"If you want distance, it's hard to imagine you could do better than the Cobra S3's. The S3 proved to be the longest iron we've ever tested. Our testers not only rated the S3 as the longest, but also the most accurate irons we've tested this year!"
Cobra S3 Irons
(Written By: GolfSpy T) Within the last year we've had the opportunity to review a couple sets of Cobra irons. The S2 Forged iron was a big hit with our testers (particularly those concerned with distance), and the Cobra Pro CB, which we reviewed as part of our head to head battle of the cavity back irons, posted the highest subject score of any iron in the test while finishing second overall. Given how well the irons we tested last year were received, as well as the S2, S3, and ZL drivers performed, it should almost go without saying that we were anxious to see how Cobra's latest game improvement iron would perform.
In terms of where the S3 irons sit in Cobra's lineup - I'd call them a game improvement iron; slotted between the Super Game Improvement S3 Max, and the transitional S2 Forged. Like the S3 Max, the standard S3 are available in a standard iron set (4-GW) and a hybrid/iron set (4-6 Hybrid, 7-GW). Just like the S3 driver, they feature what Cobra calls E9 technology, which introduces the concept of sweet zone (bigger than a sweet spot) to maximize performance across the part of the face where golfers tend to actually make contact with the golf ball.
Taking a look at the specs below and you'll see that Cobra appears to have gotten themselves caught up in the distance is everything mindset. It's hard to blame them as just about every manufacturer offers at least one set of extra long irons with jacked up lofts. While I wish the manufacturers would dial it back a bit when it comes to this sort of thing, the undeniable reality is that distance remains what the consumer wants, even if all it really means is that your 6 irons is what, just a few years ago, the world called a 5-iron. All we're really talking about here is the number stamped into the sole.
Material Composition: 3-7 17-4 Hyper Steel, 8-LW 17-4 Stainless Steel. Internal polymer topline and full cavity TPU (thermoplastic urethane).
For testing purposes our sets consisted of 4-GW with stock Nippon NS 1030H shafts. Cobra also offers Aldila NV-3 shafts as a stock graphite option.
How We Tested
The 6 golfers 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 now viewable in the interactive portion of this review. This data serves as the foundation for our final performance score. As a supplement to our 6 performance testers, a subset of additional golfers were given the opportunity to test the Cobra S3 Irons and provide feedback in our subjective categories (looks, feel, 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. Though tests were conducted at 150 yards with the club of the tester's choosing, we encouraged our testers to hit some of the other clubs in the set.
To better replicate the on-course experience in our iron tests we set our target green at 150 yards, and asked our testers to choose the appropriate club for the distance, and basically take their best shots.
It's worth noting that for all radius-based testing, our golfers are given the opportunity to hit several test shots in order to determine the appropriate club for the distance (we all know that distance can vary tremendously from set to set). For the actual tests, our golfer selected, a mix of 8 iron, 9 iron, and gap wedge. This marks the first time a gap wedge was used to hit the 150 distance, however, as the specs above show, this is not your average gap wedge.
The highest percentage of the performance score was calculated based on where each shot fell in proximity to the hole. Closer is obviously better.
After testing was completed, we applied a formula to normalize the data across varying handicap levels. It stands to reason that a low handicap golfer should be more accurate than a high handicap golfer. Our scoring accounts for these differences in ability levels and makes a reasonable attempt to level the playing field (much like the Handicap system itself), so that it's possible to achieve similar scores for all golfers. As we always do, we've made the details of each test shot available to you in the interactive portion of this review.
Accuracy is the toughest of our categories as far as our scoring system is concerned. A-level grades for accuracy are nearly unheard of, which is the number 1 reason why the Cobra S3s have proven to be one of the biggest surprises of the season. One one of our testers, put up a lowly 85 (it's actually a good-enough score), the majority of our other testers ranged from 89-91, while low handicap golfer, Dan, posted over a 95.
