What’s the best top rated zero turn mower for 2021? Our main goal in writing this guide is choosing mowers that offer you the best value, reliability and proof of customer satisfaction via a long list of customer reviews that you can’t argue with — well, you can, but ultimately the average rating of the crowd is far more valuable than one individual opinion. Think about that point for a moment. Everyone has an opinion but we, at Chainsaw Journal, are interested in what the consensus of customers think.
Let’s get started and lay the groundwork to help you make the smartest decision for your specific property needs — and budget.
Intro : Zero Turn Mowers
If you have a large lawn with lots of ground to cover (0.5 acres and above), a riding mower is definitely worth considering. It will save you tons of money and time, while making the lawn-mowing experience enjoyable. There are two main types of riding mowers :
- Lawn Tractors: similar in appearance to a regular tractor, these have cutting decks underneath the chassis and can even be equipped with attachments such as tillers, snowblowers, vacuums, etc.
- Zero Turn Mowers: faster than lawn tractors and more maneuverable, but not as versatile since you can’t attach extra equipment.
Both have their unique strengths, as well as weaknesses. This article is focused on zero turn mowers, which happen to have an edge in the speed department. Plus, they are more maneuverable compared to lawn tractors. But there are situations in which you definitely should go for a lawn tractor instead of a ZTR (Zero Turn Radius) mower. I will explain those situations and tell you about the pros and cons of both designs. After all, you want the best machine to keep your lawn looking great. And a zero turn mower is pretty much the cream of the crop when it comes to riding lawnmowers. ZTR mowers are available in a variety of sizes, packing all sorts of unique features based on brand and model.
Cutting speed alone isn’t enough to decide whether a ZTR mower is right for you. Depending on the climate and terrain in your area you might want a ZTR mower with certain unique features that suit your specific needs. The structural durability of a ZTR mower’s cutting deck should be considered before making a purchase, as a lot of the cheaper models use stamped steel decks which can easily bend and crack if you hit a bump or rock. Rider comfort should also be considered, as you’ll spend anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour driving your mower every week (depending on property size). Some high- end ZTR mowers and lawn tractors come with coil over suspension and seats with lumbar support. This is especially useful on hilly terrain or bumpy ground, because your mower will absorb all those shocks and you can focus on mowing grass.
Maybe you want a riding mower with headlamps because you often mow in low light conditions (like in winter when the sun sets early). Or perhaps a cupholder to place your beverage as you mow the lawn on a hot summer day. Automatic parking brakes are also a useful feature to have, they make mounting and dismounting your zero turn mower a lot easier.
Finally, you should consider the size of your ZTR mower’s cutting deck. Larger cutting decks mean longer blades, and you cover more ground with fewer passes. However, bigger isn’t always better. A wider deck means you can’t maneuver around obstacles such as trees, flowerbeds, rocks, etc. as precisely as you want to. So you’ll have to make some finishing touches with a walk- behind mower, which ends up wasting time. Some lower end riding mowers have a wide deck but a weak engine, so they will cut slower compared to a mower with a smaller deck but larger engine. With all that said, let’s get into the reviews for some of the top rated zero turn mowers currently available. I have selected these models based on brand reputation, build quality, customer reviews, performance, and ease of use. You are sure to find a zero turn mower in here which suits your needs, as I have included everything from small and affordable, to large and powerful.
💡 These Zero Turn Mowers REVIEWED below are all available at Tractor Supply in which we are an affiliate of. We’re here to help you make an intelligent decision. If you decide to make a purchase it is no extra cost to you to use our links. Although, using our links generates revenue, enabling us to create more articles, which is provided free to all of our readers. It’s a Win-Win for all sides.
👍 One of the great things about Tractor Supply is that you can finance large purchases, such as these mowers. It’s a nice option to have if you need it.
Reviews | Top Rated Zero Turn Mowers
Cub Cadet Ultima ZT1 series / 17AREACS010 (42″)
👍 Have it DELIVERED or you can PICKUP in STORE / Contact-free, Curbside
FEATURES (17AREACS010) / 42″ Model
- 42″ Stamped 13-gauge steel cutting deck with smooth arc Dual-blades, cut overlap and deep dome deck design.
- 22 HP 725cc professional-grade KOHLER 7000 Series V-twin OHV engine. Starts quick and reliably. Smooth, quiet operation
- Open frame design and hinged/removable floor pan. Quick and easy access to the deck and engine.
