Long known for durable, easy-to-use lawn mowers made from quality parts, the Toro company, based in Bloomington, MN, has a winning entry in the 22-inch SmartStow recycler mowers. The model we tested was a very good self-propelled convertible mower that can be used as a mulching mower, a side-discharge mower, or a bagging mower. Best of all, its SmartStow feature allows the mower to be stored vertically without gas or oil draining out of the machine. This, along with the compact size, makes the 22-inch SmartStow an excellent choice where storage space is at a premium. This mower can easily be stored by setting it upright against a garage wall.
This line of 22-inch Toro mowers currently comes in several configurations using quality Briggs & Stratton engines, including a 150 cubic centimeter engine in the basic push mower and 166 cc engines used in several different self-propelled models. Currently, there are three different self-propelled models, including one with variable speed, one with "Personal Pace" technology that senses your walking speed and adjusts the propulsion speed of the front wheel drive, and a model that reverses the drive when backing up. Predictably, the machine weight increases slightly in the self-propelled models—as much as 78 pounds vs. the 69 pounds for the simple push mower.
With the handle folded down, the mower can be propped upright, standing on built-in feet mounted in the bottom of the handle hinges. This reduces the storage footprint by up to 70 percent and allows easy access to the blades for cleaning and maintenance.
The Toro SmartStow mowers feature larger rear wheels for easier use on uneven terrain and a convenient wash-out port for easier cleaning. The mower deck is 22 inches wide, standard for a push mower. It is also equipped with a 3-in-1 mowing system allowing for bagging, side discharge, or mulching, depending on the operators choice. The transition between the systems is easy and quick; the collection bag is the only extra piece.
Another great feature on this mower is the lack of a primer bulb or choke. Starting the engine is as easy as pulling the cord, and it's guaranteed to start on the first or second pull for three years. There is also a two-year full warranty on the entire mower.
The SmartStow Mower in Use
In our usage tests (we tested a first generation, 190 cubic centimeter self-propelled model), the SmartStow mower proved to be easier to use than virtually any mower we have used. It comes assembled in the box with the handle in the folded down in the storage position. With "guaranteed to start" emblazoned on the engine, ease of use is one of the priorities of this mower.
Upon removing the mower from the box, the handle was easily raised into mowing position and the cutting height adjusted. The mower comes with motor oil included—as a four-stroke engine, the oil goes into the crankcase, not mixed with the gasoline. With the gas tank filled, a mild tug on the starter cord caused the mower to start up instantly— no choke, no squeezing plastic bubbles, to throttle adjustments, just an easy, uncomplicated start-up.
The self-propelled feature on our mower model operated by a push-lever on the handle. When disengaged, the wheels become free-wheeling, making it easier to pull the machine backward and negotiate tight areas. We found that the self-propel feature helped make light work of mowing an average size lawn and is ideal for a lawn with hills or slopes. This is an easy mower to push, though, and a flat lawn would likely be served adequately by the simple push model.
The Bottom Line
On the Toro website, these mowers can be purchased for prices ranging from $299 for the simple push model to $449 for the "Personal Pace" reversible model. Prices at the big box home improvement centers are comparable. The 22-inch SmartStow mower is as good a mower as you could ask for at this price point. If well maintained, it should last for many years. The self-propel feature requires only a light touch and the mulching feature works great, leaving no clumps—provided you mow at proper cutting heights.
Regularly sharpening the blades, washing after each use, and proper winterization will ensure this mower will be around until the next leap in technology. The 22-inch SmartStow should serve all your needs until fully robotic, fully automated, zero-emission mowers become standard.