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Long slide magic: Springfield Armory XD(M) 5.25.

Designed--and proven in the arena--by a great world champion, the latest iteration of this popular polymer pistol has captured the attention of competition shooters.

Last spring, I got to sit down with Dave Williams and Chad Dyer at the Springfield Armory facility in Geneseo, Ill. The topic of discussion was the 5.25 variation of the XD(M) pistol, which was about to be announced.

This new model is the brainchild of Rob Leatham, who is the face of Springfield Armory in the action-shooting world. Rob has won more world and national championships, in disciplines such as IPSC, NRA Action Pistol and the Steel Challenge format, than just about anyone else. He shot his way to fame with the 1911, which from the mid-1980s until recently, was Springfield Armory's most popular pistol. However, in recent years the polymer-flamed XD series has become the company's best-selling handgun.

Built in Croatia and described by its manufacturer as a single-action, striker-fired design, the XD was joined a few years ago by the XD(M), which is essentially an update of the XD format for which Williams, the head of the Springfield Custom shop, is generally credited. The slide is re-shaped, with grasping grooves that give many hands more traction. The frame of the XD(M) has interchangeable backstraps, to better fit the pistol to a wide variety of hand sizes.

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At XD Armorer School, they tell you emphatically that the XD(M) is sufficiently different internally as to require a separate course. One XD(M) feature is it does not require a pull of the trigger to begin takedown. Some in the firearms world see this as a safety feature. Dave Williams sees it as simply a convenience to the owner. In any case, this is generally perceived as A Good Thing.

The 5.25 Factor

The new gun's sobriquet, 5.25, comes from its barrel length of 5-1/4". This variation is credited by Dave and Chad entirely to Rob Leatham. The original XD(M), which has become so popular in the last few years, has a 4-1/2" barrel, and for most that's just fine. However, world champion shooters like Leatham aren't satisfied with what's fine for "most." They strive for perfection.

It's a given in the handgun marksmanship world that a longer sight radius decreases human error in aiming, translating to better hits. Leatham wanted a longer barrel and slide to extend the dimension between the front and rear sights. Explains Dave Williams, "It's a little more competitive, the longest barrel legally allowed in most competition in action shooting."

In most handguns, a longer barrel of similar configuration to a shorter one naturally makes the gun more muzzle-heavy. It's true on revolvers, it's true on long-slide 1911s, and it's true on XDs. While preparing this article, I took a pair of XD .45s out of my safe to dry-fire. The service model with 4" barrel was distinctly less muzzle heavy than the 5" Tactical model. Leatham, of course, had picked up on this long before I had.

In a game like PPC, where you're shooting at a single target and a good portion of the firing is done from the 50-yard line, a heavy barrel is seen as helpful in holding the sights on the mark. However, PPC is not action shooting. When you're sweeping your gun across an array of reaction targets at the Steel Challenge, or down a table of 8" steel plates at the Bianchi Cup, you want a pistol somewhat lighter and more "lively" at the front end.

Leatham's solution was a cutaway in the top of the slide around the barrel, to lighten the longer slide and keep weight down, while allowing extended sight radius. It's analogous to what Glock did with their longer barrel models, the Tactical/Practical Glock 34 (9mm) and 35 (.40 S&W) with 5.3" barrels, and their long-slide G17L 9mm and G24.40 with 6" barrels.

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Is there an advantage to this configuration? Well, Glock certainly seems to think so, and since the Glock pistol is the arch-competitor to the XD and XD(M) in the handgun market, Glock's take on things is obviously germane to the discussion at hand. In Glock's own shooting discipline, GSSF (Glock Sport Shooting Foundation), the Tactical/ Practical and the 17L and G24 are required to compete separately from the 4.5" and shorter barrel models. A contestant can only use them in Competition and Unlimited divisions. A police officer shooting in Guardian class, or an ordinary contestant in Amateur Civilian class and even a top shot in Master Stock is forbidden to use a barrel longer than 4.5", because it is seen as an unfair advantage and a less-than-level playing field.

Of course, when a longer barrel is allowed, an advantage is exactly what the shooter wants, hence the XD(M) 5.25.

Reports From The Front

Let's take a look at how the 5.25 has fared thus far, having been out and about in competition for only a few months at this writing.

Steel Challenge: Rob Leatham shot his brainchild, the 5.25, in the 2011 meet. In the last few years, to bring in more shooters from other disciplines, Steel Challenge has established categories for IDPA's five gun divisions, as well as SASS's cowboy revolvers. Leatham won the IDPA Enhanced Service Pistol division championship with it, and placed a strong second in the Production class, Dave Williams reports. For those who came in late, the Steel Challenge is also known as the World Speed Shooting Championships.

USPSA: The United States Practical Shooting Association is the American arm of the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC). At this year's National Championship for Production class pistols, Rob came in a strong second place with a 9mm 5.25.

Bianchi Cup: Since this prestigious event is traditionally held in May, the 5.25 was not out in time for Leatham to shoot it here for 2011, so he won the Production class championship with a regular XD instead. But he has shot the 5.25 over the course and is expected to use it to defend his Championship title in the 2012 Bianchi Cup.

