Gerber Center-Drive Review
Cons: Some tools hidden in handle, rattly construction
Our Analysis and Test Results
This tool's primary differentiation is right in the name. In most ways, this is a typical slide style multi-tool. One arm of the pliers, though, is equipped with a long bit driver extension. The geometry of this extension is such that, when deployed, the bit you are using is centered on the long axis of the tool handle. You can drive screws (or bolts or nuts or anything that a bit is available for) from the center of the tool; hence, "Center Drive." In actual usage, this feature and its geometry are very noticeable and valuable. Gerber has definitely raised the bar with this product. For years now, we have curated a description of our as-yet-unseen "dream multi-tool." With the "center driver," Gerber has added a bullet point to our dream tool description. (Since you asked, our dream multi-tool has to have: pocket clip carry, locking pliers, scissors, straight blade, bottle/can opener, file and a Center Drive style 1/4" bit driver. The bit driver has been on the list, but to make it centered and extended like this is the new addition to our dream list).
"By the numbers," the Center Drive is nothing special in terms of included functions. It has normal pliers, a pair of blades, a bottle opener, a bit driver, and a file. Others have far more functions included. However, each of the included functions on the Center Drive is generally more useful than those on the competition. The main, straight blade is relatively large, for instance, making it capable of larger jobs. The pliers are stout, and the wire cutters are configured to have greater than average working life and can be replaced. The bit driver, as outlined above, is head and shoulders above the rest.
The file and bottle openers are pretty basic. The bottle opener is also configured as a bit of a pry-bar and nail puller. We dig. There is space in the handle for one extra bit, in addition to the one in the driver itself. Other versions of the Center Drive come with additional bits. We did not test a version that included more than two bits. The awl is sharp, but short and steeply tapered. Yet another version of the Center Drive includes scissors. That untested version gets even closer to that ideal multi-tool function selection. It is likely not worth the bulk and complication, but the only improvement that could be made to the bit driver of the Center Drive would be to make it ratcheting.
In some ways, the optimization of the Center Drive bit driver is a game-changing move. For years, multi-tools have worked to optimize the pliers. The pliers have sort of plateaued. With the "center drive" innovation, this Top Pick winner makes virtually no compromise to the pliers but adds legitimate function in another avenue. We look forward to continued optimization in this vein.
Generally, Gerber tools are a little more rattly than their closest competitors. Further, slide-to-open multi-tools are more rattly than butterfly or "balisong" style pliers-based multi-tools. The Center Drive is no exception. You can't pick the thing up without noticing at least a little play in some or all of the joints and hinges. Many Gerber slide-to-open multi-tools have been in use for decades now, so we aren't super concerned for the durability. Nonetheless, one's first impressions aren't the most robust.
The machine-sharpened primary blade of the Center Drive we bought and tested arrived fairly burred. It cuts nicely, but a visible bead of metal shavings shines in the right light. Again, this isn't a huge issue, especially if you are handy with blade resharpening. Nonetheless, it suggests at least minor gaps in quality control and undermines user confidence.
We once tested an older Gerber slide-style multi-tool. That one was also rattly and pinchy. It seems that rattly construction is inherent in this slide-style, one-handed deployment. Certainly, some prefer their pliers to deploy this way. However, our test team mostly prefers balisong style pliers for a few different reasons.
Our testers had mixed reviews of the ergonomics of the Center Drive. The "centered driver" is an ergonomic boost, and it is this very feature that earns it our Top Pick Award. For extended driver work, this works as well as a multi-tool could be expected to work. We also like the one-handed opening of the generous and locking main blade.
On the other hand, there are some ergonomic drawbacks to the Center Drive. First, few prefer the slide style pliers deployment. It is a stickier way of deploying pliers, and it inherently means more play in the various pivots and moving parts. Next, all but the pliers, bit driver, and main blade require first opening the pliers, deploying your selected function, and then reclosing the pliers.
The Center Drive weighs 9.9 ounces and folds down to 4.5 by 0.9 inches. Among "full function" multi-tools, this is on the large side of typical. You can get this same function count for considerably less weight and bulk. There is more to the portability assessment than size and weight per function. Remember that the Center Drive functions, for instance, are more usable than those on other products.
Your primary carry options on the Center Drive are loose pocket carry or sheath carry. The sheath included with the Center Drive is secure, with extra space for bits and a couple of different orientation/strapping options. There is a loop for attaching a lanyard of some sort if that helps your portability considerations. We don't see much use in lanyard carry of such a large tool.
Multi-tool prices keep creeping up. The price of the Center Drive, just a few years ago when we started publishing multi-tool reviews, would have represented the absolute top of the heap. Currently, at the Center Drive's purchase price, you get innovation, to be sure. But you also get the aforementioned limitations. You can spend the same or more -up to 1.5x the cost of the Center Drive- and get more polished construction and tighter performance. At no price, though, can you get a better bit driver in a multi-tool.
If "the rising tide lifts all ships," we are happy where multi-tool design is going. The Gerber Center Drive is truly innovative, optimizing actual usage in the field. Our test team realized all this in our extensive testing. We recognize the Gerber with our Top Pick Award for its best-in-class screwdriver, but also point out a few limitations and dreams for the future.
— Jediah Porter