- Dual-LED Headlights : Easy to see at night
- Dual Hydro-Gear EZT-2200 dual hydrostatic rear-wheel transmission
- 7 mph Fwd / 3.5 mph Reverse — zero-turn controlled ground speeds
- 3.5 gal. fuel tank capacity to keep you mowing and minimize time loss for refueling needs
- Automotive-inspired, ergonomic, fully adjustable premium 18 in. high-back seat and a durable, advanced polymer seat suspension system optimizes comfort & reduces fatigue
- Deck Height Adjustment Foot pedal with spring assist creates the perfect cut with 15 Positions
- Spindle Construction Sealed cast aluminum housing (maintenance-free)
- Cutting Height 1 in. – 4.5 in. leads to a precise event cut
- Deck Wash SmartJet deck wash system provides high pressure water that cleans out grass and debris build-up under the deck
- Lap Bar / Steering Wheel Control 3- way adjustable ergonomic lap bar design with integrated parking brake, and Mow-in-Reverse. Provides comfort with a simple operation
- Rear Tires 20″ x 8.8″ Turf Master premium rear tires offer excellent traction, minimize turfing and provide a better ride on uneven ground at higher speeds
- Front Tires 11″ x 6.5″ smooth tread front wheels pivot 180 degrees without turf damage
- PTO Engagement Electronic fingertip blade engagement PTO allows for smooth operation of the deck or attachments
- Frame High-strength, continuous square 2 in. x 2 in. tubular steel frame with fully E-Coat lower frame and Triple Guard Corrosion Defense System protects against wear and tear.
- Front Axle / Yokes Fixed 2 in. x 2.5 in. fully welded tubular steel axle (e-coated) / 1/4 in. steel yokes provide greater durability
Series OVERVIEW —
Cub cadet makes some really awesome riding lawn mowers for residential use, and they feature quality components at an affordable price tag. Their ZT1 series of residential zero turn mowers has become quite popular with homeowners due to its comfortable ride quality and simple, yet rugged design. Today I will take a look at the 54” and 42” models within the ZT1 lineup. They have 4 different deck sizes- 42”, 46” 50”, and 54”. In terms of features, all 4 share the same technology and basic frame structure with the primary differences being deck size and engine model.
Cub cadet offers a great 3- year warranty on these mowers. So if anything breaks down or doesn’t function as promised, you can always load it up in the back of a trailer and take it to their service center. The frame itself carries a lifetime warranty, and is constructed from a highly durable 2” x 2” tubular steel structure. All ZT1 mowers have a super comfy adjustable high- back seat, you can move it forward or backwards by turning a simple knob. There are no armrests, but you can add those through aftermarket attachments. Oh, and you also get a nice little place on the right side where you can store your cup of coffee.
Cub Cadet Ultima ZT1-54 / 54” / 17AREACM010
- Equipped with an 11-Gauge 54 in. fabricated (Welded) triple-blade high lift deck with reinforced leading edges that results in finer clippings, fewer clumps, reduced stragglers and increased evenness, protected by the Cub Cadet triple guard corrosion defense system with e-coat and a lifetime warranty
- 24HP/725cc Kohler 7000 Series V-Twin OHV 4-Cycle Engine, V-twin cylinders reduce vibration for a smoother ride, Designed to run cooler and cleaner for longer, Delivers more power while decreasing fuel consumption
- Dual Hydro-Gear 2200 (EZT) Hydrostatic Drive System, Fan cooled 10cc pumps and wheel motors on each drive wheel, Provides optimal torque and speeds up to 7 MPH
- Tough and tubular frame the high-strength, continuous square 2 in. x 2 in. tubular steel frame with fully e-coat lower frame and triple guard corrosion defense system, a multi-step process electronically applies automotive-grade corrosion resistance with meticulous care to protect against wear and tear
- Dial in your perfect cut with a foot operated deck lift and a dial control knob offering 15 qt. in. deck height adjustments from 1 in. to 4. 5 in. leading to a precise and even cut
- High comfort, high performance an automotive-inspired, ergonomic, fully adjustable premium 18 in. H-back seat and a durable, advanced polymer seat suspension system, adjustable lap bars and industry-exclusive ergonomic hand grips optimized for comfort providing you the confidence to maximize your speed and reduce operator fatigue
- Turf damage prevention 11 in. x 6 in. to 5 in. smooth tread front wheels pivot 180 without turf damage, 20 in. x 10 in. to 8 in. turf master premium rear tires offer excellent traction, minimize turfing and provide a better ride on uneven ground at higher speeds
- Ease of maintenance an open frame design and hinged/removable floor pan allow easy access to the deck and engine for quick and simple maintenance
- Command center conveniently located control panel enhances operator productivity and vibration-dampening soft rubber floor mat provides sure footing, comfort and ample leg room
- Precision trimming offset front casters align with blade edge for trimming precision while maintaining line-of-sight and stable balance
- Illuminating dual-LED headlights provide ultimate vision for mowing in low light conditions and tow hitch come standard
- Mow for an extended period of time: 3.5 gal. fuel tank capacity to keep you mowing and minimize time loss for refueling needs
- Electronic fingertip blade engagement PTO allows for smooth operation of the deck
- 3-way adjustable ergonomic lap bar design with integrated parking brake and mow-in-reverse, provides comfort with a simple operation
- Ideal for mowing slight rolling hills and several obstacles up to 4 acres
- Expand your mowers capabilities: full lineup of premium attachments and accessories include baggers, mulch kits, carts and many other attachments (sold separately)
- Cub Cadet Ultima ZT1-54 comes fully crated and requires some assembly upon arrival
Ideal for lawns up to 4 acres in size, the Cub cadet ultima ZT1-54 is powered by a 24HP 725cc commercial grade Kohler V- twin 4 stroke engine. The deck on this residential mower is a cut above the rest since it’s fabricated and not stamped. What’s the difference? Simply put, it’s stronger than a stamped steel deck. While stamped decks are typically made from thinner gauge steel (like 13 gauge), this one features 11 gauge steel with welded corners for added structural integrity. It will survive all sorts of bumps and scratches without bending or cracking.
