Anyone who has a walk-behind lawn mower with electric start tends to like that feature, with two exceptions. Electric start doesn't relieve you of the need to maintain the mower. and the little battery powering the electric start periodically needs recharging. If you didn't think to do it before storing the mower for the winter, early-spring temperatures in some parts of the country aren't warm enough for an overnight charge to work in your garage. That used to mean a few weeks of pull-starting until Honda came up with a better way.
At the recent Green Industry and Equipment Expo (GIE+Expo), Honda borrowed an idea from car manufacturers. It's an electric-start battery that recharges itself as you mow, and you'll find it on two new self-propelled mowers Honda announced as part of a redesign of its mower line. The HRX217VLA is the new addition to Honda's HRX series of mowers with a polymer deck called Nexite, which Honda thinks enough of to give it a limited lifetime warranty to the original purchaser. The HRR216VLA has a steel deck. Both have a small, sealed lead-acid battery mounted on the handlebar (see photo).
Among features on both mowers are the variable-speed Smart Drive we've tested in previous mowers, including the top-rated Honda HRX217VKA, and the Versamow system, which on the HRX217VLA lets you distribute clippings to both the bag and the ground at once. The HRX's version of Versamow also includes a leaf-shredding mode that Honda says needs no tools or attachments for circulating leaves until they're small enough to pass into the bag. Both models use Honda's GVC190 overhead-cam engine.
Sara Pines, a spokesperson for Honda, told us that Honda had offered self-charging electric start years earlier but back then the feature didn't catch on because it added $100 to the cost of the mower. The new version adds $10 or less to the cost of the two 2013 mowers.
If you'll be shopping for a mower, check out our Ratings for walk-behind mowers, lawn tractors, and riders. Our buying advice helps you narrow your choices.