Outdoor Power Equipment Reviews

Best Lawn Mower Self-Propelled Review: Head-to-Head Battle Royale!


Our Search for the Best Lawn Mower Covers Models for Both Residential and Commercial Pro Users

Cordless lawn mowers may be sexier in our culture today, but gas lawn mowers still do most of the heavy lifting. We brought in 24 models to see what features, fuel efficiency, cutting performance, and value metrics allow one to rise above the rest. 7 of them are powered by gas. Check out how the battery-powered models did here.

It’s impossible to test every single possibility and we did our best to cover it as broadly as we can. We realize your priorities may be different than ours, so feel free to tell us which one you think is the best and why!

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Best Lawn Mower For Professionals

Honda 21″ Self-Propelled Commercial Lawn Mower HRC216HXA

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.

Runner Up

eXmark Commercial 21 X-Series Self-Propelled Lawn Mower ECX160CHN21000

Our clear Pro Runner Up was the eXmark Commercial 21 X-Series Self-Propelled Lawn Mower ECX160CHN21000. eXmark’s Commercial 21 lawn mower holds its own in performance against the Honda and really excels in how much it can cut thanks to a 120-ounce fuel tank. With nearly 3-1/2 hours worth of fuel onboard, you’ll refill less often without giving up much cutting power.

Best Lawn Mower for Homeowners

Cub Cadet 23″ Self-Propelled Lawn Mower 12ABR2MM710

Against its well-known competitors, Cub Cadet doesn’t have many faults. It leads in fuel efficiency and cutting area, though it does give up a few points in cutting power and value. In a competitive group, its 23″ deck gives it an edge over most other residential lawn mowers.

Runner Up

Husqvarna LC221RH 21″ Rear-Wheel Drive Lawn Mower

Husqvarna edged out Craftsman for second place by just 0.1 points. It has the advantage in fuel efficiency and noise level thanks to its Honda engine. On the other hand, Craftsman gives you a slightly better feature set, cutting power, and value. These two were so close when we tallied the results that it’s a virtual tie.

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Best Lawn Mower Value

Commercial: Snapper 21″ Self-Propelled Commercial Lawn Mower 7800986

Snapper gives you the only 3-year warranty among the commercial models we tested. Combined with a price tag that’s hundreds less than Honda and eXmark, Snapper easily walks away as the best value.

Residential: Craftsman M310 Self-Propelled Lawn Mower

Craftsman puts together a solid mower at a great price. For $359, the M310 doesn’t score lower than 80 out of 100 points in any of our testing categories. With the promise that you never have to change the oil (just refill it as needed), this model is easy on your wallet and easy to own.

Lawnmower Testing Methods and Results

Best Lawn Mower Fuel Efficiency

With battery-powered mowers, the battery efficiency isn’t the biggest deal. It’s the amount of grass you can cut on a single charge. However, fuel efficiency on gas mowers has a much more direct effect on your wallet, especially when you’re mowing every day as a Pro.

We discovered that welding a 1″ x 1/2″ tab to each side of the blade closely matches the runtime we get when we’re actually cutting grass. By welding those tabs on, we can give the mowers a consistent load to overcome using air friction instead of the uncertainty of a lawn.

Best Lawn Mower Head to Head Review - Welding Tabs

While the battery-powered mowers dropped an average of 24% of their no-load runtime in this test, guess how much the gas mowers lost.

No, really, take a guess.

Nada. The differences were so small that they’re statistically irrelevant, telling us that a weekly maintenance cut doesn’t stress a gas mower at all.

So we broke the maintenance cut fuel efficiency down in two ways. The most relevant is how much area you can cut on 1 gallon of gas (expressed as acres per gallon). Just for fun, we decided to see how far you can go on a gallon of gas if you set the self-propelled drive to 2.5 MPH. We didn’t, however, use the MPG as part of our scoring.

On the commercial side, Honda mows an impressive 2.57 acres on 1 gallon of fuel. Snapper isn’t too far behind at 2.12 acres.

The less powerful residential models have their day in the sun with even better fuel efficiency. Cub Cadet pushes just over the 3-acre mark with Husqvarna right behind it at 2.91.

If you’re the kind of guy or gal that likes to count your steps, you’ll get more per gallon with Honda taking you beyond 12 miles on a gallon of gas.

Again, the residential mowers go further with Husqvarna taking you 13.73 miles and Cub Cadet hitting right at 13 miles.

Best Lawn Mower Cutting Area

The more area you can cut on a tank of gas, the less time you spend refilling. That saves you time as a Pro or gives homeowners with larger lawns the ability to get the entire lawn cut without having to stop.

Calculating Runtime

We started by checking the actual amount of fuel each gas tank holds and then ran each mower completely out of fuel. From there, we refilled each tank with 4.0 ounces and timed how long the motor would run with the blades engaged and the drive set at 2.5 MPH using a photo-tachometer.

eXmark sets the mark with a 120-ounce fuel tank that easily exceeds its competition.