The seat is designed with operator comfort in mind, and it has a unique polymer suspension system underneath the base which absorbs even the nastiest of bumps. There is a pair of really bright LED headlights on the front which let you mow freely even after the sun has set. One feature I really love in the Ultima ZT1 series is the automatic parking brake system which engages as soon as you push the two lap bars outwards. You don’t have to turn off the ignition, the mower will shut down automatically. And you can’t turn it back on unless the lap bars are retracted back into their normal operating position.
Everything is easy to access- the ignition key, choke, and PTO engagement knob are all located in a single panel on the right side of the mower. If you want to change oil or check the air filter, that’ super easy to do as well. The engine is fully exposed, without any panels covering it. This allows for easy access to crucial components, and convenient field repairs should the need arise.
Want to access the battery? Just flip the seat and there it is. If you want to access the deck and change a belt or check the pulleys, all you have to do is remove a single bolt from the floorboard. Once you do that, the entire panel comes off, revealing the deck. Removing and adjusting the deck is also easy. And if you want to clear out all the grass from inside the deck, just connect a water hose to the washout port.
Performance is excellent, it is hard to find a better 54” mower for the price. And I have also read several customer reviews that mentioned the ability of this ZTR mower to climb up hills and inclines beyond the officially stated 15° limit. Maximum forward speed is 7mph, although I suggest you stick closer to 5 if you don’t want to make secondary passes. Reverse speed can go up to a brisk 3.5mph, and the relatively wide tires make sure that you don’t dig up turf whenever you stop or turn.
Cub Cadet Ultima ZT1 54” / CARB compliant
There is a version of the Ultima ZT1-54 which is CARB compliant (17AREACM210), so you can use it in the state of California. It uses the same 24hp Kohler 7000- series V twin engine, but is equipped with a more advanced exhaust filtration system. This version of the 54” Ultima ZT1 costs slightly more, but pollutes less. It is identical to the non-CARB compliant 54” model, the only difference is between these two is their exhaust system. CARB emission regulations are far stricter than EPA emissions regulations, so any engine that is CARB compliant will pollute a lot less than a non-CARB compliant engine.
Cub Cadet Ultima ZT1 42”
The 42” Ultima zt1 is the smallest of them all, but it packs quite the punch. Despite its smaller size, the 42” model is equipped with the same robust 2” x 2” tubular steel frame and a 22hp Kohler KT7000 series commercial grade V- twin engine. You get the easily removable floor panel and open frame design which makes maintenance super convenient. And the control scheme is identical to the larger zt1 models.
The 42” Ultima zt1 is ideal for 1 to 3 acre plots, and grass that’s under 5 inches tall. It packs the same 3- blade fabricated deck design as the 54” ultima, only this one cuts 42” wide. The spindle is protected by a sealed cast aluminum housing, and PTO is electronically actuated for a smoother engagement. Deck height is adjusted by pushing on a foot pedal which lifts the deck up to its maximum height of 4.5”. Then you turn a yellow knob which sets the deck height in increments of 0.25” (ranging from 1 inch all the way up to 4.5 inches).
Once you’ve set the knob to the desired height, you simply release the foot pedal and the deck falls back into its designated height setting. If you just want to clear a twig or water pipe, you can push the pedal to temporarily lift up the deck without changing its height setting. This won’t disengage the PTO, so the mower will keep cutting even as you pull the deck up to clear the obstacle.
Review | Toro Timecutter 54”
- Smooth Ride : MyRIDE Suspension System, puts you up high and absorbs bumps caused by rough terrain, and it never requires that you slow down. Easy on your back and overall well-being. Great feature that homeowners will appreciate.
- Built with the same PROFESSIONAL structure (DNA) that Toro uses in their commercial mowers. High-quality, beautiful, professional-looking lawns.
- IronForged 10-gauge steel, this lawn mower’s fabricated deck — 54″ wide.
- Cut Mowing Time in Half: Top Rated Zero Turn Mower = Highly Efficient
- Three-year unlimited hour residential warranty, plus a three-year, 300-hour commercial engine warranty.
