If I were to rate my favorite Springfield Armory releases over the last several years, today’s tops the charts. Springfield Armory has now officially launched the Echelon, a duty-style 9mm pistol that brings a host of innovative and exciting features to the market in a way that only Springfield Armory can.
To be frank, releasing a striker-fired pistol these days rarely elicits the term “exciting.” Competent? Yes. Capable? Often-so. But exciting? In this case, I believe the term is quite justified. But with striker-fired pistols having been around now for decades and seemingly refined to the point of diminishing returns, what makes the Echelon so special. In my opinion, not just one singular thing, but a host of things.
[Be sure to read Massad Ayoob’s Springfield Echelon review for an additional look at the pistol.]
And Springfield arrived at the approach underpinning the new Echelon by taking a long view. Coming to the market in 2023 with a fresh offering allowed Springfield to take stock of what the market has seen, and what it might want (or even what it might not yet realize it could have).
A New Direction
The Echelon is a completely new 9mm duty-grade pistol built from the ground up with serious users in mind. Utilizing years of knowledge and product development of its other popular pistols, Springfield Armory was able to determine not only what would make for a great striker-fired design, but also harness the advantages of cutting-edge manufacturing capabilities to deliver what I think is the best-executed 9mm pistol design in years.
At the heart of the Echelon’s innovative approach is its Central Operating Group. The Central Operating Group is the self-contained serialized part of the pistol that hosts the trigger system and ambidextrous slide lock lever. With this design, the Central Operating Group can easily be moved between grip modules in seconds (more on that grip module in a moment). Precision built from stainless steel, the chassis provides a robust housing for the operating system of the Echelon.
The advantages of this system are numerous, not the least of which is the modularity as well as the strength of housing these critical parts inside a rigid steel chassis rather than a polymer frame only. The result is a reliable and repeatable trigger, and I can say that the trigger on the Echelon is excellent. The critical components of the Central Operating Group are machined from tool steel and highly polished, giving you a smooth and clean take up and crisp break.
Setting Your Sights
Beyond the remarkable Central Operating Group, the Echelon also has another remarkable feature — the revolutionary Variable Interface System for mounting red dot optics to the Echelon. Machined onto the upper rear portion of the slide and featuring a removable cover, the Variable Interface System is designed to accommodate more than 30 currently available red dot optics.
Even more significant than the breadth of the adaptability of the Variable Interface System is that it is also designed to mount these optics directly to the slide without an adapter plate. Yes, you read that right. By utilizing specific self-locking movable pins and various mounting holes drilled into the slide, the Echelon allows you to direct mount a stunningly wide range of popular red dot optics.
The advantages of this are obvious. Not only are you mounting the optic low to allow in many cases the ability to still see the iron sights, you are also removing failure points and extra attachment points by skipping the whole plate system. It’s almost like you have been given a universal key to the bewildering world of handgun optics.
And although you have the means to put on the optic of your choice, Springfield still makes sure the irons you get are highly capable. The Echelon is offered with the U-Dot sights we know and love from the Hellcat family, made up of a Tactical Rack U-notch unit and a tritium/luminescent front. The Echelon is also offered with more traditional tritium three-dot sights if you so prefer.
When creating a duty-style pistol like this, performance in all conditions is paramount to its success. A large part of a pistol’s performance — beyond the core elements of reliable function — is determined by the handling and manipulation capabilities of the design. Springfield took this mindset and turned it up to 11.
The Echelon provides the user with four distinct engagement surfaces on the purpose-built billet-machined and Melonite-finished slide. The front of the slide features a forward “trench” with aggressive serrations as well as a “shelf” located just forward of the ejection port. These are all designed to aid in charging or press-checking the pistol from the front. The rear of the slide, also featuring aggressive serrations, is flared outward at the rear with “wings”. This offers the user multiple means of charging the slide in all conditions.
Aiding in the comfort and personalization of the Echelon is the inclusion of three interchangeable backstraps in small, medium and large. Each backstrap includes an integrated armorer’s tool for aiding in the takedown of the pistol. It’s worth noting that the Echelon ships from the factory with the medium backstrap installed.
In addition, the Echelon is fully ambidextrous. This includes not only the slide lock levers integrated into the Central Operating Group, but also the magazine releases. And the mag release is not reversible, it is fully ambi with buttons on both sides.
