Review: Springfield Armory XD-S 9mm

Andy Rutledge Blog

The Springfield Armory XD-S is a pistol that I waited for with great anticipation before its release. The photos and specs made it seem like an almost perfect carry pistol. Then shortly after release they largely disappeared from store shelves due to a voluntary recall in 2013. When the upgraded versions were available and after shooting an XD-S rental pistol, my suspicions about its quality and feel were confirmed. So I added one to my collection and for specific reason: deeper concealment.

By Andy Rutledge

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The XD-S comes in both 9mm and .45ACP calibers and in 3.3″ and 4.0″ barrel versions. This review will deal specifically with the 3.3″ version chambered in 9mm.

Why Consider The Springfield XD-S 9mm?

The XD-S 3.3″ 9mm belongs to a specific category of carry pistols and is not meant to compete with or replace compact double-stack 9mm pistols like the Glock 19 or a Sig P250. Rather, the XD-S is made for when a thin, single-stack subcompact (read: more-concealable) pistol is appropriate, but without giving up the 9mm chambering —or— when you want to own only one carry gun that will work in just about any carry context.

Direct competitors in this category include pistols like the M&P Shield, Kahr PM9, Ruger LC9, and of late, the Glock 43. In my experience and opinion, the XD-S has features and benefits over these competitors and I’d say it ranks in the upper echelon of all pistols for the subcompact category. First, here are the specifications.

Springfield Armory XD-S 3.3″ 9mm Specs:

  • Caliber: 9x19mm
  • Length: 6.3″
  • Height: 4.4″
  • Width: .9″
  • Barrel: 3.3”
  • Weight: 23oz. (w/empty magazine)
  • Finish: Black or FDE frame / Slides available in black (Melonite®) or stainless
  • Capacity: 7+1 flush magazine / 9+1 extended magazine
  • MSRP: $499 (black slide) / $549 (stainless slide)
Here's the nice polymer case and components the XD-S comes with.

Here’s the nice polymer case and components the XD-S comes with. It includes a paddle holster, 2-magazine carrier, 3 magazines, backstrap option w/mag extensions, lock, and extra fiber optic material in two colors.

Shooting the XD-S

I’ve put over 2000 rounds through my XD-S 3.3″ pistol, all with only one malfunction related to a specific ammunition model (which I’ll detail in a moment). The bulk of the ammo I’ve run through the pistol is 115gr ball, but I’ve run roughly 250 rounds from an assortment of Federal Premium 147gr Hydra-Shok JHP, Federal Premium 124gr HST JHP, Speer Gold Dot 124gr +P GDHP, and Winchester PDXI 124gr +P JHP…all with flawless performance.

The one issue I had with functional reliability occurred with the XD-S’s ability to feed Hornady 135gr Critical Duty rounds. I experienced repeated failures to feed the first round of a new magazine, as the polymer tip on the round tended to get caught on the bottom of the feed ramp. Given this initializing failure, I declined to chamber any Hornady CD and see if it would cycle, since this failure to work with a full magazine is sort of a deal breaker. So I must recommend that one never use Hornady Critical Duty polymer tip in the XD-S. Every other JHP or ball round I loaded into the gun went bang and cycled perfectly every time I pulled the trigger.

Functionally, I consistently experience one nagging issue worth noting here. Due to how my grip meets the pistol when firing, the slide will occasionally fail to lock back with the firing of the last round of a magazine because the position of my right thumb often prevents the slide lock from engaging (I’m right handed). I can avoid this issue by flexing my thumb back a bit, but while it’s not uncomfortable, that position is not habitually natural for my grip. Surely this won’t be an issue for most folks, but it is for me. Your mileage may vary.

Comfort & Controllability
This is a single-stack subcompact, so it will not compare evenly with full-sized double-stack frames for comfort and controllability. However, given its particular category, this is a winner. I have medium-sized hands and even though it has a short, narrow grip, to me the XD-S feels like a “real gun” and not an “almost” pistol as do some rivals in this size category. I can just get half of my pinky on the flush magazine for something close to a full grip.

I typically shoot 100 to 250 rounds at a time when training with it at the range and unlike other subcompacts, this one is quite comfortable the whole time. And also unlike most subcompact pistols, I think the XD-S is easily controllable when shooting.

