Scag Cheetah 61" Kawasaki FX850v Review (homeowner)

Discussion in 'Homeowner Assistance Forum' started by handcuff, Jun 11, 2014.

  1. handcuff

    handcuff LawnSite Member
    Posts: 20

    Hey all,
    I’m a relatively new member here, and while I’ve read (literally) hundreds, if not thousands, of threads, I haven’t posted that much. The biggest reason for that is that I didn’t have much to contribute.

    Last week I purchased my first Zero Turn, and I wanted to post a review from my perspective (1) to be able to give back to the community, and (2) possibly to help someone who was in a similar boat to find the right machine.

    First, some background:
    I’m not a lawn care professional. To be honest, due to allergies, I don’t really enjoy lawn care. What I DO enjoy is getting lawn care done as quickly and efficiently as possible. I also enjoy gadgets and admire innovation. I have read several other questions from people like myself…people with sufficient land to need a zero turn, and who value a quality product enough to invest in something better than what’s sold at the big box stores, but who don’t expect to put 30+ hours per week on the machine for every week of the mowing season. That’s the perspective of this review…

    I have a Kubota tractor (B2400, Diesel Hydrostatic with a belly mower, front end loader, and several other implements - most notably a 5’ bush hog, which is a little too large for that tractor).

    I own 7.5 acres of reclaimed pasture-land, mowing about 5 of it. Some of it is fairly rough, although it’s been about 8 years since there were any cattle/horses on the property and in that time it’s become smoother. Using the tractor, it takes ~15 hours each time to mow it in entirety, due to the heavy growth of ‘field grass’ (I guess this is like hay or pasture grass…it looks a lot like normal grass, but grows super tall and has a bit wider blade at the base, making it somewhat more course) – If I try to mow to fast with the tractor, it will overheat. Assuming I mow it once a week and keep it mowed down, I can reduce my mow-time by about 25% and move faster, but that’s still ~12 hours that I’m sitting in the seat of a tractor each week.

    My father purchased a couple acres 2 miles from me, and also wanted to upgrade his Zero Turn mower. We decided to go in together on one and just shuttle it back and forth. Finally, my sons (16 and 14) want to start a lawn business for the local home owners with large properties who don’t want to mow their own land.

    We are from Oklahoma, where Scag seems to be the predominant owners of the commercial lawn-care industry. Growing up, it looked like everyone who mowed commercial property did so on a Scag. When talking to anyone about Scags, universally everyone said that they were very good machines and somewhat of the industry standard.

    Now, our selection process:
    It’s important to note that during this entire time, I became relatively obsessed with studying mowers. I spent hours pouring over this site and others, trying to find the strengths and weaknesses of each model. I went to multiple dealers, talked to owners and sales people, read online reviews and watched YouTube like a freak. For not knowing much about ZTRs, I began to know a lot about ZTRs.

    I have a neighbor with a Kubota 52” (mows about 3 acres a week), another neighbor with an exMark Pioneer S 60” (mows about 5 acres a week, sometimes skipping a week between mows), and a third with an older exMark (mows about 5-6 acres a week). All of the mowers appear to perform well with minimal (if any) issues – the owners all swear by their mowers during discussions with them, but none were ‘fanboys’ who were brand-loyalists…simply had mowers that they felt did an excellent job.

    Initially we went to the ZTR store less than 2 miles away, directly between our homes. They sell exMark, Kubota, Bad Boy, and Cub Cadet. I asked one of the sales reps whom I trust “What are your two brands I should look at?” – he responded by asking if price or quality were the driving decision maker. For us it was price, followed closely by quality. He said to take a look at Bad Boy and exMark. Through further discussions, he said that the Bad Boy commercial grade would likely be more than enough for what we were wanting to do, and that the price would give us a commercial quality mower for what an exMark ‘consumer’ quality rig would cost us.

