Going Over To The Dark Side

Springfield XD pistol
Springfield XD pistol

The Springfield XD-9 Tactical Review by Syd

That I, a long-time and highly visible champion of John Browning’s masterpiece, the M1911, would even consider a piece of combat Tupperware is all but unthinkable, but here I am doing just that. So what’s going on here? Have I lost my mind, sold my soul to the drooling demon of “New and Improved!”? Well, despite my obvious Luddite tendencies, I’m not as allergic to new and different ideas as first glance might suggest. As I have stated publicly and often, I hate Glocks. I think they’re ugly and dangerous. I don’t like the way they feel, sound or shoot. I tried a couple of them when they first came out and was completely under-whelmed. That opinion hasn’t changed despite the plethora of passionate defenses of the gun that I have read. (And please spare me the inflamed “Glocks are the greatest thing since sliced bread, and my buddy the S.E.A.L. says so…” e-mails. If I had to swim for a living, I might prefer Glocks too, but I don’t so I don’t.) Nevertheless, I have been curious about the obvious allure of polymer-framed pistols. Being put-off by my distaste for the Glock’s aesthetics and lack of a meaningful external safety, I had resigned myself to being stuck with the handgun technology of the First World War.

Did I mention that I hate Glocks? Good. So moving right along, Springfield Armory brought out the XD line of pistols in 2000, the XD-9 (9mm) and the XD40 (.40 S&W) in four-inch barrel models. They got good reviews right away. Herein lies a lesson in marketing. The XD’s began life as a Croatian offering called the HS2000. As a product, they really didn’t catch on until they teamed with the formidable Springfield marketing machine, re-branded the pistols as “XD” (for “extreme duty”), and began to sell the guns under the Springfield aegis. The gun is still built in Croatia and is substantially the same firearm as the HS2000. Today, the pistol is available in tactical (5”), duty (4”), and subcompact (3”) pistols chambered in .9mm, .40 S&W, .357 SIG, .45 Glock Auto Pistol (G.A.P.) and .45 ACP.

Suppose, just for the sake of discussion, that Lord Vader is whispering in your ear, “Come over to the dark side, Luke. Small bullets, bottomless magazines, low recoil, long sight radius, better match scores. It’s more fun over here.” Yoda says, “The fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side.” And you say, “Go away you little troll. I’m tired of being at the bottom of the score sheet.” Suppose also, just for the sake of discussion, that you have been suffering from persistent back pain, some arthritis, or carpal tunnel syndrome, and the hard recoiling .45’s have been leaving you feeling battered and sore. Suddenly you see the XD-9 Tactical in a whole new light. You have strayed from the straight and narrow path of the Cooperites. You have been seduced by the Dark Side.

Into the Heart of Darkness
At first glance, one would be tempted to say that the XD is a Glock knock-off. It’s a polymer-framed high-capacity autoloader and it has the little trigger safety flange thingy made famous by the Glocken. But there the similarity ends. The forged and milled slide looks more like a SIG, as do the spare controls. The grip angle is that of a 1911 while the grip shape is reminiscent of the Browning Hi-Power. (Actually, when I squint my eyes, I see the ghost of the Hi-Power in the overall shape of the XD-9 Tactical.) The take-down lever and the slide release look SIG-ish. And, it has a grip safety, like the 1911. The finish of the slide is called “Bruniral” and is said to be “proprietary” and the formula is not released to the public. It looks like something between bluing and parkerization. It is said to be not as tough as the Tenifer finish of the Glocks. A coat of protecting oil is advised for new guns. The finish seems OK to me, but I’m not one of these guys who likes to run over my handguns with trucks.

The XD series of pistols are classified as single action, not double action or “safe action.” When the slide cycles, the striker is fully cocked, not partially in the way the Glock is. The XD may look like a double action pistol but it isn’t, and it doesn’t shoot like one. I was particularly pleased with the long shots that I made with the XD. They were as good or better than with my beloved 1911’s at that range. I give credit for this to the 5 lb. trigger of the XD. It doesn’t “break like a glass rod” but it’s quite clean for this kind of pistol. There is about a quarter inch of take-up, then a bit of creep, and then it breaks. During the “creeping” part, the trigger is lifting the striker block which serves to prevent the pistol from being fired in the event that it is dropped. This trigger is clean enough to make good shots without being so light as to make you nervous that it doesn’t have more external safeties.

