Springfield Armory’s newest pistol is named the Echelon. Echelon comes from scala, a Latin word meaning “ladder,” which is also the source of French echelon, meaning “rung of a ladder.” Over time, the French word also came to mean step, grade, or level. The English borrowed the word and upped its meaning to “a level or category within an organization.”
I’m thinking the French meaning is appropriate here because in my book, the new Echelon is on the top rung when it comes to a handgun for personal security, competition, or just plain fun. I’ve long considered my Springfield XDm as one of my better guns. The Echelon has it beat.
This is not just another tweak to an already existing design. Springfield is paving new ground here with a handgun featuring two important innovations. First, it is somewhat similar to the modular setup of the SIG P320, but with a twist.
The serial numbered part of the gun is known as the Central Operating Group (COG). This unit contains the trigger, striker, and all operating components that make the gun fire and cycle. Everything in this group is precision engineered to operate smoothly and flawlessly.
The frame is slated to come in three sizes: compact, mid-size, and large or full-size. Currently, the Echelon ships with the COG in a mid-size frame. In the future, customers will be able to purchase a compact or full-size frame and easily swap the COG from one frame size to the other.
Removing and installing the COG is easy and requires no tools. After disassembling the gun for cleaning — an easy task — the COG can be removed from the frame by removing the takedown lever, lifting the two slide clock levers, and pushing the COG forward. Next, you’ll lift it out of the frame.
I did it with my test gun and found no surprises. Had I one of the other frames on hand it would have been a simple matter to install the COG in it. As it was, I put the COG back in the frame I have with little effort.
The second innovative feature of the Echelon is the Variable Interface System (VIS), which allows users to mount over 30 optics systems directly to the slide without the use of adapter plates. The system is configured through placement of patent pending self-locking pins, which can adapt to the footprint of most popular optics. My test example arrived with a Trijicon RMR red dot sight mounted and sighted in. If I had chosen any other commonly marketed red dot sight, mounting it would have been just a matter of properly arranging the self-locking pins in the proper mounting holes for the optic and torquing it down with the mounting screws.
As cool as the COG and VIS features are, they are features you may only use once or possibly twice in the life of your pistol. Let’s move on to the features you’ll use every time you pick up your Springfield Echelon. The first thing we’ll cover is the sights. This a decision made at the time of purchase as there are two options available for fixed sights. These are designated in the model number of the Echelon you purchase.
The U models feature a U-Dot sight system with a Tritium luminescent front sight and a Tactical Rack U-Dot Rear sight. The 3D models have the standard two in the rear, one in front arrangement of Tritium night sights. Either sight type is mounted high to superimpose through the window of whatever mounted optic you have chosen.
The red dot, when adjusted, will be perfectly aligned with the front sight of the manual system. It works wonderfully for us old guys who are still in the throes of learning to use red dot sights instead of our trusted iron sights. With the Echelon, we don’t have to worry about it because both sights are there, and they complement each other perfectly.
My gun has the U-Dot system that is highly visible and gives me no pause in trusting what the RMR red dot is telling me. And, if I don’t get the red dot on in time, the manual sights are perfectly capable of helping me get on target fast.
Currently there are four model numbers in the Springfield Armory catalog. There is the U-Dot, U-Dot Low-Capacity with 10-round magazines, 3-Dot Tritium, and a 3-Dot Tritium Threaded Barrel model. All models are 9mm with a 4.5-inch, hammer-forged steel barrel with a black Melonite finish, and a 1:10 twist rate.
The slide is billet-machined and optics-ready with a black Melonite finish. The frame is black polymer. The Springfield Armory Echelon is 8 inches long, 5.5 inches high with the flush magazine, and 6.5 inches high with an extended magazine. The width is 1.2 inches. The weight is 23.9 ounces with a flush magazine, and 24.3 ounces with an extended magazine.
The gun ships with a 17-round and 20-round magazine (except in the states with magazine limits where you get two 10-rounders). A soft-sided, double-zipper Springfield Armory case is included with the Echelon. The soft-sided shell is designed to protect the firearm and mounted accessories during transportation, while the interior pouch will hold an additional magazine.