- Protective tire fenders : Shields your engine from tire spray
- Cup Holder : Drink while you mow; water, of course 🙂
- 18 in. high-back seat, designed with ultimate padding and back support plus convenient arm rests
- Simply unlatch the belt cover and easily sweep away debris to prevent deck corrosion and belt wear – no tools needed
- Smart Speed technology : Take control over your mowing speed and never sacrificing blade tip speed.
- Foot-assist deck lift pedal, you can increase the cutting height of the mower without having to stop, allowing you to drive over obstacles and keep moving forward
- 24.5 HP Toro Commercial V-Twin 708cc engine and dual hydrostatic transmission.
- SPEEDS : MOW: 7 mph/3 mph; TRIM: 5.5 mph/2.4 mph; TOW: 4 mph/1.7 mph
- 3-gallon fuel capacity
- Cutting height range = 1.5 in. – 4.5 in. (3.8 cm – 11.4 cm) / Plus a commercial drop pin design, it’s easy to customize the cut your way
- Smooth steering controls featuring dual wrap-around levers provide a less jerky ride
- Gentle Giant: The lawn mower’s wide tires are gentler on your yard and reduce the risk of ruts
- Recommended for yards measuring up to 4 or more acres in size with obstacles
- Shock-absorbing dampeners let you glide over the grass with a fully tubular front axle and wide front casters
- Get Squeaky Clean in No Time: Deck washout ports make it easy to clear away grass buildup, caked-on mud and other debris from the underside of your mower just by using your garden hose
- Kevlar belts, a reinforced leading edge across the entire deck and huge 6 in. spindles for added strength
- Quick electric-start
- Single-piece lever to control the cut height and an ultra-durable deck design
- Access to more than 3,000 servicing dealers across the U.S. and Canada
- Toro was born and raised in Minnesota
- Time savings based on survey of consumers who purchased TimeCutters from 1/1/18 – 9/30/19, — time savings will vary
- DuPont and Kevlar are trademarks or registered trademarks of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company
- 24.5 HP at 3,600 RPM SAE J1940 and SAE J2723, as rated by Toro as configured to meet safety, emission and operating requirements.
The Timecutter isn’t just fast, it’s actually one of the few riding mowers that has great suspension. I strongly recommend this zero turn mower for people who own large properties with uneven or bumpy terrain. If you’ve got ditches, divots, and mounds, this is the mower to drive because it features a unique suspension system which makes you feel as if you’re floating in the air even as the mower is bouncing up and down on bumps.
MyRide separates the operator platform (which includes seat + floor panel) from the rest of the chassis, it isolates you from the vibration of the lawn mower. What makes it truly unique is the fact that not only does MyRide dampen vertical shock, but also side-to-side movements. This results in a complete elimination of bumpiness from the ride, and you feel like you’re sitting on a stationary cushion even though you’re mowing the lawn at 6+ mph.
The seat itself is designed from the ground up to be as comfortable as possible, and it works in conjunction with the MyRide suspension system (it also has armrests). The large 20” x 10” rear drive wheels ensure excellent stability on rolling hills and slight inclines, while reducing ground pressure so you don’t tear off the grass while turning.
In terms of build quality, Toro Timecutter mowers are second to none. They feature a thick 10 gauge fabricated steel deck which is close to commercial ZTR mower levels of durability (those use 9 gauge steel for their decks). The Toro Timecutter model 75754 (54” cutting width) is powered by a Toro 24.5hp 708cc V-twin 4 stroke engine which is comparable to Honda and Kohler motors in terms of reliability and toughness. The engine is covered by a 300- hour commercial/ 3 year residential warranty.
Changing the oil and filters requires no tools at all, and the deck height is easily adjustable through a foot pedal. There are washout ports, one on either side so you can easily clean the deck by hooking it up with a water hose. Smart Speed technology lets you adjust your mower’s ground speed between mow/ tow/ trim modes while maintaining a constant 18,330 ft/ min blade tip speed. Mowers without this system tend to lose blade speed as you travel at a slower pace on the ground. Which is what you’d do if you were towing a fertilizer cart or mini trailer. But with the Toro Timecutter you can tow a cart or descend a hill without compromising on mowing speed.
Review | Bad Boy MZ Magnum 54”
One of the top rated zero turn lawn mowers for 2021.
- Zero-turn mower has 54 in. cutting width
- 725cc Kohler Pro 7000 HD series engine on zero-turn mower
- 2 in. x 2 in. heavy-gauge steel rail frame
- Zero-turn mower has dual integrated Hydro-Gear EZT drives
- 5-gallon tank on zero-turn mower
- 2-year limited warranty
There’s nothing too fancy or high tech about this mower, it is just a plain 54” zero turn mower with all the essential features. And it is built like a tank, with some of the thickest steel being used in the deck which makes it nearly unbreakable. The Bad Boy MZ Magnum is surprisingly cheap for how well- built it is (that is if you consider 3 grand cheap). But in comparison to other 54” zero turn mowers on the market, this is a steal of a deal.