In case you're wondering, that works out to an average leave of around 35 feet, and less than 26 feet from the center line. Interestingly enough, our highest handicap golfer posted the 2nd best raw (not adjusted for handicap) accuracy score, which suggests there might just be something to this game improvement thing.
MGS Accuracy Score: 91.86
It shouldn't surprise anyone that the S3's didn't prove to be quite as consistent as the PING K15's. Where über-forgiveness is concerned, the PING's may very well be in a class by themselves. Having said that, the S3's proved to be more consistent than most. All 6 of our testers posted scores in the 90s, and perhaps most interesting, our tester who posted the lowest accuracy score also posted the highest consistency score. As the Interactive Chart shows, he missed left...almost always left.
MGS Consistency Score: 93.40
As much as we like to rant and rave about how out of control this obsession with distance has become, it's clear that the strong lofts, and longer shafts only tell part of the story. With more shots than I think we've ever seen inside of 15 feet, for once accuracy became the more important part of the story...even if every one of our testers ended up taking less club than he normally would.
While it's true we've yet to have a tester hole out from 150 yards (or even 100 yards with our wedge tests), we had several close calls with the S3, which is in part (as you'll see below) why our testers were so enamored with them.
MGS OVERALL PERFORMANCE SCORE: 91.86
We've talked before about how well black clubs often do in our "Looks" survey. The Cobra S3 is no different in that respect. Our testers seem to like the smokey PVD finish. Though there's plenty of offset, our testers didn't seem to mind as much as they usually do (throwing darts makes anything look great). The two-tone design isn't new to Cobra, they've been doing it for years, but for whatever reason, the design of the S3 appears to be a bit more seamless than previous incarnations.
While not small like a blade, the overall size of the head isn't intrusive. When you're standing over the club, the head actually appears smaller than it is. Some new golfers may feel more confident standing over a club with more bulk, but I think the comparatively compact S3 head will appeal to a larger population of golfers.
Not all of our testers loved the looks, one tester (Tim) actually told us that he thought they looked "silly", adding "but I can't argue with the results".
One noteworthy oddity is the shiny, mirrored finish on the sole. At first glance it looks almost out of place, but I suspect Cobra knows that the PVD will wear over time, and that not putting the PVD on the sole will actually improve the looks of the club over the long haul.
After tossing out the single high, and the single low score, what we're left with is a game improvement club that scored like a polished cavity back.
MGS Looks Score: 91.38
It's just short of remarkable that a cast game improvement club would receive the kind of ratings that our testers gave the S3. As always, we feel it's worth pointing out that one good result leads to the next, and when our testers like a club, they generally don't nitpick the details. So while I personally wouldn't rate the feel quite as highly as our testers did, it is fair to say that from a feel perspective, the S3 does outperform many others in its class (and some "player" designs too).
"Pure" was a word tossed around quite a bit during our tests. So while I don't think anybody would call it buttery soft like a Mizuno or a Miura, what our testers really liked was what could be described as a constant feel across the entire E9 face.
MGS Feel Score: 91.38
If you want distance, it's hard to imagine you could do better than the Cobra S3's. To a man, each of our testers took less club than he has on any review we've conducted to date. Sure, we've had some nice forged cavity backs with traditional lofts in that bunch, but we've also had some reasonably hot game improved and super game improvement clubs in the mix as well.
"A club to a club and a half longer than my current clubs" - Tim S.
I don't impress easily where distance is concerned, but when you consider that I hit a 9 iron from 150 (normally it's an 8 or even a 7 during testing), it's hard not to at least think about distance (even if that 9 iron would be a weak 8 in a traditional set). If Cobra hadn't included a gap wedge in the set we would have found ourselves a man down as Dan sailed the green with his usual pitching wedge in hand. Even with the gap wedge he found himself having to go easy.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again; distance shouldn't matter when it comes to irons, and yet with the S3 proving to be the longest iron we've ever tested...it almost does.