    We test drove the Bad Boy and it seemed to be strong, fast and comfortable. It’s controls were a little buggy for me – I couldn’t seem to keep it going in a straight line very easily. It seemed responsive and fast, comfortable and roomy for my 6’2, 300 lb frame. Just ‘twitchy’ with the controls. My father loved driving it, and thought the suspension seat was very helpful for his 76 year old back.

    Next, we drove the exMark Pioneer S – I liked the drive and ride better, felt it controlled slightly easier, but Dad liked the Bad Boy’s ride better (plus, the price was cheaper). We had all but made the decision to purchase the Bad Boy Outlaw with the Kawasaki 24hp engine, when we decided to put the decision on hold over Memorial Day weekend to do more research. My primary concerns were (1) is it going to have enough power to mow through the field grass, and (2) is the ride going to be comfortable enough to let me do it without beating the crap out of me each week? The local dealer offered to let me test drive the units on my property, but not to mow. Somewhat disappointing, but acceptable.

    Meanwhile, we talked to the Scag dealer about one of their used units, with the idea being that we couldn’t afford a new unit, but may be able to get a low hours unit from them or from a private owner. While talking to him, we found that Scag had a promotion that brought the Tiger Cat with 24 Kawasaki engine down to within $300 of the same price as the BB Outlaw. Given everything I’d read on here about the Scag Velocity deck, I thought that was an incredible option. This dealer offered to let us keep the unit over Memorial Day weekend and mow with it on our property…just not go over 4 hours of mowing time. That was perfect…I didn’t need more than an hour on each property to give it a good test.

    We took the Tiger Cat and mowed on my property (multiple areas – some that had been mowed a week ago, some that had been mowed two weeks ago, and some that had been mowed 3+ weeks ago), then we mowed a portion of the neighbors property (hasn’t been mowed all season), and mowed a portion of another neighbors property (hasn’t been mowed in 2 years), then dad’s property (1 week growth). The mower performed very well – it was strong enough to mow, although it did get bogged down in the thick stuff (understandable and expected) – that being said, I was looking for something with a little stronger engine. It has 39 ft lbs torque, and while it would cut through the heavier growth when going slow, it didn’t want to plow through it faster. It’s ride was comfortable but not cushy…Dad didn’t mind the ride on either his property or on mine, although the next day his back was a little stiff. The cut time seemed to be reduced from the tractor by about 70% or so (dad took 3.5 hours to mow his property the week before with the Kubota; he took exactly 1 hour to mow with the Scag). By the end of our 4 hour mow trial, we had decided that we liked the Scag…now it was just deciding which one we wanted.

    As I read reviews on here, several people suggested looking at the Turf Tiger. It was more expensive, and somewhat out of our budget, but I rationalized that if I got an EFI, it would save almost enough fuel costs to make up some of the extra expense. In figuring out what I could, it looked like it would be the difference of about $150/year in Total Cost of Ownership for me. With that being said, I decided to look at the Turf Tiger. The only problem was that they didn’t have a mid-level mower. I didn’t want the big Vanguard engine, but wanted something larger than the smaller engines. The Cheetah had more options, and was reputed to have a better ride, so became an alternative. As I researched, I decided I’d really like to get the Cheetah with the Kohler 34hp EFI, if the price was acceptable (remember, this was over Memorial Day weekend, so nobody was in the store to answer questions).

    Dad took the Tiger Cat back on Tuesday and asked to test drive the Turf Tiger and the Cheetah. The dealership didn’t normally sell the Cheetah with the Kohler 34 EFI, so it would be a special order. However, the did have a Kawasaki 27hp on the Cheetah, which they let him test drive. He fell in love with the ride of the Cheetah and basically said that if I wanted anything else, it would basically be parental abuse to make a 76 year old man ride something that would cause him to pee blood after driving it to mow his lawn. ;) In reality, he said that the ride was ‘completely different’ and ‘no comparison’ to the rides of the other machines…it was that much more comfortable to his back.

    The Kohler engine was way too expensive for our budget ($1.5K more) so we settled on the Cheetah 61” deck with the Kawasaki engine – it has 44 ft lbs torque, which is less than the Kohler, but is still more than sufficient to get the job done.

