Gun Review: Springfield XD-M 3.8 9mm

My mother has a “shit list.” You do NOT want to be on my mother’s shit list. She can make Devil’s Island seem like the Ritz Carlton. And once you’re on my mother’s shit list, you’re on it. It doesn’t matter if you suck up to her like a remora fish on a shark. There’s no coming back. I take the same approach to guns. If a firearm fails, I will never trust the gun again. It’s dead to me. Now clock the video above and imagine how I felt when the slide of my new carry gun, the Springfield XD-M, failed to lock back. The Apollo 13 astronauts were the last people to experience the same sort of sinking feeling about a mechanical malfunction. And yet . . .

Between the time I opened the XD-M’s practical, pride-inducing gun case to the moment I handed the XD-M to Adam to test fire, I’d put more than a thousand rounds through Springfield’s 9mm semi-automatic pistol. All kinds of ammo. All kinds of weather. Hakuna mutata. I didn’t experience a single failure to feed or fire. Just lots of good clean ballistic fun.

During one session, I loaded and fired four magazines–19 bullets apiece—at Mr. Paper Target as fast I could muster. Again, no problem (save financial damage). Every time I shot the XD-M, the handgun’s slide did its job. Just like the magazine, trigger and every other moving part.

So . . . what? Had I bonded so deeply with the XD-M that the gun didn’t want to perform for another master?

As crazy as that sounds—and it sounds plenty damn crazy—my affection for the XD-M ran deep. We’d formed the same sort of bond I’d established with my Carrera 4 after blasting through the Swiss Alps at Warp Factor 10. I trusted the XD-M with my life.

Adam had no idea why the XD-M’s slide failed to engage at the end of his string. Once again, Wayne untied the Gordian knot with a simple tug.

Turns out Adam held the XD-M like a Glock, with his thumbs lined up at the bottom of the Croatian gun’s slide. His right thumb rested on top of the slide release, exerting just enough downwards pressure to stop the Springfield’s slide from locking back.

Once Adam adjusted his grip [Sam’s hands shown above], lowering his right thumb into the scalloped plastic hollow provided for the purpose, the XD-M performed flawlessly. And so the Springfield avoided entry onto my liste du merde and resumed its rightful place at the top of the charts.

Equally important, as a Glock refugee, I discovered that I also had to adjust my grip downwards. The readjusted XD-M felt a bit odd in my hands. But once I seated my thumb properly, my shooting improved dramatically. And no wonder.

With the thumb in situ, the XD-M forces you to line up the weapon with the axis of your shooting arm (i.e. it forms a straight line from the gun all the way up your shoulder). At a stroke, the XD-M’s design eliminates a fundamental physiological error afflicting the majority of the amateur shooting population.

To quote Wallace of Wallace and Gromit fame, that IS clever. It’s the same sort of subtle intelligence that informs many—though not every—aspect of the XD-M.

For example, the XD-M’s handle boasts something called Mega-Lock Grip Texture. That’s a fancy way of saying someone got busy with a CAD-CAM computer and created big-ass plastic nubs for the front and back of the XD-M’s grip. The larger checkering supposedly channels off schmutz more efficiently than smaller patterns, and provides better purchase for pistoleros’ palms.

The scope of the texturing is the clever bit. There’s a separate line of XXXL texturing where your fingertips wrap around the grip. Why no one thought of this before is a mystery rivaling the thinking behind the obstinate pin holding the interchangeable “Mould-Tru” back-straps. Awl together now?

Rugged though the grip may be, the XD-M’s still a plastic gun. Training with the rabbi in July, my sweaty hand started slip sliding away. It might have squidged around more with a regular XD’s plain Jane checkering or a Glock’s relatively featureless handle. But there’s still no beating those squishy aftermarket no-slip rubber grips.

And there’s no getting around the fact that the XD-M has one big honking handle. As you might expect from a weapon holding 19 9mm bullets. The magazine’s capacity is a new record, a huge selling point for the sensibly paranoid and a double-edged sword.

On one hand, who doesn’t want more bullets? And when they’re stuffed into Springfield’s beautifully built magazines, the bullet-fest is even more of a no-brainer (perhaps for the perp as well). On the other hand, when you’re wearing the Springfield-provided paddle holster, the XD-M’s gigantic grip prints like the New York Times. If you’re looking for an easily-concealed 9mm carry gun, this ain’t it.

