In 1777, George Washington ordered the creation of the Springfield Armory to store ammunition and gun carriages for the American Revolutionary War. In 1794, Springfield Armory began to manufacture muskets, and for the next 150 years the Armory functioned as a supplier for every major American conflict, as well as forming a group of experts for new firearm concepts.
In 1968, the government closed the Springfield Armory, which then would house historians paying homage to the past—that is, until 1974 when the Reese family rescued the name “Springfield Armory.” With a focus on the most historically significant designs produced by the Armory, the M1 Garand, the M14 and of course the 1911-A1, these firearms were the main focus of Springfield Armory for almost the next 27 years. There were many variants of 1911s, from basic milspec models, to full-on Custom Shop builds, along with many models of the Garand and M14s that came and went during that time frame.
In 2001, Springfield negotiated the licensing rights for the U.S. market for the HS Produkt HS2000 that was being manufactured in Croatia. The XD, standing for Extreme Duty, is a polymer-frame, striker-fired handgun, which was a departure from the 1911. The firearm gained a reputation for quality and reliability—a firearm that was easy to use at an affordable price point. There were many different models to follow in different calibers and sizes, including the XD-M series.
In 2016, Springfield added a new rifle to their catalog, introducing a series of ARs called the Saint. Over the next few years, that lineup grew with additional models including the Edge, a more premium line of ARs, and was followed by the Victor series. The XD-S line would be updated with Mod.2, followed by the introduction of a new compact offering, the Hellcat with its 11-plus-one and 13-plus-one capacity magazines.
A new rifle line, the 2020, was released in the same year as the name, and then a nod to tradition with the release of the SA-35, Springfield’s revolutionized design of the iconic P-35 “Hi Power.” The year 2022 also saw a new “bullpup” rifle, the Hellion. Along the way there were new models of 1911s released such as the Prodigy 1911 DS series. Now for 2023 comes a completely new firearm from Springfield Armory.
The Echelon from Springfield Armory merges design with function; it isn't merely another firearm, but the beginning of a new chapter for the company. Like many of us, I saw the social media teasers from Springfield and then the sneak peek that was released a few days before the official July 12 launch. I like new stuff, I like the hype and I was eager to pick up the sample for testing and evaluation from Parabellum Firearms in Avon, Indiana. I did a quick check of the gun while paperwork was being taken care of, but nothing really stood out. The folks at the store all checked it out, and similar things were said, “Looks like a G17”, “Feels okay” and “Grips not bad.”
Continuing in the Springfield Armory’s more spartan way of shipping firearms, the gun arrived in a simple black cardboard box, with the small zippered pistol sleeve containing the firearm—no hard shell case, which I do not mind. I also never liked the cheap holsters and magazine pouch that they used to send with guns. I have stacks of unused hard-sided cases and those holsters are lost in a box somewhere destined for the trash.
In the box you get:
- The 9 mm Echelon
- One 17- andone 20-round magazine
- A welcome card
- Two backstraps
- Two bags of pins
The gun has a 4.5-inch barrel, optics-ready slide, tritium front sight paired with a tactical rack u-dot rear, with front and rear cocking serrations. So, what was all the hype about? What makes this not just another polymer striker-fired version of the XD, or a full-size Hellcat, which many online “scholars” thought was going to be released.
Let’s start with the obvious. Springfield’s Echelon has a serialized fire control unit. A fire control unit that is the serialized part isn’t new, but the way that Springfield has developed what they refer to as the Central Operating Group (COG) is different. Precision-built from stainless steel, the chassis provides a robust housing for its patent-pending operating system. It is designed for toolless removal and installation, as well as being an easy to clean unit. Critical components are crafted from tool steel, and for additional safety, there is a second sear as part of the COG. I am an admitted buffoon when it comes to being mechanical. Is the removal of the COG toolless? Yes. Patience-less? No, at least not for me. Can I do it? Well, yes, I can, but it takes holding my tongue just right, and some luck in remembering the steps I have watched on some videos on YouTube.
However, once out you will quickly see the difference from other FCUs out there. You can shake it and not worry about springs flying everywhere. The ability to swap to different grip modules adds to the adaptability of the Echelon. It ships with a medium-size grip, but there are currently small and large grips available. I am sure that other offerings in the secondary accessory market will be available soon.
