How about the Colt 1911 XSE Combat Commander with a 4.25″ barrel shown here in .45 ACP? Would it make a good concealed carry gun? I heard several great reports about this gun’s accuracy, features, and enhancements and had to explore it for myself. While the XSE has been around a few years, Colt made some improvements and I was anxious to test and evaluate it. They enhanced the 1911 XS Series for the “XSE” model. I have several 1911 full-size (5-inch barrel and slide) Sigs, Springfields, and Kimbers in .45 ACP (and in 9mm) and they have all proven to be very reliable and accurate. And I do like the 1911 design and single action trigger with its soft and short trigger press. But what about the XSE’s shorter 4.25″ barrel and slide? What about its all steel frame, barrel, and slide? Would its weight be too heavy for regular carry? The XSE has a commander-length slide and barrel with a full-length grip. Does its specifications and features match my preferences and criteria… and does it work for me as one of my concealed carry (CC) guns? Does the shorter sight radius and barrel hinder its accuracy, for the higher caliber and carry benefits? This commander-length design has worked for several manufacturers and so I wanted to see for myself how the Colt 1911 version worked for me.
I want to analyze, compare, and rank this Colt 1911 XSE in .45 ACP to some of my top CC guns for recommendation or not in this article. I have reviewed several carry guns in depth in the past few months, several on this website. I evaluate my Top 21 CC guns in the 2016 second printing of my book “Concealed Carry & Handgun Essentials.” While I favor the 9mm for CC, I do have a .45 in my secondary carry rotation and some readers and students have asked me to evaluate this 1911 Combat Commander in .45 for carry purposes. I believe shot placement and accuracy, rather than caliber alone, are of prime importance for any personal protection gun. The Colt XSE has a reputation as a high-quality and very accurate .45 ACP gun out-of-the-box. So, I want to give my criteria and range test results for it to help you analyze your handguns and make the best selection for yourself. You can add or subtract from my criteria to meet your needs and preferences. I was very anxious to compare it factor by factor to my other quality carry guns to see if it truly ranked in my top CC pistols. Know that I am not on the Colt payroll, have not been paid by them for this article, have not been given a special price for this gun, nor influenced to say certain things about the gun. I want to be honest and straight-forward with my opinions and ideas the way I see the pistol to sincerely help folks. Specifically, I want to show how accurate it is out of the box, without modifications? How is the trigger press? Is the trigger smooth and crisp? Is it reliable? Is the all steel frame too heavy for carry and does it really help reduce felt recoil? How does the commander length work for me and my medium-sized hands? Does it have any Metal-Injection-Molded (MIM) or plastic parts or are they machined forged? Especially, is the barrel, slide, and frame forged for more durability and strength? Does it have premium or match-grade internal parts, e.g. barrel or trigger? Is there a tight fit and a high-quality finish? Is the safety lever ambidextrous? What are its pros, cons, and special features? Are there any issues or concerns that would prevent me from carrying this gun? Is this a gun I would recommend for CC?
First, I want to present two charts that list the Specifications and some Features for the Colt 1911 XSE Combat Commander .45 ACP pistol. Note that over time and production run the specifications can change by the manufacturers and that the retail price often varies significantly. Sometimes you can buy the gun about $100-$200 or so less than posted retail. Then I give you my 10 criteria that I use to evaluate all guns. Finally, I present my analysis and how I specifically evaluated this gun against each of my criteria to recommend or not recommend it. As always, set your own criteria and priorities, do your own research and check my data, information, etc. with yours, for your very personal selection process.
Criteria and Considerations
Here are just 10 of my Criteria and factors I use for evaluating any handgun, so I will use them for the XSE. In addition to my criteria, there are other subjective features that may be appealing for some, like smooth rounded corners, a certain style, mag release location, action, caliber, appearance, number of mags included, type of sights/modifications, bore axis, rail, grip angle, non-porting or porting, included extras like a holster and pouch, customer service, etc. So, I combined these into my last Miscellaneous criterion. I must admit that ALL gun-choice decisions involve tradeoffs, but I really want ALL of my criteria to be met. I assigned a total possible point score of 10 points for each of my 10 criteria for a total possible score of 100 points. You can certainly add your own additional criteria and preferences or subtract any of mine.
Recognize that there are several features, characteristics, pros and cons, and personal criteria to include and consider and you make your own tradeoffs according to your priorities, preferences, defined needs, and use.
