Gun Review: Springfield Armory XD(m) 3.8 Compact (.40S&W)

My opinions on carry guns have changed. While I prefer packing “full-size” heat, Arizona’s full-size heat can be XXX pistol prohibitive. Around mid-summer, the clichéd “dry heat” heat turns into thick, heavy, saturated air. When the dew point finally hits 55º, monsoon storms blanket the Valley with a magnificent (and dangerous) light show, rivaled only by the aurora borealis. When the weather turns, I turn to flip-flops, tank-tops, and the thinnest shorts I can find. And the smallest practical yet “effective” handgun . . .

The stainless steel Smith & Wesson J-Frame revolver holds a spot near and dear to my heart. J-Frames offer the most compact package around, especially a 2” model sitting in an ITP (in the pocket) holster. But J-Frames have a very short sight radius. It takes lots of practice to become and maintain accuracy. They’re also “capacity limited;” chambering just five rounds. Even with my modern M60, five rounds of .357 Magnum may not be enough to safely or effectively end a confrontation.

Since letting off five rounds of .357 Magnum in a J-Frame is about as much fun as lighting a stick of dynamite in your hands, most people feed their Smith .38 Spl or .38 Spl +P. These are proven rounds. But, as the old saying goes “you have to give a little to get a little.” Compared to a .357 Magnum, .38s give up A LOT of knockdown power.

My quest: a compact pistol offering easy concealability and “proper” firepower. So I looked. And shot some candidates. And looked some more. And shot some more. While I was mildly impressed by a couple of pistols (XD SC and Walther), I wasn’t about to replace my trusty J-Frame with a gun that couldn’t turn mild to wild. Eventually I gave up…

And then I opened up the pages of American Handgunner and spotted it: the XD(m) 3.8 Compact. The lights dimmed, a Bryan Adams song played, and a sulky grin came upon my face. Could this be the one? The one gun to rule them all? Well, no—let’s not get crazy. But it could be a suitable replacement for my trusty J-Frame.

Since I already owned two other XD(m)’s and an XD, I had no doubts about the Compact’s reliability, accuracy, and well-placed controls. I already loved the XD(m)-40; I shot it for my first two months of ’11 competition. My favorite gun shop, AJI Sporting Goods in Apache Junction, AZ, had a Compact XD(m) for sale.

I bought the Springfield Armory XD(m) 3.8 Compact chambered in .40S&W in no-nonsense black. Inside the standard Pelican case: the standard XDm “goodies,” including an extra magazine ($30 if purchased separately). Although I’ve rarely used the XD/XD(m) reloader, mag holder or paddle holster, they look nice in situ.

Thanks to the reliability and non-brick-like grip angle and texture, XDs are quickly gaining a rep as “Glock 2.0.” The accessory industry is taking notice and reacting accordingly. New holster options are appearing every day, including some retention models specifically designed for law enforcement. That said, there’s no need to do another Springfield vs. Glock review. Instead, I’ll focus on comparing the XD(m) Compact to its full-size brethren.

First Impressions

As you’d expect, the Compact XD(m)’s fit and finish is identical to that of the full-size guns. With its “mini-mag,” the Compact’s capacity is limited to 11+1. Mind you, that’s one more cartridge than what’s legal in Massachusetts and other “low cap” mag states. For the rest of us, remember this is 11+1 of .40S&W, a plenty potent round for self-defense. In any case, the Compact also comes with a “full-size” magazine holding 16+1 rounds .

Owners of a full-size XD(m)40 will be happy to know that all of their full-size (16-round) magazines fit the Compact. However, the Compact’s 11-round magazine will not fit into a full-size XD(m)-40 (obvious to some, but worth noting anyway). Just to make things interesting, you can also use or remove the “gap filler” that comes with the Compact.

As RF has pointed out in the past, performing a quick reload with ANY compact gun can end up in a bloody mess. Catching skin from your palm between the gun and magazine base is going to be excruciatingly painful, or bloody or both. There is a quick and easy fix: just leave the gap filler off of the full-size magazine.

Should you need to reload the Compact, the 16-round magazine loads just fine sans filler. Since there is no “pinch point” between the frame and the magazine, the modded mag removes the possibility of getting pinched or bloodied. Bonus! You still gain a “pinky hold via the exposed stainless portion of the 16-round magazine.

As I mentioned in my XDm-45 review, the Springfield XD(m)’s trigger is far superior to the XD line. It’s far, far, far, far from a 1911 trigger. But the XD(m)’s trigger is perfectly suited for personal carry, home defense and Production-Class competition. While fairly long and thus “lawyer proofed,” it’s predictable, smooth and linear from beginning to end. There isn’t a hint of stacking and the trigger reset is more than acceptable for a combat gun.

The XD(m)’s sights are adequate. I’ve already changed mine. Since this gun will be CCW only, I ditched the factory sites for a set of tritium-lamped ones. I’ve used Trijicon in the past with much success. A friend gave me a set of TruGlo’s so I decided to try them instead. The rear sights are bright and clear; the front sight is barely noticeable. I suspect that the gunsmith may have damaged them. Either way, I’ll be looking for a replacement set soon.

