by Patrick Sweeney
At the last SHOT Show, I walked up to the Springfield Armory range (the day before the show opens, there’s a hands-on range day) and saw Springfield’s Robbie Leatham. After our usual exchange of greetings, he asked me, “Have you seen it?” There on the table was the new Springfield XDs. The little blaster in question was a surprise to just about all of us.
“I didn’t know about it until I walked on the range this morning,” Robbie told me. That’s how much of a secret it was. I’m glad I got there early. Everyone was soon crowding around to see, handle and shoot it. I’m sure whatever ammo they planned on shooting was exhausted soon after lunch.
Why the excitement? Simple. This is the single-stack, compact carry .45 that the polymer-and-striker crowd has long been clamoring for. The specifications will give you an idea, but you really have to hold one to get a feel for how compact and slick it is. Springfield built the XDs around a five-round single-stack magazine and the resulting frame is amazingly easy to wrap your hand around. Yes, it has interchangeable backstraps, but the result is simply to change the pitch in your hand, not make it bigger and/or bulkier.
The rest of it is a mix of the previous XD and XD-M: striker-fired, grip safety, aggressive frame texturing and low-profile sights. Underneath, aggressive molded-in checkering and a rail for a light. On top we have three-dot sights in transverse dovetails, the front one being fiber optic, and in between them is a loaded-chamber indicator. Don’t like what Springfield has up there? Don’t worry. Soon the night sight makers will have ones to fit. Add in an ambidextrous magazine catch, an amazingly slim profile and you’ve got the perfect bigbore summer gun.
The short barrel—while making the gun easy to carry—will be criticized by some as “sacrificing velocity.” Let’s back up here. The .45 does its work not by speed, but by mass and frontal area. Yes, you’ll lose some velocity with a barrel that short, but not like other calibers, and not so much that a bad guy will notice much. In the chronograph session, I found that I had factory loads that boosted a 230-grain bullet past 740 fps. That makes Major in any practical shooting competition.
The compact grip also makes concealed carry easier, as the shorter frame is less likely to print under your shirt or jacket. It does, however, cut down on capacity. The magazine holds five rounds, the chamber one more. As far as capacity goes, the XDs essentially gives you a bigbore revolver. Not too shabby—actually, pretty amazing when you consider the compact size.
I’ve carried revolvers, and I wasn’t too worried about not having enough ammunition. Not then, not now. And despite spending several decades practicing revolver reloads, I’m still going to be faster reloading the XDs than a wheelgun.
When the XDs was on display on the SHOT Show floor, the first question I heard was “Why not 9mm or .40 S&W?” Relax. Springfield is well aware that whatever caliber it unveiled it in first, it would be second-guessed. Look at it this way: a compact carry gun in .45 ACP is relatively easy to tune down to .40 or 9mm. Springfield started with the big stick, the difficult-to-manage engineering task first. Now it’ll be an easier refinement to make it in lesser calibers.
Weight? It isn’t exactly helium-filled, but for a .45 it’s pretty wispy. At an empty, mag-less weight of just over 19 ounces, the XDs by itself weighs the same as three loaded magazines and the chambered round. And because they are short, compact magazines, the spares are more likely to go unnoticed on your belt than longer, fatter hi-caps. Width? It’s only because of the takedown lever and slide stop that the XDs can’t be listed as 7/8 inch wide. Those two parts stick out enough to make it an even one inch wide. To call it flat as a pancake isn’t much of an exaggeration.
As to the matter of magazine capacity, Robbie and I talked about that as soon as I had shot through all the loaded magazines and had to let someone else get his hands on the gun. “Robbie, make the mag or frame a little longer and this would be perfect.” With his usual big grin, he commented, “There will be someone, tomorrow, making magazine extensions in his machine shop. You know that.”
Of course, the coolest thing to do would be for Springfield to offer extended magazines of six or seven rounds, each with a short sleeve to duplicate the exterior of the XDs. Make it a 3.3-inch-barreled .45 ACP with a seven-shot magazine. Then stand back as the stampede starts.
