Smith & Wesson’s new CSX fills a gap in the pocket pistol market, scratching that double-digit round count micro compact itch we all seem to have, but doing it with an external hammer. The CSX is a little old school and a lot new school, and TTAG took it to the range to see how it stacks up.
If you’d rather watch than read, you’ll find my video range review embedded above. Otherwise, here we go . . .
To my knowledge, the Smith & Wesson CSX is the first pistol in this micro compact size category (see P365 vs Hellcat vs MAX-9 vs Shield Plus) to combine a 10+ round capacity and an external hammer. I know there are many dapper gentlemen out there who prefer an external hammer, and I’m fairly sure the vast majority of them also want a metal frame so it was wise of S&W to machine the CSX’s frame from aluminum.
That said, the frontstrap and backstrap inserts are polymer and that’s most of what you feel when you grip the CSX. I have no real clue how that’ll play with the hammer-fired metal-framed pistol crowd.
Anyway, compared to the M&P9 Shield Plus the CSX is effectively identical in length (6.1″), width (1.12″ across the controls), and height (4.6″), and is only 1.6 ounces heavier (19.5 oz). That makes it slightly larger than the SIG P365, for example, but still within the popular micro compact and even perhaps pocket pistol size range.
A sandpaper-esque pebble texture is molded into the polymer grip inserts of the CSX. It has more smooth surface area than the Shield Plus does as the rest of the CSX’s aluminum frame is smooth.
One unique feature with the CSX, something I don’t believe another micro compact pistol offers, is swappable backstraps. With a little tool designed to compress the mainspring, the backstrap is quickly and easily popped off the CSX and can be exchanged for others of varying size and thickness.
I really like Smith’s grip texture a lot. It provides a fantastic grip, but won’t tear up your bare skin too badly (e.g. your love handles or belly).
As a single action only, hammer-fired pistol, the CSX has a manual thumb safety as you’d expect. The ambidextrous control is mirrored on both sides of the pistol and is easily flipped off with a standard thumb stroke.
While the lever is placed fairly far toward the rear of the diminutive gun, if you simply flip your thumb down as you would on a full-size 1911 or similar, you’ll snag the safety behind your thumb knuckle and it’ll snick cleanly downward to the “fire” position. Popping the safety back up off of its “fire” detent and onto its “safe” detent takes a little more intent and pressure, which is exactly what you want.
Unlike many pistols with a manual thumb safety, the CSX’s slide can be manipulated with the safety engaged. This means the user can insert a loaded magazine and rack the slide to chamber a round with the safety on “safe” the entire time.
In a modern departure from the norm for hammer-fired guns, the Smith & Wesson CSX also incorporates a trigger blade dingus safety lever flipper doohickey. Frankly, with how incredibly light, short, and crisp striker-fired triggers have become (S&W’s own Shield Plus is a great example of that) I can’t think of any particularly strong argument for not carrying the CSX with its manual safety off. There’s really no material difference between it and many of the striker-fired competition that lack any sort of manual safety.
Perhaps that’s the reason S&W added a trigger blade safety to the CSX.
With its flush-fitting magazine, the CSX holds 10+1 rounds of 9mm. With the only very slightly extended magazine inserted, capacity bumps up to 12+1 rounds and my pinky just barely has a home on the frontstrap.
On the range I was a little worried about slide bite. Obviously I like to hold a pistol nice and high on the grip, and my men’s size L mitts are just meaty enough to come up onto the rear of the little beavertail.
After a bunch of shooting on multiple range sessions, though, I never got more than a couple of light grease marks on the web of my hand. So it was close! Darn close. But never a problem. As “low bore axis” and such goes, I’d say S&W just about nailed the dimensions here. YMMV.
Overall, not surprisingly, the CSX shot for me a lot like the Shield Plus. I prefer what I feel is the flatter and sharper (flatter sides with a tighter frontstrap and backstrap radius) grip frame on the Shield Plus along with its additional grip texture surface area, but I know Dan would feel the opposite way. The shape of the Shield Plus just happens to index into my grip particularly well and it gives me a great ability to “drive” that gun hard.
My impression is that the CSX has slightly more felt recoil than the Shield Plus, too, despite weighing nearly 10 percent more. I think this is because polymer frames tend to absorb or mute recoil to some degree whereas metal frames transmit more of the sharpness into your hands.
That said, the little CSX didn’t rotate in my grip at all during shooting, which deserves bonus points for any tiny, lightweight 9mm.
