joed - in this area, only a few very early leaves have fallen. First use on some dry maple leaves is promising, but no good test will be for another few weeks. In the past couple of years, I've put a Gator blade on the Toro Proline for leaf mulching. That has worked well, but will have to learn about how well the Honda does in similar situations.
hate ... I don't think the feathering of the drive creates any problem. Apparently the less-than-full-forward position is only opening/closing a valve, perhaps the same valve as the ground drive speed selector is using. In my experience, I don't feather, rather use the bail in either the full, or "off" position. In the "off" position, the bail is used as another handle to maneuver the machine (e.g. pull to the rear, force side-to-side, etc). In feathering, one has to take care in the position of the bail. I would rather not worry about the position, rather use it forcefully as a handle. In the "off" position, I can pull on the handle with force, not having to be concerned about position.
But, don't worry -- like any piece of equipment, we all find what works best for us, settle into a pattern and rhythm, and be productive.