Best Garden Tractors For 2015 – Is a Garden Tractor right for you!

What is the best garden tractor?  What makes a Garden Tractor?

Update: March 3, 2015

Although it is a term used quite often to describe a riding lawn mower, a garden tractor is actually designed to do more than just mow your lawn. Garden tractors are designed to mow your lawn and pull ground engaging equipment like a moldboard plow, box scraper, disk and tiller. They usually have 22 inch or larger rear tires that give the tractor the clearance needed to work in tilled soil. They also have heavy-duty transmissions designed to deliver horsepower to the rear wheels. The transmissions in these tractors can handle years of mowing steep slopes and some even have traction control or 4 wheel drive that help you go up and down slopes.

Garden tractors are easy to recognize from regular lawn tractors. The rear of the tractor frame slopes up. (Except Cub Cadet GT Models).

sleeve hitch

Sleeve Hitch for Ground Engaging Equipment

This allows you to install a sleeve hitch for those ground engaging tasks. The estate model garden tractors have extra features like power steering, and hydraulics. Garden tractor prices start around $2900 for a 2014 Craftsman G5500 and well over $7000 for some of the estate models like the Simplicity Prestige series.

by: Paul Sikkema

What makes Garden Tractors different from lawn tractors? Hint: It’s all about the transmission and wheels.

Is a Garden Tractor right for you?

If you primarily mow a large 2 to 5 acre lawn and once in a while grade your driveway, disk up a garden and haul 1000 lb loads of dirt or firewood a garden tractor is a good choice for you. The garden tractors you are most familiar with are a little more expensive than a lawn tractor with the same deck size but they also have larger tires and a heavier transmission. They will handle hills and rough lawns better than a residential zero-turn. The new Craftsman G5500 will turn almost as tight as a zero-turn and there is no learning curve to using it.

If your slopes are greater than 15% consider a tractor with traction control or differential lock. Snapper, Simplicity, Husqvarna and John Deere all have models with differential lock but they are higher priced.

If you want to do a lot of ground engaging work, have steep slopes, mow lawn and snow removal the John Deere X500 series is a really good choice.

Not Covered In This Review – LGT and Compact Tractors:  In the last few years some manufactures like Husqvarna, Craftsman and Cub Cadet have started using the LGT designation.  This is just a marketing term they are using to make you think you are getting a garden tractor without spending the extra money.  LGT (light garden tractors) are designed to mow large areas of lawn comfortably but not designed to dig up your garden. The Husqvarna LGT26K54/LGT2654 sold at Lowes is a typical example.  The lawn tractor uses a garden tractor frame but a lawn tractor transmission, Tuff Torq K46. This tractor has 22 inch tires. The transmission is too light for ground engaging tasks even though the rear frame will accept a sleeve hitch designed for ground engaging tasks. If the retailer is asking less than $2600 for a “Garden Tractor” you can be sure it does not have the heavy-duty garden tractor transmission. The Cub Cadet LGT 1054 and Craftsman G5100 Model 20401 are more examples of a lawn tractor with large wheels. The John Deere D170 is similar but Deere has wisely chosen to call it what it really is…a lawn tractor.

Many of the garden tractors 30 years ago were also capable of using a bucket loader and powering tillers.  With the introduction of the compact tractor by Kubota, today’s garden tractors have changed and are no longer capable of that task. If you are interested in moving dirt, manure or digging in the ground compact tractors are the way to go.  Contact your local rural lifestyle dealer for a free quote on a compact tractor.

I Heard a Shaft Drive Is What I Want.

Garden Tractor Deck Garden Tractors  Back in the 70’s most of the garden tractors used horizontal shaft engines connected to a transmission and an automotive style rear end. While these were bullet proof tractors they were horrible to drive. They turned about as sharp as your extended bed pickup and the engines alone weighed more than your current lawn tractor. They could pull a disk, plow or drag and a few of them had rudimentary mowing decks at best.  The first lawn tractor that featured a drive shaft was the 1963 International Cub Cadet.  International Harvestor (IH) did such a great job promoting the “drive shaft is better” that even today many customers come into lawn and garden dealer insisting they must have a shaft drive lawn tractor. The only lawn or garden tractor still made with a drive shaft is the Cub Cadet XT3 Enduro series  – now manufactured by MTD. Today the Cub Cadet XT3 series is not better, it is just different from the rest of the group.

Today’s garden tractors use vertical shaft engines and high horsepower v-belts to drive the transmission.

“There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago.”

40 years ago there were more than 100 different manufactures of garden tractors. Today there are very few tractors and only 4 manufactures. Everyone else has left this market segment and either makes a lawn tractor primarily for mowing lawns or compact tractor capable of doing much more than a garden tractor ever could.

