By Tony Martins

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Recall is an interesting phenomenon. Some experiences can be recalled from one’s gray matter vault into consciousness almost instantly with exacting detail, while others emerge with vagueness and only after considerable pondering. I remember my first experience with the then spanking new XD-S handgun from Springfield Armory vividly. It was mid-January 2012 at the Boulder Rifle & Pistol Club in Nevada, venue for “Media Day at the Range.” This invitation-only event is held annually the day prior to opening of the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s SHOT (Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade) Show in Las Vegas, where manufacturers reveal their latest offerings. My partner and I noticed a gathering in front of the Springfield Armory booth, and we soon found the reason for all the attention – an opportunity to shoot the new XD-S sub-compact pistol.

This gun was so new and its development so guarded that Springfield Professional Action Shooter and IPSC World Champion Rob Leatham related that he saw it himself for the first time that very morning! Now I rarely have the patience to stand in line, but on this occasion I’m glad that I did… twice! After my second session with the new polymer framed, pocket-sized .45, and despite the fact that the Springfield reps at the range did not yet have an MSRP, I knew that it wouldn’t be long before the XD-S would become my new everyday carry (EDC) weapon.

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Springfield Armory is known for excellent engineering and production quality in their full-size, compact, sub-compact and competition handguns. In 2001 the company introduced the XD series, setting new industry standards for polymer frame pistols in terms of ergonomic comfort and ease of operation, as well as features and performance. In 2007 they pushed the bar higher with the new XD(M) series, fresh with new features like interchangeable backstraps and aggressive frame texturing. In 2012 their latest engineering feat was introduced as the XD-S with the tag line “Noticeably Unnoticeable.” The XD-S is essentially a re-engineered mini-version of the exceptionally accurate XD(M) with most of the same features. The “S” stands for single stack but it could just as well stand for slim, as the gun is less than one inch thick (excluding the slide release and takedown lever, which both protrude slightly). This 21.5 ounce (empty) 6.3 inch long striker-fired .45ACP pistol, with 3.3 inch barrel and 5 round magazine carries so well that it’s easy to forget you’re packing.

With continuing strong sales in the well established market for ultra-compact 9mm handguns, and the XD-S .45ACP flying off gun store shelves soon after its initial release, it wasn’t long before Springfield introduced an XD-S in 9mm parabellum. In January 2014 the line was expanded with a 4-inch 9mm model, followed in June by a 4-inch .45 caliber model. Besides the new service-length barrels, the only other significant change was the longer slide assembly. Expectations are that Springfield will eventually produce a model in .40 S&W to fill out the XD-S line.

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This may be a good point to establish my credentials as a reviewer of the XD-S, to give readers some useful perspective. An avid outdoorsman and life long hunter, I have been writing outdoors articles and reviewing products as a freelancer for more than 20 years. Although I often competed in shotgun events (sporting clays and skeet) in my younger years, I am not a competitive handgunner, and certainly not a handgun authority. I have however, owned and enjoyed shooting dozens of different handguns over the years, and would rate my shooting skills with a pistol as average. For nearly 20 years I have carried several different revolvers daily, mostly in .38 Special, so my interest in the XD-S .45 Single Stack was primarily for concealed carry and personal defense. A full size Colt 1911 MK IV Series 70 and a compact Kimber CDP II, both in .45ACP, are other favorites in my arsenal, so I do have significant experience with the caliber.

Shooting The XD-S .45ACP With 3.3-inch Barrel

When I look back on my SHOT Show introduction to the XD-S, I remember how tentatively some media members handled and fired the new sub-compact .45, before it was my turn. It seemed as though they were expecting the little pocket rocket to jump out of their hands. After all, metal-framed sub-compact .45’s are well known for punishing hands, and 230 grains of lead blasting off from a polymer platform that weighs just 21.5 ounces is guaranteed to generate enough recoil and muzzle jump to get your attention. Despite this observation, my own first shot missed the target from less than 10 yards away! In all fairness, muzzle lift was less than expected and certainly manageable. My inaccuracy with the first few shots was due more to inexperience with the trigger safety and my slightly unorthodox shooting mechanics than anxiety over the prospect of nasty recoil and uncontrollable muzzle flip. Nevertheless, the first try was a little embarrassing hence my uncharacteristic desire to stand in line and try it again – and I’m glad that I did. My second opportunity resulted in nicely formed groups of 5 shots from each of the two mags that were offered.

