Review: Ride-on mowers

Both these lawn tractors collect grass clippings but which will prove more popular? Sally Drury reports.

Tested This Issue

John Deere X950R (low dump)

Kubota G23-II (low dump)

The Review Panel

Mike Baldwin, director of learning, Derby College Broomfield Campus

Level 3 horticulture students, Derby College Broomfield Campus

Covering the ground quickly, ride-on mowers are popular in commercial situations. More often than not, the clippings will be left in situ and gradually decompose. But sometimes it is important to collect them - perhaps in play areas in housing estates, lawns outside country houses and the part of the park where office workers take their sandwiches at lunchtime.

In such places it is increasingly accepted that clippings should be removed, not only because large clumps of mow grass can look unsightly but so they are not carried away on feet and trampled into the carpets of houses and work centres.

In this test we look at two collecting mowers. Both work on the same concept, having mid-mounted twin-bladed rotary mowers of the same cutting width. They have similar sized engines and almost the same collector capacity. Both are hydrostatic, feature low dump of the clippings, offer visual and audible warnings when the box is full and have a mechanism for unblocking the chute from the seat. We really are testing like-for-like in this one.

The test took place at the Broomfield Campus of Derby College with director of learning Mike Baldwin leading the review. He was assisted by level 3 horticulture students, enthusiastic to gain as much experience as they can before leaving college this summer. Many already have jobs in the industry. Conditions on the day of the test were dry, warm and sunny.

John Deere X950R (low dump)

Introduced two years ago, this is John Deere's first commercial rear discharge/rear collect diesel-powered lawn tractor. It is aimed at professional groundsmen, landscape contractors, schools, colleges and estates. With a fully welded steel frame and commercial-grade, stamped steel mower deck and powerful drive, it is a rugged machine that will take tough terrain in its stride. But what we like about it is the smooth ride.

"There is hardly any bounce with the John Deere," notes Baldwin. "The seat is certainly comfortable and it turns well. I think it seems slightly quieter than the Kubota."

The X950R has a high-torque 24.3hp diesel engine, powerful hydrostatic drive and large-capacity hydraulic rear wheel motors. There is a hydraulic differential lock to supply extra traction for challenging terrain and the shaft drive plus a heavy-duty gearbox to provide the power needed to drive the deck through tough conditions - providing you have the cutting height suitably set. Our first run grinds to a spluttering halt as we ask the machine to cut too low.

With the cutting height lifted, we set off again. Driving this mower is easy. Everything is colour coded. All orange controls deal with movement and engine speed. Yellow is the colour for power take-off (PTO) functions and anything black looks after the implements. The seat is adjustable for comfort, as is the steering wheel.

Boasting John Deere's hydrostatic Twin Touch pedal system, the tractor has two pedals - a bigger one for forwards and another for reverse. Take your foot off the pedals and the machine stops. There is a foot brake, but we did not need to use it. This works in combination with the parking brake lever - press down on the foot brake to release the lever. There is also a foot-operated diff lock.

Controls for the implements are intuitive, even more so if you play computer games, as some of the students prove. John Deere's exclusive multifunction lever gives fingertip control over deck lift/lower and collection hopper dump/close. It is the same as on JD's loaders and is so simple to use - pull the joystick towards you to raise the deck, push away to lower. Pulling the joystick backwards empties the collector, pushing it forwards closes it again. We use the low-dump model but a high-dump version is also available for tipping into trailers or onto heaps.

Just in case you should forget what controls what, John Deere has printed a large, easy-to-follow crib sheet on the floor of the operator station. Mowing height is adjustable via a dial on the floor.

While grass normally flows freely through the chute and into the collector, as with many ride-on collectors, bringing the machine to a halt can cause grass to be left in the chute. John Deere has overcome this with a lever that moves a paddle to push grass clear of the deflector - a trick we soon learn to employ once the collector has been emptied.

Another trick is the reverse implement option. When the tractor is reversed, the PTO automatically disengages. To override this safety feature, a yellow button can be pressed to allow the operator to cut in reverse mode and thus catch any odd corners of grass missed by the mower. Initially Baldwin has trouble with this. "I had to really listen for it otherwise I just reversed without cutting," he says.

"There is not a lot of difference between the two machines. Both had issues with blockages but they are easily dealt with," says Baldwin. "Some of the students prefer the joystick on the John Deere, but others prefer the separate levers on the Kubota. Some prefer two pedals, others the single pedal." So we put it to the vote. Six out of 10 students would prefer to use the John Deere if they had to mow all day.

