Hybrid gas-electric power, a built-in generator, and a blistering 17-mph top speed helped make Raven's new $3,000 MPV-710 lawn tractor a brisk seller at Lowe's, where it's sold exclusively. Then Lowe's brought Raven sales to a screeching halt in late February after its manufacturer, Denver Global Products, found a sample that spun its blades when it shouldn't have. Lowe's recently put the Raven MPV-710 tractor back on sale after its manufacturer checked and cleared other Ravens in Lowe's inventory. But when it comes to tractors that deliver performance and value, our latest tests found a number of top lawn tractor picks that leave the Raven on the runway.
The Raven MPV-710 takes a wide, 46-inch bite with each pass. Electric motors power the blades without drive belts, reducing upkeep. While you'll need to run the engine when mowing, the Raven MPV-710 can whiz back to the shed both quickly and quietly on the battery alone. We haven't tested it as a generator yet; we do know it's especially portable. (Lowe's says it runs 10 hours under half-load conditions, a plus when the next Hurricane Sandy event hits.)
But mowing—the Raven MPV-710 tractor's primary job—proved less impressive at our Ft. Myers, Florida, test site. A low-angled side-discharge chute left significant rows of clippings. The switch that shuts the ignition off when you leave the seat appeared to cause surging over bumps. And changing speed ranges between mowing and speeding back to the shed means getting off the seat and groping beneath it for a small lever, which often wouldn't budge until we rocked this 750-pound tractor to free things up. And because its generator connections are 110 volts instead of 220, you can't safely connect the Raven to the most common type of transfer switch, which could mean a messy tangle of extension cords in a storm or power outage.
As for the Raven's potential safety problem, after inspecting its inventory Denver Global Products attributed the flaw to a faulty wire connection that allowed the blade to spin when it wasn't engaged. The company also told us it had notified the Consumer Product Safety Commission but is confident none of the roughly 450 machines sold since February is affected. (Denver Global Products says it briefly test-drives each Raven tractor before it's shipped to Lowe's.)
Still, if you own the Raven MPV-710, we suggest contacting Lowe's (800-445-6937) and insisting on the same safety check the company made to unsold models to be sure yours is safe. And if either blade spins when it isn't engaged, you know you have a problem.
In our tests of lawn tractors our top-performing models include four from John Deere, two from Craftsman, and one each from Snapper and Husqvarna. Our top-performing rider in that group is the Cub Cadet GT 2042, $3,600, which missed the recommended list because of the brand's below-average repair record. But scoring almost as well was the Snapper NXT2346, $2,800, which we recommend because of its impressive cutting, followed by John Deere models that range in price from the $4,000 John Deere X310 to the $1,700 John Deere D110.
For more tractors including those with wide decks, zero-turn-radius models, and two rear-engine riders, check our full mower Ratings and recommendations. Of course, for homeowners with smaller properties we have ratings of walk-behind push and self-propelled mowers.