Published March 17, 2017
Every year Consumer Reports tests a new batch of gas and electric walk-behind mowers at its test lawn in Fort Myers, Fla. This year we bagged more than 5,000 pounds of grass clippings as part of that effort and discovered that not every lawn mower measures up to our cutting, mulching, and bagging tests.
Though even the lowest-rated tractors and riders we tested performed passably, several walk-behind mowers left ugly clumps in their wake and scored 50 or lower on CR's 100-point scale. Here are the best and worst in each category of walk-behind mowers from our tests:
Among gas push mowers, the Cub Cadet SC100 delivers impressive mowing in mulching and side-discharge modes, and CR's test engineers noted that it handles easily. At $250, it's not only the top gas push mower in our ratings but also one of the least expensive, earning it the mantle of a CR Best Buy.
Worst Gas Push Mower: The Craftsman 37420, $200. The Craftsman performed well in our mulching test, but its bagging and side-discharging capabilities were only adequate. It's less expensive than the Cub Cadet, but not so much so that you should consider it. For a tool you could use for a decade or more, we advise spending the extra $50 for a top performer.
The Ariens Razor 911173 is the only gas push mower in our tests to earn perfect marks for bagging. But even if you usually let your grass clippings lie—either expelling them through a side discharge or mulching them—it's nice to have a mower that's adept at collecting them. That's because if you miss a cut and your grass gets extra shaggy, you can pop on the collection bag and mow your lawn in a single pass rather than trying to mulch your way through the tall grass and leaving clumps behind.
Worst Gas Push Mower for Bagging: Troy-Bilt TB110, $200. The Troy-Bilt struggled to bag clippings in our tests and didn't do much better in other cutting modes. If collecting clippings is a must for you and the Ariens seems too pricey, keep in mind that most of the other 10 gas push mowers in our ratings are still a notch better than this model.
For performance that's on par with the best gas model, the top-of-the-line Ego LM2101 excels in all three cutting modes and is exceptionally easy to use. Plus it's quiet, producing only 67 decibels at 25 feet—most gas push mowers in our ratings are almost twice as loud. In the garage it folds flat for easy storage. The mower's lithium-ion battery packs enough power to cut at least 1/4 acre of grass on one charge, and it can be used to power an entire suite of outdoor tools from Ego, including a leaf blower, string trimmer, chain saw, and even a snow blower, all of which CR recommends.
Worst Electric Push Mower: Stihl RMA 370, $690. Despite drawing power from a lithium-ion battery, the Stihl feels like a throwback to the early days of electric mowers. It's pricey, it doesn't cut particularly well, and the deck is only 15 inches wide. Better electrics, including the Ego, now feature 21-inch decks—the same as gas—so you can finish cutting faster.
Spending $400 on a lawn mower you still have to push may not seem like a bargain, but the Echo CLM-58V4AH saves you $100 over the Ego and cuts really well. What you give up is side-discharge cutting—this model only mulches or bags. As with all electric mowers, the high up-front cost is offset over time because it requires no oil, gas, or routine maintenance beyond having the blade sharpened.
Worst Budget Electric Push Mower: Earthwise 60220, $300. Unlike almost all of its competitors, which rely on more potent lithium-ion batteries, this model uses an outdated lead-acid battery, which isn't nearly as powerful. That results in lackluster, underpowered cutting, particularly if you try to bag your clippings. And you can't use the battery to power other outdoor tools, as you can with most lithium-ion powered models.
Self-propelled mowers power their own wheels. That's nice if you have more than a quarter acre to cut or if you have hills in your yard, because you won't have to wear yourself out pushing a mower around. Honda's self-propelled gas mowers are in a class of their own. Sitting at the front of that class is the Honda HRX2175VYA. It earned perfect marks in every cutting test we threw its way, and it's easy to maneuver, start, and store. The one cause for pause is price—for a few hundred dollars more you can trade up to a rear-engine rider, a class of smaller, light-duty riding mower that allows you to ride and cut, which is nice if your lawn is one-half acre or more.
Worst Gas Self-Propelled Mower: Troy-Bilt TB240, $330. Though this Troy-Bilt is well priced for this category, it struggled to bag clippings and provides performance more on par with most push mowers. That might be adequate if you have a small, hilly yard, but for lawns larger than a quarter acre, we'd advise spending a bit more on a machine that's up to the task.
For just over half the cost of our top-scoring Honda, the Toro Recycler Smartstow 20340 provides top-rated mulching and side-discharge cutting. If you prefer to bag clippings, performance is only so-so. But this model is easy to maneuver, and the handle collapses and folds flat, allowing you to store the mower upright to save space in a garage or shed.
Worst Budget Gas Self-Propelled Mower: Cub Cadet SC500Z 12AQC62J, $430. This model turned in solid cutting, particularly when used to mulch clippings. But it struggled to bag and costs a bit more than the Toro, even though it scores almost 20 points lower.
If you have a large, level yard, or a small lot that's hilly or sloped, the Ego LM2102SP is a solid choice—particularly if you're looking to avoid the hassle of dealing with gas and oil. Cutting quality is just a notch below the very best gas self-propelled mowers, but the Ego more than makes up for it with easy maneuverability. And it starts effortlessly. If your yard is hilly or larger than a quarter acre, you'll need to splurge on a second battery to get the job done without stopping to charge the battery.
Worst Electric Self-Propelled Mower: Earthwise 60318, $685. In our tests the Earthwise didn't cut well and really struggled to bag clippings. And unlike the lithium-ion battery found on the Ego, this model uses the older, lead-acid type, which means it can't be used to power other tools in your shed.
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