Best Self-Propelled Lawn Mower Reviews 2020 | OPE Reviews
Deciding on the best self-propelled lawn mower isn’t as easy as it used to be. Do you need commercial or residential quality? Do you want to use gas or batteries for power? How much grass do you need to cut? Are you a mulcher or a bagger?
Having tested dozens of the best walk-behind lawn mowers from entry-level residential to the top professional models, we got our Pro team together to choose our top mowers in a range of scenarios.
Best Self-Propelled Lawn Mower Overall
Honda HRC216HXA 21-inch Commercial Mower
Start with a Honda GXV160 engine, tell the design team to build the best lawn mower they can think of, and you end up with the Honda HRC216HXA . Highlights include a hydrostatic transmission, RotoStop system that lets you take your hands off without turning off the engine, MicroCut twin blades, and more. It’s not just a bunch of hype, either. This mower is powerful and built to a level that stands up to legitimate commercial and possibly even battlefield use.
If you want to save a little money and the Blade Stop feature doesn’t feel like a requirement to you, check out the HRC216HDA mower which drops the price to just $1,079 .
Best Self-Propelled Gas Lawn Mower
As our top overall pick, Honda’s HRC216HXA also ranks highest for gas. While we let it bask in victory, here’s our top-scoring residential gas model:
Cub Cadet SC900 23-inch Self-Propelled Mower
Against its well-known competitors, the Cub Cadet SC900 doesn’t have many faults. It leads in fuel efficiency and cutting area, though it does give up a few points in cutting power (despite having a 196cc engine) and value. In a competitive group, its 23″ deck gives it an edge over most other residential lawn mowers.
Best Self-Propelled Electric Lawn Mower
Commercial: Greenworks Commercial 25-inch Self-Propelled Mower
There aren’t many true commercial mowers with lithium-ion power sources. The Greenworks Commercial 25-inch model gets the nod as the best battery-powered self-propelled lawn mower on the commercial side thanks to its runtime and 25-inch cutting swath.
With two active battery ports available, we were able to run just under 2 hours and cut more than an acre under a moderate load in St. Augustine grass.
Price: Starts at $649 without batteries or charger. Find a dealer near you.
Also Consider: Makita XML08
Makita entered the commercial scene in a big way with its XML08 self-propelled mower . It boasts a sturdy, well-built design and has impressive power considering its 36V power plant.
Price: $849 with 4 batteries and dual-port rapid charger
Residential: EGO 56V Select Cut 21-inch Self-Propelled Mower
The EGO Select Cut mower made waves with it stacked-blade system and earned our pick as the best battery lawn mower on the residential side. Choosing between better mulching or better runtime (both options come in the box), you can select what your priority is.
Though not as powerful as EGO’s Peak Power mower , it still has higher torque to keep those blades turning better than most electric lawn mowers available. It strikes a balance between runtime and power that’s just right for more homeowners.
Price: $449 bare, $549 with 5.0Ah battery and charger
Best Commercial Walk-Behind Mower
Honda still gets our vote for the best commercial walk-behind mower. However, there’s another mower that raised our eyebrows more than most.
YBravo Gen II 25-inch Commercial Mower
After running into issues with other commercial walk-behind mowers, we turned to YBravo 25-inch commercial mower to take care of a 3-acre soggy field that our ZTs only bogged down in. Its Kawasaki 180cc engine kept the blade turning where others simply stalled.
When it’s time to move out of the radio station swamp and you’re going for a more professional look, its cut quality is excellent as well. Available in a 21-inch and the 25-inch model we tested, Ybravo is worth your serious consideration.
Price: $1299 (25-inch model). Find a dealer online.
Best Residential Self-Propelled Lawn Mower
Honda HRN216VLA 21-inch Walk-Behind Mower with Electric Start
The Honda HRN series replaces the massively popular HRR series and isn’t regretting it one bit. At the top of the line with excellent cutting power, cut quality, and a solid build, the Honda HRN216VLA gives you a GCV170 engine, variable speed Smart Drive self-propelled drive, and an electric start.
