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Best Cordless Impact Driver of 2020

Monday August 10, 2020
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During our quest to find the best cordless impact drivers of 2020 we bought and tested the 13 most promising models on the market to put in a head-to-head, hands-on, battery-powered tool showdown. We measured, weighed, and timed dozens of variables but also looked for tiny details such as the usability of the bit holder as well as the pattern and effectiveness of the target lights. We subjectively judged the comfort and ergonomics of each driver, but we also beat the heck out of them by effectively maxing out their torque capabilities.

Top 13 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 13
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Best Overall 18V Cordless Impact Driver


Milwaukee M18 FUEL 2853-20


Editors' Choice Award
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

$129.95
(4% off)
at Amazon
See It

84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Speed 9
  • Torque 10
  • Convenience 8
  • Battery 7
  • Noise 2
Weight: 2.5 pounds | Length: 116 mm
Lightning fast
Phenomenal torque
Compact
Four RPM settings
So-so battery life

The Milwaukee M18 FUEL is a top-notch impact driver. During our speed trials, it put most of the rest of the field to shame. When it comes to torque, it maxed out a 300 ft-lb wrench, both tightening and loosening nuts onto ½" bolts that we welded onto an I-beam. We love its compact size — this tool can squeeze into tight places with ease. The M18 FUEL has four RPM settings. There are three speeds and then a setting specifically for finish work.

The main drawback that we found with the Milwaukee M18 FUEL is that its battery life isn't quite on par with the longest-lasting models. If battery life is a crucial purchasing factor for you, it might make sense to upgrade to a larger Milwaukee battery or go with a different brand altogether. Also, this model is loud. Nearly all impact drivers are incredibly noisy, but the M18 FUEL is above average.

Read Full Review: Milwaukee M18 FUEL 2853-20

Another Great 18V Cordless Impact Driver


Makita XDT13


Editors' Choice Award
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

$91.97
(29% off)
at Amazon
See It

80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Speed 8
  • Torque 10
  • Convenience 6
  • Battery 9
  • Noise 3
Weight: 2 pounds | Length: 126 mm
Strong battery
Outstanding torque
Short body
Only one RPM setting
Loud

The Makita XDT13 is one of our favorites. When it came to loosening tight nuts, this model quickly conquered in our experiments. We are big fans of the length of this tool — from front to back, it is one of the shortest models that we've seen, which allows for the user to tighten long fasteners between studs or other confined spaces. The XDT13 has a long-lasting battery that is used for a variety of other tools made by Makita. Also, if fastening speed is a concern of yours, this model is a solid option.

It's a bit of a letdown that the Makita XDT13 only has one speed as this detracts from its finish or light-duty capabilities. It is also very loud so if you're worried about sound levels it would be wise to go with a quieter model.

Read Full Review: Makita XDT13

Best 12 Volt Cordless Impact Driver


Milwaukee M12 Fuel 2553-20


Editors' Choice Award
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

$84.06
(30% off)
at Amazon
See It

58
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Speed 6
  • Torque 6
  • Convenience 7
  • Battery 4
  • Noise 3
Weight: 1.7 pounds | Length: 132 mm
Compact
Light
Convenient
Unimpressive battery life
Lacks quick insert

The Milwaukee M12 Fuel 2553-20 is the best cordless impact driver that we've found in the land of 12-volt battery-powered tools. This impressive little driver essentially fits in your pocket. Not only is it compact — it's light, comfortable to hold, and easy to use. Our favorite thing about the M12 Fuel is that it kept up with, and in several instances outperformed, drivers with substantially more voltage and girth. On top of that, Milwaukee offers a fantastic array of tools built on the M12 Fuel platform, so you may only need to buy one battery and charger for a fleet.

The M12 is not without its flaws. Despite its tiny size and light weight, it is still very loud. Also, this model is far from the most affordable cordless impact driver that we tested. If you don't mind a tool that's a little more cumbersome, it might be worth it to get a cheaper model that might not be able to squeeze into as tight of spaces as this one can, but ultimately offers the same performance.

Read Full Review: Milwaukee M12 Fuel 2553-20

Best Bang for the Buck


BLACK+DECKER BDC120C


Best Buy Award
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

$67.79
(38% off)
at Amazon
See It

38
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Speed 4
  • Torque 4
  • Convenience 4
  • Battery 3
  • Noise 3
Weight: 2 pounds | Length: 168 mm
Fantastic Value
Magnetic bit holder
Not the fastest driver
Has weak torque when compared to the best
Shorter battery life than many models

The BLACK+DECKER BDCI202 offers a great ratio of performance to investment. It is a great option for someone who will only be using their driver for light duties or the occasional DIY project. Don't let the lower score fool you, it's still a great product — it just got left behind during our testing when compared to the professional-grade models. For the majority of household tasks and small projects the BLACK+DECKER will achieve the results you are looking for.