It is powered by a Kawasaki or Kohler engine. The model we’re reviewing is equipped with a 725cc Kohler Pro 7000 series V- twin that pumps out enough power to propel this 696lb mower at speeds up to 6mph through thick grass. Bad Boy also provides a large selection of accessories to help you customize your MZ Magnum based on your needs. You can attach a hitch kit, install dual front LED headlamps (it has no lights in standard configuration), add a storage basket, install an 8” front bumper, etc.
The backbone is constructed from a 2” x 2” all steel rail frame, and the front forks are 3/8”. The deck is constructed from 7- gauge welded steel, which is already on par with high- end commercial mowers in terms of durability. Not only is this deck super tough but its unique shape also forms a partial vacuum that allows grass to be sucked into the blades more effectively, delivering a cleaner cut. Despite its mass and size, this 54” mower is pretty low to the ground at just 42” tall. This results in a lower center of gravity, which in turn means higher stability while turning (better traction).
Everything from the battery to air filter is easily accessible without any special tools. You can clean up the spindle or replace a burnt belt quite easily, since the floorboard is hinged and can be flipped open in a matter of seconds. The deck height adjustment is controlled with a foot pedal, which can be mounted on the left or right side of the mower. This feature comes in handy if one of your legs has joint issues or limited range of motion.
Toro TITAN 60” / Model 75313
- MyRIDE Suspension System
- Commercial-grade DNA : The same technology professionals depend on.
- IronForged Deck
- Toro IronForged fabricated deck ensures years of reliability and top performance.
- Canister Air Cleaner : Engine protection in the dustiest of conditions. Same technology used on commercial units.
- Cast Aluminum Stomp Pad : Remove excess mud from your shoes with a cast aluminum stomp pad.
- Handcrafted Seat with Arm Rests : Ultimate padding and back support with a handcrafted high-back seat with armrests and bullhorn logo.
- Wet Spray Blocking Fenders : Shield your engine from tire spray and avoid backsplash on you with protective tire fenders.
- Cup Holder
- Easy Height-of-Cut Adjustment
- Rubber Discharge Chute
- Trim close without damaging landscape structures or your chute.
The Titan is a residential mower with commercial DNA. That much is evident from the fabricated grade 50, 10- gauge steel deck with reinforced leading edges. It is equipped with Toro’s incredible MyRide suspension system which makes light work of bumpy terrain. You can even change the MyRide suspension settings to make it softer/ stiffer depending on the terrain.
If you’ve got a lot of hay grass, weeds, and tall grass this is the mower for you. Giant properties with thick, tall grass- that’s precisely what this mower is designed to deal with. It is one step short of a bush hog (rotary mower) in terms of durability and rough cut performance, but this is about as good as it gets with a zero turn mower which is traditionally intended for finish cuts or trimming jobs. The front axle is made from 2.5” tubular steel and the front spindles for the casters are insanely thick. This machine is designed to take a beating and shrug it off. Bumps, divots, ditches, mounds, hills- it will deal with everything without breaking a sweat.
There is a rubber discharge chute which bends and gets out of the wat if it hits and obstacle. This ensures you never have to replace a broken discharge chute, and it makes cleaning the deck much easier. The deck contains special heat treated high lift blades which spin at over 18,900 feet per minute, generating a tornado like action which breaks down clumps of grass into fine pieces. The giant 22” x 11” rear tires don’t dig into the ground, even in damp conditions. Even the front smooth tread caster wheels are relatively huge at 13” x 6.5”.
Unlike cheaper ZTR mowers which have knobs and plastic levers to adjust deck height, the TITAN goes back to its commercial roots with a simple yet fool proof drop pin height adjustment system. You push the pedal to raise the deck, and drop a pin through a hole to secure it in place. There are multiple holes, one for each distinct increment in cutting height. This rudimentary adjustment system is extremely tough, and will never break down. There is a step through front end, which lets you easily mount and dismount the mower from the front. And a foldable roll over protection system is available as an option with each 60” TITAN.
Bad Boy ZT Elite 60” : BZ60KT745
This Bad Boy mower is a true elite- the best of the best, and pretty much the top end of what you can expect from a residential mower. I say residential, but it actually packs drivetrain components which many industry professionals would consider entry- level commercial grade parts. Take the hydraulic transmission for example- it uses dual Hydro- Gear 3100 integrated transaxle, which is extremely tough and reliable. And this transmission is mated to a Kohler 747cc K7000 series 90° V- twin 25hp engine.
The front forks are made from ½ inch steel, and the frame is made from 2” x 2” heavy gauge tubular steel. Not all tubular steel frames are created equal, and this mower is equipped with a really heavy duty steel frame which can take a beating for years on end without showing any signs of fatigue. While mid- range residential mowers have just 3 or 3.5 gallons of fuel capacity, the Bad Boy ZT Elite is ready to operate all day long on multiple lawns with its 6.5 gallon fuel tank.
