Reviewed - Pedestrian mowers

The lawns and verges at Charlecote Park provide an ideal test site for new models, Sally Drury reports.

Viking MA 339 & MA 443 - image: HW
Viking MA 339 & MA 443 - image: HW

Tested This Issue
Viking MA 339 & MA 443
Makita LM430
John Deere JS63V
Mountfield Princess 34Li
Etesia ME53C (BioCut 53)
Etesia Pro 53LH
Etesia DuoCut 46 RMCB

The Review Panel
David Lewis, volunteer, Charlecote Park
Ashley Mckerny, groundskeeper, Charlecote Park
Paul Smith, head gardener, Charlecote Park
Lisa Topham, park and gardens manager, Charlecote Park

There are plenty of lawns to maintain at Charlecote Park, a spectacular National Trust property in Warwickshire. There are also verges along the driveway that leads up to the grand house and more verges bordering the estate. It means that the park and gardens team are always keen to try out new mower models.

Currently, they are would like to find a rotary or mulch machine that can be easily lifted off a utility truck. Clearly the lightest machines will not have petrol engines. We looked at four new battery-powered rotary models from Viking (STIHL), Makita and Mountfield.

For something more substantial, we also looked at petrol-engined mulching machines from John Deere and Etesia. The battery mowers were tested on a dry day in April and the petrol units in early May, when it was also dry but with showers threatening.

- Viking MA 339 & MA 443

Viking's MA 339 battery lawnmower has already won a Quiet Mark - the international mark of approval from the UK Noise Abatement Society. With these tools you can get on with work without disturbing the peace.

The mowers offer greater flexibility in terms of where and when you work. To prove a point, we use them close to the restaurant area where customers are enjoying afternoon tea. The only response is a quizzical glance as the diners wonder why there is so little noise.

Part of STIHL's "one battery works everything" system, the MA 339 and the new MA 443 both draw their power from the same AP 180 battery that also slots into the FSA 65 and FSA 85 grass trimmers, HSA 65, HSA 66 and HSA 86 hedge trimmers, HLA 65 long-reach hedge trimmer, BGA 65 blower, MSA 160 C-BE and MSA 200 C-BQ chainsaws and KGA 770 sweeper.

The benefits of these mowers quickly become clear. Not only are they quiet and part of a cost-saving power-sharing system, they are also clean. As with the Mountfield and Makita battery mowers tested later in the day (p39), the Viking machines give off no fumes - and there is no need to store fuel and no risk of spilling or leaking petrol or oil.

There is a choice of Quick or Standard charging packs - Standard takes three times as long to reach 100 per cent charge, but at £29.17 it only costs half as much. That is probably a false economy as far as the mowers are concerned. Certainly in a working environment you would not want the battery being out of action if it takes 210 minutes to charge.

The MA 339, the first battery lawnmower introduced by STIHL, comes under the Viking brand. It is lightweight, having a polymer housing, and has six cutting height positions giving you plenty of choice from 20-70mm. With foldable handlebar and having carry handles, it is compact and extremely easy to manoeuvre and transport.

The latest model is the MA 443. It incorporates all the features of the new 4-Series petrol range but, of course, is lighter, quieter and easier to operate. Suited to medium-sized gardens, we reckon it could be useful for contractors doing garden rounds. It is likely to appeal to those who need to lift the mower single-handed out of the van and where noise and electricity supply are issues.

Topham sums up our findings: "They are really good little mowers for where you need to get into awkward places. They are also good on banks and I love the way they fold up and stand on end for easy storage."

Model: MA339/MA443
Cutting width: 37cm/41cm
Cutting height: 20-70mm/20-70mm
Catcher capacity: 40 litres/55 litres
Weight: 12kg/18kg (both + battery)
Recommend power pack: AP180Quick/AP180Quick
Coverage: Up to 340sq m/Up to 370sq m
Charge to 80 per cent: 40min/60min
Charge to 100 per cent: 70min/70min
Price: £449.17/£482.50 (both + VAT)
Tel: STIHL - 01276 20202

- Makita LM430

What's not to like about this lawnmower, apart from the fact that we want it in a wider cut when the technology is ready?

