Zero-Turn vs Lawn Tractor: A Comparison

Home and acreage owners with one or more acres of property are faced with more choices than ever when it comes to mower type, size, features and price.  Among landscape maintenance professionals, it’s safe to say the zero-turn riding mower has become the tool of choice to consistently and quickly achieve a beautiful after-cut appearance. However, when it comes of homeowners, are zero-turn mowers still the preferred choice? Read on to find out.

Productivity: A faster mower = more free time

Landscape pros choose zero-turn mowers because they deliver the finished appearance their clients expect, and they do it more quickly than other mower types. And while it may be true that homeowners don’t have to make money with their mower, it’s a good idea to consider what their time is worth.

Let’s take the case of an acreage owner with about 5 acres to mow, with moderate landscaping, a mixture of mature and small trees, and a kids’ play area in the back yard. We’ll compare lawn tractors and zero-turn mowers at three popular price points: $4,000-5,000; $7,000-8,000 and $13,000-14,000.

This comparison will provide an estimate of the relative productivity that could be expected at each price point from a lawn tractor and zero-turn rider. That said, raw productivity numbers don’t factor in other aspects of mower performance such as maneuverability, durability, operator comfort or quality of cut. As a result, the ultimate productivity of a mower will depend on a combination of factors.

To determine the acres-per-hour productivity of each mower, we used the top speed of the mowers, along with the published width of the cutting deck. Since most mowers are not able to produce a good quality of cut at maximum speed, we assumed 80-percent efficiency from the mowers to account for this, as well as for time spent not actually cutting grass, such as turning around or overlap.

Learn more about how to determine mower productivity.

Productivity of $4,000-5,000 mowers

Whether it is a lawn tractor or zero-turn rider, most mowers in this price range have 48- to 54-inch cutting decks and top speeds of 6-7mph. As a result, the raw productivity numbers are fairly similar in this category, but in reality, the differences in maneuverability are greatest in this price range. That’s because lawn tractors in this category don’t offer maneuverability-enhancing features such as four-wheel steering. On the other hand, the Exmark Quest S-Series is a true zero-turn mower, with the ability to quickly make 180-degree turns. This not only lets you maximize productivity, but also create the distinctive striped appearance that’s the calling card of a professionally maintained lawn.

Mower Model Mower Type MSRP Cut Width Top Speed (MPH) Acres per Hour (Gross)
Exmark Quest S-Series Zero-Turn Rider $4,299 50-inches 7.0 2.8
X320 Lawn Tractor $4,599 54-inches 6.2 2.6
X320 Lawn Tractor $4,299 48-inches 6.2 2.3

Productivity of $7,000-8,000 mowers

Raw productivity numbers for machines in the $7,000-8,000 price range jump roughly one acre per hour for zero-turn mowers, and one-half acre per hour for lawn tractors, when compared to the lower priced mowers. Within the category, the most productive machine – a 60-inch Exmark Pioneer S-Series zero-turn rider – can save homeowners about 23 minutes when mowing five acres, compared to the lawn tractor example.

Similar to the lower price category, the majority of lawn tractors in this price range steer with the front wheels only. This compromises productivity due to reduced maneuverability relative to zero-turn riding mowers. The Pioneer S-Series zero-turn rider offers true zero-turn maneuverability, making the real-world productivity gap even greater when compared to a lawn tractor.

Mower Model Mower Type MSRP Cut Width Top Speed (MPH) Acres per Hour (Gross)
Exmark Pioneer S-Series Zero-Turn Rider $7,899 60-inches 8.0 3.87
Exmark Pioneer S-Series Zero-Turn Rider $7,399 52-inches 8.0 3.35
X540 Lawn Tractor $7,799 54-inches 7.2 3.14

Productivity of $13,000-14,000 mowers

Moving up to the $13-14,000 price range, the productivity gap grows significantly, particularly in the zero-turn rider category, where productivity nearly doubles, from 3.87 to 6.68 acres per hour for the zero-turn riders, and from 3.14 to 4.11 acres per hour for lawn tractors.