The deck is made from 3/16” inch welded steel, and contains 3 cutting blades, each spinning at 18,000 fpm (feet per minute). All parts are made in the U.S.A, Bad Boy operates out of Arkansas and is one of the fastest growing zero turn mower brands in the nation. They are focused on delivering excellent value through best in class quality and chart topping performance. Bad Boy mowers are also highly customizable. The ZT Elite 60” for instance, supports a wide variety of accessories such as a rear storage basket, deck mounted striping kit, hitch kit, front receiver, etc.
Should You Buy A Zero Turn Mower?
Now, some of you reading this article might be thinking “do I really need to invest 3000+ dollars on a zero turn mower?”. And that’s a perfectly reasonable opinion, when you consider the fact that average lawn size in the United States is 10,871 square feet (roughly 0.25 acres). But it differs from state to state. In big metropolitan cities, you probably won’t find enough space to justify purchasing a zero turn mower (or any riding lawn mower for that matter). A simple reel mower or 21” walk- behind mower like the Remington RM130 Trail Blazer will get the job done, and you can actually fit one of those in the garage.
But let’s say you live in Vermont or Mississippi, where the average lot size is much larger compared to California (it’s 73,979 sq. Ft in Vermont). In those places, it isn’t uncommon to have a yard that’s 1 acre or larger. That needs mowing every couple of weeks, and doing all that work with a push mower will eventually drain the life out of you. Mowing your lawn shouldn’t be a chore, it should be a relaxing experience, one that you look forward to on weekends. And that’s where a riding lawn mower comes in- it’s just like driving a car, except you’re mowing your lawn at the same time. You’re sitting in a comfortable position, moving along at a pace several times faster than walking speed.
A zero turn mower takes things one step further by introducing zero turn radius. You’ve probably seen battle tanks on TV or the internet, and how they can make a full 360° turn without moving an inch forward or backward. That’s possible due to differential steering, the process of applying more drive torque on one side of the vehicle compared to the other side. The side that receives more drive torque will turn at a faster rate, and you don’t even have to move if you apply torque in opposite directions. Taking the example of tanks, if one set of tracks moves forward while the other set is moving backwards, the tank will pivot around like a Frisbee while standing still.
In a zero turn mower, the engine doesn’t drive the wheels directly via a conventional transmission. Instead, zero turn mowers feature individual hydraulic drive systems for each wheel. This both wheels can function independently, allowing you to precisely control the amount of power that goes into each one. This lets you pull of some maneuvers which would otherwise be impossible with a lawn tractor which uses conventional drive and steering (like a car). As a result, zero turn mowers can quite literally turn around on a dime. They also have better acceleration and top speed compared to lawn tractors. The average speed of a lawn tractor is around 5mph. A zero turn mower can easily travel at twice that speed, allowing you to mow your yard up to 50 percent faster. And the larger your lawn, the more time you save. There’s this really helpful video from Toro which demonstrates the difference in mowing speed between a lawn tractor and zero turn mower. While it is promotional material at its core, you can get an idea of exactly how a zero turn mower triumphs over a lawn tractor in terms of cutting speed. Not only does it move faster, but it also spends less time cutting around obstacles due to its unique steering system. And you also turn faster at the end of each pass.
And the superior maneuverability of a ZTR mower means you can reach spots that are hard to mow with a lawn tractor. A ZTR mower lets you finely trim delicate spots and make tight turns around tree stumps or flower beds without damaging the lawn (or mower). There will be no more ugly patches of unmown grass laying around, and you can spend the time you save on fun stuff. Like a swim in the pool, or barbecue.
While it’s true that a premium- tier 60” zero turn lawn mower from a reputable brand like Toro or Cub Cadet will cost half as much as cheap car, you don’t have to splurge 5 grand on one of them. There are different options, and you can get some pretty well- built ZTR mowers for under 3000 bucks. These machines will revolutionize the way you mow your lawn, garden, and yard. With very little effort, your lawn will look like as if it were mowed by a professional. Speed and precision- a ZTR mower is unrivaled in both.
Plus, there’s always the option of buying used. Good quality ZTR mowers can easily last for up to 2000 hours of operation with regular maintenance. Even if you spend an hour every week mowing the lawn (and you must have a really big lawn if you need 1 hour with a ZTR mower), it will last a couple decades. Most people sell their ZTR mowers after about 480 to 500 hours of use.
Why You May Not Want A Zero Turn Mower
I’ve explained what makes a zero turn mower so awesome, but there are a few drawbacks as well (as is the case with everything). Firstly, learning how to operate a zero turn mower can take a while. You’ll need to practice in the center of your lawn on a level area with zero obstacles before you start mowing the whole lawn for real. A zero turn mower has no steering wheel like you’d find on a car or lawn tractor. Instead, it has these really long levers on either side of the seat which you use to direct power into both wheels at the rear. As I mentioned earlier, a ZTR mower’s wheels can function independently of each other. If you push the left lever forward, you’ll turn the left wheel forward. If you push the right lever forward, the right wheel turns forward.