Tester Perceived Distance Score: 100.00
You would think that when the shaft is a half an inch longer than many in the industry, our testers would struggle a little bit with their accuracy. While the actual performance numbers were very, very good, perceptions were even better. As we've pointed out before, when a testers lands a couple near the flag, the misses are basically forgotten. So when you consider that all but one tester had at least one shot inside 10 feet, and a few had multiple inside, and a few more close to that range, it's not the least bit surprising that our testers rated the S3 as not only the longest, but the most accurate irons we've tested this year.
On average the performance numbers are only slightly better than our average, but watching our testers hit shots, even I would have sworn the S3 irons were nothing less than magical.
Tester Perceived Accuracy Score: 99.40
No real surprises here. Our testers think the S3 irons are long, and straight. Couple that with their perceptions that the iron is hot across the whole face (without sacrificing feel), and you can understand why our testers believe the S3 irons are among the most forgiving on the market today. That's a perception that's more or less reflected in our consistency scores, so I can't really find any fault with our testers thinking here or, more importantly, with the S3 irons themselves.
Tester Perceived Forgiveness Score: 96.75
Likelihood of Purchase
When you test across a range of ability levels like we do, it's extremely difficult in general to find a club that appeals to everyone. With irons it becomes even more difficult as, for the most part, game-improvement irons simply don't appeal to our sub-10 handicap golfers. Though the final numbers aren't stellar, the Cobra S3 did manage to find appeal outside of its designated handicap range. Though he only rated them a 7, our low handicap golfer Dan told us he thinks the S3 are a, "very nice game improvement clubs [with] smooth design and feel".
Our highest handicap golfer, Mark, commented that the S3s are "every bit as schweet as my S2 forged sticks, and even prettier". If not for the S2s in his bag, he's all but certain he'd buy a set. Finally, Tim, who rated the S3 irons a 9 for LOP, actually put his money where his mouth is and went out and bought a set. From what I can tell he's very happy he did.
Tester Likelihood of Purchase: 83.31
With the exception of the always difficult LOP score, the Cobra S3 irons scored 90 or better in each of our subjective categories, including a 99+ for accuracy, and a perfect 100 for distance. Most impressive to me is that Cobra has managed to create a club with just enough visible technology to appeal to higher handicap golfers, but did with enough subtlety that the clubs still offer some appeal to low-mid handicap golfers. While it's not likely that a 6 handicap is going to bag these clubs, there's nothing we see here to suggest that those with mid-high handicaps, especially those who struggle with consistency with their irons, shouldn't take a solid look at Cobra's latest offering in the game improvement space.
TOTAL SUBJECTIVE SCORE: 94.68
Not only are the Cobra S3s the highest scoring iron we've tested since the latest revision of the ULTIMATE REVIEW system, they're also the first iron to ever receive an A grade. They bested the previous high score by almost 3 points (which under our system is a fairly significant margin). Not only did our testers rate them among the highest of any club we've surveyed, the performance numbers actually supported the subjective ratings, which is an even greater rarity.
While I wouldn't necessarily recommend Cobra's S3 irons to a beginning golfer (the S3 Max is probably a better fit there), for a guy who as been playing a year or two and is either looking to step up from a super game improvement club, or buy his first set of new clubs, Cobra's S3 is an intriguing offering. Apart from the excellent performance, perhaps what I find most impressive about the S3 is, that while it's most clearly a game improvement club, it doesn't look the part quite as much as some others. What this means is that not only will the S3s help you transition from a high handicap to a mid, they could potentially stay with you as your work your way towards single digits. The S3 irons likely wont' be the last irons you ever buy, they should last plenty long enough for the wife to give her blessing on the next set.
Wow!!! Bag 'em - Mark C.
MGS TOTAL SCORE: 92.14
Would you like to see additional pictures of the Cobra S3 Irons, checkout the Cobra S3 Iron Gallery.
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