Cobra S3 Driver Reviews

BIG QUESTION: is the Cobra S3 a better driver then the S2?  (Well...2 of our testers starting bagging the S3 driver right after the review, and another went out and purchased an S2 (he told us he actually liked the S3 better, but he got the S2 for half the price).  {READ REVIEW TO FIND OUT MORE!}

Cobra S3 Driver

You may recall that last year we did a 4 part series called "Clash of the Adjustable Drivers".  Over the course of those articles we looked at how last year's adjustable drivers compared for distance and accuracy.  We also took a look at them from a purely subjective level, which roughly equates to the way we score the subjective portions of our reviews today.  My recollection was that last year's S2 driver was a standout, and looking back through the reviews my recollection more or less proved correct as the S2 finished #1 for both distance and user's choice, though it admittedly wasn't as accurate as some of the others we've tested.

While we believe the S2 was a very good driver, we certainly felt it could be more accurate, and I personally was anything but a fan of the tip-whippy stock Fujikura Fit-On shaft.  For the S3, the Fit-On has been replaced by the Blur (still not a big fan), and they've shortened the shaft by 1/2", which on paper means the S3 should be more accurate.

Like the S2 before it, the S3 features 3 very simple, user-friendly, adjustability settings (open, neutral, and closed), but unlike last year, few of our testers even seemed to notice or care about the adjustability. Amazing how just a year can change things.

Given how well the S2 performed, it goes without saying that we were anxious to get the S3 in for testing.  What I'm really starting to enjoy, as we build up our library of reviews, is not only having the opportunity to test the latest generation of clubs, but to also be in a position highlight comparisons, and hopefully distinctions from the previous models.  What I'm quickly learning is that today's equipment environment almost demands that new equipment be released annually.  More often than not the only thing compelling about the latest and greatest is a new paint job.  Performance, it seems, doesn't change much (especially with 1 year product cycles).  But hey, we try and keep an open mind, because you never know when actual improvements can be made.  So is the S3 a compelling upgrade to the S2? We'll get to that, but first let's look at the marketing pitch.

The Marketing Angle

While Cobra could have simply painted the S3 white and called it a new model, they actually decided to introduce something of relative consequence; E9 Face Technology.  The short of E9 is that Cobra's research showed that golfers tend to hit the ball in an elliptical pattern across the face of the club. At first it sounds a bit, well...whatever...like clever marketing I suppose, but when I started to think about my own experiences, it started to actually make a little bit of sense.  Sometimes I hit the sweet spot.  When I miss, I don't tend to miss along the same parallel.  Like many golfers, if I hit it towards the heel, I hit it low off the heel.  If I hit it out towards the toe, it's almost always high on the toe.  To make what Cobra calls the "SweetZone" they took one of those larger sweet spots that we've seen diagrammed a hundred times over, and rotated it clockwise.  The result is better performance on those parts of the faces where are misses generally occur.  Of course the big question is "does it actually work".  We'll get there, but first, a few words about how we arrive at our results.

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 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 variety of lofts in both regular and stiff flex.

PERFORMANCE SCORING

Distance

Looking at the raw distance numbers really only tells part of the story.  Yes, the S3 driver is long. For the most part it proved to be #1 or #2 of the drivers we've tested this year.  Of course, raw distance could also be an indicator of whether or not E9 Face Technology is all that Cobra says it is (or at least should be).  One of the things we observed is that the S3 launches a bit lower than not only the S2, but many of the other drivers we've tested recently.  Across the board launch angles were down somewhat considerably.  Mark, for example, normally plays a 9.5° driver, and often creeps up towards 16° of launch with our test clubs.  With the S3 we ultimately had him test using the 10.5° head, and his launch numbers were still lower lower than with any driver he's tested for us.

Even with lower than expected launch angles, the results were very solid.  In fact, every one of the 6 testers for who we collected detailed performance data posted an A-level distance score! I'd have to check our historical data, but this may well be the first time that has ever happened. When measured against the other testing we've conducted with 2011 drivers, the S3 sits alongside Callaway's RAZR Hawk as the longest of the season thus far.

