I’m a longtime fan of Cobra drivers, but even I'll admit that the F-series could use an infusion of excitement. FLY-Z wasnt just tremendous, it was a Most Wanted winner, but interested waned with F6 and F7 – like most everything else on the market – lost ground to Callaway’s Epic. Bigly.
While losing share is seldom a good thing, it provides an opportunity for Cobra to make a comeback. The F8 drivers offer more than your typical annual refresh. It brings to the table the kind of visible technology that grabs consumer attention at retail. Whether that’s enough to compete with Epic and the upcoming Rogue, go toe to toe with the G400, or hold its own against the power of the hammerhead or whatever twisted technology TaylorMade is preparing to bring to market with Ms 3 and 4 remains to be seen. What is certain is that between its new aerodynamic features and the industry’s only forged 100% CNC milled face, Cobra has its most compelling driver story since Fly-Z.
With that brief introduction out of the way, let’s take a closer look at what makes the F8 driver worth talking about.
2 Models, 2 Weights
As you would expect given Cobra’s recent history, the F8 driver will be available in both standard and plus (+) models. The standard version features what Cobra calls a full profile. That means it has a shallower face and is more elongated than the traditionally-shaped F8+. The latter offers a taller face and is more compact overall.
The standard F8 is more forgiving and offers higher launch, while the F8+ is more workable and offers a flatter more penetrating trajectory.
Both models feature Cobra’s MyFly8 adjustability. The F8 is adjustable from 9°-12° (draw settings at 9.5°, 10.5°, 11.5°). The F8+ is adjustable from 8°-11° (8.5°, 9.5°, 10.5°). Both are CG adjustable too, though it’s notable that Cobra has shifted from the F7’s 3-weight design to a new, but not unfamiliar, 2-weight system.
For those wondering why Cobra decided to drop a weight - the company found that only 10% of F7 users were taking advantage of the front position, while only 5% of F7+ users were putting the heavy weight in the heel. Rather than continue to offer configuration options that were largely being ignored, the company elected to simplify and re-engineer the platforms to take better advantage of the settings golfers were actually using.
To that end, the F8 allows for mass to be shifted between the back and the heel. As a refresher - placing the weight in the heel produces medium launch with a draw bias, while placing the 12-gram weight in the back produces higher launch while increasing forgiveness.
The F8+ is a front/back system not dissimilar from the Fly-Z+. The weight forward configuration, while less forgiving, will increase average ball speed by just under 1MPH, while at the same time decreasing launch and spin by .5° and 500 RPM respectively.
With the weight back, you can expect a higher, more controlled ball flight (more spin) along with an MOI number similar to the KING LTD.
And speaking of the KING LTD…
He gone. Dead. Not coming back. It’s disappointing, I know, but Cobra’s VP of R&D, Tom Olsavsky assures me that the F8+ will outperform the LTD due to its improved aerodynamics and milled face.
Forged CNC Milled Face
The most significant feature of the F8 driver is the industry’s first 100% CNC Milled face. Before we can talk about why that matters, we need to take a moment to review the USGA CT limit and what it means from a design perspective. The USGA caps driver CT at 239 microseconds. Toss in a tolerance of 18, and that brings us to the number most reference as the allowable limit - 257 microseconds.
While manufacturers would love to be right at the limit – and most claim that they are - the reality is that between manufacturing tolerances and variations in measurement, companies have to design for 239. Few retail parts actually sniff the limit. 257 is for Tour pros, 239 is for you.
By using a 100% milled face, Cobra is able to eliminate the hand polishing necessary to remove the outer face welds. Because milling can be done to much tighter tolerances that what you can achieve with humans, Cobra can design closer to the 257 limit. The company isn’t claiming every head is at the limit, but it’s saying it can get closer than its competitors.
Milling the face also gives Cobra more precise control over the thickness in the various regions of its E9 face. The result is higher ball speeds over portions of the face; most appreciably in the high toe area where Cobra is claiming ball speed gains of 1.6 MPH.
