The compact self-loading pistol is easily the most popular personal-defense handgun in America. Shooters realize that small-bore handguns may not have sufficient potential for personal defense. The 9mm Luger is the baseline for personal defense in most shooters’ eyes. The 40 S&W isn’t as popular due to the stout recoil it produces in compact handguns. After all, many 9mms and 40s are built on the same frame. The 45-caliber compact is slightly larger, and the lower-pressure 45 ACP gives a hard push in recoil rather than the sharp jolt experienced with the 40.
To see how our shooters rated a trio of smallish 45s, we acquired three handguns based on the service-size Glock 21, Springfield XD, and S&W M&P handguns.
From Glock comes the single-stack polymer-frame G36, which is popular, reliable, and well suited to personal defense. The Glock G36 PI3650201FGR 45 6R FS, $561, isn’t the most popular Glock by a long shot, but a number of Glock fans, as well as 45 ACP fans, like the Glock 36 handgun for its simplicity and ease of use.
Another gun in the test was Springfield Armory’s XD-S, a downsized XD with a slim single-stack grip. The Springfield Armory XD-S 3.3 XDS93345BE 45 ACP, $419, is even more compact than the Glock, with a short grip frame and a five-round magazine.
The latest arrival in the polymer-frame 45 single-stack scene is the Smith & Wesson M&P45 Shield 180022, $399. The Shield series have been popular and well accepted by concealed carry handgunners, so making a 45-caliber version of it is a natural choice.
We test-fired the pistols with a total of five loads. The first was a handload with Magnus Cast bullets (#803 225-grain Flatpoint) and 4.8 grains of Titegroup powder. Our other test loads came from CheaperThanDirt.com. One was the HPR 230-grain JHP 45230JHP ($38/50 rounds), a Hornady 200-grain XTP ($15.28/20), a Hornady 230-grain XTP +P 9096 ($16.25/20), and a Fiocchi 230-grain Extrema JHP 45XTP25 ($17.24/25). We fired the handload during the combat firing test stage, shooting 50 cartridges in each pistol. We also fired a magazine of the Hornady 230-grain +P in these stages to evaluate recoil in each handgun. The HPR 230-grain load, the Hornady 200-grain load, and the Fiocchi 230-grain Extrema were used in accuracy testing. During the course of our testing, the three pistols never failed to feed, chamber, fire or eject, so reliability isn’t an issue.
|Fiocchi Extrema JHP 230-gr. 45XTP25||Glock G36||Shield M&P45||Springfield XD-S|
|Average velocity||770 fps||752 fps||767 fps|
|Muzzle energy||302 ft.-lbs.||288 ft.-lbs.||300 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest group||2 in.||1.9 in.||2.5 in.|
|Largest group||2.6 in.||2.6 in.||3.5 in.|
|Average group size||2.3 in.||2.3 in.||3 in.|
|HPR JHP 230-gr. 45230|
|Average velocity||785 fps||760 fps||770 fps|
|Muzzle energy||314 ft.-lbs.||294 ft.-lbs.||302 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest group||2.4 in.||2.5 in.||2.9 in.|
|Largest group||2.8 in.||3.2 in.||3.6 in.|
|Average group size||2.6 in.||2.8 in.||3.3 in.|
|Hornady XTP 200-gr.|
|Average velocity||860 fps||840 fps||852 fps|
|Muzzle energy||328 ft.-lbs.||313 ft.-lbs.||322 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest group||2 in.||2.3 in.||2.9 in.|
|Largest group||2.6 in.||2.9 in.||3.7 in.|
|Average group size||2.4 in.||2.6 in.||3.4 in.|
|Notes: Average velocity readings were recorded by firing five-shot strings over a Competition Electronics Pro Chrono. The muzzle was 10 feet from the first skyscreen. Ambient temperature:45 degrees. Elevation: 815 feet above sea level. The accuracy figures are the average of three five-shot groups. For accuracy, we fired the test gun from a benchrest at a 25-yard target.|
As may be expected, these compact 45s are popular with fans of each company’s full-size 45s. But that isn’t the whole story. As we discovered, fans of the full-size Glock may prefer the XD-S and our Springfield XD fan preferred the Glock 36 compact, and so it went. The primary difference was in handling, we found. Here are our findings.
