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New crop of John Deere mowers impresses our testers

New crop of John Deere mowers impresses our testers

John Deere lawn tractors and riders have figured prominently in Consumer Reports’ mower tests, and this year’s Deere lineup—including at least one newly tested winner—shows that the company is responding well to increased competition from the likes of MTD’s Cub Cadet and Troy-Bilt brands.

Among lawn tractors, the company will soon abandon gear-drive models at the lower end, discontinuing the John Deere D100, $1,500, which we found jerky in its handling compared to the smooth, infinitely variable drive systems of our top picks. The replacement John Deere D105, is the same price and has the same 42-inch deck size and a continuously variable transmission. The new model, like the John Deere D100, sells at Home Depot. Unfortunately, both tractors lack a high-back seat and an electric power takeoff, which engages the blades with a switch rather than a mechanical lever. The John Deere D105 handled better than its predecessor, but other models in our tests did better overall.

Deere also introduced new zero-turn-radius models, including two we’ve tested: the 42-inch John Deere Z235, $2,500, (see photo) and the 48-inch John Deere Z255, $3,000. The John Deere Z235 succeeds the older, pricier John Deere Z225, which cost $2,900 when we tested it. The John Deere Z235, with its smaller deck, was much better for bagging than its larger sibling, which earned it a place among our recommended models. Both have v-twin engines with more horsepower, infinitely variable transmissions, and electric power takeoff. We also liked the ability to change mowing mode—say, from mulch to side discharge—without needing to change blades.

One caveat with both models: Even without the bag attachment, both riders tended to briefly tip up during our tests if we took off abruptly. Deere includes two 42-pound weights with the bagging kit to account for this or you can buy them separately for $60 each. Consider buying them, whether or not you expect to bag, to get rid of the lift.

A new feature we’ve learned about since our latest testing is a bagging accessory that relieves you of the need to remove, empty, and reattach bags by hand. Called the Material Collection System, it installs behind certain Deere tractors and reportedly lets you expel clippings from your seat. But at $500 it’s a pricey extra for such tested models as the John Deere 100 series (including the John Deere D105) or X300 series (including the John Deere X310 and John Deere X304).

Shoppers with the budget for pricey accessories might want to pay extra to begin with for even more convenience. How about a mowing deck that detaches and lets you drive off? The John Deere X700 Signature Series, which starts at $8,000, has other conveniences, such as on-board deck leveling, and accommodates a plow blade, snow blower, and other attachments. But to remove the deck—for example, to sharpen blades or change modes—you simply reach under to detach it by hand and then drive over the deck’s raised wheel supports, leaving the deck behind. We’ve no plans to test this dealer-sold model. Still, we’d like to see this feature eventually trickle down to lower-priced models.

Whatever you buy to keep your grass trim, be sure to see our buying advice for mowers and tractors before checking our lawn mower Ratings.

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