Best ride-on lawn mower 2020: mini tractors built for levelling larger lawns | T3

Best ride-on lawn mower 2020: mini tractors built for levelling larger lawns

If you've got an acre or more, or run the local cricket ground, you absolutely NEED a ride on mower. Yes, really, you do…

Best ride on lawnmower 2020
(Image credit: Stihl)

Spring has sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where my tractor is?

If you've got a large garden, there's only one way to keep it trim and that, my friends, is to buy the best ride on mower. Or, alternatively, a gardener with lots of stamina. Despite sometimes looking like off-road mobility scooters, a ride on lawn mower is actually among the most aspirational bits of 'tech' (in the broadest sense). It's certain the most aspiration of all the various types of best lawn mowers. They are much more often read or written about than purchased, we suspect. 

Whether you intend to merely read about these turf-trimming buggies or actually purchase one, we have you covered with a guide to the very best, alongside the very best current prices – buy online to avoid that depressing feeling of spending ages in a queue at B&Q…

What is the best ride-on mower?

This isn't just my choice: professional and users across the world (wide web) agree that the peculiar-looking but decidedly doddlesome STIHL RT 4082 is the best ride-on lawnmower you can get.

If you want something marginally less odd in appearance, the reliable tractor-shaped Stihl RT 5097 and Honda HF 2317 HM are both fantastic, and the extraordinary Husqvarna RC 320Ts AWD is there if money is really no object – not that the others are entirely cheap. 

Whichever you plump for, please don’t forget to post your multitude of ‘ride-on mower fails’ on YouTube so we can all have good laugh. Thanks.

Ride-on lawn mower buying guide

The first thing you need to ask yourself is: "Do I actually need a ride-on mower?" 

If your lawn is less than 350m2 then consider a petrol-powered mower or, even better, one of the best of the new breed of cordless electric mowers.

Even most of the best robot mowers should be able to cope with lawns smaller than the average cricket ground.

Ride-on mowers really come into their own on gardens in excess of 1,000m2, although if you have mobility problems they might become useful sooner.

Cutting width is one of the key factors when determining what size of ride-on mower to choose; a wider cutting width will obviously reduce the overall time spent mowing but the mower itself will be larger and not as storable. 

You will also need to decide on what level of manoeuvrability you require for your lawn. If you have a fairly wide rectangular expanse with straight edge borders and few obstacles, then any model will suffice. But if your garden is landscaped with tightly curved borders, centrally-located trees and other obstacles like benches, gazebos and ponds, your best bet is a ride-on with either articulated steering – these models can turn on their own axes – or a smaller model with a very tight turning circle. 

This also brings us to the type of mower. Do you want a tractor-style ride-on with the engine in the front or an ‘out-front’ model with the engine in the centre or rear and the driver up front? Tractor mowers look way better and make you feel more like farmer Brown but for better visibility and easier lawn maintenance, ‘out-front’ designed models are currently de rigeur. They provide unrivalled visibility when dealing with tight curves and tricky edges.

Most current ride-on mowers use petrol-driven engines and some are more powerful than others so also consider horsepower specifications when choosing. 

Finally, it goes without saying that you should at least try sitting on the model you plan to purchase, if only to make sure you’re comfortable and you have enough leg room. Thankfully most of the mowers here have adjustable seats but at least one (the John Deere) requires a spanner to move the seat fore and aft.

The best sit-on mowers, in order

Best ride on mower 2020: STIHL RT 4082T3 Best Buy logo

1. STIHL RT 4082

The best sit-on lawnmower

Specifications
Garden size: 4,000m2
Cutting width: 80cm
Cutting height: 35-90mm
Grass collector: 250 litres
Model width: 90cm
Reasons to buy
+Easy to use+Efficient+Reasonably priced
Reasons to avoid
-Looks ever so slightly comical

•Buy the STIHL RT 4082 from FR Jones and Son

Got an acre of pasture to mow? This mower from STIHL may look a little comic but it's actually a mean trimming machine. Despite what you might think, some ride-on mowers are actually quite complicated to operate. Not this little fella. Simply jump on, adjust the seat as you would in a car, turn the key, push the lever next to the steering wheel and hit the throttle pedal. To reverse, just pull back the lever. And that’s it. There’s a foot brake, too, lest you run out of control towards the greenhouse.

