A year and a half ago, I pitted the Milwaukee M18 model 2610-24 drill/driver kit against eight powerful competitors for JLC (“Heavy-Duty 18-Volt Drill/Drivers,” 1/12). Right after that, Milwaukee introduced the M18 Fuel drill/driver, which is its first version with a brushless motor. Brushless motors are more compact than standard brushed ones, and they’re supposed to be more durable and efficient. The brushless 2603-22 kit originally included the same 3-amp-hour batteries packed with the 2610-24, but it’s now shipping with Milwaukee’s new 4-amp-hour ones. You can also buy the new batteries separately to upgrade any M18 cordless tool.
Runtime. On paper, the brushless motor and 4-amp-hour battery yield dramatically better runtime. To find out if they do in real life, I tested the new combo the same way I tested the other 18-volt models: by counting the number of holes it could drill through 2-by Douglas fir per charge in low gear with a new one-inch Irwin Speedbor solid-center auger bit. To ensure reasonable consistency, I once again avoided knots, stopped drilling when the drill bit’s screw point punched through, and kept the bit clean with Blade & Bit pitch remover. The result? The M18 Fuel drilled an amazing 217 holes compared with 104 for the M18, and would have easily blown away the rest of the competition in my original test (top score at the time was 149 holes).
Power and features. There’s more to like about the M18 Fuel. Like the other models, it easily powered 11/2-inch spade bits, bored 21/8-inch lockset holes with a hole saw, chewed through 2-by Douglas fir with a nail-eating 13/4-inch ship-auger bit with no apparent ill effects, and sank Simpson Strong-Tie’s .22-inch by 10-inch multipurpose structural wood screws into an LVL/LSL/PSL sandwich without pilot holes.
It weighs a half-pound less, is 13/8 inches shorter, and is a bit faster than the M18. Its LED headlight now has a 10-second afterglow, and the new battery retains the helpful battery gauge. If I were shopping, I’d strongly consider buying the 2603-22 kit, checking to make sure it has the new 4-amp-hour batteries.
Milwaukee also offers the compact 2603-22CT kit, which originally paired the M18 Fuel drill/driver with 1.5-amp-hour batteries but is now replacing those with 2-amp-hour ones.
Bruce Greenlaw is a JLC contributing editor.