Colt 1911 XSE .45 ACP Pistol Range Test
To determine how well the gun cycled and handled different loads, I shot high-quality Sig Sauer Elite V-Crown .45ACP JHP in 230 grain (as advertised 830 fps & 352 ft lbs) and their Elite Ball FMJ in 230 grain weight (850 fps & 369 ft lbs.) I also shot the Polycase Inceptor ARX 118 grain .45 Auto cartridges with polymer bullets (as advertised 1307 fps velocity & 448 ft lbs energy) and the frangible no-lead Inceptor RNP 130 grain (1210 fps & 423 ft lbs.) This was a good varied selection of ammo for testing. I only fired about 300 rounds total to evaluate this gun (usually I shoot 500 rounds over a couple of days) to decide if I want to carry the gun or not. The ammo worked very well and I had the information I needed after shooting the XSE. Below are my evaluations for each of my 10 criteria for my concealed carry purpose. I wanted to put the gun through its paces and check it thoroughly for malfunctions, stoppages, and performance with quality JHP ammo and FMJ rounds, etc. I want to thank Sig Sauer for providing the FMJ and JHP Elite Performance ammo and Polycase for providing the Inceptor ARX and RNP ammo, for me to test and evaluate the XSE.
The XSE has really nice ergonomics. With the nice vertical lines on the rear backstrap, it felt good in my hands, was comfortable, and enhanced my grip. The beavertail (no ducktail) and grip safety had a distinctive palm swell to help with my tactile grip and repeatable hand positioning. With the combination of the Commander slide/barrel and the full-size grip frame, I was able to fit all my fingers on the grip and it felt so nice and I was able to handle it for good results. A commander length barrel and slide is generally easier to carry and conceal than a full-size 1911. However, some friends carry the full size, but not me, although I like my 1911s for other uses. The moderate and fine vertical stippling on the mainspring housing, the smooth lines, and the nice thin grips were perfect for me. There was no stippling on the front grip strap, but it did not slip in my hands, given the mild felt recoil from the steel frame and steel slide. It does have an ambidextrous safety. The slide was very easy for me to rack and the felt recoil and muzzle rise were very manageable given its .45 caliber and the heavy steel slide and barrel. But I must admit that my felt recoil with this .45 was more, of course, than with my 9mms I usually carry. The XSE’s steel frame did not transfer that much felt recoil.45 and there was no problem carrying it all-day for my week trial. The metal-to-metal fittings were tight and smooth working. Below I will get into the evaluation factors and my ideas for each of my criteria after my range testing.
I had no malfunctions or stoppages at all with the XSE and the various Sig Sauer and Polycase types and weights of ammo fired. After my range live fire, the Combat Commander really impressed me as a very accurate and reliable (with the limited 300 rounds fired by me) carry gun. After initially cleaning the gun and then shooting it at the range for the first time, my first 16 rounds fired rapid fire with a mag exchange with the Sig V-Crown 230 grain Elite Ball FMJ and JHP 230 at 7 yards all hit in a nice 3.0″ or slightly less group. I did better with the JHP rounds. I had similar good results with the Polycase Inceptor ARX 118 grain .45 ammo and the RNP; about a 2.75″ group. All very decent rounds, but I prefer the premium V-Crown JHPs and the ARX Self-Defense rounds for defensive use because of the expansion and less over-penetration. The about 36 ounces loaded weight of the XSE helped offset the .45 recoil and allowed me better control. PRIORITY: Shot placement, not caliber. So these hits were very acceptable for me for close-up self-defense encounters. I’m not shooting precision bullseyes, but rather self-defense rounds. BUT, shoot it for yourself to make your own decisions, based on your abilities, goals, proficiency, and purpose. Below are my hits for my first 16 rounds at 7 yards fired rapid fire with the XSE with a slide-lock reload between the two mags. The gun did almost all the work, not me.