It’s a tough choice between this and the VYA model that has RotoStop instead of the electric start. We just happen to prefer not pulling the recoil cord. Perhaps Honda will give us both options on the same mower in the future.
In addition to its solid performance, Honda also solved the HRR’s reversing issues and you can pull the mower back without a problem. No matter which model in the HRN216 series you choose, there’s a good chance it’s going to be the best residential self-propelled lawn mower you’ve ever used.
Best Large Walk-Behind Lawn Mower
Toro TimeMaster 30-inch Personal Pace Mower
With 10 ft-lbs of torque delivered from its Briggs & Stratton 223cc engine, the 30-inch Toro TimeMaster is our pick as the best large walk-behind lawn mower.
Not only does it deliver big power to turn its time-saving 30-inch blade, but it also features Toro’s Personal Pace self-propelled drive, and Spin-Stop that lets you stop the blade without shutting off the mower.
It all adds up to big time savings on larger lawns. Grab model 21200 if you want an electric start or the 21199 if you don’t mind a recoil start and want to save $100.
Best Electric Start Self-Propelled Lawn Mower
Cub Cadet SC 500 EQ Signature Cut Self-Propelled Lawn Mower
There’s no doubt an electric start mower is incredibly convenient and there are plenty of good options out there. Our pick for the best electric start self-propelled lawn mower goes to the Cub Cadet SC 500 EQ.
Its 159cc engine gives it solid power to keep its blade speed high, and it has all three discharge options (mulch, bag, side discharge).
What sets it apart from other electric start lawn mowers is it SmartSound Technology—a design that reduces the engine noise without a big drop in performance. If you like to get started on your yard work early, it’s a choice your neighbors will thank you for.
Best Rear-Wheel Drive Self-Propelled Lawn Mower
Honda HRN216VYA 21-inch Self-Propelled Mower
We already mentioned the Honda HRN216 series and we’re bringing it up again. Representing our choice as the best rear-wheel-drive self-propelled lawnmower, the HRN216VYA takes care of business better than most with the rear-wheel advantages of better traction and straighter lines.
It also comes with Honda’s RotoStop system. It’s a design that lets you stop the blade without stopping the engine. Now you can open gates, move debris, empty the bag, or traverse non-grass areas without worrying about the blades turning or having to restart the engine.
Learn more from Honda .
Best All-Wheel Drive Self-Propelled Lawn Mower
Toro 20353 22-inch Personal Pace All-Wheel Drive Mower
AWD mowers are what you turn to for work on slopes and uneven terrain where its possible to have a wheel or two lose traction. For the best all-wheel drive self-propelled lawn mower, we like the Toro 20353 Personal Pace model.
Its 22-inch deck is on the larger size of standard mowers and the Personal Pace system is easy to use once you get used to it. If you switch between mulching and bagging, the mower’s lever system is super-simple.
Packing plenty of power with its 163cc Briggs & Stratton engine, it’s not so much that it destroys the competition. It’s that its performance is excellent and the innovations are genuinely helpful while keeping its price in check.
Best Self-Propelled Lawn Mower for Bagging
Snapper Hi Vac Series Self-Propelled Lawn Mowers
Snapper’s Hi Vac series is designed to have better airflow that pulls grass clippings up and delivers them to the bag, making it our top choice as the best self-propelled lawn mower for bagging. The same airflow also leaves a clean cut and makes it a good mulcher as well.
There are three models in the series. One is a push mower, so it doesn’t really count since we’re focusing on self-propelled models. Regardless, they all pack a Briggs & Stratton Professional Series 190cc engine. For the two self-propelled models, you can choose a recoil start or an electric start for $100 more.
If you already have a mower you love but want better bagging, look for compatible high-lift blade kits. There are plenty around and chances are, there’s one that fits your mower.
Price: $649 (recoil), $799 (electric start)
Best Self-Propelled Mulching Lawn Mower
Toro 21382 21-inch Personal Pace Super Recycler Self-Propelled Mower
Good mulching begins with having the deck design and airflow to keep clippings up in the deck long enough to get chopped into fine pieces by the blade(s). Our pick for the best self-propelled mulching lawn mower is the Toro 21-inch Personal Pace Super Recycler.
