So, the question is: Will a 1911 sub-compact 9mm pistol meet self-defense demands?
In the past, 1911s with short 9mm barrels have had some cartridge feeding, extraction, and ejection problems, along with ammo concerns. However, almost all recent 1911 sub-compact (less than 4″ barrel) and compact (4″- less than 5″ barrel) 9mms, mags, and ammo have corrected and/or significantly resolved these earlier problems.
Colt introduced its classic short-barreled Defender pistol in .45ACP in 2000, and after some tweakings, it has become a well-respected and used sub-compact 1911 carry pistol. In 2016, Colt introduced their “new” Defender pistol in both .45ACP and 9mm. Colt now offers the “new” Defender in two finishes: a brushed stainless steel model only in .45ACP and a black and blued model in .45ACP and 9mm. Both models feature the new Colt G-10 grips and a new carry cut on the front of the slide for ease of concealment, with a short butt. The new black and blued model offers all the upgrades of the stainless model, as well as a blued carbon steel slide and black Cerakote-coated aluminum alloy frame, a Tritium front night sight and blacked-out rear Novak low mount carry sight for ease of target acquisition. The MSRP on the .45 ACP stainless model is $899., while the upgraded black and blued model is $949.
So, after some tweaking time at Colt, I want to examine the new Defender in 9mm thoroughly, its specifications, features, and performance relative to my criteria, to see if it would rank in my top 8 1911 sub-compact 9mm pistols for concealed carry. I asked them to send me their recent Colt Defender sub-compact 1911 9mm with the 3-inch barrel, so I could test and evaluate it and offer my opinions to help you and myself. I have reviewed several sub-compact 9mms and 1911s in depth on this website and others. Some are included in my top 21 concealed carry guns in the second printing of my book “Concealed Carry & Handgun Essentials.” Now with this new Colt Defender 1911 sub-compact, I want to analyze, compare, and rank it among my top 1911 sub-compacts for a recommendation or not.
The Colt Defender 9mm Sub-Compact 1911 Review Plan
To begin, I want to give you my specifications and features of the Colt Defender 3-inch 9mm. Then, I will provide 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. Below, I’ll suggest a quality, custom leather holster I like for this 1911 sub-compact 9mm.
I was very anxious to shoot the new Colt Defender 1911 and to compare it factor by factor to my other quality sub-compact 1911 9mms, to see if it ranked in my top concealed carry pistols and my top sub-compact 9mm 1911s. Know that I am not on the Colt payroll, have not been paid or compensated by them in any form for this review, and not given any gratuities 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 help folks sincerely. Based on my range test of the gun and my analysis, I want to give you my opinions with pros and cons and issues and/or concerns that would prevent me from carrying this gun or allow me to carry it. Is this a gun I would recommend for concealed carry? Would it make it to my TOP EIGHT list of 1911 Sub-Compact 9mm handguns for concealed carry? (I will post my TOP EIGHT list in the next few weeks here.)
Colt Defender 9mm Sub-Compact 1911 Specifications:
|Model Number||#07802XE (Manual Thumb Safety)|
|Barrel Length / Finish||3.00"; Stainless Steel; Bushingless; Bull|
|Sights / Radius||Front: Novak White Dot Tritium Night Sight;
Rear: Novak Low Mount; Black; Both Steel
|Weight||24 oz (empty mag)|
|Frame Material / Finish||Aluminum Alloy; Cerakote Matte Black|
|Slide Material / Finish||Forged Carbon Steel; Blued|
|Trigger||Single Action Only; 3-Hole Aluminum; Skeletonized; Hammer Fired; Locked Breech|
|Trigger Press||To Be Reviewed; Estimated 4.5 - 6 Pounds|
|Trigger Travel||To Be Reviewed|
|Magazines / Capacity||2 mags - 8 Rounds; Steel; Witness Holes|
|Safeties||Extended Beavertail Grip Safety; One-Sided Thumb Safety; Series 80 Firing Pin Safety|
|Grips||Colt G-10; Partially-Checkered; Black Cherry Wood|
|Other||Limited Service Warranty- to Original Purchaser for 1 year from date of retail purchase, with original purchase sales receipt|
Colt Defender 9mm Sub-Compact 1911 Key Features:
- Lowered and Flared Ejection Port
- 3-Hole Skeletonized Aluminum Trigger
- Enhanced Combat Skeletonized Hammer
- Upswept Extended Beavertail Grip Safety
- Polished Stainless Steel Match-Grade Barrel
- Magazines have Witness Holes for Round Count
- No Accessory Rail; Do Not Need to Press Trigger to Field Strip
