Callaway’s Big Bertha Fusion driver against XR 16 and FT-5

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When was the last time you heard a new driver launch boast about control and forgiveness over distance and power? How about never?

Usually, new driver launches are accompanied by claims of extra aerodynamic performance and double digit gains in carry distance. But Callaway has chosen a different line with the re-launch of the Big Bertha Fusion driver. They say for many golfers a 1.25in reduction in shaft length is the way to go, as it increases the chance of hitting the centre of the clubface more often and improves consistency and control, too.

We wanted to see how the theory stacked up, so we compared the new Big Bertha Fusion with Callaway's nine-year-old FT-5 (which had the first carbon-fibre Fusion technology) and Callaway's popular XR 16 driver. The results proved enlightening...

Callaway Big Bertha Fusion

Callaway Big Bertha Fusion Driver

RRP: £369 Lofts: 9°, 10.5°, 13.5°

Adjustable hosel: Yes +2/-1°

Stock shaft: UST Recoil or Mitsubishi Diamana Red Board

Shaft length: 44.5 & 45.5 inches

Callaway offers the BB Fusion in two shaft lengths. A standard 45.5in aimed at "maximum distance" and a "one inch under" model for "super-forgiveness" and "enhanced control". We tested the shorter one and straight off the bat spotted the difference – it's a full 1.25in shorter than the XR 16. Going shorter isn't ordinarily a way to hit drives further, and to be fair, it's not how Callaway see the Fusion being sold. But our test pro amazingly added an extra four yards of carry distance over the XR 16. Ball speed drop-off between on and off-centre hits was just 2mph, which is all down to hitting shots closer to the centre of the face more often. The Fusion's high MOI maintains ball speed even when shots are sprayed all over the face. We love the XR 16 – but the Fusion matched it pound for pound which is seriously impressive considering the shaft. If you want to make the game as easy and as much fun as possible, the super-forgiving Fusion is awesome.

Bottom line

As good as the Fusion is, it's not for everyone. If distance is all you want, there are lower spinning, less forgiving drivers available. But the Fusion scores highly because its low body weight means there's lots of mass to position to ensure tons of forgiveness. That means you not only hit more fairways, but also keep ball speed high for maximum distance even when you don't hit the centre of the face; a dream for club golfers.

The key numbers

165mph Joint highest ball speed with the XR 16
2mph Drop-off in ball speed is very forgiving
13° The highest launching of all three drivers here
279 yards Average carry distance, longer than XR 16

XR 16

XR-16

RRP: £289

Lofts: 9°, 10.5°, 13.5°

Adjustable hosel: Yes +2/-1°

Stock shaft: Fujikura Speeder Evolution 565

Shaft length: 45.75 inches

Callaway teamed up with Boeing to create the aerodynamic XR 16. It scored well in our Top Gear Test and since then it's won The Masters and Open. The XR 16 and Fusion are aimed at very different golfers – you just need to decide which type you are. During our test the two were neck and neck when it came to club and ball speeds. They couldn't be separated, even though the Fusion had a shorter shaft. Yes, our pro gained a fist full of yards with the Fusion, but we'd still happily pitch the XR 16 as a distance driver, whereas the Fusion is all about forgiveness.

Our verdict

XR 16 is a fantastic driver, and if you have one you're unlikely to gain much by getting your hands on a Fusion. If, however, you've been toying with the idea of a more forgiving, consistent driver which allows you to find the short grass more often the Fusion should be right at the top of your list for testing.

The key numbers

113mph Joint fastest club speed, with the Fusion
275 yards XR's carry was four yards behind the Fusion
165mph Joint highest ball speed with the BB Fusion

FT-5

Callaway FT-5 driver

RRP: £329 (2007) Lofts: 9°, 10°, 11°, 13°

Adjustable hosel: No

Stock shaft: Fujikura E-Fit on 360

Shaft length: 45.75 inches

The FT-5's construction was the same as the original Fusion driver, but that tech never quite caught on as the acoustics sounded dull. You'll be pleased to hear new BB Fusion sounds much crisper and more powerful. With FT-5 our test pro produced less launch, lower club speeds and less spin – a combination which will never add up to longer drives.

Bottom line

Original Fusion technology was great at freeing up weight, even if it didn't quite score on sound. Callaway's new Triaxial carbon material is a huge improvement, and creates a better performing all-round driver.

The key numbers

109mph FT-5 was 4mph slower than XR 16 and Fusion
268 yards Carry distance 11 yards down on BB Fusion
161mph Ball speed 4mph lower than XR 16 and BB
4mph Drop-off in ball speed from on to off-centre hits

TG Verdict

Big Bertha Fusion is a worthwhile update at a time when drivers have ever-longer shafts. By going for the shorter "one inch under" model you increase your chances of hitting the centre of the face more often, which means more ball speed and more distance, more often. The shorter shaft boosts confidence, too.