This cracking little mower is equipped with a centrally-located 13hp Briggs & Stratton engine married to a hydrostatic gearbox and variable speed drive for smooth and accurate manoeuvrability and easily maintained speed around the rhododendrons. 

Its 80cm cutting deck has six cutting heights (35mm-90mm) and is good for gardens up to and beyond 4,000m2 (an acre or more), and there’s a massive 250-litre grass box on the back that is emptied by simply extending a side-mounted lever and pulling on it. Rather handily, a beep is emitted when the hopper’s full.

If you’re in the market for a ride-on that easily handles large gardens, is a doddle to operate and isn’t prohibitively expensive, then this is the one to jump on.

Best ride on mower 2020: Mountfield 827M

2. Mountfield 827M

Best affordable ride-on mower for slightly smaller lawns

Specifications
Garden size: 3,000m2
Cutting width: 66cm
Cutting height: 30-80mm
Grass collector: 150 litres
Model width: 73cm
Reasons to buy
+Compact enough to drive through a garden gate+Small turning circle+Keenly priced
Reasons to avoid
-Not too stable on slopes-Looks only a mother could love

•Buy the Mountfield 827M from Mow Direct

The Mountfield is narrow enough for most garden gates and features electric key-start ignition, hydrostatic transmission for greater manoeuverability and quicker acceleration, a medium-sized 66cm cutting deck and a 150-litre grass box that can be emptied without getting off one’s arse. Just how we like it. An optional mulching kit is also available for those who prefer the nitrogen-rich cuttings to be scattered on the lawn.

The Mountfield comes with a small 3.8-litre fuel tank, easy lever access to its six cutting heights (30mm to 80mm) and a fuss-free cutting deck cleaning system that uses a hose attachment and a blast of water to purge the blade and deck of sticky grass cuttings, clumps of dog poo, etc. 

Given the narrowness of this model and its high centre of gravity, we wouldn’t advise riding this mower at an angle on a slope unless you want to give the neighbours a laugh. But for flat-ish household terrain with occasional obstacles, pathways and gates, the keenly-priced Mountfield passes a great deal of muster, even if it has been smitten repeatedly with The Ugly Stick.

Best ride on mower 2020: Stihl RT 5097

(Image credit: Stihl)

3. Stihl RT 5097

Top German-made tractor-style mower for large lawns

Specifications
Garden size: 6,000m2
Cutting width: 95cm
Cutting height: 30-100mm
Grass collector: 250 litres
Model width: 101cm
Reasons to buy
+Huge cutting deck+Excellent performer+250 litre grass collector+Five year warranty
Reasons to avoid
-You'll need somewhere to store it-Requires annual maintenance

•Buy the Stihl RT 5097 from Mow With Us

If you fancy the idea of straddling a proper tractor and making like Farmer Gyles (ouch!), consider investing in this Teutonic marvel which is good for lawns (or rather estates) up to and possibly larger that 6,000 square metres (or 1.482632 acres to be pedantic).

The Stihl is powered by a front-mounted 344cc, 8.8hp Briggs & Stratton petrol engine married to a pressure-sensitive pedal for smooth and accurate manoeuvrability, whether it’s going forwards or backwards. In fact, you can change the direction from forward to reverse with a single action, and that’s a handy function to have when you’re negotiating the partner’s poppy patch.

This ride-on is equipped with a massive 95cm steel cutting deck, a wide cutting height range of 30-100mm and a whopping 250-litre grass collector that can be emptied into your neighbour’s garden without leaving the comfortably sprung seat. A five year warranty from Stihl completes a large but tidy package that should go on running smoothly as long as you stick to the maintenance schedule.

Best ride on mower 2020: Honda HF 2317 HM

(Image credit: Honda)

4. Honda HF 2317 HM Lawn Tractor

Excellent tractor mower for lawns up to 1.25 acres

Specifications
Garden size: 5,000m2
Cutting width: 92cm
Cutting height: 29-80mm
Grass collector: 280 litres
Model width: 97cm
Reasons to buy
+Honda reliability+Massive 280-litre grass catcher+Superb performer+Optional mulching kit
Reasons to avoid
-Requires annual maintenance-And a regular stock of petrol

• Buy Honda HF 2317 HM direct from Honda

This tractor mower is fitted with a relatively quiet 530cc Honda four-stroke OHC V-twin petrol-powered engine that will probably go on running forever, a 5.4-litre fuel tank and five speed settings that take you from a sedate 2kph to a spritely 8.2kph. Everything under the bonnet is monitored using Honda’s intelligent diagnostic system.