Building on the knowledge of their Recycler mowers, a kicker system under the deck works alongside Toro’s mulching blade and clipping accelerators to provide superior mulching.
What we like about the 21382 model, in addition to its mulching, is its Honda GCV160 engine. Other models in the line offer Spin-Stop, electric start, and SmartStow if you don’t mind a different engine.
Learn more from Toro .
Best Walk-Behind Mower for Hills
Husqvarna LC221RH 21-inch Rear-Wheel Drive Mower
We started our search for the best walk-behind mower for hills expecting to award it to an all-wheel-drive model. However, the rear-wheel-drive Husqvarna LC221RH mower stepped up with excellent performance mowing uphill and side-to-side on the slopes of the lake we tested it on.
Featuring a Honda GCV160 engine and excellent fuel efficiency, you can make your mountain a molehill for around $400. Plus, it’s Made in the USA.
Best Self-Propelled Lawn Mower for the Money
Under $400: Troy-Bilt TB290 ES 21-inch Self-Propelled Mower with Electric Start
Troy-Bilt puts together a solid package with an electric start for under $400 to make it our top choice for the best self-propelled lawn mower for the money under $400. In a stiff competition, it’s the electric start that won our team over.
Learn more from Troy-Bilt .
Also Consider: Toro 20379 22-inch High Wheel Self-Propelled Mower
Toro’s 20379 is another excellent 22-inch high-value choice that comes in under $400. While it doesn’t have an electric start, it does sport a Honda GCV 160cc engine and a variable speed drive.
Learn more from Toro .
Under $300: Craftsman M210 21-inch Self-Propelled Mower
Getting a good self-propelled lawn mower for less than $300 is tough. You typically find OEM engines instead of brand names, the power levels drop, and you lose some cut quality. Still, there are some that do the job well.
Our pick for the best walk-behind lawn mower for the money under $300 goes to Craftsman’s M210. It uses a 140cc Briggs & Stratton engine for power. The trade-off is that it’s a single-speed drive and will mulch or bag, but not side discharge.
On a positive note, this is a mower that’s Made in the USA with global materials by folks in Tupelo, MS.
Learn more from Craftsman .
Also Consider: Toro 20377 22-inch Low Wheel Self-Propelled Mower
Toro’s 20377 also makes a good case in the sub-$300 class as a member of the Recycler series. It uses a Kohler 149cc engine with an automatic choke for power and never needs an oil change. Just refill the oil as needed.
It also features a 22-inch deck and variable speed drive.
Learn more from Toro .
Which is the Best Brand of Self-Propelled Lawn Mower?
No one in the self-propelled lawn mower market dominates like Honda. Their engines enjoy a reputation for quality and durability every other manufacturer is shooting for, and their mowers are simply outstanding.
They typically run at a premium, though. Both Honda mowers and Honda-powered mowers are more expensive than similar designs from other brands.
That opens the door for Toro. There are a lot of Toro models we recommend for good reason and hit a wide range from budget-friendly homeowner mowers to commercial zero turns. It’s one of the (if not the top) best-selling brand of walk-behind mowers.
Getting hard sales figures is tough to come by, and it’s always possible we missed the mark. However, we see more Honda and Toro walk-behind mowers on commercial trailers and residential lawns than any other brand.
Best Lawn Mower Buying Guide
Gas vs Battery
Gas power still wins the day when you’re highest priorities are keeping your purchase price down and your power level high. With advancements in battery and motor technology, the OPE world is shifting towards battery-power. It’s cleaner and quieter to run and requires less maintenance.
However, you have to look at premium models to get true gas power, and runtime can be a limiting factor. It’s also less likely you have a service center nearby that can get you back up and running quickly if there’s a problem.
If your lawn is a 1/4-acre or less, there are a lot of battery-powered options available. Once you get beyond that size, you need to consider how many batteries you’ll need and legitimate options really start to thin out once you hit 1/2 an acre.
Take a deeper look at the comparison between gas and battery power in this article.
Commercial vs Residential
This might be better titled “professional vs homeowner” considering there are both commercial and residential professional crews. Regardless, commercial mowers are built with better components and commercial engines, creating a machine that is built to last for years of high-hour daily use.
