March 12, 2018
Growing up in the Midwest, I didn't have a lot of choices in "compact" anything. And there were few choices in handguns and ammunition for everyday carry (EDC). Now, we are spoiled by the bounty in the compact gun market, and there has never been a better time for effective, defensive-oriented ammunition to choose from. So, what is an enterprising firearms maker to do in order to stand out in today's EDC market? Why, this is America. They are going to offer more choices.
That's what has done by creating a new and ultra-compact Taurus Spectrum .380. It's a pistol that's not only EDC ready, but you can have one in almost any color combination.
Partners in Development
The Taurus Spectrum .380 will appear like a diversion from ordinary compact pistols for the selectable sport coats of many colors. (More on the color decision later.) However, the Spectrum is more than a colorful carry gun. It's actually crafted to be a great EDC gun.
The stainless-steel slide has been shaped to eliminate almost every sharp edge in an effort to produce a sleek look that compliments a person's preference in style. The slide is not just rounded but sculpted, and the contours are just not for cosmetic value.
Consider the swoopy curve on each side of the slide that guides one's fingers to find the texture that another pistol would call "cocking serrations." On the Spectrum, however, this textured area at the back of the slide is a unique inset panel made of an imprinted soft-touch synthetic. The synthetic elastomer was developed in conjunction with PolyOne, the leader in formulating thermoplastic compounds for all industries. The result is a material that seems to grab your fingertips, which helps to make racking the slide on the Spectrum easier than other .380-caliber pistols. These panels on the slide and frame are overmolded.
What also makes racking the Spectrum's slide easy is the locked breech. By going with a locked-breech design, Taurus engineers could work around a lighter recoil spring. Since all it must do is deliver enough slide energy to strip off the magazine's next round to be fed, working the slide to load the Spectrum is also easy on the hands. If you're someone who might not have the hand strength to work the recoil spring on other blowback .380s, give the Taurus Spectrum a try the next time you visit a store's gun counter. Typically, a locked-breech pistol like this will also seem softer in felt recoil than a blowback-operated one.
The Lower Half
Taurus continued the rounded edge theme down to the frame. You will not find a straight line or sharp edge. However, all the rounded contours of the Spectrum come at a risk: A rounded frame might not be comfortable for some shooters. We see this most often with frames that feature finger grooves. I have never picked up a pistol with finger grooves and found them close to where my fingers rest. Taurus dialed back the finger grooves - and there is only a hint of a groove on the frontstrap. Even so, the Spectrum fits my hand very well, especially when using the magazine fitted with the extended basepad.
The frame also has the overmold inset panels to maximize the nonslip grip design of the Spectrum. The triggerguard is thankfully not squared. It is large enough to get a trigger finger into, and no more. If you are looking at the Spectrum as a hot-weather, minimal-clothing, deep-concealment pistol, why worry about using it with gloves? Don't.
The frame shape at the tang lets us get our hand up high behind the pistol, which helps us control the muzzle and manage the effects of recoil as we shoot repetitively. And the frontstrap is undercut at the triggerguard, so we can get higher on the grip there, also. These are attributes that help us keep unusually good control of this compact .380.
They made the ejection port very spacious. Spent cases won't fail to find the exit.
Taurus added integral sights with a low-profile ramp at the front that we must squarely center within the machined, notched rear. This approach to sighting is not uncommon to compact EDC pistols, but the lack of adjustment means that if the pistol doesn't shoot to point of aim (POA), there is nothing we can do but send the pistol to a gunsmith or back to the manufacturer.
One detail that might cause some people to hesitate in purchasing this pistol is what appears to be an action lock on the right side of the frame. No worries, it is not that. Rather, that's the unusual takedown lever. The settings are obvious, even with small icons molded into the frame. The big slot that allows us to turn it is clear: parallel to the bore, the pistol disassembles. When turned crossways, it doesn't. It's just like the water shutoff valve found in a basement or laundry room.
The takedown lever and its slot are perfectly proportioned to let us use the rim of a case or cartridge to turn it. (A .380 case rim naturally, but a 9mm works, too.) And, unlike a Glock, you do not have to dry-fire the Spectrum to take the slide assembly off the frame. (Just make sure the pistol is empty and remove the magazine.) Turn the knob and pull the slide off the front of the frame. To reassemble, run the slide back onto the frame, and with a brisk shove, run it back and bottom it out against the frame as you work the slide and open the action. That will kick the disassembly knob back into the locked position.
