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 for superior quality control, and the fit and finish of this gun could be compared to guns that cost hundreds more.

The Colt XSE series, which includes the Government, Commander and Lightweight Commander model handguns with common features like front and rear slide serrations, checkered double diamond rosewood grips, an extended ambidextrous safety, a three-hole adjustable aluminum trigger, and enhanced hammer and low profile white dot sights. The grip safety has a generous upswept portion with a narrow combat-style beaver tail.

I prefer this barrel length to the M1911’s full-length, 5-inch barrel. The shorter slide is ideal for pancake style holsters because the seated user doesn’t have a muzzle pushing up the belt line or the butt twisting the trunk. It has the advantages of the 5-inch barrel, including respectable velocities from duty cartridges. There is enough sight radius for well placed hits and enough forward weight to control muzzle flip.

During testing I ran several different brands of ammunition: .45 ACP for law enforcement duty generally ranges between 180-230 grains. There are lighter options out there, but even extreme velocity bullets like the CorBon DPX cartridges run 185 grains. The Commander appeared to prefer the 200-grain Hornady +P (Hornady 9113) cartridge, an excellent choice for duty. Groups were generally between 2.5 and 3 inches at 25 yards, an acceptable accuracy for a duty gun. The most accurate bullet/cartridge combination I fired was the one I cooked up in my garage using my own 185-grain bullet mould and some AA#5.

I favor the .45, especially M1911 style .45s. The initial concept to replace an “anemic” cartridge with a more effective one for military duty was born out of an immediate and tangible necessity. No one has ever complained about the inherent effectiveness of the .45 ACP.

The M1911-style .45 is optimal for concealed carry because the single stack magazine design and flat slide make it easy to carry discreetly. Most law enforcement users don’t have the luxury of being able to test a polymer double stack pistol side by side with an M1911-style pistol. I do. Let me try to describe the difference: The double stack gun usually has a wide backstrap, simply because it is fatter. This does a good job controlling the recoil force. The Colt Commander is heavier and thinner than polymer guns. It uses design, forward weight and the ability for most users to get more gun in the hand to control recoil. Many officers who cannot use the wide grips, which change the length of pull on the trigger, like the Commander.

I favor Colts. This is not one of these “full disclosure” statements. Colt handguns are a prevalent topic for collectors because they’re Colts. The name conjures visions of fine finishes and silky triggers. I own an old Colt, too. It was made in 1938 and I shoot about 2-2500 rounds through it annually. When I invite a guest to our range, I let them shoot my Colt. I can attest to Colt reliability. The Commander I tested here shares this legacy and quality.

This gun does not masquerade as a “show” or a target gun. It did its best work in rapid fire combat shooting sequences, which is its intended purpose. Using the same Hornady TAP ammunition, I shot multiple target drills with magazine changes. At 10 yards I was able to print some sub 2-inch groups. With an empty weight of 38 ounces and the M1911 feel and balance, this gun controlled the heavy bullets nicely.

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