This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on items purchased through this article, but that does not affect our editorial judgement.
For small urban lawns we would always advise using a cordless lawnmower because they are practical, eco friendly and quiet. However, cordless models usually cost a lot more than their impractical and slightly dangerous corded counterparts, leaving petrol as the next best alternative.
You might think that a medium-sized petrol mower would cost a lot more than a similarly-sized cordless one simply because it has a complicated engine that takes time and a lot of resources to assemble at the factory. But you’d be wrong because, on average, petrol mowers cost about a third less, and there’s an even wider price gap among the biggest models.
Running a petrol mower
All three mower types – electric, cordless and petrol – have their limitations and shortcomings. With corded mowers it’s the dangerous hassle of wrestling with a cable and with cordless models it is remembering to charge the battery.
To some degree, petrol mowers require a little more work to keep them running reliably. Aside from ensuring you have some unleaded petrol and 40-stroke oil to hand, a petrol mower also requires periodical oil changes throughout its lifespan.
But assuming you’re not averse to a bit of greasy work, you’ll be paid back handsomely by the efficiency and outright power with which petrol mowers immaculately tackle huge swathes of lawn, and even damp grass eight inches in height without bogging down.
Not only that, but petrol mowers are fun. Maybe it harks back to one’s first time in a go-kart but there’s something wonderfully invigorating about pushing – and in some instances being pulled – by a machine powered by a combustion engine.
Choosing a petrol mower
As we have suggested in our current cordless lawn mower roundup, cutting deck width is the key figure to look for since this determines the width of grass the mower can cut in a single pass.
A cutting deck of 40cm will suffice for a lawn of around 150m² to over 500m² but if your sward is in the 700m² region, then opt for a mower with a 45-50cm deck. It’s only when your lawn reaches half an acre that you will need to start considering a ride-on mower.
All modern petrol mowers are equipped with engines of the 4-stroke variety and they run on unleaded fuel readily available from any petrol station. The engines themselves are very reliable but in our opinion, the best brands to look out for are Honda and Briggs & Stratton.
If you have lawn in excess of 200m² or aren’t as fit as you used to be, consider a self-propelled model which makes the act of mowing pretty effortless. Cheaper self-propelled models have just one speed – walking pace – while more expensive models are equipped with gearing and several speeds – from very slow to brisk.
The vast majority of petrol mowers are equipped with a grass collector but some also come with a mulching plug. Mulching is the act of returning nitrogen rich cuttings back into the lawn and it’s a good idea to do this if your lawn is too large to keep running back and forth to empty the grass collector. If your lawn isn’t that big, perhaps do your first cut using the grass collector and then do a weekly mulch. Your lawn will love you for it.
Best for: Outright value
For the price, this is an exceptional mower, and from a reputable German brand, too. The Einhell is equipped with a robust 40cm cutting deck and a 45-litre grass catcher with excellent full-bag indicator, so it should be good for lawns up to around 500m². It feels light, too, and is very easy to steer around flower beds and garden ornaments. It’s cutting height lever, meanwhile, adjusts the deck in seven increments, from 25mm to 60mm and it’s easy to store by simply folding over the handlebar.
Unusually for a mower at this price, the Einhell also features self propulsion which really makes mowing even a medium sized lawn a breeze. Unlike some more expensive mowers that feature variable speed propulsion, this one only has one gear, but the default speed – a gentle walking pace – is perfect for all but the most athletic of gardeners.
However, one should be warned that its acceleration is surprisingly sprightly so go easy if starting off in front of the rhododendrons. In our test, the Einhell’s own-brand 80cc four stroke engine delivered excellent power and, once the engine had warmed up, it started every time with just one easy tug of the starter cord. It was also commendably quiet – for a petrol mower.
Yes the manual could be a little clearer – most petrol mower manuals are too technical for us normal folk – but pretty much everything else about this mower screams buy me and, frankly, at this price it’s a no brainer.
