Ayoob: Springfield Echelon Review
January 2nd, 2024
6 minute read
You’ve been hearing a lot about the new 9mm Echelon, here and elsewhere. Two men I know and trust were heavily involved in its development: the legendary world champion shooter Rob Leatham, and master gun designer Dave Williams.
Its mounting system for currently popular carry optics (the “Variable Interface System”) is simply second to none. It eliminates the “plate-mounting” system, which has long been a weak point in the blending of pistol and optical sights. Screws shearing or loosening in plate mounts is one of the biggest problems I see with carry optic pistols as someone who teaches self-defense and shooting as a primary occupation.
The Echelon’s chassis-type “Central Operating Group” fire control mechanism is state of the art for those individuals (and more importantly, those armed institutions) who have to adapt firearms to multiple hand sizes and trigger reach dimensions. You can find discussions of these handgun features in greater depth here.
Accuracy? At the excellent gun forum pistol-forum.com, you can find master shooter/gunsmith Hilton Yam’s video on the Echelon in which he shows a 1.5” group his sample gave him at 25 yards with 147-gr. 9mm.
The Echelon was designed from the ground up to be fully ambidextrous, and includes slide release/slide lock levers on either side of the pistol. They look small, but I found them easy to operate in terms of both locking the slide open administratively and releasing the slide in an emergency reload from slide-lock.
The beauty of the smaller levers is that they are much less likely for those who shoot with the currently popular thumbs-forward grasp to either over-ride and fail to lock the slide open to warn the shooter that the pistol is empty, or to be accidentally bumped upward by the forward thumb during recoil and lock the slide open in the midst of a potentially life-saving string of fire.
The Echelon offers interchangeable backstraps of different dimensions, and three grip modules in Small, Medium, and Large sizes. This modular combination gives one of the very best sets of options for hand-to-grip fit in the industry. The pistol comes standard with the Medium grip module, and you can replace them with Small or Large. Also, the interchangeable backstraps are designed to work with all three frame sizes.
Hands-On with the Springfield Armory Echelon
One of my test team members is John Strayer, a State and Regional Champion shooter who has won more matches with Springfield XD and XD-M pistols than he can remember. He dry-fired my Echelon with Medium configuration and said, “I think this is going to hurt my hand.” On the range he discovered, “I was wrong. It didn’t.”
We both thought Small would work better, but after shooting Falling Plates with the Echelon in all three sizes John said with surprise, “ I shot the best with size Large!” On the plate rack, I found the same, our sweet-spot combo being Large “frame” with the smallest backstrap.
Fit is the issue, and the Echelon array of components has you covered on that. I usually shoot the best with the distal joint of my index finger on the trigger (more leverage!) but with the Echelon I too had my best Plate scores with the size Large and the pad instead of the first joint of the finger on the trigger. Go figure…
Deadline and schedule precluded me from shooting a match with the Echelon to test “shootability under stress,” and I didn’t have a holster for it anyway, so I shot a timed 4-to-15 yard qualification course with it from low ready. With the Medium grip module my score was 299 out of 300, the one point dropped by me, not the gun: I felt that bad shot go and it was too late to call it back.
I tested the trigger pull weight on a Lyman digital gauge. From the toe (bottom edge) of the trigger where pull weight is generally tested, the average was 5.54 pounds. This is the general “common custom and practice” standard for striker-fired pistols. Pull weight from the center of the trigger where the finger actually is located during firing for most people is a bit heavier. That said, due to the ergonomics of the Echelon, the pull feels lighter than what the gauge says.
That’s important in a self-defense gun because it’s common for false accusers to allege an indefensible negligent discharge due to a hair trigger. Speaking as an expert witness for the courts for the last 40-some years, I could honestly testify, “The Springfield Armory Echelon I tested, serial number BE281728, does NOT have a hair trigger consistent with unintentional discharges.”
9mm Pistol Details
My test gun’s mags were easy to load up until the last one or two rounds, which I expect will ease up in use, and if that’s a concern don’t worry about it because it comes with a mag loading device.
A big advantage of Springfield’s XD series has been the ambidextrous magazine release button, a feature that continues on the Echelon. Some have worried about it being accidentally released, but Leatham, Williams, et. al. saw that coming, and the Echelon has a protective ridge to shield the button.
The rear of the slide has small, subtle “wings” to give the hand a better purchase for racking the slide. Like the trigger system and other elements of the Echelon design, it’s proof that Springfield Armory adapted the “latest and greatest” of striker-fired pistol design improvements, along with their own innovations such as the optical sight mounting system to easily add a red dot or other optic.
Final Thoughts on the Handgun
Will the Echelon replace the XD series, or supplement it? Time will tell. I’ve been very happy with my several XD-series pistols and damn sure won’t be taking them to the pawn shop.
That said, though, the test Echelon sufficiently impressed our test team that a check will be written and it will be staying here on my end instead of being returned to Springfield Armory.
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