MGS Distance Score: 94.67

Accuracy

The biggest knock we had on last year's S2 was accuracy.  While most loved the feel, and got solid distance, our testers did struggle to hit it as straight as they'd like.  While the S3 appears to have improved a bit from the S2, though I'll stop well short of calling it a substantial leap forward where accuracy is concerned.  When we look at the adjusted accuracy numbers which serve as the basis for our accuracy score, we see that while two of our testers (Tim and Dan) had very good results (Tim was less than 11 yards from the center line, Dan less than 14), our other testers missed by an average of somewhere low 20-something yard range.

So while the two most accurate testers posted A-level scores, the others were solid B-level at best.  From my perspective that amounts to decent, but certainly nothing to get overly excited about.

MGS Accuracy Score: 87.13

Consistency

We think our consistency formulas are probably the best way we have to measure the effectiveness of E9 Face Technology.  Anecdotally, several testers (myself included) noted how far the ball carried on what our testers thought were some fairly poorly struck balls, impressive. Indeed, I can attest that balls low and off the heel, and high of the toe traveled significantly farther than I expected they would.

Of course, our consistency formulas are about more than distance.  We look at launch angle, spin rates, and accuracy, and more in attempt to quantify how much deviation our testers produce from shot to shot.  Where the S3 is concerned, that deviation proved to be minimal.  It's not unusual for one or two testers to post consistency scores in the mid to high 90s, but to see 5 of 6 consistency scores collected above 95 is rare.  Only Todd failed to post a number above 95, and while his 88 and change wasn't awesome, it's certainly more than respectable.

MGS Consistency Score: 96.69

Overall Performance

Accuracy is fairly heavily weighted in our final performance score, so a "just ok" number in the point total there is almost always reflected in the Overall Performance score.  The S3 posted a solid B+ for accuracy, which was enough to drag down the results of the extremely high distance and consistency scores (consistency counts for the smallest percentage of the performance total).  Overall, however, the final performance numbers are somewhere between rock solid and excellent, which tells us you probably shouldn't buy a new driver without checking out the S3.

MGS OVERALL PERFORMANCE SCORE: 91.48


SUBJECTIVE SCORING

With the possible exception of the Adams 9064LS, the S2 was the most popular driver we tested last year from a subjective standpoint.  With that in mind, you could say that the S3 had some pretty big shoes to fill.  Based on what you're about to read, though I'm admittedly not in 100% total agreement with our testers, not only does the S3 fill those shoes, it busts right through the toe box.

Looks

Our testers continue to love all black clubs, so it's not a huge surprise that the S3 would score well in this category.  In truth, apart from a slightly refined shape and some updated sole graphics, it's not a radical departure from the S2.  Of course, while the sole and crown are similar to the S2, that big ol' elliptical face certainly stands out a bit.  I expected it would cause the looks score to drop, but not a single tester had much of anything to say about it.  While I don't think it diminishes the look of the club one bit, it's definitely unusual.

In truth, I personally prefer the looks of the S2, but our testers who awarded plenty of 9s and 10s seem more than satisfied with the small updates Cobra has made.

MGS Looks Score: 93.17

Feel

I thought the S2 offered outstanding feel.  In fact, I could make a case that it was the best feeling driver we tested all of last year.  The S3, in my opinion, is actually step backwards.  Though it's not a bad feeling driver, I find it's a bit more muted and duller than the S2.  I personally gave it an 8, but only because 7 seemed a hair too low.  One testers agreed with my 8, while a couple of others actually went lower (7).  Our scores are based on averages, however; and it turns out the majority really likes...hell...loves feel of the S3.  A few 10s, and plenty of 9s came back on our surveys, which, after the numbers were crunched, looked exactly the same as the look score.

MGS Feel Score: 93.17

Sound

I'd suggest to you that the S3 driver is the rare club that actually sounds better than it feels. Of course, not everyone agreed with me as  a couple of 7s and 9s dragged down my 9.  That said, a few of our testers had clearly fallen in love with this club and weren't about to consider anything lower than a 9 (and for some that 9 was too low).  The S3 may account for the single highest number of 10s we've seen in our surveys.  In this particular case, the end results are starting to look strangely similar.