The productivity gap between the zero-turn rider and the lawn tractor is nearly 1.45 acres per hour for 60-inch cutting width machines (the widest deck offered on the lawn tractor). When you bump up to a 72-inch cutting deck on the Lazer Z X-Series zero-turn rider, the productivity gap further increases to 2.57 acres per hour!

A homeowner with a 72-inch Lazer Z X-Series machine could mow five acres in less than 45 minutes. The lawn tractor example would mow the same area in about one hour and nine minutes, saving the homeowner on the Lazer Z X-Series machine nearly half an hour in mowing time.

Mower Model Mower Type MSRP Cut Width Top Speed (MPH) Acres per Hour (Gross)
Exmark Lazer Z X-Series Zero-Turn Rider $13,899 72-inches 11.5 6.68
Exmark Lazer Z X-Series Zero-Turn Rider $13,499 60-inches 11.5 5.56
X739 Lawn Tractor $13,699 60-inches 8.5 4.11

Maneuverability: Mow more; trim less

Raw productivity is one thing, but when you add in landscaping, lawn furniture and kids’ areas, the maneuverability of a mower quickly becomes an important component of real-time productivity. As a result, maneuverability is one big reason more landscape pros choose zero-turn riders. A zero-turn rider isn’t just able to mow more quickly in a straight line, it can also mow closer to landscaping with greater control thanks to its ability to turn-on-a-dime. You’ll finish mowing quicker and reduce the time spent completing trim work – a true win-win situation.

As you move above $10,000-11,000, lawn tractors begin to offer maneuverability-enhancing features, such as four-wheel steering and/or four-wheel drive. But even with those features, the maneuverability still does not compare to the performance of a true zero-turn riding mower.

Quality of Cut: A professional’s calling card

Landscape professionals earn their living delivering a consistently superior cut quality for their customers. That’s why Exmark has worked hard to engineer the best cutting decks on the market. Learn about our ride-on rear discharge mowers, with UltraCut cutting systems.

Exmark’s patented flow-control baffles and exclusive blade designs deliver an unmatched quality of cut that’s optimized for the increased cutting speeds Exmark mowers are capable of achieving. When it comes to quickly making tall grass short, with a beautiful finished appearance, no lawn tractor can match an Exmark Lazer Z zero-turn rider. That’s one reason landscape pros choose it two-to-one over the next leading competitor.

Durability: The definition of commercial-grade

One thing we’ve learned in our more than 30 years of building mowers for landscape professionals is that stamped steel decks just don’t cut it when it comes to the demands of mowing sun up to sun down. That’s why every zero-turn mower we build comes standard with a heavy-duty fabricated steel cutting deck. Each of the lawn tractors in this comparison feature stamped steel cutting decks.

Fabricated decks are stiffer, stronger and more durable than stamped decks, even reinforced models. And with features like no-maintenance sealed bearing spindles and hex-style blade drivers, the Exmark durability advantage extends to the components as well as the cutting deck itself.

Exmark zero-turn commercial mowers feature state-of-the-art powerplants with gasoline, diesel and propane fuel options. With commercial-duty features such as multi-stage canister-style air filters, pressurized lubrication, oil coolers and cast iron cylinder liners, the engines powering Exmark mowers are as cutting edge as the mowers they power.

Our exclusive unitized hydro-drive components and welded, heavy-duty tubular steel unibody frames are two more features that help Exmark machines deliver the durability landscape professionals need to stay productive and profitable season after season.

Bottom Line: Choose the tools the pros use

When compared head-to-head, it’s clear a zero-turn riding mower offers the most compelling combination of productivity, maneuverability and quality of cut available today. And while innovations such as four-wheel steering and four-wheel drive have helped to increase the productivity of high-end lawn tractors compared to earlier models, at every price level examined, Exmark zero-turn riding mowers are clearly the more productive machines.

When it comes to durability, Exmark scores big with true commercial-duty frames, cutting decks, drive systems and engines designed to stand the test of time.

Bottom line: an Exmark zero-turn riding mower very well could be the last mower you need to buy.

*Productivity rating in gross acres per hour is based on the published specifications for each product. Actual performance may vary from specified performance based on conditions.
Formula for calculating acres per hour at 80% efficiency: (MPH x width of cut in inches)/124