Our tests do not always go quite to plan. We wanted to try Amazone's Profihopper - the well-known zero-turner with flail and collector - but we wanted it with SmartCut. This is a brand new cutting rotor. It's so new that when we enquired about it there was a limited number in the UK and Amazone had just sold the last one. New stock would not be available until the week after the test.
A compromise was agreed. We would trial the iDrive stick-steer Profihopper with the standard rotor and we would look at the four-wheel drive version, which was available with the SmartCut rotor. Both have a 1.25m cutting width and a collecting system based on an auger that packs the cut grass so tightly into the "Compactor" collector that it in effect increases capacity from 700 litres (730 litres on the "i" versions) to something more like 1,000 litres.
Furthermore, both machines make excellent scarifiers and leaf/debris collectors, and tipping is at a height of 2.1m - easily reaching into skips or over fences.
Thanks to the hydrostatic drive, the zero-turn Profihopper has all the manoeuvrability you can expect or want. It cruises down the straights at a little over 6mph and then turns on the spot for the second run. The action of the auger means the mower can cope with long grass - up to 50cm tall - and can be used in wet conditions with little danger of blocking. This mower also stripes.
The 4WDi version differs by having a steering wheel rather than stick-steer levers for intuitive steering and an intelligent four-wheel drive system that can adjust the speed of the drive to each of the four wheels. This means that each wheel is controlled individually.
It is not a true zero-turn but it is as close as you get, and we like it. "It gives an excellent alternative to stick steer," says Ekin. Baldwin also scores this model highly.
The build quality of these machines is sound. We are impressed with the engineering. A lot of thought has gone into the design. The cooling system, for instance, has a fan that frequently reverses to clear the air-intake vent of grass clippings. But what impresses both testers most is the quality of cut, especially the new SmartCut. These are flail mowers. They cut long grass and they leave an outstanding finish.
Engine: Lombardini three-cylinder, 24.5hp diesel (displacement: 1,028cc)
Overall dimensions: (LxWxH) 279x148x199cm
Forward speed: 0-7.5mph (0-12kmph)
Reverse speed: 0-3.72mph (0-6kmph)
Fuel tank capacity: 20 litres
Mowing width: 49in (125cm)
Cutting height: As above
Number of blades: 72 flails
Collector: 730 litres, hydraulic tipping
List price: £27,795 + VAT
Tel: Amazone - 01302 751200
Tested This Issue
John Deere 997
Gianni Ferrari Turbo Z230 and Turbograss 992
Toro Z Master 152
Amazone Profihopper iDrive and Profihopper 4WDi
The Review Panel
Mark Ekin, teacher, Broomfield Hall Campus, Derby College
Mike Baldwin, director of learning, Broomfield Hall Campus, Derby College
When you need to mow in a hurry but still want a smart finish, there is nothing quite like a zero-turn mower to do the job. Nippy in the extreme, these machines turn on the spot to save time at headlands.
They zing round trees and obstacles. With the deck towards the front, most can poke their noses under benches and shrubs to save time trimming up with a walk-behind model or corded trimmer. Saving time also means saving money and there are also some incredibly comfortable zero-turn mowers that provide relaxing seating for a full day's work.
But most zero-turn mowers have stick-steer levers in place of a steering wheel. This seems to be the feature that puts most people off. It is more like driving a tank than a ride-on mower. But it is not that difficult. To test how quickly stick-steer novices take to the controls, we invited 20 horticulture and countryside students to have a go.
Within minutes they had mastered the controls and were zipping around the golf course at our test site as though they had been driving zero-turns for years. "It's simple. Just like computer games," one student told me.
The test was carried out at the Broomfield Hall Campus of Derby College. A heavy dew in the morning was then followed by dry and sunny conditions.