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Handgun Reviews

What’s the Best .45 Subcompact Pistol on the Market?

by Paul Scarlata   |  February 12th, 2013 36

000_45-Subcompact-Shootout

Small .45s are nothing new. In fact several manufacturers—Glock and Taurus come to mind—have been offering such pistols for a number of years. But recently several new models have been introduced to appease demands from the “bigger bullets are better bullets” crowd.

And with the introduction of Springfield’s XD-S subcompact .45, it seemed it was high time to hit the range for a mini .45 shoot-off. We chose the aforementioned Springfield Armory XD-S, a Glock 36, Taurus PT 745 Pro and a Kahr PM45.

All are striker-fired pistols that use the same breech locking system, and all four are built on polymer frames with ergonomically shaped grips that feature aggressive checkering. The XD-S stands apart as the only one to have interchangeable palm swells so the shooter can fit the gun to his or her particular hand size. It was also the only one sporting a frame rail for tactical lights or lasers.

All of them have machined steel slides with sharp serrations for retracting the slide, and all four employ external extractors. The ejection ports of the PM45 and PT 745 have oval relief cuts at their fronts to ensure positive ejection and prevent loaded rounds from hanging up when being manually ejected.

The G36 features Glock’s Tenifer finish while the Springfield uses a Melonite finish on its XD-S. The PT 745 Pro and PM45 we received both had matte stainless steel slides, although the former is available with a blue steel slide and the latter also has the option of a black matte finish.

While they’re all striker-fired guns, they have different trigger systems. The G36 has Glock’s well-known Safe Action trigger with its relatively short stroke. The PM45 uses a traditional, long double-action-only trigger, and the Springfield’s XD-S featured the company’s new Short Reset Trigger with a relatively short take-up and, as the name implies, a short reset.

Almost none of these has second-strike capability, which allows you a second chance at a round that misfires, but the Taurus does. If a round doesn’t go off, simply pull the trigger again. When the PT 745 Pro is cocked, it has a long but light take-up before a single-action let off.

The flush-fit magazines on the PM45 and XD-S hold five rounds; those for the G36 and PT 745 hold six. The Glock’s mag is polymer while the rest are metal. The G36, PT 745 and PM45 magazines all have finger-rest extension base plates that provide a full three-finger grip on the pistol. The PM45 comes standard with an extended six-round magazine while Springfield offers a seven-rounder for the XD-S and as an option. We used both of these during our test firing.

All the guns had fixed sights. The G36’s sights are polymer and use the white outline/dot system while the PT 745 Pro features Heinie Straight-8 sights with white dot-above-dot sight picture. The PM45 has a white bar/dot arrangement, and the XD-S stands apart because it has a red fiber-optic front sight mated to a dual white-dot rear.

There was a fair bit of variety when it came to safeties. The XD-S and PT 745 sport manual safeties. The Springfield’s is a grip safety while the Taurus has a traditional thumb-operated lever. The XD-S and Glock both have safety levers on the face of their triggers that prevent movement unless depressed. The PM45 depends upon its long, revolver-like trigger stroke to provide safety.

All four have passive safeties that block the firing pin, and the Taurus also has a key-operated internal safety that locks the trigger and prevents the manual safety from being disengaged. The Glock, Taurus and Springfield have loaded-chamber indicators that offer a visual and/or tactical indication of the pistol’s condition.

All four pistols had their controls in the “proper” locations. They were positioned for easy access and positive manipulation, were flat in profile and located close to the frame so as not to hang up when the pistol is drawn from concealment.

Once the guns arrived, I rounded up the usual suspects—Dick Jones, Butch Simpson and Dick Cole—plus my friend Gary McDermott, who was visiting from Great Britain. While he’s an experienced shooter, his country’s draconian gun laws meant that he had never handled any of these pistols, and I felt his input would be interesting.

The pistols were each evaluated at the Piedmont Handgunners Association range in seven categories: reliability, ergonomics, trigger control, recoil control, sights, offhand accuracy and ease of reloading. Our levels of experience with polymer-frame pistols and their different trigger systems ranged from extensive (Dick Jones and me) to moderate (Butch) and very limited (Gary McDermott and Dick Cole) and would allow for a diversity of opinion and observations.