Those last two things matter and the result, for me anyway, is that the XD-S is the most accurate subcompact pistol I’ve ever shot. Accuracy derives from a host of factors, but how frame and grip meet with and stay with the hands while the pistol cycles is consequential. Recoil with the XD-S is fairly minimal for a gun of this size and for me it’s easy to maintain a sure grip when firing multiple rounds, even rapidly, without feeling like I need to adjust between shots.

Concealability + Capacity
The grip is appropriately short for a subcompact, making the XD-S highly concealable. Even so, the 7+1 capacity flush magazine is better than the 6+1 capacity typical of other top contenders in this category. When concealability is not a contextual priority, the extended magazine allows for 9+1 capacity and a full-hand grip that is even more comfortable.

Components and Materials

The XD-S is a polymer-bodied pistol with a forged steel slide. I think the quality of the frame material is top of class. The polymer is a bit thicker than you’ll find in most pistols and the finish is the best I’ve seen on any “plastic gun.” There are simply no flash marks or molding scars.

I find the grip texture to be quite nice and functional without being overly abrasive. The one exception is that, like all polymer pistols I’ve held, grip security is compromised if you have wet, sweaty, or bloody hands (This is an issue that I wish firearms manufacturers would give serious attention to! No polymer pistol yet made is secure in wet hands, unless the frame is stippled. Getting one’s hands bloodied or wet in a life-threatening situation is not at all unlikely and manufacturers of carry pistols should consider this fact seriously. Ahem.) As this flaw is not particular to the XD-S, I don’t suggest that it’s a strike against the model. This is what Talon Grips and similar products are for. Unfortunately.

You get three magazines in the very nice pistol case: two 7-round flush mags and one 9-round extended magazine. As for the grip, the XD-S comes with interchangeable backstraps so that you can tailor the grip size to fit your preference. The 9-capacity magazine extension cover comes in two sizes, to work with either backstrap.

The factory sights are quite nice, though I think not perfect. The dovetail rear sight is a 2-dot and the front sight is a fiber optic; a nice feature for a gun at this price! The sights are perfectly serviceable and dead-on for accuracy, in my experience, but the sloped front face of the rear sight makes one-handed slide racking—say, on a belt or table—a bit more difficult. Some folks may not care about that last issue…but as this is a self-defense carry gun, I recommend that you do.

Nice finish to all components, with minimal external controls.

Nice finish to all components, with minimal external controls.

Given that this is a striker-fired pistol with no external safety, the controls are minimal. The slide lock lever and takedown lever are sturdy and have nice texturing for manipulation. The magazine ejection controls are ambidextrous and the magazine ejection is very nice; the empty mag actually jumps out of the frame when the button is depressed. Wish all pistols’ magazine ejection was this energetic.

The XD-S features a chamber-loaded indicator on the top of the slide and there are two external safety mechanisms. The trigger safety is identical to that which you’ll find on a Glock. The second is a grip safety, which must be depressed for the trigger to release the firing pin. I’m no fan of grip safeties simply because I don’t deem them necessary. Springfield, however, adds the grip safety to all of its pistols, so it’s a doctrinal thing for them.

The internal safety mechanisms are, again, just like those found on a Glock pistol. They include the firing pin block and “out of battery safety,” which is just to say that when the slide is not in full battery the firing mechanisms are then not aligned to properly engage.

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Carrying the XD-S

Wearing the XD-S in the 4 o'clock position. Conceals nicely.

Wearing the XD-S in the 4 o’clock position. Conceals nicely.

I carried my XD-S almost exclusively for about nine months and continue to do so on occasion when wearing summer casual dress or if I’m formally dressed, when deeper concealment is appropriate. These days I typically carry a Glock 19 or 26, and when I go to the XD-S the difference is night and day; hardly feels like I’m carrying at all.

I’ve carried the XD-S in the 4 o’clock position with a Crossbreed Super Tuck holster and in appendix and 4 o’clock positions with a PJ holster. In either case, the XD-S conceals extraordinarily well and the pistol’s ergonomics are such that it allows for a sure grip for proper draw, provided your holster does, too.

One could carry the XD-S as a pocket pistol, but it’s perhaps a bit too large and heavy to make pocket carry a good ongoing choice. With sturdy and loose clothing like cargo shorts, pocket carry works well enough on occasion, but the XD-S is not like your average mini .380 pocket rocket. As I mentioned, it feels and shoots like a real gun and that has consequences for carry.

