13 new zero-turn mowers compete to put you on the fast track.
By Richard Ries
Soon, the buzz of mowers will fill the American landscape as surely as the thunder heard from the high-bank turns of Talladega Superspeedway. In fact, the parallels between motor racing and mowing inspired us to take a fun look at the two here.
Just as in auto racing, no one needs to tell you landscaping is a competitive business. It’s about speed and efficiency getting the job done with minimal pit stops (downtime).
In recent years, manufacturers have touted speed. But now, speeds are about as high as they can get — as is the case with motor racing— and manufacturers are focusing on other selling points, such as operator comfort and improved engine technology.
So we challenged the major mower manufacturers to show us their premier mowers for 2012 and highlight the features that make each a winner.
We invite you to learn more, visit your favorite dealer for a demo, and let the race for your mowing equipment dollar begin.
Cub Cadet TANK SZ
Here’s a classic case of trickle-down technology from a company’s top-of-the-line products, in this case Cub Cadet’s Tank S Series (shown far left.) Most notable is the use of Cub Cadet’s Synchro-Steer technology. This four-wheel steering system uses differential steering on the back wheels, allowing different drive rates for the left and right wheels depending on the steering action. It’s similar to the steering system used on skid steer loaders. The benefits include reduced turfing and more precise steering control, especially on cross-slopes. “The net result is relaxed, more confident operation,” says product marketing manager Allen Baird. The steering-wheel SZ also features a slope-nose deck design for superior first-pass cutting performance and the ability to mulch, discharge or bag clippings without modifying the deck.
BOB-CAT Predator Pro
This mower’s Kawasaki FX1000V-DFI engine has digital fuel injection. DFI allows fly-by-wire throttle control, which does away with cables and linkages. E-Gov replaces the mechanical governor found on carbureted engines and provides near-instantaneous response to changing conditions. “DFI improves every aspect of performance,” says product manager Tony Weber, “and operators notice the difference in terms of improved productivity and greater fuel efficiency.” Hydrostatic drive provides speeds up to 13.5 mph. Operator comfort is enhanced by the ISO-ride comfort system, a B-C lounger high back seat with isolation and quick-adjust armrests and vibration isolation at all touch points, including the hand controls.
Dixie Chopper Classic 3560T
This mower includes a unique combination of the best features the company offers in its line. The deck spindle assembly is machined in-house from steel castings. “This gives us much greater control over the finished product,” says Ron Spencer, technical service manager. “The steel assembly, with its two sets of bearings and seals, provides superior service life.” Spencer also cites the use of Parker GT16 transmissions, which combine a hydrostatic pump, reservoir, and filter into a single drive package that reduces complexity while retaining serviceability.
Exmark Lazer Series
Lazer Series mowers have been mainstays in the company’s product lineup for more than 20 years and retain Kohler and Kawasaki engines up to 38 hp with electronic fuel injection, propane or carbureted options. The big news is a dramatic drop in the number of parts on these mowers. “Our customers told us that less is better, that they want fewer parts to service and replace,” says Daryn Walters, director of marketing. “So we cut the number of parts by about half with no loss of performance.” The objective was to maintain durability and cut quality while improving uptime and lowering owner/operator costs. The sweeping changes accomplished those goals.
Speed has become synonymous with Dixie Chopper mowers … that and a nack for unique publicity.
Take for example the company’s Jet Mower, which in 1990 employed a regular production mower with a turbo-powered Chinook helicopter engine to make a not-so-subtle statement about the mower’s toughness. After making an appearance on the TV series Home Improvement, it went on to become the official pace mower of the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association.
Another Dixie Chopper became the first lawn mower to pace an automobile race (2005) at the Virginia Motor Speedway track, topping 50 mph in leading the pace lap and pulling away from a Hummer chase vehicle.
Commercial Grade All the Way
Ferris IS 2000Z
This is the type of mower for which the company gets the most calls, says Bill Shea, vice president of commercial sales. It’s a 61-inch, commercial quality zero-turn model. What constitutes commercial quality? It’s not one thing, according to product specialist Ray Dust; it’s everything. Drive belts for the fan-cooled hydraulic pumps on the IS 2000Z are double-grooved to increase the friction face area and improve efficiency. High-pressure lines connected to the system have an abrasion-resistant outer wrap. Spindle bearings are sealed on the outside but not on the inside; grease pumped into the bearing cavities can get into the bearings but not out. The rear suspension and independent front suspension with coil-over shocks show how sophisticated mower suspension has become.
Superior Comfort and Control
Gravely Pro-Turn 400XDZ Series
This mower is an excellent example of the lengths manufacturers go to ensure operators can work all day in comfort. The seat, for example, has both vibration isolation and adjustable air suspension. Product marketing manager Brian Anundsen says “isolation is good for stutter bumps, while air suspension is good for the big hits.” And from studying operators at work, the company found they tend to feather the deck-lift pedal all day long. “It wasn’t just a series of lifts and drops,” Anundsen says. “They were active in controlling deck height.” The Pro-Turn 400 has a mechanical deck lift, which Anundsen says gives better feedback to the operator and enhances control, but the effort is reduced to fight fatigue.
Increased Power and Savings
The 725DT shares a trait with a growing number of Grasshopper mowers: diesel power. “Diesel use is growing and represents a significant share of our market,” says product specialist Ray Garvey. “Some of our owners are reporting their fuel costs are cut in half when they switch from gas to diesel, and they are able to recover their additional up-front costs in a single season.The increased power and longer service life of the diesel also figure into the value equation.” With the front-mount design, owners can fit a number of attachments for such jobs as snow removal and leaf blowing, increasing their use rate of the mower and generating additional revenue.