To summarize, the XD has three safety mechanisms: the trigger flange safety, the grip safety, and the striker block. OK, I have to do it: is the XD safer than a cocked and locked 1911? Personally, I don’t think so. I can still envision a scenario in which while holstering an XD, the grip safety could be depressed, the trigger could catch on the holster in some way, and an accidental discharge could occur. The XD is simple, like a Glock or a revolver. All you have to do to fire it is to pick it up and pull the trigger. With the 1911, you have to sweep off the thumb safety before the trigger will work. This, to me, provides an additional level of safety.

"Safety" Features
"Safety" Features

Feeling Your Way in the Dark
The tactile presence of this gun is very good. It feels good in your hand. It also has two features which will allow you to know exactly the condition of the gun by touch: a loaded chamber indicator and a cock indicator. On the top of the slide, just behind the ejection port, is a small lever that rises slightly when a round is loaded in the chamber. You can feel it when it is loaded. Also, on the rear of the slide, a small pin protrudes from the slide when the pistol is cocked. Again, you can feel it when the gun is cocked. Visual inspection is not required to know the condition of the pistol. For an extra measure of safety, always visually inspect the chamber to be absolutely sure the gun is unloaded. These tactile condition indicators could be extremely helpful in low-light situations.

When you grasp the pistol, you will notice shallow grooves toward the top of the grips on each side in the position where the thumb and trigger finger naturally grip the pistol. It makes for a very comfortable and positive grip. The grip has coarse checkering on the front and back straps, and stippling on the side panels.

The XD is nearly ambidextrous. Only the slide release shows a clear right-hand bias. It is located only on the left side of the pistol. The magazine release is fully ambidextrous, and southpaws will find the XD significantly more accommodating than traditionally styled pistols which have the controls only on the left side.

“The XD series is the lifeblood of the Croatian factory and as such, is treated with the respect due. They are relying upon this marriage of efforts to keep the wheels turning on the home-front, so no expense or effort is spared in quality control and attention to detail. There is a reason it’s called “old world craftsmanship” and you can see it when you handle the XD. There’s a subtle blend of Eastern European minimalist design and functionality, diluted with a Teutonic flair for what pleases the eye. It works – and it looks good doing it.” – Roy Huntington, March-April 2003 issue of American Handgunner

Whistling in the Dark: The Inevitable Glock Comparison
Did I mention that I hate Glocks? Good. You can’t get through a review of the XD without making the comparison with Glock, so here goes. Both have polymer frames, are square and blocky, and have the little trigger flange safety thing. The sights and trigger on the Glock are plastic; they are steel on the XD. I think the trigger and grip on the XD is better. The XD has a grip safety like the 1911; the Glock does not. The XD pistols tend to be a bit heavier than their Glock counterparts. The grip angle of the XD is similar to the 1911, and for 1911 shooters, the XD points more naturally. The rifling of XD barrels is traditional, making them a tad more friendly to reloads and lead bullets than the polygonal rifling of the Glock. The chamber in the XD is fully supported in contrast to the partially unsupported chamber design of the Glock. While both pistols are striker fired, the XD is fully cocked by the recoil of the slide, making it a single action pistol. The Glock is partially cocked by recoil, and then the cocking is finished by the trigger pull. Opinion time: I feel that the better trigger and grip, the supported chamber, traditional rifling, grip safety and steel sights make the XD an improvement over the Glock.

Light out of Darkness: Other Features I like about the XD-9 Tactical
Of course, I like the 16-round magazines (“…a gun you can load on Sunday and shoot all week.”). Unlike the Glock, the trigger and sights are made of steel rather than plastic. It is quick and easy to field strip the pistol and it requires no special tools. The XD line of pistols has the now ubiquitous Picatinny accessory rail for lights and/or laser sights. ( …if you like that sort of thing. I like laser sights, but to me, a light on a pistol can be a “show me where to shoot” indicator. Perhaps, if I was on a SWAT team, I would feel differently about lights mounted on guns, but…) Regardless of your opinion of tactical headlights, it’s nice to have the option.

