In the last 18 months or so, Springfield Armory has introduced several 1911 handguns in its new Emissary and Garrison lines. We took these two of these new variations and compared them to a top-grade Loaded Operator to see which one is the Best Buy. After the smoke cleared, we were surprised at how the test shook out.
The first of these new pistols was introduced in July 2021, the Emissary. Springfield claimed the pistol bridged “the gap between duty and custom handguns.” The Emissary is delivered in a cardboard box with a zippered case, two Mec-Gar 8-round magazines, manual, and gun lock. Its basic elements included a forged stainless-steel frame and forged carbon-steel slide, offering a distinctive two-tone finish. Other features included a squared trigger guard, a “Tri-Top” slide cut, a flattened top strap finished with 40-lines-per-inch, a tritium-and-luminescent front sight, a Tactical Rack U-Dot rear sight, and a bushingless heavy stainless-steel bull barrel. The 45 ACP-chambered pistol is model number PX9220L, which we test here. In November 2021, Springfield Armory announced a 4.25-inch 45 ACP (PX9218L) and a 5-inch 9mm version (PX9219L), followed by a 4.25-inch-barrel 9mm (PX9217L) in May 2022.
In November 2021, Springfield added the Garrison line, also in 45 ACP initially. The 5-inch-barreled Garrison was pitched as a classic 1911 pistol with a traditional barrel-bushing system and wood grips, but also with enhancements, such as a match-grade stainless-steel barrel, skeletonized hammer, extended beavertail grip safety with memory bump, forged frame, low-profile high-visibility sights, thin-line grips, and more. At roll-out, it was available in a blued finish (PX9420) or stainless (PX9420S). We test the blued gun here. Also, the company released two 9mm Garrisons in April 2022, with the same finishes and similar configurations.
Of course, Springfield still offers several of its Loaded Operators, but our specific test gun, the PX9105LL18, has been discontinued since we purchased ours. No matter, an online check shows plenty of Loaded Operator pistols are still available at retail. Also, we’ve tested several Loaded pistols over the years, such as the Loaded Operator PX9105LL in the July 2020 issue, which earned an A and a Best Buy rating. We also shot a Loaded Operator PX9105MLP in the February 2008 issue, giving it a B+. We ran a Loaded Target in the September 2015 issue, with that pistol earning an A grade. In the August 2008 issue, we gave a Loaded Ultra Compact PX9161LP a B- grade. As for Operators, we most recently tested a Ronin Operator PX9120L in the July 2021 issue, giving that gun an A- grade, but also making it Our Pick. In the September 2012 issue, we tested a Lightweight Champion Operator PX9115LP, giving it an A- grade. In the March 2019 issue, we tested a Range Officer Elite Operator in 10mm, giving it an A grade. So we’re pretty familiar with the platform.
How We Tested
To test the pistols, we used three types of ammunition. This included the primary test load, Remington’s UMC 230-grain full metal jackets, Black Hills Ammunition’s 230-grain FMJs, and Fiocchi’s 200-grain XTP jacketed hollow points. The combat portion of the test began with the pistol carried in a range holster and ready to draw. Our shooters drew the pistols and fired at man-sized targets at 7 and 10 yards. We fired 50 rounds in each pistol in this manner using the Remington FMJ load. In accuracy testing at 25 yards, we fired the pistols from an MTM K Zone shooting rest. This is a rest designed for rifles and handguns. Remove the rifle-rest section, and you have a well-designed pistol rest. Here’s what we found when shooting these Springfield pistols side by side:
Gun Tests Grade: A
Among the accomplishments Springfield boasts of on this gun is creating a narrower grip. The pistol is 1.09 inch in width at the grips, compared to the Garrison at 1.12 inch and the Operator at 1.28 inch. This is good for concealed carry, while noting the wider Operator doesn’t stretch the average hand sizes among our raters.
|Slide Retraction Effort
|Front Strap Height
|Back Strap Height
|Grip Thickness Maximum
|Two 8 round
|U-notch, white outline
|Dovetailed post, tritium dot
|Trigger Pull Weight
|Slide lock, grip
|(309) 944 5631
The slide is a nice bright blue, while the steel frame is stainless. A nicely done serrated rib runs the length of the slide. The slide is distinctive. Springfield calls it a Tri-Top cut slide. The profile isn’t triangular, but there are two flats and a top like any other 1911, save this one is much more severe of a cut. The forward cocking serrations are shallow. They tend to slip in and out of leather holsters without abrading the leather. On the downside, the cocking serrations are not as positive to operate as the Springfield Operator’s forward cocking serrations. The rear serrations are as positive as any other pistol-cocking serrations, perhaps rating a tad more effective than the Operator.