Here is a list of the current garden tractors: I will update this as new ones arrive for 2015

Brand: Craftsman
Year: 2015
Model: G8400
Item Number: 20445
Manufacture: MTD 20445 left
Engine Brand: Kohler Elite
HP: 24
Deck: 54
Transmission: Heavy Duty Hydrostatic
Speed: 5.5
Street Price2999 or so
MSRP: 3499
Where To Buy: Sears 
Pro Series 26 HP V-Twin Kohler Elite 54″ Turn Tight Extreme Garden Tractor

My Review: Craftsman Pro Series Garden Tractor
My Opinion: This is the garden tractor that everyone else tries to compete against in the $3000 price range. It has been slowly evolving since the 1970’s and continues to be one of the best values for anyone that wants a heavy-duty mowing machine that will also pull stuff. It is the fastest garden tractor and was flying around your yard long before Jimmy Johnson put his name on the “Fast Tractor.” No it does not have traction control or power steering or hydraulics. But for the average backyard food plot, 300 foot driveway or 2-4 acre lawn this is one tractor that can do the job for a cost that is half of the other “better” garden tractors. With the addition of the 6 inch Turn Tight steering this tractor is a great alternative to a residential zero-turn.  It will maneuver almost as well and does not have the learning curve associated with using a zero-turn for the first time. If you need traction control and a fabricated deck the Husqvarna GT52XLS is the alternate choice for this model.

Brand: Poulan Pro

Poulan PRO PBGT2654

Poulan PRO PBGT2654

 Year: 2015
Model: Poulan PRO PBGT2654
Item Number: 936069
Manufacture: Husqvarna
Engine Brand: Kohler 7000 Elite
HP: 26
Deck: 54 in Pro reinforced
Transmission: G730 Hydro Fast
Speed: 7.5 mph
Street Price: 2899
MSRP: 2899 through Amazon
Where To Buy: Poulan Pro 960420173 PBGT2654 Kohler V-Twin 26 HP Pedal Control Hydro Transmission Cutting Deck Riding Mower, 54-Inch

My Review: This is the least expensive garden tractor available for 2015 with a hydrostatic transmission. It is one of the best for dependability and is just a good, basic garden tractor. (The Craftsman GT5500 is only around $200 more and has more features.) It has the best reinforced 54 inch cutting deck, the new Kohler 7000 motor and 16 inch turning radius.
My Opinion: This Husqvarna built tractor has been around with various names on it since 2005. If you have big, open areas to mow. If your lawn is typically full of gopher mounds, mole runs and other “features” that keep it from being picture perfect this is a great rugged tractor. If you just want a tough, “old” garden tractor to mow your lawn, drag a DR box blade down your driveway, haul firewood, feed or dirt in your dump cart this is one of the best choices for you.

Brand: Craftsman
Year: 2014-2015
Model: G5500 20403
Item Number: 20403
Manufacture: Husqvarna
Engine Brand: Briggs & Stratton
HP: 24
Deck: 54
Transmission: Heavy Duty Hydrostatic
Speed: 7.5
Street Price2999 or less
MSRP: 3499
Where To Buy: Sears Craftsman 24HP 54″ Complete Start Turn Tight Garden Tractor – Non CA 16″ X 6.5″ – 8″
My Review:Craftsman 24HP 54″ Complete Start Turn Tight Garden Tractor
My Opinion: This is the garden tractor that everyone else tries to compete against in the $3000 price range. It has been slowly evolving since the 1970’s and continues to be one of the best values for anyone that wants a heavy-duty mowing machine that will also pull stuff. It is the fastest garden tractor and was flying around your yard long before Jimmy Johnson put his name on the “Fast Tractor.” No it does not have traction control or power steering or hydraulics. But for the average backyard food plot, 300 foot driveway or 2-4 acre lawn this is one tractor that can do the job for a cost that is half of the other “better” garden tractors. With the addition of the 6 inch Turn Tight steering this tractor is a great alternative to a residential zero-turn.  It will maneuver almost as well and does not have the learning curve associated with using a zero-turn for the first time. If you need traction control and a fabricated deck the Husqvarna GT52XLS is the alternate choice for this model.

Brand: Craftsman
Year: 2014
Model: G7400 98645
Item Number: 98645
Manufacture: Husqvarna
Engine Brand: Kohler
HP: 26
Deck: 54
Transmission: Heavy Duty Hydrostatic
Speed: 7.5
Street Price2999
MSRP: 3499
Where To Buy: Sears Sears Online Exclusive
My Review: To Come
My Opinion: This is same Garden Tractor as the red Craftsman G5500 with three differences.  A Kohler motor, a piece of pipe around the front of the deck (reinforced deck) and the new Craftsman and EZ Blade change