The 25-minute milling process also results in more consistent bulge and roll, which means more consistent performance from driver to driver.
360 Aero Technology
Golfers will immediately notice some significant changes to the F8 crown. For 2018, Cobra has joined the aerodynamics club with a set of crown-based features it calls Aero Trips.
Like the similar features used by PING (Turbulators) and Callaway (Speed Step), Aero Trips are designed to keep airflow close to the head and reduce turbulent wake (drag) leading into impact. What differentiates Cobra’s offering from its competitors’ is that instead of using the same material used in the crown (titanium or carbon fiber), its drag reducing features are made from a polymer that’s 90% lighter than titanium. The weight savings mean that the aerodynamic features don’t raise the center of gravity in any appreciable way, which helps Cobra keep comparatively more weight low in the head.
Similar to what PING did with its G400, Cobra has refined the shape of the hosel transition area to reduce drag during the part of the downswing where face isn’t in the square position. Finally, unlike its competitors, Cobra has added titanium Aero Trips to the sole (photo below) as well.
Cobra claims that F8’s aerodynamic features reduce drag by 17% (compared to F7), though I’d be remiss if I didn’t again remind you that aerodynamic improvements provide greater benefit to faster swingers.
For a golfer with a swing speed in the 95-100 MPH range, Cobra is suggesting gains of .8 MPH clubhead speed, 1.1 MPH of ball speed, and 4 yards of total distance.
REAL DEAL SHAFTS
Cobra acknowledges that it has taken some heat from its retail accounts over its continued use of less than real deal shafts. While many OEMs still have made for in their lineups, the market leaders all have at least some authentic aftermarket equivalent stuff mixed in with their stock offerings.
Made For gets spun a number of different ways, but the reality is they’re not the same shafts, and when you’re the last guy still all-in on the same name, different performance game, it doesn’t look good. To be taken seriously by gearheads, Cobra needed to make a change to its stock shaft lineup, and that’s exactly what its done.
The F8 lineup will leverage real-deal shafts. No co-branding, no Cobra graphics, just 100% the same as you’d get from a custom fitter shafts. Those stock options are as follows:
- F8 – Mitsubishi Chemical Tensei Blue (50g – Lite, R), Aldila 2kNV Blue (60g – R, S), Aldila 2KNV Green (65g – S)
- F8+ – Aldila 2kNV Blue (60g – R, S), Aldila 2KNV Green (65g – S, X), Project X HZRDUS Yellow* (75g – S, X)
*Like some others, Cobra is using a non-Handcrafted version of the Project X. While machine produced, the structure and bend profile are the same as the Handcrafted version.
Cobra Connect Included
As it did in 2017, Cobra will include Arccos/Cobra Connect sensors with every driver. Building on the Arccos Driver functionality, all F8 clubs (drivers, fairways, hybrids, and irons) will come with Arccos sensors installed in the grip, which means that golfers who buy Cobra drivers get Arccos Driver, while golfers who buy Cobra irons will be able to leverage the full power of Arccos 360 under the Cobra Connect system.
Cobra Connect now includes a driver tuning feature which takes data from rounds recorded with the system and leverages Arccos’ AI to make recommendations on club setting adjustments to improve your driving.
It’s also worth mentioning that Cobra has expanded its Arccos-embedded grip offerings. In addition to the Lamkin REL, Cobra will now offer Cobra Connect versions of the Lamkin Crossline and Wrap Tec as well as Golf Pride’s MCC, MCC +4, Tour Velvet, and Tour Velvet Ribbed.
As was the case last season, there is no upcharge for Cobra Connect.
Fresh (lack of) Colors
Once known for its array of bright crown colors, 2018 appears to be the year that Cobra removes the colored crown from its lineup entirely. While black persists, the vibrant blue option of the F7 is gone. It’s replaced in the lineup by Nardo Gray – or as I like to call it, light black.
