During our quest to find the best impact drivers, we bought and tested the 15 most promising models on the market to put in a head-to-head, hands-on, battery-powered tool showdown. All the top products today are cordless models, making them easy to use, but they are also powerful, which is the main reason to upgrade from a drill. We carefully measured, weighed, and timed dozens of performance test metrics on these products, but we 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 judged the comfort and ergonomics of each driver and beat the heck out of them by effectively maxing out their torque capabilities.
With the ever-evolving quality and technology of the newest and best tools, choosing the right model for the job can often be daunting and confusing. Our team has done the groundwork to take the headache out of the process of shopping for you, comparing the best cordless circular saws and all of the best drills on the market. If you're in fall yard cleanup mode, check out our picks for the best cordless leaf blowers.
Editor's Note: We updated this Impact Driver review on February 28, 2023, to include hydraulic drive models from Milwaukee and Makita.
The Kobalt XTR Max 24V is our hands-down favorite for heavy-duty tasks. During our head-to-head speed assessment, this model outperformed every other impact driver that we've seen. The XTR showed a ridiculous amount of torque, maxing out our torque wrench for both fastening and loosening large nuts. We love that this model has four different settings, including three speeds and an "ASSIST" mode that slowly increases RPMs to reduce the chances of cross-threading. When we added the XTR to our review, we had to rewrite the battery scores for every other model because this version's battery outlasts all of them.
The XTR is not without its flaws. We found that the light is relatively dim and doesn't do the best job of illuminating a dark work area. This may not be a deal breaker for most people, but a low-quality light can become problematic if you're working in attics or crawlspaces. We were a bit disappointed that the chuck does not have a quick insert function. This technology is a bit outdated — most newer drivers allow for one-handed insertion of bits. Despite our short list of small complaints, this model is our top recommendation for those that require top-notch power and speed.
For a first-class impact driver, look no further than the Milwaukee M18 Fuel. In our speed trials, it surpassed almost all of the competition. When tested for torque strength, it hit its ceiling with a 300ft-lb wrench, as it could loosen and tighten nuts onto ½" bolts that we had welded to an I-beam. Due to this tool's compact size, it can easily access small places. The M18 Fuel has four RPM settings — three different speeds and one specific setting for finish work.
Our main gripe with the Milwaukee M18 Fuel is the battery life just doesn't live up to some of the other contenders. If it's important to you to have long battery life on your driver, consider upgrading to a larger Milwaukee battery, or seek out a different model altogether with a longer-lasting battery. Finally, we should mention this driver is quite noisy. While most impact drivers make a bit of a ruckus, the M18 Fuel is surprisingly offensive.
The Milwaukee M12 Fuel is the best impact driver 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, but it's also lightweight, easy to use, and comfortable to hold. Our favorite thing about the M12 Fuel is that it kept up with (and, in several instances, outperformed) drivers with substantially more girth and voltage. To top it off, 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.
We found a few small flaws while testing the M12 Fuel. Despite its lightweight and tiny size, it is still very loud. Also, this model is far from the most affordable impact driver we tested. If you don't mind a tool that's a little more cumbersome, it might be worth getting a cheaper model that may not be able to squeeze into the tight spaces that this one can but ultimately offers the same performance.
Ryobi is a name synonymous with both quality and affordability, and the Ryobi P238 is no exception. This was one of the fastest drivers in our lineup and one of the most inexpensive. It's incredibly fast and provides ample torque in our tests, and we love the bright LED light and the magnetic plate that you can toss your extra fasteners on — no more "now, where'd I put that screw?" moments.
The P238 is one of the longer impact drivers in our test fleet, which can be a drawback for certain applications where you may need to get into tight spaces. It also has a shorter battery life than other contenders in our review. Still, we think for the money, it's hard to go wrong with this offering from Ryobi.
Here at GearLab, we strive to offer our readers the most accurate and thorough reviews possible. We purchase all of the products we test at full price, and we never accept any demos or freebies from manufacturers. After putting these drivers through 144 individual tests in our lab, we spent dozens of hours working on projects ranging from changing furnace air filters, fastening TV mounts, and assisting with custom furniture construction. To make the most accurate assessments concerning which impact drivers are truly the best for which applications, we researched the subtleties of each one's design and how they work, then found out which features are gimmicks versus must-haves. The detailed results of this review represent 15 of the best impact drivers available on the market today. Our in-depth testing process of impact drivers breaks down into five rating metrics:
Speed (35% of overall score weighting)
Torque (25% weighting)
Convenience (20% weighting)
Battery (15% weighting)
Noise (5% weighting)
For this review, we put together a dream team of testers. Review Editor Ross Patton 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 Wise grew up using power tools and also has a degree in mechanical engineering from MIT. He has used a plethora of tools for a multitude of projects, including designing and building deepwater surveying robots. Senior Research Analyst Austin Palmer has plenty of experience with impact drivers from his experience working on oil rigs in Texas as well as being an avid DIY specialist. Review Editor Matt Spencer, the newest addition to the power tool testing team, is currently studying engineering and has impressed the crew with his ability to uncover the subtle nuances that set great products apart from those that fall short.