Prior to the shootout I tested the guns for accuracy with three different loads from a rest at 15 yards. This expenditure of ammunition produced a series of fairly well-centered groups ranging in size from 1.8 to 3.5 inches with all of them showing a slight preference for Remington’s 185-grain Golden Saber. I consider such performance more than adequate at what is probably extreme range for this class of pistol.

Each pistol was then disassembled, cleaned and oiled, which would be the only maintenance they would receive. As is our SOP, if one of them malfunctioned during testing we would attempt to rectify the problem at the range and keep shooting.

Black Hills Ammunition kindly provided a quantity of 230-grain hardball sufficient to our needs while Target Barn sent a supply of cardboard IDPA and IPSC targets.

We ran the pistols through the following three drills. To keep a level playing field, none required firing more than six rounds before a reload. All drills began with the shooter holding the pistol at the Low Ready position.

  • Modified El Presidente: Double-tap each of three targets at seven yards. Reload and repeat three times.
  • FBI Drill: Fire two body shots and one head shot on a pair of targets at five yards. Reload and repeat three times.
  • One-Handed Drill: Engage three targets at three yards with two rounds each, firing all rounds one-handed. Reload and repeat three times.

Round-count totals were 360 rounds of hardball for each pistol (plus the accuracy-test rounds). That’s not a ton of ammo, but it’s enough to get a feel for each gun and is probably more ammo than the average shooter would put through a pistol of this kind. Firing full-power .45 hardball from a subcompact is a trial and gets downright painful after a while.

Of the total 1,474 rounds through our quartet of test guns we had one misfire, a round that went off on a second strike.

Here are some general observations:

  • RELIABILITY: None of us experienced a single failure to feed, fire or cycle with the XD-S—impressive for a new design. There were two failures to feed with the G36, and there were several smokestacks with the PM45. Numerous failures to feed cursed the PT 745 to last place. For some reason we had far fewer failures with the Taurus when we fired it one-handed.
  • ERGONOMICS: Despite some complaints about its narrow cross-section, we liked the XD-S best. Kahr pistols are well-known for their ergonomic grips, and the PM45 lived up to the family reputation. Several shooters did not care for the G36’s blocky grip, although everyone liked the magazine finger-rest extension. While some of us found the PT 745’s grip comfortable and liked the mag finger-rest extension, three out of five found the controls poorly located or hard to manipulate.
  • TRIGGER CONTROL: All of us liked the XD-S trigger’s short take-up, clean break, little overtravel and a short reset. As several of us have extensive experience with Glock pistols we found the G36’s trigger almost second nature, the only complaint being that it felt quite gritty. With its smooth, consistent stroke, three shooters found the PM45’s trigger to their liking while the other two—single-action pistol fans to the core—did not care for it. Even though the PT 745’s trigger had the lightest let-off of the four pistols it had an inordinate amount of take-up and overtravel.
  • RECOIL CONTROL: We fired the XD-S and PM45 with both their standard and extended magazines. I’ve always found that how shooters feel about recoil is subjective. Some of us handle it better than others. So even though there were complaints about its narrow grip, the XD-S again finished first in this category primarily because the coarse checkering provided an extremely secure purchase. Runner-up position was a tie between the G36 and PM45 with the PT 745 bringing up the rear.
  • SIGHTS: As none of us has eyes that are getting any younger, we all found the XD-S’s fiber-optic front sight to our liking. Second place was once again a G36/PM45 tie, and while several of us felt the PT 745’s sights provided a good sight picture, they were poorly regulated, and the pistol shot low for all of us with the ammo we were using.
  • OFFHAND ACCURACY: The PM45 took honors here but the XD-S was snapping at its heels. The G36’s rather coarse sights caused it to slip to third place while the PT 745’s propensity to shoot low condemned it to last place.
  • EASE OF RELOADING: Winner in this category was the G36 primarily because of its large magazine release, wider magazine well and the fact that the magazines always fell free. The XD-S’s ambidextrous magazine releases required quite of bit of effort to depress and caused it to come in second. Bringing up the rear of the pack was the PT-745 and PM45.

