|Home - Volume 1 (2006) - Issue 2 (Fall '06) - Pistol Review: Springfield Armory Enhanced Micro Pistol (EMP)|
Springfield Armory Enhanced Micro Pistol (EMP)
Reviewed by Harwood Loomis (Hawkmoon, )
Compact, accurate, lightweight … what's not to like?
I can't recall how long ago it was that I read the first articles about an abbreviated 1911 micro pistol being developed by Springfield Armory to fire the then-new .45 G.A.P. cartridge. I read the article, I liked what I saw of the pistol, but I wondered why anyone would bother physically adapting the 1911 form factor to fire the .45 G.A.P. cartridge. I don't own any Glock pistols and I am not interested in them, so I simply wasn't interested in a cartridge designed for Glock pistols with the intention of replicating the ballistics of the .45 ACP cartridge I already carry and shoot in 1911s. However ... I thought back then that the little pistol would make a dandy concealed carry pistol in a 9mm chambering.
Fast forward to the middle of 2006, and Springfield Armory announced that they were finally going to release the little miniaturized 1911 ... chambered in 9mm, just as I had imagined it should be. This pistol immediately attracted my attention. The design removes the "wasted" volume resulting from loading the shorter 9mm Parabellum cartridge in a pistol whose form factor was designed for the .45 ACP cartridge. This is what Springfield Armory has done in creating the new Enhanced Micro Pistol, or "EMP." By now it is no secret that Springfield reengineered the entire 1911 pistol to reduce the fore-and-aft dimension of the grip portion of the frame. The result is a 3"-barreled carry pistol that looks smaller than similar 1911 pistols such as the Colt Defender or Para-Ordnance Slim Hawg (previously tested here), and feels smaller as well.
Before I delve into a deeper look at what the Springfield Armory EMP is, first allow me to dispense with the formality of describing what the buyer receives when purchasing an EMP. The package is a hard plastic "clamshell" case with a foam interior. Along with the pistol come two magazines, both with polymer floor plates or base pads; a cleaning brush; two keys for the Springfield Integral Locking System (ILS) in the mainspring housing; an Allen (hex) wrench for adjusting the tension screws of the included belt holster and magazine carrier; a bent pin for use in detail stripping the mainspring housing; a plastic spacer for relieving tension on the recoil spring assembly for field stripping; a molded synthetic holster with an adjustable tension screw to control the amount of retention; a matching molded synthetic carrier for two magazines, with standard rails running vertically on each side to allow carrying a detached tactical light and/or laser device ready for use but not attached to the weapon; an instruction book for the pistol; and an instruction book for the holster.
What the Springfield Armory EMP is ... and what it isn't
Based on early (and incomplete) previews of the EMP, I had some ideas and preconceptions of what to expect. Not being one to jump blindly on a bandwagon, however, I was not prepared to simply follow the lead of other articles I have seen about the new EMP and write enthusiastically about how small it is and what a miracle of miniaturization Springfield Armory has wrought. No, being the analytical and pedantic type that I am, I had to see it for myself. I wanted the "tale of the tape" to speak for itself, so I put our sample Springfield Armory EMP pistol on the bench next to a Colt Defender and a Para-Ordnance Slim Hawg from the display cases at Chris' Indoor Shooting Range and got out the ruler and calipers. The results were, to me anyway, somewhat surprising. The surprise is that, although the EMP is smaller than comparable 1911 pistols, it is not as much smaller as I had been led to believe, or as I had expected it to be.
In addition to the foregoing measurements, taken on the EMP and two competing sub-compact 1911s, as a final comparison I also measured the grip length, thickness and circumference, and the reach from the grip safety to the trigger on a standard Government model 1911 with a straight mainspring housing, long trigger, and standard double diamond checkered wood grips. The fore-to-aft dimension was 2.09" (53mm), the thickness was 1.27" (32mm), the circumference was 5.50" (140mm), and the reach to the trigger was 2.85" (72mm).
