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January 23, 2009
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Ron Avery The PoliceOne Firearms Corner
with Ron Avery

Product Review: Springfield XD–A new generation of excellence

As a professional shooter, one of the fun parts of my job is the ability to frequently test and evaluate new firearms and wring them out to see how well they perform and provide feedback for manufacturers, law enforcement and the general public.

I was having a good natured argument with one of my PSA PRO TEAM members – Ara Maljian, a Cheyenne, WY Police Dept. Officer and world class shooter in his own right – about what is the ultimate gun for duty and concealed carry.

Anyone who knows me for any length of time knows how much I like the Colt Government Model 1911 and it various configurations. Now, Ara likes to debate and, once he gets going, he hangs on like a pit bull to his arguments. His contention is that the model 1911 single stack model is getting a bit long in the tooth and might not hold the title for the ultimate pistol anymore. Ara’s argument was that the Springfield XD .45 ACP just might be in contention to replace the venerable 1911.

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Now this is a debate that can (happily for those of us that like to shoot) take quite a while to test out. You have to factor things such as performance at speed, accuracy, controllability, trigger management, sights, grip, ergonomics, ease of maintenance, ease of gunsmithing, concealability, size, cost, etc. to determine a value to assign to the gun. Before we go down that road, let’s get some background information.


Springfield Armory XD full size .45 ACP.

The Springfield XD is actually made in Croatia by another company. It is licensed and sold by Springfield Armory here in the U.S. and is a modern semi-automatic pistol with a number of features that make it an attractive choice for all around carry. It has four different safeties – two internal and two external. The grip safety (similar to a 1911), the trigger safety, (similar to Glock), striker block/drop safety and an internal action block so the gun won’t fire if not fully in battery.

Other useful features are a loaded chamber indicator to see or feel that the weapon is loaded as well as a cocked striker indicator.

The next logical step was to obtain some Springfield XD .45’s for testing and evaluation here at The Practical Shooting Academy, Inc. Now, I am no stranger to the XDs, having shot a pair of 9mm Tactical models for a year in competition. What originally attracted me to the Springfield XD models were their excellent ergonomics. Simply put, they naturally point well, due to the excellent grip angle which is more in alignment with how the human hand aligns itself when pointing a finger. This is no small thing, in and of itself. If a firearm points well, it generally will perform well in terms of time for target acquisition and recovery in fast, multiple shot drills.

The next thing that attracted me was the size of the grip. It was significantly smaller than the Glock grip, especially in .45 ACP. If you have smaller hands or have to wear gloves, then this is a BIG deal.

I contacted Springfield Armory and talked with Debbie Williams in the marketing department. Springfield is always committed to being the best they can be and Debbie readily agreed to let me test three of the XDs in our Academy. The three models I wanted to try out were the full size .45 ACP, the compact .45 ACP, and the subcompact .40 S&W.

Dave Williams of the Springfield Custom shop sent the first full size .45 ACP XD with a competition tuned trigger as part of the package so that I could evaluate their new trigger system. The compact .45 and the subcompact .40 were left stock. For the purposes of testing, no after-market sights were put on the guns. With the custom shop .45 ACP, all I did was put some skid tape on the grip area to enhance friction between the gun and the hand.

I did obtain some of the excellent Pearce Grip Extension for the XD Compact and the Sub-Compact. This proved to be an ideal configuration for concealed carry.

The first morning with the tuned .45 XD, I worked with the trigger to develop a feel for the take-up and reset characteristics. Then it was time to do some basic dry and live fire drills with it.
The first test is to see how ergonomic the piece is in terms of pointability and what I call “shootability” at speed. “Shootability” is a blend of recoil characteristics: time to recovery of sight alignment, the grip angle and pointing characteristics, the fit of the tang to the hand of the shooter, the amount of slide lift and dip in relation to sight alignment etc.

