April 21, 2023
By James Tarr, Handguns Editor
For a number of years, if you wanted a reliable, polymer-framed striker-fired 9mm pistol in the United States, your only real choice was one of the “Big 3”— a Glock, a Smith & Wesson M&P, or a Springfield Armory XD. The universe of these pistols has of course expanded (just about every company which makes a pistol now makes one which meets that general description), but the number of models from the Big 3 has expanded as well.
Springfield Armory is no different. They offer more versions of the XD than some companies make guns, period. There is the original XD series, the enhanced XD-M models, the compact XD-S, and the newer XD-E. These are polymer-framed pistols, and all but the XD-E are striker-fired guns (the XD-E has an external hammer). They are all available in different sizes, finishes, and calibers, and are made in Croatia to Springfield’s specs. The newest XD line from Springfield is the XD-M Elite, and initially it was offererd in four models, but Springfield has just introduced a fifth — the 3.8" Compact. Let’s just say the XD-M Elite line is tweaked for performance, and with a 14+1 capacity in 9mm, short frame, and a 3.8-inch barrel the 3.8" Compact model is the one best suited for concealed carry, but before we dive into the specifics of this model, and the differences and/or improvements to the “Elite” line, let’s go over the basics of the XD-M.
As polymer-framed, striker-fired pistols go, the XD-M pistols are easy to spot in a crowded field. For the people who hate Glocks because of their aggressive grip angle, the Springfield XD and XD-M pistols have always been popular because they have a grip angle similar to the 1911. Also, like the 1911, they are one of the few striker-fired pistols with a grip safety. Interestingly, if the grip safety isn’t depressed, you can only pull the slide back about half an inch; far enough to check the status of your chamber, but not enough to chamber or eject a round.
The slides have forward and rear cocking serrations. The barrels are hammer forged. Both the barrel and slide have a corrosion-resistant Melonite finish. You get full-length steel recoil spring guide rods with these guns, no matter the size. XD-M pistols come with steel sights. Every model but the OSP versions have front sights with red fiber optic inserts. Which rear sight you see depends on the model. Both the original XD and the newer XD-M pistols sport uniformly good trigger pulls from the factory. At the time of the XD’s introduction its crisper-than-the-competition trigger pull was another reason 1911 fans tended to gravitate toward it. There is some takeup, with a surprisingly crisp (at least for a striker-fired gun) trigger break.
When the XD-M Elite line was introduced about a year ago the four models offered barrel lengths between 3.8 and 5.25 inches, with either iron sights or Springfield’s OSP (Optically Sighted Pistol) option, but every one of those guns had a full-length frame. That provides you great ammo capacity, but at the cost of concealability. As I wrote at the time, “The end result should be no surprise — with that long frame, even the 3.8-inch barreled model isn’t small or easy to conceal. I see them more as open carry/duty/competition/bedside table guns due to their size, no matter their barrel length.”
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Considering self-defense is the thing driving most pistols sales at the moment, is it any wonder Springfield Armory introduced a version of the XD-M Elite suitable for concealed carry? Currently the XD-M Elite pistols are only available in 9mm. The XD-M Elite 3.8" Compact comes with two 14-round stainless steel magazines. While suitable for concealed carry, and in fact much more compact than any of the other pistols in the XD-M Elite line, I don’t want any confusion — this is not a pocket gun. At 6.75-inches long, 5.0-inches tall (with magazine inserted), 1.32-inches wide, and 27.6 ounces empty (according to my scale), this is a hand-filling chunk of a gun. Most people should be able to get all of their fingers on the grip. This means that with the right choice of holster, belt, and covering garment it is easily concealable, but you can also shoot it nearly as fast and accurately as you could a full-sized pistol.
The front sight has a red fiber optic insert. The rear sight is steel with a U-shaped notch, and there is a white half-circle around the outside of the notch. There is a pivoting loaded chamber indicator in the top of the slide. When the stainless steel striker is cocked, you’ll see the end of it protruding slightly from the rear of the slide. It sticks out enough that in low light you should be able to feel it too, provided you aren’t wearing gloves. The frame has a three-slot accessory rail for mounting lights or lasers. The steel magazine release is bilateral, but works in an interesting manner — as you push in on the button, it rotates slightly. You likely won’t notice this at all while using it. The magazine button does not protrude any further than the grip, to prevent accidentally dumping your mag.
There is a bilateral slide stop, but if you lefties are hoping this means you’ll be able to drop the slide with it…the answer to that seems to be…it depends. The right side lever requires much more force to release the slide as the left. Some pistols I’ve tested only required a hair more force on the right lever to drop the slide. This pistol required about ten times more force. If you’re a lefty you’ve probably learned to drop the slide by racking it, as functional right-side slide releases are rare as a logical leftist, so this should be familiar territory.