Brand: Husqvarna

GT48XLS

GT48XLS

Year: 2011-2014
Model: GT48XLS(i)/GT54LS(i)
Item Number: GT48XLS/GT54LS
Manufacture: Husqvarna
Engine Brand: B&S
HP: 27
Deck: 48 fabricated/54 stamped
Transmission: K66
Speed: 5.5
Street Price:
MSRP:
3199
Where To Buy: Dealer Locator

My Review:
 I have not written a stand alone review of this tractor yet.
My Opinion: If you don’t want a 54 inch deck this is one of the best value GT’s available. The John Deere X500 series is better and the Briggs/Simplicity Prestige is more expensive but the only real advantage they have is the ability to mount the tractor mounted Berco rear tiller.All things considered the GT48XLS is the great choice if you have hills. With the larger tires the tractor is only 2 inches longer and 1 inch higher than a lawn tractor so getting a “bigger” tractor is not an issue. The real advantage is the transmission. The differential lock trans on the GT48XLS compares to machines costing twice as much from Deere and Simplicity. If the wheels start to slip on your hill just press on the foot switch and it locks both rear wheels to give you twice the traction. (Always try to mow up and down slopes) I like the deck on this tractor. It is heavier than a stamped deck and is reinforced around the bottom edge so you can bang into things and not wreck the deck. It also has a good mulching kit available.

Brand: Husqvarna

GT52XLS

GT52XLS

Year: 2011-2013
Model: GT52XLS
Item Number: GT52XLS
Manufacture: Husqvarna
Engine Brand: Kawasaki
HP: 24
Deck: 52
Transmission: Tuff Torq
Speed: 7.8
Street Price: 3299
MSRP: 3299
Where To Buy: Dealer Locator
My Review: I have not written a stand alone review of this tractor yet.
My Opinion: This is an interesting tractor. It has an 8 mph “fast tractor” transmission and a welded deck all for 1 to 4 thousand less than other garden tractors with those features.  Husqvarna states it has a heavy-duty frame and a well reviewed Kawasaki motor. It does not have a diff lock. Note: it is only sold at dealer stores.

Note: Husqvarna has the GTH24K54 but for 2014 they are listing it as a Yard Tractor.

Brand: Cub Cadet

Cub Cadet XT1 GT50

Cub Cadet XT1 GT50

Year: 2015
Model: XT1 GT50
Item Number: 205617449
Manufacture: MTD
Engine Brand: Kohler
HP: 25
Deck: 50 inch
Transmission: K58
Speed: 5.5
Street Price: 3499-4099
MSRP: 2699
Where To Buy: Cub Cadet Lawn Mowers XT1 Enduro Series GT 50 in. 25 HP V-Twin Kohler Hydrostatic Gas Front-Engine Garden Tractor with Cub Connect Bluetooth GT50
My Review: 
My Opinion: This is a completely new lawn tractor for 2015. It has a lot of promise.

Brand: Simplicity Conquest

Simplicity B&S Prestige

Simplicity Conquest

Year: 2011-2013
Model: Conquest
Item Number: 2691128
Manufacture: B&S
Engine Brand: B&S
HP: 27 Pro
Deck: 52
Transmission: 2WD K66
Speed: 7.2
Street Price: 6499
MSRP: 8099
Where To Buy:  See you local dealer
My Review: I have not written a stand alone review of this tractor yet.
My Opinion: The Conquest is a really nice mower. Heavy frame, automotive grade steering and little features like rubber cushions to keep the hood from rattling.  Like the Craftsman GT-series this garden tractor has been a work in progress for many years. Craftsman made improvements to the tractor but kept the cost the same. Simplicity on the other hand not only made improvements but kept adding features that increased the functionality. Today it sports features like dedicated cruise control, automatic traction control, differential lock, single hand deck removal and even power steering on some models. 4WD is even an option. If you want a high-end tractor that will probably last as long as your roof check this mower out.

The biggest difference between this garden tractor and all the rest though is the deck.  This deck is a ground hugging deck with a full-length rear roller. With the other garden tractors the cutting height is controlled by a lever on the tractor and the tractor tires set the height. If one tire is low the deck will cut low on that side. With the Simplicity the height is controlled by the gauge wheels on the deck and the height is independent of what the tractor is doing. This method gives you a very even cut that is always consistent. The full length rear roller gives you the striping that you see at a major league ball park.

Brand: John Deere

X534

John Deere X534

Year: 2011-2013
Model: X500 X530 X534 X540
Item Number: Multi-Terrain Tractor
Manufacture: John Deere
Engine Brand: John Deere iTorque
HP: 23-24
Deck: 48-54
Transmission: Automatic with differential lock
Speed: 7.2
Street Price:
MSRP: 5899 – 7799
Where To Buy: Dealer Locator
My Review: I have not written a stand alone review of this tractor yet.
My Opinion: Many of you will want to compare the X310/X324/X360 series to the rest of this group because the price is comparable to the Simplicity Conquest but they are not designated by John Deere for heavy-duty ground engaging work.

courtesy mytractorforum

courtesy mytractorforum

The X500 is the best Garden Tractor on the market. Yes, it is the most expensive and costs more than twice as much as the best value Craftsman G5500. But if you want the most versitile, the best hill climbing, best ground engaging garden tractor it is worth spending the extra money. There are 4 models in this series. Starting with the basic X500, the 2 wheel steer X534 to the high-end X540 with power steering. I’m not going to go into all the features that make this the best mower. Just Google X500 John Deere review and you can read many honest reviews of this John Deere Garden Tractor.