Let’s walk through the gun. The trigger is of the typical striker-fired design with a trigger safety. As advertised on the Springfield Armory website, “Harnessing the COG's advantages, the Echelon’s trigger is a marvel, with vital components polished for an unadulterated, crisp shooting experience. Each pull promises a clean take-up, a well-defined wall and a short, assertive reset.” I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a marvel; however it isn’t bad for a handgun aimed at the duty market. It does have a clean take-up right into the wall with a relatively crisp pull for a clean break. Ten pulls on the Wheeler Digital Scale averaged four pounds, 14.4 ounces. The reset is nice and short. The trigger, to me, is very similar to the Walther PPQ, which is my daily carry gun (Walther Q5 Match). I like the trigger on the Echelon, and at the range had no problem running the gun fast.
The grip on the Echelon is natural in my hand. The texture, for a duty gun or carry gun, is fine. You can get a nice high grip with the short beavertail and undercut trigger. Some nice features are the grip texture, which extends up above the ambidextrous magazine release on both sides. That same texture can be found under the trigger guard, where it is double-cut, and on the face of the trigger guard. On either side of the frame, just above the front of the trigger, are two nice extensions that work as index points, one for your finger and the other as thumb rest. The take-down lever is also textured.
The Echelon from the box is fully ambidextrous. This isn’t where you have to swap the parts around, but it already has it set up. The slide release and magazine releases are accessible on both the right and left, no swapping required. They are not extended; however, they are easy to hit. The magazine well is tapered with the slight flare. The backstraps are interchangeable and three sizes are provided. The dustcover has the full length rail for lights and accessories.
From the Springfield Armory website, “Safety remains paramount in firearm design, and Springfield Armory takes no shortcuts with the Echelon. Going beyond conventional SAAMI drop test parameters, the Echelon subjects itself to Springfield Armory's own rigorous standards.” The COG's second sear design adds protection against accidental discharges. Its toolless field stripping, without a trigger pull, enhances safety and ease. Yes, it seems Springfield is pointing this out compared to their competition.
Springfield refers to the sights as a “Dynamic Sighting System.” The standard sights from the box are much appreciated to other manufacturers’ stock sights that usually need to be replaced for serious duty or daily carry. The Echelon comes ready with the Tactical Rack U-Notch rear sight paired with a tritium front sight, adorned with a luminescent ring. This is a fast sight picture to acquire. Also available are a tritium three-dot configuration, with the option to elevate to suppressor height sights.
The slide is billet machined with a black Melonite finish. The front and rear cocking serrations are functional without being punitive to the hand. There is a nice trench cut forward of the action with deep serrations for working the slide and allowing a natural index point. The rear of the slide is flared for a positive purchase and the same deep serrations. Whether you are working the slide from the front or the rear, it allows for a firm grip and secure hold to do so. The 4.5-inch hammer-forged barrel fits snugly in the slide. It is also Melonite finished. Additionally, there is a 5.28-inch threaded barrel with the ½x28 thread pitch model available.
The first "wow" factor is the optics-ready slide. The VIS, or Variable Interface System, allows users to mount more than 30 different optics directly to the slide without the use of adapter plates. The Echelon ships with the slide cover plate installed and two separate bags of self-locking pins. The pins are used for the footprint of the optic you choose to mount.
The direct mount is low and, with many optics, allows for an improved sight picture, intuitive alignment and co-witnessed irons. I used the Vortex Defender CCW, checked the Springfield website's VIS Fitment Chart and mounted it. No need to wait for plates and screws. How the VIS patent-pending self-locking pins work is that as the mounting screws are torqued to spec, the pins exert lateral pressure on the optics interior mounting surface to help eliminate variances and movement. I hate mounting optics, and I will admit that I dropped one of the little pins and after a little hands-and-knees searching, I found it. But, once I got everything to line up, the Vortex Defender fit right up with no issues at the range.
The next "wow" factor was at the range. The Echelon’s weight is 24 ounces with an empty magazine and is a duty-rated handgun, so I was expecting it to recoil similar to the 4.5-inch Walther PDP, which is noticeable. After the more than 300 rounds of ELEY 9 mm ammunition, I didn’t think that the recoil was bad. All shooting was done freestyle, and just ran through different target engagements, nothing on the clock or any drills. It was for function testing only and getting the red dot sighted in. Using both magazines, there were zero issues and the gun ran with high accuracy. I was shooting on 1/3-size USPSA steel at 15 yards and was able to keep all rounds easily on target.
At a $679 MSRP starting price, the new Echelon from Springfield Armory is packed with many well-thought out features that make this a serious contender in the field of full-size duty handguns. It is going to be interesting to see what the aftermarket accessories companies start to offer. Apex Tactical already has an upgraded guide rod, and announced an extended single-sided magazine release.
Check out the Echelon and Springfield Armory’s entire lineup at www.springfield-armory.com.
Article from the September/October 2023 issue of USPSA’s magazine.