The same applies in reverse, to make a wheel spin in reverse you simply pull back on the corresponding lever. If you push the right lever further than the left lever, the mower will make a left turn (since the right wheel has made more rotations compared to the left). Same with turning right, you push the left lever harder than the right lever. Or if you want to pivot around by 180° while staying in the same spot, you push one lever forward while pulling the other one back. This causes both wheels to spin in different directions. To go in reverse, you pull both levers back. You should be able to see now why people claim that ZTR mowers have a steep learning curve.
On top of all this, a ZTR mower isn’t so great on hills because of the way its drive system works. The front wheels aren’t connected to the drivetrain, they are free to spin around. So gravity can cause your mower to lose traction and slide off a hill slope if you aren’t paying attention. That’s why you never mow across an incline. Instead, you always go up and down the incline. Another problem with mowing hills on a ZTR mower is the fact that most of the weight is on the rear. This really messes things on inclines, especially if you’re descending (or if you suddenly accelerate uphill).
Most of the traction is on the rear wheels which are wider compared to the little skinny ones on the front. That’s why you always descend with your mower’s rear end pointing at the top of the hill. The maximum incline on which a zero turn mower can operate safely is between 10 to 15 degrees. Make that half for wet.
Another thing to keep in mind is the fact that a zero turn mower is designed for lawns and yards, not fields and pastures. Even if you’ve got a high- end commercial grade ZTR mower with a welded deck, it won’t work very well on grass or weeds over 6 to 8” tall. That’s because a ZTR mower is designed to be a finish cut/ trimming mower, not a rough cut mower.
A ZTR mower’s blades will slice through tall grass, but the grass will still wrap around components within the deck. This can damage the bearings over time through increased friction, or burn a deck belt. And you shouldn’t use your zero turn mower to ride over ant hills, stumps, rocks, dirt, etc. Then again, lawn tractors don’t fare so well with those either. For pastures, paddocks, fields, etc. with grass over 12 inches tall, you should get a rotary mower or rough cut mower.
The ride quality on some of the smaller and cheaper zero turn mowers isn’t very pleasant, since they are lighter and bounce around more on uneven terrain (the suspension is also of lower quality). Plus, they can tear up your lawn. A smaller zero turn mower might weigh less, but apply more ground pressure compared to a larger zero turn mower. That’s because ground pressure is a function of weight by area. Wider wheels distribute the weight more evenly and don’t damage the grass. Narrower wheels tend to tear up the turf, especially when you do rapid 180° turns on your zero turn mower. Smaller ZTR mowers are also worse on hills compared to their larger counterparts (things get even worse when you attack a bagger). Which is why you should always climb the hill in reverse. If the rear wheels lose traction while you’re backing up, you can descend gradually without the fear of tipping over.
Choosing The Right Zero Turn Mower
Cutting width and engine horsepower shouldn’t be the only determining factors while selecting a zero turn mower. You see, even if a manufacturer advertises a maximum speed of 16mph, you probably won’t get above 11 in real world use where you’re mowing through grass taller than 2 inches. And an extremely powerful engine is no good if it doesn’t start when you need it the most. You need a zero turn mower that is comfortable to ride, and easy to operate. And it should be built tough, so the deck doesn’t get damaged after a few months of mowing through tall grass. If you only mow once every few weeks, any decent residential mower from a reputable brand will do the job.
Here’s a list of things to take into consideration before purchasing a zero turn mower-
- Lawn Size: A larger lawn size means you need a mower with a higher ground speed, and a mower with nice wide tires for superior stability while turning and stopping.
- Time: Larger cutting decks allow you to cut wider paths and clear the entire lawn in fewer passes. You also need an engine powerful enough to drive the larger blades at high speeds for a smooth cut.
- Ride Comfort: Coil over suspension protects your back from bumps and rough terrain, it provides a smoother ride (especially at higher speeds). You might also want to look into aftermarket mower seats which can cost upwards of 500 dollars for a good one. These come with full back and lumbar support, plenty of cushioning, and armrests.
- Deck Height Adjustment: Different lawns and grass types required different cutting heights. That’s why you need a zero turn mower with a cutting deck that is easy to adjust.
- Build Quality: Welded heavy gauge steel decks are more durable, resilient to structural damage that happens when you hit an obstacle like rocks, tree stumps, ant hills, etc.
- Features: headlamps, cupholders, automatic parking brakes, etc. are some really useful “extras” to have in your zero turn mower.
- Residential vs Prosumer/ Commercial: Prosumer or commercial grade zero turn mowers have heavy duty engines, tougher transmissions, more durable cutting decks, superior suspension, wider tires, and can mow for 1 to 2 hours every week for several years. They are larger, heavier, and cost more. You don’t need to spend extra on a commercial model unless you mow a really large property, or mow multiple times per week.