The XD-M features intercheangeable backstraps, and you get three different sizes with each pistol. However, due to the abbreviated length of this grip, the backstrap segments are somewhat short, only 1.5-inches long. To swap out the backstrap you have to push out a roll pin at the base. Officially this should be done with a 3/32 punch, but I can never find the right tools around my house (yes, I’m that guy who often uses a crescent wrench as a hammer, and a knife as a screwdriver) and usually end up using a hex wrench as my “punch.”
You won’t spot checkering per se on the gripping surfaces of this pistol; Springfield instead has gone with raised squares and rectangles. They do a decent job of keeping your hand in place while shooting. Interestingly, they cover a larger percentage of the grip area on this Compact pistol than they do the larger ones, which I like. More texture on a pistol grip is almost never a bad idea. As for what makes the XD-M Elite pistols different, there are a number of changes. They’re marked XD-M Elite on the left side of the slide, which should be your first clue they’re actually building different pistols, not just slapping different parts on existing models.
The biggest visual difference should be the magazine well. All XD-M Elite pistols now come with a factory-installed polymer magazine well. The 3.8" Compact, standard 3.8, and 4.5-inch XD-M Elite pistols have smaller mag wells, and the 4.5 OSP and 5.25 Precision models have larger magazine wells. The small magazine well on this 3.8-inch model adds just an eigth of an inch to the length to the frame and maybe a quarter inch of width. That still only makes it a hair wider than the bilateral slide stop.
As competition shooters will tell you, even a small magazine well will smooth out and speed up your reload, but don’t think they’re not useful on the street. That’s why the FBI specced them on their newest duty pistols. I do not feel that the magazine well on this pistol sacrifices its concealability at all. However, if at some point you get tired of your magazine well and want to remove it, the process is simple. Drive out the roll pin which holds the backstrap in place. Technically you can now remove the magazine well, by pulling straight down, but it might be tight. At the bottom rear of the backstrap you’ll see a slot, and in that slot you will see a vertical steel pin. Push the top of the pin down and it will slide out of the bottom of your magazine well. You will then easily be able to take the magazine well off, revealing the standard grip frame.
With this 3.8" Compact model, the front of the magazine well was right in the middle of my pinkie finger. If I removed it my pinkie would then be against the frame and be using the finger hook magazine basepad as designed. As I have skinny fingers, your experience may differ. Springfield Armory doesn’t offer replacement magazine wells if you want to try a different size, or want a better-looking one after scratching yours up by practicing your reloads three thousand times, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that changes down the road. So they extend beyond the bottom of the magazine well the magazines have slightly extended basepads.
That, not coincidentally, gives them that 14+1 capacity. The magazines have stainless steel bodies with index holes (going up to 13) and black polymer base pads. If you want more ammo, all longer XD-M and XD-M Elite magazines work with this pistol, which will provide up to a 22+1 capacity. The XD and XD-M pistols have always had bilateral magazine releases, but the slide release only had one lever, on the left side of the gun. With the XD-M Elite line Springfield has added a slide stop on the right side of the gun, but as I mentioned it might not work as well for you as the left side lever for releasing the slide.
These pistols are often the go-to polymer-framed striker-fired guns of 1911 fans because of the grip angle and the familiar grip safety. However, the original XD/XD-M grip safety is a bit flat. The XD-M Elite grip safety now should look even more familiar to 1911 fans, as Springfield has added a bump at the bottom of it for more positive deactivation. In profile and function it resembles the bump found on most modern beavertail 1911 grip safeties, the original of which I believe was the Ed Brown.
For the XD-M Elite pistols the slide serrations have been changed, and arguably improved. They are still flat-bottomed, and on the front and rear of the slide, however the serrations themselves are now twice as wide, and they cover more real estate on the slide. Flat-bottomed slide serrations may not look as sexy and classic as the original angled serrations, but they work much better, especially if your hands are wet or you’re wearing gloves. XDs and XD-Ms have always had very nice trigger pulls for striker-fired guns. That still left room for improvement, however, and with the XD-M Elite series you’ll see the META trigger. META stands for Match Enhanced Trigger Assembly, and the changes are both internal and external.
Externally, the META trigger shoe is much closer to flat. It breaks at a ninety-degree angle, which helps keep your front sight from wiggling side to side as you’re pulling the trigger. The trigger also has an integral overtravel stop. Internally, the trigger components have been tweaked as well, resulting in a trigger pull that is slightly lighter and crisper, as well as having a shorter reset. Reset on my sample was roughly 3/16 of an inch (which is very good), and trigger pull weight was 5.5 pounds. The trigger pull was so smooth and crisp it felt lighter than it was.
Springfield states that the META “…gives you the finest factory trigger available in a polymer-framed pistol.” You’ll note that “finest” is a term vague enough that no one will be able to sue them. Do these pistols have very good trigger pulls? Yes. Not the lightest you’ll find, but they are short, with a crisp break, and make the pistol eminently shootable.