While I’m a longtime fan of Kahr and Glock pistols my favorite was the XD-S. It was utterly reliable, and I really liked how the trigger had a slightly longer stroke than the G36 but was smoother than the PM45 or PT 745. It was also the most compact of the four, which would make it a good choice for concealed carry. Last, the fiber-optic front and square notch rear sights are my favorite arrangement.

Dick Jones came away from the test with a preference for the G36, saying it just felt more integrated. Dick Cole thought the XD-S was easily the most comfortable (or as he put it, “least uncomfortable”) to shoot and had the best ergonomics, and he also praised the visibility of the sights, which was a real help in rapid fire

The XD-S was also Butch Simpson’s favorite, and he cited the ergonomics—especially the checkering on the gun that kept it from moving around in his hands under recoil as much as the other guns did. Ditto for Gary McDermott whose only experience with any of the guns was the Glock. But he also liked the XD-S best for its sights, recoil control, ergonomics and total reliability.

Click to enlarge.

  • 277Volt

    Very nice article on some very good pistols.

    I would like to add a recommendation for those on a budget – the Bersa 45 Ultra Compact Pro. It is a great option. Mine was 100% after the first 100 rounds, has good fit and finish and is an easy to carry 7+1 pistol.

  • Doug

    I would own/wear nothing other than my Para Ordnance Warthog 3", 10+1. All the features of a full frame 1911. Finger extension on magazine and wide grip make for a secure and easy to control compact. Recoil is less than 10% more than a full frame and an experienced 1911 shooter can quickly adapt. Cocked and locked, it carries well in DeSantis strong side holster or middle of back holster w/ secure thumb snap. Accuracy on par with any full frame. A compact you can wear comfortably all day and sit in car or chair without it digging in somewhere. Additional 7oz weight of the stainless makes it even more controllable and no impact on wearing it. IF you are already a 1911 shooter, the Warthog is the gun for you.

    • opar5

      As an owner of a PO P-10, I tend to agree with Doug, except for the concealability and grip, as the fat little grip feels like a baseball on the belt and in the hand. Great pistol otherwise.

  • Patrick

    I have the Springfield XDS…shortly after getting it, the mag retention spring broke and had to send back to the company. They had it back to me within a week and it functions flawlessly. Never miss fired or failed to eject or load. Recoil is not bad at all, considering it is .45. Very reliable weapon and highly recommend.

  • JgS

    I've had the PT 745 for years & have never had any kind problem with it. I like the size 7 handling of it.

    • jcp

      I like my PT745 and think some people just don't like Taurus.

      • Ranch Dog

        Left the Glock 36 three years ago for the PT745 and have never looked back! The only feed issues I've seen with the handgun is from letting others use it and they limp wrist the arm rather quickly as it does pack a punch. In the report, two of the three shooters are experienced so I don't see that as a potential issue but I just haven't see the feed problem in three years of shooting.

        My main interest in moving to the PT745Pro was to get away from polygonal/octagonal barrels which the move to Taurus solved. Couldn't be happier, shooting the heck out of the pisto with home cast bullets while everyone else waits for the store shelves to be restocked for the "gonal" barrels. In the process, I found out that Taurus is a heck of a Company to work with and now own just about everything they produce.

        Despite my love of the PT745, I'm not sure of why it was evaluated as it is no longer in production. The Millennium Pro series has ended their run and are being replaced with the Millennium G2 series with only a 9mm Luger and 40 S&W available at this time. These handguns have more in common with the 24/7 G2 Compact series than they do with the original Millennium Pro series. Don't know if a Milennium G2 45 ACP is in the works but if it appears I will buy it. In the meantime, I'm stocked up on an PT745 parts that might wear with the use I put the pistol through and I'm settled in for the long run. Don't expect values of the Pro series to decrease as I every Taurus model I've seen replaced ends up only being purchased for a premium. Ask a 450 or OSS owner!

    • Chad Miller

      ok. This is about compact 45′s. Getting my wife an XDS for anniversary.