Conclusions

Pros
Though it’s a subcompact, the XD-S feels and shoots like a real pistol. With iron sights and minimal recoil, it’s the most accurate and easy-to-shoot single-stack subcompact pistol I’ve ever handled (though I acknowledge that this is a highly personal issue). The exchangeable backstraps are a nice and consequential personalizing feature. The materials are excellent and the finish is the best I’ve seen on any polymer gun. The 7+1 standard capacity is better than you’ll find on most single-stack subcompacts. Also, 9mm ammo is reasonably priced so you can train with the 9mm XD-S more often!

Cons
The XD-S is certainly a subcompact, but by no means dainty. So while it is highly concealable it is not necessarily best suited as a pocket pistol. Though the iron sights are nice, the sloping rear sight doesn’t allow for sure/easy one-handed slide racking. In my experience, the XD-S simply won’t reliably feed Hornady Critical Duty polymer-tipped ammo (and perhaps other polymer-tipped ammo??) so stick to JHP.  I’ll suggest that the grip safety is unnecessary and constitutes one more component that might eventually wear out or fail.

So for rating the XD-S…

Ergonomics (****)
The XD-S is surprisingly comfortable for a subcompact, single-stack pistol. The grip is thin, but not overly so and for me at least, the gun feels good—feels substantial—in the hand. I find the grip angle to be excellent. The grip could be more comfortable if it were not so flat-sided, but I admit that a more convex grip would add width and compromise concealability somewhat. Compared to most of its competition, I’d say the XD-S has superior ergonomics. My right thumb, however, sometimes interferes with the slide lock lever, preventing it from locking open with the last round of the magazine.

Shootability (*****)
It’s a subcompact, so the grip is abbreviated. It’s a single stack, so the grip is quite narrow. With those contextual constraints, I think the XD-S is easy and comfortable to shoot; almost comparable to a compact in that regard. With the extended magazine and grip extension, the gun is rock solid when shooting and manipulating.

Accuracy (*****)
Top of class. It’s very easy to control and to be accurate with. Sight acquisition and reacquisition is easy with these iron and fiber optic sights. Though it only has a 3.3” barrel, I don’t fear too much for accuracy when reaching out to 25 yards.

Reliability (****)
The polymer-tipped ammo issue aside, I’ve yet to experience a single malfunction through more than 2000 rounds. The gun is sturdily built, suggesting that it will wear well. I would have given it five stars, but for the slide lock issues I encounter when running this pistol.

Customization (*****)
The XD-S is customizable before and after purchase. Before, because it’s available with stainless or black Melonite® slide and the frame comes in black or flat dark earth. Moreover, it’s available now with the 3.3″ or 4” barrel. After purchase, it comes with two sizes of interchangeable backstraps, to fit your grip preference. The frame also features a picatinny rail, so you’re able to mount a flashlight or laser…if you want to compromise concealability a bit.

Aftermarket accessories one might consider for the XD-S include night sights, Pearce grip (pinky) extensions, and the PRP trigger spring kit. Night sights are perhaps the only recommended upgrade for an XD-S, as the trigger is not at all bad (on mine. Though I’ve heard that trigger quality varies from gun to gun). A pinky extension for the flush magazine might seem nice, but the lack of a full grip (with the 7-round flush magazine) is expected and useful in a subcompact

There are plenty of IWB and OWB holsters, steel and/or night sights, flashlights, and lasers available for the XD-S, so it’s certainly not a pistol that lacks for aftermarket love. Moreover, the extended 9-round magazine and grip extension allows you to turn the XD-S into a full-grip pistol if preference calls for it.

In Summary

I think the Springfield XD-S is arguably the best subcompact 9mm pistol on the market. In fact it’s one of only two such pistols I’d consider owning and carrying. Moreover, it’s likely the best value to be found in the carry gun world. Rent one at your local gun range. Give it a shot, or 200, and see if it’s right for you. I’ll bet that it is.

About The AuthorAndy Rutledge is a design professional, competitive shooter and avid road cyclist. He trains at Eagle Gun Range and elsewhere a few days a week to hone his shooting and defensive skills.