Stihl RMA 235 Cordless Lawnmower

Pros

  • Super cut and finish
  • Excellent pick-up and compaction
  • Outstanding build quality
  • Split to empty grass box

Cons

  • Awkward height lever
  • Relatively tall handle
  • Slow charger

Key Features

  • Review Price: £369.00
  • 36V Li-ion battery
  • 33cm cutting width
  • 30l grass box
  • 25-65mm cut heights
  • AK20 2.8Ah battery
  • 2.5-hour charge time
  • Folding handle
  • 14kg weight
  • 2-year guarantee
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What is the Stihl RMA 235 Cordless Lawnmower?

The Stihl RMA 235 Cordless Lawnmower is the German brand’s entry-level cordless lawnmower, promising to cut lawns up to 200m² in the spec we have on test. It’s compact, fairly lightweight and packs in a 33cm cut width, along with an innovative 30-litre split-to-empty bin with full indicator.

At over £350, we’d have liked a quicker charger and easier-to-use height adjustment. Otherwise, the RMA 235 is an exceptional cordless mower with the run-time and range for lawns up to a whopping 300m² in our tests. Easy to use and faultless in performance, the RMA 235 is the best compact cordless mower we’ve tested to date.

Related: Best lawnmowers 2018

Stihl RMA 235 Cordless Lawnmower – Design and features

Premium German brand Stihl is credited for manufacturing the world’s first chainsaw  ore than 90 years ago – and continues to make top-spec garden and arboreal machinery to this day. The RMA 235 is the brand’s entry product into the world of cordless lawnmowers, even if the price might induce a sharp intake of breath.

This 33cm-cut battery mower runs on a 36V system and, in this specification, has an AK20 battery and AL101 charger included in the price. That combo promises up to 200m² of lawn cutting on a single charge, and a recharge time of around two and half hours. Like most premium brands, a number of battery and charger options are available – see the ‘Batteries, charging and run-time’ section for details.

At a few grams under 14kg fully assembled and with the battery in place, the RMA 235 is reasonably light. A carry handle on top makes transporting it in and out of the shed easy. The top half of the main metal push-handle folds down for storage. The RMA 235’s overall size is in keeping with the bijou 33cm cut, so the whole thing is neat and compact.

So where does that 14kg of weight come from? The answer is in the build quality. The RMA 235 feels seriously robust and capable of withstanding professional-level abuse. The wheels run smoothly, on proper bearings, and have sprung tensioners to keep them upright.

The ABS body is as robust as they come, and the main handle is exceptionally solid-feeling and secure. The carry handle is ribbed plastic for extra strength, although the ribs do tend to dig into your hand if you’re carting it any distance without wearing gloves.

The controls and switchgear comprise a basic push-button lock release and wire start lever. They click and move positively and feel like they’ll last. When you’re running, this Stihl stays running until you fully release the lever. That’s quite unlike many mowers with plastic switch levers that easily cut off when you turn the machine around at the end of a line.

Down at the business end, the lever for height adjustment is rather less impressive, although cut height has a good range from 25mm to 65mm marked 1 to 5. The lever itself is quite small and heavily sprung to stay locked into the plastic sockets on the sidewall. You need to apply a fair bit of force to pull out and hold the lever, then simultaneously give it another hearty pull back to overcome the weight of the machine.

The lift-up isn’t overly spring-assisted, so you need to grab the machine and physically pull up at the same time as moving the lever. That takes a bit of getting used to. Going lower is easier, but the machine tends to drop to the lowest setting unless you’re again supporting its weight by the handle. None of this is aided by the lever’s close proximity to the rear wheel. It isn’t a deal-breaker, and you do get used to this two-hand action. However, against the RMA 235’s otherwise elegant and well-engineered design, the height adjuster is a bit of a dog’s dinner.

No such issues with the cutting hardware, though. The ABS plastic body is heavily engineered and the cutter deck is twin-walled with bracing spars in-between. Crash this mower into a wall or some obstacle in the lawn and it clearly isn’t going to crumble into a heap of plastic. The blade is a wide, traditional mower blade with high-lift fins to propel clippings into the bin.

The bin itself is a fairly compact 30 litres in volume and has a grass box ‘full’ indicator at the rear. This stays up when the machine is running, and falls flat to the bin when it’s full. It worked faultlessly, which is rare, and you can further check the bin’s actual fill level at any time by lifting up the flap. (Don’t do that when it’s running, obviously!)

The bin’s star turn is emptying. Simply unlatch the clip on the back and the whole bin spits into two, making it the easiest grass bin to empty that we’ve tested, bar none.

The battery compartment flap on the mower body has a huge cut-out allowing you to see the battery charge indicator directly. Pressing the button on the battery illuminates its four-segment charge level display. Lifting the flap up reveals a kill-switch key and the release lever for the battery. Both insert and remove with a solid precision that suggests they’re going to work for years and years without issue.

Stihl RMA 235 Cordless Lawnmower – Batteries, charging and run-time

Our RMA 235 package came supplied with the most popular combination of battery and charger – namely, the mid-capacity AK20 battery and basic AL101 charger. A number of battery/charger options are available, however.

Stihl suggests the AK20 battery is good for lawns up to 200m², with the smaller AK10 battery good for 100m² and the larger AK30 good for – you’ve guessed it – 300m². They’re all the same physical size and feature a large, easy to read four-segment display to indicate charge state.

