It’s extremely difficult to find the best zero turn mower for your needs without getting swayed by glossy advertisements and questionable testimonials.
The internet is full of them.
And like most homeowners, if you are upgrading from a normal walk behind push mower, sneaky sales guys will try to trick you and present the priciest options as the best ones.
That’s not the case though.
Price is not always an indicator of quality when it comes to zero turn radius mowers.
No one would know that better than me as we just flushed $3500 down the drain with a Snapper Zero Turn tractor that took a tumble for the worse as we tried to ride it up a feeble incline at my father-in-law’s ranch. Sigh!
Nevertheless, here I am. Doing what I do best. Doling out advice and information for my readers.
1. Husqvarna Z254
But don’t let the mid-level tag fool you.
This is a beast of a machine that can mow fast and clean, keeping you comfortable the whole time.
Comfortable, ergonomic seats with a medium height backrest and a smooth steering system make for an easy ride.
Powering the mower is a 23-HP Kawasaki engine. Reliable as ever, it has a maximum forward speed of 6.5 mph and you can easily mow 2.5 acres in an hour.
A 54-inch heavy duty reinforced steel (12-gauge stamped) cutting deck allows you to focus on your lawn without worrying about bumping into obstacles. The leading edge and the sides that trim are fortified with flat-stock steel.
This will bounce right back and continue chugging ahead even if you fail to maneuver it around that tree stump.
Talking about maneuverability, you will love the 11-inch wheels and the hydraulic wheel-drive system that makes this such a treat to use. You can go forward, reverse and pivot 180-degrees making uniform cuts all the while.
Cutting height can be adjusted from 1.5 inches to 4 inches with your right hand thanks to the intuitively positioned deck lifting system. Further improving the quality of the cuts is the Air Induction system which lifts up the grass before the blade cuts through it. Perfect every time.
The Husqvarna Z254 is a no-brainer solution for homeowners looking for mow lawns up to 3 acres in short time.
- Reinforced stamped steel deck
- 54-inch cutting swath
- Comfortable, ergonomic seat
- Easy access to the controls
- One of the fastest residential zero turns
- 11-inch wheels with individual hydraulic wheel system
- Make sharp turns on the go
- Fast and efficient
- Uniform cuts all the time
- Can be slightly overwhelming for the newbie. Especially controlling the mower on slopes at that speed. Go slow and take your time mastering the machine before you turn into a speed demon.
2. Poulan Pro P46ZX
With a 46-inch cutting deck, it is a better pick for homes with smaller lawns. (1.5-2 acres)
And it has a top speed of 6.5mph to boot. Talk about mowing your lawn fast.
Thankfully, the speed is complemented with great stability and control.
You can spin this 360-degrees around obstacles and it can tackle most types of terrain thanks to the huge 18-inch wheels on the rear.
The dual hydrostatic drive system allows you to pull nearly every stunt in the ‘Lawnmower handbook’ without worrying about the mower doing a backflip.
Having said that, I wouldn’t recommend this mower if you have very steep inclines. An occasional bump or two isn’t a problem at all.
In fact, the three anti-scalp deck wheels prevent the mower from stripping your lawn bare on uneven terrain. That’s a neat feature.
Riding the P46Z is a pleasure. And I’m not kidding. The 22 HP Briggs and Stratton engine gives it plenty of mettle.
Be it the 15” backrest or the lush padding on the lap bars, you won’t feel a thing even if you mow a lawn twice the recommended size. Oh, there’s a cup holder to keep your beverages close by.
The integrated service reminder keeps you updated when it’s time to knock it over and run some diagnostics.
Takes the guesswork out of mower maintenance! If you are looking at a fast, compact zero turn, look no further.
- 46-inch cutting deck
- Top speed of 6.5 mph
- 18-inch wheels with a dual hydrostatic drive system
- Anti-scalp wheels to prevent lawn damage
- 15-inch backrest for a comfortable ride
- Great control and stability thanks to the foam padded lap bars
- Integrated service reminder system
- Takes some getting used to. But you should be good to go after a couple of rides.
3. Ariens IKON-X 42″
The armrests, the dual arm deck hanging system and the heavy duty fabricated cutting deck, all scream commercial.
Thankfully, the similarity doesn’t end with the aesthetics. The IKON-X 42 has a bunch of amazing features that are a premium at this price point.
For starters, the 42-inch cutting deck is slightly smaller than most others.
While this doesn’t make much of a difference in the number of passes that you’ll make, it makes a lot of difference in the maneuvers that you can perform in tight spaces.
This will zip through the tightest of corners and give you a clean, close cut.
And it can reach top speeds of up to 7 mph. Under the deck is a tried and tested Kohler 7000 series engine that churns out a meaty 22 HP. Come sun, rain or snow, it will power to life instantly.
If you are one of those guys who’s finicky about the grass length, you’ll love the fact that the IKON-X 42 allows you to pick from 13 height settings. The tallest is 4.5 inches and the shortest is 1.5 inches for the brushed look.
Ariens has always been a brand that focuses on user comfort. So, you have plush seats, comfortable arm rests and a medium backrest giving you good company. Depending on your height, you can even adjust the control arms to further up the comfort.
What more can you ask for?
If you have a lawn up to 2 acres with a lot of obstacles, you might want to check the IKON-X 42 out.
