Best Zero Turn Lawn Mowers for Cutting Speed and Efficiency
Zero Turn Lawn Mowers or Z-Turn Mowers are so-named for their exceptionally short turning radius. They were originally developed in 1949 by Max Swisher, and marketed under the brand name “Ride King”. Z-Turn Mowers can make a 180 degree or even a 360 degree (in some cases) pivot in place. This means neater corners, better edging, and easier maneuvering around obstacles than is commonly possible with your ordinary lawn mower – riding or walk-behind.
Typically, the companies currently manufacturing Z-Turn Mowers also have them set up to run faster and to cut more efficiently than more ordinary mowers. All of this adds up to a mower that get the job done more quickly and efficiently, which is advantageous if you are mowing lawns commercially or if you have a large landscape area for which you are responsible. The two biggest downsides to these mowers are safety on slopes and the cost.
There is a wide range of products available on the market today, and below I have reviewed 5 of the very best options.
**Below, you will find more detailed reviews, but you can also click the links above to see current prices and read customer reviews on Amazon.
A Brief History of the Z-Mower
Max Swisher, from Warrensburg, Missouri, first developed a “zero turn” mower. It was marketed as the “Ride King.” Ride King mowers had three wheels – one in front, two in back. The motor drove the wheels in one direction only. To reverse or back up, the machine had to be turned around.
A similar machine was independently developed by John Regier, an employee of Hesston Corporation. Regier based his design on the counter-rotation pulleys used by commercial cutting machines called swathers. It didn’t take off right away. However, Hesston bought his design, and developed it.
Hesston became Excel after a time, and eventually marketed these Z-Turns as “Hustlers.” Grasshopper Mowers was the next to get in the act, in 1969. Their mower was a commercial success. Dixon ZT followed up on that, developing the term Zero-Turn or ZT. That got the genie out of the bottle, and ZT or Zero-Turn Mowers became a market staple for commercial companies that mow lawns.
Advantages of a Z-Mower
Zero Turn Mowers are a huge advantage for commercial lawn mowing or landscaping companies, or even for a home-owner with large green spaces. Because many of these machines feature other technological advantages, such as fuel injection for better fuel efficiency and increased mowing speed, they can reduce the amount of time needed to mow a large green space, as well as enabling better edging and corner trimming.
This efficiency not only reduces the amount of time spent on the large areas, it cuts down on the amount of time that a man on foot might have to spend using a weed-eater or similar tool in tight corner niches. In addition, most of these mowers are set up for additional add-on accessories such as leaf blowers or vacuums, snow plows or sprayers. Recent developments have made the ZT’s even more efficient. For example, Ferris recently introduced a compact model that can fit through a 36-inch gate opening.
Disadvantages of Z-Mower
Despite their efficiency, speed and versatility, there are some downsides to ZTs. One big show-stopper for home mowing is the cost. One of the least expensive models is the Z-Beast, with Roll-bar, with a Briggs and Stratton motor, at $$$$. Prices begin to top out at around $$$$$ for a Swisher 66” Commercial Pro Ztr, also with a roll-bar.
Why roll bars? Because ZTs, with their higher speeds and their greater maneuverability are easier to turn over than your standard riding lawn-mower.In fact, the user manuals for these machines direct that they should not be used on wet turf, and not on grades steeper than ten percent. That means that a ZT is great for that massive expanse of golf course green – on a sunny day, but not so great for that expanse of slope leading down to wet-lands swale.
Also, ZTs are heavy, and can damage turf if driven over it on a wet day. With their higher speeds and fuel injection, ZTs tend to be gas guzzlers, and the electric models show a poor trade-off between battery weight and mowing time.
Brands and Types of Z-Mower
Brands that produce ZTs include Swisher, Stanley, John Deere, Timecutter, Beast, Snapper, and Husqvarna – just to name a few. There are hundreds of companies producing these – including well-known brand names such as Troy-bilt, and Ariens. ZTs tend to have four types of steering.
The most common is two levers that each control a front wheel on four-wheeled models. Next most common is a simple steering wheel, with foot pedals as added controls. There is also a joy-stick model, that works in the same way that joysticks are used to control video games, and finally there is the standup model – which is commonly found only on commercial machines.
Deck placement is in front or in the middle of the machine. Front deck placement sticks out in front and is believed to give the best cut; mid-deck places the cutting deck under the machine, in a more traditional mower position.
Use and Safety Tips for the Z-Mower
ZTs are excellent machines if used as intended. They are not designed for extreme slopes, wet areas or pastureland. They are lawn mowers, designed to mow grass that is six to eight inches tall. If a ZT is run on wet ground, there is a risk that one wheel will lose traction while another is still pulling. This can cause the ZT to tip over. A ZT should never be used to mow a steep slope (remember that ten percent slope max) that has a pond or stream at the bottom, particularly in wet conditions. A ZT can lose traction and slide right into that body of water at the bottom.
On the other hand, if you have a large space of lawn, interspersed with formal flower beds, the ZT is your machine. It goes fast, it turns on a dime, and you can hustle across that big lawn and have it done in plenty of time for an event or to make space for the kids to play. Better yet, you can have time to play with the kids instead of trudging after a walk-behind mower. As with many mechanical products, the key is picking the right machine for the job.
Product Reviews – The Best Zero Turn Mower
The Swisher 66” ZT mower weighs in at 1800 pounds. It is equipped with a roll-bar for rider safety, and steers with two hand bars. As the name implies, the deck is front mounted, and utilizes a foot control to raise and lower it. Not only does it have the zero-turn capability, but it also goes both forward and backward, making for extreme mobility.
