"Accuracy can always be a concern, but the numbers suggest the Cobra ZL Encore is one of the more accurate drivers we've had in for testing recently...We've done enough club testing over the last few years to develop some pretty reliable generalizations. One of those is that Cobra drivers will always perform well for us."
Cobra ZL Encore Driver
(Written By: @GolfSpy T) You may recall that we looked at the original Cobra ZL as part of our "Clash of the Adjustable Drivers" Series way back in June 2010. While the numbers our testers put up suggested that Cobra's S2 would be a better choice for the average golfer, I have to admit that I came away from our tests with a certain fondness for the ZL. Overall I hit it very well, but mostly, there was just something about the club that made me feel like I could put everything I had into every swing without having to worry about missing the fairway.
Now the truth is we all miss a fairway from time to time (I've had days when I've hit more houses than fairways), but there's something to be said for confidence. And though I didn't end up bagging the ZL that season, it continues to be a club I remember fondly. That fondness is perhaps why I was so looking forward to testing the 2nd generation (Encore) ZL driver. While I'll discuss it a bit more later in the review, most significant about the ZL (apart from the performance) is that it's really the first Cobra driver that looks the part of being designed for the Rickie Fowler generation. The PUMA influence is strong.
The Marketing Angle
I'm not going to spend too much time digging into the marketing details here, but apart from the bullet point listed below, I wanted to make sure everyone is aware that the ZL Encore is Cobra's composite (technically, multi-material) offering. Like other Cobra drivers it features a 6-4 Titanium Body. The ZL Encore's crown is Carbon Fiber. The sole is E-Glass and carbon fiber, however; it's coated with aluminum, no doubt for duarability.
Other Highlights Include:
- E9 Face Technology™ with Dual Roll
- 3-Position Adjustable Flight Technology
- Light weight (55 Gram) Fujikura Motore F1 (X-stiff and stiff) and F3 Shafts (Regular and Lite Flex)
- Available in White or Black (our test samples were black)
Shaft: Fujikura Motore F1
Grip: GolfPride New-Decade Multi Compound 360
How We Tested
The 5 golfers (Tim was unavailable due to injury) for whom we collected detailed performance data were asked to hit a series of shots on our 3Track Equipped simulators from aboutGolf. As usual, testing was done at Tark's Indoor Golf, a state of the art indoor golf facility located in Saratoga Springs, NY. Detailed data for each and every shot for which we collected data is viewable just below the performance section of this review.. This data serves as the foundation for our final performance score. As a supplement to our 5 performance testers, a subset of additional golfers were given the opportunity to test the Cobra ZL Encore Driver and provide feedback in our subjective categories (looks, feel, sound, perceived distance, perceived accuracy, perceived forgiveness, and likelihood of purchase). This information, which we also collected from our performance testers, is used as the foundation for our total subjective score. Testing was done using a 9.5° and 10.5° drivers in regular and stiff flex.
Like the the last few driver tests we've conducted, this test was conducted under our new testing protocols. Full details of our testing and scoring procedures can be found here. The short version is that scores are calculated based on a point system. Points are determined per shot using a formula of distance minus accuracy. Based on previous test results, we've assigned each of our six testers a theoretical maximum point value. The percentage of that maximum theoretical score that is achieved by each individual tester represents the individual score for the ZL Encore. The total performance score is determined by the average score of the top 5 testers.
Distance & Launch
With the Cobra ZL Encore Driver our testers averaged 245.68 yards of total distance. That's roughly 2 yards less than other recently reviewed drivers, though Tim's absence no doubt brings the average down by 2-3 yards. However, when our shortest hitter (Senior Tester) is removed from the equation, the average distance jumps to 258.35, which while not the longest we've seen is still a very solid number. Of that adjusted 258.35 yards, 249.93 yards represents pure carry.
