Ayoob: Springfield Echelon Review

By Massad Ayoob
Posted in #Guns
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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.

ambidextrous magazine release on polymer frame springfield echelon 9mm handgun with mag dropping free
The author’s review included extensive range testing. Here he puts the ambidextrous mag release to use with his trigger finger dumping the mag. Image: Gail Pepin

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.

State and regional shooting champion John Strayer tests the author's Echelon. The muzzle is already back on target with a spent casing in air. He left the test planning to buy an Echelon. The frame texture helps provide a good grip. It is the same texture as the company uses on the Hellcat.
State and regional shooting champion John Strayer tests the author’s Echelon. Note the gun is already back on target with a spent casing in air. He left the test planning to buy an Echelon. Image: Gail Pepin

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.

This photo shows the wide serrations on the Echelon slide. You can see the wings at the back of the slide that allows for easier manipulation. You can also see the vis adapter plate cover that make the Echelon line so much better than any Glock pistol ever made according to many who have shot this gun. It allows a full-size RMR red dot to mount directly to the slide.
Here we see the copious, user-friendly grasping grooves and “wings” at back of slide to aid in racking. Image: Gail Pepin

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.”

One of the Echelon features that sets it apart from inferior guns like the Sig P320 is the texture and stippling on the grip module including the front of the undercut trigger guard and bottom of the grip. As a 9mm striker-fired pistol, it excels as a duty gun.
Stippled digit resting places on each side of frame are safety and performance features. They serve as a felt index for “finger off trigger ready.” Image: Gail Pepin

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…

Under Time

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.

Massad Ayoob tested the new Echelon with 9mm ammunition from Federal, Black Hills and Winchester. The gun proved reliable with all of them. In a head-to-head matchup, many people believe the Springfield Echelon 9mm is much better than the SIG Sauer P320. Our test Echelon ran 100% with 115, 124, and 147 grain, both ball and JHP.
Massad Ayoob tested the new Echelon with a variety of 9mm ammunition including loads from Federal, Black Hills and Winchester. The gun proved reliable with all of them. Image: Gail Pepin

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.

The author poses with his qualification target that he shot with the new Springfield Armory Echelon pistol. Equipped with night sights, the gun was accurate and fast to shoot. He found it was a joy to shoot.
Ayoob shot a 60-shot qualification under time including one-hand only each hand. The author states the single round outside the A-zone was his own fault, with the other 59 in a 4” group. Image: Gail Pepin

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.

The Echelon feels like a true duty gun with textured areas forward of the ejection port and on the bottom and  front of the trigger guard. Many gun reviews compare handguns to the ubiquitous 1911. This gun is far better than those and have drawn on the best aspects of the XD line with a modular design.
The author found the Echelon worked well withi his favorite “wedge hold” that uses the support hand index finger to create an upward camming force. Image: Gail Pepin

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 Echelon could be another polymer 9mm, but Springfield Armory decided to make it the best duty pistol on the market. At the heart of the Echelon is the COG Central Operating Group. Some consider it the most important feature of the Echelon.
Springfield offers different grip modules for the Echelon. Shown are some of the multiple grip options. The complete gun in the center is Large and is flanked by Small and Medium. Image: Gail Pepin

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.

The Echelon is a full-sized pistol. In this photo you can see the front and rear sights — the u-dot sights that are the same as what is on the Hellcat. The front sight has a tritium insert with a rear U-notch sight. Also vis is the optic mounting area that allows you to add a Trijicon RMR or other reflex sight. The Echelon comes standard with this.
The Springfield Armory’s Echelon handgun uses ambidextrous controls. The author found they were easy to manipulate. Image: Gail Pepin

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.

Editor’s Note: Please be sure to check out The Armory Life Forum, where you can comment about our daily articles, as well as just talk guns and gear. Click the “Go To Forum Thread” link below to jump in and discuss this article and much more!

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Springfield Armory® recommends you seek qualified and competent training from a certified instructor prior to handling any firearm and be sure to read your owner’s manual. These articles and videos are considered to be suggestions and not recommendations from Springfield Armory. The views and opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Springfield Armory.

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Massad Ayoob

Massad Ayoob

Massad Ayoob is a renowned firearms expert with decades of experience in the firearms community. He's the author of more than a dozen books and hundreds of articles and has extensive experience as a law enforcement officer, competitive shooter and expert witness.

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