I have owned a HRX217HYA for less than 1 day. I have about .5 acres of lawn and about 1.5 acres of rough grass with a couple dozen trees (mostly junipers but some pines and some deciduous trees) on my 5 acre lot in central Oregon. Other personal details relevant to this review: I am 6'3" and have pretty large hands. I am a tool nut and love to own the best but I am usually very opposed to paying for the best.
I spent a lot of time comparing the $700 HRX217HYA to the top of the line Toro residential mower 20332 at $360. I couldn't justify spending nearly double on the Honda so I purchased the Toro personal pace mower. The 5 hours I spent doing my spring mow behind the Toro was enough for me to come to hate it and ultimately return it. After 5 additional weeks of unusually high precipitation, major lawn growth and no signs of any decent mower deal on Craigs list I went back to HomeDepot and purchased the Honda HRX217HYA.
Pulling into my driveway with the Honda hanging out of the trunk of my Maxima (the Toro with it's double folding handle fit neatly into the trunk and allowed the trunk to close) I arrived just in time for zone 2 of my sprinklers to finish soaking the 12" high grass and weeds. I figured this was the perfect test for the 190cc Honda engine (The Toro has a 190cc Briggs and Stratton engine).
Pulling the Honda out of the trunk I found it seemed about the same weight as the Toro although the specs say it is 96lbs compared to the Toro 80 lbs.
I am a mechanically inclined person and firmly believe that any product that requires a good read of the manual before operation to be a very poorly designed product. So I filled the engine with the supplied oil , filled the gas tank with last years gas and pulled the start cord. In accordance with Honda's reputation the engine amazingly started on the very first pull. I am still a little mystified about how this was accomplished as I know a fuel systems need priming before the engine will come to life.
My recollection of the Toro mower was the Briggs and Straton engine needed 3 pulls to work the gas through the fuel system before it came to life for the first time... which is what I would expect for a dry engine.
When I was 15 my father finally sold our McClane Reel mower and purchased the then consumer reports number one rated Mower, a Honda. At almost 30 years later the same Honda humm delighted my ears. The Briggs on the Toro had a clanky growl compared to the Honda's whirly humm.
I immediately set to work at knocking down the freshly soaked lawn portion of my yard. On the second lap I noticed the bag to be very heavy and the mower to be very back heavy. So I pulled the bag (This bag is huge in comparison to the Toro!!!) and lugged it over to the grass disposal pile (Man was the bag heavy!). Upon inspecting the first two passes I was not very impressed with the cut!!! I looked at the wheels to find that the front wheels were set 1 notch below top height and the rear wheels were set 1 notch above the lowest height (Stupid me, I should have checked the wheel height in a bit more detail before I started to mow.) After setting the wheels properly in about the middle the cut quality expectedly completely cleared up. The Honda ripped through the soaking grass without flinching. The huge mouth on the bag made emptying it very easy without the heavy wet grass gettting stuck in the bag.
I distinctly remember having a couple problems with the Toro chokeing on the thick lawn which I did not experence at all with the Honda. After the first lap with the Toro I immediately switched it to side discharge mode which aleviated its choking problem. Side discharge is not an option on the Honda and it is defintiely not needed. Side discharge allows the mower to easily move large amounts of clippings out of the way quickly keeping them from clogging the blade causing the engine to stall. The Honda never choked and never stalled.
At 6'3" the ergopnomics of the Toro were just awful. After the first half hour I had to get my back support belt. The handle was way too low and the personal pace speed control system was fighting me the entire lawn! I despise the personal pace speed control system on the Toro. There was no way to fine control the speed of the drive wheels, even after 5 straight hours of mowing I could not find a happy speed control compromise with the system. I would push against the handle and the mower would take off pulling me along with it and jerking my back into an uncomfortable bent over position. Maybe it might work better for a shorter person but for me it was by far the worst feature of the Toro mower.