That said, the BDCI202 does fall significantly short when compared to the best of the best. Its torque is so-so, and it is not especially fast. Its battery life is lacking, and it's not the most convenient driver to use.

Read Full Review: BLACK+DECKER BDC120C


Some simply out-drove the competition during out assessments
Some simply out-drove the competition during out assessments

Why You Should Trust Us


Here at GearLab, we strive to offer the most accurate and thorough reviews for our readers as possible. We purchase all of the products that we test at full price, and we never accept any demos or freebies of any kind from manufacturers. The GearLab cordless impact driver review team is comprised of Ross Patton, David Wise, Max Mutter, and Austin Palmer. Review Editor Ross has spent countless hours with an impact driver in his hands during his years working in the HVAC industry as well as building custom features for a world-class snowboard park. Senior Review Editor David grew up using power tools and also has a degree in mechanical engineering from MIT. He has also used a plethora of tools for a multitude of projects, including deepwater surveying robots. Austin, our senior research analyst, has plenty of experience with impact drivers from his experience working on oil rigs in Texas as well as being an avid DIY specialist. For this category, we also left the lab to spend some time testing at our friend Chris Liscola's workshop to get his opinion on the drivers. Chris has 30 years of construction experience under his belt and has been creating his own custom live-edge wood slab furniture for more than a decade.

In order to make the most accurate assessments about which cordless impact drivers are truly the best for which applications we researched the subtleties of their design, how they work, found out which features are gimmicks, and which ones are must-haves. To test them side-by-side we drove several hundred fasteners to exhaust the batteries and measure speed. We maxed out each driver's torque, measured the noise they produce, and then carefully inspected each one for any tiny detail that might set it apart or give it an advantage over the competition. To complete the test we spent dozens of hours with them away from the lab working on projects ranging from fastening TV mounts to interior walls, to changing furnace air filters, to assisting with the construction of custom furniture.

Related: How We Tested Cordless Impact Drivers

The BLACK+DECKER isn't very fast  but it gets the job done.

Analysis and Test Results


In order to determine which models are the very best, we spent days on end researching each model and the claims of the manufacturers for these products, then purchased the most promising models for an extensive hands-on comparison. After dozens of different assessments and weeks of testing, we arrived at five weighted rating metrics in which to group our findings and results — speed, torque, convenience, battery life, and sound.

Related: Buying Advice for Cordless Impact Drivers


Value


Unlike many categories of power tools, there is not anything close to an unequivocal parallel between price and performance when it comes to cordless impact drivers. The results of our research taught us that there are several models that can outperform more expensive models in certain aspects. We also now know that the most affordable tools in this review can handle a very reasonable workload, especially for light-duty and finish applications.

Whether or not you already own a certain brand's batteries and chargers can greatly affect the value for you. If you own one of these brands and you're pleased with their products, your best option is likely to stick with the brand you have, provided that you do your research and confirm with the manufacturer that your current battery system is compatible with the model of impact driver you'd like to purchase. Also, make sure that the results of our testing match the performance that you're looking for, because one brand may be great at making circular saws but terrible at making impact drivers.

We think that the BLACK+DECKER BDCI202 is an excellent light-duty impact driver for small jobs and projects around the house. It is a fantastic tool that will barely put a dent in your bank account. However, it should be noted that the BLACK+DECKER scored much lower than heavy-duty, high-performance models in all of our assessments, so if you're a professional, a serious DIYer, or you just know that you put a beating on your tools then we'd suggest you go with a model that earned more points. The Makita XDT13 is one of our highest-scoring models and costs substantially less than many models it easily outperformed. Our favorite model, the Milwaukee M18 FUEL is also one of the most expensive. However, the high cost can be offset if you already own Milwaukee batteries or if you buy the impact driver in a kit with other tools. If you're in the market for a 12V version, the Milwaukee M12 FUEL is well worth the price considering its outstanding performance.

The right driver depends on its intended use
The right driver depends on its intended use

Speed


One of the primary benefits of owning an impact driver is the increased efficiency and project workflow. In this regard, speed is crucial. For professionals, as the saying goes, time is money. If you're a DIYer, the last way you want to spend your limited free time is waiting for a tool that lags during a project. For these reasons, we decided to let this metric account for 35% of the total score.


To determine the various speeds of each model, we clocked a dozen individual time trials per driver using multiple types of screws and lumber. We began with a stack of sheets of plywood that allowed for ample room to completely sink a 3-⅝" ledger screw — we took five time trials for each model for this test. We then used the same ledger screws, but this time we used a stack of 2x12 boards in order to test an alternative wood, this time taking 7 trials. Finally, we drilled 11/32" pilot holes into the 2x12s in order to accommodate a ½" x 3" lag bolt. For this experiment, we clocked how long it took each tool to completely drive the bolt, and then how long it took to remove it.

