July 2007

Versatile Polymer .45s: Two XD45 Compacts Are Our Picks

Springfield Armory’s 4-inch Compact may be the most versatile pistol in this matchup, but we slightly preferred the 5-inch Compact Tactical. Taurus and Glock also make good guns.

In this test we will look at four different polymer handguns that offer higher round capacity but take up less space than full-size models. Our first pistol, the $503 Taurus PT24/7 Pro 45-BP-12 could be considered a true compact, especially when compared to Taurus’s new OSS pistol. The Springfield Armory XD45 4-inch Compact XD9645HCSP06, $589; and the Springfield Armory XD45 5-inch Compact Tactical XD9655HCSP06, $619, have undergone the Colt Officers treatment, receiving a shortened grip frame attached to a full-length slide. The $637 Glock SF21 is a remodeling of the Glock 21, but the SF21 does not seem to be much smaller. We wanted to find out if any of its subtle streamlining added up to a better pistol than the original.

Springfield Armory XD45 Compacts

The Springfield Armory XD45 Compacts were a versatile duo. The 4-inch model might have been easier to shoot, but the extra barrel length of the 5-inch Tactical Compact shown here added a lot of power and sight radius, too. Supplying a 10-round magazine in a short grip reminded us of the original Officer’s model 1911s that featured a reduced grip to prevent the butt of the gun from printing through the cover garment. But these guns can hide 10 rounds in a frame about the same size of a Government model. We also liked the Glock 21 SF, but felt it was better suited to a limited role of home defense or as a sidearm for uniformed police. The Taurus PT 24/7 Pro had the best grip, but its long trigger made rapid fire more difficult. Streamlight’s TLR-2 light/laser combination fit each of our test pistols.

We established basic accuracy for each pistol by measuring five-shot groups fired from a rest at 15 yards. Our test ammunition consisted of a typical practice round, Winchester’s 230-grain FMJ Q4170 load and two hollowpoint defense rounds. Our JHP rounds were Winchester’s USA45JHP ammunition and the Hornady Custom 185-grain JHP/XTP No. 9090 load. In terms of accuracy all three guns exceeded our expectations.

We also put the guns through an action-shooting test in which the operator pressed the trigger as fast as he could confirm an acceptable sight picture. For this test we visited American Shooting Centers in Houston (amshootcenters.com). There, we posted a Hoffners ABC16 target at the 7-yard line. This target measured a full 35 inches tall by 23 inches wide with six 3-inch aiming circles on each side of a humanoid silhouette. We fired 10 three-shot strings at the silhouette for a total of 30 rounds. The first two shots were aimed at the 5.5-by-8.0-inch A-zone chest area. The third shot was aimed at the B-zone, represented by a 5-inch-diameter half circle in the head. Firing from the bench at a 1.5-inch bull and unsupported at the Hoffners target were simple but revealing tests. Here is what we learned about each pistol.

Taurus PT24/7 Pro 45-BP-12 .45 ACP, $503

The Taurus 24/7 Pro was the only gun in the test with a thumb-operated safety. It was located along the top of the frame in line with the slide release and the slide stop pin. All three levers were similar in appearance, so the first few times we tried to lock back the slide we hesitated, choosing the safety lever instead of the lock. But we value a mechanical lever and otherwise found this design easy to operate.

The 24/7 Pro had a very solid feel as though it were steel and not polymer. Our staff also agreed that the Taurus had the best grip. Capacity of the magazine was 12 rounds, and the base pad added slightly to the length of the grip. The magazine release was well out of the way of being pressed accidentally. Releasing the magazine required turning the gun toward the right-hand thumb to bring pressure straight across or slightly inward from the front. Left-handed shooters had little trouble operating the release with their trigger finger. The dustcover ran the full length of the slide and offered two cross hatches between a Picatinny rail. All four guns offered rails, so we used a Streamlight TLR-2 ($489, from streamlight.com), which supplies both a laser dot on demand as well as a healthy ray of white light. It was simple to attach and remove this unit on all the models.

The Taurus slide had an externally mounted extractor and key-operated lock that seized not only the trigger but slide movement as well. To remove the top end of the Pro 24/7, the slide must be locked back and the slide-stop pin removed by rotating it 90 degrees clockwise. We began by releasing the magazine and pulling back the slide. After ejecting the loaded round, we double-checked for an empty chamber. We prefer not to combine clearing the chamber of a semiauto with locking back the slide. This way we can make sure our hands are away from the ejection port should the exiting round be ignited by contact with the ejector. With the slide stop pin removed, the top end can now be slid forward, but the trigger must be pulled to completely remove the slide. The only trick to reassembling this pistol was tilting the muzzle downward to keep the barrel fully forward so that the pin can be properly replaced.