Springfield Armory XD-S 3.3 XDS93345BE 45 ACP, $419
GUN TESTS GRADE: C
The XD-S is reliable, but required considerable effort to master. While compact and powerful, there are better choices. We did not enjoy firing the XD-S due to the aggressive grip frame.
|ACTION||Locked breech semi-auto|
|OVERALL LENGTH||6.3 in.|
|OVERALL HEIGHT||4.4 to 5 in.|
|MAX WIDTH||1.1 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||22.6 oz.|
|WEIGHT LOADED (6 rds., 185-gr. hp)||26.4 oz.|
|BARREL||Melonite-finished steel; 3.3 in.; 1:16 twist|
|MAGAZINES||Stainless steel; (1) 5-rd. flush fit; (1) 6-rd. Mid-Mag X-Tension|
|SLIDE||Melonite-finished forged steel|
|FRONT STRAP HEIGHT||1.7 in.|
|BACK STRAP HEIGHT||2.1 in.|
|GRIPS||Waffle textured polymer|
|GRIP THICKNESS (max)||1 in.|
|GRIP CIRCUMFERENCE (max)||4.5 in.|
|REAR SIGHT||Dovetail; two white dots|
|FRONT SIGHT||Dovetail; red fiber optic|
|SIGHT RADIUS||5.8 in.|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT SINGLE ACTION||8 lbs.|
|TRIGGER SPAN SINGLE ACTION||2.9 in.|
|SAFETY||Trigger safety; grip safety|
This was a current price listed by BudsGunShop.com. The Springfield XD-S is an attractive handgun with good features. We really like the fiber-optic front sight, and the rear sight offers a good sharp sight picture. Yet the fiber optic isn’t so large that it overpowers the sight picture. For precision shooting, the sights are good, but they are also very fast getting on target for rapid combat shooting.
The pistol is short at only 4 inches tall, and the frame is an inch wide. It is the most concealable handgun tested, in our view. The magazine release is ambidextrous, a good feature. There is a spare backstrap included. All raters used the supplied backstrap with good results. The magazines are stainless steel and are well made. They were very tight to load, with a strong magazine spring, but they must be to maintain reliability with a short slide and the resulting slide velocity. One magazine features a grip extension. The XD-S has the lowest magazine capacity with five rounds, giving the shooter a total of six rounds in the pistol. This is a tradeoff between the short grip frame and capacity.
The pistol weighs but 21.4 ounces unloaded. The trigger action is the new Safety Assurance action. It was heavier than the pull on a full-size XD we had on hand, breaking at 8 pounds versus 6.5 pounds for the full-size XD 45. We like the grip safety. The grip safety does not allow the pistol to fire unless the grip safety is depressed, yet the grip safety is pressed without thought as you grasp the handgun. The safety locks the slide, which is nice when holstering the pistol in a tightly fitted holster. The lever in the trigger also aids against lateral discharge. The pistol features a roughly textured grip frame that really leaves an impression. We mean that — when firing this little 45, the pistol must be grasped tightly and the frame rally digs into the hand. With such a short grip, there is no other way to do this, and the grip design is necessary for good control. The pistol is controllable, but it was the least comfortable of the pistols fired, in our view. It was not simply recoil, but extra pain transferred to the palm by the abrasive grips.
During the initial firing stage, we found the XD-S firing low at 7 yards, so our shooters had to reappraise the grip. Many polymer-frame pistols with a steel slide and light frame fire low, and the pistol’s short grip and substantial recoil were a challenge. The raters took a stout grip and kept the frame pushed up by pressure with the support hand. Recoil was not bone jarring, but it was brisk, and the grip texture dug into the hand after a few magazines. Considerable effort was required to produce acceptable results. However, after the shooter got used to it, the pistol did exhibit good combat results. With the extended-finger-grip magazine, things went easier. This pistol received an extra 50 rounds of the 225-grain handload so we could get the measure of the handgun the old-fashioned way, through practice. Firing a single magazine of 230-grain XTP +P loads (824 fps), the pistol recoiled more, but was controllable. Function was fine, and getting the 45 ACP to +P territory raised velocity more than 70 fps. As for combat shooting, drawing the pistol from a Galco Stow-N-Go IWB holster gave good results. The pistol is fast on target. It is follow-up shots and double taps that are slower than the big guns, but that is understandable. Draw the XD-S and get a bead on the target, and you get a hit. After that, it is all about control.