The BLACK+DECKER was not the fastest model during our time trials.
The BLACK+DECKER was not the fastest model during our time trials.

Earning a 9 out of 10 for this metric, the Milwaukee M18 FUEL 2853-20 was the king of the speed tests. While driving ledger screws, it averaged a mere 3 seconds. When we timed this model driving and removing the lag bolt, it easily destroyed the competition — it only took 12 seconds to tighten the bolt and 4 seconds to remove it.

The Milwaukee M18 FUEL 2853-20 is as fast as they come.
The Milwaukee M18 FUEL 2853-20 is as fast as they come.

The DEWALT MAX XR DCF887B, Makita XDT13, Milwaukee M18 2850-20, and the Ryobi P238 were each awarded an 8 out of 10 after our series of assessments. The Makita, DEWALT MAX, and M18 all tied for both the plywood ledger screw test and the lumber ledger screw test at 4 seconds and 3 seconds respectively. The Ryobi was barely slower on the plywood at 5 seconds but also had a calculated average of 3 seconds for the 2x12 trials.

The Makita drove ledger screws quickly and easily.
The Makita drove ledger screws quickly and easily.

The Ryobi put up one of the faster times for driving the ½" x 3" lag bolt at 14 seconds and then was able to remove it in 6 seconds. Just behind was the Makita that also took 6 seconds to remove the fastener, but showed a tad slower time of 15 seconds to sink it. The M18 2850-20 was barely behind at 16 seconds to install and 7 to back it out. The DEWALT MAX was slower at driving, it took 18 seconds for this test, but it made up for it with a time of 5 seconds for removal.

The only driver that earned a 7 out of 10 for the speed metric was the Ridgid R86038. After 5 trials of driving ledger screws into plywood, it showed an average of 6 seconds. For the ledger screws into lumber tests, it was much faster and averaged 3 seconds per screw. When it came to the lag bolt test the Ridgid took 19 seconds to drive it and 9 to remove it.

The Ridgid earned solid scores for the speed metric
The Ridgid earned solid scores for the speed metric

Torque


When compared to most standard drills, torque, or twisting force, is a critical differentiator for most impact drivers. The motors on these tools are designed to allow quick rotational bursts of force that deliver an extra boost of tightening power. The amount of torque that each model offers can be the difference between the tool being able to handle the job or not, so we allotted 25% of the total score to the metric. To test torque, we welded several ¾" bolts to an I-beam that would be next to impossible to shear off with an impact driver. We tightened nuts onto each bolt using a torque wrench to determine the number of foot-pounds of force each driver could loosen. Next, we used each model to tighten the nuts for a total of five seconds and then used the wrench to determine the torque that each driver delivered.


The torque wrench that we used for testing maxes out at 300 foot-pounds of force, so we determined that models that could both reach and break a minimum of 300 foot-pounds should earn a 10 out of 10 for the metric.

The Milwaukee M18 FUEL 2853-20 maxed out our torque tests.
The Milwaukee M18 FUEL 2853-20 maxed out our torque tests.

The Milwaukee M18 FUEL 2853-20, Ryobi P238, and Ridgid R86038 were all able to achieve this standard. The Makita XDT13 was only able to reach a torque of 285 ft-lbs while tightening, but it was so quick at breaking 300 ft-lbs that we opted to award it a 10 out 10 as well.


A couple of points behind the top scorers are the Milwaukee M18 2850-20, the DEWALT MAX XR DCF887, and the PORTER-CABLE PCCK647 that all scored an 8 out of 10. The M18 averaged 245 ft-lbs while tightening, while the DEWALT MAX was just behind at an average of 238 ft-lbs — both of these models were able to break 300 ft-lbs in under two seconds. The PORTER-CABLE had a slightly higher tightening average than these two models at 257 ft-lbs, but when it came to breaking 300 ft-lbs, it took this model nearly 10 seconds to pass the test.

We welded 3/4" bolts to an I-beam in order to measure each drivers' torque.
We welded 3/4" bolts to an I-beam in order to measure each drivers' torque.

Convenience


Convenience is an important element of impact driver efficiency. Therefore, we dedicated 20% of the total score to this metric. To reach a numeric value for convenience, we examined the subtle differences between each model including the bit holders, the functionality of the quick connect hex head collet, the quality and performance of the LED lights, and any other additional features.


The only model to earn an 8 out of 10 in the convenience department was the Milwaukee M18 FUEL 2853-20. This model offers a belt hook, a quick-release chuck, and a bit holder. Additionally, it has four RPM settings and we found the button to be in a great location; it's also easy to press. One of our favorite aspects of this model is its size — it is only 116mm.

