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In the category of small arms, the names of B. Tyler Henry, Hiram Maxim, John Browning and George Luger attained legendary status, as did Sam Colt, Daniel Wesson. John Garand, Eugene Stoner and Mikhail Kalashnikov cast huge shadows in the world of military rifle design, as does Gaston Glock in the world of handguns.

Yet, though on the surface, these men's achievements appear unrelated, they all share one thing in common – they took existing concepts and reshaped them into something whose time had come. And in so doing, they facilitated a quantum leap in technology that elevated the state of the art in their respective endeavors.

So it is with the Vukovic-led Croatian design team engineers who designed Springfield Armory's XD-9 9x19mm pistol. Although they're probably not aware of it, they created something significantly better than anything that came before. Incorporating the best of both Glock and SIG designs with a few new wrinkles thrown in for good measure, the XD-9 is a strong contender for the title of being the first true pistol of the 21st century.

Historically, the XD-9 began life as the HS-2000, which itself was an improved version of I.M. Metalworks (Karlovac, Croatia) HS-95 of 1995. But it actually first appeared as the PHP in 1991, though that particular pistol was fraught with a few quality control problems due to the ongoing Croatian civil war. Vukovic's design team continually refined the PHP and HS-95, correcting its design and metallurgical weaknesses, the final version being designated as the HS-2000. At this point, I'll forego further historic commentary because it would be redundant, since the HS-2000 was covered in detail in a previous issue of COMBAT HANDGUNS. Shortly thereafter, Springfield Armory acquired importation rights and re-designated the weapon as the XD-9.

Visual examination of the pistol shows it to be a compact, the approximate equivalent of the Glock 19 or 23. It sports an attractive dark-gray matte finish (known as Bruniral) on all metal parts, while its polymer frame is the usual black. From the box, it has fixed high-visibility sights of the tried-and-true 3-dot horizontal pattern to aid in low-light shooting, a nice trigger (smooth and light at 4.0 lbs.), a useable grip safety and no sharp edges of any real significance. And, of particular interest to those who prefer Trijicon's tritium-illuminated 3-dot sights, the XD-9 utilizes the same dovetail size for its sights as does SIG, making installation of replacement sights a snap.

Additional features include:

Checkered (8-lines per inch) front and back straps.

A grip-frame arched on its rear surface to better accommodate the average shooter's hand, thus enhancing its "pointability."

A truly ambidextrous magazine release mechanism, with edge-free, easily operated buttons on both the right and left side of the frame.

A loaded chamber indicator, located on top of the slide to the rear of the ejection port.

A cocking indicator, protruding from the rear face of the slide when the weapon is cocked.

A Glock-type trigger safety.

A large beveled magazine well, with 60-degree, rather than the usual 45-degree, bevel to enhance quick reloading.

Two 10-rd. drop-free metal magazines.

Grooves in the frame forward of the trigger guard to accommodate the SureFire tactical light.

A captive dual-spring recoil spring assembly to reduce muzzle flip and felt recoil.

11. Grasping grooves in both the traditional location on each side of the sides of the slide and on each side behind the front sight, thus accommodating virtually all styles of chamber-checking currently in use.

Seems like a lot for one pistol to have as it comes from the box, doesn't it? Nonetheless, the XD-9 obviously exhibits not just careful, but detailed, attention to all of the tactical shooter's real and imagined needs.

One writer recently criticized the XD-9 because it didn't have a hole in rear face of the grip-frame to accommodate a lanyard, but in all honesty, I find this to be a moot point since no one but certain SWAT personnel use lanyards anyway. And since the XD-9's frame is polymer, drilling the appropriate-sized hole can hardly be considered to be a major obstacle to anyone so inclined.

At first glance, the left side of the XD-9's slide appears to have a mysterious vertically-angled groove, but it's just part of a 5-second field-stripping process. One need only to:

Cock the piece.

Retract the slide and lock it rearward (thus aligning the takedown lever with the groove).

Turn the takedown lever upward.

Move the slide forward and press the trigger to decock.

Pull the slide forward to dismount it from the frame.

Rotate the slide assembly upside down.

Remove the captive dual recoil spring unit.

Retract the barrel up and to the rear, thus removing it from the slide.

Simple, right? Yes, extremely so, and easily accomplished under stress or in poor light, which is the whole point.

From a mechanical standpoint, I found that my XD-9 functioned normally with all the ammunition I tried in it (see accompanying velocity chart), even though I purposely did not clean it for the entire 1000 rd. test. During that time, very dusty, windy conditions were present, coating all of the gun's exterior surfaces and penetrating deeply into its internal mechanism, but it functioned without a stoppage nonetheless. I noted only a slight increase in trigger pull poundage (perhaps a half-pound), but no decrease in smoothness, allowing 1-second cranio-ocular shots from Ready at 7 meters to be successfully accomplished with relative ease.

