The introduction of the high-capacity Glock pistols was the starting gun for the polymer revolution. But when the low capacity 45 ACP G36 was introduced the reaction was underwhelming. It wasn’t until manufacturers began adapting calibers larger than 9mm to polymer double-action platforms that the sacrifice in capacity for the sake of firing bigger bullets put the G36 in perspective. Loading from a single-stack magazine limits capacity, but also slims the gun.
That’s not the first time a pistol was redesigned to make it more concealable. For example, the original interpretation of the Colt Officer’s model was born from simply shortening the grip of a 45 ACP Government model so that the butt of the gun did not stick out and “print” a bump in the profile of the cover garment. The methodology of slimming the grip and/or making it shorter is the concept behind two polymer guns we tested recently. They were the $637 single-stack Glock G36 and the $797 Springfield Armory XDM 3.8 45ACP Compact Bi-Tone.
The latest incarnation of the XDM series shows an interesting evolution. The signature concept of the XDM pistols was to offer a polymer pistol with a grip profile closer to the Browning 1911. So, chambering the pistol for 45 ACP seems like a natural fit. A key attribute is that the XDM Compact may be operated with either a short or a full-length magazine. Separately, the Glock design has been criticized for its unique grip angle and clumsy ergonomics. But a lot of gun owners have grown up with it and, frankly, know little else. Glock has done much to improve the grip frame, and as time went on, the single-stack Glock has become more widely accepted.
Test distance for our head-to-head evaluation was 15 yards from a solid bench using sandbags and a Caldwell Matrix shooting rest ($60 from BattenfeldTechnologies.com). Our choice of test ammunition was Black Hills 230-grain JHPs, Winchester 230-grain FMJs, and Hornady 185-grain Critical Defense jacketed hollowpoints.
Springfield Armory XDM 3.8 Compact Bi-Tone 45 ACP, $797
For most buyers the initial qualifier when considering a purchase is price. The fact is that neither of our test pistols was inexpensive may be too much for some buyers. But before dismissing the Springfield Armory XDM 3.8 45 Compact based on price, let’s take a realistic look at what this pistol has to offer.
First, our test pistol came with a stainless-steel slide, hence the “Bi-Tone” in the name. If we had chosen the standard model with black slide comparable to the Glock 36, the price would have been lower by about $60. The XDM comes in an airline-ready big lockable attach case, and inside, there’s a paddle-style belt-slide holster and dual magazine pouch. Both items include Picatinny rails along their edges for stowing a light or laser. With or without these added attractions, the supplied rig was not a gimmick. The paddle holster was easy to put on and proved sturdy, comfortable, and somewhat difficult to remove from the waistband. Easy on and difficult off is what we prefer in a paddle holster. (Just imagine the opposite.) Both the holster and the dual magazine pouch were tension adjustable via a beefy Allen screw (wrench provided). We think it is reasonable to deduct about $80 for the cost of the full rig because in continuing our comparative cost analysis, we think most buyers would prefer to purchase a dedicated holster for the G36. Glock does sell a belt-slide holster of its own for a very reasonable price.
Gun-specific features include three different backstrap panels that alter the circumference of the grip and the length of reach to the trigger. The panels are held in place by a roll pin. Even without the pin in place, the panels were sufficiently trapped by the magazine to keep them in place. There were also two different magazines offering 9-round capacity and 13-round capacity, respectively. The shorter magazine does not offer support for the bottom finger, but Pearce sells a basepad aftermarket that adds a finger groove. The Pearce basepad, however, will not alter capacity. Three additional sleeves were supplied to cover the exposed length of the 13-round magazine. Each sleeve complements a different backstrap and effectively makes the compact grip frame into a full-size pistol with enough room for any size hand.
Elsewhere, there is a grip safety that needs to be pressed for the pistol to fire, a chamber-loaded indicator that sticks up over the top of the barrel hood, and a striker indicator that is shiny and protrudes from the back of the slide. During takedown, the trigger need not be pressed to remove the top end. Glock pistols require pressing the trigger before the unlatched slide can leave the frame.
At the range, we discovered a much more comfortable trigger on the XDM, presenting about 5.75 pounds of resistance. The XDM trigger felt even lighter because the motion had less takeup to get to its break. Its ability to mimic a true single-action trigger comes from the rearward action of the slide compressing almost all of the striker spring. The XD and XDM pistols are double-action only by virtue of a very small final compression of the spring plus the release. To witness how little the trigger actually prepares the striker spring, unload the gun and press on the back of the striker indicator while pulling the trigger. The indicator will press into your finger just before it lets off.
When racking the slide of the XD pistols, we had to make sure the grip safety was pressed. Otherwise the slide was locked. You may never notice this when working the slide of the XDM with a full-size grip frame, but the short frame without the big magazine in place can prevent you from getting the grip safety fully compressed. To some extent, this was also dependent on the size of the hand. But we noticed that the slide never stalled when the operator arched his wrist upward, forcing the web of the hand into the depth of the beavertail. Another characteristic to be aware of showed up when ejecting the short magazine: the edge of the hand needs to be out of the way of the falling magazine. Despite the short frame found on the Glock G36, this was less of a problem due primarily to the large base pad.
Both test pistols offered about the same amount of sight radius and fired from about the same length barrel. The XDM boasts a match-grade barrel, and that may have accounted for best groups measuring less than 1.0 inches across firing either of our 230-grain rounds. Average size groups computed to 1.2 inches, 1.0 inches, and 1.3 inches for the Black Hills, Winchester, and Hornady rounds, respectively. Point of impact was less than 1 inch high at 15 yards. We saw no difference in accuracy when comparing shots fired after hand cycling to shots fired after lockup achieved by ignition. The biggest difference in performance was in terms of velocity and power. The XDM sent bullets downrange about 21 fps faster on average than from the barrel of the Glock G36.
Our Team Said: If the Springfield Armory XDM 3.8 45 ACP Compact is not as concealable as the G36, the difference was not by much, especially with the short magazine in place. But the XDM wins hands down in terms of capacity, and its versatility is unmatched. Use the full-size magazine for the nightstand and the short mag for inside the waistband, purse, or drop it into an automobile console. Even at its lowest capacity, the XDM 3.8 Compact tops almost any available 1911 45. And not inconsequential: This gun was fun to shoot during even the most strenuous portions of our tests.