Big Power, Small Package: 48 Hours with Makita's New Subcompact Tools

About a decade ago power tools went lightweight when 12-volt drill/drivers started appearing on hardware store shelves. For DIYers they seemed to be the Holy Grail: a powerful tool that was smaller and easier to hold than heavier 18-volt gear. It didn’t take long to realize that convenience came at a cost — those early incarnations had limited runtime and often couldn’t handle heavy-duty tasks like punching big holes in hardwood or driving lag bolts.

Makita’s engineers bridged the gap by creating a new category of subcompact 18-volt tools. Essentially, the LXT Sub-Compacts (the CX200RB combo set is $240 from Amazon or Home Depot) are 18-volt drill/drivers masquerading as scant 12-volt-sized tools. We tested the first two in the line, a kit made up of a drill/driver and an impact driver, while doing some DIY tasks around the house such as building a garden bed, hanging drywall, and running wiring through 2x4s. These are some of the most capable tools we’ve used — in any weight class.

The XFD11RB drill/driver ($119 at Home Depot) weighs less than three pounds and is 6 3/8-inches long front to back — just about an inch longer than your average Sharpie. It’s small, but our hands never felt crowded, and when working overhead, it’s a joy to use. It covers the basics with a two-speed gearbox and an LED work light. During testing, the 1,700 max rpms were enough to handle most drilling jobs in wood and metal. That’s slower than the 2,100 rpms found on Makita’s full-size 18-volt tools, but those can be nearly twice as heavy and two inches longer. We like the ½-inch diameter chuck — some smaller tools skimp with a 3/8-inch chuck.

The XDT15ZB impact driver (also $119 at Home Depot) is even smaller and lighter; our smoothie-making Magic Bullet is heavier. At 3,900 impacts per minute (ipm) it’s enough to muscle home lag bolts or back off the rustiest of nuts. It has two speeds — a feature some full-size 18-volt tools don’t have — to prevent overdriving and stripped screws. A soft-start feature prevents bits from walking away on hard-to-start surfaces like metal or tile. It starts at full speed, then when the circuits sense torque-demand, it ramps up speed automatically.

Not to be overlooked is the charger, which might be the most advanced on the market. A fan cools the battery, so re-charging the included 2.0-amp-hour battery takes about 25 minutes, which means they charge about as fast as you can drain them.