The 3.8″ barrel on the XD-M tested is another conundrum. Upside: shorter “dwell time.” The faster the bullet exits the barrel, the less time you have to screw up your shot. And the gun is marginally easier to conceal than the longer barreled version. Downside: the XD-M 3.8’s shorter barrel’s shorter sight radius, combined with not-my-friend standard issue white dot sights, makes it harder to acquire a target.

Once a target is in the XD-M’s sights, you stand an excellent chance of hitting it.

Props to the XD-M’s trigger. The approximately six-pound pull doesn’t offer the “on-off” clean break of a Glock. But the Springfield’s go switch is as smooth as 12-year-0ld Scotch. Springfield claims their Croat-made weapon has the fastest trigger reset in the polymer pistol biz. Suffice it to say, it’s fast enough to send 19 bullets downrange in about four seconds—as gun guru David Kenik from Armed Response demonstrates below.

One of the reasons I traded my baby Glock for the XD-M: I couldn’t press the magazine release without turning the pistol. In contrast, the XD-M’s mag drop button stands proud of the grip, immediately beneath your right thumb. Check for a new mag, dump, reload, assess the situation, continue firing. No grip adjustment and readjustment necessary.

The XD-M’s highly-touted “match grade” barrel is a tremendous advance. For someone. Truth be told, I’m nowhere near a good enough shooter to capitalize on the microscopic differences between a “regular” barrel and one designed, engineered and manufactured for high level competition. All I know is that my XD-M groups are as tight as Tower of Power if I stand still.

In fact, saying the words “match grade” make me a little nervous. The tight tolerances that typify competition-winning firearms are not normally considered appropriate for a combat weapon. As I approach the two thousand round count with no more maintenance than a blow dry and lube (for the XD-M), confidence is high, regardless. And Internet chatter is low. We’ll see how we go.

Meanwhile, the XD-M’s grip safety is my only major beef. It raises an important question: why? No, not “it doesn’t interere with the firing process so why not?” For one thing, a combat gun shouldn’t have any more features than it needs, to reduce the chance of anything going wrong. Second, the XD-M’s grip safety is a PITA for anyone used to a gun without a grip safety. To wit:

To lock back a Glock’s slide, you naturally slide your gun hand down the grip slightly, place your thumb tip solidly underneath the slide lock, angle the pistol slightly for leverage, pull back the slide, press the lever up and lock it. Unless the XD-M’s grip safety is depressed, the slide won’t move more than half an inch (I know the feeling). You have to maintain your grip, pull back the slide and push up the lock with the side of your thumb.

Is this a problem? Only until you realize the required routine. Again, a combat gun needs quirks like a nun needs syphilis. Still, I’m willing to forgive and remember. The XD-M has proven to be a reliable, accurate, bullet-intensive, ergonomically-sound weapon that’s easy to shoot, easy to clean, and easy to love.

My Mother’s never held a gun in her life. She looked at the XD-M yesterday and asked me one question “Is it a modern gun?” “It’s a future classic,” I replied. She nodded, and moved on to other topics. Memo to Springfield Armory: the XD-M may not be approved by Daphne Farago. But it’s not been condemned either. I’d score that a solid win.


Caliber: 9mm
Magazines: Two 19-round, stainless steel
Barrel: 3.8″ steel, Melonite, fully-supported ramp
Sights: Dovetail front and rear (steel) 3-dot
Trigger Pull: 5.5 – 7.7 lbs.
Frame: Black Polymer
Slide: Forged steel
Overall Length: 7″
Height 5.6″
Weight with empty magazine: 27.5 ounces

RATINGS (out of five):

Style * * *
A bit fussy with all the details, and the grip and barrel are out of proportion. It’s the price you pay for clever downsizing.

Ergonomics * * * * *
The XD-M forces you to hold it just so—just so you can hit what you’re aiming it. Once you get used to it, you do.

Reliability * * * * *
1250 rounds and counting; everything and anything, all the time, every time.

Customize This * * * *
The front Picatinny rail accommodates lights and there are plenty of aftermarket goodies by now. You can (and should) swap-out the sights.

Overall Rating * * * *
Not perfect, but close enough for government work. I’d stake my life on it. In fact, I do.