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Small Gun, Big Bore: Springfield XD-S Review

by Frank W. James   |  December 12th, 2012 17
Springfield-XD-S_001

Springfield Armory introduced the XD-S at the 2012 SHOT Show. While it’s in the subcompact size range, it is also one of the few in this class chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge.

The consumer interested in a self-defense handgun today can have his pick of a wide variety of medium-size to smallish medium-bore semi-autos, but when it comes to big bores, and by that I mean those small handguns chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge, the selection narrows precipitously. The field was increased by one nearly a year ago when Springfield Armory introduced the XD-S at the 2012 SHOT Show.

I was there when Rob Leatham introduced this new design at the day-before Media Day range session and after shooting a few magazines through the prototype sample I have to say it intrigued me. After all, here is a gun small enough to be classified as a sub-compact, but it is chambered for .45 ACP and its barrel length is only 3.3 inches.

Springfield, like many other manufacturers of 1911 style pistols, has offered semi-auto designs with short barrel lengths in the past, but some consumers have voiced concerns over reliability issues. Most of us have come to acknowledge the fact that subcompact .45 caliber pistols in general are somewhat finicky when it comes to reliable operation with various self-defense loads. Oh, they will work very well with a specific load, but the problem comes into play in trying to find the right load for the specific gun in question.

Would this new short-barreled .45 prove as problematic in terms of functional reliability as many 1911 subcompacts? In all fairness, that’s no particular criticism of Springfield’s small 1911 but rather of the breed in general, regardless of manufacturer.

The Heritage
The “XD” series of semi-auto pistols has proven quite successful for Springfield Armory, and for good reason. They follow the popular trend of featuring a polymer frame, a striker fired and easy-to-operate mechanical design, together with ample magazine capacity. The Springfield Armory XD series of full-sized pistols are all known for their ease of operation and large capacity magazines.

To start with, it is important to point out the XD series of pistols are all single-action-only, semi-auto designs and should not be confused with pistols that are very similar in appearance but operate with trigger systems that complete the cocking of their firing systems with completion of the trigger pull. The advantage to this system is it is easy to operate and due to an exceedingly good trigger pull, very easy for even the average marksman to shoot accurately.

Some criticize the concept of a single-action semi-auto design for reasons of safety, but the XD series of pistols, and specifically the XD-S, come with multiple safety features that insure they are among the safest consumer handguns on the market today.

Springfield Armory has labeled its trigger system, the “USA Trigger System” and here “USA” stands for “Ultra Safety Assurance.” The USA trigger system locks the trigger in place until direct rearward pressure is applied to the face of the trigger during the trigger pull. This is accomplished by means of a simple vertical blade that protrudes from the center of the trigger and must be directly depressed before the trigger pull can be completed.

Additionally, the XD series of pistols and the XD-S come with a grip safety, but unlike the well-known 1911 grip safety, which can be hard for some to engage properly, this grip safety consists of a simple wide blade in the center of the grip that is easy to engage and activate the firing mechanism of the gun, but yet it protects against accidental discharge because it requires the operator to grip the gun firmly.

There is also an internal striker block safety that acts as a drop safety and is only released through pressure on the grip safety.

Although it’s not often thought of as a safety device in the direct sense, the XD-S, like all the other XD designs features a loaded chamber indicator. Quite simply it is a metal flag that sticks up slightly above the flat surface of the top of the slide whenever the chamber has a round or cartridge case in it. The big advantage here is it can be felt in low light conditions and one can ascertain whether the gun is loaded without light or even a visual glance.

Of course, a safety feature of any XD pistol that the XD-S has expanded on is the methodology of field-stripping the design for cleaning and routine maintenance. Springfield Armory calls it the “Fail-Safe Disassembly,” and unlike all the other XD pistols in their product line, the disassembly lever on the left side of the frame of the XD-S cannot be manipulated when there is a magazine in the gun.

The magazine must be removed in order to operate this latch. A magazine cannot be inserted into the pistol if the disassembly latch is in the vertical position.

Disassembly is pretty straightforward. Keep the pistol pointed in a safe direction and remove the magazine. Retract the slide to empty the chamber and check to make sure it is, in fact, empty. Lock the slide to the rear with the slide stop.

Rotate the disassembly latch to the vertical position. Recheck to make sure the chamber is empty, once again, and then release the slide and slowly allow it to go forward. While maintaining control on the slide, point the gun in a safe direction and pull the trigger to release the slide from the frame. Remove the recoil spring assembly and then the barrel from the slide to complete field stripping the XD-S.

The big safety factor here is the fact none of this can be accomplished with the magazine in the gun.

The Physical Size…
The Springfield Armory XD-S is narrow, and that means it just flat feels good in the shooter’s hand. Its width is right at 1 inch. There is an indented recess just aft the trigger on both sides of the coarse checkered polymer frame that accomplishes two things; the first is it shortens the trigger reach for the shooter whether right- or left-handed, and secondly it provides a positive location for the strong side thumb. Positioning the hand securely on this pistol also insures the grip safety is positively engaged.