Sights were a low-mount three-dot design with both front and rear units secured by a screw. The sights were easy to track in our action test, but the deciding factor in this drill was the trigger pull. Our first shots were pulled low, but once we adapted to the long, rubbery trigger our shooting became more consistent. Our total score on the Hoffners target was 16/20 shots in the A-zone and 6/10 shots in the B-zone. We found that the key to shooting each of these hinged-trigger guns was not to bear down on the grips and over-control the muzzle flip.

The only malfunction we experienced occurred during the benchrest session in which our shooter may have let the surrounding sandbags contact the slide. The two malfunctions were identical, with a round of Winchester 230-grain FMJ ammunition not fully entering the chamber.

From the bench we were able to land three sub-1-inch groups. The average group size for all shots fired was approximately 1 inch across. Shooting the Hornady 185-grain JHP/XTP rounds produced the best results overall from the Taurus, and in fact, from all four guns. But we rated the Taurus trigger to be the least precise, requiring the most training and control. We think the best way to stay ready with a Taurus 24/7 would be to practice regularly and not interfere with the development of your technique by shooting guns with a different type of trigger.

Springfield Armory XD45 Compact XD9645HCSP06 .45 ACP, $589

The 4-inch-barrel XD pistols are referred to as being Service models. Like the 5-inch Tactical XD pistol reviewed below, the application of a frame with shorter grip is what earns these guns the designation of Compact. The XD pistols do not have a safety per se, but offer an important safety feature when compared to the Glock pistols.

Both guns utilize a safety that is turned off when a lever in the face of the trigger is compressed. This assures that the gun will not fire unless there is contact with the trigger. The XD goes further by including a grip-operated safety that must also be compressed. This makes the XD design safer than the Glock in the following scenario. Should a foreign object such as a shirttail enter the holster along with the pistol, the XD will not fire without compression of the grip safety.

Another basic difference between the two guns is that pressing the trigger on the XD adds very little rearward movement to the striker. A hole in the rear of the XD slide allows a stainless-steel indicator to poke through and tell the operator that the gun is ready to fire. The Glock trigger has a longer stroke as it works to push the striker back to its break point. The result is that the XD trigger has more of a crisp, single-action feel.

Another way in which the XD pistols differ from Glock is in takedown procedure. With the gun empty, the slide was locked back and the latch located on the left side of the frame was turned upward 90 degrees. The slide can then be released by pulling the trigger and sliding it off the frame.

The XD compact pistols arrived with a 10-round magazine with a flat basepad and a 13-round magazine fit with a collar that matches up with the grip frame. The magazine bodies were polished stainless steel. The collar of the longer magazine did a good job of extending the grip. Visually, there was a noticeable gap, but it did not pinch the shooter’s hand. Grip with either magazine in place was very good. The magazine release was ambidextrous, making the XD pistols left-hand friendly. Sights on both of the XD pistols were a three-dot design dovetailed into place.

Faced with two magazines of different capacities, the consumer may ask, "Which magazine do I start with and which one do I reload to?" Here are some answers. If your intent is to carry these guns concealed, they are much easier to hide with the 10-round magazine in place. We also found that in our action test the shorter magazine, affording less grip, let the gun recoil more naturally. With the long magazine in place, it was too easy to overpower the gun and not let it settle properly between shots. Also, if you should need to reload, you have to remember that releasing the long magazine means reducing the grip by about one-third. The longer magazine will likely hang up on the palm of the hand. Some will argue that 10 rounds should be enough, let alone 13. But magazine changes are not always necessitated by shooting until empty. A malfunction can also force a reload. Springfield Armory advertises these models as being two guns in one. That could easily mean the long magazines are for defending the home and the short magazines are for concealed carry.

From the bench our test shooter preferred the longer magazine in place. Indeed, for one hand the flat-based magazine could offer plenty of grip. But for a larger hand the extended model may be necessary. Accuracy from support produced an average group of about 1 inch.

In our action test the numbers do not tell the whole story. We had four misses to the left of the A-zone (16/20), but they were printed in a tight group. This offset indicates shooter error in our judgment. Three shots were missing from the B-zone, for an overall score of 7/10. But our staff enjoyed shooting the 4-inch model because it felt balanced in our hands.

Springfield Armory XD45 Compact Tactical XD9655HCSP06 .45 ACP, $619

Aficionados of forty-five who crave the Government Model’s power but long for more rounds in a concealable handgun should like the XD45 Compact Tactical. The length of the grips on both the XD Compacts with the 10-round magazine in place was about 0.75 inch shorter than a standard-framed 1911 loaded with a flush-fit magazine. The original concealable 1911s were custom guns in that their grip frames had been cut in length. This limited capacity to six rounds in the magazine. We measured the XD grip to be 1.2 inches wide at its base. This was about 0.10 inches thinner than a typical 1911 fit with standard width grips.