  • T.D. Honeycutt

    Glock 36 all the way. A friend had an AMT Backup in .45 ACP. Small, but a bear to shoot.

    • opar5

      Amen, on that AMT Backup's trigger pull!

  • Tracy Thorleifson

    I carried a Para PDA in .45 ACP for almost five years – it's a great pistol. A few weeks ago I had a chance to shoot a buddy's new Springfield XD-S. I immediately traded my old Para in for the new Springfield. The Springfield XD-S is a *greater* pistol. It's lighter, thinner and more compact than the Para, and every bit as reliable, if not more so. Trigger pull weight is about the same as the Para's LDA system, but the XD-S trigger is crisper, and has a shorter reset. I'm giving up a round of magazine capacity with respect to the Para, but I'll gain that round back plus one more when my extended magazine arrives. My only issue to date is that my poor thumb keeps trying to swing a non-existent manual safety down when I draw. ;-)

  • rod reyerson

    I carry the XDS with Crimson trace laser in my front pocket. Fits perfect in a Remora soft pocket holster without much of a print. 100 rounds and 100% reliable so far. Love the looks and feel of the grip. Best pocket 45 carry yet!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1065929401 Earl Chambers

      I use a desantis to fit mine and my XDs stays with me with 185+P golden sabers. zero jams

  • Luis Bonilla

    My favorite is GLOCK30!

  • Buck

    I have the Springfield X-DM with the 3.8 inch barrel , the size and weight difference aren't enough to limit my ammo capacity to five or seven rounds .

    • http://www.facebook.com/micah.cope Micah Cope

      I own the XDm 40 in a 3.8 and an XDs…The XDM in comparison the M stands for monsterous when compared to the XDs. How you could say otherwise blows me away.

  • David Kraykovic

    How come the Para-Ordnance P-10 (Warthog) was left out of the review. Out of all the compact .45 pistols I've had in my 68 years, the P-10 is by far the best. I won't own any kind of pistol unless it's steel constructed, and the P-10 is. Plastic pistols have no soul!

    • Patrick

      David, this was not at all a comparison of all subcompact .45s. They were only testing striker fired and mostly polymer models. I would like to see a comparison of 1911 style subcompacts including the Warthog.

  • doug

    I have an XDs flawless. Mine has the stailness slide.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.raymond.3591 James Raymond

    As far as I am concerned, nothing surpasses my Detonics Combatmaster. I've had it since the 80's and I have never had one jam, it is superbly accurate and carries beautifully. So keep all of your steyrofoam frame guns and i'll keep m.comy all steel Seattle built DT.

  • H87111

    I'll stay with my 10 round Taurus PT-145 Millenium Pro. Got it in 2005, shoots great!

    • JP

      I will keep my Taurus PT745 PRO shoot good and a good CCW.

  • Hest

    The XDS is fairly accurate at 100 yards. I am exceptionally happy with mine.

  • WadePenn

    My P250 45acp compact is close in comparison here, yet 9+1. I have a background shooting and I've traded every brand I used to own (HK, Glock, S&W, Colt, and Taurus) in on Sigs (P245, Sig556, P250). Everyone loves the guns they buy obviously, I have no problem admitting the accuracy in Sig has been above any other manufacturer, especially the older original Germany based Sig Sauer (heavy pistol=following shots were accurate and tightly grouped) The original p250 did have issues with trigger and fte issues but Sig quickly addressed and corrected.

  • SteveAus

    I had to break this up so here is part #1:

    I've had the XDs since shortly after Christmas and I've already run well over 500 rounds through it (since I reload my own ammo the current ammo shortage isn't an issue) and it is still flawless. It's my primary carry gun and I wanted to become very familiar with it, besides it is really a blast to shot.

    I carry dawn to bedtime 7 days a week in a IWB White Hat MaxTuck Horsehide Holster with my shirt untucked. Since I'm retired that's isn't an issue but on the occasion where IWB isn't an option I do carry it in an ankle holster with a calf strap (with Std mag).

    The XDs is a great CC gun and also fun to shoot especially at $550!!

