By Michael Stephenson
What do the XD-S, the GLOCK 42, and the SIG P238 all have in common? Their announcement all set the gun community aflutter with one of two cries: either “Finally!” or, “When is it going to come out in 9mm?” Springfield Armory set a very high standard – albeit a heavy recoiling one – with its XD-S. It was reliable, compact, and accurate for a pocket gun. I’m proud to say that the XD-S 3.3″ 9mm lives up to that reputation. Minus the heavy recoil, of course . . .
Before I begin, let me state two things. First, this is a pre-recall gun which I have not sent back for the recall work. I’ve tested it myself, extensively, trying to get it to replicate the issue and have failed to do so with a variety of ammo. I might send it in at some point, but see no need to do so at this time. Secondly, this is my personal firearm. This will be a completely objective review, but I wanted to state that up front in the interest of full disclosure. Also, I’ve replaced the factory sights with a set of Trijicon HD Night Sights.
Little gun. Big case.
Opening the box to the XD-S is quite a farcical experience. While I appreciate a gun company passing some savings on to the customer by not designing a new box for a small gun, using a box that could hold a 17” laptop to ship a gun that I can put in my pocket seems a little excessive.
The reason for this is that Springfield packs a lot of gear with the little XD-S. The XD Gear holster and mag carrier aren’t the best, but they will suffice and are quite durable. Most readers here would probably opt for something will a little more muzzle coverage. If you plan to carry in the XD Gear holster, be cognizant of that open muzzle. The photos of this specimen show some wear on the muzzle end of the slide caused by a CRKT folder clipped to my pocket while sitting.
Out of the Box
The XD-S feels good in the hand. The grip angle is comfortable and somewhat adjustable with the interchangeable backstraps. The grip itself is what I like to call aggressive, yet subdued. The texture employed is comparable to what you’ll find on the XD(M). All the ridges and valleys molded into the frame increase the surface area your hand has on the firearm, making the gun comfortable to shoot for an extended period of time without eating your paws in the process.
The control layout on the XD-S is intuitive. The mag release is ambidextrous, but the slide stop is not. Though that isn’t a problem for most shooters, it may be of interest to southpaws. Speaking of the slide release, it’s quite large. In fact, it’s slightly larger than that of an FNS, and noticeably larger than that of a stock GLOCK. While Springfield took the added step of building a lip below it to reduce the chance of accidentally riding it while firing, those with larger hands will occasionally do so with a thumbs forward grip.
Fit and finish on the XD-S 9 are great. There are no visible machining marks on the slide, nor injection marks on the polymer frame. I opted for the bi-tone version with the stainless slide. Experience has taught me that the black finish on the XD(M) line isn’t the most durable on the market. Then again, that was on an XD(M) 3.8 Compact I was carrying while working between 50 and 100 hours a week in a machine shop, so your mileage may vary. After extensive carrying over the course of six months, the only finish wear is on the slide release and disassembly lever.
The sights on the XD-S are easy to acquire in full or reduced light situations. The rear is a low-profile white dot affair, but the front is a highly visible red fiber optic unit. They’re actually kind of nice for more accurate work, and they are versatile enough to be used for carry. If you prefer a different color up front, it’s relatively easy to replace them with green, yellow, or any other color you can find. However, I’m often out and about before or after the sun rises and opted to replace them with Trijicon HDs.
Carrying the XD-S is a breeze. There’s a plethora of holsters out there from a variety of companies. I’ve been carrying mine almost exclusively in a Cook’s Holster IWB Kydex holster. It’s incredibly comfortable. Even if I’m pocket carrying it, I keep it in the same holster. I spend most of the work week in dress or casual slacks, and the XD-S slips in and out of those pockets just fine. The only issue I’ve really found is that it can rotate around in the pocket, but that’s a problem with all pocket guns. I’ve also carried it OWB in the provided XD Gear paddle holster, and it still hides under a polo or t-shirt with no problem.
On the Range
The biggest problem with most pocket nines is reliability. The recoil springs have to be strong enough to keep the diminutive guns from experience premature frame wear while being soft enough to cycle the action reliably with a variety of loads. Certain manufacturers have gotten around this by specifically stating in their manuals that +P ammo should not be used, that only 124gr or heavier projectiles should be used (Kimber SOLO), or requiring a lengthy break-in period of 200+ rounds (Kahr PM9). Or, as was the case with my SA EMP 9mm, several dates between the feedramp and my Dremel and about 300 rounds before it would feed anything reliably.
The XD-S ran smoothly over 500 rounds fired with all but one kind of ammo, and that was only for the first 200 rounds. The ammo in question is 135gr Hornady Critical Duty, which would cause failures to feed on a fresh magazine close to 50% of the time. It didn’t matter if the slide was racked or the slide stop was released to chamber the first round from the magazine, the polymer tip of the Critical Duty ammo would nosedive into the feedramp.
