Springfield Armory ‘s Echelon 9mm Pistol sets a new standard for the red-dot-ready handgun.
Compact red dot optics are the current go-to accessory for handguns and for good reason: they make aiming a handgun so much easier and faster than standard open sights.
But there’s been a potential problem with mounting that little optic onto our pistols. The issue is the “footprint,” the mounting pattern at the bottom of the red dot which interfaces with the pistol. Each brand of red dot is manufactured with a specific footprint, with at least a half dozen common optic footprints available today.
In the past, mounting a red dot required a pistol with the rear of the slide cut to accept that specific red dot. Or, if the pistol slide had a cut for a different footprint, an adapter plate would need to be located. The number of adapter plates available is a rather confusing mess for the average shooter, and many have ended up taking their handgun to a gunsmith (and paying that fee) or foregoing a red dot altogether.
Meet The Pistol
But all that hassle was before Springfield Armory launched its newest and very impressive pistol, the Echelon. This new 9mm offers an inventive solution to this red dot mounting problem called the Variable Interface System (VIS).
The VIS lets an Echelon owner mount up to 30 different compact red dots directly onto the pistol. And a direct mount is the best mount, placing the red dot as low as possible on a pistol for better alignment of optic and barrel for greater accuracy and control.
Of course, an easy mounting solution is little good if the pistol itself isn’t accurate, extremely functional and fun to shoot. I recently ran over 300 rounds through an Echelon paired with a Trijicon RMR red dot and the Echelon proved itself a first-rate pistol.
I received the base model Echelon (Part Number: EC9459B-U), a 9mm, semi-automatic featuring a striker-fired trigger, a black polymer frame and a billet-machined steel slide. The pistol’s 4.5-inch barrel was hammer-forged and stainless steel. The Echelon came with two 17-round magazines, one of which sported a magazine extension, three interchangeable backstraps, and a nylon carry case.
Springfield also mounted a red dot optic onto my Echelon, a Trijicon RMR Reflex Sight. Now, the optic is not standard with the pistol. But the RMR made sense as the Echelon and its patent-pending VIS design are really made to be used with just such an optic.
The RMR is rugged and easy to zero, has a very precise 3.25 MOA aiming dot and can run up to four years on a single CR2032 lithium battery when set at the mid-level illumination. I’ve used my personal RMR on numerous self-defense and hunting handguns and it has always performed very well.
OTHER RED DOTS, TOO
The Echelon comes standard with an optics plate cover at the rear of the slide. Remove the plate and a rectangular cut is revealed, with a number of holes drilled into the cut along the right and left sides.
Those holes are the key to the VIS. The Echelon includes three sets of removable pins. Depending on your optic and its footprint, the self-locking pins fit into specific holes to match up with the three most common footprints. This means 31 different red dot optics can be directly mounted.
Springfield is also producing VIS ACRO and VIS DOCTOR adapter plates, which will be available in the near future, for red dots with these two very distinct footprints.
Inside its frame, the Echelon also features Springfield’s all-new Central Operating Group (COG). The COG is entirely self-contained and serialized. You can easily remove it for cleaning of the firearm. COG removal also will allow a shooter to swap out the COG into other Springfield grip modules. Currently the Echelon is made and sold with a medium-sized grip module. But large and small modules will be available soon, allowing for modularity and adaptability to specific shooters and their needs by quickly switching out COGs.
SHOOTING LEAD DOWNRANGE
I shot my RMR-mounted Echelon at my outdoor range at five and ten yards, offhand. I first ran the pistol with Remington 9MM UMC range rounds loaded with 115-grain full metal jacket (FMJ) bullets.
At five yards, the UMC easily produced five shot groups of 1.0-inches, and ten-yard groups averaged between 1.5- and 2.0-inches.
I then switched over to a pair of self-defense rounds, both featuring hollow point bullets: Federal Premium Train + Protect, and it’115-grain bullet; and Overwatch, a relative newcomer, from Liberty Ammunition with its 72-grain leadfree bullet.
Both of these loads produced some sub-1.o-inch groups at five yards, and groups of between 1.25- to 1.80-inches at ten yards.
I experienced no failures to feed or eject throughout my shooting, and the Echelon went back into battery every time.
The only maintenance I performed on the pistol was to add a couple drops of oil where the slide and frame met before I began shooting. Further, I also wiped down the feed ramp with between ammunition changes.
A test I run with new pistols is to stagger-load a couple of magazines, alternating between full metal jacket range rounds and hollow points, and then blast off those mags fairly fast. Going from round nose range to hollow pointed self-defense rounds gives a pistol a fine chance to jam. At the same time, I believe a quality-manufactured pistol will eat any ammo it’s fed and spit out the empty brass accordingly.
Approximately 30-percent of the pistols I’ve done the stagger-loaded test with have jammed.
Not the Echelon.
I stagger loaded two 17 round magazines and from seven yards emptied each of the mags at a Law Enforcement training target from Champion Target. I had zero malfunctions. Not only that, but I also discovered that the RMR’s red dot plus the Echelon’s open sights combination actually worked to keep me on target fairly well, with 9 of the 17 rounds striking within the two center rings on my second magazine.
A FINE SELF-DEFENSE OPTION
The Echelon’s trigger averaged 2 pounds, 12 ounces of trigger pull. The trigger featured a bladed safety, too; with the safety fully engaged, the trigger snapped off pretty cleanly. Which is not always the case with striker-fired triggers, many of which are quite spongy. The pistol’s oversized trigger guard will provide plenty of room for a gloved shooting finger, too.
The one thing I would change on the Echelon is the grip texture. It’s not terrible, but I felt it was rather smooth and could have been more pronounced to better engage the skin on my hands.
Not that my hands slipped while shooting. But I shot the Echelon on a low humidity summer day. My hands never got really damp with perspiration. Of course, the skin never became stiff with winter cold—both scenarios, I think, could have affected my grip.
In addition to the standard model I used, the Echelon is also available in a low ammunition-capacity version with 10 round magazines, another model sporting 3 Dot Tritium sights, and a suppressor-ready pistol with a threaded barrel.
Final Thoughts: Springfield Armory Echelon 9mm Review
Springfield Armory is going to have other gunmakers playing catch up with the new Echelon. First and foremost, the ability to direct mount 30 red dots alone makes the Echelon 9mm worthy of consideration, especially as in-store pricing should be right around $600. Knowing Springfield and its work with other pistol lines, I expect these initial Echelon offerings to be bolstered by other variations in the near future, including new calibers.
I can’t wait!
- MODEL: Number EC9459B-U (As Tested)
- ACTION: Semi-Automatic
- CHAMBERING: 9mm
- SLIDE: Billet-Machined Steel
- FRAME: Polymer, Black
- BARREL: Stainless Steel, Melonite Finish, 1:10 Twist
- BARREL LENGTH: 4.5”
- MAGAZINES: 2, 17-Rounds Each
- SIGHTS: Tritium/Luminescent Front, Tactical Rack U-Dot™ Rear
- TRIGGER: Striker-Fired, Bladed Safety
- HEIGHT: 5.5”
- WIDTH: 1.2”
- LENGTH: 8.0”
- WEIGHT: 23.9 oz. w/Unloaded Magazine
- ACCESSORIES: VIS Optics Mounting, 3 Replaceable Backstraps, Nylon Cary Case, Gun Lock
- MSRP: $679
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