Review: Springfield Armory XD-E

Review: Springfield Armory XD-E
With the Springfield Armory XD-E, Springfield is betting a DA/SA pistol with exposed hammer will be a hit.

Brand new from Springfield Armory is what the company is calling the "Hammer," otherwise known as the XD-E. In short the XD-E could be described as a hammer-fired version (the "E" stands for external hammer) of Springfield's popular striker-fired XD-S compact. But that's not completely accurate- or the full story. Before I get into the reasons for the XD-E's invention, let's look at its specs.

The XD-E is currently offered only in 9mm and is a DA/SA auto intended for self-defense, including concealed carry. For those of you new to firearms, DA/SA is shorthand for double action/single action. In this design, the first round can be fired like a double-action revolver, with the trigger pull cocking the hammer and firing the gun. The cycling slide then cocks the hammer for subsequent shots, which are then single action.

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The XD-E can be carried cocked and locked. While the safety is also a decocker, the decocker is small enough that you're not likely to accidentally decock the pistol when disengaging the safety.

The XD-E features a 3.3-inch hammer-forged barrel with a corrosion-resistant Melonite finish. There is a lever-type loaded-chamber indicator in the top of the slide. The frame is polymer with Springfield's Grip Zone texturing front and back.

The pistol sports some ambidextrous controls such as the magazine release and decocker/safety. The takedown lever and slide stop can be found on the left side of the pistol. The controls on the pistol are big enough to operate but no bigger, which speaks toward its role as a defensive handgun that will probably be carried concealed.

The XD-E is not a small gun. It is 6.75 inches long with the hammer down and five inches tall with the short magazine with the flush base pad in place. However, the pistol is thin. Most of it, including the grip, is an inch thick or less. At the pistol's widest part (the bilateral decocker/safety) it is just 1.2 inches thick. It feels flat in the hand.

Springfield Armory considers the XD-E a compact pistol, but be aware there is no technical definition of "compact" or even "subcompact," and opinions vary as to what guns fit into which categories. While the XD-E is smaller than most full-size duty guns, it is far too large for a pocket. It's pretty dang large for a purse. This is a pistol destined for holster wear if you're going to carry it.

The XD-E comes with an extended nine-round magazine with grip extender (inserted) and an eight-round magazine with two different base pads: flush and extended.

However, because it is so flat it will be easy to conceal. And because the XD-E is not a super-small handgun, just about everyone will be able to get their entire hand on the gun with the short magazine in place, with or without the finger hook base pad- excuse me, "grip X-Tension."

The pistol comes with two different single-stack magazines. The magazine bodies are stainless steel with numbered witness holes for the rounds on both sides, which is really nice. The black polymer magazine followers have a non-tilt design.

The magazine base pads are black polymer and easily removed. The short magazine holds eight rounds and comes with both a flat/flush and an extended base pad with finger hook. Like I said, Springfield calls this a "grip X-Tension," but I don't think a simple finger hook deserves that moniker.

The longer magazine holds nine rounds and has what I consider a real grip extension that has Grip Zone texturing and matches the contour at the rear of the frame.

The grip extension on the longer magazine is marked "XDE- 9/40." In the detective business, this is known as a "clue," indicating this pistol at some point will be offered in .40 S&W, as is the XD-S. However, when I checked with Springfield, the folks there could not tell me when the .40 S&W version would be available.

Springfield's XD-S pistol has proven popular, at least in part because of its excellent reliability- a trait attributable in no small measure to its magazines. The XD-E magazine bodies have the same design as the XD-S mags; they're just a little longer due to the XD-E's lengthier frame. And an XD-E mag will fit into a XD-S pistol (it will stick out just a bit), although the reverse is not true because the XD-S magazine is too short.

Like the XD-S, the XD-E features steel sights, with a red fiber-optic insert in the front sight. The rear sight has a serrated face, no-snag profile and two white dots to either side of the notch.

The serrations at the rear of the slide don't look as aggressive as they feel. I only wish they covered more real estate. A matching section of serrations at the front of the slide would be welcomed by many people.

By the very nature of a hammer-fired design, the bore of the XD-E is higher off the hand than that of the parent/inspiration XD-S. The extra height can be found at the top of the frame, which on the XD-E is about a third of an inch taller than the similarly proportioned XD-S. Because the frame had to be slightly taller to accommodate the pivot point of the hammer, Springfield took advantage of the extra space. The flush and extended magazines for the XD-E respectively hold one more round than those for the XD-S.

As for the frame of the gun, I found positives and negatives. The Grip Zone texturing isn't nearly as aggressive as I would like, and there are large smooth areas on both sides of the grip. On the positive side, there is a finger groove on the front of the frame, and the frame is long enough to get your whole hand on the gun.

