Tractors are typically grouped based on engine horsepower. At the low end of the spectrum, garden tractors are riding lawn mowers that usually have two-wheel drive and engines with under 20 hp. Garden tractors typically do not have attachments or implements outside of the traditional mower deck. Utility tractors are at the opposite end of the spectrum. These tractors typically have 60- to 140-hp engines that are used on farms and in other kinds of commercial agriculture production.
This article focuses on sub-compact and compact models, which are the tractors between the garden and utility versions. These are the machines you may want if you own an acreage and need a versatile machine that can not only mow, but also use attachments like front-end loaders or implements like box blades for yard work, snow removal and landscaping.
Sub-compact tractors are typically classified as tractors with engines under 25 hp, while compact tractors have engines with more than 25 hp and less than 60 hp. Most sub-compact tractors offer mid-mount mower attachments, which are mower decks mounted between the front and rear axle, like on a garden tractor. Smaller compact tractors may also have mid-mount mower decks, while mowers on larger compact tractors are more likely to be implements carried by the tractor’s 3-point hitch.
Both sub-compact and compact tractors can be fitted with a wide variety of attachments and implements on a 3-point hitch, but the smaller engines on a sub-compact tractor limit the level of the work they can perform. However, the smaller size of sub-compact tractors also enhances their ability to turn and maneuver in tight spaces.
A sub-compact tractor is a good choice if you are looking for a machine to mow around homes, barns, trees and other obstacles. You can also use it for work like moving mulch and dirt with a front-end loader attachment or digging small holes with a backhoe attachment.
If you need a machine with greater power to maintain your property, consider stepping up from a sub-compact to a compact tractor. Compact tractors are usually split into groups depending on the horsepower of their engines, rather than their weight as is typical with construction equipment. The exact horsepower of the engine varies between brands, but compact tractors are often sorted into the following horsepower classes:
25- to 40-horsepower compact tractors
Most compact tractor brands offer models around 25 hp, 35 hp and 40 hp. These machines range in weight from around 0.75 tons (1,500 lbs) to more than 1.5 tons (3,000 lbs).
Machines on the smaller end of this range, those with around 25 hp, are almost as maneuverable as sub-compact tractors and have greater lifting capacity with a front-end loader attachment for bigger jobs in the yard. Machines at this size can often accommodate a mid-mount mower like a garden or sub-compact tractor.
As the horsepower increases, the tractors in this size class become larger and more capable of performing work such as preparing a garden or food plot with a tiller or grading a driveway with a box-blade.
45- to 60-horsepower compact tractors
As the diesel engines get larger, the size of the compact tractors continues to increase. Machines in this horsepower grouping can range from 1.5 tons (3,000 lbs) to more than 3 tons (6,000 lbs), often depending on whether they have a canopy or an enclosed cab.
Think of compact tractors in this size as small farm tractors. They have the horsepower to do larger work, and many have turbochargers on their engines for increased performance. You can use tractors of this size for clearing and mowing overgrown fields, grading roads, clearing snow and other common farm chores. Their increased size means that they are extremely versatile and capable.
What’s most important is that you consider the chores where you will typically utilize the tractor. If it’s going to be used for mowing and light yard work in tight areas, you will want a sub-compact or smaller compact tractor. For working in fields or doing heavy loader work, you will want a compact tractor with more horsepower to do bigger jobs. We suggest using our tractor buying guide to help inform your purchasing decision, or you can browse our lineup of Bobcat compact tractors before selecting a model on the Build & Quote tool that matches the needs of your work.