MGS Sound Score: 93.17

Perceived Distance

No real surprises to be found here.  The S3's performance numbers indicate it's a longer than the average driver, and our testers seemed to take notice of that fact.  The lowest rating we saw was an 8 (two of them), but each and every other tester wrote down 9 or better.  To be sure, the final perceived distance number is high, but to the extent that we can quantify opinion, those opinions are more or less supported by the data.

Tester Perceived Distance Score: 96.75

Perceived Accuracy

Perceived accuracy is almost always either to0 high or too low (when compared to the actual data).  In this case, I think it's higher (and considerably so) than it should be.  But as I said, our testers really like this driver, so the psychology of the review process tells us that they're going to remember the good shots, and almost completely erase the ones that perhaps aren't as tight to the center line as we'd hope.

While Dan and I rated the club a 7 for accuracy, not a single other testers wrote down less than a 9, with tester Tim noting:

"Balls that I thought were breaking right stayed on the target line.  Consistent distance and great accuracy.  Nearly every shot felt pure".

It's clear the majority agreed with Tim.

Tester Perceived Accuracy Score:  93.17

Perceived Forgiveness

It's somewhat surprising that the forgiveness number isn't higher than our tester's surveys rated it.  While we saw a single 10, and several 9s, plenty of testers rated it an 8 (with a single 7 thrown in for accuracy).  My guess is that the results may be more reflective of accuracy (our testers started remembering the ones that didn't go straight), than it is of the shot for shot performance of the club.  Still, we're not talking about anything radically low here.  We're still talking about an A-level grade, even if it's closer to an A-.

Tester Perceived Forgiveness Score: 91.38

Likelihood of Purchase

The LOP score can tell you plenty about what our testers actually think about a club.  We've had clubs rated highly across the board that still received low LOP scores.  In those cases, our testers have told us things along the lines of "the club looks good, and performs great, but I'm just not in love with it".  Of course, the opposite is also sometimes true ("It didn't perform well for me, but I really like it").  My point is there's no accounting for golfers.

As you may recall from our Nike VR Pro Combo review, one of our testers actually loved the clubs so much he went out and bought a set.  While that's impressive, the story has got nothing on that of the S3.  Two  of our testers are actually now bagging the S3 driver, while another went out and purchased an S2 (he told us he loves the S3, but he got the S2 for half the price). Based on the sum total of our LOP surveys, I wouldn't be shocked in the least to discover more of our testers have put S3 drivers in their bags.

Tester Likelihood of Purchase: 94.96

There's really little I can add.  Across the board the Cobra S3 Driver received high (if not the highest) marks in all of our subjective categories.  When every single score is A-level, there's not real surprise where the final tally will fall.

TOTAL SUBJECTIVE SCORE: 93.70

CONCLUSION

The end result of this review boils down to two fundamental questions.

  1. How good is the Cobra S3?
  2. Should you replace your S2 with an S3?

The first questions is exceedingly simple to answer.  The S3 is a very good, perhaps extremely good driver.  It's without a doubt one of the longest drivers of the 2011 crop, no doubt in part to the E9 technology, which looks like it might be more than just marketing.  If you do a reasonably good job of keeping the ball and play, and are simply looking for something to help you get more out of your mis-hits, there are few if any drivers that will offer more benefit than the S3.

As for whether or not it offers enough of an improvement to replace an S2; that's not so clear.  The S3 is almost certainly longer, and is hotter across the whole of the face; however, I'm personally still not a fan of the stock shaft (the Blur is a minor upgrade at best), and I'm not convinced accuracy has been measurably improved.  If you're long enough, and hitting fairways, stick with the S2.  If, however, you have a real need for that 5 more yards that many golfers lust after, or again, you need to get more out of your mis-hits, then absolutely consider the S3.

While E9 Face Technology is compelling, the S3 driver is very much an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary product.  That's not a knock on the S3.  If anything it should illustrate exactly how good the last several driver releases from Cobra have been.  Year after year the company produces some of the best products we test, and thus far 2011 is proving to be no exception!

Have you hit the Cobra S3 Driver yet?  What were your thoughts?

MGS TOTAL SCORE:  91.70


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