    On first mow, initially, I thought the engine was weaker than what I had felt from the Tiger Cat, then when watching the video comparison, I realized that I was moving MUCH faster with the Cheetah…it was just hard to notice that I was going that fast because the ride was that much smooter. Thus, the engine was actually doing better…going much faster without bogging down, plus providing a better ride.

    At the end of the day, I was able to mow the following:
    • My land = 5+ acres of:
    • 25% growth of 1 week​
    • 25% growth of 2 weeks​
    • 50% growth of 3 weeks​
    • Dad’s land = 1.5 acres of 1 week growth
    • Neighbor’s land = 6.5 acres of growth that hadn’t been mowed this season
    I did all this in a little less than 10 hours. It appears that the mower is more than strong enough to go through the heavy growth, and while it isn’t as fuel efficient as I’d like, it looks like it gets pretty good fuel economy. From what I can tell, I’m using about 1.75-1.8 GPH in heavy growth (3 weeks or more…grass is 2-4 ft tall), and about 1.45 GPH in lower growth (less than 2 weeks, normally cutting off 2-3 inches).

    Traction: I read from a few people that the traction on Cheetah's was poor on hills. Based on my experience, I have to disagree. I have a few tight, heavy hills on my property, and I put the Cheetah through it's paces on all of them without slipping.

    Comfort: As said before, it's an incredibly comfortable ride. Being a big guy, I don't think I can feel the ride as well as my dad...at least I am not as discerning of a comfortable ride, but even still, the ride was significantly more comfortable than the Tiger Cat with a suspension seat (night and day difference), and somewhat better than the Turf Tiger with suspension seat.

    Speed: The mower is fast. I've only put it in it's 'high' gear a couple times, on the open road in front of our house to drag-race the Kubota next door. Other than that, it's low gear is plenty-fast for mowing. When dad drove it in high gear (also on the road), I had to about wipe the smile from his face. I can see why that speed would be nice for transport with a company doing spread-out work.

    Cut Quality: The Velocity deck is nothing short of incredible…it spreads out the clippings in a fantastic manner. My neighbor with the Kubota always has rows of clippings laying on his lawn that dry between mows. He mows once a week, and while his grass is a little thicker than mine, it wasn’t nearly as tall. When you look over my lawn (those areas of 1-2 weeks growth), it’s hard to see any clippings laying on top. The mower doesn’t bog down like his does, and I’m constantly moving faster than he is…it’s like the Scag is performing effortlessly. I've mowed 2 acres immediately after a rain, and it didnt' clog or clump up, continuing to spread the clippings out well. The only 'challenge' I've given it was when I'm going fast over extremely tall grass (2.5+ feet). It leaves a slight 'line' of grass directly down the middle of the deck, of grass that hasn't been cut as low. It's ~4-8 inches taller than the rest of the grass, and the line is maybe 1.5-2 inches thick. It's always been caught on a second mow, and is not left if I either mow slower or if the grass isn't that tall (I was mowing 11 inch grass down to 4 1/4 inches and it didn't leave it unless I was mowing faster than comfort would allow). It isn't leaving any noticable stragglers, and leaves the entire lawn with a cultured look. I've had two neighbors come over and comment how good my lawn looks, and how it now looks like a lawn instead of a pasture.

    Efficiency/improvement over the tractor: After 5 days I’ve gone back and re-mowed my entire area (5+ acres) taking an additional ¾ inch off (moved from a 5” cut to a 4 ¼” cut). I mowed every area of my yard, and even being new to mowing with a zero turn and new to the yard, it only took about 3.25 hours. That’s a huge time savings.
    By way of summary, I couldn’t be more pleased with my Scag Cheetah. Dad thinks it’s a great ride for his aging back, and I’m really impressed with the cut quality and strength. I’m still a little jealous of those of you with the Kohler engine, but this is a fantastic machine that was immensely affordable for our needs, and is out-performing our expectations.

