The mower testers at Consumer Reports are scouting out the next batch of mowers for our tests and found a zero-turn-radius rider that looks like a game changer. Playing off its name, the Cub Cadet RZT-S Zero claims to have "zero engine noise, zero engine maintenance, zero gas, zero oil, zero oil filters, zero belts ... and most importantly, zero hassle." Based on our first impressions of the new mower at a recent Cub Cadet event, we're looking forward to putting it through our full battery of tests.
First of all, it is whisper-quiet when running and makes about as much noise as the typical washing machine when the mower blade is engaged. So we needed no hearing protection. Better yet, it sports the same 42-inch deck as the Troy-Bilt Mustang 42-inch 17WFCACS, our top-scoring zero-turn-radius mower and the only one in our tests with superb evenness in side-discharge mode. And like the Cub Cadet Z Force S 46 17AF5BHH, the RZT-S Zero rider features a tractor-like steering wheel and steerable front wheels for better control down slopes.
At $4,500 the RZT-S Zero doesn't come cheap, but you can appreciate the engineering that went into this American-made mower. It runs on four 48-volt batteries that power four motors, two for the deck and two for driving the infinitely variable transmission. There are two mowing speeds, normal and "blade boost," which is intended for thicker growth. Whatever speed you use, the mower slows down automatically during tight turns. And while it comes equipped for side discharge, the mode of choice for most riding mowers, a separate mulch kit is available.
The RZT-S Zero has some nice operational and safety features including the need to confirm your choice if you try to mow in reverse. It displays a low-battery warning, but the company insists you'll get at least 60 minutes of continuous cutting with no loss of power, and perhaps 90 if you stay out of blade-boost mode. Even when the battery runs too low to continue mowing, it retains enough juice to get you back to the shed for a recharge. That you do by plugging the mower into a standard outlet and leaving it overnight.
The manufacturer, MTD, claims the batteries should last for about six years of use. Replacements cost $200 apiece. (They're warranted for three years, as is the unit.) But MTD says you'll still come out ahead given the cost of gasoline, oil and other supplies.
If you have a half-acre or more to mow and are fed up with tuning-up and maintaining your gas-powered machine, you might want to take a look at this mower. The Cub Cadet RZT-S Zero isn't yet widely available, selling this year in the Northwest and in Cleveland, Ohio, where MTD is based, and by special order through Cub Cadet dealers. But you'll find it at dealers nationwide early next year.
In the meantime, there are nine other zero-turn-radius mowers ranging in price from $2,300 to $3,600 that made our list of top mower picks. We also recommend nine push and 16 self-propelled walk-behind mowers for those with smaller yards.