Analysis and Test Results
We spent days researching each model and manufacturer's claims for these products, then purchased the most promising models for an extensive hands-on comparison. To help you find the right product for your specific needs, we conducted dozens of different assessments over several weeks of testing, using five weighted rating metrics in which to group our findings and results — speed, torque, convenience, battery life, and sound.
Unlike many power tools, there is not anything close to a parallel between price and performance when it comes to impact drivers. Our research and test results taught us that several models could outperform more expensive models in certain aspects. We also know that this review's most affordable tools 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. Suppose you own one of these brands and are pleased with their products. In that case, 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're planning on purchasing. Also, make sure that our testing results match the performance you're looking for — because one brand may be great at making circular saws but terrible at making impact drivers.
We found the Bosch PS41BN 12V to be an excellent light-duty impact driver for small jobs and projects around the house. However, we should note that this Bosch model scored much lower than high-performance, heavier-duty models in all of our assessments. If you're a professional, a serious DIYer, or just know that you put a beating on your tools, we suggest you go with a model that earned more points. The Ryobi P238 is one of our highest-scoring models, easily outperforming some models that cost substantially more. One of the best models, the Milwaukee M18 Fuel, is 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. If you don't already own a collection of a certain brand's tools that you'd like to expand upon, Kobalt's new model, the XTR Max 24V, includes a 24-volt battery and a charger.
One of the primary benefits of owning an impact driver is 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 ample room to sink a 3-⅝" ledger screw completely. For this test, we took five time trials for each model. We then used the same ledger screws, but this time we used a stack of 2x12 boards to test an alternative wood, taking seven trials. Finally, we drilled 11/32" pilot holes into the 2x12s to accommodate a ½" x 3" lag bolt. For this experiment, we clocked how long each tool took to drive the bolt completely and how long it took to remove it.
The Kobalt XTR Max 24V was the undisputed champion of this assessment. During the ledger screw test, this model was the only one to squeeze below the three-second barrier. When we timed this model driving and removing the lag bolt, it easily destroyed the competition, taking 10 seconds to tighten the bolt and only 3 seconds to remove it.
The Milwaukee M18 Fuel and Makita XDT16Z are next in line behind the Kobalt XTR for this portion of the review. Each of these models had an average ledger screw time of 4 seconds. The XDT16Z took 14 seconds to drive the lag screw and 5 seconds to remove it, while the M18 Fuel took 16 seconds to wholly sink the screw and 7 seconds to back it out.
The DeWalt MAX XR DCF887B, Milwaukee M18 2850-20, Makita XDT13, and the Ryobi P238 also had a respectable showing. The Makita, DeWalt MAX, and M18 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 had a calculated average of 3 seconds for the 2x12 trials.
At 14 seconds, the Ryobi P238 put up one of the faster times for driving the ½" x 3" lag bolt and removed it in 6 seconds. Just behind was the Makita XDT13, which also took 6 seconds to remove the fastener but showed a tad slower time of 15 seconds to sink it. The Milwaukee M18 was barely behind at 16 seconds to install and 7 to back it out. The DeWalt MAX XR 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.
Compared to a standard drill, 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 whether the tool can handle the job or not, so we allotted 25% of the total score to this metric.
To test torque, we welded several ¾" bolts to an I-beam that would be nearly 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 five seconds and then used the wrench to determine the torque each driver delivered.
The torque wrench 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 perfect score for the metric.
The Kobalt XTR Max 24V, Makita XDT16Z, Milwaukee M18 Fuel, and Ryobi P238 were all able to achieve this standard. The Makita XDT13 could only 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 perfect score.
Falling just behind the top scorers are the Porter-Cable PCCK647, Milwaukee M18, and the DeWalt MAX XR. The M18 averaged 245 ft-lbs while tightening, while the DeWalt MAX followed at an average of 238 ft-lbs — both 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.
Of the hydraulic drive models, the Makita XST01Z Lithium-Ion Oil Impulse 18V showed the most impressive results. This model was able to fasten nuts to an average of 255 ft-lbs and was able to loosen nuts tightened to 300 ft-lbs after holding the trigger for about five seconds. However, our team chose to dock the XST01Z a point for this metric because this model's ability to display its highest level of performance was largely inconsistent.
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 quality and performance of the LED lights, the functionality of the quick connect hex head collet and any other additional features.