Fast and Faster
The two-speed hydrostatic drive on this mower provides a fast 12-mph top cutting speed and an even faster 18-mph top travel speed. “The definition of ‘high speed’ depends on what the operator is doing at the time,” says marketing manager Jim Parello. “A fast cutting speed doesn’t seem fast enough when the operator is moving from one location to another.” An ergonomically designed, side-mounted control panel puts the choke, throttle and ignition in one location. Steering levers are adjustable for operators of different sizes; even the lever dampers are adjustable to suit operators’ preferences. Service access points are easy to reach and a removable foot pan provides quick access to the deck belt pulleys and spindles and speeds cleaning.
Ups the Ante
Hustler Super Z
“For years, the industry has had residential, prosumer and commercial models. The Super Z brings mowers to the next level, the industrial level,” says product manager Brad Unruh. Hustler uses industry-exclusive industrial components in their HyperDrive systems, such as Sauer-Danfoss DDC-20 variable displacement slipper-piston pumps and Parker TG0280 wheel motors. The system has a 3-gallon reservoir with filter and oil cooler with a 9-inch, 12-volt fan. All this allows Hustler to offer a 5-year, 3,000-hour warranty on the pumps and motors. The Super Z also has VX4 Deck Technology: the four Vs refer to versatility, velocity, volume and vacuum. Hustler promises the combination of these traits ensures superior cutting performance even at a top cutting speed of 15 mph.
Power and Hi-Tech Efficiency
John Deere Z925 EFI:The electronic fuel injection system on the Z925 EFI features a closed-loop design that uses an oxygen sensor in the exhaust system to signal the EFI controller and adjust injection in response to changes in operating conditions. “It checks for unused oxygen in the exhaust multiple times per second,” says product manager Jamie Palmer. “This means the system can fine-tune the amount of fuel injected into the engine, resulting in up to 25 percent fuel savings in real-world use.” Convenience features on the Z925 EFI include two that can be used while the operator remains seated, height-of-cut adjustment and mulch-on-demand technology that allows the operator to switch between side discharge and mulching.
Alternative Fuel Advantages
Two prominent LP tanks make the ZP330P stand out in a crowd. Liquid propane gas offers two advantages over gasoline and diesel, according to product manager Jeremy Coltin. First, emissions are much lower, especially CO2 emissions. This is important for any contractor trying to project a “green” image and operate where emissions regulations are stringent. Second, the fuel is unaffected by storage. “And LP does away with problems associated with carburetors, such as clogged jets, air passages and sticking floats,” Coltin says. The ZP330P shares many features with Kubota’s other commercial mowers including hydrostatic transmission, multi-disc wet clutch PTO and shaft drive.
Faster Mowing Speeds
Toro GrandStand EFI
The GrandStand EFI is among the company’s models that use closed-loop electronic fuel injection. Marketing manager Chris Hanna says benefits go beyond the fuel savings of up to 25 percent. “This closed-loop system allows the engine to automatically adapt to load, weather, fuel and altitude changes. Since the engine is continuously running at optimal levels, fuel consumption and emissions are dramatically reduced.” The mower also features Toro’s Turbo Force deck with an adjustable baffle. In heavy conditions, such as grass that is long, dense or wet, the operator can run an open baffle to conserve power and achieve faster mowing speeds. In less demanding conditions, the baffle can be closed, which yields smaller particles and maximum discharge velocity.
Precision Yields Productivity
Walker Super B Diesel
Powered by a Yanmar Minimax engine that is Tier 4 compliant and rated for 23.6-hp, the Super B Diesel offers the fuel efficiency and strong torque associated with diesel power. The engine package includes an oversized, heavy-duty radiator with a self-cleaning fan and rubber isolation engine mounts. But it’s the Super B’s control mechanism that marketing manager Tim Cromley emphasizes. The steering levers require only fingertip pressure because they control only steering; forward speed is controlled by a separate lever mounted beside the operator’s seat. “Fingertip control provides greater precision, which increases productivity and overall job time, requires less effort and reduces operator fatigue.”
Digital Equipment Spec Guide
See all new models of major professional grade mowers with detailed specifications — from deck widths, engines and drive systems to top speeds, dimensions and options — at totallandscapecare.net. You’ll also find specs for six additional categories of new landscaping equipment, including tractors, skid steers and excavators.
Mowing & Motorsports
A racing expert offers tips with the operator in mind.
After 15 years of driving in such iconic events as the 24 Hours of Daytona, Jeff Purner retired from racing. He’s now the director of the Porsche Sport Driving School at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama where this issue’s cover photo was shot. We asked him to comment on three areas of concern to mower manufacturers from his perspective as a racer. Substitute “operator” for “driver” and “mower” for “car,” and you have pointers to consider when buying your next mower.
Comfort “The driver needs to feel like part of the car,” Purner says. “A well-fitted seat is important, but the seat, pedals and even the steering wheel need to be adjustable, especially for an endurance event.”
Precision Handling “Everything affects handling. Shocks, springs, sway bars, alignment, even tire pressure. The goal is to make the handling what the driver expects it to be and then keep it there over time and as conditions change. The maintenance of precise handling is the driver’s biggest requirement, and setup is the key.”
Serviceability “It’s important to keep service as easy as possible to save time. The challenge is to maintain service simplicity amid escalating technology.”