I'm in the same position of trying to decide between these models.hen I was trying out the Ariens at Lowes I thought the same about the crank that it was weird to have to lean over so far to do so.
As was noted earlier, a more equal comparison would be the Toro 928 with the Ariens Deluxe 28 SHO, which has a larger engine, and runs the 14-inch impeller about 7% faster (than the non-SHO version) leading to a higher tip exit speed. This both clears the area behind the auger faster, and propels the snow at a higher initial speed: = > greater distance.
I wonder how the Toro does this with the smaller engine than the Deluxe SHO version.
There's also the Ariens Platinum 24 SHO. Larger engine still, but same impeller operation. However, it doesn't have that awkward crank position; instead, there's a side-to-side lever on the dashboard to rotate the chute. But there is a cost for this.
Need something to tip the scale . . .