Range Test Results for the Colt 1911 XSE .45 ACP for each of my 10 Criteria:
1. Accuracy and Reliability – Score = 10
The Accuracy of the XSE .45 with its 4.25″ barrel was very acceptable for me at distances of 3, 7, 10, and 15 yards, with my aging eyesight and carpal tunnel wrist. My groups at each of the up-close encounter distances were about 2.0-3.0 inches for the first time I ever fired the gun, after first cleaning it. Groups were not as good for me at 10 and15 yards, but acceptable for self-defense encounters. The gun is more accurate than I am. I fired about 300 total rounds for this test and want to fire a total of 500 rounds to break-in ANY carry gun I’m betting my life on. The 4.8# or so trigger press I experienced was crisp, soft, short and very acceptable, meeting my personal preference press range and criterion. The heavier weight of the gun with ammo, its excellent grip surfaces and beavertail swell, and quality build features (great workmanship with some but few MIM parts) certainly helped. The disconnector and mag catch are MIM parts, but they are well made. The major parts of the gun, the frame, slide, and barrel are all forged stainless steel and cleanly machined for strength, not casted by mold. The tight quality fit was very evident with no shakes nor rattles for extra movement. Loved the Wilson Combat mags to supplement the factory Colt mags. I like that the XSE has a standard barrel bushing, guide rod and plug, and a full-length guide rod. I used my Modified-Isosceles Stance, a two-handed grip, & successfully shot high-performance Sig Sauer Elite V-Crown 230 grain JHP and Elite FMJ rounds and Polycase Inceptor ARX 118 grain and RNP ammo.
2. Trigger Press – Score = 10
The Trigger Press averaged about 4.8 pounds with 8 readings from my Lyman Electronic Trigger Pull Gauge. This was great for me and within my limits for my press range for my carry guns, given the limited 300 rounds I fired with it. It will probably improve after break-in and getting 500 rounds through it. I prefer that my carry guns have a max. of 6.5 pounds press or much less (especially with SAO 1911s like the XSE), so this is well within my range. I analyze and compare 21 of my top 21 CC guns & their presses, etc. in my recent book. I really liked the short, very crisp and smooth trigger press.
3. Trigger – Score = 10
The SAO match-grade steel Trigger had a very identifiable click and reset point. I liked the short takeup and positive reset trigger. Again, the press was soft, smooth, short, and crisp. My shots were consistent each time and I could easily recognize the reset point.
4. Barrel length – Score = 10
The 4.25-inch Commander-length Barrel helped control muzzle flip and felt recoil. The XSE uses a standard barrel bushing and a full-length guide rod and it was a match-grade barrel. The stainless steel barrel was of high quality and the barrel length was certainly concealable. For me and my carry purpose, the Commander-length barrel and slide had good balance, handled and pointed well, was comfortable to carry, and I had no feeding problems whatsoever.
5. Sights – Score = 9
The low mount Novak 3-Dot carry Sights were acceptable. Novak does a fine job with their sights. They were distinguishable and worked well. But I wanted better sights, especially for my impaired vision and color blind eyes. I prefer the bright green fiber optic front sight for a better lock on to the front sight & wanted larger sight dots.
6. Gun Weight – Score = 8
The 29.5 ounce unloaded weight of the XSE was very solid, although at times it did seem front heavy. The weight helped me control movement and lessened felt recoil, but after carrying it for a week, I wanted my lighter weight polymer 9mms for some relief. Maybe I’m not accustomed to carrying that extra gun weight. I could probably adapt to it, but I am being honest in saying how it affected me. Yes, the added weight with a loaded mag (about 35 oz. or so) did help my accuracy and perceived lower felt recoil, but the loaded weight did not help with comfort for all-day every day carry. Of course, there are pros and cons for gun weight and this commander design and there are personal preferences and tradeoffs. A very personal decision. For me, the all steel frame in this 4.25 Commander definitely helped with my accuracy, but I do not want to carry this gun every day. At least, it was not a heavy full-size 1911. The Combat Commander .45 will, however, definitely be in my carry rotation.
7. Caliber – Score = 9
While I was shooting the XSE, it was comfortable in my hand and the .45 ACP Caliber did not give me fits with its recoil, but I did find myself really gripping the gun very tightly, more so than I do for my 9mms as expected. Yes, I’ll carry the .45 ACP XSE, but I still prefer the 9mm caliber for my main CC gun. I just practice more with them, know my proven accuracies with them, like the lighter loaded weight, and just like shooting them better. But, please understand that the felt recoil for the XSE .45 was manageable for me. The XSE digested the various JHPs, FMJs, and ARXs easily without a single malfunction or stoppage. I used Sig Sauer 7-round and Wilson Combat 7 and 8-round mags without any problems at all.