IDPA: There was a rumor going around that the XD(M) 5.25 would not be approved by the International Defensive Pistol Association, something about the cutaway slide. I checked with Robert Ray and found out this is not the case. The XD(M) 5.25 is welcome in that discipline, where it vies in the Enhanced Service Pistol division (ESP). In fact, Robert told me multiple 5.25s were in the field at the September 2011 IDPA World Championships, held at Frank Garcia's superb Universal Shooting Academy range in Frostproof, Fla. Robert further advised that a rising star of the handgun world, 5 Gun Master Caleb Giddings, had used a 5.25 XD(M) in 9mm to win the World Championship in the Press category.

I picked the brains of two accomplished XD(M) shooters I frequently attend matches with. Jon Strayer is an IDPA 5 Gun Master who owns the Pro-Arms Gun Shop in Live Oak, Fla. has held multiple state and regional IDPA championship titles, and has won many matches with XD pistols and the original XD(M). He says of his 5.25, "It's a tack-driver out of the box. It's not picky about ammo; the 115 grain, 124 grain and 147 grain all go where you aim them. I really like the balance. I'll be shooting the XD(M) 5.25 at my next major IDPA match."

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Gail Pepin is the producer/editor of the Pro-Arms Podcast, and a former state champ and current Florida/Georgia Regional woman's champ in IDPA. She has become a huge fan of the standard XD(M), hers with a Springfield Custom shop trigger job, and used it to win her current woman's champion title at the 2011 National Tactical Conference in Tulsa. Five-feet tall, with small hands, she was particularly appreciative of the 5.25's improved handling qualities. Her comments on the 5.25 were more succinct than Jon's: "I want one. I want one! I want one!"

The 5.25 exhibits a handling difference out of all proportion to its mere 3/4" of extra barrel length and sight radius. The light front end makes it handle with a wand-like effect that let us maintain sight picture while tracking between multiple lateral targets on the Springfield Armory test range in Geneseo, Ill. The fully adjustable rear sight is blended into the rear silhouette of the pistol in an aesthetically pleasing upward taper, and the fiber optic front sight certainly helps fast shooting. It comes fitted in red, but there are spare red and green replacement filaments in the box.

Springfield Armory sent GUNS a T&E 5.25, serial number MG850641. I was happy to discover it was already sighted in. This has been true of every other XD(M) 5.25 I've seen, and it is reassuring evidence of extra attention given to the gun before it leaves Springfield Armory.

This test sample was a little more picky about ammo than Strayer's specimen. With Wilson Combat TAC/XR using the 115-grain all-copper Barnes hollowpoint, the first hand-chambered round went low, causing what would ultimately be a 4" group from a Matrix rest at 25 yards. However, the next four shots went into 2.55", and the best three were 1.85" apart. Another self-defense load, 124-grain +P Winchester PDX hollowpoint, did 3.10" for five shots (all measurements were taken to the nearest .05"), with four of those in 2.4" and the best three in 1.45".

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A light, 20-shot 9mm can certainly be a fine personal defense gun with loads like these. However, the 5.25 was really designed as a match gun, and its accuracy came into its own with a match load: the Remington-UMC 147-grain subsonic with full metal jacket. I've seen this load win a lot of matches in the hands of champion shooters like Robert Vogel, Tom Yost and "Super Dave" Harrington, and it lived up to expectations in the test sample. The 5.25 put all five of them into 1.75", four of those into 1" on the nose and the best three into an especially pleasing .65". Given that measuring the best three of five from hand-held on the bench seems to eliminate enough unnoticed human error to give a good prediction of inherent accuracy from a machine rest, I would say that Rob Leatham's 5.25 is very likely to stay in the 4" diameter tie-breaking center X-ring at 50 yards at next year's Bianchi Cup.

Bottom Line

Three-quarters of an inch of barrel/slide length and sight radius may seem like a little thing, but in competitive shooting, little things mean a lot. The 5.25 has a lot going for it. My sample came out of the box with a very controllable trigger averaging 6.4-pounds pull weight. This is suitable for home defense or street carry. (The petite Ms. Pepin often carries a stock 4.5" XD(M) concealed in an Aker Flatsider holster. If she can, you can, and the 3/4" longer barrel is unlikely to compromise that.)

Now available in the 9mm we tested, plus .40 S&W and .45 ACR the XD(M) 5.25 carries a manufacturer's suggested retail of $865 in bi-tone, $795 in all black according to Rob Leatham, but is likely to be less out the door at your local gun shop. I think we're going to be seeing a lot of these on the various tournament shooting circuits ... and a lot of them in the hands of shooters who simply appreciate a light, superbly-handling pistol.

XD(M) 5.25

MAKER: SPRINGFIELD ARMORY

420 W. MAIN ST., GENESEO, IL 61254

[800] 680-6866

WWW.GUNSMAGAZINE.COM/SPRINGFIELD-ARMORY

ACTION TYPE: Striker-fired locked breech semi-auto, CALIBER: 9mm (tested], .40 S&W, .45 ACP, CAPACITY: 19+1 [9mm], BARREL LENGTH: 525", OVERALL LENGTH: 8.3", WEIGHT: 29 ounces, FINISH: Melonite, SIGHTS: Fully adjustable rear, fiber-optic front, GRIPS: Integral polymer with interchangeable backstraps, PRICE: $795, $865 (bi-tone]

Photos: Joseph R. Novelozo
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Author:Ayoob, Massad
Publication:Guns Magazine
Article Type:Cover story
Date:Feb 7, 2012
Words:2039
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