The Best Riding Mowers and Lawn Tractors

2021-Cheapism-Choice_Best-Riding-Mowers-_-Lawn-TractorsWhile good, cheap walk-behind lawn mowers are sufficient for yards up to half an acre, a riding lawn mower might be a better option for a more sprawling spread. These are not inexpensive machines; expect to spend $1,000 or more, no matter which model you buy. For this guide, we've rounded up rear-engine mowers and lawn tractors selling for $2,000 or less that incorporate useful features, deliver on performance, and prove their value to frugal homeowners with properties that stretch to an acre and beyond. We've also included a pricier electric mower, for those looking to avoid the noise and fumes of a gas-powered engine, and a zero-turn riding mower, for yards that require maximum maneuverability.

Prices and availability are subject to change.

See full Buying Guide

Our Top Pick

Cub Cadet CC30H

Cub Cadet CC30H Review

Our Picks
Cub Cadet CC30H

Cub Cadet CC30H Review


  • 382cc engine packs plenty of power, users say.
  • Hydrostatic transmission for a smoother ride and no shifting.
  • 5 cutting heights, from 1.5 to 4 inches.
  • Mulching kit included.
  • Mows in reverse.
  • Deck wash connection.


  • Inadequate power for hills, some owners complain, and reverse can be tricky to engage.
  • Hydrostatic transmissions eat up more fuel and require fastidious maintenance.
  • No CARB-compliant version available.


Takeaway: Although it’s not perfect, the Cub Cadet CC30H (13A221JD010) is one of the better rear-engine riding mowers you can buy, according to both users and expert reviewers. The narrower 30-inch deck and low top speed (4 mph) make it best suited for less spacious properties (about an acre at most), but the compact size and foot-pedal-operated hydrostatic transmission make it easy to operate and maneuver through gates and around other obstacles. The turning radius is not super tight, at 18 inches, but the fairly simple-to-engage reverse mowing feature is a standout for many owners. Cutting and mulching performance draw kudos as well, although some reviews suggest that the optional bagging unit can be prone to clogging and leaving clippings behind. Overall, however, this highly rated mower has a lot of happy purchasers, and many say it has actually made yard maintenance “fun.” This Cub Cadet riding mower carries a three-year warranty.

Craftsman R110

Craftsman R110 Review


  • 10.5 hp Briggs & Stratton engine.
  • 5 cutting heights, from 1.5 to 3.75 inches.
  • Mows in reverse.
  • Mulching kit included.


  • Manual transmission can be tricky to operate for some.
  • Clippings bag costs extra.
  • No washout port.

Takeaway: If you’re willing to tackle a manual transmission, a no-frills riding mower like the Craftsman R110 is a step up from a walk-behind and a good cheap option that appeals to homeowners with smaller yards. Users like both the price and the performance, and claim it’s easy to get it up and running and pretty simple to operate — once you get the hang of the shifting and the between-the-legs positioning of the gear knob. Other than this quibble, owners say it’s a powerful little model that gets the job done on relatively flat yards and it seems sturdy enough to stand the test of time. This Craftsman riding mower features a 30-inch cutting blade, 6 speeds (which top out at about 4 mph in both forward and reverse), and an 18-inch turn radius. This mower carries a two-year warranty.

Cub Cadet XT1 LT42

Cub Cadet XT1 LT42 Review


  • 18 hp Kohler engine with hydrostatic transmission.
  • 42-inch twin blades for cutting.
  • 12 cutting heights, from 1 to 4 inches.
  • Relatively narrow 16-inch turning radius.
  • Mows in reverse.
  • Washout port for easier cleaning.
  • High-back, adjustable seat praised for comfort.
  • Comparatively generous 3-year warranty; 5 years on chassis and front axle.


  • Mulching performance is only so-so, according to owners who purchased that kit.
  • Checkered reliability record in the past.
  • Scattered reports about vibrations and noise.


Takeaway: This Cub Cadet lawn tractor has a less powerful engine than you’ll find on competing models, but reviewers say its 18 horses are still more than enough for relatively flat lawns of up to two acres — and it can even manage some inclines. It’s also very easy to handle, with a slightly tighter turning radius than many other lawn tractors and a no-shift hydrostatic transmission that accelerates smoothly and can reach maximum forward speeds of 5.5 mph (3.1 mph in reverse); a cruise control setting adds to the operating convenience. The quality of the cut scores well with experts and users, too, and it’s said to be consistent and level, even on wet grass. The Cub Cadet brand has taken some knocks in lawn tractor reviews in the past when it comes to reliability, but feedback on the Enduro series in particular is quite good overall. This lowest-priced entry in the line is a Home Depot bestseller, earning more than 1,500 5-star ratings from owners posting online feedback.