    Dislikes (both of these are incredibly minor - I just wanted to try to post a well-rounded review):
    • The height setting for the deck is somewhat odd, and has the possibility of jumping up/down when mowing rough areas, then getting "caught" in the high/transport setting. It's noticeable when it happens, so I don't mind, but I could see why someone else would care.
    • The double gas tank...I'd prefer to have a single tank so I didn't have to try to figure out when I shift from RH tank to LH tank.

    Again, I wanted to thank those of you who have posted reviews or comments, and especially those who have answered a few of my questions on here. It was largely due to those of you who helped me make this decision that spurred me on to post this review... As I said, I don't know if it will help anyone else, but it's the least I could do to help contribute in some way.
    Thanks again,
    -Scott

    (now, a few pictures/video of the machine and our mowing – understand, I know I’m not a professional, and my lines/stripes/technique will not be up to par with much of the work I’ve seen here.)

    Here's a picture of my 16 year old son standing next to the law we are mowing. For the sake of perspective, he is 6'1 tall.
    [​IMG]

    ...and here he is in another shot, right after we drove through part of the field to break it up.
    [​IMG]

    Here's my dad taking the new Cheetah off the trailer on my land for the very first time:
    [​IMG]

    and a few pictures of the machine while mowing:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    and here's the lawn, after being mowed:
    (panoramic, so the lines aren't straight)
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Finally, a couple of video of the mower in action:
    http://handcuff.smugmug.com/Other/2009-Looking-at-Land/i-dR4FPH6/0/M/IMG_1841-M.jpg
    http://handcuff.smugmug.com/Other/2009-Looking-at-Land/i-hDxH7Js/0/M/IMG_1842-M.jpg
     
  2. caseysmowing

    caseysmowing LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,881

    Awesome post. Welcome to the scag family. You might be kicking yourself on not spending the extra on the efi kohler. My dealer is sold out of the cheetahs now and can only get the efi kohlers. Kawi cost more at my dealer for some reason. Congrats!
    Posted via Mobile Device
     
  3. Ridin' Green

    Ridin' Green LawnSite Fanatic
    Male, from Michigan
    Posts: 13,735

    Very good review. That engine will be more than enough for any sane mowing, especially after you get everything whacked down.


    Your video links are only showing up as images though. I'd really like to see the video if you can figure it out.
     
  4. Razorblades

    Razorblades LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 946

    Great review. I think you guys will be very happy with the performance of the mower. Take more pics and videos when you can.
     
  5. Marshmallow

    Marshmallow LawnSite Senior Member
    from IL
    Posts: 329

    That kawasaki should be a great engine, keep the oil changed and the fins clean she will last 3000 hours!
    Posted via Mobile Device
     
  6. handcuff

    handcuff LawnSite Member
    Posts: 20

  7. alancamby

    alancamby LawnSite Member
    from Indiana
    Posts: 34

    nice review.

    I demoed a 61" cheetah today with the FX921.
    Was only able to use it for 20 min or so due to rain.
    Was impressed how it cut the grass that was drenched with rain.
    Like you, I am a little concerned that the FX850 will not have enough power.

    Did you do the 0% 4 year loan?
     
  8. handcuff

    handcuff LawnSite Member
    Posts: 20

    No, but we really considered it.

    I'm much more impressed with the 850 than I expected. The minimal that a stronger motor could do can be done by going a little slower. I wish I had the EFI for the fuel efficiency, convenience, and the extra strength when needed.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2014
  9. Ridin' Green

    Ridin' Green LawnSite Fanatic
    Male, from Michigan
    Posts: 13,735

    I run an FX850 on a 60" MOD JD. It has more than enough power for any 60/61" deck in any condition shorts of actual bush hog work. The 921 & 1000 (same exact engine outside of carb) has been, and still is plagued with tons of problems. The 850 has not, and is not.

    If you watch the OP's videos, he is moving quite fast (actually too fast) through that tall grass, and the engine is handling it like nothing.
     
  10. handcuff

    handcuff LawnSite Member
    Posts: 20

    I thought I was moving faster than I should, but it was just so much FUN to drive that thing fast! =)
     

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