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Smith & Wesson CSX 9mm Pistol: Full Review

Smith & Wesson's CSX 9mm is the pistol none of us asked for — or knew that we wanted. Here's a full review.

Smith & Wesson CSX 9mm Pistol: Full Review

(Mark Fingar photo)

From its first use as a label for the J-Frame revolver, the “Chief’s Special” was an innovative approach to concealed carry. The revolver was introduced at the 1950 International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference. Smith & Wesson’s sales team asked police chiefs to vote on a name for the revolver, and “.38 Chief’s Special” won. The company moved to using model numbers in 1957, but the name reappeared in 1999 on its 3rd Generation semiautos. Though written out on the left side of the slide, “Chiefs Special” was abbreviated in the model name as “CS” for the CS9, CS40 and CS45. Those compact pistols were discontinued in 2002 (CS40) and 2006 (CS9/CS45) ahead of the launch of the polymer-frame M&P series. In the 16 years since, S&W has not applied the label to another model, and we’re not certain that it was the company’s intention to do that here. But “CSX” suggests that the name and lineage was top of mind as an engineer sketched out the plans for the new compact, aluminum-frame, double-stack, single-action auto in 9mm. Oh yeah, it’s also hammer-fired. Is the CSX a step backward for Smith & Wesson? Or did they identify an underserved market? Either way, everyone is talking about the unexpected CSX.

Smith & Wesson CSX 9mm Pistol: Full Review
Although its dimensions are comparable to Smith & Wesson’s striker-fired Shield pistols, the CSX is actually a smaller gun. Its diminutive design is well suited for deep concealment uses such as pocket carry. (Mark Fingar photo)

“Well, to be honest, ‘CSX’ is not directly tied to the Chief’s Special, but it does offer a slight nod to that legacy,” said Corey Beaudreau, media relations manager for Smith & Wesson.

Given the success of the Shield and EZ series, the new CSX has a lot to live up to. The choices S&W made for its design were bold. Many of us have accepted the proliferation of polymer-frame pistols, and some of us even like what they’ve become. However, I think that the CSX will do well, especially among those who understand it.

Smith & Wesson CSX 9mm Pistol: Full Review
Two opposing-side magazine release buttons are included. They can be changed with a small, flat-tip screwdriver. (Mark Fingar photo)

Obviously, the CSX is a compact that’s purpose-built for deep concealment and close engagements. With a 3.1-inch barrel, 4.6-inch height, 1-inch width, 6-inch length, and 19 1/2-ounce weight, it isn’t much different dimensionally than the M&P9 Shield Plus ($553), but in the hand it feels smaller, and I think it would be a great fit for pocket carry. I don’t think that the CSX is going to take away from sales of the Shield, but I believe that it could almost render the .380-caliber Bodyguard ($396) obsolete. S&W representatives won’t verify it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually see CSX chamber Federal’s new .30 Super Carry for a bump in capacity and its close-to-9mm ballistics.


Smith & Wesson CSX 9mm Pistol: Full Review
The ambidextrous slide-release and manual safety levers are recessed into the alloy frame, but are still reachable and usable. (Mark Fingar photo)

There are two features that command attention: First, the CSX is a hammer-fired single action. According to S&W, single-action internals allowed engineers to build a slightly smaller gun than with a striker mechanism. That same small design parameter is also why the gun lacks two more obvious features. Did you notice that there isn’t an optic cut or a rail? That was no accident. Although such features might become a part of the CSX line one day, they do not complement deep concealment. The CSX’s design is streamlined. The angles, curves and transitions are smooth and intentional.


“Smith & Wesson’s John Myles, CSX product manager, understood the market and its customers,” Beaudreau said. “It was an engineer’s tinkering that took off.”

Smith & Wesson CSX 9mm Pistol: Full Review
The short, single-action trigger is hinged. The safety lever is integrated into the shoe and compresses to form a flat trigger face. (Mark Fingar photo)

Its lines are set off by the dark Armornite finish, a nitride coating that adds corrosion and wear resistance. Armornite also gives the CSX a warm, matte black appearance.

The CSX has ambidextrous controls throughout. It includes two different magazine release buttons that can be switched by the shooter for right- or left-hand use.

I believe engineers struck a balance with the slide release and thumb safety designs, too. They are dehorned, well fit, and protrude just enough to be accessible and usable.




