Pay the average amount for the top-performing, self-propelled mowers in Consumer Reports Ratings, and you'll easily shell out $425—with prices going up to $600 for the top-scoring Honda HRX217VKA. The very best of these were superb at cutting evenly in mulching mode, the most commonly used. But if all you can spend is $300 you don't need to settle for an inferior model. Here are five of our mower picks that cost no more than that yet scored very good or better in all three mowing modes:
Snapper SP80 12AVB27W, $300
A multi-speed, self-propelled mower can trundle along as fast as you need it to, and the 21-inch Snapper SP80 12AVB27W is the lowest-priced of our picks in that category. What you get for the price is consistently fine mowing in all three modes. Its front-drive transmission won't be a bother if your lawn is flat and you don't often bag clippings. But this mower isn't without compromises. In this case it's the side-valve engine, a less efficient design (than the premium overhead-valve) that generally doesn't last as long—though the machine started easily. We also find mowers with high rear wheels to be harder to tip back when turning.
Toro 20370, $280
Single-speed, self-propelled mowers don't tend to score as high for handling because their single ground speed can be tedious for anyone hoping to finish the lawn before dinnertime. But if you're not in much of a hurry to mow, the 22-inch Toro 20370, $280, might do fine. It mowed well across the board but superbly in mulching mode, and its premium Kohler engine (with no-prime starting) should last many years if properly maintained. It's also a front-wheel-drive model, as rear-drive often raises the price.
Snapper SP70 12A-A27X, $280
Another single-speed, self-propelled mower, the 21-inch Snapper SP70 12A-A27X was impressive across all three mowing modes and was easier to handle than the Toro. There's also no-prime starting. Caveats? Its Briggs & Stratton engine is a less-efficient side-valve design, which tends to have a shorter life cycle.
Cub Cadet SC100 11A-A92J, $250
The 21-inch Cub Cadet SC100 11A-A92J, did the best of push mowers, which lack transmissions so are more of a challenge on hilly lawns. For a flat lawn, it's all you need. Impressive evenness across all mowing modes is the main attraction; there's also a premium, overhead-valve engine.
Yard Machines 11A-B96N, $240
Like the similarly performing Craftsman 37432, $220, the 21-inch Yard Machines 11A-B96N, $240, trailed the Cub Cadet but not by much. Cutting evenness was consistent across all modes with the exception of the Yard Machines' side-discharge, which was the best of all push mowers. Otherwise, it's a basic model. The Briggs & Stratton engine is a side-valve, though you do get no-prime starting. And this model has high rear-wheels.
Whatever you're able and willing to pay, you'll find a gamut of prices among the nearly 170 mowers, tractors, and zero-turn-radius riders in our lawn mower Ratings. Be sure to check out our lawn mower buying guide first.
—Ed Perratore (on Twitter, @EdPerratore)