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Small Gun, Big Bore: Springfield XD-S Review

by Frank W. James   |  December 12th, 2012 20

Springfield Armory introduced the XD-S at the 2012 SHOT Show. While it’s in the subcompact size range, it is also one of the few in this class chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge.

The consumer interested in a self-defense handgun today can have his pick of a wide variety of medium-size to smallish medium-bore semi-autos, but when it comes to big bores, and by that I mean those small handguns chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge, the selection narrows precipitously. The field was increased by one nearly a year ago when Springfield Armory introduced the XD-S at the 2012 SHOT Show.

I was there when Rob Leatham introduced this new design at the day-before Media Day range session and after shooting a few magazines through the prototype sample I have to say it intrigued me. After all, here is a gun small enough to be classified as a sub-compact, but it is chambered for .45 ACP and its barrel length is only 3.3 inches.

Springfield, like many other manufacturers of 1911 style pistols, has offered semi-auto designs with short barrel lengths in the past, but some consumers have voiced concerns over reliability issues. Most of us have come to acknowledge the fact that subcompact .45 caliber pistols in general are somewhat finicky when it comes to reliable operation with various self-defense loads. Oh, they will work very well with a specific load, but the problem comes into play in trying to find the right load for the specific gun in question.

Would this new short-barreled .45 prove as problematic in terms of functional reliability as many 1911 subcompacts? In all fairness, that’s no particular criticism of Springfield’s small 1911 but rather of the breed in general, regardless of manufacturer.

The Heritage
The “XD” series of semi-auto pistols has proven quite successful for Springfield Armory, and for good reason. They follow the popular trend of featuring a polymer frame, a striker fired and easy-to-operate mechanical design, together with ample magazine capacity. The Springfield Armory XD series of full-sized pistols are all known for their ease of operation and large capacity magazines.

To start with, it is important to point out the XD series of pistols are all single-action-only, semi-auto designs and should not be confused with pistols that are very similar in appearance but operate with trigger systems that complete the cocking of their firing systems with completion of the trigger pull. The advantage to this system is it is easy to operate and due to an exceedingly good trigger pull, very easy for even the average marksman to shoot accurately.

Some criticize the concept of a single-action semi-auto design for reasons of safety, but the XD series of pistols, and specifically the XD-S, come with multiple safety features that insure they are among the safest consumer handguns on the market today.

Springfield Armory has labeled its trigger system, the “USA Trigger System” and here “USA” stands for “Ultra Safety Assurance.” The USA trigger system locks the trigger in place until direct rearward pressure is applied to the face of the trigger during the trigger pull. This is accomplished by means of a simple vertical blade that protrudes from the center of the trigger and must be directly depressed before the trigger pull can be completed.

Additionally, the XD series of pistols and the XD-S come with a grip safety, but unlike the well-known 1911 grip safety, which can be hard for some to engage properly, this grip safety consists of a simple wide blade in the center of the grip that is easy to engage and activate the firing mechanism of the gun, but yet it protects against accidental discharge because it requires the operator to grip the gun firmly.

There is also an internal striker block safety that acts as a drop safety and is only released through pressure on the grip safety.

Although it’s not often thought of as a safety device in the direct sense, the XD-S, like all the other XD designs features a loaded chamber indicator. Quite simply it is a metal flag that sticks up slightly above the flat surface of the top of the slide whenever the chamber has a round or cartridge case in it. The big advantage here is it can be felt in low light conditions and one can ascertain whether the gun is loaded without light or even a visual glance.

Of course, a safety feature of any XD pistol that the XD-S has expanded on is the methodology of field-stripping the design for cleaning and routine maintenance. Springfield Armory calls it the “Fail-Safe Disassembly,” and unlike all the other XD pistols in their product line, the disassembly lever on the left side of the frame of the XD-S cannot be manipulated when there is a magazine in the gun.

The magazine must be removed in order to operate this latch. A magazine cannot be inserted into the pistol if the disassembly latch is in the vertical position.

Disassembly is pretty straightforward. Keep the pistol pointed in a safe direction and remove the magazine. Retract the slide to empty the chamber and check to make sure it is, in fact, empty. Lock the slide to the rear with the slide stop.

