Forty-Five Face-off: Springfield Armory XD-S vs. Glock 36

The Springfield Armory XD-S and the Glock 36 are two single stack pistols — made in Croatia and Austria, respectively — that shoot America’s favorite big-bore cartridge. Aside from their steel and polymer composition and caliber — the venerable .45ACP — the two pistols don’t share much in common. Still, if that Shakespeare guy could compare an unknown prom queen (or king) to a summer’s day, I guess an old gun writer can compare these two pistols one to the other . . .

Hey, Look Me Over

Glock devised the compact G36 in 2000 to be a slimmed-down, Jenny Craig-ish alternative to the G30. And the G36 has remained in the Glock catalog ever since, so Glock USA must be selling enough of them to keep the offering profitable. Still, the G36 isn’t the most popular Glock offering for reasons known only to Glockophiles.

Close up, the G36 looks totally Glockian, meaning it’s black and seems purposeful, not flashy, and not aesthetically pleasing. It’s an assault weapon, I tell ya. Well, maybe not, since the mag holds but six rounds.

The G36 appears to be well-made and, like most Glocks, exhibits excellent fit and finish. Our tester belongs to TTAG commentator Joe Matafome, who upgraded Glock’s plastic sights with super Truglo TFO night sights. The TFOs are easy to see, even in the inferior lighting of an indoor range, and represent a big step up from Glock’s traditional sights.

The XD-S was introduced at the 2012 Shot Show and generated more buzz than a swarm of gnats. In fact, TTAG has featured this pistol several times in response to the great interest shown by the gun community in subcompact pistols generally and this one in particular.

The visual treats start with the oversize, overbuilt case. According to Springfield Armory, the rugged plastic box is easily repurposed and is large enough to hold a laptop computer. I checked, and SA is correct. The box can hold a laptop. It will also handle several large Subway meatball sandwiches and a bag of chips or a small rectangular pepperoni pizza, so the case really is as versatile as Gypsy Rose Lee. Nobody buys a gun to get a box, but the nifty container is still a quality touch.

Our two-tone XD-S tester is a handsome piece. It boasts a stainless slide with a sexy platinum-like finish that doesn’t scream “bling,” and deep striations in the rear of the slide only. There’s deep checkering on the handle, a large pop-up loaded chamber indicator atop the slide and a fiber optic front sight. Springfield calls the sights “low profile.” I call them small. Still, fiox is fiox, right? Not so fast my friends. Read on.

 

Grabbing Two Handfuls

One of the reasons for the popularity of Glock pistols is that if you like the handle and trigger on one, you’ll like the handle and trigger on all. On the downside, many people do not like the handle on one or all. Glock’s 4th generation pistols come with replaceable back straps that permit shooters to find a comfortable grip. The Gen 4s finally make Glocks accessible to the hands of people other than bricklayers or NBA centers. Our tester, however, was a Gen 3 and sported Glock’s blocky handle and upright grip angle.

My medium-sized hands usually disfavor the Gen 3 handle, especially its deep finger grooves. I typically find my digits riding the high points, which is supremely uncomfortable. Not so with the G36, though. For whatever reason, my fingers slid comfortably between the ridges and nestled cozily into the grooves. While not ideal, the grip was quite comfortable and secure, and the pistol balanced beautifully. The controls are exactly where you’d expect them to be, and worked just fine.

Most noticeable about the handle of the XD-S is the “aggressive” checkering that SA boasts of in its literature. The checkering is indeed aggressive – in the same sense that the IRS or an angry pit bull with a toothache could be called aggressive. A good squeeze of the handle left my fingers and palm with a waffle-like imprint that did not fade for several minutes.

I’m sure I could cover the handle of the XD-S with a liberal coating of Crisco and shoot it without any noticeable slippage, but let’s be blunt here – if you enjoy grasping a handful of dull razor blades, you’ll probably adore the handle of the XD-S. Otherwise, you won’t. My first impression was not favorable, but the pistol’s balance was perfect, so I decided to reserve judgment on the cheese grater checkering until it came time to shoot.

