Initially offered in 9mm and .40 S&W, Springfield Armory’s XD quickly gained a following for being the only striker-fired pistol with a grip safety. Unlike the significant minority of 1911 users who find that the grip safety doesn’t always “un-safe” when gripped, I’ve never heard a single complaint about the XD grip safety. If you grab the XD, the grip safety is out of the way. But any pistol or pistol series that aspires to be a bigbore defensive handgun has to offer .45 ACP as an option. Doing so is not always easy. Designers often have the unenviable choice of slim grips and low capacity (single-stack magazines being “low” capacity in the 21st century) or offering increased magazine capacity at the cost of bulk.
But Springfield’s .45 XD grip is not much larger than that of a 1911. To make an eight-shot 1911 smaller than the XD you have to go to custom, slimline grips. For the normal, non-slimline grip size you get 13 rounds of 230-grain hardball medicine in your XD plus one in the launching tube. The second thing previously missing from many striker-fired pistols is one mentioned by police but greatly desired by the military a thumb safety.
We all know that a striker-fired pistol is essentially a revolver fed via a box magazine. That they have internal safeties to prevent inadvertent firing. That a safety isn’t needed. Still, the military is quite clear that there has to be some kind of safety. And a lot of shooters have a higher comfort level with a thumb safety. Then there’s the “gun grab” factor. There are a number of police officers who have survived altercations because the bad guy could not figure out how to work the thumb safety after he grabbed the officer’s sidearm.
The new XD arrived without any prior announcement. Once I opened it, it took me only a moment to spot the safety lever. Obvious? No, but when you’re used to looking at striker-fired pistols, it jumps right out at you. Bulky? Not in the least. I have problems with almost all ambidextrous safeties on 1911s. Typically, I find that the offside safety lever is too large and the knuckle of my trigger finger and the lever over there do not play well together. I’ve had 1911s with ambi safeties that I could not shoot without consciously shifting my grip. The ambi safety of the XD does not give me that problem in the slightest. I can feel the far side against my knuckle when the lever is pressed down, but it is not in the way at all.
If I were being the slightest bit grumpy I might complain that the lever is just a tad too short (but then, I have been accused of having orangutan thumbs). Unless your thumbs are even longer than mine, you’ll find that the safety lever is very well located on the frame. Not slide-mounted, but located on the frame. While the thumb safety is ambidextrous, the Springfield engineers resisted the urge to make the new pistol with an ambi slide-stop lever. It is only on the left side. I’ve been doing my slide-lock reloads of late by grabbing the slide to close and not using the lever. Done that way, the lack of an ambi slide stop is not a problem.
The safety clicks up with authority, and it does so regardless of the striker position. That’s right–you can put the safety on after you dry-fire. When you push the safety lever up, you lock the slide closed, whether the striker is forward or back. You cannot engage the safety with the slide locked open. Some might wish to leave the slide unlocked with the safety on so you could load and unload with the safety lever up. I don’t see it as a problem, as the other mechanical safeties are still in effect and you can load and unload safely with the thumb safety off.
However, I’ll bet if a large police department takes a look at this model XD, someone in the department will come up with it as a bright idea. And I’ll bet the Springfield engineers have thought of how to do it. With the dry-firing and handling out of the way, I quickly yanked off the slide to take a look. The safety works by blocking the trigger mechanism in the frame, leaving the rest of the safety parts to continue their work in the slide and on the striker without change. Again, from an engineering standpoint I have to admire that. They’ve added a desired safety part and function without changing the design or function of the existing safety mechanisms.
The safety lever is held in each position by a ball and spring clicking into recesses in the interior of the safety paddle. The paddles themselves are stopped in their up and down locations by the shoulders of the frame recess they ride in. Thus there is no need to worry about an overexerted safety lever being forced past its proper position and bringing things to a quick halt. If you can force a steel lever past a sturdy polymer shoulder, you have hand strength enough that you probably don’t need a pistol.
Since the safety locks the slide in place when up, in reassembly you have to keep the levers down when you put the slide back on or it won’t go past the safety. A simple-enough thing to learn, and you aren’t going to break anything while you learn.
Good engineering is fine, and an added feature certainly is attractive, but they are for naught if you can’t make your handgun function when you need to. So I had to do a bunch of drawing and dry-firing to see how well the new safety fits me. I was aided in this by Springfield’s practice of shipping each XD with a holster, dual-mag pouch and magazine loader. For the dry-fire I simply had to put the holster on, set up the dry-fire targets and have at it. What I found was that after the usual initial learning curve of “what handgun am I grabbing?” my right hand had no problem pushing the safety off and establishing a firm firing grip. The XD grip shape is an exemplar of comfort and ergonomics, and while the sights seemed to come up a bit high at first, that, too, was something quickly learned and adjusted for.
At the range, the grip shape made even hot +P .45 ACP loads a breeze to shoot. No XD I’ve shot has been a slouch in the accuracy department, and while the XD trigger is never going to make friends at a Bullseye match, it’s very nice for defensive work. After shooting over a rest, and per my usual custom, I plinked at the 100-yard gongs at the club and produced an entirely satisfactory seven hits of 10 shots offhand.
My particular XD was quite forgiving, shooting pretty much every ammo type I had along into 2 1⁄2 to three inches or so at 25 yards. I might have done better if the range trip hadn’t been on a bitterly cold 12-degree day. Still, groups like that with icicles hanging off my goatee? With full-power hardball? I’ll take that any day.
So, what do we have here? We’ve got a high-capacity .45 that can shoot accurately and handle +P ammo without a problem. The handling features include an ambidextrous external thumb safety, ambi mag-catch buttons, grip safety and a simple takedown procedure. Up top there’s a loaded-chamber indicator. The frame is a durable polymer, impervious to all known solvents, with a light/accessory rail on the front of the frame. The four-inch barrel is short enough to make concealed carry easy but long enough to give both reliable function and all the velocity a .45 needs. (On a warmer day my chrono results would probably be easily 75 to 80 fps higher per load.) The magazines are durable, inexpensive, reliable and easy to locate. With their gentle taper on top, they are also fast on the reload.
If a police department wants .45s (or has officers who want .45s), the XD is very attractive anyway, and the new thumb safety makes it even more so. Competition shooters might not be as happy, but that is only because practical shooting doesn’t have a niche for .45-caliber, Major-scoring polymer pistols. Those who carry for defense do. And for the military, if they ever get back to considering the general issue of handguns in manly calibers, the XD would be a definite contender. One aspect of the military specifications that they seem hung up on is the requirement of a new sidearm to still be serviceable after 30,000 rounds of +P ammo.
I’d bet the XD would pass that test. (And as soon as I can score 30,000 rounds of +P .45 ACP, I’ll let you know the results).