The LM430 has 13 cutting heights from 20-75mm all adjusted from a single lever on the deck panel. The low-angled handles give the operator complete control for steerage and backwards movement. At 18kg, it is light enough to lift from the back of a UTV or the boot of a car. It even has convenient carry handles.

This cordless lawnmower has a 36V Lithium-ion battery that powers the 580W motor and runs the 430mm two-edged blade at speeds up to 3,600rpm (without load). The same battery can be used to power a host of other tools, including a split-shaft brushcutter - and that means loads of other options too.

Recharge time is just 60 minutes, although if you have two of the popular 180V Li-ion batteries from other Makita power tools, these can be coupled together by an optional converter for use in the model.

Operation is easy-peasy. The motor control is a simple grip bar. Squeeze it up to the grip handle and you are away. Movement is smooth, thanks to the ball-bearing axles, and it is as nifty as the Vikings when it comes to storage. The handle folds and the mower can be stood on the flat end to take up a small space in a shed.

While a 43cm mower is too small for Topham, she is nevertheless impressed with the comfy handles and lack of weight. "It's a nice mower to use. The weight makes it really handy - it is something one person could lift from a van or trailer and it could easily be carried up steps."

Cutting width: 43cm
Cutting height: 20-75mm (13 positions)
Weight: 18kg + battery
Charging time: 60 minutes
Price: £436 body only or £836 including battery and fast
charger + VAT
Tel: Makita - 01908 211678

- John Deere JS63V

Sitting at the very top end of John Deere's homeowner machinery range, this dedicated mulch mower has rather a lot going for it. If you are a professional looking after a small to medium-sized area, this is well worth a closer look.

It has a good-size cutting width of 53cm and then there is the cutting height adjustment. It can be varied between 25 and 102mm through seven settings via two levers. It means you can really match your mowing to the conditions.

Even better is the variable speed, so you can march across the wispy bits and slow down for the denser patches. There is plenty of power from the Briggs & Stratton engine and it is also easy to start.

Best of all, it gives an excellent finish with clippings thoroughly mulched to tiny shreds thanks to the cleverly designed doughnut-shaped deck that keeps clippings suspended longer for recutting.

The key to mulch mowing is to never try to take off too much length in one go. If the grass has got away from you, it is best to run over it twice, lowering the height of cut the second time. But if the grass has really escaped your notice, this mower has a side-discharge option.

"It's a good machine," says Smith. "It starts easily, handles perfectly and even coped with the twigs I accidentally ran over."

With handles adjusting to three positions, tall and short operators should be able to work in comfort. The handles fold to give a compact package for transport or storage.

Cutting width: 53cm
Cutting height: 25-102mm (7 positions)
Engine: Briggs & Stratton 3.2kW
Weight: 40kg
Price: £665.83 + VAT
Tel: John Deere - 01949 860491

- Mountfield Princess 34Li

Cordless kit has come a long way in the last few years and the choice continues to grow. Now Mountfield, a name well respected in petrol-engined lawnmowers, offers two battery-powered machines.

The name "Princess" gives it away that this is a domestic lawnmower. But if you work alone and need to lift a mower about, then it is worth taking a look at this model. We look at the small, almost tiny, 34cm unit, although a slightly larger 38cm mower is also available. Both have 36V 2.6Ah Li-ion batteries.

"It seems very small," suggests Topham, eyeing the mower with some suspicion. "It's like a toy," she eventually adds. But after a few minutes of mowing time, she realises it is not. "I personally want something bigger for my grass cutting, but I am impressed. It functions perfectly well and regarding noise, well, it's quieter than a vacuum cleaner."

These mowers come with integral rear roller and mulch plug, giving you the options of mulching, collecting and striping - although weighing just 13kg, it is hard to believe that any resulting stripes will last long. On the plus side, this mower can be used where noise is an issue, there is no mains electricity and you do not want the smell of petrol to compete with the aroma of flowers and teacakes.