It is measured in the speed/precision of the shot or shots, the split time between shots and the perceived amount of effort on the part of the shooter to both visually track and control this process. I am happy to report that the XD did very well in the tests we put it through! The way it points is very close to a Government model 1911.

I did find that the tang area is excessively wide and makes the gun wallow a bit side to side initially during the draw and subsequent shooting until you get used to it. This is due entirely to the injection molding process vs. machining the grip. As with the Glock pistol, if you move the strong side thumb off to the side a bit instead of alongside the frame; it allows the gun to continue to point naturally without thumb pressure misaligning the slide as you bring the weapon up on target.

With one of my original XDs, I simple re-contoured the tang to virtually eliminate this problem; it should be added here that Springfield Custom offers this as a modification and I highly recommend it!

The grip is a bit slippery without some sort of texturing on it. I put some skid tape on the gun and it became very secure in the hand. However, grip tape will eat through clothing like battery acid if you carry it concealed for very long. I would recommend re-texturing the grip using either Bar Sto Precision Machine or Springer Precision. They stipple the grip and can also re-contour it to get rid of the excessive tang material etc.; thus making it more secure in the hand.

Working with a Comp Tac holster, the XD is very fast for the first shot. There is no pointing high as with the Glock pistol. The sights come up level and align well.

Using the stock, compact model .45, I found the trigger system usable, although not as crisp or precise on the press and reset as the tuned trigger job. Some may argue that you shouldn’t modify a duty gun and this is a question for another article in the future. I say: “yes you can and indeed you should if it contributes to excellence without making the trigger too light.”

Sights and trigger are usually put on for economic benefit and avoidance of a lawsuit, not for tactical performance. If I am going to modify anything on a gun, it will usually be sights and trigger first.

One thing that the XD has going for it over the single stack 1911 is magazine capacity. It will hold 13 +1 rounds of .45 ACP vs. 8 + 1 for the 1911. If you carry a full complement of 2 magazines plus one in the gun and one in the chamber; you have 40 rounds instead of 25. The compact .45 ACP has the ability to convert, via the magazine, from a full size XD grip to a more compact grip for concealed carry. The compact magazine holds 10 +1 in the gun. I found the grip too short for my liking on the compact and subcompact models. However, with Pearce (www.pearcegrip.com) magazine extensions, they become user friendly.

With the full size magazine, it handles identically to the full size .45 XD. With the compact magazine and Pearce extension, it still shoots very well.

The sub-compact XD in .40 sports a 3” barrel and a very compact grip. In testing it in classes with students and during other tests, recoil was found to be controllable although a quite a bit more “snappy.” This translates into a faster recoil impulse that takes a bit more effort to control effectively when compared side by side to the .45 compact and would be the case with any other comparable firearm. However, being smaller allows it to be carried in a coat pocket more easily and it may lend itself to carry as a second gun, depending on where you choose to carry it on the body.

It does convert to a full size grip model as with the .45 XD. However, given the compact size and different mission I envisioned for the piece, I left it in the smaller configuration.

The XD also has a light rail on the frame to which you can attach a weapon mounted light such as the excellent Surefire X-300.

The trigger system is far better than a Glock trigger in my opinion. It has the initial take-up and then a bit of mush as it breaks. However, one can get used to this without much fuss. When tuned properly, it functions almost as well as a tuned 1911 trigger system in terms of functional performance, which is saying a lot. For carry in fanny packs, inside the pants etc. it is superior to the 1911 trigger system due to the care required to keep the thumb safety engaged on 1911’s, especially if you have to pin the grip safety for it to function 100 percent at speed.

One of the highlights of the XD .45 ACP, in my opinion, is the grip safety. Being slightly bigger in the grip than the .40 XD, I can get it depressed 100 percent of the time at any speed. I did not find this to be the case with the smaller XD in .40 without modifying my hand position slightly. This is for high speed shooting when I am drawing and firing 2-3 shots in under one second at 1-3 yards or head shots in less than 1 second at 5 yards.

