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Scaled for Self-Defense: Springfield XD-S 9mm Review

by Patrick Sweeney   |  July 8th, 2013 10

Springfield-XD-S-9mm_001

There are people—and companies—who have one good thing, one trick that they work for all they’re worth. Then there are those who are a steady stream of ideas and products that people want and are eager to get. Springfield is one of the latter group. Whether it is making a century-old product (1911s), a half-century-old product (M1As) or something that is of more recent vintage (polymer-frame pistols), they just keep on lifting the curtain on one hot new product after another.

The company’s latest item—the XD-S—is a wake-up call to the world of carry guns—Springfield Armory intends to own it all. I’ve been a fan of the Springfield striker-fired pistols for some time. When the original, the XD, was the offering from Geneseo, Ill., I had Irv Stone III of Bar-Sto build me a multi-use XD. Originally a .40, when he was done with it, it was a .40, a .357 SIG and a 9mm. And while fun and versatile, it was not exactly a carry gun you’d want to have lashed to you all day long.

But Springfield took care of that problem with compact versions of the XD, in 9mm and .40.

Then the company unveiled the XD-M. Where the medium-size XD in 9mm had held 16 rounds, the XD-M holds 19. The change was similar for the .40 and across the various model sizes. You suddenly had more ammo in the same-size package. Who could argue with that? Well, those of us who carry daily, for one. Yes, an XD-M Compact 3.8 in 9mm holds a lot of ammo, but the size required can be a bit of a hassle. While it is surprisingly compact for a 9mm that holds as much ammo as it does, it’s still a bit much on a hot summer day. Or for those of us with too many dirt-bike miles on our backs and knees.

Which leads us back to the 2012 SHOT Show and the unveiling of the XD-S in .45 ACP. The ruling paradigm had been for decades: If it was polymer frame, if it used a striker, it had to be fat and hold half a box of ammo (and, for most shooters, it had to be in 9mm or .40 S&W). While you can’t really call an XD-M of any size “fat,” they still were a tad portly. On the other hand, the single-stack XD-S, in .45 ACP, was as flat as could be. Flatter than a 1911, if you have to know. And the flex of polymer, combined with the shape of the frame, made recoil no big deal, despite the small size and light weight.

So the family of Springfields was turning into the firearms equivalent of the Borg; they were going to be everywhere, and you might as well just get one. But there was a fly in the ointment. The XD-S in .45, while being really compact, had (in the minds of some shooters) a couple of strikes against it. It didn’t hold much ammo, and it would really paste your hands if you fed it serious loads. When I was first testing it, the wonder of such a small, slim package outweighed the work of shooting it. We were all so happy with it, we didn’t care about—or notice—the recoil.

Then I had a chance to have a go with the latest generation of defensive ammo here at the home range, and it became work. In testing the new XD-S 9mm, I matched it up with its big brother in .45 and the XD-M Compact 3.8 in 9mm. The XD-S .45, with the standard magazine, holds five rounds plus one and provides too small a grip for me to get my hands on it. Recoil is sharp. With the extra-length magazine, and its frame-size sleeve, the XD-S .45 became much more manageable. But they are still more hassle than a lot of people who carry are willing to put up with.

Enter the XD-S 9mm. Now, all of a sudden, we have something that is about as easy to stop looking at as Alana De La Garza. The XD-S 9mm is as flat as the .45 version and an ounce or so lighter. But where the .45 holds five rounds, the 9mm holds seven (the extended version holds nine). As flat as it is, packing it all day long will be a lot easier than any double-stack 9mm would be. And with its 3.3-inch barrel, the nose end of the pistol isn’t going to cam off of your hip and jam the tang into your kidney.

The great thing about the XD-S 9mm, besides being so convenient to carry, is that it works just like the rest of the XDm family. And much like the original XD. If you know how to run any of those, you’ll know all you need to about using the XD-S. And when it comes time to take it apart to clean it—and blow out the lint and dust bunnies from daily carry—the XD-S disassembles just like the XD pistols before it; you have to dry-fire your XD-S in order to disassemble it.

But in the XD-S, Springfield went a step further. If you have left the magazine in the frame, you can’t move the disassembly lever. And if you have left the lever in its up, disassembled position, you can’t make a magazine fit home. In other words, you’ve got to remove the magazine to disassemble, and you have to finish assembly before you can get a magazine to fit and lock.