Shooters who prefer a pistol with a manual safety will rejoice in the XD-S’s grip safety. Just like a 1911, the XD-S won’t fire unless the shooter has a firm grip on the pistol, fully depressing the grip safety. Just grip it and rip it. I’m no fan of safeties, but this one is very unobtrusive, requires no practice to deploy and won’t be forgotten in the heat of the moment.

Stripping the Pieces

Field stripping either pistol was a breeze, with a few provisos. First, pulling the trigger is necessary in order to release the sear on both pistols. That’s not a good system. Yes, carefully unloading a pistol and checking it again should be an automatic part of the cleaning process. Yes, leaving a round in the chamber prior to cleaning is negligent, even stupid.

Nevertheless, it’s the manufacturers’ responsibility to design a firearm that is as user-proof as it can be, and a takedown system that requires an intentional pull of the trigger isn’t even close to user-proof. SA mitigates the problem somewhat by requiring the user to remove the magazine in order to field strip the XD-S. Still, I prefer a system like Smith & Wesson’s M&P line, which features an internal sear release lever and requires no trigger pull.

The G36 field stripping process is pure Glock and need not be repeated here. If you’ve cleaned one Glock, you’ve cleaned them all. The XD-S’s takedown lever is located on the left side of the dust cover and needs to be switched upward to the 12 o’clock position, rather than downward to the six o’clock position. Otherwise, it’s as easy as pie to open her up. There’s just no excuse not to keep these pistols clean. However, for purposes of the shootoff, I kept them dirty.

Penetrating the Targets

I grabbed a mixture of Winchester white box, Remington UMC, Selier & Bellot and Blazer Brass ammo. I also had a few Wilson Combat rounds left over from the Glock 21 vs. SIG P220 face-off that I wrote earlier this year. I wanted to lay my hands on some cheap Russian steel-cased bargain-bin stuff, but I couldn’t find any locally and seem to have misplaced my Russian visa .

The XD-S five round mags were brand new, because the tester was factory fresh. I also had the benefit of a seven-round extended mag, which provided not only two extra rounds, but also a full-fingered grip. The G36 mags has less than 200 rounds of use since the gun was so new to Joe’s inventory.

I never handled an XD-s before, so I was anxious to get started. SA claims that the XD-S is zeroed at 25 yards. Leveling the XD-S and taking a traditional 6 o’clock hold at 20 feet, I fired off five well-aimed shots — low into the top of the nine ring. Adjusting my point of aim by holding the front sight so that it almost covered the x-ring, this is what I got. Take that, Glock.

 

The G36 is a mature piece and I’ve fired this model before. Therefore, there was no “getting to know you” period. I loaded, aimed and slow fired. In the dim light of the range with my ancient eyes, I could not see the x-ring of the TTAG target since there’s no contrast between it and the rest of the black center mass. I was forced to estimate where the middle of the target might be, using a technique that I call ‘squint and pray.” I must have estimated well, because accuracy was very good. Measuring from the inside edge of the one flyer, I shot a sub-2” group under adverse conditions. Tossing out the single errant shot, I could have covered the entire group with a nickel. Take that, XD-S.

 I was very pleased with such tight groups from such small pistols. The recoil of both pistols seemed manageable, although the Glock was significantly less snappy than the XD-S. The Glock trigger was very nice, fairly light, but a little spongy.

The trigger of the XD-S was heavier, clickier and more positive in both directions. I preferred the Glock trigger. The chalk-and-cheese triggers made a significant point — there’s no such thing as the one trigger to rule them all. Both triggers enhanced accuracy in different ways, and both were eminently shootable.

After popping off 50 rounds with each pistol, I found that the XD-S and I would consistently fire off tighter groups, but not by much. However, the XD-S won the slowfire contest hands down because the G36 failed to feed more frequently than an anorexic rabbi at an all-you-can-eat chitlin’ buffet. Joe and I checked the mags carefully, believing that the jams might be magazine related. We noticed some odd wear on the almost-new mags and guessed that mag failure was indeed the nature of the problem. As it turns out, we were wrong.