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The more you shoot the XD-S the more proficient you will become in handling this little hand canon, and your accuracy with it will improve. It is a very smooth shooting pistol. Another of the great things about the XD-S .45 is that it is not unpleasant to shoot, hence you will tend to shoot it more often. Personally, I shoot a great deal less than some of my friends, who have no problem printing remarkably tight close range groups or hitting small steel plates at 50 yards with virtually every shot. My interest leans more toward personal defense, so an occasional close range target session, including rapid fire and practice drawing from concealed position, helps to maintain confidence that both the gun and I will be up to the task should the need arise. That’s a lot of windage to explain that this potent little weapon is capable of far greater accuracy than I can demonstrate with it based on my proficiency and comparatively low round count to date.

The slim shape of the XD-S Single Stack fits into my slightly larger than average size hands quite well, despite the fact that my pinky finger rests beneath the standard magazine. A full 3-finger grip is possible with the extended 7+1 mag, and accuracy improves a little with it – however, the XD-S is more difficult to conceal with the larger mag inserted. With either mag I find that it points quickly, and I prefer the way it points over popular Glock models. With its wide (although short) ramp and low-profile sights that include a bright fiber optic front bead that is easy to locate between the white dots on the rear dove-tail, the sight picture is acquired quickly. Although some have complained that the aggressive grip texturing puts a whooping on their hand during extended firing sessions, there is a simple solution to this potential problem for the soft-handed – shooting gloves! The texturing was actually designed to spread the recoil across the full palm of the hand to lessen impact on the soft fleshy webbing between thumb and index finger. I like the texture and find that it also helps to position the gun precisely and solidly in the hand.

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One of the most common complaints about the XD-S is the trigger. No surprise here. Triggers are the most personalized and complained about component of any gun, and this is particularly true for production guns fresh out of the box. It’s important to understand that manufacturers design triggers for compact handguns that likely will be used for concealed carry with safety as a top priority. Many believe that a super-light trigger on a concealed carry gun is unsafe, and I tend to agree. The trigger in our late model (post recall) XD-S test gun was actually quite good for a compact, breaking cleanly at 7.25 pounds with a small reset. In my opinion, this is significantly better than the very long break that some manufacturers insist on employing as a safety feature. A friend who is a law enforcement instructor, security contractor and .45ACP fanatic confided that it took him 50+ rounds to get comfortable with the XD-S trigger. He has fired more than a dozen of these guns and reports that it’s virtually impossible to tell one from another, praising the trigger as “the most consistent of any .45 compact made.” One of the most common upgrades to the XD-S is installation of a spring kit to lighten the trigger pull. Powder River Precision makes an excellent one that costs less than $25.00, and they will install it for less than $95.00. Gunsmith Shane Clark from Show Low, Arizona (pictured in this review shooting the XD-S), has installed this tricky six spring kit for customers, and reports a two pound pull weight reduction (Shane’s Shooting Service, 928-242-8354).

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Cleaning And Maintenance

Like virtually all semi-automatic pistols, the XD-S runs best when it’s clean and well lubricated. The gun is simple to field strip – remove the magazine, lock the slide back, push the takedown lever to the up position, release the slide, press the trigger and remove the slide. The guide rod/dual-masted recoil spring assembly and the feed ramp/barrel assembly can now be removed and wiped down. Clean the bore with your favorite lead/copper/powder residue remover, place a drop of good quality gun oil on the locking lug, wipe a little oil around the outside of the barrel near the muzzle, lubricate the guide rails, and reassemble. The only negative here is that the takedown lever is typically very stiff and can be difficult to move to the release position.

Reliability And Safety Recall

The XD-S is an exceptionally well engineered and well made gun, as you would expect from Springfield Armory. Its record is not spotless, however. A voluntary safety recall was issued in August 2013 for a rare problem that reportedly caused the gun to fire when chambering a round, and could also cause a double-fire. Springfield modified the recalled XD-S 3.3-inch pistols (both .45ACP and 9mm models) to eliminate the potential problem, and most guns were returned to their owners within 90 days – a remarkable feat considering that more than 200,000 had been sold to date. Nevertheless, Springfield lost a little wind in their sails, and the issue escalated when some complained that the trigger press was heavier and/or not as clean to break after the modifications. For the record, XD-S .45’s with serial numbers from XS500000 to XS686300 and XD-S 9mm’s with serial numbers from XS900000 to XS938700 were included in the recall. If you run across one of these and are unsure of its status, contact Springfield, as many were not returned for modification. Interestingly, the XD-S recall was announced just days after Smith & Wesson issued a safety notice for their popular single stack M&P Shield pistols.