The button to change speeds on the M18 FUEL is in a convenient location and is easy to press.
The button to change speeds on the M18 FUEL is in a convenient location and is easy to press.

We had three models score a 7 out of 10 for this metric — the Ryobi P238, the DEWALT MAX XR DCF887, and the Milwaukee M12 Fuel 2553-20. All three of these models are equipped with switches to select between different RPM settings.

The Milwaukee M12 FUEL has 4 RPM settings.
The Milwaukee M12 FUEL has 4 RPM settings.

One of the best bonus features that we found on the Ryobi is the innovative chuck. Not only is it a quick connect, inserting a bit into the driver cocks a spring-loaded disconnect that makes it very fast and easy to use.

The Ryobi has a quick bit insert chuck that also ejects the bit with almost zero effort.
The Ryobi has a quick bit insert chuck that also ejects the bit with almost zero effort.

This model comes with a bit holder on the front of the handle and also includes a magnet plate for holding additional bits or fasteners. The RPM switch for this model is located on the back of the driver, which makes it very easy to see and access.

We love that Ryobi thought to add a magnetic plate to hold extra fasteners.
We love that Ryobi thought to add a magnetic plate to hold extra fasteners.

The DEWALT MAX has a similar style of LED lights to the Ryobi, and we also love that it has a short total length, which makes it easy to use in tighter spaces.

The DEWALT MAX has a very effective light pattern.
The DEWALT MAX has a very effective light pattern.

Our favorite two things about the Milwaukee M12 Fuel are its small weight and small size. This model is about as compact and light as they come, which is ideal for those who don't have much storage or pros who want to limit the weight of the tools they drag around. We also found that this model is great for being able to drive into a weird angle and hard to reach places.

The tiny size of the Milwaukee M12 FUEL helps it squeeze into tight places.
The tiny size of the Milwaukee M12 FUEL helps it squeeze into tight places.

We awarded a 6 out of 10 to the Makita XDT13 for this metric. It's awesome that the Makita is so short — from front to back it's only 126mm. Regrettably, this driver is devoid of RPM setting controls.

Battery


To wear out the impact drivers, we alternated between sets of sinking 14 ledger screws and 1 ½" x 3 " lag bolts and repeated this process until each battery was effectively dead. Some of the drivers showed impressive lifetime, others — not so much. Because a short battery life can be extremely inconvenient and annoying when you're fully committed to a project, we decided that this metric ought to account for 15% of the total score.


The Makita XDT13 did a good job of driving 5 sets of 14 ledger screws as well as 4 lag bolts in and out but eventually ran out of sauce while loosening the 5th lag bolt of the experiment. We gave this driver a 9 out of 10 for this metric.

We were impressed with the overall battery life of the Makita model
We were impressed with the overall battery life of the Makita model

Tied at 7 out of 10 for this test — the Ridgid R86038 and the DEWALT MAX XR DCF887 each died on the 5th lag bolt after driving 14 ledger screws 5 times. Also earning a 7 out of 10 for battery was the Milwaukee M18 FUEL 2853-20. This model completed four sets of the ledger screws and the lag bolt but died after driving four ledger screws on the fifth go around.

The Ridgid battery is big and strong.
The Ridgid battery is big and strong.

While the Ryobi P238 couldn't quite keep up with the top models during our battery test assessment, it still outperformed most of its adversaries. It got through 42 ledger screws and drove the lag bolt three times, but when trying to remove the lag bolt on the third round, the battery died.

This model is not very fast at driving fasteners.
This model is not very fast at driving fasteners.

Noise


As far as noise is concerned, impact drivers just are not that awesome. They are loud. Period. Nevertheless, we decided to run some experiments and include the results in our overall assessment of these tools. We used an SPL meter to measure the average decibel level that each model produced while in operation.

We always suggest you consult the manufacturer's instructions and wear the recommended PPE regardless of what our results show. OSHA has some great information concerning various sound pressure levels and the amount of exposure a person can be subjected to before causing damage to their hearing.


Unfortunately, nearly every impact driver basically failed this metric because they all emit such an absurd amount of noise. The only driver that was somewhat bearable was the Bosch PS41 — we measured an average of 86 decibels with the SPL meter during the noise testing for this model.


Earning a 5 out of 10 for this metric, the DEWALT DCF809 Atomic emitted 92 decibels while in use. All of the other impact drivers were so insanely loud in this assessment that we chose to score them terribly low.

There's no way around it -- impact drivers are loud.
There's no way around it -- impact drivers are loud.

Conclusion


We hope that we have provided you with the in-depth information that you need to make an informed decision in choosing the impact driver that is the perfect fit for your applications and needs.

Ross Patton, David Wise, and Austin Palmer