Troy-Bilt Bronco 42"

Troy-Bilt Bronco 42" Review


  • 19 hp Briggs & Stratton engine.
  • Automatic transmission.
  • Good-size 42-inch cutting path.
  • Very good cutting performance across the board.
  • Mows in reverse.


  • Choice of just 5 cutting heights (1.25 to 3.75 inches) is somewhat limited in this class.
  • Low-back seat may be uncomfortable for some users.
  • Relatively small fuel tank for a lawn tractor; 1.36-gallon capacity is more on par with rear-engine riding mowers.
  • No washout port, which can make it harder to clean the mowing deck.

Takeaway: Although it’s not as feature-packed as the competition, this relatively low cost Troy-Bilt Bronco 42-inch lawn tractor (model 13AL78BS023) doesn’t skimp when it comes to performance. The Bronco is a step up from Troy-Bilt’s cheaper line of Pony lawn tractors, and experts and users say it does a very good job of cutting evenly, bagging clippings, and mulching debris (although the mulching blade can be a bit of a hassle to install). Its 19-horsepower engine is strong enough for mowing moderately hilly terrain, and the 42-inch twin blade and 5.5 mph speed (2.5 in reverse) will make short work of most yards. Better still, the automatic transmission and 18-inch turning radius mean that obstacles and tedious gear shifting won’t wear you down. While you won’t find as many cutting heights or the same ease of adjustment as on pricier models, those are fairly minor quibbles. Overall, according to owner feedback, this latest incarnation of the time-tested Troy-Bilt Bronco line provides solid value for the price. The manufacturer offers a two-year warranty on these mowers.

John Deere E130

John Deere E130 Review


  • Relatively powerful 22 hp engine with hydrostatic transmission.
  • 42-inch twin-blade cutting system.
  • 13 cutting heights, adjustable from 1 to 4 inches.
  • Mows in reverse.
  • Quick-change motor oil system.
  • Washout port for easier cleaning.
  • Very strong reliability record.


  • Proprietary oil filter is expensive.
  • A handful of owners complain about quality-control issues.
  • On the pricier side compared with competitors.

Takeaway: A vast majority of owners and experts agree that, while you’ll pay a little more for John Deere mowers, they’re a clear step above any other brand. One of the cheaper models in the brand’s 100 Series lineup of entry-level lawn tractors, the E130 scores quite well with the pros — even higher than some of its better-kitted cousins — and earns serious praise from owners, too. It’s got the basics more than covered, with a decent-size deck, 18-inch turning radius, a hydrostatic transmission, and speeds up to 5.5 mph moving forward and 3.2 mph in reverse, with the option to set the mower on cruise control. The 22-horsepower engine is strong enough to handle hilly yards of an acre or so, and most owners say the mowing deck cuts evenly and does a good job of mulching. Add to that easy operation, a high-backed, padded seat that’s comfy enough for longer jobs, and a design that makes maintenance much more simple, and there’s a lot to like here. Truly negative owner feedback for this John Deere lawn tractor is pretty hard to find, although we did see a few reviews from users who claimed that their purchases were plagued with mechanical problems. As with all 100 Series mowers, the E130 carries a two-year/120-hour warranty.


Troy-Bilt Mustang Z42 Review


  • Turning radius of zero for extremely tight handling.
  • 679cc engine with dual hydrostatic transmission.
  • 42-inch cutting deck with two blades.
  • 9 cutting heights, from 1.5 to 4.5 inches.
  • Mows in reverse.
  • Washout port and easy-clean floor pan.
  • High-back seat for extra comfort.


  • Steering system can be challenging for new users.
  • Not CARB-compliant.
  • Requires assembly, some owners complain.

Takeaway: Zero-turn riders tend to be very pricey, but the Troy-Bilt is at the lower end of the cost spectrum. For the money you get a capable, "by the numbers" machine, according to a Popular Mechanics review. Getting around landscaping and into tight corners is a piece of cake — once you’ve gotten used to the two-handed lever-based steering system, owners say. Buyer reviews are very positive for the most part, but some owners express frustration at having to assemble the mower, a task they found difficult. Once it's together, though, the Troy-Bilt does what it's designed to do, reviewers say. It has a nimble maximum speed of 7 mph in mowing mode (2.5 mph mowing in reverse) and comes with a three-year manufacturer’s warranty.

