Review: SIG SAUER’s 1911 XO

Not long ago I tested SIG SAUER’s 1911 XO in XO Black. This is an all stainless steel, all business, 45 Auto, full-sized 1911 without rails. It sports a generous beavertail grip and SIG SAUER’s durable Nitron finish. I’d like to say that testing this gun was eventful, but it wasn’t. The 1911 XO turned out to be a reliable, well fitted gun that instilled pride in ownership and confidence in use. It’s the kind of 1911 I like to own: Ready for duty but not too pretty to get dirty.

Construction

This handgun was designed for long-term hard use. Rather than an aluminum frame, it is a full-sized 41.6-ounce all-steel gun. It uses a traditional recoil spring and plug rather than a full-length guide rod.

There are several schools of thought on the recoil spring concept. Most "modern" versions of the M1911 handgun use a full-length guide rod. For the uninitiated, these guns can be easily identified by locking the slide to the rear. The second protrusion from the front of the slide below the barrel is the guide rod. The 1911 XO doesn't have one.

Many manufacturers include the full-length guide rod to add a little dampening weight to the front of an aluminum frame pistol and to avoid any kind of spring binding. The 1911 XO doesn't need this weight, and it uses a shorter, efficient spring guide. It is roughly about 10 ounces heavier than most duty guns.

When I field stripped the 1911 XO the first time, I was surprised to find a flat recoil spring. In the original design, the spring was made of coiled round wire. The 1911 XO uses a coiled flat spring. It is a conventional configuration, meaning that all of the coils are equidistant.

There is a little debate about the advantages of a coiled flat spring. One reason to have one is to get the same level of pressure and a little more slide travel, assuming that a coiled one with similar specs would be longer when fully compressed. Some will tell you that a flat spring is more resistant to binding, which is a non-issue on any SIG SAUER gun I have ever fired, including models over 40 years old.

What’s the bottom line on flat springs? Well, Wolff Gunsprings, perhaps the greatest authority on spring design and reliability, doesn’t make them—a statement in itself. Regardless, the recoil spring setup in the 1911 XO works well, and that’s that.

Many custom guns with guide rods are designed around a particular ammunition performance. Anything that isn't similar to this performance will be unreliable. This is not to say that guns with full length guide rods aren't reliable, they are. However, as far as I can tell, there isn't a single round manufactured that this gun can't swallow and spit the bullet out the business end.

The 1911 XO does not have front rails. SIG SAUER does have a model with rails—the SIG SAUER 1911 Nitron Rail—which is a similar configuration and sports enough room for any railed accessories. Many shooters, including me, prefer the 1911 XO design. It is simple and fits all of my 1911 holsters. I have an old Alessi PCH holster that can make this gun disappear on my waistband.

IWB carry is the answer to the question, “Why a 45?” Although many polymer guns are thinner overall, the 1911 slide is usually thinner. SIG SAUER has capitalized on this by their distinctive detail of the sides of the slide. Not only does it look good, it improves the comfort of concealed carry.

Probably one of the most striking features is the abbreviated safety, a design faithful to John Moses Browning's original. I flipped it around a little. It was crisp and consistent. The 45s I have shot lately have competition-like ambidextrous safeties, which include exaggerated shelves for the shooting thumb. This one is easy to use, but resistant to accidental activation because of its low profile.

The safety design corresponds with the rest of the gun. It has a natural feel and stays well indexed in the hand. Since the 1911 XO is “Series 80” style, it also has a hammer intercept notch and a firing pin safety.

The beavertail grip safety has a speed bump, which is the raised portion that contacts the center of the palm. I was around during the evolution of the grip safety andremember when the speed bump design was first used. Competition shooters found that the bump in the palm would have a certain feel when the gun was correctly indexed in the hand. The raised portion would ensure that the safety was depressed consistently throughout the shooting sequence.