Control is easier with the 9mm, of course, but the 45 ACP is more likely to stop an attack with a minimum of well-placed shots. If you do not intend to practice diligently and master this handgun, then a smaller caliber is called for. We feel the small 40s are more difficult to handle than this 45. Just the same, of the three pistols tested, the XD-S was the most difficult to control and the least comfortable to fire. For a change, it wasn’t the wrists that were sore, but the palms. The smallest gun tested really requires dedication to making good shooting skills.
Firing for accuracy, we did not attempt a 25-yard group, instead moving to 15 yards. The results were interesting. We really think that the slowest load tested, the Fiocchi, may have been most accurate primarily because it generated the least recoil and required less shifting of the grip between shots. The best 15-yard group was 2.5 inches, but this was not the average. Most loads put five shots into 3 inches or a little more, and you have to work for it. The pistol will hit a target in the center every time at 15 yards in the hands of a skilled user.
Our Team Said: We found the XD-S to be reliable and concealable. We rated it down a full grade because of the heavy recoil and fair accuracy.
Glock G36 PI3650201FGR 45 6R FS 45 ACP, $561
GUN TESTS GRADE: A-
The Glock is reliable and accurate enough for any conceivable chore. The sights could be improved, however, which is why there are so many aftermarket Glock sights. The fat grip is manageable, but not ideal. We feel that the Smith & Wesson Shield is the better gun when you look at all the features.
|ACTION||Double action only|
|OVERALL LENGTH||7.1 in.|
|OVERALL HEIGHT||4.7 in.|
|MAX WIDTH||1.2 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||20.1 oz.|
|WEIGHT LOADED||27 oz.|
|BARREL LENGTH||3.8 in.|
|MAGAZINE||6-rd. detachable box|
|FRAME FRONT STRAP HEIGHT||1.5 in.|
|FRAME BACK STRAP HEIGHT||2.6 in.|
|GRIP THICKNESS (max)||1.1 in.|
|GRIP CIRCUMFERENCE (max)||6 in.|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT SINGLE ACTION||5.5 lbs.|
|TRIGGER SPAN SINGLE ACTION||2.9 in.|
|SAFETY||No manual safety|
This, too, was a recent counter price from BudsGunShop.com. Carrying the same MSRP as the Springfield, the Glock is the most proven of the three handguns tested and has been in service the longest. As such, it is a known commodity. The Glock is the bulkiest of the three pistols, in our estimation. The Glock has the common firing pin block and hinged trigger safety of the others, but no manual safety. Some may prefer this, but we prefer a safety when we can get it.
The sights are OK for close-range use, but they appeared blockier and less well suited to precise shooting than the others, it seemed. However, the Glock was the most accurate pistol. The Glock trigger action was steady at 5.5 pounds with the typical Glock let off. Reset is rapid. Polymer magazines hold six cartridges. The Glock came out of the box running and never failed to feed, chamber, fire, and eject. The owner, one of our raters, uses the Glock as his carry gun. For practice with lead-bullet loads, he uses a Bar-Sto Precision barrel, conventionally rifled for lead bullets as Glock’s polygonal rifling isn’t suited to lead. Figure the need to purchase jacketed practice loads into the Glock purchase. On the other hand, the polygonal rifling gave slightly higher velocity than the other loads, par for the course with the Glock. Many feel the Glock chamber doesn’t support cartridge-case heads as well as other pistols. While it appears that way on examination, all +P loads showed normal case expansion.
Hand fit was an issue because the Glock 36 has a fairly fat grip. However, in another trade-off, the bore axis of the Glock 36 is relatively low. Recoil was modest for a 45-caliber compact pistol. Half of the raters reported a tingle in the trigger finger on firing, common with harder-kicking Glock handguns.
In fast combat firing, the pistol gave excellent results with the lead bullet handload and Bar-Sto barrel. The pistol was drawn from the same Galco holster as the Springfield (actually ordered for the Glock) and speed was excellent. We felt the red fiber-optic front sight and relatively small grip of the Springfield gave an advantage to gaining an accurate first-shot hit. After the first shot, recovery was faster with the Glock, and the piece more comfortable to fire as well. With a single magazine of +P loads, the pistol was not uncomfortable to fire, but the shooter knew he had upped the ante.