Target At Seven Yards
Target At Seven Yards

A Shot in the Dark
All of the cool 21st Century features are useless if the gun doesn’t shoot well. I found the accuracy of the XD-9 Tactical to be rewarding. Essentially, the gun is capable of whatever accuracy that I’m willing to settle down and shoot. If I put the sights where I want the bullet to go and use adequate trigger control, the bullet goes there. The single action trigger really helps in this regard. In range testing, I got some fliers that I couldn’t explain, but after carefully bracing myself and shooting ragged holes, I tend to blame the fliers on myself rather than the gun. The gun points very naturally for me. The grip angle is substantially the same as the M1911A1, and it points intuitively for one accustomed to an M1911. (The target at the left is 16 rounds.)

Sight Picture
Sight Picture

I did notice that I have a tendency to shoot high with this pistol. The manual says that the XD-9 is designed to use the “6 o’clock” sighting position at 25 yards, meaning that one should put the sights at the 6 o’clock position of the point you wish the bullet to impact. The manual should be taken seriously on this. The gun isn’t sighted for “point of aim.” shooting. Once I adjusted to this characteristic of the gun, I quit shooting high. With the 5″ barrel, the trajectory of the 9mm at 25 yards is pretty much flat. I found myself shooting very well at 25 yards, a range at which I generally do poorly. I would dare say that I shoot the XD-9 Tactical better at 25 yards than I do with the 1911. The one area where I thought the 1911 was clearly superior was in hammers, fast pairs of shots fired as quickly as you can pull the trigger. (I consider the “double tap” to be a different technique than the “hammer” The double tap is a pair of quick sighted shots. Hammers are pairs of fast shots fired from one initial sight picture.) The 1911, with its very short trigger reset, is quicker at hammers than the XD.

Shooting the XD
Shooting the XD

Range Testing
I took the XD to a match/training session, with emphasis on defensive pistolcraft training. The XD was a pleasure to shoot. I never did shoot to slide lock, not even once, but the stages were fairly revolver friendly and we did a significant number of reload drills, so I got plenty of practice on reloads. I think the 1911 is quicker on the trigger. That’s the one place where I think the 1911 is clearly superior to a gun like this. We did one speed drill called the “5-5-5,” five shots in five seconds at five yards into a five-inch square, starting with sights on the target. Shots outside the square deducted one second. My best time on that one was 1.6 seconds. That’s fairly quick. I could have shot it faster with the 1911 but I’m not sure I could have kept the shots within the target square at that speed. This is a terrific pistol for gun games. Alex shot about 25 photos of me shooting and never once caught me with the muzzle up in the air. I did have trouble with the motion of re-holstering without putting the safety on. That bothered me. I guess I could get used to it, but old habits die hard. Jim Wilson has an interesting observation on holstering the XD:

“One problem with other striker-fired pistols is the danger of taking the slide out of battery during the act of holstering the pistol. When it comes time to fire that all-important first defensive shot, these pistols will not fire if the slide is not all the way forward. Springfield’s XD pistols solve that with their grip safety. When the shooter is holstering his XD pistol, he simply does not depress the grip safety, and therefore it cannot come out of battery.” – Sheriff Jim Wilson in Shooting Times magazine

Reliability has been excellent. The pistol has experienced no malfunctions in our testing so far. I will say that most of our shooting has been done with 115g FMJ ammo rather than hollowpoints. Again, from the sheriff:

“I found the XD family of pistols to be very reliable. And in shooting a variety of ammunition through the guns, there was not a single malfunction. All controls were easy to access and manipulate. I purposely didn’t spend any time cleaning the guns between testing sessions because I wanted to see how the XD pistols handled when they were full of dust and powder residue. The results were extremely good and qualify the design for service use.” – Sheriff Jim Wilson in Shooting Times magazine

Chaim Stein did a 20,000 round torture test on a service model XD which included subjecting the pistol to neglect, immersion in every kind of mud, dirt and sand he could think of, plus other random and sundry abuse. His conclusion?

“Damned impressive… I completed this test with a great deal of admiration for this handgun. So much so, in fact, that it is now my nightstand gun. More than 20,000 rounds later, with no failures to feed or fire and hardly any wear to the gun’s finish, I have no trouble whatsoever betting my safety on its performance.”

– Chaim Stein in Handguns magazine

With several range and class sessions under my belt with the XD-9, the best description I can think of my attitude toward it is that I have completely quit thinking about it. The bullets go where I put them and there simply are no reliability issues with it. Strong hand, weak hand, weird positions, whatever, the gun just runs. I have gone several sessions without a cleaning and the gun just runs. It just runs, and runs very well.