Empty, the gun weighs only 21.5 ounces. The overall length is 6.3 inches with an overall height of 4.4 inches when the short five-round magazine is inserted.

There will be those who criticize this limited ammunition capacity, but I am not among their number. This is a six-shot pistol that is narrower than a standard snubnose revolver chambered for a big bore round, and offers one more round of capacity in the bargain. It would be hard to find any competitive design in this caliber that provides the combination of features found with the XD-S.

You must ask which is more important to you: the effectiveness of the chambered round or the reservoir of ammo in the gun? I think actual case histories will make a strong case that an effective chambering should have the edge over the number of BBs in the gun.

The iron sights that come standard on  the XD-S are superb for a gun meant to be carried often and shot little, because they would work exceedingly well on any “range” pistol regardless of size. The front sight is secured to the front of the XD-S slide in a dovetail cut and it features a bright fiber optic insert. Even my older eyes found it quick and easy to pick up on a dimly indoor range during one of several test sessions.

The rear sight is a sloped design with a finely serrated back face and two white dots on either side of the U-notch. The entire unit is mounted to the rear of the slide by means of a dovetail cut in the rear of the slide.

Shooting the XD-S
The trigger pull measured a consistent 6.0 pounds on an RCBS trigger pull scale. For a self-defense gun of this size and weight, that is certainly a reasonable pull weight. What I found delightful was the relative short reset distance the trigger has to travel to reset the sear for rapid-fire sequences. Of course, one didn’t have to work at resetting the trigger, recoil in the heavier loads usually make that a mindless effort to achieve.

Yes, the felt recoil with this 21.5-ounce polymer gun is noticeable when shooting some of the more robust loads out there, but in my opinion it is nowhere close to that felt with any type of double-action magnum revolver.

To test the reliability of the gun, I ran more than 250 rounds of various handloads through the sample XD-S and the truth is I never experienced a problem. I used handloads because the factory ammo fairy doesn’t appear like he used to, plus I wanted to see just how sensitive this gun was to various power levels in terms of loads. The truth is this gun runs. I can’t say it any other way.

For the factory stuff, I got good groups with Winchester 230-grain PDX1 bonded hollow-point ammo that averaged 830 fps. The Speer 230-grain Gold Dot five-shot groups were good as well, but it seemed like I always jerked out an inadvertent flyer on every one. The groups themselves were not target grade groups in that none were under an inch at the distance of 7 yards, but then with the combination of a dimly lit indoor range, the felt recoil and the size and weight of this self-defense pistol I found them all acceptable.

Remington’s 185-grain bronze Golden Saber load averaged 892 fps out of the Springfield XD-S and the Speer Gold Dot “short barrel” hollow point averaged 801 fps.

Conclusion
The Springfield XD-S is a comfortable and reliable pistol that sets itself apart from the others in the ever increasing legions of small, polymer framed self-defense pistols by offering a unique combination of size and power that few will be able to challenge. One question it answered quite convincingly for me was this is one small .45 ACP caliber pistol with a short 3-inch barrel that works, with a wide variety of loads.

The XD-S is available from Springfield Armory, Dept. SGN, 420 West Main St., Geneseo, IL 61254-1571, tel: 309-944-8994, fax: 309-944-3676, toll-free: 1-800-680-6866 and has a MSRP of $599.

Springfield-XD-S_002

The Springfield Armory XD-S has a barrel length of only 3.3 inches. James discovered this short barrel does not in any way impede the gun’s reliability with most .45 loads.

  • Gary Griffiths

    (Sigh) Just when you think your CCW requirements are all met, someone comes up with something better! I have been perfectly happy with my Walther PPS in .40 S&W, except for two things: I don't like the push-down-on-trigger-guard magazine lever, and, well, it isn't .45 ACP. I had the opportunity to compare the PPS and the XDS side-by-side at a gun show recently, and found them to be the same size. If the XDS proves as reliable as this article suggests, I'll have found the perfect CCW for me! — Until the next best thing comes along!

  • JCitizen

    I hear ya Gary; I gotta get my mitts on one of these!!! I plan to go CCW sometime soon, and that will be the perfect companion!

  • Muttdiver

    Got one……..haven't looked back. The best CCW IMHO. And I carry for work.

  • Max Davidson

    Brought one 4 weeks ago, kept it 24 hrs and traded it for a Glock 27. Pistol was really nice and I am a Master Class USPSA shooter but I could not shoot a 6" group with it at 10 yds. With the Glock I can shoot a 1" group at 10 yds. Only brought because I really liked the size and feel, just couldn't hit decent with it. Also had failure to feed no less than 8 times in the 100 rds I fired it. Could be Mag or may need a little gunsmithing? Love to have this in a 40cal or even a 9mm.
    Max

  • Jeepers Creepers

    45 acp is great firepower with an 5 inch or longer barrel. With an 3.3 inch barrel it will need to shoot +P+ loads to have the 45acp famous firepower. using standard loads with a short barreled 45 is like tossing rocks at someone. A 3 inch .380 is it's equal. Over the years I have only owned short barreled 45 acp's. Then I got my first 9mm. WOW what a difference. The nine had an 4 inch barrel. If you look up the load data for reloading. The 45 acp is always tested on a 5 inch and the 9MM is tested on a 4 inch. The little .380 is tested on a 3 inch barrel. Shorter the barrel equals less FPS. Longer then the tested barrel equals more FPS.