What all this means is that the Springfield Armory EMP is not a modern replacement for the smaller Colt Mustang, Government .380 and Pony pocket pistols. Rather, it's a lightweight, handy, easy to shoot and easy to conceal 1911-style pistol that can either be worn in an IWB or OWB holster and concealed with minimal fuss, or carried in a briefcase, fanny pack or pocketbook without adding undue weight. In terms of overall form factor it is not smaller or lighter than other 3"-barreled, sub-compact 1911 pistols. The reengineering has not resulted in a pocket pistol that is orders of magnitude smaller or lighter than other sub-compact 1911s on the market. The difference lies in the grip, making it much easier for small hands to hold securely. Although the fore-to-aft dimension has been reduced by only about 1/10 of an inch (2.54mm), combined with thinner than standard grip panels the resulting grip circumference measures almost a half inch smaller than a standard 1911 grip (7/16" or 11mm). The difference is visible, but it is much more easily felt than seen.
As well as size, weight also demonstrates that the EMP is not in the same "pocket pistol" class as the Colt Mustang and Pony pistols of .380 ACP caliber. The EMP is an alloy-framed pistol weighing 28 ounces with an empty magazine in place. By contrast, an all-steel Colt Mustang weighs 19 ounces (585g), and an alloy-framed Mustang weighs a mere 14 ounces (431g) ... just half the weight of the EMP.
Having discovered that the Springfield EMP is not the pocket pistol I was naively expecting, I inspected it more closely to get a feel for what it is. It is a well-crafted pistol, to be sure. I found no stray marks from rough machining. The slide is a matte finished natural stainless steel, while the frame and all fire controls (except the aluminum 3-hole trigger) are finished in an attractive satin black. Both finishes were well executed, and I found no blemishes to suggest that the pistol had been rushed through production or that it might have suffered from a lack of quality control.
The barrel and slide do not utilize a barrel bushing. However, it is perhaps not exactly accurate to call the barrel either a "bull" barrel or a "cone" barrel. In fact, the barrel has an oversized muzzle that locks directly into the end of the slide when the pistol is in battery, but instead of tapering back from the muzzle toward the locking lugs uniformly, on the EMP the upper half of the barrel is cut away beginning approximately .5" behind the muzzle, with the reduced upper radius continuing back to the forward locking lug.
Like most sub-compact 1911 pistols, the Springfield EMP does not utilize a separate recoil spring and spring guide. Instead, it is equipped with what I believe is called an "encapsulated" recoil spring assembly, incorporating a full-length guide rod, a dual recoil spring, and a captive recoil spring plug.
In a departure for Springfield Armory, the 9mm barrel uses an integral ramp rather than the traditional 1911 ramped frame found in most Springfield Armory pistols. The ramped barrel serves several purposes, including enhanced feeding reliability, the avoidance of damage to the feed ramp that sometimes occurs with aluminum frames, and the provision of a fully-supported chamber to enhance reliability when firing full-power or +P 9mm ammunition.
Front and rear sights are night sights, and both the front and the rear sight are in dovetails. The front sight "wings" are nicely finished to follow the rounded contour of the top of the slide.
The magazine well is nicely beveled to facilitate magazine insertion, without going to the extreme of trying to add a magazine well to a concealed carry pistol.
The slide stop is a standard configuration, but the thumb safety is an extended, ambidextrous unit. It works, and it felt tight on our test pistol throughout the test period. Many people seem to think that an ambidextrous thumb safety is virtually necessary on a 1911 pistol. Not being left-handed, I do not follow this line of thought. Springfield Armory has included the ambidextrous safety no doubt because so many gun buyers today want it, so it certainly adds value to the pistol for those who like that feature. I did not find that the right-side safety paddle got in my way at all and if I were to own and carry an EMP I probably would not bother to remove it ... but in all honesty I have to acknowledge that for me its presence does not add value to the package.
