.45 Flat: Springfield's XD-S

posted on December 17, 2013

It should be obvious that a concealed-carry handgun needs to be both concealable and easy to carry. These features tend to ensure the gun will achieve so-called “habitual carry” status—and therefore be present when the dark day comes and it’s needed. Fierce competition in the concealed-carry handgun market continues to drive the development of more and better guns for that purpose. However, in their concern to build smaller, lighter guns, some manufacturers have relied on cartridges that may be less than ideal for fighting. If you are crowded into a defensive shooting situation with a handgun, you are almost certainly better off with something that can effectively deliver several of the biggest possible projectiles. In other words, a .45 ACP.

While this argument makes very good sense, it’s hard to convince a designer he should persevere in his efforts to miniaturize a .45 ACP pistol. It takes clever engineering to make those chubby rounds run through a small semi-automatic. It’s also difficult to convince a shooter that he really needs to put up with the slightly increased bulk of a .45 as well as additional muzzle blast, recoil and ammo expense. Springfield Armory now offers a pistol that pretty well resolves everyone’s dilemma. Enter the XD-S.

A Little History
As the designation suggests, the XD-S is the latest in a long, strong series of modern semi-automatic pistols that flow from the original HS2000 pistol imported to America from a new factory in Croatia. The simple, rugged HS2000 drew a lot of attention at the turn of the 21st century. In short order, the gun-savvy folks who run Springfield Armory contacted the manufacturer, HS Produkt, and struck a deal to further develop and market the design. In the last 10 years, the Illinois firm has come up with a host of variations of the basic pistol. We have regular service pistols, long ones, compacts and nearly endless finish choices. The first models were chambered for 
9 mm, but .40 S&W and .357 SIG pistols quickly followed. It took a little engineering to get the bigger .45 ACP cartridge into the gun, but you can now have your XD in that American-favorite cartridge. Springfield even offered a handful of guns in .45 GAP.

It’s fair to say the XD has been a marked success for the company.

Before we get into a detailed evaluation of the latest—and very different—XD pistol, we need to look closely at the major features of the XD system. This is a modern service pistol designed for use by military and police forces, which is also perfect for defensive-minded civilian and competitive shooters. Like all guns in this class, it is chambered for high-performance cartridges that require a locked-breech system. In the XD’s case, it is the familiar downward-tilting barrel for typical recoil-
actuated operation.

During the period in which the XD was developed, advanced forms of composites came into their own for the making of firearms, and polymer is now being used for pistol receivers in many popular models. The XD series, having a polymer frame with distinctive, molded-in checkering, is no exception. Heat-treated, steel guide rails pinned to the frame provide a durable interface with the slide.

Two more features firmly place XD pistols into the modern duty/defensive category. Almost all use some form of simplified, but secure, trigger system that does not require active manipulation of intermediate controls to get the gun into action. (One Service model and another Tactical model come with a frame-mounted, manual safety.) And of course, Springfield follows the trend and furnishes every XD model with a magazine holding two columns of cartridges for increased capacity.

Until now, that is. In this last particular, the newest XD model differs. The XD-S is a .45 ACP pistol calculated for concealed carry. Its designers immediately saw the wide-body design that had worked so well for them in the past was simply too thick to readily conceal. The single-stack magazine, shortened for the XD-S butt, takes only five rounds. The company made other size and weight modifications, and ended up with an uncommonly appealing, little hideout pistol.

Handily Modern
Only 1 inch thick, 4.4 inches high and just 6.3 inches long, the XD-S is not very big for a 5+1 round, recoil-operated, .45 ACP pistol. When you consider the empty gun weighs just 21.5 ounces, you begin to get a picture of what an efficient little package this is. And while Springfield downsized the XD design to arrive at the XD-S, the company did not compromise on features. Everything found on the full-size XD(M) pistols is present on this mini version. Black in color, the pistol’s slide/ barrel assembly is finished in Melonite, a material well-known in the firearm industry for extreme durability. That matches well with the flat-black, molded-polymer receiver. It’s businesslike in the extreme.

A more detailed look at the XD-S begins with the upper half. The gun’s forged-steel slide has that blocky, squarish look so common on modern pistols. All edges are nicely rounded, and it’s beveled at the muzzle end to facilitate reholstering. A big ejection port cut from the top dips about two-thirds of the way to the bottom edge of the slide on the right side and even extends a bit below the top edge on the left. In the lower-right corner of the ejection port sits a spring-loaded extractor. On top of the slide behind the port, a loaded-chamber indicator reveals the status of the gun by either touch or sight. Fixed sights, dovetailed in place, grace the top of the slide with a red fiber-optic element in the front post and two white dots flanking the rear notch.

At just 3.3 inches long, the barrel of the XD-S is the shortest Springfield has ever offered on a model belonging to the XD family. Because cycling .45 ACP rounds can be an issue in chopped-down pistols, the company gives the XD-S barrel a highly polished feed ramp to usher rounds into the supported chamber and help eliminate hang-ups. Like the slide, the barrel has a Melonite finish to protect against wear and corrosion. The captive, dual-recoil-spring assembly nestled beneath the barrel is tuned to the force produced by the .45 ACP cartridge and the mass of the slide, in effect harnessing the recoil and using it to chamber a round while returning the slide to battery. Finding the correct combination of springs and slide that guarantees reliable function is a highly technical chore, but Springfield has managed to accomplish just that in the XD-S.