    • https://www.facebook.com/charles.riggs Charles Riggs

      You must be kidding. .45 won't do the job in a 3.3 inch barrel? Has to be a five inch?
      Gee, all those guys carrying Commanders with their 4.25 inch barrels have been misled all this time.
      Tell you what. You get a rock and I'll get an XDS, and we'll go at each other with them. Dodging is allowed. Bet you won't enjoy that matchup one bit.
      Ye gods, the bonehead crap that people put on forums like this.

      • jeepers creepers

        Charles I think the Commander has an 4.5 inch pipe. Still a long way from 3.3 inches. Also duty type ammo is always +P or greater. I have owned and reloaded for 45 acp Handguns. More than I want to count. If you read the article it is stated that with 185 grain projectile it will only FPS at best 892 FPS. Very poor. An 185 gr. should be moving far greater than 1,100 FPS to be a one shot stop powerhouse. I can always tell the old school gunners that don't understand that there are other calibers out there with better ballistics. The .40 comes to mind. Not to mention also the 10MM.
        If I had my Choice between another short barreled 45 acp. I would take the rock.

        • Brad Walters

          You should educate yourself: check out mousegunaddict.blogspot.com and look up his “Short Barrel .45 ACP” tests, specifically with the XDs. Also, on Youtube, TnOutdoors9 has several XDs tests. Seems like 13″ of pen with 0.9″ expansion is plenty good to me….

  • JCitizen

    My buddy had a Glock .45 that couldn't hit the broadside of a barn, until we change the ammo to Wolf – then it was a veritable tack driver. I saw him do things that some 1911 can't. It just depends on the ammo that a particular pistol can take. Who knows the rhyme or reason.

  • Roy

    I have had a Sig 245 for years and 6 rounds in the mag and 1 in the pipe for carry and the Aguilla HP rounds scream out of there at 1245 fps. A little heavier pistol but nice leather makes it carry and draw good and accuracy is 3 inches at 20 yards and can use my 220 8 rd mags for reloads. I have heard good on this pistol boss owns one and says he likes it. No need for me to rush to buy latest new toy.

  • Joey P

    I bought one 3 weeks ago, my first sub compact pistol in 45 ACP. I have put 500 rounds through it with no feed problems at all, used everything from 185 grn to 230 grn, JHP to FMG, Hornady, Winchester, Fed. Remington, Magtech, and others. I have shot from 9 feet to 45 feet with very good groupings, none over 4", what am I saying? This little gun is AWESOME!! and as far as knock down power, the 45ACP even in a 3.3" barrel is more than a 9MM in a 5" barrel. This little gun just plain shoots well. It is now my carry gun.

  • Max Davidson

    Maby I need to buy another one and spend a little more time with it as I loved the looks and feel and I think Springfield is top-notch as I have owned several over the years. Sounds like I might have had a bad mag on the failure to feed. When your life may be on the line at some stage in life I just lost my confidence in it. Not on the accuracy but not putting another round in the chamber. 99% of the time if you need a Pistol for protection it will be less than 8 yds. Something to think about!!!!!!!!!!
    Max

  • JCitizen

    I was an armorer for 13 years, and one of the most common problems was the magazines. That is a factor that can't be ignored – that is why so many soldiers use Mag-Pull instead of the GI issue magazines.

  • https://www.facebook.com/charles.riggs Charles Riggs

    Frank, you're bang on with this review. I've had an XDS for several months and have been very pleased with it. Thirteen different people have shot it so we could collect impressions from as many as possible, and in the 250+ rounds fired there have been ZERO malfunctions. It displays great accuracy, and everyone has commented on how little recoil it has. In a side by side comparison with a 642 S&W Centennial it's easier to shoot accurately and quickly with duty/carry ammo. It's by far the best small large bore handgun out there!

  • dale

    On top of everything else the thing is as cute as a puppy! A puppy with a helluva bite to be sure ,but cute.

  • bob

    300 rds through mine now. absolutely no problems whatsoever! Last 4 clips put load in barrel, empty first out in clip alternating load/empty till full clip. not a single failure to feed an empty once. I think I can trust it . Pretty good test for an outo to feed empties after a load. verry accurate also!

  • Josh B

    I love mine. Carry in an IWB holster. Plenty of rounds through it. Recoil is very manageable and is accurate right out of the box. Price is great and I’ve chosen to trust my life to this little powerhouse 45 should I need to.

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