The self-propelled Honda HRR216K9VKA embodies virtually every reason its manufacturer’s name and branding deserve acknowledgment as shorthand descriptors that declare, “This machine was built to perform longer and stronger than any competing model in its class.” Don’t misconstrue that bold claim as a pronouncement that this outstanding gas-powered mower is somehow undeniably flawless. It has its failings. However, it’s all-around firsthand performance impressions would force anyone to consider with abundant care whether any of them, alone or in combination, constitutes a true deal-breaker.
Yes, that includes its somewhat eyebrow-raising price.
- Twin MicroCut blades
- Variable-speed rear wheel drive with Smart Drive technology
- Sturdy 12-gauge steel deck
- Six height settings
- 160cc Honda GCV engine
- Bag, mulch or side-discharge clippings
- 12-inch cutting path
I don’t ordinarily make a habit of comparing individual lawn mowers in these reviews for a very good reason: whether you get the most out of your money from any given model hinges largely on how well you aligned your purchase with your own individual needs and preferences. Yards differ in dimensions and profiles from one property to the next. That reality makes it essential not to reflexively seek out strictly the biggest, most powerful or priciest mower on the market, but to judge how well any single unit’s tools suit the way you maintain your lawn.
In this instance, an exception is deserved. The Honda HRR’s stiffest competition is actually the notably similar Honda HRX. Curiously enough, stacking them up side-by-side illustrates that narrowing a comparison to black-and-white specs doesn’t always paint remotely as clear a picture as a hands-on test drive. That being said, just for the sake of argument:
- HRR – Honda GCV160
- HRX – Honda GCV190
- HRR – 12-gauge steel, 21 inches
- HRX – Nexite composite, 21 inches
- HRR – Automatic 5-Speed Smart Drive
- HRX – Manual Hydrostatic Select Drive
- HRR – Traditional cord with auto-choke
- HRX – Push-button electric start
Let’s start with the engine. The HRX’s “advantage” comes down to five millimeters more bore width lending it a 30cc size differential and minimal extra horsepower. Both are phenomenally resilient and sturdy engines, but having previously owned the HRX and recently tried out the HRR, I can verify that the latter is anything but lacking for muscle and will easily match anything the HRX can do and compete at an appreciably lesser cost. Beware, though: this beast has quite the roar. The 98 dB of noise pollution it lets loose won’t exactly endear it to your neighbors. As long as you’re in a buying mood, splurge a few extra bucks toward some quality ear protection.
In comparing the decks, I understand the compulsion to favor the HRX’s lighter-weight composite body, but gas-powered mowers are nowadays especially favored for larger yards replete with hills and uneven terrain that many electric mowers simply lack the heft or battery capacity to handle. Both models make the most of their nearly two-feet-wide cutting swaths, but despite its hardy 12-gauge steel, the Honda HRR weighs in at only 84 pounds and can take any beating rained down upon it.
Favoring one transmission over another is a matter of preference, but the Honda HRR’s proprietary variable-speed automatic Smart Drive system is a hand-in-glove fit with the GCV160 and potent rear-wheel drive to squeeze every ounce of optimal performance a self-propelled mower can deliver. The thumb-based control feels decidedly awkward, but I cannot deny just how smoothly it ratchets up to brisk 4 mph top speed and decelerates on command back down to a standstill. Even turning off the HRR’s independent locomotion entirely, you still have a remarkably effective gas-powered push mower in the event a mowing job should ever call for one instead of a self-propelled machine. I have nothing against the HRX’s hydrostatic transmission or Honda’s Select Drive manual speed control.
The Honda HRR has only one unfortunate performance hurdle to overcome, but it’s an issue that could significantly limit its appeal among buyers to whom self-propelled mowers ordinarily appeal the most strongly: its handling suffers dramatically on steep inclines. There are few types of terrain on which not having to valiantly wrestle a push mower is more of a godsend. The unwanted accidental “wheelies” the HRR’s inadequate eight-inch wheels sometimes rise into will leave you with a more enlightened appreciation for how just a few inches’ more diameter in back could have maintained more consistent balance and well-grounded traction when traveling up or across a slope.