As an aside, from a inveterate (degenerate?) competition shooter who is never satisfied with guns as they come from the factory, I’ve never done a trigger job on one of these pistols, but I’ve been told by gunsmiths who have that the trigger system is very easy to work on if you’re so inclined. I’ve fired dedicated competition XD-Ms with two-pound trigger pulls, accomplished simply by polishing the factory parts. When Springfield’s Rob Leatham won the USPSA Production Division National Championship in 2006 with an XD, you know he wasn’t running a factory trigger pull. Compared to some competing models there aren’t a lot of aftermarket upgrades for the XD/XD-M, but if you’re one of those people like me who can never leave well enough alone, a good place to start is Springer Precision.
In addition to the two magazines provided with the pistol you get two flat basepads with which you can replace the fingerhook basepads that are installed on the magazines. You get a black nylon carrying case adorned with the Springfield Armory name and logo (so it’s not quite a discreet carrying case). Springfield also includes replacement fiber optic rods for the front sight — one red, and one green. Modern fiber optic pistol sights are much more durable than earlier models, but even steel sights occasionally break. Or you may prefer a green rod insert. Either way, installing a new rod is simple and easy and only takes about a minute.
To install a fiber optic sight rod all you’ll need is a knife to cut the rod to length, and a heat source (lighter/match). Track down some how-to videos online, but here are the basics: heat makes the end of a fiber optic rod flare out like a mushroom cap, and that shortens it slightly. To install a new rod, carefully expand the end of the rod with your heat source, stick the other end through the front sight body until the expanded end is snug against the sight body, cut it to length (just a hair longer than the sight) then heat the other end, which will then expand and snug up to the sight on the other side. It may take some practice to get the flare diameter and cut length just right, but luckily you’ve got extra rod length.
This pistol will fit into any holster meant for an XD-M, which means you will already have all sorts of holster choices available. And as I said it accepts all XD-M 9mm magazines, so your chance of finding additional magazines in our current panic-buying climate is increased. As usual, the big sticker on the side of the box NOT LEGAL IN CALIFORNIA just warms my heart. I’ve got a number of holsters which fit this pistol and used one at the range when I wasn’t doing my accuracy testing. I was drawing and firing one, two, or three shots at an IDPA target seven yards away. This exercise ended up being more a test of my draw than the gun, because as long as I had the sights more or less centered on the target and didn’t jerk the trigger too badly I was chewing up the cardboard. The XD-M just soldiered on steadily.
As this is not a tiny gun it was very comfortable to shoot, and +P ammo was not a problem at all. I’ve shot a number of XDs and XD-Ms over the last fifteen years, both because I’ve reviewed them in magazines and also used them on various TV shows I’ve been on. I’ve never experienced a malfunction with any of them that I can remember, which should tell you about their inherent reliability. As a general rule I refuse to use magazine loaders — I already have two, and they’re called thumbs. If you’re like me, XD-M magazines might cause you to rethink your position, as they historically have very strong magazine springs when new.
My only real complaint about this gun is the capacity — the standard for 9mm pistols this size is 15 in the magazine. I think Springfield should have lengthened the frame the eighth of an inch or so to accommodate that extra round. Objectively, will one extra round make much of a difference? Not really, but when all your competitors are offering more capacity in their compact guns, you’re going to lose some sales. It’s not as long or as tall as (for example) a Glock 19, but it is wider and heavier, so is adding that extra bit of length, for one more round, going to hurt or help sales?
I know we lost a lot of people at the beginning of this article, as they flipped ahead muttering, “Another striker-fired 9mm? Why do we need another one? My (insert brand of choice) is great!” First, here’s a shocker for you, people like different things. And second, let me lay a little capitalism on you — competition (including consumer demand) drives manufacturers to improve their products. If it wasn’t for competition, Glock would still be on their first generation of “perfection,” not their fifth (sixth? I’ve honestly lost count).
The is eminently reliable right out of the box, has bilateral controls, good steel sights, great slide serrations, a solid trigger pull, and a mag well, all for a competitive price. The fact that this gun is just one of many competitive designs available to prospective gun owners simply means YOU’RE SPOILED. Springfield’s ad copy for this gun should be simply, “You’re welcome, America.”
Springfield Armory XDM-Elite 3.8-in. Compact Specs
- Type: Striker-fired, semi-auto
- Caliber: 9mm
- Capacity: 14+1 rds.
- Barrel Length: 3.8 in.
- Overall Length: 6.75 in.
- Height: 5 in.
- Width: 1.32 in.
- Weight: 27.6 oz.
- Slide Material: Carbon steel with Melonite coating
- Frame Material: Polymer
- Safeties: Trigger lever, internal drop, grip safety
- Sights: Red fiber optic front, white outline notch rear
- Trigger: 5.5 lbs. (tested)
- Accessories: 2 14-round mags, 3 backstraps, cable lock, case
- MSRP: $560
- Contact: Springfield Armory
About the Author
James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. A former police officer he is a USPSA Production Division Grand Master. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O’Reilly Factor. His current best-selling novel, Dogsoldiers, is available now through Amazon.
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.