Colt Defender 9mm Sub-Compact 1911 Holster
Kramer Handgun Leather makes a beautiful, high-quality OWB Horsehide Leather custom holster. The Vertical Belt Scabbard is a classic “Pancake” holster design and works well for concealed carry, as well as for range use and competition. It has great workmanship, is very comfortable, double stitched, extremely durable with the horsehide material, and conceals well. I love their attention to details, and this holster works well for the Defender. The Kramer Handgun Leather OWB holster has a nice FBI forward cant, and the gun rides in a neutral rake vertical position or straight up and down. The gun rides high on the strong-side hip, and the gun’s butt tucks snugly into the side for maximum concealment. There are various options and prices, like 1.4″, 1.5″, and 1.75″ belt loops and black, mahogany, and tan colors. This high-quality horsehide holster shown below rides close into the body. I really like the reinforced throat band because it helps reholstering and the holster’s durability. Here is the Colt Defender 9mm sub-compact 1911 pistol in the high-quality Kramer Handgun Leather OWB Vertical Scabbard holster.
Criteria And Considerations for this Colt Defender 9mm Sub-Compact 1911 Review
Here are just 10 of my criteria and factors I use for evaluating any handgun, so I will use them for the Colt Defender. 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 ten criteria for a total possible score of 100 points. You can certainly add your 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 tradeoffs according to your priorities, preferences, defined needs, and use.
General Impressions: Colt’s “new” Defender 9mm Sub-Compact 1911
Overall, I believe the “new” Colt Defender 9mm sub-compact is a quality 1911 gun with some excellent features, nice ergonomics, and a reasonable price. It is a very fine gun with the basic features you would expect to get the job done. The new pistol is basically the same as the earlier model with the addition of the custom Colt G-10 Black Cherry Wood grip panels and the Carry Cut on the front of the slide to help with re-holstering and for easier concealment. The grips were not overly-aggressive as to cause discomfort and irritation.
Colt includes a well-designed and upgraded upswept Beavertail Grip Safety that provides a firm and comfortable grip, allows a higher-up grip for better control, and helps spread the recoil out. There is an elevated memory bump in the middle of the grip safety that aids in maintaining a good grip on the pistol. It also provides a positive tactile reference point to help the shooter develop a consistent grip. There is an undercut trigger guard to allow a higher grip and a short butt. My pinky finger did not dangle below the magazine well when I gripped it.
There is a single-post Novak front tritium Night Sight and a Blackened-Out rear sight for better contrast aiming. It took me a while to get used to the blackened-out rear sight. Some like this and some do not, but you must practice with them to adapt. The front sight post has a tritium insert with a white outline. The finish on the frame is Black Cerakote, and the slide is blued with a matte finish.
The Defender has a lowered and flared ejection port which is typically associated with increased reliability, but my field test will evaluate this. It also has a full-length guide rod which some claim reduces recoil, but I am not aware of any strong evidence to support this claim. I will also test this for myself. My wife and I could easily reach all the controls. The Defender was easy to takedown, and there was no barrel bushing, and it had a heavy Bull Barrel. It has a nice three-hole, curved aluminum trigger with over-travel stop. And there is a SKELETONIZED combat hammer and a single side thumb safety. The slide was easy for me to rack and the felt recoil and muzzle rise was very manageable partially due to the low 24 ounces with unloaded mag weight. My wife could easily rack the slide with her dainty hands.
The 1911 Defender has a Series 80 Firing Pin Block Safety which means it has an internal, passive firing pin safety which is activated by the trigger, not the separate grip safety. The trigger must be pulled to unblock the firing pin. So if the gun is dropped, the safety plunger will block the firing pin engagement. Note that not all manufacturers of Series 80 1911s use the trigger to release the firing pin block, some original 1911s do use the grip safety, e.g., Smith-Wesson, Kimber, etc.