The jamming problems continued during the rapid fire drills. Here’s a string of 16 shots – four five shot groups — rapid fired from the Glock at 20 feet. Why 16 shots? Did I have four misses? No, I did not. What I did have: four jams, forcing me to hand-eject four misfed rounds. The accuracy of the Slimline Glock at 20 feet was admirable; the reliability, or rather the lack thereof, was completely unanticipated and equally unacceptable.

Based on its slow fire performance, I expected that the XD-S would win the rapid fire competition hands down, but that’s where things got all wonky. In our man Ryan Finn’s August XD-S review, he mentioned that the XD-S has a lot of recoil and called the pistol “a jumpy little thing.”

Ryan was being polite. During rapid fire, the XD-S vaults about like a hopped-up Chinese acrobat, making accuracy as unlikely as discovering a new species of unicorn. My first rapid fire string resulted in two clean misses. Not of the bullseye, of the target. This pissed me off to no end, and I warned RF that I would move heaven and earth and spend every dollar of TTAG’s money for enough practice ammo to master this little twisty fiend of a pistol.

With enough trigger time, I deduced that while the XD-S is unruly, the source of the problem wasn’t only the bucking-bronco nature of the pistol, but rather its tiny front sight. Keeping track of the fiox pipe, which is thinner than a cocktail straw, engenders the same degree of eye strain as neurosurgery with a 2X handheld magnifier.

It took me 500 rounds of practice to shrink my groups down to a personal best of 6 3/8”. Not terrible, but not even close to the way the G36 performed with little practice — and a far cry from what I can do with my beloved Smith & Wesson 642 with midget sights and a 1 7/8” barrel. I might have continued and shot better groups, but by that time both of my eyes were ready for a warm bath in a dilute solution of boric acid.

What would you do if you tested two guns, one with below average rapid-fire accuracy but flawless reliability and one that  stopped more often than the crosstown bus but shot deadly groups?

Post Coital Impressions: Likes and Dislikes

Joe brought his G36 to gun-swami Dave Santurri, who diagnosed the problem as defective recoil springs. Recoil springs have been a recurring problem for Glock. So bad was the problem that the company instituted a “Recoil Spring Exchange Program,” which is kinda like a recall but without the embarrassment of admitting that Perfection ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Santurri handled the “exchange” and, according to Joe, the gun is now the soul of consistency.

So what’s hot and what’s not about these little guns? What I liked best about the XD-S was its wonderful slow fire accuracy and equally wonderful concealability. The XD-S is the belly gun of .45 pistols, and a dyed in the wool pistolier who abjures the use of revolvers such as Airweights will enjoy toting this little bugger.

What I disliked most is a tossup between the skin-grating handle and rapid fire inaccuracy caused by its too-small sights and too-big recoil. The latter problem can be overcome with a lot of practice, or a swap of the sights for something like the Truglo TFO that Joe added to his G36. The former will need a bastard file or a palm sander.

I liked the G36 ‘s accuracy in both slow and rapid modes, even though (as expected) groups tended to expand with speed. The gun dampens recoil about as effectively as one can hope for in a small pistol. What I liked least about the G36 was the constant, repetitive failure of the gun to feed. Joe says that the problem seems cured now, but who knows if it will remain so.

RF asked me which one of these pistols I would prefer to carry. Answering for me and not for anyone else, I’d choose neither.

SPECIFICATIONS: Springfield Armory XD-S

Caliber: .45ACP
Magazine capacity: 7 & 5 rounds
Materials: Stainless steel slide and Melonite® barrel, polymer frame
Weight empty: 21.5 ounces
Barrel Length: 3.3″
Overall length: 6.3″
Sights: Steel dovetail rear, fiber optic front
Action: Striker fired
Finish: Two tone
Price: $669 MSRP

RATINGS (out of five stars): Springfield Armory XD-S

Style * * * *
Styled to be pretty as well as purposeful, the XD-S is well proportioned and handsome. Fit and finish look great and, at first sight, the pistol begs to be held.

