Colt’s XSE Commander lives up to its legacy

In my latest firearms adventure, I tested Colt’s 04012XSE Commander, a 4.25-inch barrel version of the M1911 style .45 ACP handgun. My Commander shot well, handled well and was equally at home for uniform and non-uniform duty. Colt has a reputation...

Despite the proliferation of the “newer” American law enforcement firearms products out there, only the Big Three—Remington Arms, Smith and Wesson and Colt—can describe their history in centuries, not decades. Remington is the oldest, operating continuously since 1816. Colt is next, beginning in 1847, followed by Smith and Wesson, 1852. In 2019, Mossberg can claim a century. I hope I will be around to announce the Big Four. Besides longevity, these four companies have another bragging right: They lead the industry in uncompromising quality. Since I own a Colt handgun that predates WWII, I am unabashed about saying that Colt is one of my favorites.

The 1911-style handgun is still one of the best designs for a law enforcement firearm, considering its inherent safety and shot-to-shot consistency. Instead of having an initial double action pull of many semiautomatics, it has the same trigger feel for every shot. The hammer has to be all the way to the rear in order to strike the primer. Firearms trainers know that this simplifies immediate action drills. One does not attempt to fire by pulling the trigger again; one cycles the slide, introducing a fresh cartridge. The officer has to overcome three safeties in order to fire this gun: Grip, trigger and thumb. However, the manipulation skills necessary to put it into fire mode are no more taxing than any other product.

This handgun does have a trigger safety of the Series 80 legacy, which is appropriate for a law enforcement product. The trigger safety really doesn’t do much except prevent the gun from discharging if dropped from a severe height. The trigger on this Commander was typical for a duty gun. It broke cleanly, but target shooters would comment on the length of the take up and its overall “feel.” The trigger is adjustable by the end-user, but I found it fine for LE use.

The sights are the low profile style with a ramped rear. Users can quickly align the three dots. The rounded slide top is textured (I was thankful for this because I shot into the sun in most of my range sessions.) I started out shooting at a 6 o’clock hold, meaning I aligned my sights at the bottom center of the bulls-eye when shooting. The gun printed a little to the right at center mass. Since the sights allowed drifting and use a set screw, adjustments are not even an issue.

There is a noticeable undercut in the trigger guard. About a millimeter of stock has been radiused where the knuckle of the shooting hand rides underneath. Most users will like this feature because it lowers the pivot area of the recoil. Since the gun is “choked” higher in the grip of the shooter, meaning the axis of the bore is closer, it handles better.

This gun does not have an enlarged magazine well, one of the most common gunsmith upgrades for this style. Since I do not like plastic mainspring housings and the front portion of the well was a wee bit sharp, I would browse around for a magazine well/mainspring housing.

My Colt 04012XSE Commander came with stainless steel 8-round magazines. As soon as I had put enough rounds through them to confirm their reliability, I put them away and got out my Metalform Pro Elite Series magazines (.45-747P). These precision made 8-round works of art seat positively and fly out of the gun on command. I use them every time I test a .45.

There was nothing wrong with the Colt mags that came with the gun; I just like Pro Elite Series magazines better. During my tests, which included several brands of ammunition and extended range sessions, there was only one ammo related failure to fire. I can’t put the blame anywhere else: It was an ammunition failure (and I made the ammunition).

Everyone makes a holster for a 1911. I used several for this test, but the one that distinguished itself on the range and around town was the Gould and Goodrich 891-K40, which is an open belt slide. This is a simple open scabbard with a form fit that does an excellent job retaining the gun. It stays open after drawing, allowing the officer to (properly) re-holster without looking. Another thing: It’s as pretty as the Commander.

The XSE Commander proved to be a good shooter. It is not a custom gun, but collectors will stop in front of display cases for this one, too. It falls well below the price point of a custom gun, even with my recommended accessories and aftermarket additions. As a combat pistol, the Colt 04012XSE Commander is effective and a proven design for law enforcement use.

Did I mention that it’s a Colt?


Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer who teaches at Hartnell College in Salinas, Calif. He welcomes comments at
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