The notion of "all-wheel drive" takes some of its cachet from cars that drive more safely, with wheels that keep their grip on slippery roads. Husqvarna says its mowers let users “easily handle hills, thick grass, and tough terrain” with the result of “maximum control and maneuverability.” We agree that all-wheel drive has its place but unless you have a seriously graded property to mow, you can get a better-cutting, rear-wheel drive mower for less money. We're also concerned about the single thin, serpentine belt (see manufacturer's photo) that distributes power from the rear wheels to the front. It adds to the complexity of the machine and could need replacement over time.
By contrast, self-propelled mowers with rear-wheel drive get great traction on moderate slopes. If you’re bagging, RWD also comes in handy since a mower’s front wheels tend to rise as the bag fills up. Try this with a front-wheel-drive mower, and you’ll be doing all the pushing while the drive wheels spin in the air.
For the lower price of a self-propelled mower, front-wheel drive could suffice if you have a very flat lawn. And because of the front-driven wheels, these mowers are easier to turn by tipping the mower back. One drawback: Most single-speed, self-propelled models have FWD and won’t let you speed up on long stretches from one end of a property to another.
As for their cutting, none of the AWD models we’ve tested have risen to the level of our recommended mowers. This year’s Husqvarna AWD models have improved their evenness in mulching mode, but bagging remains mediocre. (The Husqvarna HU675AWD can’t even bag.) High performance across the board, in fact, is primarily the realm of rear-drive, self-propelled mowers such as the Honda HRR2169VLA, $500, and the Toro Recycler 20333, $400.
Whatever kind of mower you’re shopping for, we have almost 170 mowers, lawn tractors, and zero-turn-radius riders in our lawn mower Ratings. Be sure to make a stop at our buying guide before settling on your choices.
—Ed Perratore (on Twitter, @EdPerratore)