With their preferred (and as close to ideal as we could get given the spin numbers) lofts, our testers averaged 10.33 degrees of vertical launch, which is actually slightly higher than we've seen in previous reviews. Not surprisingly, the higher launch produced a higher average shot height of 38.52 yards.
Accuracy & Spin
Accuracy can always be a concern, but the numbers suggest the Cobra ZL Encore is one of the more accurate drivers we've had in for testing recently.
Our testers missed the center line by an average of 16.06 yards, which is well above average. While one tester missed by just under 21 yards, and another by 17.5 yards, the remaining 3 testers missed by less than 15 yards each. The best result was 12.8 yards. When the 21 yard deviant is removed from the equation, average accuracy improves to 14.90 yards. As I've said before, anything under 15 yards is very good.
More telling perhaps is that even the worst misses weren't that bad. 50 yard misses happen, 40 yard misses aren't uncommon. In the case of the ZL Encore, only a handful of shots missed by more than 30 yards, and not a single shot of the 10 we counted for each tester was more than 35 yards offline.
35 yards off the target line isn't where you want to be, but more often than not, you'll still be in play.
The one concern we have about the performance of the Cobra ZL Encore is that backspin numbers across the board were above what we like to see. While I expect my own numbers to be high, it's unusual for all of our testers to be over 300o RPM. With my ridiculously high number removed, our testers still averaged 3283.63 RPM. We actually like the numbers for our senior testers (and were working on convincing him it's time for more loft), but for the rest of the guys, the lightweight shaft probably helps to explain the numbers.
Sidespin numbers (543.70 RPM) are withing our average range.
Even with a shaft/head combination that proved to be less of a fit for our testers than most of the clubs we test, performance numbers for the ZL Encore were still very solid. Two testers posted performance scores above 90%, while only our senior tester failed to achieve a score above 85%.
MGS OVERALL PERFORMANCE SCORE: 89.59
The Interactive Data
The charts below show the individual and group averages (black dotted line) for each shot our golfers took during our test of the the Cobra ZL Encore Driver. If you click on the "ZL Encore - Test Range tab, you can see where each shot came to rest on our virtual driving range. Hovering over any point will give you all the details of that particular shot. You can use the filters on the right-hand side to show and hide individual golfer based on handicap and clubhead speed. Clicking on the "ZL Encore - Raw Data" tab will show you the individual numbers and group averages for our testers.
As I mentioned at the outset, the ZL Encore is really the first Cobra driver of what I call the Fowler generation. More directly, it's the first driver from Cobra that shows an undeniable influence from the PUMA side of the business. Rolling the trendy (and bright) colors PUMA is known for into the equipment line is most certainly a risky move. Our thinking is that Cobra isn't just going after a younger generation, they're attempting to develop an entire culture around their brand.
And while I suspect it may cost them some of the older generation of golfers who have previously shown a fierce loyalty to the brand, I love that Cobra is basically creating a demographic, and then going after it aggressively. The majority of our testers are over 30+. While we might do our best to put ourselves in some younger shoes (I personally love the PUMA apparel line), we're probably not, as a group, the target demographic, and to an extent, the subjective feedback we received probably reflects as much.
While we had one tester tell us he loves the looks of the ZL Encore, that certainly wasn't the majority opinion. With it's slightly elongated appearance, the ZL Encore isn't designed for the golfer looking for something purely traditional. For what it is, I find the shape to be exceptionally refined, and there's certainly nothing about that aspect of things that doesn't suite my eye. As far as color selection goes, however; some of our testers felt that Cobra may have taken th idea of "Zero Limits" a bit too far.
It looks like a beer sign in a bar window - Tim S.
I don't mind the sole graphics at all, and while the bright yellow shaft graphics don't move me, they aren't a deal breaker. What I do find bothersome (and the primary reason why I rated the club a 7) is the neon/highlighter yellow "cobra" alignment aid. It's gaudy, distracting, and ultimately it doesn't work for me...and most of the MyGolfSpy testers.