The AL101 charger is the slowest of three models that will handle Stihl’s AK batteries. It’s low 1.6Ah out charged our AK20 battery in a rather yawn-inducing two and half hours. It’s a basic dock-charger shape but a keyway on the back allows it to be wall-mounted to free up table-space in the shed.

The light on the front shows the current status: flashing green to charge; solid green for charged and ready to go. As a smart charger, the battery can be left in the dock indefinitely until you’re ready to mow.

The more up-market AL300 Fast Charger pushes out over four times the charge current and almost quarters the charge time for one AK20 battery, down to around 40 minutes. It’s a little pricier than the AL101, of course, bringing the package price to around £400. However, if you need to mow an area more than one charge’s worth, or are using AK battery-compatible Stihl tools such as the excellent FSA56 trimmer, it’s well worth the extra investment.

We’re used to taking manufacturer’s claims for battery run-time and performance with a pinch of salt. In the RMA 235’s case, the claims were indeed a fair way out – albeit, unusually, on the side of caution!

The AK20 battery gave a truly impressive 46 minutes of mowing time, covering a whopping 320m² of even our rough, flower bed and obstacle-strewn lawn. As you mow over deep grass or rough areas, you can hear the motor power-up to cope, ensuring it never slows or stops. We were so taken aback by the result, we had to do the same test again a week later, just to ensure we hadn’t made some sort of mistake. With the grass now shorter, we got over 47 minutes and covered almost 330m²!

While the RMA 235 is hardly budget-priced for 30-35cm cordless mower, its impressive run-time and huge cutting area capacity is leagues ahead of any other small-width cordless mowers w’ve tested. This isn’t just a mower for small lawns, but a light-weight and easy to handle mower for mid-sized lawns too.

Stihl RMA 235 Cordless Lawnmower – Handling and performance

The easy-rolling wheels, solid feel to the handle and light weight add up to a mower that’s nippy and manoeuvrable. The handle is long, with two points of height adjustment, giving plenty of leverage to tip the machine back onto its rear wheels for fast corners and U-turns. It also gives you enough leg-room to trot along behind the mower without your feet kicking the back of the bin.

Using the positive-feeling switches, the mower boots up with a mains-powered noise level. It isn’t a super-silent machine, but the sound does promise that it isn’t going to give up at the merest hint of wet or difficult-to-cut grass. In fact, if you do get into the rough stuff, the RMA 235’s motor increases power noticeably to ensure it keeps on cutting. As soon as you get back onto lower grass, the power backs down to increase run-time. Brilliant.

It was no surprise given Stihl’s heritage in garden machinery that the cut was crisp, the lines straight, and the clipping pickup faultless. The ejection into the bin is strong, ensuring other debris such as fallen leaves are picked up too. The effect also compresses the clippings into the grass box, packing in a whole lot more cut grass than the 30-litre stated capacity. Pop the two halves apart and the grass is super-easy to empty, too.

The bin-full indicator at the rear of the bin pops-up when the motor is running on the strength of the air-flow rushing through the bin. As the bin gets full, the air-flow is restricted, and the flap drops flat to the bin. You do need to keep an eye on this indicator, but it worked effectively and always showed up ‘bin full’ before the machine started to leave a trail of not picked-up grass behind.

The height adjuster continued to annoy as we tried different cut-heights. It’s a two-handed job; you need to support the mower and pull out the stiff and fairly awkwardly placed lever at the same time. We began getting used to its quirks after a while, however.

The stepped height adjustment worked well in its 10mm increments, with the very lowest setting reserved for billiard table lawns. Even on our smoothest bit of turf, that setting got a bit ‘scalpy’. However, even at this cut height, the Stihl continued to pick up grass where plenty of other machines would have left rolled piles of clippings.

On our small patch of decent lawn and the larger meadow area, the RMA 235’s cut was clean and it left a superb overall finish for what amounted to very little mowing effort on our part. So, could this compact mower work for our octagenarian tester?

The answer was a resounding ‘yes’ – with one small caveat. The RMA 235 was easily light enough for her to push and manoeuvre, even on our rough and comedy-sloped lawn. The 14kg was a little bit of an ask to carry far, but she wrestled it in and out of the shed just fine. The only issue was the handle height. At just 143cm (4ft 8in) tall, the handle is a little too high for her, even at its lowest setting. This showed up when she was heading up-hill and had to put in a bit more effort.

That minor issue aside, the RMA 235 continued to impress throughout testing. We cut a frankly epic-sized lawn with its run-time being over three-quarters of an hour. This little mower ‘s coverage wholly belies its compact size and relatively small 33cm cutting width.

Why buy the Stihl RMA 235 Cordless Lawnmower?

Light, powerful, robust, well designed and with a run-time that blows away most compact cordless mower competition, the RMA 235 is a star performer. Covering a staggering 300m² on a single charge is thoroughly impressive, and both lawn finish and grass pickup is class-leading at this level.

The split-empty bin is inspired, the bag-full indicator actually works, and the build quality is top-notch throughout.

The standard AL101 charger is rather slow and the machine’s height adjuster is a little awkward, but that’s where any criticisms end. If you need quicker battery turnaround, you can spec the package with the AL300 Fast Charger for £40 more.

The Stihl RMA 235 isn’t cheap, but it’s a staggeringly good compact cordless mower that more than justifies its price against the more budget-orientated competition.

Verdict

An outstanding compact cordless mower with class-leading performance, great features, long run-time and excellent pick-up.

Score


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