  • SteveAus

    More details on my previous comment:

    I had been waiting for a sub-compact .45 to come out which was actually carry able and didn't break your wrist with the recoil (if it's not fun to shoot you won't practice with it). I was carrying a SIG P938 and I also I have 2 full size .45 1911's (Springfield & Ruger) which I really enjoy shooting but neither of the 1911's is what I would consider to be a conceal carry gun. There have been several reviews in the last year on small .45's but they all indicated the re-coil was a little on the stiff side. After reading the reviews and talking to a sales guy at my local gun shop who had actually shot an XDs I bought one. On my first trip to the range I ran 100 rounds of 230g Winchester factory loads (I always break in a new gun by running at least a hundred rounds of factory loads through before I start running reloads). You know you're shooting a .45 but with the SpringField double recoil spring setup it wasn't uncomfortable. After the first 100 factory rounds I ran another 100 rounds of reloads (185g HBRN with a W231 powder charge of 5.3g) through it. The XDs was completely flawless.

  • Tim Martin

    Had my XDs for about 4 months now and love it, once I put about 50-100 rounds through it, the accuracy was excellent. The recoil to me wasn’t significantly different from my Kahr PM9. The XDs is my CC from here on out.

  • Orlando La Rosa

    Why was there no mention of the Para Warthog? I have one, and I’ve never had any kind of problem with it. Very nice pistol.

    • bubba jim

      Warthogs are jammomatics….for the most part

  • Denis Mulligan

    I would have liked to have seen the new Glock 30-S used in the comparison instead of the Glock 36. I think the tester would have liked the functionality on the range more than the Springfield, or as I like to call them, Glock Jr.’s. Not knocking them at all. They copied the right manufacturer. I don’t know how they claim the XD is the only one with interchangeable hand swells. All the Glock Gen 4′s have them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/www.lesemp Les Tacey

    What about the Colt Defender have two one 9mm and 45acp love them both.

  • http://twitter.com/Forgetitsucka RESISTER

    Springfield XD 9mm is the best on the market HANDSDOWN

  • http://twitter.com/Forgetitsucka RESISTER

    Some stores cant even keep the Springfield XD in stock they are flying off the shelves.

  • http://twitter.com/Forgetitsucka RESISTER

    Off the subject here..The RUGER 1911 is also one bad boy to own. CHOICE

  • AfghanVet

    I am not surprised at the high marks the XDs got. After hearing all of the hype and at my friends insistence I was able to shoot one and although I am not a fan of polymer, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality, accuracy and consistency of this gun. We put it through its paces and did not have a single problem through 1000 rds. I am having trouble finding one, but will be purchasing one as soon as possible. It will not be my primary carry gun, I love my Sigs far too much to change, but it will be a welcome addition to my range days.

  • .45StayAlive

    I do not understand why nobody is making a Detonics Combat Master
    type subcompact .45 1911 – even Detonics has “temporarily” halted
    production!

    I’m sure I’m not the only one who carries a Commander size 1911 as my
    main weapon and wished I could carry a back up small .45 1911 in an
    ankle holster. The Para Warthog comes close, but its grip is too wide,
    and it does not have commonality to other single stack 1911s in terms of
    the magazine. And the Officer sized models, including my Kimber RCP II
    (Ultra sized frame and slide), has a grip that like any Officers size
    1911, sticks out way too far and totally prints on the back of my pants
    leg.

    In edition to ankle carry, a Combat Master sized 1911 with a height
    of less than 4.5″ would make a viable pocket gun (in a pocket holster)
    if it had an aluminum frame (the Combat Master with its stainless steel
    frame and slide ways as much as a Ford Pinto).

    How hard would it be for Kimber to chop the grip on the nice, light
    aluminum Ultra frame, and create a “Super Ultra” package? They’ve
    already perfected the reliability of the 3″ barreled gun – chopping a
    bit off the grip length would do nothing to hurt that. They’d sell
    every one they could make!

    I’ve approached Kimber about this concept several times. I just get a
    “thanks for the input” type response, and then they go and design Colt
    Mustang copies that nobody wants. Maybe if everybody reading this sends
    a message to, and places a phone call to Kimber, we can get this done!

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