Pros: well designed and well built
Cons: cost cutting: tranny, deck hanger, wheel bushings, spindles
John Deere is an American manufacturer that has designed and built laudable riding lawn mowers for years. The L series is their attempt to reach the entry level occupied by Craftsman and other AYP-made mowers, and MTD-made mowers such as MTD and Cub cadet. At this price point, some quality had to be sacrificed but the mower remains competitive at this price point--not an easy feat for a mower designed and built in the USA.
ENGINE: Briggs&Stratton 20HP V-twin. Although smooth, the engine is loud (ear protection a must!) and certainly not as refined as the Kawasaki line that JD puts in their higher end models. However, the engine packs plenty of power for its intended purpose. For that matter, 12hp is plenty. Problem: I encountered an oil leak under the engine since almost new. The dealer I bought it from said they replaced the crank seal under warranty, but the following season, it continued to leak. That dealer switched to Toro, so I went to an alternate dealer (thank goodness JDeere dealers are plentiful). They replaced the crank seal (they claim the work was probably never done) and the oil pump cover seal. Problem solved. Thank You The Tractor Place (NRoyalton, OHIO)!
TRANSMISSION: Tuff Torq T40. This is a light duty hydrostatic transmission that I could find no specifications for. That said, it should be considered disposable. It has no oil filling/draining access and for the most part, is not even listed on tufftorq.com. The replacement cost is just under $600!!! I think JD made some cost cutting here and (rightfully) assumes that the typical residential customer would be doing low hour, flat terrain mowing. I have never had a problem with this tranny, but would avoid this mower if you have any kind of slopes to mow. I use a tow-behind 40" plug aerator, loaded with 160# of weight, and the L111 seemed unfazed. As for hour usage, I have about a 1/2 acre to mow and use about 25 hours per year. That is considered very light usage even over the course of 20 years.
DECK: The 42 in. deck is nicely designed with rolled lips and effective discharge chute. The front deck hanger is a weak spot with only a single rod holding up the front. I believe some of the occasional side cut imperfection is due to the sway caused by the single front deck hanger. The deck also has only two front anti-scalp wheels. There is nothing wrong with this trade-off since the front two are the most important. You will need to adjust the wheels down for longer cutting heights. The max cutting height is just under 4"...I wish it were longer. Also, I thought that the paint was powdercoated but it seems easy to flake off underneath the deck. The spindles are another tradeoff. They too are disposable, having no grease fittings. If they fail, I will definitely buy spindles with the grease fittings. The deck comes with high lift blades. The mulch kit comes with similar blades with less lift. I ended up getting Gator mulching blades which do a great job of mulching in the side discharge configuration. Bagging is not the greatest as the chute clogs if the grass is even slightly damp--I personally would not recommend it unless you have a lot of leaves. Instead, mulch mow 100% of the time. Use the mulch plug in dry conditions and the Gators with side discharge when the lawn is wet. Lastly, the deck is very easy to remove for cleaning--just be aware that it is fairly heavy!
PERFORMANCE: Having previously owned a Snapper rear engine rider, this JD L111 is a pure delight. I really enjoy each and every time I use it and, aside from the oil leak issue, it is a pure pleasure to own and use. The ride is comfortable, the steering is nice, and the cut is very respectable. The ride should be considered taut, and not plush like some of the higher end tractors--this is mainly due to the smaller tires entry level tractors use. It has never hesitated to start up on the first crank. As mentioned before, on occasion, I do get cut height variations (~1/2 inch) along the sides of the deck. I think that although my lawn is flat, the bumps in the terrain cause one side to dip slightly causing that affect. I have leveled the deck and made sure the tires were inflated to spec. The single front deck hanger also plays a roll with most higher end tractors have two supports so the deck is less "tipsy" side to side. In the end, cut quality is on par with my neighbors Cub Cadet. It should also be noted that I am very finicky when it comes to my lawns appearance--I recently nuked the lawn to reseed with superior cultivars of kentucky bluegrass. The cut with the L111 is not up to commercial units, but is quite satisfactory to most. Compared to others in my neighbor hood who have lawn tractors (most everyone has entry level), I'd say the cut is better than 4 out of 5.
SUMMARY: For $1800 ($1600 on sale), this mower is very competitive. No doubt JD made some cost cutting to bring the entry level user some of that John Deere magic. As mentioned, the tranny is light duty and non-serviceable, it uses wheel bushings instead of bearings, the front deck hanger is somewhat inadequate, the engine is not as smooth and durable as others (and may have more defects like mine did), and the deck has only 2 anti-scalp wheels. But for the money, the L111 (and the newer 125) is a great mower. My neighbor has a 1018 Cub Cadet and I have to say that my mower is equal or superior in every facet. That said, if you have more to spend, I would look at the JD X300 series. Much more durable and the Tuff Torq K46 or K58 trannies are huge pluses in my mind. Not everyone has $3000+ to spend on a riding mower though.
UPDATE: I have about 150 hours on the mower now, despite only owning it for 4 years. The mower is definitely a lot slower in ground speed than it used to be--I will be replacing the drive belt but somehow I think the hydrostatic tranny is giving up the ghost. Otherwise the unit still cuts great, starts up and runs great. Please do not tow a core aerator or anything that could otherwise tax the light duty transmission.
Again, if you can afford better, do it!!!