On the cutting front it comes with an efficient 92cm twin-blade cutting deck with seven height settings (29mm-80mm) and a 280-litre grass collector that’s tilted back manually using a lever without having to leave the seat. A pair of headlights, meanwhile, illuminate the path ahead – perfect for those who like mowing in the dark but don’t want to run over any moles. Optional extras include a mulching kit and a tow hitch for carrying stuff.

This ride-on is ideal for lawns up to 1.25 acres; it’s extremely well built, comfortable for long sessions in the saddle and pretty ease to get a handle on. But it’s that Honda badge on the engine that clinches it.

Best ride on mower 2020: Husqvarna RC 320Ts AWD

5. Husqvarna RC 320Ts AWD

Best sit-on mower for extreme conditions

Specifications
Garden size: 9,000m2
Cutting width: 112cm
Cutting height: 25-75mm
Grass collector: Yes, 300 litres
Model width: 103.5cm
Reasons to buy
+All-wheel drive+Wide cutting deck+Tight turning circle thanks to rear wheel steering
Reasons to avoid
-Could be described as a touch pricey

•Buy the Husqvarna RC 320Ts AWD from Mow With Us

If you have a lawn in excess of 1.5 acres, consider this striking orange job from renowned Swedish manufacturer Husqvarna.

This all-wheel drive model features a huge 112cm cutting deck with seven different cutting heights (from 25mm to 75mm), a large 12-litre petrol tank for lengthy mowing sessions and powered rear-wheel steering that allows it to take extremely tight turns with little to no effort. And because its choke-free 656cc Briggs & Stratton petrol engine is mounted behind the driver, you get a much better view of the terrain ahead.

The Huskie’s all-wheel drive system is a big bonus when traversing slippery slopes and, because it also features hydrostatic transmission, you’ll have more power on hand and be able to accelerate faster and change speed more efficiently. 

The clog-free grass collection system is worthy of mention, too, since it compacts the clippings automatically, substantially increasing the length of time between trips to the compost heap. Better still, when you get there you simply press a button and it automatically pitches the massive 300-litre grass collector backwards like a tipper truck, emptying all the cuttings in the process. For those who have a garden so large they often get lost, there’s also a 12v socket near the transmission controls to plug in your TomTom.

Best ride on mower 2020: John Deere Ztrak Z335E

6. John Deere Ztrak Z335E

Best ride-on mower for gardens with lots of tight turns

Specifications
Garden size: 8,000m2
Cutting width: 107cm
Cutting height: 25-102mm
Grass collector: No, optional
Model width: Unspecified
Reasons to buy
+Turns on a sixpence+Good for long grass
Reasons to avoid
-Tricky to steer-No grass collector

•Buy the John Deere Z335E from Mow With Us

Zany industrial looks aside, this golf course-style ride on model is pretty comfortable and has a nifty trick up its sleeve – it turns on its own axis, like a dodgem car. This makes it a mighty fine choice for large landscaped gardens that require lots of tight turns; all that space up front makes it very easy to see where you’re going, too.

Mind, the steering mechanism takes a while to master since it comes with two steering arms rather than a wheel – rather like a tank. 

Moving in a straight line isn’t an issue; simply push both arms forward at the same time. Turning, though, is a different kettle of fish that requires pushing either the right or left lever to make the mower turn in the opposite direction. Believe us, your first ride will be quite an entertaining experience.

To ride it, the steering arms are articulated outwards so you can get into the adjustable length seat. Now place your feet on the foot rests, fire up the rear-mounted 16.5bhp V-twin engine, bring the steering arms back together, lower the large 107cm (42-inch) cutting deck and start mowing. There’s no grass collector on the standard machine but a 230-litre hopper is available if required.

In the pantheon of ride-on mowers, this thing is pretty nippy (11kph feels bloody fast on a first outing) but fear not should you fall off on that tight turn round the swimming pool because there’s an automatic cut-off switch under the driver’s seat. 

If you have up to 8,000m2 of prime sward or even an unkempt meadow at your disposal and require a ride-on model that has a wider range of cutting heights than others, is extremely manoeuvrable and seemingly great fun to drive, then this is the mower for you, pal.

• Find out more about the John Deere Ztrak Z335E