The receiver is a continuation of the style seen on earlier XD models. It has strong modernistic elements that are at the same time ergonomically well executed. A semi-automatic pistol needs to sit as low in the hand as possible, in order to keep the line of recoil thrust close to the shooter’s grasp for control. The XD-S has a pocket for the web of the shooting hand high on the backstrap, and the result is pretty good recoil management. Toward the same end, the relief under the trigger guard is very high, which allows placing the middle finger of the firing hand well up on the grip. Near the top of the grip on each side, a bathtub-like depression leads to a trigger-approach recess. These depressions accommodate the extended trigger finger and the thumb.

Although it is very small for a powerful pistol, the XD-S sits nicely in the hand. A certain amount of adjustment is possible by installing the second backstrap that comes with the gun. The frame’s molded-in panels of square checkering, recesses, ridges and the like are all calculated to appeal to the eye at the same time they’re practical. Interestingly enough, the XD pistol represents a return to the old European practice of serializing all major components. Receiver, slide and barrel all wear the pistol’s serial number.

Small but Safe
The XD-S has a typical trigger in the sense that it pivots at top of the trigger guard. It includes a passive trigger safety in the form of a little lever in the face. This is an old feature first seen on revolvers of the Victorian era, but modern pistol 
makers have recycled the idea. Origination matters little—the design works. So does another concept borrowed from John M. Browning: a grip safety. In this case, the part is a small crescent of steel projecting from the backstrap. Like the trigger safety, this one ensures the gun must be held in a firm grasp in order to fire. Springfield calls the trigger arrangement in all XD pistols, including the XD-S, the Ultra Safety Assurance system. Some observers characterize the trigger as being double-action-only, and it does act a little like that. However, that is not completely accurate, because active trigger pressure does little more than release a striker cocked by the movement of the slide. Simply grasping the gun as if to fire clears the various safeties. Firm and deliberate trigger pressure releases the striker and yields the familiar boom. Whatever its trigger system may be labeled, the XD-S is a very safe pistol to carry and use. If there is going to be an undesired firing, it will not come by accident, but rather by some damned fool’s negligence.

Other controls include a magazine catch at the junction of the trigger guard and the butt on both sides. Inward pressure on either of the round, checkered-steel buttons drops the magazine. A slide lock resides on the upper edge of the receiver’s left side, just above the thumb when the pistol is held in a firing grip, for use when circumstance demands. Forward of that, a pivoting lever permits takedown for cleaning.

Concealed Control
All XD pistols come with considerable largess from Springfield. In the case of the XD-S, you get two five-shot magazines and one longer seven-rounder. A collar surrounds the base of the larger magazine and in essence extends the butt. With the extended magazine in place and a round up the spout, the XD-S becomes an eight-shot .45, and that’s a lot like you-know-what. You also get a polymer paddle holster and a matching, double-magazine pouch. Best of all, everything ships in a big, strong polymer case with foam lining and cutouts for all the goodies.

In our test protocol, we fire handguns at 25 yards, shooting five consecutive, five-shot groups. I did that first, with results that were predictable but still a trifle disappointing. The accuracy seemed to be as good as anything in the class, but shootability was a bit of a problem. With no available Ransom Rest inserts, I fired from a concrete bench and sandbags. Plainly, the trigger pull was heavy and gritty, which is always a problem. But I had more difficulty because of the reduced contact surface with my oversized hand. The gun wanted to squirm around something awful.

However, when I went over to shooting Gunsite silhouettes at 7 and 10 yards, another aspect of performance came out. In a proper Weaver stance, applying appropriate push/pull with the hands, the pistol’s sharp recoil was controllable. This is the kind of handling for which the gun was developed. The XD-S is a purely defensive firearm, never intended for use at Camp Perry and not even designed for very much casual plinking with the boys on Saturday afternoon. This is a pistol you train with often and carry all the time. Springfield Armory gives fans of the .45 a scaled-down option they can conceal easily and trust with the XD-S.

Manufacturer: HS Produkt; Karlovac, Croatia
Importer: Springfield Armory; (800) 680-6866, springfield-armory.com
Action Type: Recoil-operated, semi-automatic
Caliber: .45 ACPCapacity: 5+1 (7+1 with extended magazine)
Frame: PolymerSlide: Forged steel with Melonite finish
Barrel: Cold-hammer-forged steel with Melonite finish; 3.3 inches
Rifling: 6 grooves; 1:16-inch RH twistSights: Fixed; two-dot rear, red fiber-optic front
Trigger Pull Weight: 6 pounds, 4 ouncesLength: 6.3 inches
Width: 1 inch
Height: 4.4 inches
Weight: 21.5 ounces
Accessories: Two five-round magazines, one seven-round magazine with sleeve, polymer holster and double-magazine holder, interchangeable backstrap insert, lock, lockable hard case, manualMSRP: $599


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