August 2006

New Semi-Auto Power Pistols: Springfield’s XD 45 Is A Winner

The Springfield Armory XD 45 Service Model is a Best Buy, in our view but wed still like a thumb safety. It overshadows S&Ws M&P .40 S&W, which shot flyers in our tests.

The XD 45 was consistent and manageable. Shots were easy to call, and we were never surprised by the size of a group.

Two recent pistol introductions have been much-ballyhooed in the gun press and firearms industry: Springfield’s XD 45 and the Smith & Wesson M&P 40. At the NRA annual meetings in Milwaukee May 19-21, the new XD pistol in .45 ACP won Handgun of the Year notice from NRA’s American Rifleman magazine, and it won Handgun of the Year at the Shooting Industry Academy of Excellence awards. The S&W M&P .40 was likewise nominated for the Shooting Industry award, and another NRA publication, Shooting Illustrated, named the M&P as its 2006 Handgun of the Year.

Because interest seems high, we wanted to weigh in on which pistol we thought was the best, so we acquired a $559 Springfield Armory XD (Extreme Duty), and a $624 Smith & Wesson M&P (Military and Police) pistol. Of course, both were designed to provide an effective weapon for law enforcement and military use, but they certainly will serve as personal defense guns for civilians that are durable, easy to maintain and within most budgets.

The XD is based on the Croatian police sidearm that Springfield Armory has adapted to the American market. Chambering the XD for .45 ACP is the latest volley aimed at landing the XD in the holster of every policeman. The XD is a proven design, but we wondered how the power and size of .45 ACP ammunition would affect the integrity of the machine as well as the friendly ergonomics that have attracted so many buyers in other chamberings. The Smith & Wesson M&P 40 S&W is the result of research and development that included consultation with the law enforcement and military training community. Starting with a clean slate, Smith & Wesson has risked much more than Springfield Armory by having to spend money on tooling up. Was it worth the investment?

How We Tested
By testing from the bench we hoped to evaluate best potential accuracy. Our action test sought to evaluate our ability to manipulate the gun and apply the inherent accuracy of each weapon to a rapid-fire sequence of multiple target engagement.

To test, we supported by a sandbag rest at targets 25 yards downrange. We picked one low-cost practice round and two up-to-date defense loads for each gun. We also devised a test procedure that would require fast handling, rapid target acquisition, and rapid repeat fire from the standing position. After all, these guns were designed to solve problems in the field. They have to be flexible and fast, enabling the operator to adapt to any situation. For our action test we set up three cardboard targets at distances of 5, 8, and 11 yards, and spaced them 3 yards apart. Aligned with the central target we placed an oil drum to be used as a table. Starting with hands clasping the edge of the table, and the loaded gun lying on its side, (with a spare magazine next to it), the course of fire was to pick up the gun off the table and engage each target with two rounds apiece. Each magazine was loaded to only six rounds so after releasing the spent magazine and loading the fresh one, the slide had to be moved forward into battery before continuing. We used a timer that supplied an audible start signal and recorded the elapsed time of every shot. In this way we could keep track of not only the total elapsed time but how fast we were able to acquire the gun and begin shooting. Also, we wanted to gauge how fast we could reload the gun and get back into the fight. We ran this drill twice with each gun. Our point of aim consisted of an 8.5-inch-by-11-inch piece of white copy paper placed in the center of an IPSC silhouette target. We shot the drill as fast as we could without losing track of the sights for each shot. At the end of the test we were looking for a total of eight hits on each piece of paper.

Two major manufacturers are depending on these guns to bring them success in the marketplace. Let’s see if you should depend on them as well.

[PDFCAP(2)]
The M&P was designed from the ground up as a fighting gun. The first available guns we found were chambered for .40 S&W, reportedly the popular choice among law enforcement. Other chamberings of 9mm and .357 Sig will soon be available.

