Pros: Blade clutch; excellent wet or dry mulching; superior engine torque; hydrostatic drive.
Cons: heavy; control bail arrangement; lacking fuel line filter.
I bought the HRX217 recently from a local hardware store that also specializes in power equipment sales and repair. I paid no more for it than I saw mentioned from reviewers that shop at home center stores. I paid $699 (pre-tax).
This mower has plenty of power, and a good hydrostatic drive. I have a steep hill in my back yard. The rear wheel drive works well, especially when mowing uphill. I cut my hill in two alternating directions: up-down one time (I know, you should only cut sideways on hills), and sideways the next cutting (as I do the rest of my yard). The hydrostatic drive handles this well. The speed is controllable by both the shift control lever as well as the drive clutch lever. I generally pick a mid-to-higher shift lever speed when mowing vertically on the hill, then use the clutch lever (bail handle) to get exactly the right speed on the hill. The closer you squeeze the drive bail lever towards the handebar, the faster the mower goes. The really nice thing about this feature is that both the shift and clutch levers work together to control the hydrostatic drive. In other words, there is no "belt" being tensioned here, which can change performance in wet or hot weather. So the drive really does have "infinite" adjustability
The throttle is not really meant to be used to adjust the motor speed when cutting. It's really there to idle the engine when the mower is just sitting, and for starting and stopping. The engine speed governor, coupled with the superior torque of this engine, always holds the engine speed rock-solid, whether cutting short, dry grass, or tall, wet grass. (I also have a Craftsman with a smaller 5.5 HP Honda, and that engine is the same). These Honda engines seem to have more usable torque than other brands with the same horsepower rating.
The blade brake clutch was a major selling point (my Craftsman has it also; don't ask why I have two similar mowers). I frequently stop when cutting to move items, pull weeds, pick up trash, wipe my forehead, drink some water, etc. To me this feature is a "must have".
I have not had any problem with the Clip Director feature. I usually only mulch, but I did try this one day with the bag on, using a few different settings. I don't understand the complaint that others have made about grass clippings getting through. I did not notice any appreciable blow-by with either the bag in place or removed. Maybe Honda has rectified any past problems with this.
As far as the grass cutting is concerned: this mower most definitely deserves the "excellent" mulching rating that was given it by Consumer Reports. It consistently produces a finer, more even cut than any other mower that I've used. Today, for instance, it started raining just as I started cutting. I was going for a 3" cut. The lawn was around 5". The species is Kentucky 31 tall fescue. Most other mowers that I've used would have left at least some "clumps" of wet grass all along each pass. But this HRX did not. The only time that any clumps fell was when I restarted the mower on the back lawn. Due to the rain, some grass had stuck under the deck and then dropped off when restarting. But the rest of the time it was perfection, as far as exhibiting no clumping. The Xenoy deck also seems to have less grass stick to it than metal decks.
I was also confused by another posting about it being impossible to sharpen the blades on the HRX. I've sharpened many blades over the years on both walk-behind mowers and on my lawn tractor. Sure, mulching blades requires some care and skill when sharpening, due the the mulching "recurve" portion of the blade. But this blade looks to be no harder to sharpen than any other blade I've done, other than the fact that there is a second "upper" blade that also needs to be sharpened (a two-blade cutting system). Yes, Honda puts a disclaimer in the mower manual about having it "professionally" done to prevent blade imbalance. But this is true when sharpening any rotary mower blade. If a person feels unsure about the procedure, they could buy a replacement set, install the set, and bring the original to a shop which could then re-sharpen it for a minimal charge. The next time, the re-sharpened set could then be reinstalled.
Another post had mentioned the problem with lack of cable adjustments. Honda must have also addressed this issue also, as this HRX has adjustments for the Blade Control, Drive Control, and Throttle Control cables. The owners manually clearly explains how to make the adjustments.
Now for the stuff that could be better:
>>> yes, this mower is heavy. I'm 5' 7", and can pick it up by myself and put it in my van. But it is a little too heavy for most people to easily do this.
>>> the blade-clutch/drive-clutch bail arrangement takes some getting used to. It would have been better if Honda had put the blade brake bail "in front" of the mower handle, which would then allow easier manipulation of the rear drive clutch lever. I did, however, find a compromise: the levers as designed are slightly "staggered", allowing one to hold the blade bail engaged with the left hand, while working the drive clutch bail with the right hand. I've gotten fairly competent with this arrangement now.
>>> It seems that these Honda engines, although powerful and low-polluting, can be very finicky with gasoline contamination. After using the HRX mower one time, the engine began "surging" when the blade was disengated. It would also not idle without stalling. (A similar problem had previously happened the my Honda powered Craftsman, but only after a full season of use). The happy ending? I called the equipment dealer, who had me bring it in immediately. He had it ready for me in an hour and a half. He had opened and checked the carb and could not find anything wrong. But the mower was again running correctly again after he reassembled the carb. He said that it could have been a speck of dirt, a hair, etc. Honda should have equipped this engine with a fuel line filter to help prevent this.
- Side-note: this is where NOT buying from a "big-box store" but from a local dealer is such a huge benefit. Even though this happened right as the mowing season was getting into full swing, they took the mower in and serviced it immediately. Try that at a home center store. I would have gladly paid extra to patronize this small "mom and pop" store for such service. But again, their price for the mower was very competitive, so it was no real sacrifice to buy from them. They certainly have my business now.
>>> I wish the mower has a "single-point" height adjustment (as my Craftsman does). The old four-point system does not allow for quick "on-the-fly" changes when covering varied terrain.
>>> The mower seems rear-heavy (probably due the the hydrostatic drive). Whent the bag gets full, the mower will get light on the front end and want to "lift". This is a good sign that the bag needs to be emptied. But when comparing the HRX mowers while in the store, I noticed that the electric start version seemed even worse, due the the battery/key unit being on the mower handle. The flip-side to this: it's easier to lift the front end when necessary by pushing down on the mower handle due to the light front end/heavy rear end.