Got another chance today, while in Soldotna, to check out a gun counter, and this time I ran into another piece I had not yet met: the Springfield Armory XD-S single-stack .45 ACP.
Not a lot in the gun design world excites me any more, with most new offerings being "new hat!" re-hashes of traditional designs and features that seem to impress people who don't shoot very much. There are a few, of course, that are and have always been exceptional, and they remain. But it can be hard to get really jazzed about new designs when their feature sets seem to have come from a marketing department rather than from people who live with the guns every day.
Which is why I very much wanted to meet this XD-S. This design actually does seem exciting, although to be blunt there is absolutely nothing revolutionary about it. It simply represents a collection of attributes that is operationally useful to someone who actually wears a gun regularly; that is: it's exciting because it should prove really good at its intended role.
In short, I expected to be impressed, on the strength of buzz such as this...and I am impressed.
The gun really is tiny (0.9" slide and grip width, 1" overall width at slide stop, 4" tall from the top of the slide to the bottom of the magazine floorplate, and less importantly, 6.3" overall length) and yet controls are well-laid out and my large-ish hand had no problem getting a good hold on the grip. This is no larger than a Kahr CM40, in the most important dimensions for a carry gun: width and height. And the XD-S is a 5+1 .45 ACP, whereas the Kahr is a 5+1 .40 S&W. No slight to the .40 there, but let's face it: the reason I'm interested in the .40 in the first place is that I can either get a smaller gun than the same in .45, or with the .40 I can get another round or two in the magazine at the same size. Hmm.
It's a 21.5 ounce gun. This is right in between the lightest .40s like the Kahr (17.7oz), and the smallest aluminum-framed 1911s (~25oz). The only place you're going to notice this being a heavier gun is on your ankle or in your pocket; in a serious carry holster it's going to "carry lighter" than many other guns which may weigh less but have fat or long grips.
The XD-S is striker-fired, and the trigger on the sample I saw today was a very good striker-fired trigger. Distinctly better than any Glock I've met, if not quite up to the luxurious pull quality of Kahrs, and of course it may break in smoother with use. There is a perceptible amount of overtravel, but that seems to be inherent in all the partial-cocking striker designs, and I admit I was looking for things to find wrong. What was unequivocally outstanding was the short reset. It's not "1911 short" (nothing is like that), but it is much, much better than its competitors, which typically require a revolver-length reset.
Reset length is one of those things that is trivial, until it's not. And there are two cardinal values of a short reset. The obvious one is what it can do for delivering multiple shots. Anyone who has learned to "ride the disconnector" on a 1911 understands just how much easier it is to deliver a second precision shot with a short-reset trigger, than (as most of us learned the comparison originally) with a revolver. (It's one of the reasons why 1911 aficionados can't shut up about how good the trigger design is: it really is that exceptional.) But here is a less obvious value that may be even more practically important than that: a short-reset trigger, combined with a generous trigger guard, is a demonstrably superior "glove gun". In places where you get a lot of winter (ahem), you're often wearing gloves, and the last thing you want is to manage to get off your first shot, but be unable to deliver your second because the gloved trigger finger, having fully depressed the trigger and subsequently poked fully through the trigger guard, now actually prevents the trigger from returning far enough forward to reset.
In the space of a few dry-snaps, my conclusion was that the short reset was very noticeable on the XD-S, and highly appreciated. At speed (well...what you can do simulating a reset shot in a gun store), it seemed even shorter, and the backlash less pronounced: all in all, an excellent trigger for its purpose.
The steel magazine seemed very sturdy and the release buttons (one on each side of the grip) were positive. Magazine release and seating seemed positive and natural, and I'd expect reloads to be quick and smooth. Most of us will need to open the shooting hand slightly to avoid pinching due to the short grip length, but we've learned how to do that already, and it's no different here.
My understanding is that the guns run extremely well, but in the case of stoppages the controls are ergonomic enough that it feels little different than a full-sized pistol. And speaking of ergonomics, I found the little grip safety completely un-noticeable, there were no notable sharp edges, and even with the larger backstrap insert in place (I'd almost certainly swap it for the smaller one) the grip shape and texture is excellent, promising control without being "sticky".
What don't I like about the piece? Well, I sure don't go in for chamber indicators--as Jeff Cooper used to say, "I would rather look and see than put my trust in a gadget"--but it doesn't seem to get in the way, either. I admit I'm not a fan of the fiber-optic front sight, but that's easy enough to replace, and hell, I may wind up changing my mind on that anyway as my eyes age. Likewise, I would always prefer to have a 1911-style manual safety, but that's a personal preference, and if I can't get a frame-mounted, up-for-safe down-for-fire, positive safety lever, I'll be quite happy with the striker guns' passive internal safeties, thanks.
In the hand, the gun has the feel of having a lot of mass up high. This is mostly a trivial aesthetic thing; this gun is nothing at all like the "who actually thought anyone would buy this thing?" Heckler & Koch .40 caliber P7, which feels like someone took a regular P7 and welded a solid steel 2x4 to the top of the slide. WTF? Nonetheless the impression struck me, especially after comparing against the luxuriously small and light Diamondback DB9 further down in the case. (Now that thing really is a whole class lighter and smaller than the XD-S or CM40; a 6+1 9x19mm that is 0.80" wide, 4.0" tall, and only 11 ounces. Noticeably flatter, and enough lighter that it really would be at home in a pocket.)
Yeah, that's about it for dislikes. And again, I was trying to find things wrong. Presuming that the guns run like the previous entrants in the XD line (which is to say, spectacularly), and that hits in live-fire are as simple and easy as the design seems to promise, it would be hard to establish a superior choice for a general-purpose, do-it-all carry piece.
Shit. Now I want one.