As with all members of the XD family, the XD-S 9mm has the features we’ve come to expect: loaded-chamber indicator, grip safety, match barrel and nearly corrosion-proof Melonite slide finish.

The XD-S (in either caliber) also has the extras of the XD-M branch of the family tree: ambidextrous magazine catch, light rail and interchangeable backstraps.

But the XD-S 9mm does more than just fill. It provides the CPL holder with an option, a lightweight, as-compact-as-you-want-it 9mm that holds enough ammo and is easy to shoot.

Why not an XD-S .40? I asked Dave Williams at Springfield about this, and the answer I got was pretty much what I expected. While everyone raved about the XD-S in .45, the first question a lot of shooters who had just test-fired one asked was, “Can you make it not kick so much?” A .45 pistol that weighs just over 22 ounces, and as small as the XD-S is, is going to kick. They could make it bigger, which the extended magazine does. They could make it heavier, which negates one of the great advantages it has. Or they could make it wider, which would negate one of its other great advantages.

Or Springfield could make it in 9mm. Going to .40 would not reduce recoil. In fact, with some of the rocket-launcher loads offered in .40, recoil would be worse. So they skipped right over .40—which would not have offered much of a capacity increase either—to 9mm, and now we’re on to something.

The result is a flat, compact, easy-to-carry pistol in a serious caliber. When I first pulled the XD-S 9mm out of the box, I immediately thought of the Colt Pocket Model, that classic Browning-designed pistol in .32 and .380. They were flat, compact carry tools of another era. The XD-S 9mm is the 21st century equivalent, complete with more powerful chambering, aggressive frame texture and modern safety features. While I’m not sure I can mentally compose a photo of Bogie holding an XD-S 9mm, if it had been around during his era, he would’ve.

Also, I really like the flat, narrow profile of the XD-S frame. When we were all shooting single-stack 1911s back in the day, I favored much thinner grips than most shooters. With thin grips I found that the pistol indexed much faster. If I used a 1911 with fat grips, I slowed down. The XD-S indexes for me like a slim-grip 1911 of old.

Another big advantage for me is the extra-capacity XD-S (9mm or .45). My hands are big enough that the regular frame just isn’t long enough. My pinkie finger is just flapping in the breeze, not able to help the team. But with the extra-length mag, it can help brace the frame against the heel of my hand. All of a sudden, what’s a squirmy, hard-jumping pistol becomes easy to shoot. And in 9mm configuration, it’s a downright pleasure.

The short barrel and slide make it a whole lot more pleasant (and comfortable) to carry, but I’m sure some are wondering, “What is the cost in velocity?” After all, while the .45 ACP does its work mostly through bullet mass and frontal area, the 9mm depends on velocity to try and keep up. The pumpkin-like bullets out of the XD-S .45 are slowed some, but not so much that it really matters. How much 9mm velocity do we lose, using the 3.3-inch barrel of the XD-S 9mm?

The quick answer? Not much. I compared the XD-S 9mm I had with a long-term resident of Gun Abuse Central, an XD-M compact 3.8. (It would not be fair, or relevant, to compare the XD-S 9mm with something with a 4 1/2- or five-inch barrel, as it wouldn’t be nearly as easy to carry as the XD-S is.)

Losing 20 fps to 50 fps in 9mm—compared with the 3.8 inch in a pistol so compact and easy to carry—is not a severe penalty. And with some loads, the loss comes from an impressive high-water mark. Two loads come to mind: the ProGrade ammo, loaded to +P pressures, delivers 1,284 fps out of the 3.8-inch barrel and 1,250 fps out of the 3.3-inch barrel. That’s an ultra-compact 9mm that comes perilously close to USPSA Major. And yes, the recoil is pretty stout (but still less than what you experience from the XD-S .45). The other load is Hornady’s 147-grain XTP, with which the 3.3-inch barrel loses almost nothing compared with its 3.8-inch stablemate. Plus, the Hornady load is superbly accurate, soft to shoot and will penetrate and expand.

While I might opt for a harder-kicking load for myself, if I was to hand the XD-S 9mm to someone a bit recoil sensitive, someone who was considering a carry gun as the next evolution of life, I’d have the XTP load in it.

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