XD-M Elite vs. SA-35: Does New Outpace the Old?

By Justin Opinion
Posted in #Guns
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XD-M Elite vs. SA-35: Does New Outpace the Old?

November 16th, 2022

6:13 runtime

Basic semi-auto firearm technology hasn’t changed much over the past century or more. Using the energy of springs and the recoil of a fired round, cartridges are chambered, fired, ejected and fed one after another.

sa-35 vs xd-m
Although they are nearly a century apart in design, the author found them indistinguishable in regards to performance.

But while the beauty of this simplicity has helped make handguns durable and reliable — ever changing needs from military, law enforcement and civilian markets have taken us a long way from the pistols of grandfathers. Thus, there is sometimes a division between those who appreciate the classical — and those who demand the tactical.

Opposing Options

To bring life to this topic of conversation, I selected two Springfield Armory pistols that represent both the elegance of a simpler time and the state of the art of modern handgun design. The SA-35 champions the classical in every imaginable way.

sa-35 comparison
The elegant SA-35 is a classic, hammer-fired pistol with a manual thumb safety. It embodies all of the features for which many shooters are looking.

It was the swan song of John Moses Browning, implying that all he had learned before it was incorporated into the design concept. The XD-M Elite Tactical OSP is the culmination of years of success with the XD-M and the addition of the latest tactical compatibility.

xd-m elite comparison
Thoroughly modern, the XD-M Elite OSP is suppressor ready, with a threaded barrel and extra-tall sights.

The SA-35 is an all-steel gun with removable grip panels (that allows customization such as I have done with mine). It’s a single-action-only firing system with an external hammer and a manual safety switch. The XD-M Elite is a polymer-framed handgun that is striker-fired and has no manual external safety switch.

The safety systems in the modern XD-M outnumber the older design of the SA-35 and do not require manual application, whereas the “old-fashioned” switch of the SA-35 is a preference for some due to peace of mind or ergonomic preference.


Both guns have modern sights, and both are great shooters. Testing both guns with some off-hand shooting at the range, their groups differed in size by less than ½ inch with ten rounds. Sight picture and shot placement are subtly different. The SA-35 is a point-of-aim/point-of-impact configuration, where the XD-M Elite has a six o’clock hold setup.

shooting comparison of sa-35 and xd-m elite
Although the group placement is slightly different between the two, the size of the groups is nearly identical.

The XD-M Elite has high sights and a threaded barrel — ready to accept a suppressor. It is also pre-cut for a mounted red-dot optic. Its magazine well helps funnel in the 22-round extended magazines for fast tactical reloads, and the accessory rail out front is a great place for a mounted light. The desert flat dark earth coloring hints at its capabilities as a duty sidearm.

sa-35 vs xd-m elite 9mm
Putting the SA-35 against the XD-M Elite: which is the winner? Either will serve you extremely well. It all boils down to your specific needs and wants.

The SA-35 has smooth curves and rounded edges, with a profile that harkens to the days of elegance in mechanical tools. The finish is dark and unassuming but shows off every fine detail.


Two different styles, one an homage to a classical era of handgun design and one no-nonsense, hi-tech modern sidearm. Whichever speaks to your personal taste, needs, or style, you can be sure of one thing — both are solid performers that are built to last. But let’s not overlook the best way to resolve this dilemma… own both of them!

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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Justin Opinion

Justin Opinion

“Justin Opinion” is a lifelong firearms enthusiast and shooter. The son of a master gunsmith, he makes no claims to such skills but has a deep appreciation for the skillful work of the men and women who design and build great guns. A certified instructor and range safety officer who enjoys the shooting sports, he uses his experiences and those of his friends to apply a real-world perspective to reviews. The Justin Opinion Channel can be found on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, and his reviews can also be found at GunsAmerica and American Handgunner.

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