Nardo is the hot color (as much as you can call gray a color) in the Auto (Audi loves it) and fashion industries right now. You’re seeing it pop up in other sports as well. You may have noticed THE Ohio State University wearing Nardo-like helmets in their recent victory over Penn State.
As much as I’ll miss the blue, the Nardo looks great and brings a modern look to the club in a way that won’t alienate traditionalists the way color often does.
CG & MOI
We’re planning on making some significant updates to our CG and MOI charts for the 2018 season, but for now, we’re working off what Cobra is telling us about the F8 series.
To give you some frame of reference for the mass properties of the new driver, consider the following:
Weight Back – MOI is similar to the PING G and sits somewhere between the F7 weight heel and F7 weight back positions. At approximately 1.25mm above the neutral axis, the center of gravity is a bit lower than both F7 and G.
Weight Heel – MOI is similar to the PING G LS Tec and 2016 TaylorMade M2. Putting the weight in the heel position raises the CG slightly above that of the G LS Tec.
The best description I can give you is that from a mass properties perspective the F8 is like a lower CG version of the 2016 PING G family in a single head.
Weight Forward – In the weight forward position, the CG sits just in front of the F7+ (weight forward) and on or slightly below the neutral axis.
Weight Back – In the weight back position, the CG of the F8+ sits approximately 1mm above the neutral axis with a MOI just a tick better than the LTD.
On a comparative basis, the F8+ is an expanded version of the F7+ (CG more forward in the front position, more rear in the back position). From strictly a mass properties perspective it can also be thought of as a lower CG, higher MOI take on the Epic Sub Zero.
By the time you read this, I’ll have had the chance to try the F8 first hand. I’ll share my initial 2 cents in the comment section, but from Cobra’s perspective, the early returns have been good.
Prior to nearly every launch, Cobra takes its stuff to public courses and asks consumers to test the new clubs against what’s in their bag. Cobra matches head and shaft as closely as possible to that gamer and then lets the numbers tell the story.
Cobra doesn’t always share the results of these tests, but this time around it’s particularly enthused by the results. With the F8, Cobra won 69 of 72 times. FYI – in this case, winning is defined as showing a distance benefit of 4 yards or more. 70% of those wins were with stock shafts, and the typical gain was 8 to 12 yards.
Reasonably, all of us should treat this as a curiosity rather than a universal truth. OEMs habitually finish on top in their own tests, and we can’t ignore the reality that most guys you encounter at public courses haven’t been properly fitted for their clubs.
Still, when the dust settled, 60% of the testers said they preferred the F8. I’ll be spending plenty of time with it as I look to get my abysmal game sorted out for the 2018 season.
The Final Word
The reality is that in today’s golf equipment world, marketing matters more than performance, so while Cobra is confident the F8 can match any driver on the market yard for yard, its message often gets drowned out by its much louder competitors.
While I’m confident the F8 will perform, we have to acknowledge that Cobra has an uphill climb. Callaway has an abundance of positive momentum, TaylorMade will fight to stop its slide, and PING’s G400 is exceeding expectations. The point is that competition at the top of the market is fierce and a sizeable number of golfers are still reticent to give Cobra the chance to compete with the leaders in the hitting bay.
The good news is that F8 should benefit from Titleist being in the 2nd year of its driver cycle. The bad news is that the market isn’t’ getting any bigger and growth opportunities are limited. Nobody wins without somebody else losing.
The fact is that while Cobra is always performance-competitive, it’s next to impossible to beat for value. At $399 each, Cobra drivers are still priced below the market average and its value-added Arccos-powered Cobra Connect System is something that no other manufacturer offers.
As I’m fond of saying, it’s your money, spend it however you’d like, but given the possibility that you could spend less and actually get more, shouldn’t you at least bring the F8 into the demo bay?
Pricing and Availability
The Cobra F8, F8+ and F8 Women’s have a retail price of $399. Availability begins 1/12/2018.
For more information, visit Cobragolf.com.