The XD-E sports sights that are now standard for the XD line, with a red fiber-optic insert in the front sight and white dots on either side of the rear notch.

The hooked base pad on the shorter magazine really helps keep your hand in place. The result is a gun that is much more controllable than it first seems. And because it is so flat, it points naturally.

Double-action trigger pulls are, by their nature, longer and heavier than any other type of trigger pull, so I am a knee-jerk hater of them. That said, the trigger pull on my sample was better than expected. The double-action pull was smooth, with noticeable stacking at the end, and broke at 10.75 pounds. The single-action pull had some take-up but then a smooth 5.5-pound break.

So why a DA/SA hammer-fired XD? The way in which Springfield Armory is choosing to advertise and market the XD-E should give you a clue as to why the company made it.

First, Springfield advertises that the XD-E requires 27 percent less force to rack the slide and chamber a round when compared to the striker-fired XD-S. That is not an unimportant concern to people who don't have a lot of grip strength. I noticed the lighter-weight recoil spring right off when I first racked the XD-E's slide.

That said, DA/SA semiautos are retro. Few companies are making new DA/SA pistols because striker-fired guns are all the rage, and my first question upon hearing about the XD-E was, "Why?" So I reached out to Springfield to get the rest of the story. Chad Dyer, marketing guru at Springfield, explained the firm's reasoning.

XDEAccuracy

"A lot of people want the visual of knowing a gun is safe," he said. "Many people aren't familiar enough with guns, nor care to be, to understand the mechanics of a striker-fired pistol. If they don't see the hammer, they don't get it.

"I've found that nearly all of the 'gun guys' say, 'Why would anyone want that?' Or, 'That seems like a step backwards.' It's everyone else who sees it and says, 'Oh, I like that; you can tell if it's cocked.' Followed by, 'Wow, that's really easy to rack.' "

Dyer said the racking force was a major point in the development of the XD-E, particularly considering the increasing number of women- some of whom lack the hand strength to rack a slide- and the increasing number of baby boomers getting older to the point they're having more problem racking slides.

It's always a smart bet to offer the consumer more choices, and the XD-E does that in other ways, too. The XD-E's design give you four different carry options.

You can carry the pistol with the hammer cocked or down, with the safety on or off. The safety lever functions similarly to the thumb safety found on a 1911. So, yes, you can carry the XD-E in Condition One: "cocked and locked"- hammer cocked and the safety on. Just because a DA/SA pistol's first shot can be double action doesn't mean it has to be.

However, because the safety lever is so narrow, I don't know if I'd want to carry this pistol cocked and locked. God invented extended wide thumb safeties for the 1911 for a reason, and the safety/decocker on the XD-E is narrower than the small GI thumb safety on a 1911.

I was also concerned I might accidentally decock the pistol while deactivating and riding the safety. That concern was unfounded, though. The shape of the safety lever is such that you won't accidentally decock it- it takes conscious effort. But I still don't have confidence I could deactivate it positively under stress, but everyone's hand is shaped differently. If I were to carry the XD-E, it would be with the hammer down and safety off.

There's another reason for consumers to maybe pick the XD-E over previous XD designs. This pistol does away with the ubiquitous XD grip safety. Some people with small/thin hands (myself included) have issues deactivating it, and in a defensive situation the technical term for that is "very bad."

I've also never liked the fact I can't cycle the slide of an XD without depressing the grip safety. If the grip safety isn't depressed on an XD/XD(M)/XD-S, you can only retract the slide enough to see if there's a round in the chamber.

I'm not a fan of high bores, which make for more muzzle rise when shooting, and I don't like how the forward-sweeping curve of the trigger squeezes my finger between trigger and frame when it is all the way forward, but I found the XD-E to be surprisingly shootable. I consider it nearly a full-size pistol, and full-size pistols chambered in 9mm generally are pleasant if not fun to shoot. The XD-E was no different.

Firearms introductions don't happen in a vacuum, and Springfield is on top of things in regards to accessories. The company's product page for the XD-E lists 15 holster manufacturers already making holsters for the gun. If for some reason you don't like the factory sights, they are the same as found on the established XD-S, which means aftermarket replacements are numerous and easy to find.

The XD-E was fun to shoot. For recreational purposes that might be important, but for self-defense it is largely inconsequential. But here's something that isn't inconsequential. Between numerous trips to the range and a lot of use on screen while filming the latest season of "Handguns & Defensive Weapons" TV show, it has not suffered any malfunctions. Isn't that the point of a pistol meant for self-defense?

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