The top performers in the convenience department were the Milwaukee M18 Fuel and the Makita XDT16Z. The M18 offers a quick-release chuck, a belt hook, and a bit holder. Additionally, it has four RPM settings, and we found the button to be easy to press and in a great location. One of our favorite aspects of this model is its size — only 116mm.
With a length of 126mm, the XDT16Z is slightly longer than the M18 but certainly compact enough for most limited space tasks. This model has eight different modes including four impact settings and four assist types for specific materials. We love the bright light that can be engaged without starting the driver.
In addition to different RPM settings, the Makita XST01Z Lithium-Ion Oil Impulse 18V has a button for turning the light off when it is not needed — allowing it to save battery and minimize wear on the light.
The innovative chuck is one of the best bonus features we found on the Ryobi P238. Not only is it a quick connect, but inserting a bit into the driver cocks a spring-loaded disconnect that makes it very fast and easy to use.
This model has a bit holder on the front of the handle and a magnet plate for holding additional bits or fasteners. The RPM switch, located on the driver's back, is very easy to see and access.
The DeWalt MAX XR has a similar style of LED lights to the Ryobi P238, and we also love that it has a short total length, which makes it easy to use in tighter spaces.
The Milwaukee M12 Fuel is lightweight and small in size, and we appreciate these attributes of this model. It's about as compact and light as they come, ideal for folks without much storage stage or for pros hoping to carry a lighter load in their tool kit. In addition, its small size makes the M12 Fuel great for driving into weird angles and harder-to-reach places.
Although the Kobalt XTR Max 24V is not the longest model in our review, at 139mm, it is longer than most. This comes as no surprise considering that it is also one of the fastest and most powerful impact drivers we've ever gotten our hands on. The XTR has three different speeds and then an "ASSIST" mode which gradually increases RPMs in order to reduce cross-threading and cam-out.
We love that the Makita XDT13 is so short — from front to back, it's only 126mm. Regrettably, this driver is devoid of RPM setting controls.
To wear out the impact drivers, we alternated between sets of sinking 14 ledger screws and 1 ½" x 3 " lag bolts, repeating this process until each battery was effectively dead. Some of the drivers showed remarkable battery life. 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 should account for 15% of the total score.
During this assessment, the Kobalt XTR Max 24V left the rest of the field in the dust. This model completed seven rounds of our ledger screw and lag bolt gauntlet before finally running out of juice after five ledger screws on the eighth round.
Coming in second place for this portion of our side-by-side analysis was the Makita XDT16Z. It completed five rounds of alternating between the ledger screws and lag bolt before dying after ten ledger screws on the sixth round.
The Makita XDT16Z's cousin, the XDR13R, did a good job of driving five sets of 14 ledger screws and four lag bolts in and out, but it eventually ran out of sauce while loosening the fifth lag bolt of the experiment. The DeWalt MAX XR died on the fifth lag bolt after driving 14 ledger screws five times. The Milwaukee M18 Fuel 2853-20 completed four sets of the ledger screws and the lag bolt but died after driving four ledger screws on the fifth go-around.
The hydraulic drive models we tested, the Makita XST01Z Lithium-Ion Oil Impulse 18V and the Milwaukee M18 2760 Fuel Surge Hex Hydraulic, earned scores near the middle of the pack for this assessment. Each of them completed three sets of our trials before dying partway through the ledger screw section of the fourth set. The Fuel Surge drove 12 out of 14 screws in the fourth set, while the XST01Z drove 7.
While the Ryobi P238 couldn't quite keep up with the top models during our battery test assessment, it 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.
As far as noise goes, impact drivers are just, well, 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 each model's average decibel level while in operation. Noise only accounts for only 5% of a product's total score.
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 failed this metric because they all emit absurd amounts of noise. The only driver that was somewhat bearable was the Bosch PS41BN 12V — we measured an average of 86 decibels with the SPL meter during the noise testing for this model.
The DeWalt DCF809B Atomic emitted 92 decibels while in use, earning an average score for noise. Considering its incredible speed and power, we think that the loud noise produced by the Kobalt XTR Max 24V isn't that bad.
The supposed primary benefit of purchasing a hydraulic drive model over a traditional percussive impact driver is that the former is known to be much quieter. Unfortunately, the data in our testing proved otherwise. The Makita XST01Z Lithium-Ion Oil Impulse 18V produced an average of 100 decibels, and the Milwaukee M18 2760 Fuel Surge Hex Hydraulic jacked the SPL meter to a painful 102 decibels during our noise assessment, making them two of the loudest models we've ever tested. Current technology has not yet found a way around the loudness of this particular type of tool.
We hope our review has provided you with the in-depth information you need to make an informed decision in choosing the right impact driver for your needs and applications.
Ross Patton, David Wise, Matt Spencer, and Austin Palmer