Below I will get into more specifics and my opinions for each of my 10 Criteria, after my range testing.
Range Test & Results
I shot 150 rounds of the high-quality and high-velocity Sig Sauer Elite V-Crown JHP ammo in 115, 124, and 147 grain weights and 115 grain FMJ. I also shot a few remaining rounds of Armscor 124 grain FMJ I had to determine how well the gun cycled and handled different loads. I also shot about 100 more rounds of the new Sig Sauer 365 V-Crown JHP 115 grain and the new 365 FMJ Elite 115 grain (BOTH with 1050 fps muzzle velocity & 282 ft lbs muzzle energy), which are optimized for CCW and a 3.1″ short barrel.
NOTE: For short-barreled handguns like this 1911 sub-compact with a 3″ barrel, I prefer light grains and fast bullets because of the velocity concern. I believe there is a definite drop-off in velocity and resultant bullet performance as barrels get shorter, given their less space to burn powder and build pressure. Also, think about the muzzle energy tradeoff. So consider those rounds optimized by design for short barrels to accomplish this, e.g., 115 grain and over 1,000 fps muzzle velocity, i.e., the new Sig 365 ammo.
I 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. To judge its reliability and to see if it can shoot 500 rounds without a malfunction or stoppage. I usually break in my handguns initially firing FMJ rounds, then going to JHPs. But for this test, I regularly rotated between FMJ and JHP rounds in mostly 115 grains to better test it. Would this sub-compact 1911 handle the premium hollow-point rounds and also the new 365 ammo in both JHP and FMJ, without any malfunctions or stoppages? I had the information I needed after shooting it. Below are my evaluations for each of my ten criteria for my concealed carry purpose. I wanted to put the gun through its paces with my Concealed Carry Drill with a mag change and check it thoroughly for malfunctions, stoppages, and performance with premium, quality JHP ammo and FMJ rounds and the new ammo designed for short-barreled guns. I want to thank Sig Sauer for providing their various fine JHP and FMJ ammo, including their new hot-off-the-production-line 365 ammo to test and evaluate the new Colt Defender 9mm. Also, thanks to Armscor for some of their 124 grain FMJ rounds.
After initially cleaning the gun, I used my standard “Col Ben’s Concealed Carry Drill” to test and evaluate it.
You can have my Concealed Carry Drill for FREE for your practice. Permission to Download, Print, and share “Col Ben’s Concealed Carry Drill” is granted when my website address and copyright are included and kept on it.
You can Download and Print “Col Ben’s Concealed Carry Drill” and targets by clicking on the link at my website’s Home Page at www.FloridaHandgunsTraining.com
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Easy peasy. I easily and quickly landed all 16 FMJ rounds (with a mag change) in the five various-sized circles at 7 yards. I did not use a rest, shot while standing, and fired rapid fire with the various Sig rounds and all hit in their five circle targets and within the 20 seconds time limit. Right at it. See above photo. I really could tell a lighter felt recoil with the new Sig 365 ammo designed for short-barreled guns, like this Defender. ALL FMJ (Sig and Armscor) rounds fired with the Defender had NO problems at all feeding, extracting, and ejecting. This was about 200 various FMJ rounds. Previously, I found the new Sig Sauer 365 ammo in 115 grain JHP to be acceptable in another 1911 sub-compact recently field tested. But the Defender had problems feeding this JHP, as well other JHP rounds. After firing some FMJ rounds, I switched to JHP rounds. I had 2 Double-Feeds in the first 50 JHP rounds fired. Then I switched and fired about 200 FMJ rounds without any problem at all. Then I switched back to JHP rounds and again I had 2 Double-Feeds in the next 50 JHP rounds fired. This gun handled the FMJ rounds fine. But, this gun was not totally reliable for me for the 300 total JHP, and FMJ rounds fired. It did not feed the JHP rounds well, with Double Feeds. Without firing more JHP rounds to test its reliability further, I would not carry this gun with my usual JHP rounds for self-defense carry. I want NO malfunctions or stoppages in 500 rounds before I carry any handgun. I want to emphasize that this is a fine gun and handles FMJ rounds very well. BUT, shoot it for yourself to make your own decisions, based on your abilities, goals, and proficiency and with JHP defensive rounds. Use my Drill at various distances, e.g., 3, 5, 7, 10, 15, and 20 yards to challenge yourself, as you progress. At first, do not time yourself but safely practice, until you feel comfortable and safe with the Drill. Above are my hits for my 16 FMJ rounds at 7 yards fired rapid fire with a mag change with the Defender 1911 sub-compact 9mm. I bypassed the 3 and 5-yard stages for more of a challenge. I shot 300 total rounds through it. Hope my Drill helps you.