Engine: Three-cylinder Yanmar diesel, 24.3hp at 3,400rpm
Transmission: Hydrostatic, Twin Touch pedals
Drive: Two-wheel drive
Diff lock: Standard, hydraulic traction assist
Speed: 16kmh forward, 9.7kmh reverse
Brakes: Internal wet disc
Fuel tank capacity: 20.4 litres
Power steering: Standard
Deck: Stamped steel, two deep stage, rolled edges
PTO engagement: Electric drive clutch
Deck lift/lower: Hydraulic
Width of cut: 48in (122cm), 54in (137cm) optional
Height of cut: 13 positions, 25-112mm via dial
Number of blades: Two
Collector capacity: 570 litres
Fill indicator: Standard - audible and dashboard indicator
Turning radius: 183cm LH, 155cm RH
Weight: 784kg (with mower and collector)
Length: 3.38m
Width: c/w 48in deck 1.3m
Height: 1.33m
Ground clearance: 14.5cm
Wheel base: 1.47m
Tyres: 18x8.5-8 front, 26x12-12 rear

Options Deflector kit, collector parking stand, road homologation kit, comfort seat with optional armrests

List price £14,461 + VAT

Tel John Deere - 01949 860491

Kubota G23-II (low dump)

Twenty years ago Kubota introduced the G3 ride-on mower. Updated and upgraded over the years, it is now designated the G23-II Twin Cut. It is a powerful machine with Kubota's own three-cylinder, ETVCS water-cooled diesel engine. Nothing wrong there then. We expect exceptional power and efficiency and that's what we get, but not straight way.

With the induction complete, it was foot on brake, start engine and off mowing down the hill. But we quickly stalled. As with the John Deere, we started too low and had to raise the cutting height by twisting the dial. Then it was a great drive.

The G23-II is certainly agile and it makes sharp turns to cut in tight spaces. Like the John Deere, the Kubota is hydrostatic. But on this one there is only one pedal. Push down on the front to make the machine go forwards or heel down on the back for reverse. The same orange/yellow/black colour coding is used and there is also a diff lock to get you out of sticky patches. For kerb climbing, the deck raises to 150mm.

"It's a really nippy machine - zips around," says Baldwin. "I like the single pedal. It's simple and makes the machine so manoeuvrable that you get an area cut quickly. It feels a little faster than the John Deere but if you're not careful you can experience more bounce at very high speeds."

Removing grass remnants or a blockage from the chute requires the pulling of a lever, but on the Kubota there are two levers. It's a long chute. From the driving seat, an easy-reach lever rotates the jump plate inside the chute to clear any accumulated grass into the collector. Another lever positioned on the deck helps clear any blockages should they occur right at the front of the chute.

There is also a reverse cutting ability. Kubota calls it the KRAS, or Kubota Reverse Awareness System. Just like on the John Deere, engaging reverse immediately knocks out the PTO. The KRAS overcomes this at the push of a button. Baldwin finds it easier to engage. "It seems more reliable," he comments. "You get it every time."

The main difference lies in the operation of the deck and collector. Whereas on the John Deere these functions are controlled by a single joystick, on the Kubota the operations are performed by separate levers - one to lift and lower the deck, one to open and close the hopper. As not everyone feels at home operating a joystick, this provides a good alternative.

The fatigue-reducing hydrostatic power steering is appreciated when cornering and mowing around trees, although the tight turning circle unnerves a few of the faster-driving students. "Thank goodness for the seat belt. I thought I was going to fall off," says one.

With the lesson about speed learnt, we inspect the machine for its daily checks. The coolant is a sight check - the dip stick and air filter are easy to access. The dash is clear and easy to read.

Only the seat adjusts, not the steering wheel. Nevertheless, this mower does not lack in comfort. The seat is comfortable and the operator's platform roomy. We put it to the vote again and find four out of 10 students would prefer to use the Kubota if they had to mow all day.

Engine: Three-cylinder water-cooled Kubota D902 diesel, 23.3hp at
Transmission: Hydrostatic, F/R single pedal
Drive: Two-wheel drive
Diff lock: Standard
Cruise control: Standard
Speed: 15.5kmh forward
Brakes: Internal wet disc
Fuel tank capacity: 20.5 litres
Steering: Hydrostatic
PTO engagement: Electric drive clutch
Mower drive: Gear
Deck lift/lower: Hydraulic
Width of cut: 48in (122cm), 54in (137cm) optional
Height of cut: 1-4in (25-100mm) in - in steps via dial
Number of blades: Two, each 673mm long
Collector capacity: 560 litres
Fill indicator: Standard - audible and dashboard indicator
Turning radius: 1.55m uncut diameter
Weight: 720kg (with mower and collector)
Length: 2.99m
Width: c/w 48in deck 1.15m
Height: 1.35m
Ground clearance: 23cm
Wheel base: 1.39m
List price: £10,510 + VAT
Tel: Kubota (UK) - 01844 268000

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