May 20, 2020
By Keith Wood
If the market is any indicator, single-stack 9mms have become a top choice for concealed carry handguns, especially with Model 1911s. Though polymer-framed striker-fired pistols represent a considerable slice of the market, there is demand for a compact and carry-worthy 1911s.
Generations of shooters have fallen in and out and back in love with the 1911, not to mention the die hards who are not interested in departing from it for the sake of something new. Smith & Wesson’s Performance Center SW1911 Pro Series is a handgun that transcends multiple consumer categories.
When you consider its features, S&W’s Pro Series fits in the custom-production category between the firm’s standard-production models and the custom-built Performance Center firearms. Essentially, SW1911s are stock guns equipped with certain upgrades as standard equipment.
As its name suggests, the SW1911 is Smith & Wesson’s subcompact 1911-style handgun. There are currently two full- size stainless versions with different sights, and two Officer-sized models, one in 9mm and another in .45 ACP. For this review, we’re looking at the Officer’s Model-sized SW1911 in 9mm.
Though it is similar to a Colt Officer’s Model and its clones, this SW1911 is slightly shorter in length. This SW1911’s slide and barrel are constructed from stainless steel and finished in Armornite for absolute corrosion protection, but to save weight the frame is machine from scandium alloy. Scandium is an element added to aluminum alloy to add strength without increasing weight. Smith & Wesson has been using it since the 12-ounce Model 340PD Airlite revolver in 2002. The result here is a pistol that tips the scales at only 26 ounces.
Inside the SW1911 grip is a single-stack magazine that carries eight rounds not to include one in the chamber. The frame features many enhancements including a vertically serrated frontstrap, a checkered, flat mainspring housing and a high frame cut, which puts the axis of the bore as low as possible relative to the hand. A rounded butt makes this handgun slightly more concealable, forming an abbreviated bobtail of sorts.
The controls on this pistol are as you’d expect. There are two manual safeties on this handgun, both ambidextrous. The thumb safety is extended on both sides and the beavertail grip safety is beveled smooth. The grip safety protects the hand from hammer bite and is sculpted with a raised bump to ensure that the shooter’s hand disengages it automatically when grabbing the pistol.
The magazine release is checkered, and the aluminum three-hole trigger is familiar to 1911 shooters with its adjustable overtravel stop. The trigger on Guns & Ammo’s test sample was clean and consistent at 5 pounds, 5 ounces with an impressively short reset.
Like the frame, the stainless-steel slide is machined to include all of the upgrades that have evolved through the years. The ejection port is lowered and flared to ensure smooth ejection, and all of the sharp edges on the slide have been dehorned.
The 9mm barrel measures 3.1 inches in length from the breech face to the muzzle and is ramped. The barrel uses a standard barrel link, two locking lugs forward of the chamber, and widens at the muzzle to facilitate lock-up with the slide. (There is no barrel bushing.) A notch milled into the barrel hood serves as a visual loaded chamber indicator, also.
Creating this compact 1911 from a full-size Government Model is not simply a matter scaling-down components. Accommodations must be made to ensure that everything functions as it should.
At the top end of this handgun, the biggest departure from the standard 1911 is the recoil spring assembly. The Pro Series uses a full-length guiderod with two springs of different sizes to help mitigate recoil and increase reliability for all grain weights, which is always an engineering challenge on a 9mm 1911 this small.
A modern feature is the SW1911 Pro Series’ oversized external extractor. It articulates on a roll pin that runs vertically through the slide. Extractor tension is one of the idiosyncrasies of the 1911 design, and there’s a reason that so many semiautomatic handguns designed in the last 100 years feature an external extractor. Inside, the fixed, frame-mounted ejector is familiar to 1911 users.
Though the SW1911 Pro Series has a short sight radius of 5.3 inches, it is equipped with drift-adjustable three-dot sights. A steel post is dovetailed at the front and a Novak-style combat sight is at the rear. To my disappointment, there is no illuminated factory option available, but sights are easy to source and change out.
Ergonomically, this handgun is comfortable to manipulate. You might expect a stiff recoil spring on a handgun of this size would result in difficulty when racking the slide. That’s not the case with this model. The grip is comfortable, secure, and allows a five-fingered purchase on the gun, despite its compact dimensions. The safety lever is easy to disengage, and the grip safety functions without conscious thought. Ergo’s 1911 XTRO hard-rubber grips are thin, but enough to hold the gun securely without being overly abrasive. This gun might be a handful in .45 ACP, but in its 9mm recoil was mild for what’s expected.
Guns & Ammo staff has been shooting this gun extensively for more than a year, so it received a tough evaluation. In addition to running the Pro Series through several shooting drills, mechanical accuracy was tested at 25 yards from a solid rest with four different loads. At closer distances, this handgun is capable of putting all of its shots into a single ragged hole. Shooting a compact handgun with a short sight radius to its full potential from the bench requires a great deal of focus, and we found this handgun to be quite sensitive in terms of the amount of gripping force used.
From a reliability standpoint, the SW1911 performed well, though the slide did not return to battery on a few occasions. Like any handgun, this SW1911 was quite dirty after firing more than 3,000 rounds. This only proved that, like any firearm (especially a 1911 variant), preventative maintenance needs to be applied at reasonable intervals.
For shooters that love the ergonomics and shootability of the 1911, but seek a compact choice for every-day carry, the SW1911 Pro Series is a solid choice. This handgun maintains many of the attributes we love on a full-size handgun, but it carries lighter and is more compact. If you are one who prefers to carry a full-size 1911, this would make an excellent backup gun for its similar controls.
Smith & Wesson SW1911 Pro Series
- Type: Recoil operated, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: 9mm
- Capacity: 8+1 rds.
- Overall Length: 6.9 in.
- Height: 4.88 in.
- Weight: 1 lb., 10 oz.
- Material: Stainless steel (slide assy.); scandium alloy (frame)
- Grip: Ergo 1911 XTRO Officer’s
- Trigger: 5 lbs., 5 oz. (tested)
- Safety: Manual lever, frame mounted, ambidextrous; grip safety lever
- Finish: Armornite (slide assy.); anodized (frame)
- Sights: Three-dot, drift adj.; steel
- MSRP: $1,350
- Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson, 413-747-3317, smith-wesson.com
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