The1911 single action trigger has served in law enforcement since the beginning of the Twentieth Century. There is an advantage to having a consistent trigger pull, rather than a DA/SA pull, for police work. The 1911 XO has three separate safeties, two of which are external. A properly trained user behind this gun is actually safer than many other polymer users.

The 1911 XO's trigger had a little take up, but broke cleanly. It was heavier than some of the competition triggers I've used over the years, but very appropriate for a law enforcement firearm. It had some adjustment, but I didn't play with the adjustment. This gun was easy to hold on target and take advantage of the natural pointing characteristics.

Some 1911 designs are undercut a little where the trigger guard meets the grip. The 1911 XO has some contouring, which makes it comfortable in the hand. Combined with the ERGO Grips and the 25 LPI checkering, it was easy to assume and maintain a master grip. The checkering is a little aggressive, which works for me, having held a gun on a suspect in really crappy weather before. Here’s a challenge for you: Go and find a gun for this price with quality checking on the front strap.

SIG SAUER did not cut any corners in the components of this gun. The mainspring is steel and it has a metal trigger. Again, give the price challenge a shot. For a production gun, it has a hand-fitted feel. There is almost no play in the parts and many parts, like the barrel/bushing fit, appear to be oversized, then lapped. I’m not saying this is a custom gun by any means, but it appears a lot more attention has been paid to detail than the price point suggests.

The model also features an external extractor, which puts a lot of hook onto the case rim. I can’t say that I prefer this design over the military contract design (I’ve heard that John M. Browning wanted an external extractor also), but it works well and is easily inspected.

The XO came shipped with 2x8-round quality magazines with invisible welds and quality followers. Reputably, this company does not skimp on magazines. These were worthy of this reputation. My 1911 XO had no rattle with the mags in and the floorplate was fairly flush with the mag well.

How it performed

For this test, I used SIG SAUER’s new Elite Performance Ammunition. The bullets have a proprietary V-Crown Jacketed Hollow point. The brass cases are TECHNI-CROM coated to improve their lubricity and therefore their reliability. For the 200-grain 45 Auto cartridge, SIG SAUER published a 918 fps muzzle velocity, using a 5-inch barrel. That’s 375 foot-pounds at the muzzle. On a warm day in Central California, I recorded several strings with this ammo which were significantly higher with a very low standard deviation. I use an Oehler Research Model 35-Proof Chronograph.

Sometimes cartridge manufacturers publish optimistic data on their products, having been tested under ideal conditions. I proofed these cartridges several times…I admit it—SIG SAUER sent plenty of ammo and I shot plenty of it. This may be the next “go to” in duty ammunition.I’ll let you know when I take delivery of my next shipment of gelatin.

I shot the 1911 XO from the bench and offhand. The ERGO Grips Extreme Duty XT grips dig in rather well, and the balance of this gun allows the shooter to flow from one target to another. The weight dampens much of the recoil and the Critical Defense and SIG SAUER Elite Performance Ammunition worked flawlessly.

I liked the sights, but XS Sight Systems has spoiled me. I like the Big Dot front sight, which is easier for my eyes to “pick up” in poor lighting. SIG SAUER has done two things here: First, the stock sights are beefy and designed for extreme environments; Second, they are dovetailed, not pinned, which means installation of XS Sights is done using a sight pusher.

The 1911 XO shot better offhand for me and the Elite Performance Ammunition gave me sub 2-inch groups at 15 yards with consistency. We were using B27 targets during this test and all of us could double-tap a standard police qualification (which is usually fired slowly) with this gun.

How did it feel? Well, it shot like a custom, minus the custom trigger. I could crank out accurate effective fire like it was my own gun.

Besides a full-sized IWB gun, what is the 1911 XO’s place in law enforcement? This would be my pick behind a ballistic shield. It is easily shot one-handed, and the sights are easy to pick up through a ballistic portal.

Would I own this gun for duty? Yes. In fact, I would carry it all the time.

 

Lindsey Bertomen, a retired police officer and military small arms trainer, teaches criminal justice at Hartnell College. He welcomes comments at lbertomen@letonline.com.

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