spend, the Troy-Bilt TB30 R is definitely worth considering. With a lower price than many rider lawn mowers, it’s more accessible to an average homeowner. It’s good for small- to medium-size lawns and has most, but not all, of the features we look for.
This mower features a rear-mounted 344cc engine and can reach speeds up to 4.25 miles per hour. It has a 30-inch blade, which isn’t the longest we saw but more than long enough for most users’ needs. It’s a bit slower and doesn’t cut as wide a path as our top pick, but the TB30 R’s power and maneuverability make it a good compromise, especially for its price.
It also has some convenience features, chief among them the FastAttach accessory system that lets you quickly attach accessories such as baggers and mulch kits. However, these accessories don’t come with the mower – you have to buy them separately. We liked this model’s six-speed, shift-on-the-go transmission, which allows you to quickly shift gears without stopping to adjust the clutch. Its operator-controlled reverse system even makes it possible to mow the grass while in reverse.
3. Cub Cadet RZT-L: Most powerful rider lawn mower
Storage space for large equipment such as a riding lawn mower is often limited, so you may be left with the choice of sacrificing power and utility for a machine that has a smaller frame. With the Cub Cadet RZT-L, you can have all three. This riding lawn mower is compact yet still delivers power, speed and versatility. You’ll pay a premium, however: it is one of the most expensive riding lawn mowers we evaluated.
This machine is constructed of very durable materials. Its 12-gauge steel body enhances protection against the occasional collision with rocks, trees and other lawn debris. The drive deck uses a Kevlar belt, which increases efficiency, performance and lifespan. The deck also incorporates a float system that keeps your mower level as you travel across rough terrain or inclines.
One of the things we look for in this category is zero-turn technology, which this lawnmower boasts. It can navigate around trees, shrubs and other obstacles without leaving uncut grass around them. The engine found in this lawn mower is impressive for a machine of its size. You get a 725-cc Koehler engine that delivers 23 horsepower and reaches a speed of 7 mph. Some of the full-size lawn mowers can’t compete with those specs. It also has a 2.8 gallon gas tank, which is large for a compact mower.
4. Husqvarna YTH18542: Best small rider lawn mower
Compact lawn mowers that produce high quality results are hard to come by. In our evaluation, the Husqvarna YTH1852 is one of the most compact, yet powerful machines we reviewed.
It’s smaller than most riding lawn mowers, but it has several features that put it on par with the best models we saw. It has a 42-inch cutting width, which is about double what you get with a traditional push lawn mower. It also features a unique air induction system that enhances airflow through the deck, resulting in a cleaner and more consistent cut. It is constructed out of flat-stock steel, which stands up to harsh weather. Finally, it has a great cruise control feature that keeps a consistent speed during your mow.
5. Exmark Lazer Z: Best large rider lawn mower
If you have a landscaping or lawn care company, you need a riding lawn mower that will work every single day for years without fail, and one that you can expect to perform at the highest level consistently.
Exmark Lazer Z X-Series is the perfect fit for such a situation. It has 12 models to choose from that feature powerful engines and solid, heavy duty construction that can withstand a daily beating. Additionally, they utilize eMark’s unique RED technology.
It has on-board computer that helps different parts of the machine communicate with each other and optimize the performance based on what’s happening at the moment. It monitors engine temperature, oil pressure and electrical components. If there’s ever a problem, it will automatically correct or shut the machine down if it gets too dangerous.
How we picked the best ride on mower
As we evaluated each mower, we accounted for things like speed, cutting width, overall design, engine power and transmission type. Since these are very expensive machines, we also considered price, so we could find the best riding lawn mowers that offer the greatest value.
Our top choice had a favorable balance among all of these criteria. While we believe it is the best riding lawn mower for most people, it isn’t necessarily the best fit for kind of terrain or purpose. For example, if you own a lawn care business, you need a machine that is built to handle more than the weekly mow.
Every model we feature was subject to scrutiny based on its specifications, feature set, and feedback from real-life users. Our final choices represent the best riding lawn mower each brand offers.
We also reached out to professionals who use riding lawn mowers on a daily basis. We spoke to Steve Hough of Hough Landscaping, who has used a dozen different types of riding lawn mowers for more than two decades, about what he looks for when he buys a mower for his business.
When he selects a new riding mower for his service, Mr Hough considers productivity, price, and the lifespan of the machine. Other considerations include serviceability, reliability and down time. For professional situations he prefers eXmark machines because they’re lower priced and functional.
However, for his personal use he does prefer John Deere because “It's been a trusted name across multiple generations; always reliable, high-quality service from the dealer, and eliminates a lot of headaches.”
We've identified criteria that can help you select the best riding mower for your projects. Speed, cutting width, zero-turn design, engine placement and transmission are key factors when determining which one is right for you.