The design of the slide provides a refreshing interface which helps folks like me with arthritis-induced hand strength issues properly and securely engage the slide for charging or a press check. The front of the slide features a forward trench with aggressive serrations as well as a shelf located just forward of the ejection port.
The rear of the slide has aggressive serrations and at the back, the edge is flared outward with wings, which really helps in racking the slide. These features alone are enough to make the Echelon my handgun of choice when going to the range or selecting an EDC gun. I can work this gun!
The Echelon is ambidextrous when it comes to the slide lock and magazine release. There are no other controls to be concerned about. The Echelon’s COG features a unique second sear design to help prevent unintentional discharge should the firearm be dropped. This design exceeds the SAAMI drop test parameters. Because of these internal safeties and the trigger safety, the Echelon does not have an external safety lever. Fieldstripping the Echelon doesn’t require a press of the trigger.
Barrel: 4.5 inches Hammer Forged Steel, Melonite Finish, 1:10
Slide: Billet machined, Melonite finish, optics ready
Frame: Black polymer
Sights: Tritium / luminescent front, Tactical Rack U-Dot rear
Recoil system: Captive
Grip width: 1.2 inches
Magazines: (1) 17-round, (1) 20-round
Weight: 23.9 ounces with flush mag, 24.3 ounces with extended mag
Length: 8 inches
Height: 5.5 inches with Flush Mag, 6.5 inches with extended mag
While the pistol ships with a medium-size grip module, there will be small and large offerings as well. The interchangeable backstraps are designed to fit all three sizes of the module. The frame utilizes Springfield’s Adaptive Grip Texture that has been used on the 1911 DS Prodigy and Hellcat.
This pattern provides a secure grip that is comfortable to hold and carry concealed. The Adaptive Grip Texture is also used at common indexing points on the frame as well as on the takedown lever. The front of the slide is tapered to aid in holstering. A four-slot Picatinny rail is forward of the trigger guard which is undercut to assist in a high grip and is large enough to accommodate shooting gloves.
I received my test sample the day after the July 12th release date and was anxious to try it out. I went directly from the gun store (where the transfer was made) to the gun range and had a delightful session. I put the Echelon through its paces using several types of ammo representing all three of the common 9mm bullet weights — 115, 124, and 147-grain — using both FMJ and JHP rounds. As I indicated previously, charging the gun was easy because of the slide configuration. The slide locks are very small and easy to push up to lock the slide to the rear, but they are not so easy to push down to release the slide into battery. For me, that’s a non-issue, because I always use the slingshot method of charging the gun.
However, for those who put their gun into battery by pushing down on the slide lock to release the slide, I suspect Springfield is telling you something by the size of its slide lock levers. Don’t do it that way. Slingshot it. This is further amplified by the aggressive serrations and the charging wings on the slide.
Loading the magazines gave me no problems. Had it been a struggle, I could have used the magazine loader that came with the pistol. Naturally, you want to know about the trigger. The trigger has a flat face with a blade safety. There is slightly less than ½-inch take up before the wall that requires less than 4 pounds to overcome. My Wheeler trigger pull gauge measures it at 3 pounds 9 ounces.
It’s an amazing trigger, ranking right up there among the best. As far as accuracy goes, I didn’t bench rest the pistol. Instead, I shot freehand at targets at 5 to 7 yards away. At that range shooting in 10-round groups, I was able to put all my rounds into 4-inch target circles. No difference was noted between the different weights of bullets or between range ammo versus personal defense ammo. The Echelon performed flawlessly and was a delight to shoot.
For carrying the gun, Springfield Armory’s website has several holsters for sale that fit the Echelon including ones from Crossbreed and DeSantis. I have a Galco KingTuk that was built for a Smith & Wesson M&P that fits the Echelon perfectly — even with a red dot sight mounted.
Historically, the Springfield XDm, Lightweight Operator 1911, and Hellcat Pro have been among the most accurate, dependable, and fun to shoot guns I own. From what I can tell so far, the Echelon truly is one step above the others in performance and handling and is destined to be in the holsters of many law enforcement officers and discerning civilians soon.