New mowers offer easier starting and maintenance

Four from Cub Cadet, Snapper, and Toro performed well, too

Published: March 26, 2015 05:00 PM

Starting difficulties are a chief gripe with gasoline-powered lawn mowers, and the need to maintain the machines also a common complaint. One engine company, Briggs & Stratton, is addressing both gripes with two engines you’ll see in this year’s mowers, some of which Consumer Reports completed testing at our Fort Myers, Florida, testing site.

Better electric start. All mowers with electric start use a battery that must be kept charged in order to help in starting. Innovations we’ve seen with this feature, including how the running engine charges the battery of the $500 Honda HRR2169VLA, still use the usual lead-acid battery. One drawback: It charges best in warm weather and gradually loses its charge whether or not it’s used. So if you start trying to recharge the typical electric start battery in the chills of early spring, it might not be ready when you are.

Cub Cadet's InStart removable battery

But one mower we tested, the self-propelled Cub Cadet SC500EZ 12ATC6A, $500, uses a Briggs & Stratton Professional Series 875is, an overhead-valve engine with a particular feature we first covered last fall. InStart is a lithium-ion-based charger you can detach from the mower and charge indoors. The device powers up to 75 starts on a full charge, which takes an hour. And if you’re in too much of a hurry for that, you can charge it for 10 minutes and get 20 starts. Best of all, the rear-drive Cub Cadet performed well, with impressive cutting in mulching and side-discharge modes and easy handling thanks to its swiveling caster wheels.

Toro 20353

Goodbye, oil changes. We don’t know how many owners of walk-behind mowers change the oil regularly as they should. But here’s an engine that will make everyone happy. The oil in the Briggs & Stratton EXi still occasionally needs topping off, claims the manufacturer, but it should never need changing. The engine is found in seven machines so far, sold at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Sears, and Walmart. Those we’ve tested include the Toro 20353, $400, Snapper SP80 12AVB2A2707, $300 (both self-propelled, multiple-speed mowers), and the Snapper SP70 12A-A2A1707, $280, a self-propelled, single-speed model. We judged their mowing impressive or better in mulching and side-discharge modes; the Snappers fell short in bagging, which was so-so. The Snapper SP70, like other single-speed, self-propelled mowers, lost points in handling due to its slow ground speed.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll tell you more interesting findings from our lawn mower tests. In the meantime, check out our buying guide for lawn mowers and riders (including our new video, top of this page) before viewing our lawn mower Ratings of more than 160 walk-behind mowers, lawn tractors, zero-turn-radius riders, and rear-engine riders. Also check our survey-based brand-reliability scores.

—Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

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