Ryobi RM480e

Ryobi RM480e Review


  • Eco-friendly, battery-powered motor; no fumes or fuel hassles.
  • Powerful enough for mowing or using yard attachments.
  • 38-inch twin-blade deck.
  • 12 cutting settings, from 1.5 to 4.5 inches.
  • Covers up to 2 acres on a full charge.
  • Tighter-than-average 16-inch turning radius.
  • Mow in reverse.
  • Ready to mulch; no kit required.
  • USB phone charger and holder.


  • Very expensive for a rear-engine riding mower.
  • Takes up to 14 hours to recharge fully.
  • Cruise control takes some getting used to, some owners say.

Takeaway: Electric riding lawn mowers remain a bit of a novelty, but the 48-volt Ryobi RM480e (RY48110) is considered one of the better ones available, measuring up surprisingly well when compared to gas-powered ride-on mowers. Unlike many rear-engine riders, it packs enough punch to tow reasonable loads — it can even push a snowplow — and owners claim it can handle 15-degree inclines with ease. (Maximum forward speed is 8 mph, cutting speed tops out at 5 mph, and the reverse speed max is 3 mph.) More importantly, most reviewers say the deck delivers a nice, even cut, and the ease of operation, tight turning ability, and quiet ride win high accolades. Just keep in mind, as the reviewer at Today's Mower points out, that controlling the speed using the foot pedals and learning to manage downhill braking, which is different than it is on a gas-powered riding mower, will take some getting used to. Some users also say this mower could benefit from better suspension and perhaps a more comfortable seating arrangement. Still, the vast majority of owners are highly satisfied with the Ryobi RM480e, notwithstanding its relatively high cost. This Ryobi riding lawn mower carries a three-year warranty.

Buying Guide

What We Considered

To find the best riding mowers and lawn tractors for homeowners on a budget, we turned first to the professionals. Consumer Reports reviews and tests more riding mowers than any other credible expert. Other sources we consulted include Popular Mechanics and Top Ten Reviews, as well as the respected enthusiast site Today's Mower, among others. To see what consumers had to say about how these mowers fared in real-world usage, we pored through hundreds of owner reviews posted with manufacturers' and on retailers' sites, including Home Depot, Lowe's, Mowers Direct, and Amazon. While the mowers in our lineup may have fewer frills, a bit less power, and perhaps shorter lifespans than pricier models, we found that consumers are quite satisfied overall with our affordable picks.

To determine which type of riding mower will best suit your specific needs, there are a few things to know. The terms "riding mower" and "lawn tractor" are often used interchangeably, but the primary distinction concerns the placement of the engine: under or behind the seat in a riding mower and mounted in front of the seat in a lawn tractor.

  • Rear-engine riding mowers are best suited for relatively flat yards not much larger than an acre. Their decks are comparatively small, often 30 inches or so, and they usually have a single cutting blade. Their more compact size makes them easier to navigate in tight spaces and means they'll need less room for storage. While their engines are peppy enough to cut grass — 10 to 14 horsepower is common on lower-priced models — they don't have the strength or build to do any real hauling or pull any but the lightest attachments, like a seed and fertilizer spreader.
  • Lawn tractors, which can tackle larger properties up to two acres with bumps and slopes, have a significantly wider cutting radius — usually from 42 to 48 inches — and two blades to work with. They're heavier than riding mowers, which helps with traction, and their more powerful, 15- to 26-hp engines make them better able to deal with bumps and slopes. These workhorses are also capable of hauling heavier attachments like dump carts and trailers. Many sport automatic transmissions or use hydrostatic (hydraulic-driven) transmissions, as opposed to the manual shift drives common on many riding mowers, which keeps them moving at a steady clip and makes for easier maneuvering around obstacles.
  • Zero-turn riding mowers are more expensive, starting at around $2,500. They have rear-mounted engines as powerful as those found on lawn tractors and cutting decks that are similarly wide. Guided with a two-lever steering unit, their rear wheels can spin forward and backward independently, allowing the mower to turn 360 degrees "on a dime" (the turn radius is literally 0 inches) and maneuver close to obstacles. They're best suited for lawns of up to two acres with a lot of trees and landscaping or tighter, fenced corners. Like cheaper riding mowers, however, ZTR mowers aren't designed for hilly terrain or to haul attachments.

Note: Residents of California must buy lawn mowers that comply with standards set by the California Air Resources Board. With the exception of the Cub Cadet CC30H, our top picks come in versions that are CARB-compliant.