Our Team Said: The Glock was not as controllable in rapid fire as the Shield, we thought, which gave a good showing on the combat range. In benchrest accuracy, the Glock 36 gave the best accuracy results of any of the handguns tested, including a number of groups of 2 inches or less, although the average was lower. We rated the pistol down a half grade based on hand fit.
Smith & Wesson M&P45 Shield 180022 45 ACP, $399
GUN TESTS GRADE: A (Best Buy)
The Shield has features we like, including a manual safety and the best grip design of the three. This grip not only fit most hands well, the pebble grip allowed good purchase without abrading the palm.
|ACTION||Striker-fire double-action only|
|OVERALL LENGTH||6.5 in.|
|OVERALL HEIGHT||4.9 in.|
|MAX WIDTH||1.1 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||20.5 oz.|
|WEIGHT LOADED||27.4 oz.|
|BARREL LENGTH||3.3 in.|
|BARREL||Stainless steel; Armorlite finish|
|MAGAZINE||6 & 7 rd. stainless steel|
|SLIDE||Stainless steel; Armorlite finish|
|FRAME||Polymer; compact slim|
|FRAME FRONT STRAP HEIGHT||2.125-2.5 in.|
|FRAME BACK STRAP HEIGHT||3.2-3.6 in.|
|GRIP THICKNESS (max)||0.9 in.|
|GRIP CIRCUMFERENCE (max)||5.25 in.|
|FRONT SIGHT||Steel, white dot|
|REAR SIGHT||Steel, white two dot|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT SINGLE ACTION||6 lbs.|
|TRIGGER SPAN||2.6 in.|
The Shield features the lowest MSRP, but also was purchased for less than MSRP at South Carolina Gun Company. For comparison’s sake, the price listed is from Bud’s. The introduction of the Smith & Wesson Military & Police Shield 45 spurred this report. The Shield has been upgraded and redesigned in this big-bore offering. The Shield is comparable in size to the XD-S, save with a longer grip. This long grip made the pistol more comfortable to fire and Smith & Wesson achieved excellent adhesion in the firing grip without resorting to the aggressive checkering of the XD-S.
The Shield is well finished in a rugged dark color. The slide features small forward cocking serrations and well-designed main cocking serrations. The sights are good examples of combat sights, not as easily picked up as the XD-S in rapid fire but more precise than the Glock, we thought. The pistol is supplied with two magazines. Both are six rounds, one with an extended base pad. We liked the advantage in magazine capacity over the XD-S. The trigger breaks at 6 pounds and cleaner than either the Glock or the XD-S. The Shield handles well. The longer grip really made a difference in firing. On the combat course, the pistol gave excellent results. We did not experience the personal break-in period demanded of the XD-S, but the pistol came out of the box firing and gave excellent results from the beginning. Recoil was more noticeable than the Glock due to the Shield’s thin grip profile. But it was not punishing.
The Shield is more comfortable to fire and use than the XD-S, and it smaller and more concealable than the Glock 36. The Shield’s positive safety is appreciated. This manual safety is easily manipulated and may be used or ignored as the user sees fit. Some of us prefer a pistol with a safety, particularly a handgun as small as this one carried so close to the body. The Shield is halfway between the XD-S and the Glock in size, not a bad place to be. Balance is good, and the pistol gave excellent results on the combat range. We felt that the Shield’s combat shooting was a better show than the Glock’s performance.
In slow-fire accuracy testing, the pistol beat the XD-S squarely and beat the Glock with one load. The Shield does not have the ambidextrous magazine release of the XD-S. The Shield’s safety isn’t ambidextrous, but then it does have a safety the others do not. A quirk of the magazines was that at the beginning, we could not load the magazines to full capacity. We could load only two or three rounds. Each cartridge must be pressed completely to the rear to allow loading the magazine. This is done by tapping the magazine against a table. This is a trade off for the use of a pistol with such a small magazine and thin grip.
Our Team Said: In the end, the Smith & Wesson M&P45 Shield’s middle-of-the-road size and solid, comfortable range performance earned it a solid A and a Best Buy nod from our testers.
Written and photographed by R.K. Campbell, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.