Remember that grip module I mentioned? Due to the modular (and serialized) nature of the Echelon’s Central Operating Group, the pistol can be easily reconfigured with differing grip modules. While the pistol ships with a medium-size grip module, there will be small and large offerings as well. In addition, the interchangeable backstraps are designed to fit all three sizes of the module.
If you’ve held a Hellcat or a 1911 DS Prodigy, you’re familiar with Springfield’s popular Adaptive Grip Texture. The Echelon takes advantage of this pattern as well, providing the user with a superior grip that is as effective in your hands as it is comfortable during concealed carry.
The grip module’s triggerguard is undercut for a comfortable grip and is also oversized for use with gloves. The Echelon also adds the Adaptive Grip Texture to common indexing points on the frame, including the takedown lever, giving you an extra firm grip on the pistol.
All Echelon pistols feature hammer-forged barrels for strength, accuracy and longevity. They also are Melonite-finished for durability. The standard Echelon barrel length is 4.5”, while the pistol is also offered in a suppressor-ready configuration with an extended 5.28” threaded barrel with a 1/2×28 thread pitch. That variant features an included thread protector as well as tritium three-dot sights.
Capacity of the Echelon is also quite impressive. Despite what struck me as a surprisingly slim grip, the pistol features a 17+1 capacity with a flush-fitting magazine, and an impressive 20+1 capacity with an extended floorplate installed. The pistol comes packed with two magazines that feature a black coating over their stainless steel bodies.
Also of note is the fact that the Echelon was designed to not only meet SAAMI drop test parameters, but exceed them. The Echelon’s Central Operating Group features a unique second sear design to help prevent unintentional discharge should the firearm be dropped. Additionally, field stripping the Echelon is toolless and doesn’t require a press of the trigger.
|4.5″ (5.28″ threaded)
|23.9 oz (24.5 oz. threaded)
|8″ (8.8″ threaded)
|U-Dot or tritium three-dot
|Modular Grip Module
|17+1 flush, 20+1 extended (two magazines included)
I can honestly say, the Echelon exceeded all my expectations of a duty pistol from Springfield Armory. The grip, texture, angle, low bore axis, trigger and smooth operation left me with a lingering feeling that this was the pistol for which I’ve always been searching.
Let me start off by saying I own just about every single major striker-fired pistol on the market. Until now, I’ve always been left wanting from each one that I have put through the paces. The Echelon and how Springfield approached the design gave them the opportunity to take the striker-fired gun to the next level, and I think they accomplished that goal.
From the “big” things like handling and performance, down to the tiny details, the Echelon just feels “right.” Also, I think a chassis design for the operating group is the way of the future for pistols. I am so glad that Springfield chose that design for the Central Operating Group. Owning one pistol with unlimited configuration possibilities is pretty appealing to me. The Central Operating Group’s design also ensures superior operation of the critical components of the trigger.
Shooting the Echelon feels great. The low bore axis and the ease of fitting the pistol to your hand ensures you keep a solid grip. The recoil is smooth and has a great return to zero for fast follow-up shots, and manipulating the slide is practically impossible to mess up. From the forward trench and flared rear slide to the aggressive serrations, you’ll get a grip anywhere on the slide in any condition if you do your part. The pistol swallowed up all the ammo I ran in it without a hiccup, and accuracy was impressive.
For my testing, I utilized the Trijicon RMR Type 2. Installation was extremely easy with the new Variable Interface System mounting system, and the optic was rock solid the entire time. It never lost its zero thanks to the Variable Interface System’s remarkably solid interface. The slide doesn’t just host multiple mounting holes for various optics, it also includes posts and pins that create a superior lock-up, keeping the red dot firmly in place. I also greatly appreciated the low mount of the optic to the slide, which allowed me to see the iron sights.
If you could not tell, I’m very taken with the new Echelon pistol. Springfield has been releasing some amazing offerings these past few years, like the Hellcat Pro that is my current CCW gun. And with the new Echelon, it’s proven it’s staying on the cutting-edge of firearms design.
I can’t wait to take some classes and put this pistol through even more rigorous testing. So far, I feel like I have finally found a pistol that checks every box for me, even ones I didn’t know I had. I would encourage you to head to your local gun store and see if you can get your hands on the Echelon. It just might be that pistol you’ve always wanted, but didn’t know existed.
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