The history of every polymer pistol we can think of began with a 9mm pistol that was later adapted to .40 S&W. Durability problems were often encountered. The M&P is too new on the scene to judge longevity, but we wouldn’t expect to see any breakage on the 9mm models built on the .40 frame.

Let’s take a tour of the M&P, beginning at the muzzle. We saw distinctively cut rifling at the crown of the 4.25-inch stainless-steel barrel. Pulling back the stainless-steel slide, we saw a thin steel guide rod. The front sight had a white dot and was dovetailed into place. The top of the slide was flat, and the barrel hood offered a peep hole at the rear that extended into the breech face for visual inspection of the chamber. The ejection port in the slide was very large, exposing a portion of the barrel hood on the left side as well. The M&P utilized an external extractor, and the rear of the slide included a non-slip grip pattern cut into the slide. The rear sight was a Novak low mount design with two white dots. It was anchored by an Allen set screw and was adjustable for windage only.

The Dupont Zytel polymer frame carried a three slot Picatinny rail underneath the barrel and offered a generous beavertail that extended about 0.4 inches over the top of the shooter’s hand. Located just above the backstrap was a blank pin with an arrow indicating clockwise rotation. No key was provided, and because the owner’s manual read, "Your M&P may be equipped with an internal lock…," we assumed our pistol did not have one. A cable lock was supplied, however.

Identical slide releases were found on each side of the pistol. They were small, grooved for grip and held tightly against the frame. We thought this limited accessibility. The slide lock lever was placed further forward, directly above the trigger. A roll pin protruded as if it were coming out, but this acted as a stop. Moving our hand against the left side of the frame, this was the only snag point we could feel on the exterior of the gun. It looked like the pin could be pushed in a little more and still be effective.

The trigger itself looked much like the one found on the SW40VE and similar models. The trigger face was hinged to deactivate the striker block safety. The rear of the trigger included a stop that met with a block on the inside of the trigger guard. The magazine release was a push-button design that could be changed to operate from the right side if desired. We thought Smith & Wesson did a good job positioning the button so that it was readily available but with surrounding contours that prevented accidentally dropping the magazine.

Before field stripping the M&P, it proved wise to read the owner’s manual. First, you must retrieve the frame tool from its storage position at the base of the back strap. In place, it appeared to be a clean extension of the grip, but this tool also locks in place your choice of three different backstraps. The backstraps fit flawlessely. The frame tool can only be removed with the magazine out, which also disconnects the trigger. The tool was removed by twisting it one-quarter turn in either direction and pulling it free. The first few times we did this it was not easily removed. We reminded ourselves that if we were stripping a 1911, we would likely need a tool as well. At least this tool stayed with the gun, tucked cleverly out of the way.

After the slide was locked back, exposing the magazine well, we used the tool, which resembled a 0.10-inch punch, to lower the sear deactivation lever into the magwell. Now we could rotate the slide lock lever and remove the slide. The underside of the top end revealed a striker mechanism and flat wound spring captured on a metal guide rod. The rearmost coils were painted blue to signify which end of the unit should be placed to the rear upon assembly.

Looking inside the frame we saw that the rails at the front were part of a locking block. The rails to the rear were two broad pieces of metal resembling wings mounted flat across the components that work the ignition assembly. Inside the magazine well we could see the tension bar that provided detent to the magazine release. Reapplying the slide simply meant confirming that the sear deactivation lever was in the lower position.

The feel of the trigger on the M&P could be described in two stages. The break was moderately crisp, but the short takeup was marred by grit and crunch. This undermined our confidence in the weapon. We sampled another M&P in a local gun store, and the trigger on that gun was smoother. When Smith & Wesson was polling experts, we find it difficult to believe no one asked for a thumb safety. A 15+ round capacity could be a waste if operators choose to carry with an empty chamber. The closest the M&P comes to having a true mechanical safety was when the magazine was removed.

The trigger press weighed in at 7.5 pounds out of the box. Our test consisted of about 350 rounds in total, and some of the roughness in the trigger did work itself out. After our test was complete, we weighed the trigger again and the scale confirmed that at least a half-pound of resistance had been lost.