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Our late model test gun came from the factory with the redesigned fire control group. Although failure-to-feed occasionally has been reported with post-recall XD-S .45ACP models – which Springfield advises can be eliminated by running the gun “wet” – ours performed flawlessly. Likewise, my instructor/contractor friend reports no failure-to-feed, double feed, stovepipe or magazine issues with more than 5000 rounds through his personal EDC XD-S. The gun freely digests everything you feed it, both factory and handloadings, from light target and competition loads to fire breathing +P tactical/self-defense ammo. Bullet weights of 160 (Barnes TAC-XP), 185, 200 and 230 grains (various) all performed positively, although no attempt was made to determine which loadings produced the best accuracy. For years I carried Federal Premium Hydra-Shok 230-grain jacketed hollow points because they performed well in all of my 45’s, but now carry the 230-grain Federal Premium HST. These are pricey and can be hard to find, but rate very well in the FBI’s highly regarded penetration and expansion testing.

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Knocks And Props

Another knock that is often leveled at the XD-S Single Stack .45 is that its 5+1 capacity is simply “not enough bullets.” Frankly, the incessant clamor for high-capacity magazines escapes me. Listening to some of these guys, it sounds like they won’t be satisfied until someone invents a way to tote a couple of cases of ammo – maybe with a motorized robotic cart that follows you around like those golf bag carriers. FBI data shows that most altercations where shots are fired are over in less than 10 seconds, with 6 rounds or fewer expended. In my opinion, if you think that 6 rounds of .45 ACP with an extra mag or two on your belt is not enough for everyday concealed carry and personal self-defense, you have either gone to the wrong fight with the wrong weapon, or you need to spend more time at the range! The original XD-S has also been criticized for “sacrificing velocity” with its short 3.3-inch barrel. Velocity can be as much as 100 feet-per-second slower than a typical 5-inch 1911 barrel. While it’s true that high velocity is required for optimum performance with some ammunition – particularly hollow points in smaller calibers like 9mm and .38 – the 230 grain .45ACP does its damage with mass and frontal area, not speed. Seriously, whether it’s just under 800 fps or just over 900 fps, I doubt that bad guys will notice much difference when hit. Nevertheless, Springfield responded to this criticism with a 4-inch XD-S last June, which adds some flexibility in ammo selection, and about 40-50 feet-per-second with the big boy bullets.

What may be the most valid complaint about the XD-S from a practical use perspective was levied by a friend in law enforcement. Standard 1911 magazines do not fit this gun. These 7-shot mags are comparatively inexpensive and most law enforcement officers have a bucket full of them, which facilitates range practice. Unfortunately, when Springfield engineered the XD-S – literally from the ground up – they changed the shape of the retention notch on its 5-shot mag. Thus, if a 1911-style .45 is preferred as the main service weapon with the XD-S for backup, different mags must be carried for each gun.

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The “Noticeably Unnoticeable” XD-S is a well engineered, well made and highly rated sub-compact, that is also slick handling and smooth shooting, with a shape and size that is easy to conceal in almost any carry position. It is deadly accurate and versatile enough to assume several roles. After carrying all day as a primary or backup weapon, simply attach your favorite mini tactical flashlight to the picatinny rail and it quickly adapts for nightstand duty and home defense. This little fist-full-of-thunder is not unpleasant to shoot, so extended range sessions and plinking fun also fall within its scope of practical usefulness. The gun is priced lower than others in its class, like the Glock 36 and the Kahr PM45, and rates as an excellent value.

Lots Of Bang For The Buck

The XD-S Essentials package includes the XD-S 3.3″ or 4.0″ Single Stack pistol in .45ACP or 9mm, in all black or bi-tone finish, with 1 flush fitting 5+1 magazine and 1 X-Tension 7+1 mag, 2 interchangeable backstraps, a cable lock and a bore brush, neatly packed in a lockable Pelican-type case. And if my “not enough bullets” argument above failed to convince you, consider Springfield’s brand new sub-compact XD Mod.2 in .45ACP. It’s only 0.2 inches longer, 0.35” taller, 0.3” wider and 4.5 oz. heavier than the 3.3” XD-S, with 9+1 capacity (13+1 with X-Tension mag).