As you’d hope and expect, the S&W CSX also ate every type of ammo I threw at it, including a handful of different self-defense rounds with pretty darn large hollow point mouths. From weak range ammo to +P ammo, from 90 grains to 147, the CSX fed, fired, and ejected all of it without a hitch.
At the end of testing, my only gripe about the CSX is its trigger. What should be a (or the) major selling point for a single action, hammer-fired pistol — a fantastic, crisp trigger — just doesn’t deliver.
The trigger pull and break, actually, is good. But I don’t think it’s superior to the Shield Plus (which for a striker-fired gun has an absolutely fantastic trigger), and the issue is that it should be. Once the trigger safety blade is taken up there’s extremely minimal further movement or creep, but for some reason the break itself doesn’t feel glass rod clean. I get a little grit or click on and after the break, like it breaks but doesn’t drop down to zero resistance and has some friction during its minimal overtravel.
With a perfectly good (though it ought to be stellar) trigger pull and break, it’s the CSX’s trigger reset, then, that triggers my complaint reflex. Three specific gripes on reset:
• I think it needs a stronger trigger spring. I like to feel as though the trigger wants to travel forward and there’s no way I can release it faster than it’ll keep up with my finger. I want to feel some forward pressure on my finger. The CSX’s trigger comes forward with less gusto than I’d prefer, though not so light that it makes me nervous it’ll forget to reset (which is something I’ve experienced on a few other guns).
• There’s a “false reset” click as the trigger approaches about halfway forward. As a guy who likes to ride the reset, I was fooled a couple of times by this and pulled the trigger rearward again only to find that I hadn’t actually allowed it forward enough to reset.
• The true trigger reset is fairly gentle. Without much tactile or audible feedback this isn’t a gun that I can ride the reset on. If I want to shoot it rapidly I have to be completely sure that I’m fully releasing the trigger all the way forward. This combined with the light trigger spring means I’m coming all the way off the trigger at least enough to let out the safety blade and sometimes slapping it a little. Not my preference.
Ultimately my complaints about the CSX’s trigger reset are relatively minor. I’m picking nits here as there isn’t much about the gun to dislike, and I’m admittedly a bit of a trigger snob. I’m also going to be more critical of the trigger on a single action, external hammer pistol, because expectations here are as high as they get in the semi-auto pistol world.
Overall my opinion on the Smith & Wesson CSX is that if you’re in the market for an extremely compact, easy-to-conceal pistol with 10+ rounds of capacity and you prefer an external hammer for any reason, the CSX is your huckleberry. It’s a great shooter that’s reliable and oh-so-easy to carry…and it’s the only gun in this size and capacity category with an external hammer.
Specifications: Smith & Wesson CSX 9mm Pistol
Capacity: 10+1 rounds flush fit, 12+1 extended
Barrel Length: 3.1 inches
Overall Length: 6.1 inches
Width Across Controls: 1.12 inches
Width Exclusive of Controls: 1.01 inches
Height: 4.6 inches
Weight: 19.5 ounces
Sights: white 3-dot
MSRP: $609 (in stock as of this review’s publication for $579.99 at Brownells HERE)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance * * * *
I like the looks of the CSX. The slide is nicely sculpted with clean machining and I like the look of a pistol with an external hammer. The CSX is somehow modern and classy at the same time.
Reliability * * * * *
Right out of the box the S&W CSX fed, fired, and ejected every type of ammo I shot through it without a hiccup. No lube added, plenty dirty, indoors and in the Texas sun for about 500 rounds including firing single-handed, etc.
Ergonomics * * * *
For me the CSX doesn’t fit in my hand quite as well as the Shield Plus does, though its very comfortable and secure for such a tiny gun. While the controls are all fairly low-profile and geared toward concealed carry use, they’re easy to operate.
Customize This * * *
Sights are swappable and night sights and other upgrades are available. Multiple backstraps is a unique feature for a micro compact firearm, and that’s a nice touch so the CSX can be customized to better fit your hand size. Unlike the Shield Plus, the CSX’s slide is not cut for an optic. No idea yet if the CSX will see much aftermarket support for sights, holsters, triggers, etc.
Overall * * * *
For me personally I’d probably call the CSX a three-star gun, however that’s because I give no weight or extra points to the fact that it has an external hammer. For those who prefer an exposed hammer, though, the CSX is unique in the market and is a truly fantastic concealed carry option.