We began our bench rest session with the largest back strap in place. This part offered the greatest palm swell. How could we tell which was the right insert to use? Just like wearing a pair of shoes, if you notice them at all they are the wrong size. We soon switched to the medium insert for better control. With no track record for the M&P, we were only guessing what ammunition would make for accurate and reliable operation. Happily, there were no malfunctions of any kind during our tests. From the bench we shot with Remington’s 180-grain JHP rounds sold by the 100 count in Walmart. We also used Winchester USA 165-grain FMJ rounds and 180-grain Federal Hydra-Shok JHP ammunition. All three rounds produced about 370 foot-pounds of muzzle energy and low standard deviation. Felt recoil was never a problem. We started with the budget Remington rounds and were rewarded with our best results, an average five-shot group of just under 3 inches. But as we fired more rounds from our sandbag rest, we began to experience more flyers. Experimenting with lockup, we tried seating the slide by firing a round and then proceeding to record groups. We also tried firing each of our five test shots beginning with the magazine filled to its maximum of 15 rounds for added support. After one good group firing the Winchester 165-grain FMJ rounds, most of our groups measured more than 3 inches across. The same went for the Federal Hydra-Shok ammunition. We felt our trigger control was good, and we really liked the sight picture.

In our action test we thought the fact that our targets were much closer would neutralize this problem. Our first run firing the Winchester rounds was over in 10.98 seconds. The first shot was fired at 1.47 seconds. Our first six shots were fired in 4.65 seconds. Retrieving the magazine from the top of the oil drum and racking the slide took 2.98 seconds. The remaining six shots were fired in 3.35 seconds.

Our second run firing the Remington hollow points was completed in 9.87 seconds. Our first shot was fired 1.35 after the start signal and the first six shots were delivered in 4.27 seconds. The reload took 2.77 seconds followed by six shots in a smoking 2.83 seconds. We really liked how easy it was to pick this gun up and aim it.

The magazine release was perfect, and the grip surface on the rear of the slide couldn’t have been more effective if it had been done by a custom gunsmith. The sight picture was just what we wanted. But we dropped two shots, one on the center target and another on the furthest target. Sometimes you can get caught up firing in a cadence and lose visual patience. Perhaps our shooter simply lost visual patience, but the pattern on the offending targets clearly showed a tight group and a flyer far from center.

The Smith & Wesson M&P may be a little complex on the inside, but outside the gun was just about perfect. Worth mentioning is the M&P entering into competitive shooting with former AMU standout Julie Goloski as Smith & Wesson’s team leader, (juliegoloski.com). This type of added research and development should help improve the M&P pistols.

[PDFCAP(3)]
We’ve tested the XD pistol in 9mm, .40 S&W, and 45 GAP. We have tested the subcompact model, and Gun Tests was one of the only publications to evaluate its predecessor, the HS2000, in our April 2001 issue. From the beginning, the XD touted features such as the grip safety and the short action, which some feel put it closer to Browning’s 1911 than to the Glock design. It could be said that by chambering the XD for .45 ACP, this gun has now been truly Americanized. Enthusiasm for the XD pistol has even sparked formation of owners’ clubs without any encouragement from the Springfield Armory, (txdpsa.com). If there are doubts about the durability of the XD chambered for .45 ACP we think that our experience with the hard-pounding 45 GAP ammunition tells us not to worry.

The XD pistol had some similarities to the M&P, but was distinctively less complicated. The top end of the XD featured sights dovetailed into place, but offered mild cocking serrations front and rear. The barrel length of our pistol was 4 inches, but a 5- inch Tactical model is also available. All XD pistols have an accessory rail on their underlug.