Springfield XD Pistol
Springfield XD Pistol

You could, but you probably wouldn’t. The XD-9 Tactical is as large as a Government Model .45, thicker than a Government Model, but a bit lighter. You could carry this gun but it would be large and heavy. Some people like to carry big guns and don’t have trouble in either packing or concealing them. For myself, I prefer something a bit more compact and lighter in weight. I do think that the Service Model (4” barrel) or the Sub-Compact (3”) would make excellent concealed carry options (with all the normal caveats about them being blocky, square, and a tad thick). However, with a good holster and firm belt, you can carry this gun. I have been carrying it just to test it, and with the right leather, it actually carries pretty well. It’s definitely lighter than a Government Model.

In the dark on “Tactical”
“Tactical” is such a cool word. It is an adjective that refers to some aspect of tactics. Tactics are actions and strategies, not things. But, today, we have tactical boots, tactical shirts, tactical lights, tactical… It’s as if the gun and accessory makers don’t believe they can sell something unless it is called “tactical.” If present trends continue, we will have tactical cat food and armchairs before very long. Perhaps some enterprising soul could come up with a line of tactical lingerie for the ladies, featuring lots of ballistic nylon, Kevlar, and Velcro. Is the XD-9 Tactical “tactical”? Well, it has the now obligatory accessory rail for lights and laser sights, but even the sub-compact XD has that. The XD-9 Tactical is black, but so is my mouse. Black is the official color of “tactical.” Perhaps, I have a “tactical” mouse. The XD-9 has high-capacity magazines, but so does every other autoloader sold since the AWB went the way of the dodo. The characteristic which defines the “Tactical” model for Springfield is that the barrel is 5” long. It is true that some SF, SWAT and MEU types prefer 5” barreled pistols for their increased muzzle velocity and perceived reliability. Does a five inch barrel make a pistol “tactical”? I don’t know, but the pistol definitely has the look.

Springfield XD in a box
Springfield XD in a box

A Stroke of Marketing Genius
Springfield Armory made the decision to sell the XD in a “kit” which includes kydex holster, magazine pouch, magazine loader, and some other odds and ends like a bore brush. You have to hand it to them; it’s a slick and attractive package. A new shooter could buy the kit and have all the gear necessary to shoot a match, short of eyes, ears and ammo. These add-ons are solidly constructed and handy – not necessarily optimal, but they will do. The magazine loader is especially useful because the magazine springs are very stiff and it’s hard to get the magazines topped off by hand. I’m not particularly fond of the holster. It’s a “one size fits all” quick slide type of holster. It has an accessory rail for storing your light or laser sight (as does the magazine pouch). The holster seemed to allow too much movement along the belt. At the match, the muzzle of the gun had a way of finding its way into the hip pocket of my jeans, and I didn’t like that. In my opinion, the holster allows the gun to rock in and out too much on the belt. I would want to replace this holster.

Dark Star: Conclusion & Summary
I like this pistol. It is solidly constructed and well thought-out. While it may appear to be a knock-off, it is actually a unique design that draws upon some of the best features of earlier designs, particularly the Glock, the SIG, and the 1911. The XD-9 Tactical is particularly well suited to IDPA-type match shooting and classes. The gun is solid enough for serous duty. It has the reliability, ruggedness and precision required by military and law enforcement applications. I would also speculate that it would do better than the M9 in sandy environments like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Will I get rid of my 1911 and adopt the XD-9 as my be-all, end-all, “answer to all questions” pistol? Probably not. Would I shoot a bunch of matches and classes with the XD-9? You bet.

“I think the XD-9 has all the traits necessary to become a legendary pistol and at the very least represents the first quantum leap in handgun technology since the Glock first appeared in the mid-1980s. I agree with those who’ve said that it must withstand the test of time before unequivocal endorsement of it can be made, but add that it certainly shows all the signs of being a big-time winner! It’s without a doubt a true 21st century pistol and from what I’ve seen so far, a good one, at that. Check out the XD-9. Like me, I think you’ll find it to be a heck of a handgun.” – Chuck Taylor, http://www.chucktaylorasaa.com/SpringfieldXD-9.html

Springfield XD pistol
Springfield XD pistol


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