Maximized Micro: Springfield’s 9mm EMP 4″

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Maximized Micro: Springfield’s 9mm EMP 4″

November 3rd, 2019

6 minute read

Springfield up-sizes it’s smallest 1911 for enhanced shootability and a larger payload, while still leaving it highly concealable for everyday carry.

Being an all around 1911 fan, and someone who carries one concealed every day, I was excited to receive Springfield Armory’s latest version of the EMP, their new EMP 4″ Lightweight Champion in 9mm (also available in .40 S&W). As many 1911 shooters know, finding a compact 1911 in 9mm that can endure hard training, everyday carry, and reliably perform under pressure isn’t exactly an easy task. The new 4-inch EMP model exhibits all the everyday carry attributes of the standard EMP, but with one-inch of extra slide length for a longer sight radius, a half-inch of extra grip length to accommodate larger hands, and one extra round in the magazine.

Shooting the EMP 4″ for the first time right out of the box, off the bench, felt a lot like politely test driving a new car. You get behind wheel, familiarize yourself with the controls, and take it for a spin. With great scrutiny you experience its nuances all while trying not to make the salesman in the passenger seat too nervous. Initial feedback? Yes, I’d buy the car. But this isn’t a gun intended for polite use. It’s a gun I would seriously consider for a primary concealed carry pistol which I would be betting my life on for performance and practicality under great amounts of stress. So, a true test is one that works aggressively from concealment and may not be a ride-a-long for the faint of heart.

First Impressions

Right out of the box the EMP 4″ Lightweight Champion is sure to make any traditional 1911 fan smile on sight. With a forged stainless steel, satin-finished slide, and aluminum alloy black hardcoat anodized frame with low profile Cocobolo grips, the EMP 4″ is a classic-looking beauty. Picking the gun up out of the box the most noticeable feature was how light the gun is. Weighing in at 31 oz. unloaded, this aluminum-frame gun wins high marks in the featherweight division.

The EMP 4’s reduced grip circumference design, along with slim grip panels, allow the hand to fold naturally around it for a remarkably comfortable fit. For someone with average to small size hands this is an excellent feature as it does not require a shift of the wrist in order to make positive contact with the trigger. The 5.5″ overall height gives both hands an additional 1/2″ of grip length compared to the standard EMP, allowing a pinky finger purchase on the gun with room to spare.

The grip itself has a Posi-Lock front strap grip texture but smooth wooden grip plates. While some prefer this smooth classic wooden plate style, I personally prefer a more aggressive texture. For sustained training and when hands get sweaty, muddy, or bloody a grip with some bite provides a positive “sticky” hold on the gun and quickly reveals any imbalance in your grip pressures. For a concealed carry pistol this is a feature that I look for out of the gate. An easy and quick change based on your anticipated needs and personal preference.

While usually an upgrade for most 1911s, the EMP-4″ comes standard with an ambidextrous safety. Though some dislike this non-traditional feature, those working through off hand shooting from concealment know just how important an ambi-safety is. One doesn’t loose mechanical leverage in the grip by riding the safety, nor do they compromise the life saving, decision making functionality of the safety selector. A vital component, in my opinion, to any contemporary 1911 concealed carry pistol.

Equipped with a two dot low profile combat rear sight and an orange fiber optic front sight, I was curious about how this visually “busy” package would work out at the range. In a discussion this past March with Dave Spaulding of Handgun Combatives on the topic of the visual impact of high contrast sights he explained how this kind of combo could be “optically confusing” for some shooters.


The true test for the EMP 4″ involved a few hundred dry-fire draw strokes from concealment using the factory provided holster, and five individual trips to the range to live-fire test with various carry drills. As familiarity with the pistol increased over the month long carry/train/test period and roughly 600 rounds, some features proved problematic while others pleasantly surprising.

This is an extremely “wearable” gun. Small in overall size, slim and lightweight, it is no challenge to effectively conceal and comfortably wear all day. Because of it’s light weight the gun has a much more noticeable felt recoil or “kick” than an all-steel 1911. Balancing out the snappy muzzle rise with a more commanding grip on the gun and a bit more pressure from the pinkie fingers quickly solved that problem. Once finding the appropriate aggressive grip on the gun and cycling through multiple shots in rapid fire the gun tracks flat and smooth.

Initial observations of the sights proved true at the range. While this sight combination may not be a bad thing for structured slow fire range target practice they proved less than optimal for rapid sight gain working out of the holster. It took a lot of reps to overcome the distracting white rear dots competing for attention with bright fiber optic front sight. Functionally, the low profile rear sight didn’t provide much material to rack off of for one handed manipulations, a major component of concealed carry combative training.

I had heard a lot of gun store skeptics rant about the sharpness of the fiber optics front sight housing. With all of the draws, dry fire and live fire, I didn’t experience any snagging out of the holster. Nor did I find the fiber optic to be too “delicate” for every day carry and hard use training. The On Target test sample came from Springfield perfectly zeroed out of the box.

Working the gun itself, the slide is easy to hand cycle and doesn’t require hulk-smash strength to lock back or rack. One interesting observation is that if you are like me and your support hand rides high along the slide, any pressure against it can cause the gun to short stroke and malfunction. A small shift of the support hand allowing the thumb to rest along the frame and the issue is gone.

Aside from this grip adjustment I experienced no malfunctions with a variety of ammunition including: Blazer Brass 115-grain, American Eagle 115-grain, Freedom Munitions 124-grain, Hornady 115-grain FTX Critical Defense, and Black Hills 115-grain Tac-XP +P. The pistol’s single-action trigger comes in at roughly five pounds of pull weight and has a smooth feel and crisp reset. Even with barely enough rounds to qualify as a true “break in period” the gun performed accurately under slow, steady fire and aggressive, rapid fire and showed no noticeable variation out to 25 yards. On paper, from a rest, the EMP 4 laid down some very-respectable 5-shot group sizes, with the Black Hills load taking the cake at 1.80″ center to center. All others came in under 3.5 inches, proving the EMP 4 has the precision to back up its classic good looks.

As 9mm 1911 fans know all too well, finding reliable and rugged magazines is a constant source of frustration. The EMP 4″ comes with three top-quality MEC-GAR 10-round magazines equipped with Slam Pad base plates. These were surprisingly fantastic! No issues and arguably the best combination of gun/mag that I’ve run yet.

Ultimately, the best feature of this firearm is its versatility. The firearm you choose for concealed carry should be the one you spend the most time with at the range. It should be a firearm that is both practical to carry comfortably, fun to shoot, and rugged enough to train with regularly. It’s a very user-friendly firearm for new shooters and an easily customizable gun for experienced and picky ones. The EMP 4″ Lightweight Champion transitions nicely from clean, slow-fire target shooting, to home defense, to demanding, gritty hard use by concealed carriers.

Check out the new EMP 4″ 1911  at your nearest dealer ($1,177), or for more information, contact Springfield Armory, Dept. OT; Tel.: (800) 680-6866; E-mail:; Web:

Editor’s Note: This article was written by Tatiana Whitlock and shared with us by On Target Magazine.

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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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On Target

On Target

On Target is a different kind of magazine in a lot of different ways. On Target is not a bunch of ivory-tower journalists — it's a bunch of "gun nuts" who can speak and write fairly good English and who test and review guns and hunting products. The results are presented in a straightforward, no-nonsense format that provides all the information you need to make a purchase decision.

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