The Honda on the other hand was a dream to operate. It uses the same blade engagement lever from 30 years ago but they have added a hoop that allows you to keep the blade engaged with your left OR RIGHT hand. A great improvement! The infinite speed control lever is fantastic. Slap the wheel engagement hoop up against the blade hoop and you are off and going at the exact speed you left off at. BUT the best part of all is the speed control hoop isn't just and on/off control but also a proportional speed control on it's own!!!!! YEAH Honda!!!! So, if you hold the speed control hoop at half the distance to the fully engaged position you are moving at half of the speed selected by the speed control lever. This is just fabulous, allowing you to slow the mower down when you hit a thick patch of grass then resume the selected speed when you are through the thick patch. Another beauty of the Honda speed control system is the ability to easily reference your partial speed by opening or closing your hands around the hoop and the handle. Sounds simple but the Toro has no reference bar to loop your fingers over while you change speed with your palms and thumbs. This feature in its own justifies the extravagent price of the Honda for me!!! Another feature of the Honda speed control is how it can be used when you don't want to stand directly behind the mower like when you are next to a tree with low hanging branches. With the Honda you can simple pinch the wheel engagement bar against the handle bar with one hand while you duck under a branch and stand to the side of the mower for a couple feet while the mower goes under the branch. This is next to impossible to accomplish with the Toro. The Toro is difficult enough to regulate the speed when you are directly behind the mower and nearly impossible when you are a couple feet off to the side.
To sum it up, after equal time behind the Toro and the Honda I was crippled for a week with back pain after using the Toro. Using the Honda on the same lawn I was pretty tired but have absolutely no back pain what so ever!
A pretty big feature of my Central Oregon yard is a 20 foot by 60 foot hump in the middle of the rough grass that covers my septic field. The grass and weeds on this hump grow many times faster than the rest of the yard, I suppose due to the constant water and nutrient source from the septic system. The moles also love this soil rich portion of the yard and delight me with several new tunnels every mow. This portion of the yard is always a challenge for any mower even my recently retired John Deere F735 22hp 18 year old ex golf course front deck mower. The weeds will easily get 20 plus inches high before the rest of the lawn needs mowing.
During the initial spring mow the Toro did a very commendable job ripping down these 20" plus weeds with it's 190cc briggs engine that no 160cc mower would be capable of matching. This weed ripping power almost made the Toro a keeper despite all its other flaws. The Honda did an equally supurb job of whacking away this dense jungle but the clippings were far less evident than with the Toro. It is almost amazing at how well the clippings disappeared with the Honda.
The back pain with the Toro was but one of its ergonomic short comings. The noise from the Briggs engine on the Toro was loud enough to require hearing protection or risk atleast temporary hearing issues. The Honda was much quieter and I did not feel a need to use hearing protection. The Toro had a LOT of vibration!!! After pushing it for 5 hours my hands tingled for atleast a few hours. The Honda isn't completely void of vibration but it is MUCH less harsh and I only experenced mild tingling of my hands for 15 to 30 minutes or so. The texture on the molded plastic personal pace control bar left a dusy of a blister between my left thumb and fingers. The smooth metal finish on the Honda control bar left no blister what so ever. I did carelessly pinch my left middle finger between the speed bar and handle bar leaving a small blood blister... but having doe this once I did not do it again. The ergonomics of the Honda far outsine those of the Toro!
One complaint I have with the Honda is the placement of the throttle control. First it is too close to the speed control for the drive system. Second it is too prominant... When I stood to the side and let the mower go under a branch the mower lost all power a few times. This was due to a light brush of the branch against the throttle control reducing the engine speed to idle. I love the Honda controls but if they feel the need to make any changes this would be the place to make them!
I am cheap. At $360 for the Toro I felt ripped off!!! At $700 for the Honda I painfully feel I am atleast getting my moneys worth! My fathers Honda lasted 20 years before a stripped worm gear in the drive system rendered it a ultras heavy push mower with no replacement part available. I will be pleased if I get 20 years of service from my new Honda.