Ease Of Use
Gas-powered lawn mowers all demand a fair degree of diligent regular upkeep to ensure a lengthy working lifespan, from keeping oil, spark plugs and fuel fresh to sharpening blades at least a few times every season. Aside from those unavoidable chores, the Honda HRR is universally usable to a somewhat pleasantly surprising degree for such a relatively powerful model. The 41-inch handle is just long enough to keep the mower easy for users of any height to control and mitigates uncomfortable heavy vibration with immensely comfortable foam grips. Weighing 84 pounds doesn’t exactly make the Honda HRR an objectively “light” mower, but I never felt it fight my control when guiding its self-propulsion or found it prohibitively heavy or stiff to push.
If it has a minor downside, it would be the occasional rough start. Honda’s auto-choke ordinarily smooths out waking up the engine to mow from a cold start with nearly perfect consistency, but this model every so often still roars to life a bit stubbornly. Even then, however, we’re talking about the negligible difference between needing one or two pulls of the cord to start up and, at the very most, five or six yanks occasionally. To be honest, I was more annoyed by the lack of a deck-wash port forcing me to overturn the HRR to rinse away debris and stray clippings for want of one fairly common simple feature that I doubt would have added a great deal to its manufacturing cost.
Cut Quality & Options
Wow. I have indeed test-driven mowers that cut more cleanly than the Honda HRR, but not very many. The twin MicroCut blades slice with enough combined precision to potentially swear anyone off single-blade mowers for life. That means more than neatly trimming with perfect consistency from start to finish. When it comes to the three available options for dispensing clippings, it promotes exceptionally smooth discharge from the side chute, maximizing the grass stored in the painlessly detachable 2.4-bushel bag and almost impossibly ultra-fine mulch, all because a second blade is like adding a second touch-up pass to every inch of your lawn without actually having to walk it twice.
Unfortunately, herein also lies another admittedly minor quibble that can rarely be justified in my eyes. Good news, everyone! You have six deck settings to choose from in order to determine the ideal length for your grass and make your mower’s forward progress as easy as possible. The catch? You have to adjust each wheel separately. I will stop saying it when the very last manufacturer sees the light and stops designing lawn mowers with four wheel-height controls: this design choice adds absolutely nothing but annoying extra effort.
As a rule, gas-powered mowers demand higher maintenance than their electric or motorless counterparts. The Honda HRR216K9VKA is no exception, but it doesn’t really demand any unusual attention, either. Sharpen the blades at least twice during every prime mowing season, including immediately before stowing your mower for the winter. Swap in new spark plugs before your first run of the year. Expect to change your oil after the first five working hours and follow manufacturer guidelines thereafter. Otherwise, as is the norm for virtually any Honda product, a standard three-year manufacturer warranty should sufficiently address any incidental repairs or unfortunate need of a replacement.
The Zone Start system brings the blade to a stop within three seconds of its control lever being released, but the dedication to overall worry-free ownership doesn’t end there. The mower’s controls are installed in such a way that the engine cannot be restarted from anywhere except within the designated “Operator Zone” behind the handle.
Should your search for an unfailingly dependable gas mower come down to a choice between the Honda HRR or HRX, I strongly recommend choosing the HRR and laying out the extra $40 for a self-propelled model. Priced around $430, you might wince at dropping $100 more than what a number of comparably sized competing models with similar specs and features would cost, but Honda’s signature combination of ridiculous durability and enduring performance is priceless. The HRR is by no means flawless, but putting one through its paces for an hour or two suddenly renders its forgivable shortcomings remarkably forgettable. You may never again get as much for your money from any other mower in its class.
- Powerful, clean cuts
- Fantastic mulching
- No shortage of horsepower
- Often maneuvers like a mower half its size
- Potent rear-wheel drive
- Honda’s trademark durability
- Rather noisy
- Occasional rough starting, despite auto-choke
- Small wheels handle poorly on hills
- Awkward thumb-based Smart Drive controls
- No deck-wash port
- Four levers for adjusting height