Best for: Large lawns
By comparison to the svelte Einhell, this self-propelled model from Cobra is a grass grazing monster – and a brilliant one at that. To start with it’s equipped with a very powerful – and admittedly loud – 167cc Honda GCVX170 engine that won’t bog down in anything and continue running reliably for years. Indeed, this writer has used Honda-powered mowers in the past that have started on the first pull of the cord after a winter in cold storage, and that’s ultimately what you want from a petrol mower.
Given that the Cobra’s deck is made of steel and is 52cm wide (that’s 21 inches in old money), it’s hardly surprising that it carries some serious heft (38kgs if you must know). Couple that statistic with the fact that the handlebar doesn’t fold and you can see that you’re going to need a big enough shed to contain it.
Thankfully the current dry spell gave this writer a good chance to put the Cobra through its paces on a 250m² lawn and it was a joy to use.
The four-speed self-propulsion system was a revelation: in slow mode it runs at a very gentle walking pace (perhaps too slow for younger adults) but as you slip through the gears using the admittedly clunky gear stick, it increases in increments until it reaches a very brisk pace – 2.42mph to be more precise.
For mulching purposes, it comes with a mulching plug and a side chute. The mulching system works by cutting the grass into fine cuttings that fall back onto the lawn to fertilise it while the side chute provides even better suction but ejects slightly longer grass cuttings out of the side. Another cool feature with this mower is the way the mower packs grass cuttings and leaves into its ample 65-litre grass collector – it literally blows them so hard into the back of the bag that everything’s compressed. This means fewer trips to the compost heap.
Figure in the easy-to-adjust six cutting heights (from 25mm to 75mm) and a special garden hose fitting that jet cleans the deck while the engine’s running, and you have a very serious piece of kit that will likely provide years of unswervingly loyal service.
Best for: Medium lawns
Mountfield is a big player in lawn land and this great value self-propelled mower is one of its most popular models. Powered by Briggs & Stratton’s reputable 125cc 300-Series engine, this mower features a wide and very tough 46cm steel cutting deck for extra rigidity, a huge 60-litre canvas grass catcher and six cutting heights (22mm-65mm). It also boasts a mulching facility for those who like to mulch.
Mountfield suggests this mower is suitable for lawns up to a massive 1500m² but that would entail an awful lot of walking. Nevertheless, the self propulsion facility makes the task so much easier that even a super large lawn will be completed in a thrice – and that means more time to laze in the sun with a G&T.
Like all of the models reviewed here, there is some self assembly required – basically fitting the handlebar, filling it with unleaded fuel and some 4-stroke oil – but once up and running, it performs exceptionally well and isn’t too noisy either. And what’s more, for a self-propelled model with such a large cutting deck, a snip under £230 is blooming good value for money.
Best for: Lawn stripes
If you want a lawn mower that creates cricket-ground stripes, then put this heavyweight beast on the shopping list. Unlike the average mower, the self-propelled Spirit 41 has a large roller on the rear instead of wheels and this roller combined with the mower’s 30kgs in weight pushes down on the grass to flatten it in the direction its moving. When you turn it round to mower in the opposite direction it flattens the grass again to produce attractive stripes across the lawn. Just be sure to mow in straight lines or the lawn will look unsightly.
The Spirit 41 has a tough 41cm ABS polymer cutting deck mounted to an aluminium chassis so you can be sure it’s built like a brick outhouse. And being of the roller variety you get the lowest cut of any other mower here – from an incredibly short 15mm to 65mm. The 55-litre fabric grass bag holds enough cuttings to keep trips to the compost heap to a minimum.
This mower is powered by a proven Briggs & Stratton 450 E Series engine that propels the mower at a consistent speed of 2.48mph and you will come to appreciate that assistance because having a rear roller on the back makes it more difficult to push. On the plus side, the handlebar can be folded over for relatively easy storage. A firm choice for wannabe groundsmen and women.