8. Capacity – Score = 8
There were two Colt mags included, both 8-rounders. They were quality made, but I would have liked to have had one more mag included. Wilson Combat did send me a high quality 7-round and an 8-round mag that performed very well. At first, I wondered about all the 8-round mags and if they were going to have feeding problems, but they proved to work very well. The Wilson Combat mags fed into the mag well great, chambered rounds easily without any malfunctions or stoppages at all, and were of very high quality. Both the factory Colt and Wilson Combat mags were high-quality mags that functioned well and dropped freely.
9. Ergonomics – Score = 10
The Ergonomics of the XSE were excellent. The Slim Profile, Custom Rosewood Grips were great and beautiful. I could grip them firmly and easily with my medium-sized hands. The rear mainspring housing had vertical stippling lines that helped secure my grip. You could see and feel the quality fit, finish, function, and workmanship. I was able to easily reach all the controls without changing my grip. The attention to detail in all ergonomic-related functions was superb. The palm swell and the upswept build of the Beavertail Grip Safety were really nice for a solid tactile grip. It fit my hand very well. The extended thumb safety was nice.
10. Miscellaneous – Score = 9
I disassembled, lubed and cleaned, and re-assembled the XSE before I shot it, as always with any gun. Having a regular barrel bushing, recoil spring, plug, and a full-length guide rod made it easy and routine to disassemble, as with most 1911s. I did NOT have to press the trigger to disassemble it and it was quick to takedown without tools or even a bushing wrench. There is no rail which is fine with me for a carry gun. It does have a Series 80-type Firing Pin safety to prevent negligent discharge if the pistol is dropped. The XSE does not include accessories like some other compacts, e.g. a holster, mag pouch, other backstraps/grips, or third mag, but given the 1911 quality and features for the price you do not even think about the extras. The Kramer Leather holster and Big Foot Gun Belt (see above image) worked great with the Colt and were perfect high-quality matches with the XSE. There is a Limited Lifetime Warranty for the original gun owner.
Total Points = 93 out of 100 Possible.
I certainly RECOMMEND this handgun for consideration as your concealed carry compact commander .45 ACP SAO pistol. It is my opinion that it is difficult to find another 1911 for under $1,000 that has this few MIM parts, this many features, with this quality build and accuracy. I especially like its accuracy, manageable recoil for a shorter-barrel 1911, its short, smooth, and crisp SAO trigger… and its soft press. The Custom Rosewood Grips are beautiful and functional, as well as very thin for me. The shorter length, smooth edges, great grip, and inherent accuracy and reliability make it nice for carry. The blend of a Commander-length slide and barrel with the full-size grip make it a great carry option and it could be concealed nicely. Its felt recoil was very manageable and not a problem for me. The high quality and attention to details in its design, with its very minimal Metal Injection Molded (MIM) parts and no plastic parts, but with fine machining, exuded fine craftsmanship and helped handling. The classic Colt reputation was in tact. While the 4.8# trigger press is very good, I believe after more rounds are down range the press will lighten even a little more after break-in. I do want to shoot it more to see its long-term reliability before I decide to put it in my CC rotation and replace my 9mms. I was very impressed with its accuracy and that I had no malfunctions or stoppages whatsoever with the few rounds I fired. It is difficult to find this version of the XSE in stock, but it can be found at prices below $1,000., if you shop around. You may want to start shopping now if you are interested, since I just read on a forum that this XSE may be discontinued, but I know it is available now on several websites and in gun shops. Well, these are just my opinions and ideas, so handle and shoot it for yourself.
I hope this review of the XSE .45 pistol has helped you gain some information you did not previously have. Again, consider that these are just my opinions with limited live-range fire and shooting myself only about 300 rounds of various ammo. Like always, I recommend that you shoot any handgun yourself before you purchase it. Decide on your criteria, how you will primarily use the gun, and what features are important to you and you are willing to pay for ahead of your range time. Then critically evaluate the gun YOURSELF per your criteria and purpose, with standard drills (several mentioned in my book), with various ammo types and brands, over an extended break-in period of about 500 rounds. Remember, Safety First Always.
Hartford, CT 06144
Sig Sauer Elite V-Crown JHP-FMJ Ammo
Newington, NH 03801
Polycase ARX Inceptor .45Auto Copper-Polymer RNP High-Velocity Projectiles/Ammo
Savannah, GA 31408
Bigfoot Gun Belts
Post Falls, ID 83854
Wilson Combat Magazines
Berryville, AR 72616
Photos by Author.
* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
© 2017 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at [email protected].