Cutting width: 34cm
Cutting height: 25-75mm (6 positions)
Catcher capacity: 35 litres
Weight: 13kg + battery
Price: £259 including VAT
Tel: Mountfield - 0845 600 3207

- Etesia ME53C (BioCut 53)

One glance at this Etesia and you know it is a mulching mower that will do the job. It is the domed deck that gives it away. Look closer and you see the quality of build - the aluminium deck and Kohler engine. You might even spot an innovation or two, but you have to use the ME53C to really appreciate the benefits.

This is a simple yet brilliant "rev and go" mower. When you let go of the handle, it stops. But is has a three-speed gearbox that makes all the difference. A flick of the finger is all it takes to alter the speed from slow for dense grass, through medium to fast for when the grass is thin.

"The speed control is efficient. It's a great idea for a mulch mower," says Smith. "There are areas you need to slow down but other areas where you can race away and get the job done."

Lewis is also impressed. "I like it. It's a nice weight and nicely balanced. It runs very well and the height adjuster is clever."

Height of cut adjustment is via a turnbuckle. It gives infinitely variable adjustment and is much easier than adjusting individual wheels. Where grass is too long for mulching, the plug can be removed and clippings allowed to escape from the back.

If we have a niggle, it is over the handles. A bit of padding or moulding to fit the hand would be appreciated by those who have to grip them for long spells.

Cutting width: 53cm
Cutting height: 25-88mm (infinitely variable)
Engine: Kohler 5.2hp (3.9kW)
Weight: 43kg
Price: £1,220 + VAT
Tel: Etesia - 01295 680120

- Etesia Pro 53LH

At the top end of Etesia's pedestrian mower range, the Pro 53 is a three-in-one machine but differs from the DuoCut in that it has hydraulic transmission to give first-class handling and slope performance. It is also a bit of a tank.

Being a commercial machine, it is clearly going to have more controls than the others, but it is not over-complicated and our testers quickly master them. "I like the variable speed," says Lewis. "When you get to the end of a run you can slow down and turn better."

Also helping make it manoeuvrable, the Pro 53 has a powered reverse speed. A pressure-release valve is fitted to aid moving the machine around the shed. Mckerney finds top speed faster than he expects but says it would be handy as a travel speed.

This is undoubtedly a commercial mower made for contractors and as such it is solidly built. But that adds weight. At 75kg, this is the heaviest machine in the day's test. Large rear wheels help to spread the weight and dual wheels are available for work in sensitive areas.

Height adjustment is separate, on each wheel. That might be fiddly and more time-consuming than some of these modern gadgets, but it does give confidence. There are five set positions from 25-85mm. One other thing to note - it weighs 75kg, so do not try lifting it out of the trailer.

Cutting width: 53cm
Cutting height: 25-88mm
Engine: Honda 4.3hp (3.2kW)
Deck: Cast aluminium
Speed: Three-speed (0-5.5kmph)
Catcher capacity: 85 litres
Weight: 75kg
Price: £2,180 + VAT
Tel: Etesia - 01295 680120

- Etesia DuoCut 46 RMCB

If you work on a range of sites and need to mulch one area but must collect clippings on the next and just let them fall on a third, then this mower could appeal to you.

This is a three-in-one machine and, by using the plug or collection bag, it is swift to switch between modes. It is also quick to adjust the handlebars to suit the height of operator - and you will not lose the captive nuts. The deck is Xenoy.

This is the single-speed DuoCut, and it is a comfortable mowing speed. The machine is also light enough to be pushed and pulled around. Getting into awkward spaces is not a problem.

Smith finds the handles uncomfortable but notes: "It's lovely and light. I took it though some long grass and it handled it well." McKerney knows the machine is a bit on the small side for their needs at Charlecote but he is impressed with its features and handling. "It's nice and agile. It is easy to follow bends and push into corners. I like it."

The quality of cut is good and whether you choose to mulch, drop or collect, you should find the finish more than acceptable.

Cutting width: 46cm
Cutting height: 28-88mm
Engine: Kohler 4.3hp (3.2kW)
Speed: Single 3.6kmph
Catcher capacity: 56 litres
Weight: 40kg
Price: £854 + VAT
Tel: Etesia - 01295 680120

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