Top Rated Zero Turn Mower For Hills
There really isn’t a specific ZTR mower that has been designed from the ground up to mow on hills. In fact, zero turn mowers are considered a poor choice for slopes above 10 to 15 degrees. Most of their weight and traction is focused towards the rear, and the front end has casters so it can swing around easily on hills if you’re mowing across the slope.
If you want a zero turn mower for mild inclines, I suggest a larger model. The larger frame and cutting deck means there is more weight on the front which makes it less likely to tip over backwards as you climb or descend a hill. Some zero turn mowers are better equipped than others to work on hills, they use special tread patterns and stabilizer wheels to prevent the front end from swinging around.
There are two types of zero turn mowers, differentiated by how the mowing deck is mounted-
- Mid Mount: The most common ZTR mower design, there are 4 wheels with the mowing deck suspended in between. The front two wheels are non- powered, and free to swivel (they are casters). The drive wheels are in the rear.
- Out Front: This is less common, and usually more expensive. Out front designs are reserved for larger models (60” cutting width and above). They are more stable since weight distribution is improved by mounting the mowing deck further towards the front.
An out front design is theoretically better on hills, and a lot of them also come with tail wheels (stabilizers) to prevent the mower from tipping over. But it still suffers from the same weaknesses as any other zero turn mower. The Swisher Z3166CPKA Big MOW (66-inches) is an out front ZTR mower, and it is much more stable compared to any mid mount ZTR model.
Zero Turn Mower vs Lawn Tractor
I’ve already talked about how zero turn mowers are faster in a straight line and more maneuverable compared to lawn tractors. But there are a few other things we need to discuss before you make your discussion. If your only application for a riding mower is mowing the lawn, then a zero turn is perfect for you. But if you want a bit of versatility, I recommend a lawn tractor instead. What do I mean by versatility? Well, a lawn tractor is basically a miniaturized tractor with a mowing deck underneath. It can tow, and accept attachments. You could hook up a snow shovel up front, or a pesticide sprayer in the back. Yes, a zero turn mower can also tow carts, but it isn’t the most stable platform. A lot of the cheaper zero turn mowers don’t even come with a rear hitch. If you wish to tow a yard cart filled with dirt or a sweeper full of grass, you’re better of getting a lawn tractor.
A lawn tractor is also better at towing stuff uphill because it doesn’t have all its weight focused on the rear end, plus the front end has a lot more traction. You can also learn how to drive your brand new lawn tractor in far less time, because it’s basically like driving a car. There’s a steering wheel and pedals instead of lap bars like on a zero turn mower. Even a 12 year old kid can get in and drive a lawn tractor (under the supervision of an adult), but you really can’t say the same for a zero turn mower. Plus, a lawn tractor won’t tear up the turf on your lawn unlike a zero turn which can easily rip off grass if you turn with one wheel stationary.
I have arranged the pros and cons of both machines so you can make the choice yourself :
|COMPARE||Zero Turn Mower||Lawn Tractor|
|Cost||These are quite a bit more expensive due to their unconventional design and unique hydraulic drive system.||Cheaper compared to zero turn mowers.|
|Speed||Higher top speed. Can turn on a dime. Excellent for maneuvering around obstacles, in tight areas.||Lawn tractor much slower, but it also has a much wider turning radius.|
|Differential steering system and lap bars make these harder to control initially. Requires time to learn.||A lawn tractor has a steering wheel and pedals just like a car, and it’s less likely to rip up the turf.|
|A zero turn mower has very little traction or stability on the front end which is purposefully designed to swivel as easily as possible. Instead of wheels, a ZTR mower has casters on the front. This makes it a poor choice for steeper slopes, although inclines between 10 to 15 degrees are manageable under dry conditions.||Greater stability on slopes since it has 4 wheels and the weight is distributed evenly. You shouldn’t mow across a steep incline as it can tip over despite it having better stability compared to a ZTR mower. Lawn tractor can tow carts uphill, which is next to impossible on a ZTR mower.|
|Visibility||ZTR mowers have an extremely low front end which allows you to see exactly where you’re going and what you’re mowing. You can make precision maneuvers and avoid obstacles more easily.||A lawn tractor has its engine and other important components mounted on the front. Visibility is reduced for objects in front of you. Large hood may obscure objects close to the tractor, like rocks.|
|Versatility||A ZTR mower doesn’t multitask, it is very good at mowing the lawn and you might be able to tow a small cart with some of the larger models, but that’s about it.||A lawn tractor can mow the lawn and do many things that a regular tractor does. You can attach a blower, sprayer, snow shovel, tiller, etc.|
– Uneven Terrain
|Excellent on ground level with no slopes, mounds, wet grass, or snow. Can take advantage of their higher top speed in such conditions. Slows down considerably in rough terrain.||If you’ve got a lot of bumpy terrain and snow where you live, a lawn tractor’s superior traction and stability will come in handy. Not as fast, but steady & maneuverable on rough terrain.|