The grip panels are an attractive wood rendition of the classic 1911 double diamond checkered grips, enhanced on both sides of the pistol with the Springfield Armory crossed cannon logo. In a nod to aesthetics over practicality, the grip screws are of the recessed hex drive variety rather than slotted. Normally this would not be a problem, except that while the accessory package included a hex wrench for setting the tension on the included holster and magazine pouch, there is no hex wrench provided to fit the grip screws. This is a minor but annoying omission, and I hope that Springfield Armory will be persuaded to include a hex wrench to fit the grip screws with EMP pistols shipped in the future.
The trigger is a lightweight aluminum, 3-hole style trigger with a serrated face and an overtravel screw. The overtravel screw on our test pistol was properly adjusted, and the accessory package did not include a hex wrench to encourage the owner to "fiddle" with the adjustment. Since unknowledgeable adjustment of this screw can result in the pistol not firing, in this case I do not fault the factory for not providing the hex wrench.
As with all Springfield Armory 1911s, the mainspring housing is equipped with Springfield's ILS built-in locking system, with two keys being provided in the accessory kit. For most users most of the time, this can simply be ignored, but when it is desired to deactivate and lock the pistol, a simple turn of the key renders the pistol inoperable. The system is unobtrusive and does not appear to have suffered from any reliability issues (at least, none of which I am aware) after several years of use in other models of pistol from Springfield Armory.
The grip safety is a beavertail design incorporating a palm swell. The hammer is a skeletonized loop-style hammer, but the profile of the loop is somewhat different from that of most hammers of this type. The two long sides of the loop are not parallel, with the result that the hammer spur does not extend up and outward quite as much as most hammers of this style. Functionally, I believe it has merit. Aesthetically, I am still trying without a great deal of success to like it. It accomplishes what I believe its intent is-to reduce protrusions that may catch on clothing-but the proportions simply don't look quite "right" to my designer's eye.
Because the recoil spring assembly is a preassembled unit that incorporates a full-length guide rod, field stripping the pistol departs from the traditional 1911 manual of arms. The accessory kit includes a small plastic spacer. To field strip the pistol, the slide is manually retracted and the spacer is snapped over the recoil spring guide rod to remove tension. The slide stop is then removed and the slide and barrel can be taken off the frame as an assembly. After this the recoil spring assembly and then the barrel may be removed from the slide. Assembly is simply the reverse.
How does it shoot?
Testing was conducted at Chris' Indoor Shooting Range in Guilford, Connecticut. This is an indoor, underground facility located in a suburb of New Haven and used by a number of area gun clubs and local police departments. Although the range offers distances up to 75 feet, due to the type of pistol being tested we did not use the maximum distance in these tests. A small, concealed carry pistol with a 3-inch barrel should not be expected to hold 1-inch groups at 25 yards. The intended use of pistols of this type is self-defense, and most self-defense engagements take place at relatively close range. For this reason, accuracy testing was fired at a distance of 25 feet, which I feel is a realistic distance for assessing accuracy at realistic shooting distances.
I shot the pistol hand-held, shooting off a bench using a 50 caliber ammo can as a rest. For the FMJ rounds, which were packaged 50 rounds to the box, I had sufficient ammunition to shoot four 6-shot groups with each, allowing me to discard the worst shot in each group to obtain 5-shot groups for measurement. The two jacketed hollow-point ammunitions, however, were packaged 20 rounds to a box and I had only one box of each. For these two, I had to abbreviate the accuracy protocol in order to save five rounds of each for the chronograph. For the Hydra-Shok and Starfire ammunition, I fired three 5-round groups. I considered discarding the worst shot in each round but, fortunately, there were no wild flyers and I felt comfortable reporting on the 5-round groups without having to discard any rounds. In fact, the groups were extremely consistent with all five ammunition choices, and there was not a significant difference between the smallest group, the largest group, and the average group for any one of the ammunition choices.
The accuracy of this little pistol amazed me. The worst group of the day was 1 3/8", which even at a distance of 25 feet is, in my opinion, commendable accuracy. It is most assuredly better than needed for self-defense accuracy in real life.