Once it did feed that first round, it functioned flawlessly when fired. Since this ammo isn’t really designed to perform optimally from such a short barrel, this shouldn’t be a deal breaker for anyone. I can’t say whether or not the polymer FTX tip of Critical Defense will cause the same problem, but I can say that it fed Federal HSTs (124 and 147gr), Speer 115gr GDHPs, Barnes 115gr +P TAC-XPD, Winchester 9mm NATO 124gr FMJ, PPU 115gr FMJ, WWB 115gr FMJ, and Federal Champion 115gr FMJ without a hitch.
Being the compact firearm it is, this is a “two fingers” gun with the flush fit magazine inserted. I’ve installed a Pearce grip extension on one of the magazines, but actually prefer shooting without it. I’ve yet to acquire or shoot the gun with the extended 9-round magazine, so I can’t comment one way or the other on it. I have handled one, though, and I’ve found it to make the gun’s grip similar in length to that of the Kahr P9.
Recoil is minimal, which surprised me greatly. Ball ammo is actually quite pleasant to shoot, which is more than I can say for other offerings in the category. This is where I feel the 9mm version of the XD-S really shines. As a former owner of many pocket .380s, 9mms, and various .38 and .357 snub-nosed revolvers, I went into this expecting the gun to be a handful. I had shot the .45 version of the XD-S loaded with 185gr+P JHPs before acquiring the 9mm. While the first round I shot with the .45 hit its target, the rest didn’t due to flinching. That’s not an issue with the softer shooting 9mm version.
The trigger on this XD-S broke at 6.4 pounds before I began shooting it extensively. It now breaks at 6.1. There is a little bit of spongy take-up in the trigger, followed by about .1” of heavier travel before the actual break. As Ryan Finn pointed out in his review of the .45 caliber version, the trigger is very GLOCK-like. The Kahr PM9 and Kimber SOLO are the only two other guns I can think of in the category which offer anything better.
Accuracy is very good for the segment. As with any pocket semi-auto like this, the thin width of the grip lends itself to the gun pivoting left and right in rapid fire situations. Or, if you have large hands like me, you’ll have to do some readjustment with every shot. This, along with reduced capacity, are the two trade-offs you face with a gun like the XD-S 9.
The best groups I managed with the XD-S 9mm were with 135gr Hornady Critical Duty ammo. With the exception of one flyer that was completely my fault, I managed a 0.8” seven shot group at 15 feet. Please don’t ask me to repeat that group. HSTs and GDHPs typically got between 1.25 and 1.5 inches with the gun seeming to prefer 147gr HSTs. Barnes TAC-XPD came in last place with an almost 3 inch spread, even though it was the softest shooting SD ammo I fired. That might have been due to the bullet traveling too fast to actually stabilize from such a short barrel or the excessive amounts of unburnt powder in the barrel when I cleaned it shortly thereafter.
There’s a lot to like with the XD-S 9mm. Accessories and holsters abound, it’s comfortable to shoot for extended range sessions, and cheaper to feed than the .45 version. Carry guns are all about compromise. Though the trigger on the XD-S isn’t the best in the segment, it’s far from the worst. It’s not the smallest of guns, but it’s not the largest. It’s not the most accurate gun, but it’s not the worst. So what is it? It is, quite possibly, the perfect compromise. The only reservation to that statement is that the 4.0” version might be a little more versatile.
Springfield Armory XD-S 3.3″ 9mm
Weight: 23oz. (w/empty magazine)
Width: 0.9” at the grip
Finish: Black frame. Slides available in stainless or black.
Capacity: 7+1 w/flush-fit magazine. 9+1 w/extended magazine.
MSRP: $599 (black slide) / $669 (stainless slide). Street prices are in the $450-$550 range.
Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
Accuracy: * * * * *
Considering the short sight radius and the rest of the competition in this category, the XD-S is right up there with the best of them.
Ergonomics: * * * *
Wonderful grip angle and plenty of grip real estate for a pocket gun. The only issue I really see is that some might like a deeper or wider grip.
Ergonomics Firing: * * * *
Without a doubt the most comfortable pocket semi-auto I’ve ever shot. Most pocket nines aren’t what you would consider “range guns” because they are painful to shoot. The slide, like most in the segment, is difficult to rack. That may pose an issue for those with dexterity or strength issues in their hands.
Reliability: * * * * *
600+ rounds of FMJ and JHP ammo. With the exception of some hiccups with Hornady Critical Duty when it was brand new, this gun has run everything I could throw at it. The first 50 rounds through the gun were a variety of JHPs, which it ran with absolutely no problem. Considering how finicky many in this category are with SD ammo, you can’t really slight it for not liking one particular line of ammo.
Customization: * * * *
Any sights, holsters, or lasers for the .45 variant will fit this as well. It sports an accessory rail up front, but I can’t see the utility in mounting anything to it. Magazines are a little pricey and difficult to find locally.
Overall Rating: * * * * *
There really isn’t much to complain about here. It’s the only pocket semi-auto I’ve ever owned that ran this smoothly right out of the box. Period. It holds three more rounds than a .38 or .357 pocket rocket while having significantly less recoil, better ballistics, and shorter reload times. The XD gear makes this a tremendous value when looked at as a total package.