"Wow, that was fast." Ekin dismounts from Toro's latest-generation 6000 Series Z Master zero-turn mower. "But look, the cutting is fine - no problem at all". He was mowing like greased lightning but the blades provided a first-class finish.
Smooth and responsive, this mower is a great ride. It's fun and exciting, and the low centre of gravity lends stability on sloping ground, maintaining traction and thus control of the machine. Visibility is good to the front, sides and rear, and you can keep an eye on the wheels to help with doughnut-less turning.
It is also comfortable. The seat can be adjusted to suit the weight of the operator and seriously reduces the bumps and jolts encountered when mowing at high speed. Somewhat tiring though is the foot pedal providing the lift and lower of the cutting deck - it presents a steep step, it's stiff and if you need to do it often it's like a workout in the gym.
The controls are easy to use and well laid out on the console to the right of the operator. A digital clock and display provides useful information such as PTO time, parking brake engagement, transmission status, fuel level and a battery warning light.
Maintenance also looks straightforward. There are two bolts holding a plate that gives access to the deck. A stand is available as an on-board tool to elevate the front end for access to the underside of the deck. Hydraulics are also where we would expect them - under the seat. Round the back of the machine, we find the engine and battery. We cannot really miss them. There is no cover, no hood and no bonnet.
"That can't be right," says Ekin. The brochure shows the Z-Master with the rear covered. The machine we borrow is brand new - we can almost smell the wet paint. Perhaps the bonnet is still drying somewhere.
Engine: Kawasaki FX801V, 25.5hp at 3,600rpm, petrol (displacement:
Overall dimensions: (LxWxH) 168x222x179cm including ROPS
Forward speed: 0-11.5mph (0-18.5kmph)
Reverse speed: 0-7mph (0-11.3kmph)
Fuel tank capacity: 45.4 litres
Mowing width: 60in (152.4cm)
Cutting height: 0.98-5.5in in 0.25in increments (25-140mm in 6.4mm inc.)
Number of blades: Three
Deck: Turbo Force rear discharge
Blade tip speed: 18,500ft/min (5,638m/min)
List price: £9,999 + VAT
Tel: Toro Grounds Products - 01279 723444
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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.