Consumer Reports has been singing the praises of steering wheels on zero-turn-radius riding mowers since outdoor power-equipment manufacturer MTD first introduced them five years ago for select Cub Cadet and Troy-Bilt riders. But now another company, Toro, has gotten into the act with models of its own that dispense with the mowers’ usual tiller bars and lightweight casters.
The 42-inch Toro TimeCutter SW4200 74784, $2,900, is one of two models Toro began offering this year; 32- and 50-inch versions are also expected this season. As with the MTD models, the Toro’s steering wheel and steerable front wheels—rather than levers and casters—allow more intuitive control, especially on slopes, and automatically slow down on sharp turns. In addition to requiring fewer passes around a tree or other obstruction, the speed reduction also results in fewer patches of grass that are essentially scraped bare.
While other recommended zero-turn-radius riders did better overall, the Toro SW4200 74784 cut as well in the side-discharge mode (the most common among tractor and rider mowers), as higher-scoring riders with steering wheels. There are other pluses. In addition to the twin-cylinder engine, you get an infinitely variable drive system, which lets you vary ground speeds smoothly without shifting. You also get electric power takeoff, which engages the blades with a switch instead of a lever, and a high-back seat—with the ability to check the fuel level without leaving that comfy seat.
Another feature we liked in the Toro is how this machine automatically stops the deck and sets the parking brake when you need to jump off the seat while the engine is running. Husqvarna offered its own variation on that theme with a parking brake built into the steering levers of its $2,700 Husqvarna RZ246 23/46. This zero-turn-radius rider offered impressive cutting in all modes but didn’t make our list of picks because Husqvarna, like Cub Cadet, is among the more repair-prone brands of zero-turn-radius riders.
We’ll be telling you about what else we found in our latest mower tests over the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, check out our buying guide for lawn mowers and riders before viewing our mower Ratings of almost 190 walk-behind mowers, lawn tractors, zero-turn-radius riders, and rear-engine riders. See also our survey-based brand-reliability scores.