If you’re a homeowner mowing once a week or so, a good residential mower can still last for 5 or 10 years (or more) if you take care of it. It just uses components and engine designs better fit for occasional use.
If you stay on top of your mowing and cut quality isn’t a high priority, an engine as small as 140cc is likely fine.
Move up to the 160cc–180cc class for better performance when the grass is thicker and taller, or when you want to make sure you get excellent mulching, bagging, and/or clean cuts. The greater power improves lift and is less likely to bog down in thick patches.
When you’re looking at deck sizes beyond 22 inches, you should start looking for engines in the 180cc–200cc range (or higher) to ensure it can keep the RPMs high while it’s cutting such a large swath.
21- or 22-inches is pretty standard for most mowers. Jumping up to a 25-inch or 30-inch mower may seem tempting, but it’s not for everyone.
If your lawn is a 1/4-acre or less, the time you gain with a larger deck might not mean a whole lot of time-savings. Where you really gain some time is on lawns that are a 1/2-acre or more.
Keep in mind, these mowers are heavier. When you have to mow wet or soggy areas, the weight can work against you.
Steel vs Plastic (Poly) Deck
The vast majority of gas mowers have steel decks while battery-powered models have a much higher percentage of plastic poly decks.
Those poly plastic decks are tougher than they look, but they probably won’t hold up as well as steel in the long run. It’s still highly unlikely that you’ll wear through one before it’s time to replace the mower.
However, there’s a whole lot more design flexibility that comes with poly decks, and engineers can do some amazing things to help with airflow that directly affects cut quality along with bagging and mulching efficiency.
Here in Florida, we have a lot of St. Augustine grass that we cut at 3-1/2 inches, so we prefer a mower that has at least a 4-inch maximum deck height.
Depending on what species of grass you have, you might be able to get away with a lower height, but 4-inches is a good all-around benchmark.
On the low end, most of us aren’t cutting golf course greens (you’d use a reel mower for that, anyway), so the minimum deck height usually isn’t an issue.
However, if you use a blade that dethatches or scalps for maintenance or re-seeding, you might want to make sure the deck height gets low enough—typically 1-1/2 inches or less.
Single-point height adjustments are the easiest since you can raise or lower the deck with just one lever. It’s common on battery-powered lawn mowers, but not so much on their heavier gas counterparts.
Part of that is because the single-point mechanisms tend to introduce additional flex into the system and the weight of a gas mower puts more strain on the mechanism. So while we generally prefer single-point, we understand why gas mowers may opt away from them.
Pro Tip: Set the front wheels one notch higher than the rear wheels to improve bagging efficiency on 4-point or 2-point adjustable mowers.
If you’re really OCD, more height adjustments mean more precise cutting. Realistically, most of us are going to find a good height on any mower as long as it hits the maximum and minimum heights we mow at.
Setting the Speed
The type of speed adjustment your self-propelled lawn mower has can make or break your experience. There are pull levers, thumb push levers, full push bars (Toro’s Personal Pace), and iterations on those.
Try it at the dealer before you buy it. If you hate working the mechanism for a couple of minutes, imagine what it’s going to feel like after 30 minutes or an hour.
Front-Wheel Drive, Rear-Wheel Drive, or All-Wheel Drive?
Front-wheel drive lawn mowers are typically the least expensive and work well for even terrain. They also help you turn the easiest since you lift up the drive wheels as you make your turns.
Rear-wheel drive mowers add some cost but create better traction on hills and slopes. They’re particularly good at pushing the mower’s weight uphill where front-wheel drives start to lose traction as they try to pull the weight.
All-wheel drive mowers are the most expensive and generally do the best job on hills, slopes, and uneven terrain. On particularly bumpy areas where it’s likely one or more wheels will lose traction, it’s the best bet.
Larger wheels tend to handle bumps and uneven terrain better than smaller wheels according to manufacturers. However, it’s a claim that Consumer Reports says isn’t really the case.
If you’ve used a gas engine, there’s a good chance you’ve worn out your arm pulling the cord to start it. There’s no doubt that having an electric start on your mower can take away a lot of the frustration.