Smith & Wesson CSX 9mm Pistol: Full Review
Textured backstraps are provided with the CSX, including small and extra-small sizes for improved concealability. (Mark Fingar photo)

The CSX comes with a flush-fit 10-round magazine, as well as an extended 12-round magazine. The 12-rounder is minimally longer, which means that I don’t see a need for the 10-rounder beyond allowing S&W to sell the CSX into capacity-restrictive states. The ¼-inch difference in length makes a big difference in shooting the pistol, in my opinion.

The single-action trigger on Guns & Ammo’s test sample was just OK. It is hinged and becomes a flat, short-shoe trigger when the blade safety protruding from its flat face is compressed. It had an odd reset feel with a small hitch in it as it returns forward. Like many shooters, I’ve moved past the “shoot to reset” technique, but this hitch could distract some of us. There is a little grit, too, and more pre-travel than I expected for a single-action pistol. Personally, I also think that its 7-pound, 2-ounce, pull weight represents a missed opportunity. Since it has a useable thumb safety and a clever trigger safety, there is no reason that the trigger draw shouldn’t be a little cleaner and 2 pounds lighter. (Three pounds, preferably.) The CSX shot well, though. It is small, but it handles recoil ably, and it doesn’t produce a sharp bark that so many micro compacts do.

Smith & Wesson CSX 9mm Pistol: Full Review
Like Smith & Wesson’s EZ series, the CSX features an easy-to-rack slide with a pair of tabs at the rear behind the serrations. (Mark Fingar photo)

The interchangeable M&P M2.0-style backstraps, the familiar 18-degree grip angle, and stippled M2.0 texture are evidence that engineers borrowed from their experience. The undercut and texture on the aluminum front strap were unexpected. Add these features to a low-bore-axis layout, and it all works together. Even the rear of the ejection port was chamfered to help with a smooth draw from the holster.

Recommended


The CSX also continues the use of tabs, or raised “wings,” at the rear of the slide. These assist in racking. Such details are worth comparing when looking at some of its polymer competitors.

Smith & Wesson CSX 9mm Pistol: Full Review
Unlike most micro-compacts, the CSX is hammer fired. Serrations appear on the controls and at the back of the sights. (Mark Fingar photo)

During drills, the CSX’s grip allowed for obtaining a consistent hand placement, even at speed. With a small gun, this is important because the support hand often interferes with the controls. Slide-lock malfunctions are often blamed mistakenly. Small pistols require a more refined touch than large pistols, and the ambidextrous controls on the CSX are very forgiving.

Smith & Wesson CSX 9mm Pistol: Full Review
The 10- and 12-round-capacity CSX magazines were achieved using a double-to-single-stack taper. Centering each round behind the chamber encourages the pistol’s reliable feeding. (Mark Fingar photo)

From the bench, the CSX acquitted itself well. It’s not a match pistol, and it doesn’t pretend to be. Still, its performance compares very well to most service pistols. From a sandbagged rest at 25 yards, the CSX kept every five-shot group under 4 inches. I shot all of the popular weights in ball and hollowpoint, +P and standard ammunition. With premium loads in the 124-to­135-grain range, the CSX shined; it delivered a 2.9-inch group with the Federal 124-grain HST +P load, and a 3.2-inch group with Hornady’s 135-grain +P Critical Duty rounds. The little CSX really likes the hot stuff!

Smith & Wesson CSX 9mm Pistol: Full Review
(Mark Fingar photo)

As some have seen on YouTube, the CSX is bound to be divisive. If you need a pistol that carries like a .380 Bodyguard, but offers the punch of a 9mm Shield, it’s worth your consideration. It is more concealable than most double-stack micros and more shootable. Like the innovative Chief’s Specials that went before it, the CSX is more elegant, too.

Smith & Wesson CSX 9mm Specifications

  • Type: Single action, hammer-fired, semiautomatic
  • Cartridge: 9mm
  • Capacity: 10+1 rds., 12+1 rds.
  • Barrel: 3.1 in., stainless steel
  • Overall Length: 6.1 in.
  • Width: 1.01 in.
  • Height: 4.6 in. (w/ 10-rd. magazine)
  • Weight: 1 lb., 3.5 oz.
  • Finish: Matte black, Armornite (nitride) steel
  • Frame: Aluminum, anodized
  • Sights: 3-dot (rear), white dot (front); dovetailed
  • Trigger: 7 lbs., 2 oz. (tested)
  • Price: $609
  • Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson, 800-331-0852, smith-wesson.com
Smith & Wesson CSX 9mm Pistol: Full Review
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