The weather was cool and threatening rain the day we hit the test grounds. But even if it had poured, we’d have gone riding. Rain or shine, John Deere’s testing grounds near Greeneville, Tenn., are busy with crews running lawn tractors and riding mowers through a rigorous, multi-faceted testing program.
In a typical day, crews trial a wide range of mower models, including riding tractors and zero-turn radius mowers. Every little change made to any model, new or old, is tested first at this site. They’re constantly pulling mowers randomly off the production line to test for quality and consistency.
But on this day, they took a break from testing to host me (far left) and four other writers from around the country. We’d just come from a tour of their Greeneville factory and now had exclusive access to the grounds to drive several new-this-year lawn tractors and zero-turn riding mowers.
Now I don’t own a riding mower. My postage stamp-sized city lot gets cut with a reel mower. But whenever I’ve had a chance to test-drive riding mowers, I’ve wished for a lot big enough to justify one (and the deep pockets to afford one—riding mowers and lawn tractors aren’t cheap!). These machines put the fun back into lawn mowing.
Aside from the fun factor, I judge a riding mower on obvious criteria: easy starting, reliability, effectiveness, decent speed, low maintenance, comfortable ride. John Deere’s lineup passed each test.
Model D155 Lawn Tractor
It started readily, was easy to adjust blade height, steered nicely, handled corners efficiently (it has an 18-inch turning radius) and had a surprisingly comfortable seat. (I’m short, but the seat adjusted easily to accommodate my stature.) The mower has a 48-inch cutting deck, and its 24-hp engine was plenty adequate. Other features include ¼-inch height adjustment; a welded 12-gauge frame; cruise control; and mulching, bagging and side-discharging options.
Model S240 Sport Lawn Tractor
With a 42-inch cutting deck, this model lets homeowners with modest-sized lawns embrace the joys of mowing with a tractor. Its foot controls were easy to operate, and the machine had plenty of zip. Other features: an 18-inch turning radius and anti-scalp front wheels.
ZTrak Zero-turn Riding Mowers
John Deere’s zero-turn riding mowers are worth checking out. (If you’ve never test-driven a zero-turn mower, take the time to do so. They’re game-changers—the turning radius is essentially zero, allowing you to cut quickly and easily around obstacles and spin the mower in place to efficiently change direction.)
The ZTrak 625 clocks a slightly faster ground speed (9-mph vs. 8.5). It also features a 54-inch cutting deck (you can get either 48- or 54-inch on the Z435), a more comfortable higher seat and bigger tires.
Both models were ridiculously fun to drive and maneuver, and they’re extremely easy to operate.