It won’t make up for poor maintenance, though. A well-maintained mower starts easily on the first or second pull. That begs the question as to whether the electric start is worth an extra hundred dollars.
It’s totally up to you, but if it’s in the budget, we want it.
Mulch, Bag, or Side/Rear Discharge?
Most quality mowers are 3-in-1, meaning you can bag, mulch, or side/rear discharge. Less expensive models often only provide options for bagging and mulching. Which one you choose depends on what type of grass you have, how fast it grows, and your personal preference.
In central Florida where St. Augustine, Zoysia, and Bahia dominate our landscapes, the summer heat and rains make our grass grow incredibly fast. Most of us mulch out of necessity since we almost need a dumpster for the volume of clippings we create.
Most lawn mowers have 3 handle positions you can set. For tall guys like me or average-height guys like Clint, it helps find a more comfortable grip. Some mowers opt for 2, or sometimes just 1 handle position.
How We Test
Fuel efficiency on gas mowers has a very direct effect on your wallet, especially when you’re mowing every day as a Pro.
Our fuel efficiency testing is more than just a runtime calculation. We also take the blade size into consideration and see how much area you can cut on a tank of gas and per gallon of fuel.
There are a couple of ways we test cutting power. The most standardized is to cut a section of grass as high as our Cub Cadet Pro Z 560 will let us and then see how low each mower can cut effectively cut from there.
Another is to simply let the grass grow to 10-inches (which doesn’t take all that long in the Florida summer) and see how far each mower can cut at 2.5 inches at a 2.5 MPH walking speed.
Hills, Slopes, and Uneven Terrain
Sure, it’s Florida and we don’t have many legit hills. But we do have sloped lakesides and ditches to go along with plenty of uneven terrain. We like to see how well our mowers hold wheel traction mowing uphill, downhill, side-to-side, and bumping along.
We look for three major components of cut quality: evenness, mulching size, and bagging efficiency.
Evenness is pretty straightforward. We’re looking for blades that weren’t cut and indications that there wasn’t enough lift to clip all of the blades at the same level.
When mulching, we look at how small the clippings are and if a mower is prone to leaving trails and clumps.
For bagging, we’re want to see how much grass is collected compared to a standard baseline, if the chute tends to clog while we’re cutting, and how much grass is deposited back to the ground.
One of the major benefits of battery-powered mowers is the lower noise levels compared to gas, but that doesn’t mean gas mowers have to be obnoxious. We expect higher levels than battery-powered models and that is typically the case.
To test the noise level, we use our SPL meter and checked the sound on a road away from any houses. With Tom Gaige as our “average” user at 5′ 9″, we measure the decibels as A-weighted, slow response from his ear.
Even though some mowers are quieter than others, we still recommend hearing protection when you’re using a gas model.
By far the biggest feature on these mowers is a self-propel drive. It pretty much neutralizes any weight concerns other than getting it home from the store. But that’s not all there is. See the buying guide above for the common features we look for.
Value is more than just price. We take a broad look at the performance and features compared to the price to determine the value of each mower.
Why You Should Consider a Gas-Powered Lawn Mower
Despite the rise of battery-powered lawn mowers, gas lawn mowers still enjoy a big advantage in power. Where battery-powered models prefer cooler temperatures, shorter grass, and dry grass, gas mowers get the job done no matter what time of day you need to cut.
Yes, they’re louder. Yes, they have emissions (that are reducing with modern small engine technology). However, you can raise your glass to your neighbor who’s using his battery-powered mower at noon while you’re settling in for kickoff in the AC.
Aside from that, running out of fuel means walking back to the garage or trailer to refill instead of 45 minutes to more than 3 hours of waiting for a battery to charge. In the worst case, you make a 10-minute drive to the gas station. Either way, you get larger lawns cut more quickly.
Another advantage is long-term durability. Cordless mowers need battery replacements every 3 to 5 years, and most won’t live longer than 5 years thanks to their more complex electronics. It’s not uncommon for a cheap gas mower to last 5 years with little to no maintenance and good ones to keep working 10 years or more with some basic care.
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