Reliability during break-in and testing was unremarkable ... meaning that there were no problems or failures of any kind on which to remark. The pistol fired everything we put in it, without any hesitations or complaints. Considering that sub-compact 1911s have developed a wide-spread reputation for being unreliable, I was pleasantly surprised by this. It is, I think, especially interesting because this is a "short cycle" 1911 that has had even more of the cycle removed by the shortening of the frame behind the chamber. Springfield Armory engineers did well in fine tuning the pistol when they designed the revisions to the frame.
The trigger pull was light, clean and crisp. Although the Springfield Armory web site claims a trigger pull of 5 to 6 pounds, the trigger on our test pistol measured 4 3/4 pounds, measured with an RCBS analog trigger pull scale.
Once I overcame my initial disappointment that the Springfield Armory EMP isn't as small as I had wanted it to be, I realized that it is nonetheless a fine pistol for the purpose for which it was designed. There are many people who either don't like to shoot a small pistol chambered for .45 ACP, or who simply cannot do so. By revising the frame and grip dimensions around the 9mm cartridge, Springfield Armory has created a pistol that shoots with minimal recoil despite being a small pistol with a lightweight alloy frame, as well as being enough smaller than a "standard" 1911 to allow shooters with small hands to get a better hold on the pistol.
The real-world effect of the down-sizing is demonstrated in the following photographs, of the author holding the EMP and then the author holding a Colt Defender.
The difference in the hand hold can easily be seen by looking at where the tip of the middle finger falls relative to the thumb. With the EMP, the finger tip extends well beyond the joint in the thumb, whereas with the Defender, the tip of the finger doesn't even reach the joint of the thumb.
Because the down-sizing was accomplished behind the barrel and chamber, in the grip portion of the frame and the aft end of the slide, the EMP should fit virtually any holster that will accommodate other sub-compact 1911s. The holster included with the pistol is marked for 1911 pistols, and the EMP is a perfect fit. Although I did not see any manufacturer's name or model designation that I recognized on the included holster, I believe it is not a new design specific to the EMP.
For confirmation, I also tried the EMP in a holster by Horseshoe Leather, designed for a Colt Commander. Although the forward end of the side didn't extend as far as the holster was molded for, the trigger guard and central portion of the slide and frame fit this holster perfectly.
The thoughtful inclusion of both a holster and a double magazine pouch with the pistol means that the buyer receives a complete package and does not have to seek out a holster after taking possession of their new pistol. The holster is an OWB design that rides high on the belt and, with such a short pistol, should be easily concealed under a variety of cover garments. The magazine pouch, however, appears to be more of a "tactical" type than a concealed carry type. The two magazines are carried canted away from one another in a shallow 'V' arrangement, and the pouches are open-topped. Both ends of the pouch are equipped with facsimiles of a standard light rail, which means that a tactical flashlight and/or laser aiming device can be carried on the magazine pouch while the pistol is holstered.
However ... the pistol doesn't have a light rail. The ability to carry a tactical light suitable for rail mounting is thus of no value. But to me the bigger issue is the overall "tactical" appearance of a double magazine pouch with open top. The magazines are carried with half their length exposed. Unless the magazine pouch is well concealed by a cover garment, it will be immediately obvious to anyone seeing this "rig" that the wearer is carrying a pistol. To my "civilian" mindset, it would make more sense to provide a single magazine pouch without the tactical rail doohickies, and with a cover flap so that it looks more like a knife or multitool sheath. I think including the holster and magazine pouch is a very good move on the part of Springfield Armory, but I don't believe the decision of what kind of magazine pouch to include was given sufficient consideration vis-a-vis the population who will be buying and carrying the gun.
The astute reader may have noticed that I was not able to find much to complain about with respect to the pistol itself. How could I? It was 100 percent reliable, it was well-finished, and it was a pleasure to shoot. Accuracy was far better than expected, and more than adequate for the pistol's "mission." There simply isn't anything to complain about with regard to the pistol. Small wonder, then, that I had to pick on the magazine pouch. If I didn't find fault with something, my reputation as a curmudgeon would be in tatters.
Caliber: 9 mm
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