When the original HiBORE driver hit store shelves, I was among the first in line to pick one up. Frankly, it didn’t work out well. The driver was supposed to hit the ball high, straight, and long. My typical swing with the original HiBORE produced drives that flew wedge-shot high, very straight… and about as far as a 3-wood.
As it turns out, two out of three can be bad. That original HiBORE lasted two weeks in the bag. High and straight are good, but what fun is there in hitting a driver if you don’t get reasonable distance out of it?
I must not have been alone. Cleveland soon replaced the HiBORE with the HiBORE XL. Unlike most movies, in this case the sequel was far superior to the original. Now Cleveland has introduced the third rendition in the HiBORE trilogy. The HiBORE XLS is billed as the hottest, largest faced, and most forgiving yet. Great claims, but do they hold up?In addition to the standard XLS, the line also includes the XLS Draw and the XLS Tour. The XLS Draw, naturally, is for golfers who fight the “power fade.” It features a draw-biased face, offset hosel, and internal heel weighting to help mid- to high-handicappers straigten out their fades to hit more fairways without sacrificing distance. The HiBORE XLS Tour boasts a more traditional and compact pear shape, while its 2° open face and toe-biased weighting will help better players work the ball off the tee.
For this review, we looked at the standard model only.
Design and Construction
The Cleveland HiBORE XLS is the third generation in the HiBORE line. The XLS features a 17% larger clubface than its predecessor, the HiBORE XL. According to Cleveland Golf, the XLS has an MOI of 5300, 13% more than the XL.
Cleveland has a laundry list of technology crammed into the XLS, some of which is new, others like the “Distance Driven Geometry” just put a fancy name on something we’ve seen before. Simply put, Distance Driven Geometry moves weight low and back in the clubhead. Every manufacturer has been doing this for the last several years. MOI and redistributing weight low and back are the primary reasons we now have geometrically oriented clubheads in the first place.
Cleveland’s “Full Face Performance” is similar marketing jargon for the alignment of the sweet spot and maximizing the C.O.R. to produce optimal launch conditions. It’s also not particularly revolutionary, but it is a good idea.
The “Energy Transfer Core” is something I haven’t quite seen before. Cleveland is placing titanium spines inside the clubhead to direct impact energy to the ball to create more efficient energy transfer and high ball speeds from impact locations. Unlike the double-faced drivers that a few second-tier manufacturers (Bang, among others) experimented with a couple years ago, the spines in the XLS run perpendicular to the clubface.
There is no central alignment mark on top of the clubhead, though the crown plaque and “stability foils” are intended to aid alignment. Still, with the elongated clubhead and that big clubface, players shouldn’t have much trouble aiming the driver down the fairway.
Cleveland has even added a measure of protection against knockoffs. To check to see if you have an authentic HiBORE XLS driver, just check out the toe in daylight or under UV light. The toe graphics will change from white to yellow on the real thing. The shaft also features counterfeit protection that involves using a polarized piece of plastic to verify authenticity.
I’m starting to get used to the look of the “geometric” style drivers, those that seek straighter drivers through elongated, triangular, or square shapes. Some still look odd to me, but for the most part I no longer chuckle when I look at one of these drivers at address.
The HiBORE is not a bad looking driver, provided you can get over the scooped-out look of the head, presumably inspired by the old Halo hybrid. The head is a little stretched out, but not grossly so (at least to my eyes). The charcoal finish helps minimize any shock to the senses that the size of the head and its shape might cause. The sole of the club features large graphics, though it’s not as busy as the TaylorMade Burner, for instance.
When it comes to auditory impressions, the XLS makes one in a big way. The first time I hit a ball with the HiBORE XLS I felt the urge to check myself for shrapnel wounds. It sounded like something had exploded at the bottom of the swing. Perhaps, “XLS” actually stands for “eXtra Loud Sounding.” If you want to scare everyone in your group on the first tee, this might be the driver for you.
Having played an SMT 455 Deep Bore a few years ago I don’t think I’m overly sensitive to loud drivers, but the XLS definitely surprised me. It seemed louder than most drivers I’ve hit, including the square headed drivers that are notorious for being loud. Of course, if you hit a driver long and straight, it probably won’t take you long to get used to the big bang on every tee shot. And you could always wear an ear plug to keep the hearing in your clubside ear.
The head cover for the XLS is also loud, but that seems to be a trend with most of the manufacturers. It also provides a feature that at first seems silly, but is actually pretty nice to use. The built-in “E-Z Grab” pocket gives the player a little extra leverage to pull the cover off. Like I said, it doesn’t sound like much, but it works. In a day where so many head covers have to be zipped and unzipped, the ease of the Cleveland solution shouldn’t be sneezed at.
When I first started hitting the HiBORE XLS, my normal swing did not get along very well with it. Though the standard XLS is supposed to have a square clubface, it feels closed. My swing closed the face even more, delofting the 9.5° face to 7 or 8°. Suffice it to say that, at first, all I could hit were right-to-left-moving bullets that reached a maximum height of about 20 feet.
So I temporarily changed my swing to fit what the driver seemed to want to do. I purposely came over the top and held off my finish a bit. The ball started going straight and gaining the typical height of my drives. Distance was average, with the rare zinger mixed in there.
It was difficult to tell center contact, because every hit felt pretty much the same. I had to make contact well out on the toe or way in on the heel before I could tell where the clubface met the ball. I felt like my average distance was hurt by not being able to freely release the club (for fear of the hook). Your mileage may vary.
Next, I handed the driver to a few friends who struggle with slices. Every one of them started smacking straighter drives immediately. And remember, this was not the XLS Draw. I quickly concluded that Cleveland did not have anything like a draw swing in mind when they created the XLS (the XLS Tour may be a better match for those who currently hit draws or straight drives with a square or open-faced driver).
Once I started setting up for a big cut (but lining it up to go straight), I began to hit fairways pretty consistently. My misses generally came when I did not hold off the finish and drew it into the left rough. Overall, the XLS only wants to go straight (via a cut swing). Any other shot seemed to make the XLS irritable. Trying to hit a draw resulted in a duck hook often enough to make it a very uncomfortable undertaking on the course. Fades became straight shots, and only when I really emphasized the cut swing could I get it to move appreciably to the right. If finding fairways is your primary goal, the XLS does a good job of it once you find the groove.
Specifications and Options
The HiBORE XLS is available in 8.5, 9.5, 10.5, and 11.5° lofts; however, only the 9.5 and 10.5 versions are available for left handers.
The XLS driver comes standard with either the Fujikura Fit-On M Gold or Red shaft (ours featured the Gold). The Red is the heavier weight, lower torque version with a higher kick point than the Gold. There’s quite a bit of difference between the two shafts so players would be well advised to demo each before buying. Cleveland also offers an impressive selection of custom shaft options, including additional models from Fujikura as well as offerings from Aldila, UST, Mitsubishi, and Graphite Design.
The HiBORE XLS driver carries an MSRP of $299.
Players who struggle with over-the-top swings that result in slices may find some measure of salvation in the XLS driver. It minimizes cut sidespin substantially. If you’ve tried to fix your swing and couldn’t, or like many players these days you simply don’t have time to work on your game, the XLS may be worth a look. It’s forgiving nature and good distance are likely to keep you in the fairway more than your current driver. Those who naturally draw the ball or who want to work the ball off the tee should look to the XLS Tour or elsewhere entirely.
The HiBORE XLS is a huge improvement over the original HiBORE. Even though feel is distinctly dampened in this model, compared to the original this is practically a forged muscleback. Distance is much improved… and it’s far louder. Well, in this case, maybe two out of three isn’t bad.