It is also set up to accommodate moderate undulation in terrain. It needs minimal maintenance, thanks to the rugged build. More than that, it is easy to use. It has an electric start, and the controls are positioned so that the user’s arms are in a comfortable resting position for decreased user fatigue. The 27 HP Briggs & Stratton V-twin engine generates plenty of power to get those big jobs done in a hurry.
As you might guess from the name, this machine is intended for those who have a lot of lawn to mow. On the flip side of that, this mower fits the Made in America profile – so that money is supporting workers in the USA. It also has the power and hook-ups for tow-along accessories.
- Easy maneuverability
- Easy seat adjustment for user comfort
- Natural arm positioning during use
- 66” cutting area
- Excellent cutting quality
- Easy to add accessories
- Made in USA
- Height adjustment lever difficult to reach from seat
- High price
The ZT Timecutter lawn mower from Toro incorporates comfort and ease of use. The seat is molded plastic with armrests. The steering mechanism is the traditional dual-lever model often used for ZT mowers.
This style of steering mechanism is considered to be the best system for ZT mowers, offering both flexibility and excellent control. The smart speed feature allows adjusting the speed according to the job – a fast speed for mowing and cutting, or a slower speed for towing and trimming – without slowing down the blade speed, which would affect the quality of cutting. It has a 22 horsepower Kohler engine for plenty of power, and a three gallon fuel capacity for long mowing times.
When it comes time to stop, however, the automatic parking brake – just push the bars out to the side – makes stopping easy and quick. The decking material is ten gauge steel. A rubber mat for the foot rest area gives good footing, and makes clean up easy.
The commercial versions have a roll-bar, but the home lawn version does not. However, both versions have a handy cup holder – great for staying hydrated while you mow, and a wash-out nozzle for cleaning up the blades and under carriage after use. This latter feature enables attaching a hose to the nozzle – no need to try to lift the blades or tilt the mower.
- 42-inch blade for good area coverage
- Automatic brake set on stopping
- Steel decking
- Wash-out nozzle
- Three-gallon fuel tank
- Learning curve for steering
- High price
The Zoom 50 in. ZT Mower has fifty inch blades for good ground coverage and cutting. It features 12-gauge steel decking, and a molded seat with an 18” back and fold down armrests for rider comfort.
It travels at 6 miles per hour forward, and 3 miles per hour backward, in addition to the precision turning radius. The steering mechanism is dual-lever steering. It has a 2-gallon fuel tank. It also comes equipped with a washout port to help keep the deck clean.
The compact design makes it fit through spaces that a mower with similar blade length might not be able to handle. It is designed with a low center of gravity to improve balance and hill-holding performance. Considering ZT’s normal susceptibility to tipping and slipping, this is an important feature. Grass is normally thrown out through a side panel in the deck, but a mulch kit can be purchased to collect the grass – or leaves, in season. The trailer hitch to turn the Zoom into a multi-tasking machine is sold separately.
- Steel Decking
- Kohler 6000 series V-Twin Engine
- Foot Operated Deck Lift
- Compact Design
- Low center of gravity
- Learning curve for steering
- High price
- Trailer hitch sold separately
The John Deere Z335E is a residential type ZT mower. It comes in the traditional yellow and green colors of the John Deere equipment company, and is priced considerably lower than certain other zero turn mowers. It features the Accel mower deck with air flow – this lifts the grass and creates better mowing at higher speeds.
It has a hydro-gear transmission with a 1-inch axis.This mower runs at 7 miles per hour, and has a 4-cycle John Deere engine. It is gas powered, with a 2.1-gallon fuel tank. It has a reputation for not being quite as sturdy as some of the other brands, but that is offset by the lower price.
While it might not hold up to commercial mowing, for an individual with a large lawn, this could be a good choice. It uses levers for steering and has the automatic brake feature that works when they are pushed to the side. With the addition of a trailer hitch, it can be used to tow light-weight lawn and garden appliances.
- Air Lift
- Lower Price
- 12-volt key start
- 20 HP
- 2 year warranty
- Stamped Deck Plate
- Trailer Hitch sold separately
The Husqvarna is another possible option for home owners with an acre or two of lawn to mow. It has a gas-powered V-Twin engine, and keyed electric start. Like the John Deere model, it has the air-lift feature that makes the grass stand up for better cutting.
It uses the lever-type steering which is reported to be extremely sensitive, so a little practice might be needed to use it efficiently. Like other models, it has the quick brake feature that kicks in when the levers are pressed apart.
The price for the Husqvarna is quite a bit lower than comparable models. The deck is stamped from reinforced steel for efficiency and durability. Some users have reported difficulty with the deck, citing faulty welding as the cause. The machine does come with a two-year warranty. It might seem as if there is a direct trade-off between quality and price.
- Lower Price
- Steel mowing deck
- Electric start
- Air-lift for more efficient cutting
- LED running lights
- Removable pan for access to cutting deck
- Possible lower quality than in previous years
- Trailer hitch and towing kit sold separately
Choosing the Best Zero Turn Mower for Your Yard and Garden
Selecting the best machine off the list is not difficult. Hands down, the Swisher is the best machine. It is the most durable and the most flexible to use. However, Swishers are also the most expensive. Moving on down the list, a Timecutter or a Zoom will do a decent job, are durable, and are less expensive than Swisher. They come in both commercial and residential grades – and in commercial and residential prices. The John Deere and Husqvarna models are essentially residential grade machines. Of the two, John Deere seems to have the better staying power, and fewer reports of problems.