The pistol I had to test was overnighted to me, and I had to swear an oath on a stack of WD-40 cans and ammo that I would shoot, photograph and—on the way back home from the range—drop by the shipping office and send it back, next-day air. Why? This pistol was one of two the company had, both preproduction samples. While one was being photographed in the G&A home office, I had the other. Springfield wanted them back as quickly as possible.
As a result, I had but a single day—not even a full one—in which to test the gun, which makes the experience interesting, to say the least. Although any lightweight .45 is not going to be exactly a soft shooter, the XDs did not hammer me. I shot 400 rounds or so in one afternoon, and while I noticed that the XDs wasn’t some powder-puff, my hand was fine at the end. I’ve picked up lightweight handguns and thought to myself, Oh, this is going to hurt even before I pulled the trigger. I really expected the XDs to do more in the way of hand-mangling. In that, I was happily disappointed. Don’t take that to mean it’s soft. It comes back quick, and you will know you’ve launched some serious hurt downrange, but it isn’t like a featherweight .357. It won’t make you wince.
The distance from the web of the hand to the bore centerline on the XDs is nothing abnormal, being neither overly high, nor engineering-wizardly low. It is high enough to keep the slide rails off your hand when cycling, which is a good thing. The muzzle does snap up in recoil, but it goes back down just as quickly, on target. I tried the interchangeable backstraps, but for me, they are the same. I’ve handled and shot enough handguns through the years that my hand and brain work without me being involved, and by the time the sights come up to line-of-sight, they have sorted out just where any given pistol is pointing. Now, if you haven’t been so conditioned, I’m sure one or the other will be more comfortable or more natural in pointing.
Accuracy? Well, we do not expect a compact pistol to be bullseye-accurate, but this XDs was an eye-opener. I routinely printed groups I would have expected from a target gun. Well, I printed groups when I did my part. As with all other handguns with a short sight radius, the XDs makes you pay for your mistakes. Fail to follow through and your groups won’t be so pretty. The groups I was shooting were encouraging enough that I gave the 100-yard gongs a go. While I can’t claim 100 percent success, the gongs were not safe from the XDs, as I connected two or three times in each magazine.
The XDs had no feeding problems, which is mildly interesting in a pistol still getting the fine-tuning before it becomes available. However, in this age of CAD/CAM and prototyping, pistols are a lot more refined before they get to the polymer-and-steel stage.
Takedown? Easy as pie. Unload, check and check again. Lock back the slide and remove the magazine. Pivot the takedown lever up; ease the slide forward. When it stops, dry-fire, then pull off the slide. Once there, it’s just like every other modern self-loading pistol. The XDs does add a new wrinkle, however. If the magazine is in the frame, you can’t pivot the takedown lever. And if the lever is in the up position, you can’t get a magazine fully in the frame. You can’t have the lever wrong and get the XDs loaded.
The last aspect is leather. Or kydex, if you prefer. The magazines are easy. Any magazine holder that’ll accept a 1911 mag will work with the XDs. If you have kydex holders, the curves of the corners might cause a bit more friction than you’d like, but you certainly won’t be losing magazines when you run. As for the XDs itself, I have no doubt that the holster makers are not far behind that guy making magazine extensions (in fact, they’re probably ahead of him). In any case, by the time you can lay hands on an XDs, the holster makers will already have seen it and be producing options for carry.
I really hated to send this one back. It’s perhaps the most perfect bigbore carry gun to be had. I say “perhaps” because, as much as I used to be comfortable with six shots in a carry gun, I’d really like to have one or two more. And if magazines holding more than five rounds never materialize, the XDs is still the world’s best warm-weather carry gun. On the off side, or in deep cover, packed in a tactical vest, your third or fourth gun can still be a .45 ACP. If your idea of summer fashion is cargo shorts, a Hawaiian shirt and deck shoes, you can still have a .45 on call.