Trading up to a riding mower can be a daunting proposition if you’re used to a walk-behind mower. They’re much bigger and pricier than your walk-behind mower, and the myriad controls might look confusing.

Unless you have acres and acres to cut, an entry-level model, typically with a 42-inch-wide cutting deck and costing $2,000 or less, should suffice. In our tests, many models in that price range cut as well or better than their pricier counterparts with a wider deck.

Two entry-level riding mowers to consider are the the Cub Cadet XT1 LT42, $1,700 (above left), and John Deere D130, $1,900 (above right). Both are sold at home centers and provide a beautiful cut. But which model gets the edge? To find out, Consumer Reports paired them in a this lawn tractor face-off.

Cutting

The Cub Cadet XT1 LT42 and John Deere D130 cut really well in side-discharge mode, and both aced our bagging test. The only discernible difference was in our mulching test. There the Cub Cadet gets a slight advantage, earning perfect marks for churning grass clippings into fine fragments that recede into the earth and nourish the soil. The Deere mulches well enough that you won't be disappointed with its performance. (The mulching kit costs $30 to $60.)

The winner: Cub Cadet XT1 LT42

Controls, Comfort, and Handling

Comfort might not be top-of-mind when you buy a riding mower, but it should be. In some regions, you can spend 50 hours or more each season on your tractor. The Cub Cadet XT1 LT42 and John Deere D130 each has a comfy and plush high-back seat, and both offer plenty of features, including an automatic drive system (which adjusts the transmission for speed) and a washout ports for cleaning under the cutting deck with a hose.

The Deere edged out the Cub Cadet in our braking, steering, turning, and stability tests, offering a slightly more refined ride. But again, the difference is slight. And if you’re trading up from a push mower, just about any tractor in our mower ratings will feel like a serious improvement.

The winner: John Deere D130

Cost and Reliability

Given the complexity of lawn tractors, maintenance is a must, and repairs are all but inevitable. That's why Consumer Reports' exclusive brand reliability should factor into your lawn tractor choice. In our most recent survey of 9,570 lawn tractor owners, John Deere is hands down the most reliable brand: 22 percent of John Deere models are estimated to break by the fourth year of ownership, compared with 37 percent for Cub Cadet.

Keep in mind that even though riding tractors are pricey, repair costs can be modest. The median out-of-pocket cost to repair a tractor in our survey is only $109.

Tie: John Deere for reliability; Cub Cadet for cost

The Verdict

In the end, the Cub Cadet XT1 LT42 and John Deere D130 are both terrific riding mowers. So terrific in fact that they’re tied in our ratings, each earning a spot near the very top of the pack. That’s impressive in a category where models can easily exceed $3,000.

For that reason, this face-off a draw.

If you favor a model that’s slightly easier to maneuver and more reliable, choose the Deere. If you’d rather save a few hundred dollars or prefer to mulch your lawn clippings, choose the Cub Cadet.

In any event, trading up to either of these tractors from a walk-behind mower will leave you with a lush, evenly trimmed lawn and plenty of free time this summer.