The DAO Striker
On the subject of triggers, the Spectrum has a double-action-only (DAO) striker with restrike capability. You can hammer the primer as many times as you want if it doesn't go off the first time. Personally, if a primer fails to ignite the first time, I'll only give it a second chance before I ditch it for the next cartridge in line. But the design means that there is no preload on the firing pin, and it has no chance of hurling itself forward. There is a firing pin block, which is moved out of the path only by trigger movement. And there is no trigger movement without a press from a trigger finger. The trigger pull is smooth, and Taurus lists it as being between 7 and 9 pounds. That feels about right, and while it does have some travel to it, it's manageable.
On the left side of the frame, up against the slide, is a tiny little lever. This is the slide hold-open lever. Yes, the Spectrum does lock open after the last round has been fired. (Again, a characteristic not common to pocket pistols 30 years ago.) The lever is not large enough that it can be used to release the slide on a reload, but that's OK. In my opinion, the fastest way to make sure any pistol you might be reloading gets loaded and ready is to slingshot the slide. The Spectrum responds to this method perfectly.
And directly behind the slide-stop lever is a window to view the serial number stamped on the chassis within the polymer frame. It's bonded to the Spectrum's synthetic panels.
You can also swap orientation of the magazine release on the Spectrum. If you're a lefty and want the button on the right-hand side, you can have it that way. If you are right-handed but want to release the magazine with your trigger finger, simply change sides.
The Spectrum features two magazines: one a standard, low-profile six-rounder, and another is extended in length with a longer baseplate allowing the magazine to carry seven rounds. More the better.
A Colorful Palette
Since the synthetic insets are added parts, Taurus can install any color as machines form the panels and secure them to the frame and slide. There are limits in color choice, however. The chemistry of some colors places a sharp limit on durability, and Taurus isn't going to let that happen. But, if a shooter wants a Spectrum frame in one color and the textured panels in another, Taurus can do that.
The stainless steel slide can be ordered in black or left a matte stainless. The sample Spectrum sent to G&A for evaluation was just a formal all-black configuration. If you don't care about colors, all-black is one of Taurus' standard offerings.
Other standard offerings include a combination of white, black and gray. These will be stock items, which means you can expect to find one of them at your local gun shop or on the shelves of a distributors' warehouse. Finding a Spectrum in black, white or gray or combo thereof should be an exercise without difficulty.
However, if you desire something else, Taurus is up for that. There are three "House" combinations. These are color selections that Taurus anticipates to be of great interest to many shooters. These include white-stainless-cyan; gray-black; stainless-mint; and black-black-Flat Dark Earth (FDE). They are regular stock items from Taurus, and they will only cost an extra $16.
The next step is mind-boggling. There are 20 colors to select from in the overmold list. The color combinations here are not limited just to the overmold color over a black frame and slide, and that means it will be difficult to find someone at the gun club who has the exact same combination that you have - if you go the custom-order route. Taurus has also let it be known that they will offer "Special Edition" color options throughout the year.
Hitting the Mark
All of these choices make the Spectrum exciting, but the true measure of a defensive pistol still boils down to its reliability, shootability and accuracy. As we know, ultra-compact .380s are not known for their ability to be accurate. The Spectrum was no different. At 15 yards, I shot consistent groups averaging 3 inches - the norm for such compact semiautos. Some individual groups did print near 2 inches, but it was work getting there. That said, the trigger is up to the task. It's a smooth draw, and doesn't add chatter or stack up as it is pressed.
The sights were the difficult part in learning this pistol's accuracy potential. And there lies the dilemma. If you make sights big enough to use as sights for accuracy, they risk making the pistol too big to be truly compact. But I can see why Taurus made them this way.
Most defensive uses are close range. At 12 feet, just looking over or through the gun can earn you fast A-zone hits on an IPSC silhouette target. If you need more accuracy, you will have to hit the range first before carrying the Spectrum. I suggest that you practice a lot before wearing any compact .380 for EDC. If you work at it, you'll find that the Taurus Spectrum .380 won't be a hinderance for it has a good trigger, grip and excellent ergonomics.
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