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If you have a small lot or a sprawling estate, picking a lawn mower is fairly straightforward.
Push mowers are a solid choice for up to about a quarter-acre. Self-propelled mowers, with their powered wheels, are great for yards from ¼ acre to about ½ acre—the mower pulls itself forward, freeing you from having to push the mower forward yourself.
But if you're tackling a lawn of around ¾ acre, even powered wheels won't make the job seem easy if you're only clearing a 21-inch-wide swath on each pass. That's the standard width for walk-behind mowers. And yet a regular riding mower or zero-turn-radius model might seem like overkill for a yard that size—plus they’re expensive and inconvenient to store.
Let us direct you to two better options: the wide-deck self-propelled mower and the rear-engine rider.
The former resembles a standard walk-behind mower, but it boasts an extra-wide cutting deck, typically 28 inches. That extra width will shave about a quarter of the time off each mowing—which adds up to a lot of hours saved over the season.
Rear-engine riders, on the other hand, are scaled-down riding mowers, with engines mounted behind (rather than in front of) the seat. Most have 30-inch-wide cutting decks, compared with the decks on riding mowers, which range from 36 to 54 inches. The narrower profile means they’re about 25 percent smaller than full-sized riders, which means these rear-engine riders require less storage space. And prices start around $1,000, instead of near the $1,300 mark for tractors.
Both types of mowers are typically powered by gas, but we have tested one battery-powered rear-engine rider.
“Wide-deck self-propelled mowers and rear-engine riders make up a small share of all the lawn mowers sold in the U.S.,” says Courtney Pennicooke, an analyst who oversees the lawn mower market for Consumer Reports. “But for people with larger-sized lawns, they really hit the sweet spot.”
Each year, Pennicooke makes sure that a number of both mower types are among the dozens of models we evaluate at our dedicated testing facility.
How CR Tests Lawn Mowers and Tractors
To get you ratings and reviews of the latest models by early spring, our testers travel to Florida to conduct tests in late winter at grounds we maintain year-round. We plant 1,800 pounds of grass seed (predominantly annual rye, prized for its dense growth). We cut 500,000 square feet of grass in three modes—mulching, side-discharging, and bagging (we collect 3,000 pounds of clippings in total). We cover level turf, slopes, and in ditches to get a feel for each and every model. We also review the convenience features on every model we assess.
The Overall Score for each model in CR's mower ratings incorporates all that performance data, along with predicted reliability and owner satisfaction ratings from our latest member surveys. The surveys leverage data on more than 64,000 lawn mowers and tractors that members purchased between 2009 and 2019.
Best Lawn Mowers for Big Yards
Size isn’t the only factor that should dictate your decision. Start with our lawn mower buying guide, which explains how the slope of your yard can change the equation. You’ll also find a thorough overview of battery-powered models, which make up an ever-growing slice of the mower market. Next, check our comprehensive lawn mower ratings.
CR members with digital access can also read on for ratings and reviews of the very best mowers for big yards (up to an acre).
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2020, Consumer Reports, Inc.