- Compact 42-inch cutting swath
- Fabricated deck (10-gauge steel) for enhanced airflow under it
- 4 deck support positions to prevent vibration
- Kohler 7000 series 22 HP engine
- Adjust the control arms in three directions
- Medium backrest, comfortable arm rests
- Top speed of 7 mph
- Smooth and even cuts
- 13 cutting height adjustments
- Pricier than most other residential zero turns
4. Ariens Zoom 34
And even if they somehow manage to get the mower inside, they are too big to maneuver inside small lots with obstacles.
Enter the Airens Zoom 34, a budget-priced, compact zero turn that turns on a dime and will come right through your fence.
This pocket sized monster can run through smaller lots in limited time.
It has a 19 HP Kohler 6000 series engine under the deck and can hit top forward speeds of 6 mph.
Club that with the 34” 12-Gauge steel deck, and a 3-in one grass management system and you have a very durable, efficient and versatile mower that’s tough as nails.
If you occasionally hit a rough patch in the yard, the Hydro-gear EZT transmission ensures that the mower doesn’t stumble or clog.
Another neat feature is the foot operated deck lift that allows you to adjust the cutting height to 7 positions.
The twin blades give you a perfect manicure every single time. As I mentioned earlier, maneuvers are easy, except for when the lawn is overly damp.
In such a scenario, slow down when you make a 360-degree pivot.
Small flat lawn with obstacles? You’ve just found the right zero turn mower for you!
- Compact 34-inch 12-gauge steel cutting deck
- Perfect for small lawns (0.5 to 2 acres)
- Can make easy maneuvers in tight places
- Powered by a 19-HP Kohler 6000 series engine
- Foot operated deck lift for convenience
- Twin blades for the perfect cut
- Tends to leave skid marks especially if the lawn is very damp and the mower is at high speed. That’s hardly a deal breaker though.
- The seat backrest isn’t the best, especially if you are more than 6 feet.
5. Troy-Bilt Mustang Pivot™ 46
It was a consumer reports top rating for the Mustang Pivot that grabbed my attention first. But after taking this mower for a spin, I can safely say that this is among the best models in the business.
It has a conventional steering system and front wheels that are maneuverable. The result? Excellent traction on slopes and hills.
You can spin this around at the bottom of a slope, something that conventional zero turns struggle with.
Even when you are mowing sideways on slopes, the Troy Bilt Mustang Pivot doesn’t skid. So, the risk of skidding down into your pond reduces significantly.
The electric PTO allows you to start instantly and the 22 HP Kohler Twin engine delivers reliable performance. The Mustang has a top forward speed of 7.0 mph and if you are a coaster head, that’s your shortcut to reduced mowing time.
The 46″ twin-blade side discharge deck is a brute and it can be height adjusted to 8 levels.
So, if you have the occasional rock that pops out of nowhere in a dry yard, the Mustang Pivot has you covered. You can just increase the height rather than going around it.
And in case you prefer making a deft maneuver, it’s effortless.
A lot of homeowners are skeptical about user comfort in a zero turn with a steering wheel. But the Troy Bilt Mustang Pivot is a pleasant surprise. It has a comfortable, 18″ high backrest, a fuel gauge that’s visible without getting out of the seat and a cup holder.
Cleaning it is extremely easy thanks to the washout port.
Looking for a zero turn that offers an automobile-like driving experience? Here’s the Troy Bilt Mustang Pivot. It’s cheap, reliable and extremely effective in all types of terrain.
- Conventional Steering wheel drive
- Steerable front caster wheels
- Excellent traction on hills and slopes
- Easy maneuvers
- 22 HP Kohler Twin engine
- 0 mph top forward speed
- 46” twin-blade side discharge deck
- 18” high backrest
- Some users find that the Mustang tends to rip into the turf while making sharp turns. But I attribute that to user control rather than being a design flaw. And certainly not a deal killer.
How I picked the best zero turn mower
I skimmed through the sales talk and considered a few key variables that can make all the difference in the amount of time you spend mowing, your experience when you mow and the look that you are able to achieve with the mower.
The cutting deck width
One of the first things that you’d need to decide on is the size of the cutting deck. And it is directly related to the size of your lawn. For lawns that are up to 1 acre in size, a cutting deck under 40” will work great.
Not that you cannot pick a mower with a 42 or 46-inch deck. Just that you’d also need to factor in the number of obstacles in your lawn. The bigger the cutting deck, the more difficult it will be to maneuver around.
Also, if you have a fence, a bigger mower might not fit through the gate in the first place.
If you have a lawn that is 1-2 acres, anything above 40 inches and up to 50 inches will be a right fit.
But if you have a lawn that is more than 2 acres, go for a 54-inch cutting deck mower.
I have picked mowers for lawns of all sizes in this list.
Steering wheel vs. Lap Bars
Most zero turn mowers feature lap bars instead of steering wheels. The most notable difference is that mowers with lap bars have caster wheels that move individually whereas mowers with steering wheels have steerable front wheels that navigate the mower. Somewhat like an automobile.
This is more of a personal preference than anything else. But it is worth a mention that a mower with steering wheel offers better traction on slopes and hills.
Riding lawn mowers are not designed for comfort. They are designed for speed and sharp maneuvers.
Having said that, most manufacturers try their best to make their mowers a comfortable one.
Some features, like a medium or high backrest, adjustable armrests and comfortably positioned controls are the key to a smooth mowing experience.
Almost every zero turn mower these days features a 3-in-1 grass management option that allows you to switch between bagging, mulching and side discharge. Some older models only have the side discharge option.
So, if you like to bag or mulch, the 3-in-1 feature is a must have.
Wash out ports will allow easy cleaning once you are done decimating grass. It might not seem like too important a feature until you realize that crawling on all fours and jet spraying the underside of the mower is not fun.