Opinions And Evaluations For Each Criterion
Here are my opinions and evaluations for each criterion.
1. Accuracy and Reliability – Score: 9
The accuracy of the Defender 9mm was very good for me at close and medium distances of 3, 5, 7, 10, and15 yards. But, while my hits at 20 yards with this sub-compact were on target, they were larger 3-3.5″ groups, and I wanted smaller ones. This is a short-barreled, close tactical distance defensive gun with a short sight radius. But, the gun and my eyes did most of the work out to 15 yards, but my eyes hindered me at greater distances. All of my groups for my Drills of 15-16 shots each at the various distances were about 2.5 to 3 inches or so, drawing from my Kramer Leather OWB holster. I used my Modified-Isosceles Stance, a two-handed grip, and shot the various 115 grain and 124 grain in JHP and FMJ, and the new 365 rounds in 115 grain JHP and FMJ. I had 4 Double Feeds with two live rounds trying to feed into the chamber at the same time when shooting hollow points, but NO problems at all shooting FMJ rounds. I used both supplied magazines and had the Double-Feed problem with both. It may be an extractor/spring problem, but I do not know. I did not “ride the slide,” and quality ammo was used. Accuracy with any small 1911 pistol like this one with a short sight radius is a challenge, but remember this gun is designed for close encounters. Based on shooting JHP rounds, I was concerned with the Defender’s reliability, and its extractor may be the problem. This 1911 Defender in 9mm was finicky with JHP rounds, but NOT with FMJ rounds.
2. Trigger Press – Score: 9
The trigger press out of the box averaged about 6.2 pounds for the new Colt 1911 Defender sub-compact 9mm, with ten readings with my Lyman Electronic Trigger Pull Gauge. I wanted a lighter press for this 1911, but this gun is not broken in yet. And the trigger uses a Series 80 firing pin safety, which may or may not have a meaningful effect. I was disappointed that ALL of the readings exceeded my desired maximum press range of 5 pounds for this single-action trigger 1911 pistol. But, the trigger was smooth and crisp. However, I still wanted this 1911 to have a softer and somewhat shorter trigger press near 5 pounds or so.
3. Trigger – Score: 10
The 1911 single-action trigger was crisp, smooth and very good, with a small amount of creep, minimal takeup, no stacking, with a short travel distance and acceptable reset, so I could get off quick follow-up shots. The reset was very definite. The single-action trigger was very good and consistent shooting with pretty much the same press each time. It was fun shooting this 1911 sub-compact 9mm.
4. Barrel Length – Score: 9
The 3-inch barrel was stable, and recoil was minimal. I expected the felt recoil to be very noticeable, but it was not, and I had no problem managing the felt recoil. The barrel is match grade stainless steel with a polished finish. This pistol and its short barrel does have a short sight radius, but it is intended for close defensive use.
5. Sights – Score: 9
The factory Novak White Dot Tritium Front Night Sight with the Novak low-mount carry blackened-out rear sights took a while for me to get used to. Practice! But, I did adapt and had minimal accuracy concerns with them. The front sight dot was smaller than my failing eyes wanted. I like larger dots and usually prefer a fiber optic front sight and tritium. I really like the brightness of FO front sight on my pistols, to speed up my front sight access.
6. Proper Gun Weight – Score: 10
The aluminum alloy frame and carbon steel slide Defender weighed 24 ounces and was a nice weight gun for Col Ben’s Concealed Carry Drill. There was much less felt recoil and more stability than I expected from this sub-compact.
7. Caliber – Score: 10
The Colt 1911 Defender Sub-Compact in 9mm caliber was fun to shoot, and I managed the recoil well. I prefer the 9mm with modern ballistics ammo improvements, and the 9mm ammo is much less expensive while getting the job done.