A little neon yellow is cool. This time around I think Cobra overdid it just a bit. Unfortunately we didn't receive any samples in white. I believe those toned down models would have been better received.
MGS Looks Score: 79.55
Sound & Feel
While composite crown design has come a long way over the last few years, they still don't sound and feel like titanium. Quite frankly I don't mind them in the least as the improvements we've seen over the last couple of years have replaced loud cracking noises with something much more muted.
This is true of the ZL Encore, which like the original ZL produces a sound, that while not quiet, I would still describe as subtle. The result is a driver that produces more distance than you might expect based on the impact noise.
Overall opinions were mixed. One tester loved it, a couple more liked it...the other guys felt sound and feel were ok, but certainly nothing to get excited about.
I actually really like the somewhat muted feel, but my opinion doesn't count for much around here.
MGS Sound & Feel Score: 83.85
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say our testers botched this one. In hindsight (and with the benefit of data staring me straight in the face), I'd be inclined to say that the Cobra ZL is well above average where forgiveness is concerned. I'd site the lack of huge misses, as well as reasonably tight dispersion patters as evidence of as much.
In truth, 3 of our survey takers rated the club 9 or better for forgiveness (which suggests they noticed their own dispersion patterns); however, others didn't quite agree. Overall the forgiveness score is pretty good, but honestly, if this review was a one-man operation, it would certainly be higher.
Tester Perceived Forgiveness Score: 86.00
Likelihood of Purchase
While the performance numbers suggest that our testers should probably give the ZL Encore some serious consideration, the reality is that when it comes to deciding what goes in our bags, looks matter as much, if not more than anything. And while our testers didn't get into the specifics of why the ZL Encore isn't at the top of their list for a 2012 driver, my guess is that the lowish scores have more to do with looks than anything else.
If that's the case for you, try the white.
Tester Likelihood of Purchase: 75.25
Adjustability (Not Scored)
We don't score adjustability, but we'd be remiss not to discuss it briefly. Cobra's simple 3-way (Open, Neutral, Closed) approach to adjustability is next to impossible to beat from a simplicity standpoint. With settings of 2° open or 2° closed, the change in orientation is substantial enough that it should actually make a difference for those looking to manipulate their ball flight a bit.
While I remain a fan of Cobra's implementation, with new adjustable systems hitting the market, and with other battle tested designs receiving some subtle upgrades, it might be time for Cobra Engineers (if they aren't already) to start thinking about the next generation of Cobra adjustability.
Tester Likelihood of Purchase: 81.97
There's no way to sugarcoat this. On a purely subjective level, the Cobra ZL driver took a little bit of a beating from our testers. The neon yellow graphics basically missed big. We also know that composite drivers generally don't score as well as Titanium for sound and feel. None of it adds up to a product our testers loved.
TOTAL SUBJECTIVE SCORE: 80.73
We've done enough club testing over the last few years to develop some pretty reliable generalizations. One of those is that Cobra drivers will always perform well for us. Looking at the whole of the data, and slightly higher spin numbers not withstanding, that generalization certainly holds true with the Cobra ZL Encore. Now if I'm being completely honest, I'll probably never look back on it as fondly as I do the original ZL, but as with the subjective issues, that has more to do with a paint scheme that's more distracting than it should be.
Ultimately what we're left with is a driver that comes about as close to A level performance as a driver can (without actually cracking the 90.0 mark), but, in our tester's minds, just doesn't look the part of one of the better drivers on the market. We can only grade on what we're sent (which is why I always encourage OEMs to send us different color schemes, finishes, etc., so our testers can pick the one they like), so the score is what it is.
That said, I hate to see paint bring a good club down (which is why subjective scoring counts for so little these days), so if the black/yellow doesn't work for you, definitely give the white a try. There's a lot of pop in the Cobra ZL driver, and a neon color scheme shouldn't prevent you from experiencing that for yourself.
MGS TOTAL SCORE: 88.70
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