Of perhaps supreme importance, though, is that the XD-9 exhibits not only excellent mechanical design and quality of materials and workmanship, but exceptional "user friendliness" as well. In fact, it is so "user friendly" that it took the three ASAA instructors (all ASAA Handgun Combat Masters or Distinguished Advanced Handgun Graduates) whom I asked to test it less than five minutes to successfully transition to it from the pistols they normally carry. This is remarkable, because in no other case has it occurred during my entire career as a professional weapons & tactics instructor.

Once a few dry practice presentations from Ready and Holster were complete, high-speed shooting and weapon-handling drills were immediately begun. The result was as I had expected – all three shot it as well or better than they did the handguns they'd been carrying for years!

Next, I gave the piece to a novice shooter who had only fundamental training in marksmanship and weapon-handling and he, too, performed not just better, but much better than he ever had previously. This is significant because it shows not only how much ergonomics influences performance (at least as much as mechanical reliability itself, in my opinion), but that at least a few designers have finally realized its criticality and given it the emphasis it deserves.

Satisfied, I then repeated the whole process myself, with the same result, "cleaning" the ASAA Advanced Handgun Evaluation Course with a perfect score. Thus encouraged, I then took on the extremely difficult (most say quintessentially difficult) ASAA Combat Master Qualification Course, passing it with a score of 394 out of a possible 400 points. That I was able to do this after only a few minutes with the pistol shows its superiority over more conventional designs.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Frank Spezzano, honcho of Cen-Dex Tactical, provided several superb Kydex holsters and magazine carriers for the test gun on quite literally only a few days notice and that they greatly enhanced not only the XD-9's performance, but the performance of all of the test shooters as well. In fact, because of Cen-Dex's excellent showing, a new holster for the XD-9 and other pistols will be available from them very soon. The result of intensive design collaboration between Mssr. Spezzano and myself, it's been designated the Taylor Nighthawk and is an improvement upon the older Taylor Thunderbolt design. It's not only just as fast, but will accommodate a wider variety of pistols without form-fitting being required.

I also found my XD-9 to be extraordinarily accurate – capable of producing Ransom Rest groups of two inches or less at 25 meters with most of the typical 9mmP ammunition currently available. I also noted that it seemed to have what I call a "fast" barrel – muzzle velocities were significantly higher than produced by the same length barrels of other 9mm handguns.

In fact, when I chronographed the pre-fragmented Glaser "Blue" load, it produced a whopping 1995 fps, causing me to think that something was wrong with my equipment and subsequently repeat the process to be certain the readings were valid! In turn, the chronographing of more conventional loads disclosed a continuation of this "fast" trend (see accompanying chart) – nearly all were 50 to 100 fps faster than with other 9mmP handguns with the same barrel length. This is a great boon for hollow-point bullets, since the faster they go, the better their chance of expansion, particularly since no accuracy loss is sustained to achieve it.

How rugged is the XD-9? Well, as several previous writers have put it, "time will tell." As a new weapon, based on new design concepts it must withstand the test of time in order to be declared superior. However, early indications are most encouraging. Enough, in fact, that I intend to carry and use my XD-9 on both a personal and instructional basis to further test its capabilities.On the other hand, both the Croatian military and police have adopted it, which to at least some degree attests to it serviceability.

As you've no doubt concluded by now, my initial impression of the XD-9 is highly favorable. It feels good in the hand, points beautifully and shoots very, very well. Its controls (slide release lever, loaded chamber indicator, cocking indicator and takedown latch) are well-located, allowing efficient operation under stress and/or in poor light, and it can be field-stripped for cleaning or inspection in less than five seconds. Its ambidextrous magazine release button eliminates rapid magazine changing problems for left-handers and its trigger is light, smooth and clean, allowing excellent high-speed shooting, especially on multiple targets. And perhaps most important, especially from an agency standpoint, it's so "user friendly" that almost no time is needed to transition to it from another weapon.

In short, I think the XD-9 has all the traits necessary to become a legendary pistol and at the very least represents the first quantum leap in handgun technology since the Glock first appeared in the mid-1980s. I agree with those who've said that it must withstand the test of time before unequivocal endorsement of it can be made, but add that it certainly shows all the signs of being a big-time winner! It's without a doubt a true 21st century pistol and from what I've seen so far, a good one, at that. Check out the XD-9. Like me, I think you'll find it to be a heck of a handgun.





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