December 2012

Three-Way Handgun Showdown: Springfield, Chiappa, and Kahr

Yes, we mixed apples and oranges here to find what we liked in a carry handgun. We fired and carried the 45 ACP XD-S, the 9mm CM9, and the 357 Magnum-chambered Rhino head to head.

Choosing a carry sidearm is a complex task for most shooters, who must weigh power and portability, size and simplicity before spending hundreds of dollars and committing to wear a gun a good chunk of the day. Pistols usually have an edge in capacity, while revolvers have a point-and-shoot ease of use that’s hard to overlook. Then there’s the issue of cartridges. How much power is enough?, and how does the consumer sift the chamberings to get the most bang for his buck?

We recently tested three guns that illustrate a range of carry choices readers had inquired about, in effect pitting McIntosh and Red Delicious apples against a Valencia orange. In gun terms, our pistols were the new Springfield XD-S 45 ACP, $599, and Kahr’s CM9 No. CM9093 9mm Luger, $382, going up against the Chiappa Rhino No. 200DS 357 Magnum revolver, $800. Those are counter prices from Fountain Firearms in Houston (FountainFirearms.us), where we acquired the guns.

What we wanted to find out, in particular, was whether the CCL holder had to sacrifice power (45 vs. 9mm) in order to get wear-all-day comfort, and whether a wheelgun, albeit an unusual one, could compete against subcompact pistols.

In fact, when you look at the basics other than action types, these three pretty much fit in the same box. The Rhino revolver is 6 inches long, about a half-inch longer than the Kahr (5.4 inches) and slightly shorter than the XD-S (6.3 inches). Height-wise, the Rhino checks in at 4.9 inches, a half inch taller than the XD-S (4.4 inches) and nearly an inch taller than the CM9 (4.0 inches).

But here’s where power factors in. The Rhino and the XD-S clearly outdistanced the CM9 in pop, so for some shooters, having the smallest footprint in the CM9 also means shooting the weakest round, which they won’t like. And, the 9mm Luger’s performance is further diminished because these short handguns won’t generate all the rated power of their respective rounds — there’s just not enough length in the barrels. Winchester’s 115-grain 9mm Luger round in the 3-inch-barrel Kahr develops average velocity/energy figures of 984 fps/247 ft.-lbs., well behind the XD-S (3.3-inch barrel, 817 fps/341 ft.-lbs.) and Rhino (2-inch barrel, 1134 fps/314 ft.-lbs.) The Fiocchi rounds showed a similar gap, except the 357 Mag was the strongest at 370 ft.-lbs., compared to 305 ft.-lbs. for the 45 ACP round and 272 ft.-lbs. for the 9mm. The power margins are little narrower for Hornady rounds because the 9mm is a +P loading, so it makes 308 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy compared to the 45 at 360 ft.-lbs. and the 357 at 380 ft.-lbs. Also, it’s worth emphasizing that the Rhino had the highest energy ratings of the trio with two of the rounds (see the accompanying accuracy/chronograph table for details).

Besides comparing the numbers, we also tested all three for accuracy at 7 yards from a benchrest. Then we tested how each would perform when drawn and fired quickly, using Hornady Critical Defense rounds for the XDS and Rhino and Hornady Critical Duty for the CM9. For this defense test we had a target 7 yards downrange on edge, programmed to turn and face the shooter for 3 seconds, then turn back to edge, with a randomized wait time before turning. Our testers had to start from low ready and fire as many shots aiming at center mass as accurately as possible in 3 seconds. The target was a Birchwood Casey silhouette splattering target with X, 10, 9, and 8 rings.

On a gun-by-gun basis, we found some things we liked and didn’t like about each of the carry contestants. Here’s what we thought about each one individually:

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