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
At this purchase price, the Loaded Operator (LO hereafter) isn’t much more expensive than the Emissary, but it is way more expensive than the Garrison. The LO is also a rail gun with the capability to mount a combat light. The rail and frame seem identical to the Emissary. The trigger is the same target type found in the Garrison. The beavertail grip safety is the same in all three handguns. The LO is finished in black Cerakote, easily the most durable finish Springfield offers.
|Action Type||Semi-auto, short recoil-operated locked breech, single action|
|Overall Length||8.5 in.|
|Overall Height||5.5 in.|
|Maximum Width||1.25 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||40.0 oz.|
|Weight Loaded||45.0 oz.|
|Slide Material||Forged steel|
|Slide Retraction Effort||19.0 lbs.|
|Front Strap Height||2.6 in.|
|Back Strap Height||3.2 in.|
|Barrel Length||5.0 in.|
|Grip Thickness Maximum||1.25 in.|
|Grip Circumference||5.2 in.|
|Magazines||Two 8 round|
|Rear Sight||Tritium inserts, drift adjustable Novak|
|Front Sight||Dovetailed post, tritium dots|
|Sight Radius||6.4 in.|
|Trigger Pull Weight||7.0 lbs.|
|Trigger Span||2.8 in.|
|Safeties||Slide lock, grip|
Grips and stocks may be changed easily, but the Operator is supplied with a nice set of G10 grips. While they are thicker than the slim grips of the other two handguns, these grips are not uncomfortable for average-size hands. The left grip panel features a special cut out to make for easier manipulation of the magazine latch. The Emissary G10 grips feature a similar cut out.
The LO also has a nicely designed magazine funnel the others pistols lack. Be careful with this because magazine basepads may not function in this magazine funnel. We note that Wilson Combat magazines with bumper pads are compatible with every type of magazine well we’re aware of. The trigger action is the heaviest tested at 7.0 pounds even. However, some of the raters felt the LO’s trigger action was the smoothest. There was some discussion on this topic. The trigger did not limit a trained shooter as much as some thought it might. The LO features an ambidextrous slide lock safety that was positive in operation. For a left-handed person, the ambi safety is a must have, or the southpaw can add an expensive aftermarket safety lever. A Wilson Combat ambidextrous safety is $59. Installation may run about the same.
The pistol’s slide is a standard round-top 1911 piece. The LO slide features effective forward cocking serrations we like better than the Emissary’s forward cocking serrations. The LO features three-dot Novak Lo-Mount night sights that could easily be the cause of the LO’s higher-than-Emissary price.
The LO pistol exhibits good fit and finish. The barrel-to-bushing and slide fit is noticeably tighter than the Garrison. The Operator is designed for service use and seems well equipped for the chore. The pistol has a businesslike appearance. This is the heaviest pistol tested. While the Emissary is also a steel-frame pistol, the LO’s heavier grip panels and magazine well add up to a little more weight.
Takedown of the Operator and Garrison pistols is identical. Be certain the pistol is unloaded, removing the magazine and checking the chamber. Then close the slide and place the pistol on safe. Using a barrel bushing tool is easiest, but these pistols are only finger tight and do not require a tool for the next steps. Depress the recoil spring plug while turning the barrel bushing. Remove the recoil spring plug. Next, lock the slide to the rear, remove the slide lock by lining it up with a notch in the slide, and allow the slide to run forward. The recoil-spring guide and recoil spring are removed to the rear. The barrel bushing is twisted to allow the barrel to be removed out the front of the slide. This procedure takes less time to do than it takes to explain.
During combat firing, our shooters found the Operator handled smoothly and came on target quickly. While close, the combat grouping of the Operator was the best of the three pistols. We thought it was better than the Garrison based solely on the LO’s heavier weight, which reduced recoil. We like the LO’s three-dot sights in combat shooting. Trigger reset is smooth with no complaints during the fast-paced combat drills. In bench accuracy, the Loaded Operator is the most accurate handgun tested. It is the only pistol of the three 45s to fire a five-shot group at 25 yards of less than 2 inches. Statistically, there is little that may be done with the Loaded Operator that could not be done with the Emissary, but the advantage in accuracy potential was there.
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||Springfield Operator||Springfield Emissary||Springfield Garrison|
|Average Velocity||855 fps||849 fps||859 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||373 ft.-lbs.||368 ft.-lbs.||377 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||2.20 in.||2.40 in.||2.50 in.|
|Average Group||2.50 in.||2.60 in.||2.90 in.|
|Remington 230-grain FMJ||Springfield Operator||Springfield Emissary||Springfield Garrison|
|Average Velocity||829 fps||834 fps||851 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||351 ft.-lbs.||355 ft.-lbs.||370 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||1.90 in.||2.30 in.||2.60 in.|
|Average Group||2.35 in.||2.50 in.||2.95 in.|
|Fiocchi 200-grain XTP||Springfield Operator||Springfield Emissary||Springfield Garrison|
|Average Velocity||940 fps||966 fps||953 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||392 ft.-lbs.||414 ft.-lbs.||403 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||2.00 in.||1.85 in.||2.30 in.|
|Average Group||2.40 in.||2.30 in.||2.60 in.|
Value Guide: 45 ACP 1911 Handgun Rankings
|Kimber Custom LW 37000597 45 ACP, $709||Jul. 2021||A||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||Jul. 2021||A||The Commander-size Bobcut gave up little to the Government Models in performance.|
|Tisas 1911 Duty B45 45 ACP, $449||Jul. 2021||B||Best Buy. Ambidextrous safety, well-designed beavertail grip safety, forward cocking serrations.|
|SIG Sauer Ultra Compact W1911U-45-BSS 45 ACP, $949||May. 2021||A||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||May. 2021||A-||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||May. 2021||B+||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||May. 2021||B||All-steel construction and slightly longer slide-barrel combo resulted in the softest recoil impulse.|
|Springfield Loaded Operator PX9105LL 45 ACP, $1162||Jul. 2020||A||Best Buy. If you need a personal-defense handgun rather than a show piece, this is the trick.|
|Guncrafter Commander 45 ACP, $3285||Jul. 2020||A||Our Pick. The fitting is excellent, the sights are ideal for combat, and the trigger is superb.|
|Nighthawk Custom Falcon 45 ACP, $3699||Jul. 2020||A||An excellent production/custom grade handgun. Very smooth, excellent finish. Best combat ability.|
|Dan Wesson 1911 Heritage RZ-45 01981 45 ACP, $1227||Jul. 2020||A-||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||Jul. 2020||A-||Of the five reviewed in July 2020, this gun makes the most sense for real-world concealed carry.|
|Desert Eagle 1911C 45 ACP, $695||Aug. 2019||A||Best Buy. Reliability was good and accuracy was the best of the test.|
|Kimber Pro Carry SLE 45 ACP, $750||Aug. 2019||A||Good reliability, excellent sights, the best trigger of the test, and more-than-acceptable accuracy.|
|Taurus 1911 Commander 1-191101COM 45 ACP, $500||Aug. 2019||B-||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||Aug. 2019||C||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||Jun. 2019||A-||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||Jun. 2019||A-||This a traditional GI-style Commander with a nice trigger and good sights.|
|Taurus 1911 Officer 1-191101OFC 45 ACP, $459||Jun. 2019||B+||Had all the right features, but it did not shoot to point of aim. Would need a new rear sight.|