Removing the top end required locking back the slide and rotating the slide lock lever clockwise from 9 o’clock to noon. But after releasing the slide, the trigger also needs to be pressed to bring it forward off the frame. The need for safe handling here is obvious. The XD pistols do not have a mechanical safety, and we think they should (especially with some of the light trigger jobs we’re seeing on competition models). But what the XD pistols do have is an excellent chamber-loaded indicator atop the slide. In addition, when the gun was cocked, an extension of the striker appears through a hole at the back of the slide. Even in the dark the strong-hand thumb can tell if the gun is cocked. The chamber indicator with the big .45 ACP rounds in place was even more obvious.

The guide rod was a two-piece plunger-type unit utilizing two captured springs with the larger spring up front. Support for the top end came primarily from the rails located above the trigger. The rails are a part of the steel insert that interacts with the barrel, camming it in and out of battery during cycling, adding support and playing a part in feeding rounds. To the rear were polymer rails that play a secondary support role.

The receiver, already famous for its comfortable fit, did not offer alternate grip panels, but it did have an ambidextrous magazine release. At first grip the XD 45 did indeed feel larger. With more room needed inside, the grip showed less contour and there was much less bevel at the mouth of the magazine well than on the 9mm XD pistol. Comparing it to an XD 9, the grip of the XD 45 was about 0.10 inches longer front to back measured at the base of the grip, the base of the trigger guard rearward and from the inside of the trigger guard to the back strap with the grip safety fully compressed. The slide of the XD 45 was slightly wider but weighed about 2 ounces heavier.

From the bench the XD 45 was easy to work with. The consensus among our staff was that the gun did not ask much from the shooter, and without trying very hard we were consistent. Overall, this is a very neutral gun. As it turned out, our choice of test rounds produced three levels of muzzle energy. The Winchester 230-grain FMJ rounds produced an average of 301 foot-pounds, the 185-grain Speer Gold Dots averaged 373 foot-pounds, and the 200-grain Hornady ammunition topped all shots from both pistols bringing an average of 412 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. Felt recoil was only noticeable with the Hornady rounds. Perhaps this was why our groups firing this round averaged over 3 inches across. But the XD 45 was very consistent with our other two rounds, averaging just less than 3 inches at 25 yards for both the Speer Gold Dots and the Winchester FMJ ammunition.

Our action test of the XD 45 was run immediately after we shot the M&P pistol. We were able to speed up our acquisition of the gun on both runs but total elapsed time was slower shooting the XD. The first run took 11.40 to complete, including a delay in finding the magazine release. The M&P release was so well exposed compared to the XD that our operator should have rehearsed finding it before attempting a run instead of merely dry-firing the trigger. Our shooter’s hand also slipped off the rear of the slide as he tried to return it to battery. Total elapsed time of the first run firing the 230-grain rounds was 11.40 seconds. The first shot was 1.34 seconds, and the first six shots only took 4.28 seconds to launch. The botched reload ate up 4.05 seconds, but the final six shots were landed in a rapid 3.07 seconds.

Our second run was performed shooting the 185-grain Speer Gold Dots. Total elapsed time was 10.65 seconds. The first six shots took 4.67 seconds, the reload 3.27 seconds and the final six shots 3.2 seconds. A check of the targets showed no misses on either run. The groups on each 8.5-inch-by-11-inch target were even and centered.

Gun Tests Recommends

Smith & Wesson M&P .40 S&W No. 209000, $624. Conditional Buy. We think everyone will find this handsome gun easy to shoot, but it may need tweaking in the accuracy department. Despite an awkward tear down procedure, this is an otherwise smooth-handling gun. All it needs is a thumb safety, in our view.

Springfield Armory XD 45 Service Model No. XD9611HCSP06, $559. Best Buy. The XD 45 offered clear feedback to the shooter and consistent results on target. Accuracy was dependable, if not sterling. With a thumb safety in place, we think the XD45 could dominate the market.

-Written and photographed by Roger Eckstine, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.

fired the guns

Smith & Wesson M&P .40 S&W No. 209000, $624

Springfield Armory XD .45 ACP Service Model No. XD9611HCSP06, $559