Ergonomics (carry) * * * * *
To keep things in context, the XD-S is barely larger than the M&P Shield, which means that in an IWB, OWB or pocket holster, the XD-S will disappear like next week’s paycheck.

Ergonomics (firing) * * *
The USA Action Trigger System is a love it or leave it proposition. The trigger worked well, but I wasn’t a fan of its feel. Other shooters loved it. The sights and the pistol’s short sight radius worked like a dream during slow fire, making this pistol scary accurate. During rapid fire, the prodigious muzzle rise and tiny sights made accuracy impossible. The grip safety was so unobtrusive that I forgot it was there. The grooves cut deeply into the handle make this pistol act like a hungry Chihuahua with an attitude. It begs you to hold it and then bites you when you do.

Reliability * * * * *
Flawless with all types of ammunition, both hardball and hollow point. I had no reliability issues of any kind.

Customize This * * *
It has a little rail that is very cute and will remind older guys of the H-O gauge train set they received for their eighth birthday. But since this little pistol emphasizes small size and concealment above all else, the one-position rail should be left unadorned. Replaceable back straps will allow owners to fine-tune the grips.

OVERALL RATING * * *
The XD-S is slightly heavier and a smidge smaller than the G36, but the real difference between the two is the thickness of the XD-S. The little Croatian charmer is flatter and disappears on the body. It’s the 642 of semiautomatic pistols, and fires a bigger round to boot. Upgrading the sights might add as much as a whole star to this pistol’s score.

SPECIFICATIONS: Glock G36 (Gen 3)

Caliber: .45ACP
Magazine capacity: 6 rounds
Materials: Stainless steel slide and Melonite® barrel, polymer frame
Weight empty: 20.11 ounces
Barrel Length: 3.78″
Overall length: 6.77″
Sights: Fixed plastic front and rear (Truglo TFO night sights on the tester)

Action: Striker fired Safe Action®
Finish: Black Tenifer slide, black frame
Price: $554 MSRP

RATINGS (out of five stars): Glock G36 (Gen 3)

Style * * *
Style is not a characteristic that normally comes to mind when discussing Glocks. Still, this Slimline pistol has a balanced look that’s, well, handsome in a utilitarian sort of way. In fact, comparing the G17 to the G36 is like comparing an Austrian Pinzgau cow to Miss Austria.

Ergonomics (carry) * * * *
The G36 is light enough to be easily totable and nicely concealable, but it’s just a smidge on the bulky side compared to the XD-S. A loose cover garment does wonders.

Ergonomics (firing) * * * *
The handle of the G36 could use a bit more rake. Glock’s “Safe Action” system is has attracted devoted followers since the dawn of the polymer age, and for good reason. The G36’s traditional Glock trigger is fairly light but a bit spongy, and I preferred it to the XD-S’ clickier trigger. While there was enough recoil to remind the shooter that a big old slug is exiting the muzzle, recoil is controllable and the Truglo TFO sights facilitated accurate follow-up shots.

Reliability zero
As noted, stoppages were frequent, annoying and potentially lethal had they occurred during a fight.

Customize This *
The Gen 3 G36 lacks the interchangeable backstraps of Gen 4 models. Sensibly, there is no rail for attaching a light, laser, bayonet or bottle opener. For laser devotees, a guide rod model is available for not much less than the cost of the pistol itself. Expect to pay over $300 for the guide rod laser. There’s also a laser grip available that will cost about $200 for the privilege of illuminating a target with a tiny red dot.

OVERALL RATING zero
The G36 is slightly lighter and a bit larger than the XD-S, almost as accurate and remains concealable. However, without replacement of the recoil springs, the pistol would be useless except as a club. I was unable to test the gun with the new springs installed. Assuming that the replacement springs would cure the FTF problem without adversely impacting the pistol’s finer qualities, and with the excellent Truglo TFO sights installed, I would change the overall rating to a solid * * * *.