The residential landscape is more competitive with Cub Cadet holding the most at 48 ounces and Craftsman just 8 ounces smaller.

From there, we calculated how much time each mower runs on a full tank of gas with the capacities we measured.

eXmark’s massive fuel tank helps it overcome its lower fuel efficiency to run for a ridiculous 204 minutes on one tank. Honda sits way back in second but still exceeds 2-1/4 hours (137 minutes).

The residential mowers drop from there. Cub Cadet (117 minutes) comes pretty close to the 2-hour mark with Craftsman (94 minutes) and Husqvarna (93 minutes) are very close to each other in second.

How Much Can You Cut on a Single Tank of Gas?

The next thing we wanted to do was calculate how much grass each mower could actually cut on a single tank of gas. I mean, this was kind of the point, right? Having both the runtime and the blade diameter numbers in hand, we could calculate just how much area each mower cuts while running at 2.5 MPH.

We looked at acres per gallon as a measure of fuel efficiency, but how much can you cut on one tank of gas? It’s no surprise to see eXmark continuing to lead the commercial side with 1.76 acres on a tank. Honda (1.21 acres) also makes it beyond an acre easily.

For the residential mowers, only Cub Cadet (1.13 acres) can cut more than an acre on a tank. Craftsman (0.83 acres) and Husqvarna (0.82 acres) continue their battle without a clear winner.

One thing to keep in mind is that these figures assume you can cut exactly the blade diameter on every pass. The reality is that most of will lose 5% – 10% due to overlap.

Best Lawn Mower Cutting Power

Cutting speed tells us how well each mower handles a maintenance load and a heavy load. Welding a 1″ x 2″ tab to each side of the blade, we again let air friction create a constant load, this time to simulate a heavy cut.

Best Lawn Mower Head to Head Review - 2" tabs

Brushless motors in battery-powered mowers have the ability to call on more power from the battery, and we see them raise blade tip speeds over 30 MPH is some cases. As the load increases on gas mowers, the blade speed begins to drop as the motor works to maintain speed, but don’t increase their RPMs to the level we see from brushless battery mowers. However, more powerful motors will keep still blade speeds close to their maintenance load speeds as their load increase.

Honda has the fastest blade tip speed at 194.8 MPH under a maintenance load with eXmark about 4 MPH slower. Even though their RPMs are very close, Honda’s extra 1/2″ of blade diameter helps it capture that higher tip speed.

The residential mowers are more straightforward. Craftsman’s class-leading RPM leads to the highest speed at 199.3 MPH. Troy-Bilt registered only a tiny bit slower at 198.4 MPH.

Every gas mower loses some speed under a heavier load. Honda maintains its lead with a 192.6 MPH tip speed (2.2 MPH drop) with eXmark (189.1 MPH, 1.6 MPH drop) closing the gap a little.

Things get really tight for the residential class. The top three are separated by just 0.6 MPH. Craftsman takes the top spot at 191.8 MPH (7.5 MPH drop) with Troy-Bilt (191.4 MPH, 7.0 MPH drop) edging out Cub Cadet (191.2 MPH, 4.0 MPH drop).

Bonus: Real-World Torture Test

We let a section of our grass grow for five weeks and ran our top contenders through it to see how they would fare. We set each mower to 2.5 MPH and 2.5″ height and mowed until the blade stopped. Then we measured how far it made it from the start line.

While the results tell us a lot about their real-world power, we can’t control the consistency of the grass and not every mower was tested, so it doesn’t affect the final scoring.

  • Honda: 113.5′
  • Cub Cadet: 54.5′
  • eXmark: 44.5′
  • Husqvarna: 28.5′
  • Snapper: 13′

Honda’s dual-blade system clearly gives it a massive advantage when the grass gets deep. It put so much distance on every other mower that it’s almost unfair. Unless you own one, in which case, it’s completely fair and everyone else just needs to step up their game.

Best Lawn Mower Noise Level

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 expected higher levels than the battery-powered models and that was pretty much the case. There were a couple of mowers that stood out as quieter than the rest, however.

To test the noise level, we used our SPL meter and checked the sound on a road away from any houses. With Tom Gaige as our “average” user at 5’8″, we measured the decibels as A-weighted, slow response from his ear.

Our test measures how much sound the mowers’ engines and blade drive systems produce on their own. When you’re cutting grass, the numbers will be a little higher.

No-Load Decibels Commercial Chart

Honda gives us the most surprising result with a noise level at just 86 decibels. One of our battery-powered mowers was actually louder than that. eXmark and Snapper both register an average of 94 decibels on their end.

No Load Decibels Residential Chart

In our residential gas mower lineup, Husqvarna leads the group, just sneaking under 90 decibels. Cub Cadet and Troy-Bilt share second with 91 decibels, and Craftsman isn’t far behind at 93.

Best Lawn Mower Feature Set

By far the biggest feature on the best lawn mower is a self-propelled drive. It pretty much neutralizes any weight concerns other than getting it home from the store. But that’s not all there is. Here’s a list of what we looked for, why it’s important, and who has it.