The XD Compact Tactical differs from the 4-inch model only in the length of its barrel and slide. This increased the sight radius, making the front sight easier to see for most shooters, but it adds about 2.5 ounces to total weight. Additional weight usually adds recoil control, but not when it’s attached to the top end, which is moving back and forth. If the difference in felt recoil between the two model XDs was a negative, then here’s reason to feel good about the need for more attention to the grip. The long 5-inch barrel provided more velocity and power than our other guns. In fact, the extra inch of barrel accounted for about 50 foot-pounds more muzzle energy when compared to the 4-inch XD pistol.

Another aspect of carrying either of the XD pistols with the large magazine in place is the excess weight. For example, it is one thing to carry 15 or 16 rounds of 115-grain 9mm ammunition in the magazine and quite another to tote 13 rounds of 230-grain 45 ACP. This made all the guns in our test top heavy when seated vertically in a belt holster.

Springfield does supply a belt holster and dual magazine pouch with the XD Compacts as well as for other models, but for some body types, this polymer high-ride design can let the gun flop outward, printing against the covering garment. In our opinion a better choice of holster for these guns would be a low-ride model wherein the line of the grip is nearly level with the belt. The matching dual magazine pouch was exceptional however. It featured a tension adjustable hold that will not come loose and both front and back edges were sculpted with a Picatinny rail for carrying a weapon light or other accessory.

From the bench our test pistol averaged about 1-inch-wide groups for all shots fired.

In our action test of the Tactical model, we landed 17/20 shots in the A-zone. The 20-shot group was tight, but our test shooter was once again pushing shots to the left. Shifting to the head shot, we printed 6/10 shots in the desired spot.

Glock G21 SF .45 ACP, $637

As soon as we opened the case, we wondered what was different or special about the G21 SF. The barrel length was the same as the standard G21. So was the height. It had a great rail with no less than four cross hatches. But that’s not unique to the SF either. We called Glock to find out how the two guns differed, and here is what they said.

The trigger housing was changed and an ambidextrous magazine release was installed. Magazines were held in place by a notch on the front face of the magazine. We could see the steel inner liner of the magazines through the inlet. Original G21 magazines cannot be retrofit to the SF, but SF magazines will fit older Model 21 pistols. Above all, the backstrap was shortened by about 0.10 inch to make it easier for smaller hands to reach the trigger. Sure enough, in our August 2005 issue we measured the trigger span to be 3.0 inches. Our model SF registered a 2.9-inch span, which brought it closer to our other test guns that measured about 2.8 from the bow of the trigger straight back.

In the hand the G21 SF still had a flat, boxy feeling across the weak side grip, but the SF was nevertheless more pleasant to handle. In fact, we thought the SF did the best job of handling recoil, especially when firing the 230-grain FMJ rounds that produced the most felt recoil.

Each of our test guns were striker-fired pistols with polymer frames. But here are some of the ways in which the Glock differed. The XD pistols had a harder-break trigger, and the Taurus was soft and long. The Glock pistol split the difference and had a smooth progressive feel. We never got to the point in our press where we felt it was taking too long to break.

The sights consisted of a white outlined notch in the rear unit, which was dovetailed into place. The front sight was pinned into the slide and displayed a large white dot.

In terms of field stripping, the latch was a pull-down design that needed to be gripped from both sides. All of our pistols required that the trigger be pulled at some point during the breakdown procedure, but with the Glock, clearing the weapon was even more critical. We recommend visually checking the chamber at least twice on any semiauto because when a magazine is removed, the top round in the magazine can be dislodged. Seeing a round fall away from the gun can fool you into leaving the chamber loaded.

Once cleared, the slide of the Glock is released into battery position, and the trigger is pressed. The slide is then shifted to the rear just far enough to allow the latch to drop. No more than a tenth of an inch is necessary. The beauty of the Glock design is that no extra parts fall away, and replacing the slide is as simple as reapplying it to the frame.

At the bench we never put the G21 SF down without unloading it first. One of our staffers said they prefer to carry a gun with a safety or, at least a decocker. (See nearby sidebar about the benefits of adding a safety).

The Glock 21 SF was just a hair behind our other pistols in our accuracy tests. Overall average for five shots was about 1.1 inches across. But when firing the Hornady 185-grain JHP rounds, the SF was a close second with all but one group breaking the 1-inch barrier.

In our action test the Glock scored the highest. We put 19/20 hits inside the A-zone, and 7/10 in the smaller B-zone.

ACCURACY AND CHRONOGRAPH DATA

TAURUS PT24/7 45-BP-12 45 ACP

SPRINGFIELD ARMORY XD45 COMPACT XD9645HCSP06 .45 ACP

SPRINGFIELD ARMORY XD45 COMPACT TACTICAL XD9655HCSP06 .45 ACP

GLOCK G21 SF .45 ACP

GLOCK SAFETIES

GUN TESTS REPORT CARD