Spring has sprung; so, it seems like the ideal time to talk lawn mowers, specifically Honda Power Equipment (HPE) lawn mowers. The truth is, Honda makes all manner of power equipment including boat engines, tillers, snow blowers, trimmers and so forth. We think it’s only natural that when you see its name on some home-maintenance machine you probably ask yourself, “Is this thing as good, reliable and user-friendly as the company’s cars?”
Although we’ve driven more than our share of Honda cars and crossovers, we haven’t experimented with the full catalog of HPE products in quite some time. We have, however, had some very positive experience with its generators, but we thought we would put one of its lawn mowers to the test. Is it what we’ve come to expect from this company that makes such good cars? What follows are some impressions after a season of mowing with it.
My house sits on roughly three-quarters of an acre in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Upstate South Carolina. One small section on the back corner of the lot is flat. The rest is a hill, sloping from the front of the lot to the back. It’s a corner lot with a rather deep run-off swale across the front and a somewhat shallower one along one side. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Not so much. It’s a pain to mow. Twenty-five years ago I could have easily mowed it with a regular power push mower. Today, I’d only do so now with an emergency medical team standing by. I need a self-propelled mower.
Spending money on a lawn mower for me is like putting a $500 paint job on a beater that’s going to participate in this weekend’s demolition derby. My yard is primarily red clay and weeds. It’s a house I will eventually flip, and I’m currently upgrading the interior. The landscaping can wait. Consequently, the yard is barren in some spots and overgrown with weeds in others. Conspiracy theorists speculate that if we didn’t really land on the moon in 1969, the TV feed of us doing so was shot in my yard. Yes, it’s almost that bad.
Returning home from 10 days on the road late last spring, I found my shed burgled and my beloved Toro mower among the missing. I rushed to the closest Home Depot to replace my old Toro. I was happy with the Toro and its front-drive system. I chose to upgrade to another Toro with a 163-cc Briggs & Stratton engine, electric start and rear-wheel drive. My pick was the $399 Toro 22-inch Personal Pace Electric Start Mower. I battled with it for two mowings before being convinced that one of us wasn’t going to survive the summer.
After blogging about my unhappiness with my new Toro and a couple of negative social-media posts, Honda reached out offering to supply a loaner for several months. The news struck me like finding an ice chest full of bottled water in the middle of a Death Valley stroll. My pick was its $579 HRR216VLA, featuring a 160-cc Honda engine, rear-wheel drive and an electric start. It arrived, boxed up on my carport a few days later. Let the games begin!
RWD: I’m not a fan. It’s advertised as being more effective for hilly lawns than FWD. That may be true for slight grades. The physics being that as you mow uphill, you tend to put more weight on the handle, and consequently more weight on the rear wheels. This provides better traction. Makes perfect sense, but I think the benefits, at best, are minuscule. With the new Toro, there wasn’t sufficient torque to pull it up the hill with any degree of speed. I had to supply much of the horsepower, even with the drive wheels fully engaged. It zipped right along going down hill. I found myself straining on the uphill portions and sprinting behind the mower on the descent. How was this easier? Moreover, the adjustable handle had about as much range of adjustment as a steerage-class airline seat. I’m not tall; yet, I had to bend slightly at the waist to push this contraption with the handle in its highest position. Bending low enough to get it up and out of the dips was like bending to tie a shoe. Anyone 6 feet or taller would need a chiropractor at the ready to operate this mower on my yard.
The Honda mower, while still requiring some contortionist moves climbing out of the dips and ruts, seems to have more torque and pulling power. It steams up the grades with ease and, thanks to its thumb-controlled Adjustable Smart Drive, allows me to call up precisely the amount of drive-wheel torque I need. The thumb control has five different positions to fit your hand, capable of delivering a speed of up to 4 miles per hour.
Having been on the road for almost two weeks, the weeds in my yard were knee-high when I finally brought home the new Toro. No time to waste. With the Toro assembled and the gas tank and oil reservoir filled, I discovered the battery for the electric start had to be charged for 24 hours before use. There is nothing short of an automobile or an anvil I can leave on my carport overnight with any expectation of it being there in the morning. I wheeled the mower into my dining room to charge. After that, according to the owner’s manual, it would need to be charged every few mows.
Arriving with an ignition key, the Honda mower has a self-charging battery that was ready to go the first time I turned the key. It has never failed to start. The electric start was well worth whatever its cost adds to the price.
More blades are better than one blade, right? That’s what razor-blade ads have preached to us for decades. Armed with MicroCut Twin Blades, the Honda mower uses two off-set blades to take two bites of the grass. A leading upper blade lifts the grass, making a cut at the front, followed by a lower blade, making a smaller cut. It’s sort of the lift, cut and cut of a two-blade razor blade. What I can tell you is that even when the grass/weeds are deep, the particles blown out from under the mower are much smaller than what a single-blade mower leaves behind. There are no clumps of cut grass.
Other Assorted Features
Honda paid a lot of attention to the details on this mower. Let’s circle back to the Adjustable Smart Drive. Its five-position thumb-control is adjustable to just the right position that, regardless of hand size or hand placement on the handle, gives you 100-percent control over the speed of the drive wheels. Offering a thick foam grip, the handles are easy to grasp. Adjusting the mower deck height in six positions from 1 1/8 in to 4 in is easily accomplished with one hand. And finally, the Clip director is a smooth-operating lever, allowing you to choose between bagging, mulching or just discharging the clippings.
Even considering the HPE mower rings the register at almost $200 more than the Toro, it provides a wildly better experience, despite sharing several of the same features. With its 22-in blade, the Toro cuts a wider swath than this HPE mower’s 21-in blade, but making that one extra pass is well worth it. Oh, and the HPE mower came with a 3-year warranty to the Toro’s 2-year. If all Honda lawn mowers are as efficient and easy to use as this one, they certainly measure up to its cars and SUVs.