The front sight is an excellent combat sight, with a fluorescent yellow border surrounding a tritium insert. The front sight is a reversed ramp, dovetailed in place. The rear sight is a wedge type. It could be used to rack the slide if jammed against a boot heel or heavy belt. The rear sight isn’t serrated on the rear, but it features a white-outline U notch. This notch is among the best set ups for fast, reactive combat shooting. All who fired the Emissary on the combat course found these sights to be the best of the three pistols tested. They are fast on target and offer a good sight picture. The front dot occupies a prominent place in the line of sight between the eye and the target. While useful for fast shooting, these sights are also more than adequate for accurate fire to 25 yards.
The hammers of all three pistols are identical steel units with cut-out interiors and serrated tops for easy handling. The beavertail grip safety of each is also identical. The grip safety features a memory bump. Some grip styles create a cup in the palm that causes the hand to disengage the grip safety. This doesn’t occur with the Springfield grip safeties. The slide-lock safety isn’t a gas-pedal type, but it is sensibly larger than the GI-type 1911 safety we have tested on other Springfield pistols. Detents on all three safeties are sharp. After testing mushy slide-lock safeties on occasion, we find the slide-lock safeties here to be well done.
Elsewhere, the Emissary’s magazine release and slide lock are positive in operation. The frame features a light rail for mounting combat lights. One of the design features that set the Emissary apart is a square trigger guard. This must be taken into consideration when ordering a holster. Some holsters are okay, but the most tightly fitted are not with this change in the 1911 template. Very few shooters use the finger on the trigger guard two-hand grip today. Those who do will like the Emissary. For the rest of us, it is neutral because we won’t use it.
The grips are slim-line designs thinner than the usual 1911 grip. The stocks are G10 composition grips. These stocks feature good abrasion and adhesion. They offer the best gripping surface of the three pistols, our shooters said. The front strap is finished in squares unique to the Emissary. They measure at 10 lines per inch. There was some debate as to the feel of the thinner grip. It is true that slim-line grips have been available for the 1911 for some time. The thinner profile may aid concealment. The feel was not noticeably different to a new shooter, but to those used to the 1911 and its standard grips, the feel was noticeably different. In the end, we felt that the combination of front strap-checkering and sharply checkered grips made for good adhesion and abrasion.
The Springfield Emissary’s combination of G10 grips and frame textures easily made for the best gripping surface of the test, hands down. The flat mainspring housing also features a unique treatment. This is a pistol that is easily held when your hands are cold, wet, or sweaty.
The trigger is a design we have not seen before. It is metal sheathed in plastic, not uncommon today. The trigger isn’t an adjustable type. We agree that too many target features, such as adjustable triggers, have slipped into defense handguns. We like this standard trigger. While flat on the surface that meets the finger, it is slightly indented to achieve a non-slip surface. Trigger compression is 6.0 pounds even. The trigger is the best of the three pistols, although not by a huge margin.
At the range, the Emissary is a good-to-excellent combat shooter. The front sight is simply brilliant in any direct light. Most of the hits were in the X-ring. The pistol is fast to speed load. A moderate bevel in the magazine well helped make fast reloads. The pistol seemed to have the least felt recoil of the three pistols. Even for a 43-ounce 1911, the pistol was easy to use well. It is a soft shooter. Firing from 25 yards using all three types of ammunition, we shot five-shot groups with the Emissary that were good, if not spectacular. The Emissary averaged about 2.5 inches with the ball loads. The Fiocchi 200-grain XTPs cut a 2.0-inch group average, outstanding for any 1911.
We saved one of the most interesting features for last. The Emissary doesn’t use a conventional 1911 barrel lockup. The barrel hood, locking lugs, and swinging link are there. The barrel bushing and magazine plug are not. The Springfield Emissary uses a bull barrel. The barrel is oversized at the muzzle end, making for a tight lockup on the slide. This system is often used in compact pistols because the slide is shorter and does not allow the barrel to tilt sufficiently if the pistol uses the conventional lockup. This bull-barrel-front lockup has also been found to provide excellent accuracy potential in a 1911 handgun.
However, the bull barrel requires a different and more complicated takedown. Be certain the pistol is unloaded by removing the magazine and locking the slide to the rear. Visually check the chamber. A small tool resembling an Allen wrench is supplied with the Emissary. With the slide locked to the rear, the smaller end of this tool is locked into a pin hole in the full-length guide rod. Then the slide is removed from the frame after removing the slide lock. The unit comes off the frame with the slide, barrel, full-length guide rod, and recoil spring in one piece. At this point, the recoil rod assembly may be removed in one piece. The takedown tool is small enough not to snag as the recoil assembly is removed. Some did not care for this takedown because it adds a few seconds and a complication to the manual of arms.