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313 Comments on "Best Garden Tractors For 2015 – Is a Garden Tractor right for you!"

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Janice Lazar
Guest
Hi Paul, I am impressed with your knowledge of lawn tractors. My husband bought a Craftsman Model #944.607200 in Canada. I am wanting to get an English version of the user manual. I have a French one that I cannot read. I have searched the web and even went to Sears in Canada to see if I could get a copy of the manual. They said they would have to order from the manufacturer but it was on back order. It would take minimum of 6-8 weeks. Ugh! I tried Searsdirect.com but no luck. I guess they only have access… Read more »
Mark
Guest

Paul
Looking for a 54″ mostly flat with a few steep grades. Was looking at the cub54 xt1 or jd170 was concerned about transmissions what’s your opinion?

Gary
Guest
Hi Paul, great article. I just sold my 20+ year old cub cadet. I’m looking to replace it before snow flies. I’m stuck between a cub cadet xt3 and the John Deere x580. I can’t seem to find any information about rear implements or sleeve hitch for the xt3. The electric deck raise and lowering and electric power steering also makes me iffy. But it does have a kohler engine and shaft drive. The x580 on the other hand has hydraulic power steering and hydraulic lift and lowering. There’s also a sleeve hitch readily available for it. My concern is… Read more »
Paul Leventhal
Guest
Hi Paul , As most observers have said, thanks for putting int the time for this. Here’s my question…… I own a 2010 John Deere L135 with 130 hours on it. I have a plow and weights and chains. I worked fine on the flat terrain of my old house but we moved to a slightly hilly driveway and a 1/2 acre hilly lawn. So my concern is plowing the hilly driveway might destroy the transmission shortly. Which 2WD models with chains would do nicely in the snow and not tear up the trains too quickly. Also… What do you… Read more »
Nick Fratto
Guest
Hi Paul. First I really appreciate what you do. I am looking through the recommendations above and trying to narrow down what tractor is right for me. My dad swore by Gravely and I currently have a 2004 Professional 16G which runs like a tank. However, I am starting to have some issues which make me nervous (leaking fluids, rusting in places, starting issues, etc.) I rarely come across a site that recommends Gravely so I am wary of purchasing another one. However, many of the older farmers around the area swear by them (and Kubotas – which are way… Read more »
Kathy
Guest

Paul … Great article! I have a challenge for you. I’m looking for an easy to operate, dependable, first-time user friendly, light garden tractor for an elderly lady living alone, not very mechanically inclined, and mowing a fairly level 2.5 acres. Something that could do some light hauling would be ideal also. Any suggestions? Thanks so much!

Jim
Guest

Great info – thanks

Considering buying my third mower in 13 years – not happy! First was a Sears GT ran great but many problems with the front axel(s) breaking. Second is a Husqvarna Yt48 – engine oil seal leak and continued difficult with hills. Unable to tow much of what the Sears GT pulled.

Suggestions? I have 4 acres; one 40′ hill to climb and I like to maintain a 400′ sloped gravel driveway

Thanks

jennifer leon
Guest
Hi – well i feel like a deer in the headlights. Just bought a home on 3 acres, flat with trees. i also own 3 acres of flat (slightly sloping) that i just had a field mower mow down. It was only $300 for him to mow it all down for me and i wasn’t ready to commit to a lawn tractor, tractor, riding mower, garden tractor (you see where i’m going here?!) so here is my question. I think hiring the field mower in the long run makes more sense than spending 15k on a huge tractor, nor do… Read more »
Eric
Guest

Hi, first off thanks for taking the time to answer everyone else’s questions. I am torn on what to buy. I live in Indiana 2 acre lot flat little bumpy but mostly flat. Plan on during gardening and snow removal.

Have researched the craftsman red and pro along with the Husqvarna but im not sure what to go with.

Thanks for your help

scott
Guest

looking into new mower,current one is a ariens gt17 with 48 inch deck mowing 4 acres with swisher pull behind finish mower.looking to replace ariens due to engine issues-worn out-and parts harder to find.trying to find something that will last with proper service and solid reliability that came with the ariens.I would like to still use the swisher,but would the transmission in newer tractors allow.very open to any newer style with at least 54 inch cut.yard has flat surface and small rolling hill.thanks scott camden,ohio

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