With a standard 1911, I have to pin the safety to get it to depress and work properly 100 percent of the time. The only exception I have found to this is the excellent SIG SAUER 1911, which has a vertical raised section down the middle of the grip safety, making it the best grip safety on the market so far with 100 percent positive engagement at any speed.

On shooting drills, we shot multiple targets, head shots, plate racks, zero to 25 yards shooting drills, left hand, right hand, tactical reloading, and a variety of shooting angles and positions to test for malfunctions and shootability. We shot from a variety of holsters and a couple of fanny packs. We also shot with the weapons mounted light in place to test for malfunctions.

The XD performed very well in all these tests and it would be tough to tell the difference between a tuned XD and a 1911 at the closer distances. If you shoot them enough side by side, you will notice that the 1911 has a slight edge on pointability/shoot-ability due to a thinner grip/tang area that fits the hand better and less perceived effort to track and control the gun at high speed. However, the single stack 1911 also weighs more than the comparable XD model and holds fewer rounds.

If the XD has any noticeable weaknesses they are the magazine release button, which can be very stiff to release with a full magazine in the gun as well as the hardness of the magazines themselves, which tend to be a bit soft. They can deform from hitting the ground and could benefit from either heat treating or thickening the material a bit. Having seen the newer XD-M magazines, they have changed some of these problems. I would recommend having one set for carry and another set for practice/training.

Is the XD going to replace the venerable 1911 as the king of the shooting world? My answer is “not yet” as far as shooting performance when compared side by side and both are tuned properly. I know Ara likes to debate this one, but, that is what friends are for right?

However, having said that, the XD Springfield allows for a wider variety of carry options, carries more rounds, is easily tunable and shoots extremely well when compared to the single stack 1911. The size of the grip of the XD .45 ACP is distinctly smaller than the Glock .45 and is a bonus not to be overlooked. Last but not least, it is a LOT cheaper than most 1911’s, which allows you to do some aftermarket work on sights, trigger and reconfiguring the tang/grip slightly for improved performance.

For a carry gun, both on and off duty, I choose the .45 ACP compact as the best package of the 3 XDs for the money invested. Get some Pearce magazine extensions for the compact magazines and you will have range of carry options open to you without spending a lot of money. I would recommend investing in some work for better sights/tuned trigger and re-contouring the grip and tang for improved performance when you can.

If you want a second gun, the .40 subcompact may fit your needs very well and gives you the same weapons platform in a slightly smaller package.

It is interesting to note that, in terms of sales, the XD is literally flying off of the shelves of sporting goods stores and is hard to keep in stock. This means that the shooting public has also made their choice in terms of what they like.

All in all, the Springfield XD .45 ACP is an excellent buy for the money and we endorse them here at the Practical Shooting Academy, Inc. For more information on the XD .45 and other products, click here for the Springfield Armory website.  In the not too distant future, I will be doing some video clips of the shooting with the XD that will be available on the Practical Shooting Academy website

 

About the author

Ron Avery is President and Director of Training for The Practical Shooting Academy, Inc. and Executive Director of the non-profit, Rocky Mountain Tactical Institute - both training institutions dedicated to professional firearms and tactics courses, higher police standards and training and use of force research. Train with Ron Avery. Visit his Course Calendar. Ron is a former police officer with many years of street experience, which he brings into the training environment. He is internationally recognized as a researcher, firearms trainer and world class shooter. His training methodology is currently being used by hundreds of agencies and thousands of individuals across the US and internationally. Ron has worked as a consultant and trainer for top level federal agencies, special operations military from all branches of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies across the US. He is a weapons and tactics trainer for handgun, carbine, select fire, precision rifle and shotgun, as well as advanced instructor schools, defensive tactics, team skills and tactics, low light tactics, arrest and control and officer survival. Contact Ron Avery



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