Our Turf Expert Put a John Deere Lawn Tractor to the Test
I'm a turf professional, and I've sold a lot of heavy-duty commercial turf equipment over the years—so I know a quality mowing machine when I see one. Let's talk about the John Deere lawn tractor.
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Joe Churchill for Family Handyman
Full transparency here: I’m in the professional turf business. I got my start as a teenager many years ago working at my hometown golf course. For about 10 years, I sold commercial turf equipment to golf courses, sports turf managers, professional sports teams and lawn care companies. This is all to say that I know a quality mowing machine when I see one.
So, when I got my hands on a John Deere lawn tractor, I was well prepared for the task. And if you weren’t already convinced of my prowess around a lawn mower, know this: I rigorously tested this mower for multiple months so I could give you the 4-1-1. How’s that for thorough testing?
What is a John Deere lawn tractor?
Founded in 1804, John Deere is a storied brand that’s been around for literal centuries. However, it wasn’t until 1963 that the brand produced its first lawn tractor (around the same time Cub Cadet did). The initial zero-turn mower followed in the late ’90s. OK, back to the type of mower I tested.
I received a conventional, belly-mounted lawn tractor from John Deere to test out, and let me say: It is one sweet ride. Upon ignition, I could sense the power and torque this machine was about to deliver. After the novelty of making a few laps around my lawn under the watchful eye of envious neighbors had withered, I began to pay closer attention to the experience.
As I said before, this is a lawn tractor. It’s not a zero-turn riding mower—although John Deere still makes those, as well. Zero-turn mowers typically take up a lot of floor space in big-box stores and power equipment dealers. They also receive high marks in terms of maneuverability and productivity. However, they’re not for everyone. There’s a lengthy learning curve associated with developing the skill set to operate one. That’s not so with the lawn tractors from John Deere. If you can drive a car, you can operate this tractor.
John Deere Lawn Tractor Features
When taking a look at my John Deere Tractor, the first thing I noticed was that the display dash is well designed and easy to read. It features a fuel gauge, tachometer, voltmeter and hour meter. My unit didn’t come with available power steering, which at first, I thought may be an issue. Not so. Guiding the mower around obstacles was effortless. I’m not sure why you would even need it, to be honest. The tractor also comes with automotive-style cruise control in case you’re mowing larger, unobstructed areas. Once engaged, simply tap the brake, and it disengages. The seat is adjustable and adds to the overall comfort of the operator’s station. There’s also a small storage compartment and cup holder.
The easy-start electronic ignition delivers a quick engine start every time. As expected, there are many safety features and integrated proximity switches that protect the operator from personal injury or property damage. The engine won’t start unless the parking brake is on. And, when mowing, the blades will automatically disengage when attempting to go in reverse. Pushing the PTO button down and then re-engaging is a bit cumbersome, but there’s a switch to intentionally override this safety feature. Otherwise, to re-engage the mower blades, you need to push down the PTO button and pull it up again. To dismount the mower with the engine running, you must have the blades disengaged and the parking brake activated.
I love the infinitely variable hydrostatic transmission. Travel speed in both forward and reverse can be increased or decreased by how far down you press the Twin Touch pedals with your right foot. It’s that easy. The hydrostatic transmission provides dynamic braking, meaning when you take your foot off the forward/reverse pedals, the mower automatically comes to a stop without using the brake pedal. The mower won’t coast when the hydrostatic transmission is in the neutral position.
The mower design offers good maneuverability, meaning it hugs sharp corners, trees and garden edging very well. Its well-designed steering and geometric configuration help keep the uncut circle to about 18 inches. This is impressive for a conventional belly-mount lawn tractor style. The mower comes equipped with large turf tires that provide a good grip, however, I did find it to be a bit underpowered when turning sharply uphill. I may be asking for a lot in this situation, but I did notice the mower had to work extra hard and seemed to stall a bit during this maneuver.
How We Tested It
My lawn is not large, and it’s littered with several trees, gardens, bird feeders and other obstacles tucked in numerous nooks and crannies. Add in a couple of small hills and it creates a potentially challenging proving ground for a lawn tractor. I was up for the task. The only remaining question: was the mower?
After a couple of mowings to determine the best angle of approach when navigating around these obstacles, I was very surprised at how maneuverable the lawn tractor was and how little extra trimming I had to do to finish the job. Yet, if your lawn is on the small side, a standard belly-mount lawn mower may not be the best choice.
My goal was to determine ease of operation and cutting performance, both in terms of the quality of cut and its maneuverability and production. I am pleased to say that I checked most of the boxes reckoning the John Deere X Series as a high performer when it comes to mowing lawns of various sizes, shapes or configurations.
- Nicely designed operator’s station
- Smooth two-pedal hydrostatic transmission
- Superior cutting performance
- Very versatile with many available attachments for year-round use
- Easy to service
- Powerful horsepower (HP) engine
- Somewhat underpowered when climbing hills with the mower deck engaged
- Manual PTO re-engagement after backing up is cumbersome
Joe Churchill for Family Handyman
John Deere produces various lawn mower types, including zero-turn, lawn, commercial and golf- and turf-specific options. Here are the following lawn tractor types to be on the lookout for and what differences you can expect between models. For reference, we tested a lawn tractor within the X300 line, but the John Deere quality is present in all the series.
- John Deere 100 Series: This is the most affordable line, which offers a two-year warranty on all mowers and decks up to 54 inches.
- John Deere 200 Series: Units in this line have a three-year warranty, cruise control and the smallest deck sizes.
- John Deere X300 Series: Twin Touch foot pedals are offered on these models along with a deck leveling system.
- John Deere X500 Series: This is the priciest lawn tractor line that features a longer warranty of 500 hours (or four years), the strongest HP motors and a larger 21-inch seat.
I grew up on a small farm in Southeastern Minnesota and my dad was a John Deere guy. Having declared that, I will tell you I have no bias toward a John Deere. In fact, I used to sell against John Deere in the golf and sports turf markets. John Deere isn’t the only good riding lawn mower out there—there are others, like Cub Cadet, Husqvarna and Kubota, to name a few. Yet, there is something about a John Deere lawn tractor that quickly transports me to my happy place. It gives me a better sense of comfort and assurance knowing I’m buying quality.
A lawn tractor from John Deere will set you back a few bucks, but there’s a reason for that. John Deere has been making quality lawn tractors finished in that classic green paint since 1963. It’s the genuine article when it comes to lawn tractors, the one all other manufacturers try to mimic. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”
John Deere lawn tractors aren’t perfect, as there’s no such thing. But after spending some quality time with one and focusing on the sum of its parts, I’d say it’s at the top of the lawn tractor food chain.
Where to Buy a John Deere Lawn Tractor
Like many equipment manufacturers, John Deere offers a good-better-best product selection. You can buy them at big box stores, like The Home Depot and Lowe’s, where light-duty options may better fit your price point. Or you can buy the beefier X300 and X500 series lawn mowers at authorized John Deere dealers.