Arguably even the best petrol lawn mowers are going the same way as cars when it comes to being replaced by cordless lawn mowers, but for larger lawns there's still a lot to be said for mowers that run on gas. They go on for longer, they're easy to push up hills thanks to the motor assistance, and there's that animal thrill of 'driving' something noisy and powered by fossil fuels.
Best petrol lawnmowers: a buying guide
If you have a typical inner city lawn of even a small suburban plot, we would always advocate a cordless lawnmower as your first and most convenient port of call; they’re just so practical and quick to get the job done and far less hassle to use than corded versions. However, most cordless mowers aren’t really suitable for medium to large lawns because they run out of charge too quickly. That’s where the good old-fashioned petrol option comes in.
With an engine-powered mower you can mow and mow for hours on end – or as long as you have a can of extra unleaded petrol to hand. Most petrol mowers are relatively easy to use and some even come with self-propulsion to make life even easier; simply engage the gear and walk behind it, holding on of course lest it develops a mind of its own and heads towards the swimming pool or your sunbathing spouse. Most petrol mowers are also more than powerful enough to tackle even the kind of long damp grass that might flummox a cordless model.
However, it must be said that petrol mowers are noisy, smelly and heavy, and you usually have to change the oil after the first five hours of use, followed by every successive season. You will also need to clean the air filter and change the spark plug from time to time. Oh, and you’ll need to pop down to the local petrol station with a suitable petrol container. Lots to do, then, before you’ve even hit the sod.
Now stride forth, oh green-fingered one, and mow like you’ve never mowed before.
The best petrol mowers, in order
If you have a medium-size lawn, consider this keenly-priced, self-propelled model from Cobra. It comes fitted with a reasonably hushed 140cc Briggs & Stratton 500E OHV engine that is easily started in a standing position by using a pull cord conveniently attached to one of the folding handles. Its self-propulsion system is also easily engaged and its speed is nicely matched to a (fairly brisk) walking pace.
Design flourishes include a foldable quick-release handlebar for easier storage, a doddlesome height adjuster (from 25mm to 75mm in seven increments), big rear wheels for rougher terrain and easier turns, and a storage compartment for who knows what.
The Cobra lets you mow in three ways: conventionally using the large 60-litre grass collector; downwards mulching where fine grass cuttings are forced back on to the lawn; and sideways mulching where the cuttings are thrown out of the side using the included chute. Its 46cm (18 inch) cutting deck is perfect for lawns up to about 600m2, but given that it’s petrol powered, it will handle considerably larger plots.
Such is Honda’s excellent reliability record in all things engine related, we’re guessing this mower’s powerful pull cord-operated 160cc OHC 4-stroke will go on performing till the cows come home – or at least until the next blue moon.
Your neighbours will like it too because its noise level is allegedly 30% below the current EU standard.
The HRG 416 is equipped with a 0.91-litre unleaded fuel tank for lengthy sessions in the rough while its 41cm steel cutting deck and 50-litre grass collector are of a decent enough size to handle half a tennis court’s worth of sward without having to make too many trips to the compost heap. Its cutting height range is marginally better than some others in this roundup (20mm to 74mm) so perhaps contemplate this model if you have different lawns made up of both long and short grasses.
This mower doesn’t have self-propulsion so you’ll just have to put some back into it, fella. Mind, at 29kgs, it’s not overly heavy to handle, even for this stick insect writing about it. It also doesn't mulch. Overall, we narrowly prefer the similarly-priced Cobra mower but this is still an excellent alternative.
If you have a very large lawn (in excess of 40m x 40m) and can’t be bothered with pulling on a cord to start your engine, have a gander at this well-specced stonker from the house of Mountfield.
There's no unseemly huffing and puffing with this high-end model because it features electric key start; just turn said key and the 160cc Mountfield ST55ES OHV engine fires up in an instant. What a difference a key makes.
This model has a huge 48cm cutting deck, an ample 70-litre grass collector with indicator to show it’s full, five cutting height positions (from 25mm to 65mm) and, as you’d hope for a mower that weighs a hefty 39 kilograms, single-speed self propulsion (a suitably stately 2.23mph) for effortless navigation through the apple grove. It also comes with a mulching plug for those who prefer to have the cuttings fertilize the lawn.
When you’re done mowing for the day, simply attach a hose to the special fitting, turn on the tap, start the engine and the deck is given a good water thrashing. Mind, avoid doing this on your patio or it’ll end up looking like a swamp.
The Harrier has many plus points, not least the fact that it mows a lawn to near perfection while its 150cc Briggs & Stratton engine thunders on for ages on a single tank of unleaded. What’s more, because it’s so heavy (a whopping 37kg) and comes with a rear roller, it lays a mean-looking lawn stripe, too.
The Harrier comes with a 41cm blade, a large 60-litre fabric grass bag and the wherewithal to propel itself via the multi-speed Autodrive system, so you can mow one-handed while sipping on a gin and tonic. Choose your speed carefully, mind, because the 3.4mph top speed is decidedly nippy and we’ve all seen the YouTube videos of runaway mowers careening through greenhouses.
The Hayter’s a perfect choice for bowling green style lawns because its cutting height goes down to just 13mm; way lower than the vast majority of lawnmowers. Conversely, the highest setting is just 60mm so perhaps avoid this model if you have long, meadow-like grass. On the plus side, it cuts right to the edge, meaning less time with a strimmer or edger. And that’s a marvellous thing.
This is the petrol mower to grab for large stretches of long unruly grass, overgrown verges and inclines of up to 45˚. Like a Flymo, it hovers on a cushion of air and pretty much scythes through anything, even straw-like grasses. It’s exceedingly good for mowing steep inclines because its floaty nature means you can simply sweep it from side to side. The included wheels, meanwhile, are especially handy for keeping it on track on difficult terrain and for moving the mower from one area to another. However, it only has three height settings (17mm and 25mm) and no grass collector so everything will be spewed back onto the lawn.
The AirMow 51 Pro is equipped with a huge 51cm (20”) ABS cutting deck and powered by a reliable pull-start, four-stroke Honda GCV160 engine that’s relatively quiet and unyieldingly powerful. If you have a relatively large swathe of elongated grass that needs a good seeing to, this red grass mobster will do the deed. After all, if it’s good enough for professional golf course maintenance staff, it’s good enough for you.
Atco is often the brand of choice for city councils so you have to assume its mowers can take a good beating. This low-priced, push-along entry model isn’t exactly a model of sophistication but it cuts shortish grass very well for the price and is easy enough to start, even though filling it with fuel is a bit of a faff.
If you have a small, generally well-kept lawn and don’t fancy the idea of a cordless mower – although I think that's a better option for small lawns, but hey, don't worry about that – then the Atco is an inexpensive and worthy alternative. I wouldn’t bother with it if your grass is really long, though because the small 125cc, 4-stroke engine will likely bog down and possibly even cut out.