Crossbow Review: Carbon Express X-Force PileDriver

The Carbon Express X-Force PileDriver is based on a long lineage of dependable and accurate crossbows and is exceptionally budget-friendly.

Crossbow Review: Carbon Express X-Force PileDriver

It seemed fitting that one of my recent crossbow reviews would feature the Carbon Express X-Force PileDriver, if only because the last deer I killed in 2018 was taken with an earlier-model CX unit. Regular readers know I am fond of short, lightweight, accurate and dependable crossbows that deliver speed and accuracy in all weather conditions. No matter where I go for deer or other big game, there’s always a CX crossbow in my kit.

First Impressions

Best described as an entry-level crossbow, the PileDriver contains few of the bells and whistles that come standard on many high-end, modern crossbows. Its adjustable buttstock is a definite plus for long-armed shooters, as is the adjustable foregrip. A pair of simple string silencers and string stops help dampen the slap of the string as the arrow exits the rail, but otherwise the PileDriver is a sturdy, basic crossbow designed to send arrows downrange at 390 fps, which it does with reliability, dependability and consistent accuracy. The stock features CX’s unique digital “desert snakeskin” camo pattern.

The provided compact 4x32 scope is a basic, no-frills unit without illumination and enough crosshair settings to satisfy the long-range crowd. One could — theoretically, at least — shoot targets and big game out to 80 yards with the PileDriver’s 4x32 scope, but accurate arrow placement on live targets out to 45 yards or so is more than adequate for deer hunting. I’m more concerned with what’s practical rather than what’s possible, especially in a hunting crossbow, and I know that any whitetail I see inside 40 yards is in deep trouble. Beyond that range, arrow performance tends to wither considerably, and in my experience, is not worth the risk. Targets neither bleed nor escape, so there’s no harm in trying a few shots at 60 yards or more for practice purposes.

With all that being said, the PileDriver and its CX predecessors have been shown to be as accurate and reliable as any other similarly priced crossbows on the market. They perform in all weather conditions and are well worth the asking price. That previous CX mentioned earlier had been in my stable of crossbows for more than 5 years and accounted for three fat does last fall.

Assembly of the PileDriver was typical of most other basic crossbows. No shortcuts here, just the basics of limb/rail assembly, scope mounting and quiver attachment. Thirty minutes and you’re done, including a detailed reading of the owner’s manual, which is always the best first step when gaining familiarity with a new crossbow. There is always something unusual, different or important mentioned in each manual. (Hooks down while using the Quiet Crank cocking system, for example.) Don’t fail to read and heed because your warranty may depend on it.

All screws and tools for assembly of the PileDriver are provided including a few extras for various applications of the quiver mount. The stirrup screws (four of them) are different than the instructions call for but it’s easy enough to figure out — four holes, four short screws. A large, flat-head screwdriver will be required to tighten the scope mount screws, although a quarter and pliers will also get the job done.

Prolonged use over long hunting seasons can loosen a crossbow’s screws, nuts and bolts, so save the provided tools in a convenient pocket or bag for tightening occasional rattlers as necessary.

I especially liked the PileDriver’s two-piece quiver mount system, which is as solid and rugged as they come. The mount base is secured to the crossbow with two heavy-duty screws, and then the quiver mount is locked in for a solid, silent coupling.

Shooting the Carbon Express X-Force PileDriver

As is often the case with consumer-mounted scopes, I had to spend a little extra time at the range getting the crossbow to shoot where I wanted it to at 10 yards. After a few tune-up shots, I was ready to back off to 20 yards for some serious shooting. With a bit of scope tweaking, I was quickly down to “Robin Hood” accuracy, which means firing one shot per target or risk ruining my arrows.

Another great feature of the PileDriver is it’s designed to shoot standard-weight, 20-inch, half-moon nock arrows, which are common, plentiful and easy to find in most sporting goods stores. I happen to have a wide variety of standard 20-inch arrows on hand made by an even greater variety of manufacturers, and all of them performed well with the PileDriver. I found little variation in performance between feathers and plastic vanes, carbon or aluminum shafts or tip design. Also, after 100-plus shots at the range the PileDriver was consistently at or above its 390 fps rating, which is commendable for a crossbow at the $399 price point. I don’t expect (and wouldn’t accept) a hunting crossbow that is more than 5 percent off its speed rating simply because accuracy depends on consistent arrow speed. I’d much rather hunt with a slower crossbow that is consistent than a faster one with a more erratic arrow speed. This is where those long-range shots can become extremely troublesome.