Drive System

There’s no doubt that having a self-propelled drive makes your mowing experience easier. All of our mowers in both the commercial and residential classes have a self-propelled drive.

Deck Material

In general, steel decks are more durable than plastic but make a heavier mower. We prefer a steel deck, especially on a self-propelled mower that doesn’t have an effort penalty for the extra weight. All of our gas mowers have a metal deck and eXmark throws the others a curveball by going with lighter weight aluminum instead of steel.

Height Adjustment

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. So while we generally prefer single-point, we understand why gas mowers may opt away from them.

Commercial

  • eXmark: 3-point (single-point rear and individual front wheels)
  • Honda: 4-point
  • Snapper: 4-point

Residential

  • Craftsman: 2-point
  • Cub Cadet: 1-point
  • Husqvarna: 4-point
  • Troy-Bilt: 2-point

Height Adjustment Range

Most mowers cover the cutting heights you need regardless of what species of grass you have. Some varieties may be healthier at shorter or taller lengths. Here in Florida, some of our St. Augustine grasses are best when they’re cut at 3-1/2″ or higher. Here’s the range of cutting heights we measured on these gas mowers.

Commercial

  • eXmark: 7/8″ to 4-1/4″
  • Honda: 7/8″ to 4-1/8″
  • Snapper: 1-3/8″ to 4-1/4″

Residential

  • Craftsman: 1″ to 3-1/2″
  • Cub Cadet: 1-1/2″ to 4-1/4″
  • Husqvarna: 3/4″ to 4-1/8″
  • Troy-Bilt: 1-1/8″ to 3-3/4″

Adjustment Levels

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 of these mowers.

Commercial

  • eXmark: 8 levels
  • Honda: 8 levels
  • Snapper: 7 levels

Residential

  • Craftsman: 6 levels
  • Cub Cadet: 6 levels
  • Husqvarna: 9 levels
  • Troy-Bilt: 6 levels

Handle Positions

Most lawn mowers have 3 handle positions you can lockdown. For tall guys like me or short guys like Clint, it helps find a more comfortable grip.

Commercial

  • eXmark: 3 heights
  • Honda: 2 heights
  • Snapper: Sliding adjustment

Residential

  • Craftsman: 3 heights
  • Cub Cadet: 3 heights
  • Husqvarna: 2 heights
  • Troy-Bilt: 3 heights

Discharge Options

Most mowers give you 3 options when you’re cutting: side discharge, bag, and mulch. Here in Central Florida, most everyone mulches whether they’re a Pro or homeowner. As you move further north, you begin to see more variety. Of the gas mowers we tested, all of them have all 3 options except Snapper, which gives you the option of a Hi-Vac mower deck with bagging or Ninja blade system prioritizing mulching.

Best Lawn Mower Value

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.

In this case, Snapper is literally hundreds of dollars less than eXmark and Honda, making it a big deal in the value category.

Craftsman’s competitive performance and reasonable price make it the best value for residential mowers. Husqvarna keeps pace with a slightly lower score.

Best Lawn Mower Final Rankings

This group really is made up of the best lawn mower models and we can genuinely say that we recommend each one. With the lowest overall score sitting at 82 points, there’s not a bad option in the bunch.

To help you decide which one is right for you, we’ve included the overall score as well as the categories in which a mower scored more than 90 points.

Just keep in mind that the scores are based only on the mower in that category—the Pro mowers aren’t directly compared to the homeowner models.

Best Lawn Mower for Pros

  1. Honda HRC216HXA: 93.2 points (Fuel Efficiency, Cutting Power, Noise Level)
  2. eXmark Commercial 21: 91.0 points (Cutting Power, Cutting Area)
  3. Snapper Commercial Walk Mower: 82.0 points (Value)

Best Lawn Mower for Homeowners

  1. Cub Cadet 23″ Walk-Behind: 97.4 points (Fuel Efficiency, Cutting Power, Cutting Area, Noise Level)
  2. Husqvarna LC221RH: 92.5 points (Fuel Efficiency, Cutting Power, Noise Level, Value)
  3. Craftsman M310: 92.4 points (Cutting Power, Value)
  4. Troy-Bilt TB490 XP: 85.6 points (Cutting Power, Noise Level)

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 get it cut. Yes, they’re louder. Yes, they have emissions (that are getting smaller with modern small engine technology). But 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. At worst, you make a 10-minute drive to the gas station. Either way, you get larger lawns cut more quickly.

Another side 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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At Pro Tool Reviews, we have our finger on the pulse of the tool industry. We’ve been in business since 2008 covering tools, writing reviews, and reporting on industry news in the commercial and residential construction and outdoor power equipment industries.

Each year, we bring in and review more than 350 individual products. Additionally, our team will put our hands on hundreds of other tools at media events and trade shows throughout the year.

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The end result is a testing design you can trust because of the editorial, scientific, and real-world professional experience we collectively utilize every time we pick up and test a tool.

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