8. Capacity – Score: 9
I liked the 8+1 capacity of the Defender sub-compact 9mm. Two 8-round flush-fit stainless steel mags were included, although I prefer three to be included. The mags did have witness holes for round count.
9. Ergonomics – Score: 9
The ergonomics of the officer-sized Defender 9 mm were very good and I was able to easily and comfortably reach all controls like the thumb safety, slide lock, and magazine release. I was glad it had no right-side safety lever which can hinder concealment because of the extra width. It felt very good in my medium-sized hands, like most 1911s and their small profiles. I liked the shorter officer’s-type butt. I had no slide nor hammer bites, and it felt very good to hold the thin profile pistol. I would prefer the front strap to have some aggressive checkering to help get a firmer grip on this small pistol. The front strap had NO checkering nor any serrations at all. The grip safety with its beavertail and memory bump was natural and comfortable to use. The slide-to-frame fit was very solid, and it was easy for me to rack the slide.
10. Miscellaneous – Score: 8
The guide rod is “full length,” and no tools are required for the takedown. It was easy for me to disassemble and reassemble the Defender before I shot it quickly. To field strip this 1911 sub-compact, merely remove the magazine (then check the chamber to ensure it is unloaded) and pull the slide back until the takedown notch is above the slide stop lever. Next, remove the slide stop. Now the slide, recoil spring, guide rod, and barrel will easily slide right off. The recoil spring, guide rod, and plug lift right out and no tools are required.
REASSEMBLY TIP for 1911: After reassembling the spring, guide rod, and recoil spring plug into the slide, first slip it back on the frame from front to rear. But, BEFORE retracting the slide and trying to align the barrel link with the hole in the frame, use the small back end of a cotton swab/Q-tip, or a small punch, or the small end of a chamber flag, and place it in the slide stop hole, so you can pull the barrel link down into place. This will help you to properly and more easily align the slide stop hole with the barrel link for reassembly of your 1911.
The hard plastic case included two mags, a cable lock, and Instruction Manual. The cerakote matte-black finish on the frame looked good with the blued, forged carbon steel slide, but I also like the classy silver matte finish (now available only on the .45 Defender.) This is a classic, basic self-defense 1911 sub-compact pistol which is accurate for personal protection. Check out its Reliability for yourself with JHP rounds. Warranty details and Customer Service are also factors to consider.
Total Points = 92 out of 100 Possible.
I RECOMMEND this Colt 1911 Defender sub-compact 9mm pistol. It is a very accurate pistol with several desirable features. It was very reliable with FMJ rounds, but I had some Double-Feeds with the JHP rounds. To confirm its reliability for self-defense and carry, a total of 500 rounds should be fired with it, focusing on JHP rounds. I only fired 300 Total Rounds, mostly FMJ. This 1911 9mm is a fine gun, and at this time I would certainly give it an Honorable Mention for My Top Sub-Compact 1911 9mms, pending further field testing of JHP rounds. This is a basic 1911 9mm, and I was impressed with its accuracy and its controllable recoil for a sub-compact 9mm. My aging eyes wanted a bigger front dot and brighter sights (e.g., Fiber Optic front.) Also, it took me some time to get used to the blackened-out rear sight ledge, but I did. I wish it came standard with a front green fiber optic sight and different rear sights other than the blackened. But this is a very personal preference, and I did successfully use the blackened rear sights. This basic 1911 has several nice features, and the accuracy is there.
As always, these are just my opinions and you should try it for yourself. I hope this review of the Colt 1911 Defender sub-compact 9 mm has helped you gain some information for YOUR decision. Consider that this is just my point of view with limited live-range fire and using only 300 rounds of mostly premium JHP and FMJ ammo. 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’s important to you ahead of your range live-fire time. Then critically evaluate the gun YOURSELF per your criteria and purpose, with various ammo types and brands, different magazines, over an extended break-in period of about 500 rounds.
Colt’s Manufacturing Co.
West Hartford, CT 06110
Kramer Handgun Leather
Tacoma, WA 98411
Sig Sauer for Elite V-Crown, Elite Performance, and 365 9mm JHP-FMJ ammo
Newington, NH 03801
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.
© 2018 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 ColBFF@gmail.com.