What's the Best .45 Subcompact Pistol on the Market?
February 12, 2013
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 Glock G36 features a six-round capacity with the longest barrel length of the four at 3.8 inches.
The Kahr PM45 features the shortest barrel length at 3.2 inches, and is also the lightest at 19.3 ounces. The PM45 comes with a five-round flush-fit capacity.
The Springfield XD-S narrowly beat the other three in terms of width, measuring just 1 inch wide compared to 1.1 inches on the other three, and was also the heaviest at 21.5 ounces. The XD-S features a five-round flush-fit capacity.
Taurus PT 745
The Taurus PT 745 Pro is the only DA/SA of the four, and is the tallest, measuring 5.2 inches. The PT 745 also features a six-round flush-fit capacity.
Kahr'™s signature DAO trigger and overall controllability put it in good stead, although its performance was marred by a few smokestack jams.
Sights Set on the XD-S
The XD-S was the hands-down winner for all shooters, most of whom commented on the fiber-optic front sight — plus its total reliability — as selling points.
High Marks for Glock
Not surprisingly, Glock'™s G36 got high marks in every category and was especially liked for its large mag release and wide mag well that made reloading a snap.
Failure to Feed
The Taurus PT 745 features a beefy extractor that doubles as a loaded-chamber indicator and ejection-port cutout. However, it was plagued by numerous failures to feed.
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.