After fitting the PileDriver with a sling (which should be but, alas, is not a standard issue accessory) I headed for the roving range on a dark and rainy day that was all too similar to the kinds of days I get to hunt during the fall crossbow seasons. For added spice I’d left the crossbow cocked since early morning, and now late in the afternoon, I was almost expecting some sort of malfunction. If it’s going to happen it will be after you’ve been in the stand all day with deteriorating conditions coming with every second that passes. The first shot fired fine.

The PileDriver performed flawlessly, even when targets were partially obscured by thick vegetation or dark, late-day shadows. Accuracy was optimum through two 50-shot sessions, and for the first time I had two targets tip over when hit. Given this spring’s persistently cold, windy and wet conditions I’ll admit that it’s a wonder any of my field targets were still standing.

There were no malfunctions, breakdowns or defects noted during either range session, which included 100 shots from the bench and 100 additional shots while roving. As per CX’s recommendation, I lightly lubed the rail and string every 25 shots, which definitely made a difference.

Considering that the PileDriver is a base-model crossbow designed for new hunters with no frills promised or expected, I found few areas of complaint. The lack of a sling as standard equipment always annoys me because no crossbow yet designed is easy and comfortable to carry (to the stand or blind) over long distances. In addition, I found that the “adjustable” foregrip and butt stock, while great ideas, require complete removal of the adjusting screws, which takes quite a bit of time and a special Allen wrench. In most cases a hunter will set the PileDriver up to his liking and may never adjust it again, so the point is a minor one. Otherwise, the crossbow is as good as any entry-level model and should provide the consumer with several years of dependable, accurate performance.

The Carbon Express PileDriver crossbow package includes a rope cocker, three-arrow quiver, three PileDriver 20-inch arrows and practice points, rail lubricant and a 4x32mm scope. MSRP is $399.99.

For additional information on the Carbon Express line of crossbows and accessories, visit

Carbon Express  X-Force PileDriver Specs

  • Draw weight: 185 pounds
  • Power stroke: 13.5 inches
  • Arrow length: 20 inches
  • Arrow speed: 390 fps
  • Trigger pull: 3.1 pounds; dry-fire inhibitor
  • Sights: Non-illuminated scope provided
  • Cocking device: Cocking rope and Quiet Crank cocker provided                     
  • Overall length: 37.5 inches
  • Axle-to-axle length: 14.5 inches cocked, 18.5 inches uncocked
  • Weight: 7.2 pounds
  • Other features: Adjustable stock and foregrip, string stops and silencers included
  • MSRP: $399.99
Carbon Express  X-Force PileDriver Easy-Crank Cocking System
Carbon Express X-Force PileDriver Easy-Crank Cocking System

Sidebar: Carbon Express Easy-Crank Cocking System

With a pull weight rating of 185 pounds, the CX X-Force PileDriver might seem a little stout to all but the most capable of shooters. There’s little doubt that younger, older and handicapped shooters may find cocking the crossbow to be difficult if not impossible. However, thanks to Carbon Express’ new (and free!) Quiet Crank rope cocker anyone with basic hand dexterity will be able to shoot with ease all day long with no additional help required.

The cocking winch is attached by inserting the “+” shaped mounting rod into the corresponding slot at the rear of the stock. Move the switch to the “Unlock” position to disengage the cocking winch system. With your foot in the stirrup and the safety in the “Fire” position, pull the cocking hooks toward the bowstring.

Attach the hooks (facing downward) directly alongside the barrel. Ensure that the cocking ropes are not twisted or obstructed. Attach the crank handle to the cocking winch and apply light pressure to the rope. Turn the cocking handle clockwise several times to increase pressure on the bowstring, and then continue cranking until the bowstring is brought back into the trigger mechanism and the crossbow safety moves into the “Safe” position.

The entire process takes about 30 seconds and, with practice, can be accomplished in half that time. Remove the winch from the stock, remove the crank handle and store both pieces in the carrying case provided. Nothing to it!


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