A good-quality and well-designed holster can make a 1911 feel like a J-Frame. The XD(m) Compact fits into any standard XDm holster, including my favorite rig: the CrossBreed SuperTuck Deluxe holster. The XD(m) Compact also slots into a Blade-Tech Kydex OWB holster or a DeSantis OWB leather holster.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why RF or anyone else would buy a full-size gun with a mini-size barrel. The grip is almost always the hardest part of the gun to conceal. The XD(m) 3.8 Compact makes much more sense than the “standard” 3.8. It’s the perfect size for concealing on the hip.

At the Range

On my first visit to the range, I loaded my regular “Wal-Mart” assortment of WWB 180-gr and 165-gr FMJ, Federal 180-gr FMJ, and Winchester PDX1 JHP 165-gr. I also found some Federal Premium Protection 135-gr JHP and Hornady Custom XTP 155-gr JHP. Fresh out of the box and without an initial “clean” or drop of oil, the Springfield XD(m) Compact-40 was 100 percent reliable.

The 155-gr Hornady was by far the “snappiest” of the rounds. Hornady claims 1180 fps out of a 4” barrel; those figures put this round at well over 400 ft-lbs of energy. The WWB 180-gr FMJ was cheap, easy to shoot, and extremely accurate.

Since I don’t have a rest designed for pistols, I stay away from “accuracy testing,” other than making general observations. While I can sometimes pick out rounds that group better than others, none of the rounds visually grouped better or worse than others at 15-yards. The Federal 135-gr did shoot high (about 1” higher @ 15-yards) but grouped well nonetheless.

Both the “mini-mag” and the standard 16-round magazine performed flawlessly. The pressure needed to seat a full magazine into the gun with the slide forward is much greater than on my full-size XDm’s. Then again, I’ve put over 3000 rounds through each of my full-size XD(m)’s . . .

Conclusion

Back at the homestead, the Compact cleaned-up just as quickly and easily as any other modern polymer pistols. Lock the slide back, rotate the disassembly lever, and work the slide forward. A quick spray down with M7 Pro and a wipe with a microfiber cloth gets the frame and internals clean. The barrel cleaned easily with a bronze brush, some more M7 Pro, and a couple of clean and oiled patches.

To date, I’ve sent 550 rounds through the XD(m) Compact-40 without any malfunctions. The factory sights proved adequate; I won a local Steel Match with the Compact (Production – Class A) using the standard-issue three-dots.

Since I’m a regular shooter at the matches, I have some “match specific” gear: a dedicated gun belt, dropped and offset holsters, lots of magazines, and easy-to-get-to mag holders. I thought it would be appropriate to test my skills by using the equipment I normally carry so I left my “match gear” home. Instead, I used my SuperTuck Deluxe holster, and the factory supplied magazine holder.

If nothing else, I can now say that I’ve used the XDm gear. I was shooting 165-gr WWB FMJ’s (I carry the Compact with 165-gr JHP’s) and started every match with the 11-round magazine. I limited myself to two spare magazines in the mag holders and one magazine in my back pocket (just in case!). Here’s what I learned…

Small guns can be handled well. At speed, I didn’t even notice the “floating pinky” when shooting with the 11-round magazine. The bullets went downrange to their 1/4” steel destinations with relative ease. I had some trouble during one of the stages that had 6” plates at 15+ yards. Perhaps it was because of the shorter sight radius, or because I was just getting tired, but those two plates took six shots.

I still was able to finish the 20-round stage with a total time of 25.36 seconds. Not my best showing, but taking into account the draw and two reloads, it was still good enough for a “W”. As Vin Diesel put it, “it doesn’t matter whether you win by an inch or a mile… winning is winning!” Perhaps Charlie Sheen should take note.

Will the Compact replace my J-Frames? Yes and no. For in-the-pocket carry, the Smith & Wesson J-Frame is still the business. But let’s be honest: how convenient is “pocket carry” anyway? Keys, wallet, phone, extra magazine/speed clips, flashlight, pepper-spray, chapstick, lint . . . killing an entire front pocket with a J-Frame was always a bit of a logistics nightmare, forcing me to wear cargo-shorts in summer months.

I love the J-Frame and I personally believe they (and other compact pistols) are responsible for the recent CCW and women CCW movement. They are relatively cheap, easy to maintain, and damn near bullet proof. The XD(m) Compact offers the same benefits, but provides more round, superior accuracy, and easier handling. I’m certainly not going to go out and sell my J’s, but for summer carry, the Springfield XD(m) Compact is the new king.

Ratings (out of five)

Style * * *
No wood grips but still good looking as far as modern polymer pistols go. The 3.8 Compact is much better proportioned than the standard XDm 3.8, but each to his own.

Ergonomics * * * *
Not as comfortable as the full-size XD(m), but at speed I didn’t even noticed it was a “compact.”

Reliability * * * * *
100% reliable with the “Wal-mart” supply – I would bet money that she’ll eat anything you feed her as well!

Customizable * *
A combat pistol, so what is there to customize? If you are like me, swap in a set of tritium lamped sights and buy a SuperTuck Deluxe.

Overall Rating * * * * *
Dollar-for-dollar the XD(m) is the best gun on the market. The Compact is obviously targeted for CCW rather than nightstand duty. However, with the full-size magazine for the nightstand, and the 11-round magazine for CCW, it’s “2 for 1.” Case closed.