In last year’s Spring 2013 Best Cordless Drills roundup, Milwaukee’s M18 Fuel drill driver was our top recommendation. Ridgid’s 18V X4 drill was runner up, Craftsman’s XCP received special mention, and Milwaukee’s M12 lineup was recommended in the 12V Li-ion category.
The question is still the same: I’m looking for a new cordless drill, what do you recommend?, but our answer is now a little different.
A lot has happened in the ~14 months since last year’s recommendations. Most notably, there are now many more brushless drills out on the market. For this 2014 edition of our cordless drill recommendations, there are a few new categories to help you determine which is the best cordless drill for your needs and budget.
As with last year’s recommendations, these are based on what I feel are the best picks out of all the cordless drills and drivers I have tested and used. Consider it a list of which cordless drills I would buy today if I needed a new drill.
Since drill drivers and hammer drills often share much of the same parts and features, many of these drill/driver recommendations could apply to hammer drills as well.
Do you agree with these recommendation? Disagree? Please let us know in a comment!
Best 18V: Milwaukee FUEL
The Milwaukee M18 FUEL brushless drill kit, 2603-22CT, is still our top cordless drill pick. It’s built with a powerful and efficient brushless motor that delivers high torque and long runtime. Even though the M18 FUEL cordless drill is built for power, it is still compact and relatively light, making it more comfortable to use than other heavy duty drills.
If you want maximum power and runtime, pair the brushless drill/driver with Milwaukee’s M18 XC extended capacity battery pack. But if you ask me, the M18 FUEL drill is plenty powerful when equipped with their smaller and lighter compact Li-ion battery pack.
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Editor’s Choice 18V: Bosch
Bosch’s 18V DDS181 cordless drill has become my favorite drill to use, possibly because it’s one I personally own. It’s not the most powerful drill on the market, but it delivers solid performance and is very comfortable
The new Bosch DDS182, which was introduced as part of Bosch’s brushless cordless drills and drivers launch, delivers longer runtime and is surprisingly compact, but I still find myself favoring the brushed motor DDS181.
Because the DDS181 drill/driver is not the latest and greatest brushless model, its price has come down quite a bit in recent months, making it a good contender as a top lower-budget recommendation as well.
Best Budget 18V: Hitachi
Hitachi’s DS18DSAL 18V drill/driver kit might look a little unconventional, but it’s a tried-and-true design that’s powerful, user-friendly, and very affordable. It might not be the latest and greatest cordless drill, but it delivers good performance at a fantastic price.
Hitachi released a new budget model for 2014, DS18DGL, which has cleaner lines and a quieter color scheme. You can save a few bucks by going with this kit instead of DS18DSAL, but there are a couple of tradeoffs, such as lower torque and lower capacity Li-ion battery packs.
Runner-Up Budget 18V: Ryobi ONE+
Ryobi’s One+ line of 18V NiCD and now Li-ion tools are prosumer models that DIYers and some professional users are quite fond of. Their mid-range and higher-tier cordless drills are quite capable and are very affordably priced.
Whole Ryobi One+ drills are not exceptionally impressive, but they do allow for easier entry into the One+ lineup, which contains some very practical and innovative offerings.
If you’re looking for just a budget drill, you could do better, such as with the Hitachi drills mentioned above, and even the Bosch. But if you’re looking to slowly grow your power tool kit, Ryobi’s One+ drill/driver (Li-ion version) provides an excellent gateway.
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Special Mention 18V: Dewalt Premium 3-Speed
Very similar to Dewalt’s brushless premium hammer drill, the DCD990 drill/driver is a relatively new heavy-duty 3-speed drill. Although I have never been very fond of Dewalt’s 20V Max 3-speed drills, due to their large sizes and heavy weights, their bulk is not for naught. This drill packs in a lot of punch and is more compact than previous generations, which is makes it a great upgrade for fans of Dewalt’s 3-speed Li-ion and XRP NiCd cordless drills.
Best 12V: Milwaukee FUEL
Milwaukee’s M12 tool platform has become our favorite 12V-class compact cordless tool power lineup, so it should be no surprise that their M12 FUEL drill driver is our top 12V pick.
The Milwaukee M12 FUEL drill driver is the most powerful 12V-class drill we’ve seen, and it can even deliver greater torque than a lot of entry-level 18V-class drills currently on the market. A brushless motor means you can expect great runtime, and Milwaukee redesigned the grip and housing for better balance and comfort.
The 2403-22 kit comes with both compact 2.0Ah and extended capacity 4.0Ah battery packs.
Buy Now(via Home Depot)
Runner Up 12V: Bosch Brushless
Bosch’s PS32 brushless drill/driver also launched with the brand’s initial wave of brushless drills and drivers, and is proof that brushless doesn’t have to mean expensive.
The new cordless drill is compact, light, reasonably powerful for its size, and it sports a new chuck with auto-locking feature. The PS32-02 kit comes with (2) 2.0Ah Li-ion batteries that, when combined with the brushless motor’s higher power efficiency, means phenomenal runtime.
If you’re looking for the latest and greatest 12V tool, and favor smaller size and weight over maximum torque, then Bosch’s PS32 is a great alternative to Milwaukee’s M12 FUEL drill/driver.
Buy Now(via Amazon)
Best Budget 12V: Bosch
When I reviewed the Bosch PS31 drill/driver nearly four years ago, I knew that better drills would follow, and they have. Even so, the PS31 remains one of my favorite compact drills to recommend. It’s inexpensive, especially when on sale, and well-featured for DIYers and professional users who have light to medium-duty usage demands.
The PS31 remains a great value, especially since you can now get it as part of a 2-battery and double L-Boxx kit (PS31-2AL1A) for about $130.
Buy Now(Bosch L-Boxx Bundle via Amazon)
Runner Up Budget 12V: Milwaukee
Bosch’s basic PS31 kit (PS31-2A) sometimes drops from $129 to $99, but only during certain times of the year. If their special ~$130 L-Boxx bundle is priced higher than you were looking to spend, this Milwaukee M12 kit is your best option for just under $100.
There’s nothing particularly spectacular about this drill, but it’s capable, durable, reliable, and is engineered with similar ergonomics as Milwaukee’s premium FUEL models. It’s a solid model that’s nicely priced.
If I weren’t such a fan of Bosch’s L-Boxx toolboxes, this would probably be my top budget drill recommendation instead of the Bosch special bundle kit.
Buy Now(via Home Depot)