Rotate the disassembly latch to the vertical position. Recheck to make sure the chamber is empty, once again, and then release the slide and slowly allow it to go forward. While maintaining control on the slide, point the gun in a safe direction and pull the trigger to release the slide from the frame. Remove the recoil spring assembly and then the barrel from the slide to complete field stripping the XD-S.

The big safety factor here is the fact none of this can be accomplished with the magazine in the gun.

The Physical Size…
The Springfield Armory XD-S is narrow, and that means it just flat feels good in the shooter’s hand. Its width is right at 1 inch. There is an indented recess just aft the trigger on both sides of the coarse checkered polymer frame that accomplishes two things; the first is it shortens the trigger reach for the shooter whether right- or left-handed, and secondly it provides a positive location for the strong side thumb. Positioning the hand securely on this pistol also insures the grip safety is positively engaged.

Empty, the gun weighs only 21.5 ounces. The overall length is 6.3 inches with an overall height of 4.4 inches when the short five-round magazine is inserted.

There will be those who criticize this limited ammunition capacity, but I am not among their number. This is a six-shot pistol that is narrower than a standard snubnose revolver chambered for a big bore round, and offers one more round of capacity in the bargain. It would be hard to find any competitive design in this caliber that provides the combination of features found with the XD-S.

You must ask which is more important to you: the effectiveness of the chambered round or the reservoir of ammo in the gun? I think actual case histories will make a strong case that an effective chambering should have the edge over the number of BBs in the gun.

The iron sights that come standard on  the XD-S are superb for a gun meant to be carried often and shot little, because they would work exceedingly well on any “range” pistol regardless of size. The front sight is secured to the front of the XD-S slide in a dovetail cut and it features a bright fiber optic insert. Even my older eyes found it quick and easy to pick up on a dimly indoor range during one of several test sessions.

The rear sight is a sloped design with a finely serrated back face and two white dots on either side of the U-notch. The entire unit is mounted to the rear of the slide by means of a dovetail cut in the rear of the slide.

Shooting the XD-S
The trigger pull measured a consistent 6.0 pounds on an RCBS trigger pull scale. For a self-defense gun of this size and weight, that is certainly a reasonable pull weight. What I found delightful was the relative short reset distance the trigger has to travel to reset the sear for rapid-fire sequences. Of course, one didn’t have to work at resetting the trigger, recoil in the heavier loads usually make that a mindless effort to achieve.

Yes, the felt recoil with this 21.5-ounce polymer gun is noticeable when shooting some of the more robust loads out there, but in my opinion it is nowhere close to that felt with any type of double-action magnum revolver.

To test the reliability of the gun, I ran more than 250 rounds of various handloads through the sample XD-S and the truth is I never experienced a problem. I used handloads because the factory ammo fairy doesn’t appear like he used to, plus I wanted to see just how sensitive this gun was to various power levels in terms of loads. The truth is this gun runs. I can’t say it any other way.

For the factory stuff, I got good groups with Winchester 230-grain PDX1 bonded hollow-point ammo that averaged 830 fps. The Speer 230-grain Gold Dot five-shot groups were good as well, but it seemed like I always jerked out an inadvertent flyer on every one. The groups themselves were not target grade groups in that none were under an inch at the distance of 7 yards, but then with the combination of a dimly lit indoor range, the felt recoil and the size and weight of this self-defense pistol I found them all acceptable.

Remington’s 185-grain bronze Golden Saber load averaged 892 fps out of the Springfield XD-S and the Speer Gold Dot “short barrel” hollow point averaged 801 fps.

The Springfield XD-S is a comfortable and reliable pistol that sets itself apart from the others in the ever increasing legions of small, polymer framed self-defense pistols by offering a unique combination of size and power that few will be able to challenge. One question it answered quite convincingly for me was this is one small .45 ACP caliber pistol with a short 3-inch barrel that works, with a wide variety of loads.

The XD-S is available from Springfield Armory, Dept. SGN, 420 West Main St., Geneseo, IL 61254-1571, tel: 309-944-8994, fax: 309-944-3676, toll-free: 1-800-680-6866 and has a MSRP of $599.


The Springfield Armory XD-S has a barrel length of only 3.3 inches. James discovered this short barrel does not in any way impede the gun’s reliability with most .45 loads.

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