Our Team Said
Choosing the best pistol in this match up was very difficult, especially when we factored in value.
l We feel the Springfield Armory Emissary is a premier concealed-carry and personal-defense pistol. The sights and grips have appeal in these markets.
l The Springfield Armory Loaded Operator is a service-grade holster gun and a very good one. The ability to easily field-strip and maintain the LO without tools is an advantage. The LO has hand-filling grips and a magazine well. The forward cocking serrations are more useful than the Emissary’s. The Emissary’s forward serrations will not snag a tightly fitted holster, and the front strap of the Emissary offers greater adhesion without undue abrasion than the Loaded Operator. If price is no object, then the Loaded Operator is Our Pick.
l The Springfield Armory Garrison is a more humble pistol than the others. The Garrison’s finish is less durable than the Loaded Operator’s, but the former is still quite attractive. The Garrison doesn’t have night sights, but the sights are well designed for most uses. The Garrison is reliable, affordable, and accurate enough for almost any conceivable chore. We think the Garrison is a Best Buy.
45 ACP Range DataTo collect accuracy data, we fired five-shot groups at 25 yards using an MTM K Zone rest. To measure velocity, we used a Competition Electronics Pro Chrony, with the first screen of the chronograph 10 feet from the muzzle.
|Black Hills 230-grain FMJ
|Remington 230-grain FMJ
|Fiocchi 200-grain XTP
Value Guide: 45 ACP 1911 Handgun Rankings
|Kimber Custom LW 37000597 45 ACP, $709
|The Kimber is a dull black pistol compared to the Ronin, but it offers good fit and finish.
|Metro Arms Mac Bobcut 1911 Deep Blue 45 ACP, $902
|The Commander-size Bobcut gave up little to the Government Models in performance.
|Tisas 1911 Duty B45 45 ACP, $449
|Best Buy. Ambidextrous safety, well-designed beavertail grip safety, forward cocking serrations.
|SIG Sauer Ultra Compact W1911U-45-BSS 45 ACP, $949
|Our Pick. Has a flared and extended ejection port, extended ejector, and a very nice trigger pull.
|S&W SW1911 Pro Series 178020 45 ACP, $1249
|We liked the recoil impulse and movement of the S&W the best. Function was 100% with all ammo.
|Colt Defender Lightweight Stainless O7000XE, $999
|We want our frames to last for years, so we are not great fans of aluminum feed ramps as on the Colt.
|Ruger SR1911 Officer Stainless 06762, $979
|All-steel construction and slightly longer slide-barrel combo resulted in the softest recoil impulse.
|Springfield Loaded Operator PX9105LL 45 ACP, $1162
|Best Buy. If you need a personal-defense handgun rather than a show piece, this is the trick.
|Guncrafter Commander 45 ACP, $3285
|Our Pick. The fitting is excellent, the sights are ideal for combat, and the trigger is superb.
|Nighthawk Custom Falcon 45 ACP, $3699
|An excellent production/custom grade handgun. Very smooth, excellent finish. Best combat ability.
|Dan Wesson 1911 Heritage RZ-45 01981 45 ACP, $1227
|The Dan Wesson Heritage offers good fit and finish and accuracy. Had break-in malfunctions.
|Devil Dog Arms 4.25 Standard DDA-425-BO45 45 ACP, $1150
|Of the five reviewed in July 2020, this gun makes the most sense for real-world concealed carry.
|Desert Eagle 1911C 45 ACP, $695
|Best Buy. Reliability was good and accuracy was the best of the test.
|Kimber Pro Carry SLE 45 ACP, $750
|Good reliability, excellent sights, the best trigger of the test, and more-than-acceptable accuracy.
|Taurus 1911 Commander 1-191101COM 45 ACP, $500
|We did not like the fit of the beavertail safety. Less accurate than the previous 2018 test gun.
|Iver Johnson Polished Hawk Commander 45 ACP, $570
|Poor attention to detail in feed-ramp finish, trigger-pull weight, and selection of the proper slide lock.
|Taylor’s & Company Compact 1911 51469 45 ACP, $450
|Had good sights and a good trigger. We would have liked a textured front-grip strap.
|American Tactical Firepower Xtreme GI 1911 45 ACP, $398
|This a traditional GI-style Commander with a nice trigger and good sights.
|Taurus 1911 Officer 1-191101OFC 45 ACP, $459
|Had all the right features, but it did not shoot to point of aim. Would need a new rear sight.