Gun Review: Springfield Armory Echelon 9mm Pistol

Springfield Echelon modular gun review

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It’s easy to say, “Ho hum, another polymer-framed 9mm striker-fired pistol.” We live in a golden age of well made, reliable 9mm handguns and after a while, they all start to look the same. But there’s more to the Springfield Echelon than meets the eye.

I’m not certain the Echelon would motivate me to sell my carry gun to purchase Springfield’s latest, but if I were in the market for a new 9mm pistol the Springfield would be near the top of my list.

The Echelon is nothing like the XD and not all that similar to the newer, more popular Hellcat, either. But if you like the Springfield Croation-made Hellcat you’re going to like the Croatian-made Echelon. So much for familial association.

The Echelon is fairly priced at about $650 in most places. In the tactical scheme of things can you do virtually anything with the Echelon you can do with a good GLOCK, SIG, or HK. You can probably run a combat course in good order with any of them, but there are a few innovations that make the new Springfield attractive as a stand-out.

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The Echelon a service-size handgun, at least as it’s being delivered now. The pistol comes with 17- and 20-round magazines. Its full size makes 9mm recoil modest. The polymer frame and steel slide are well textured and nicely finished. Aggressive cocking serrations (unlike the Hellcat) and a good set of sights are welcome.

My example features the optional three-dot night sight set-up. The U-notch with tritium dot front sight is an option many who carry every day will go for. I simply grabbed the first Springfield Echelon in a three county radius and this is what was available.

One of the features that make the Echelon stand out is its innovative red dot mounting system. Virtually all optic-ready polymer-frame pistols are designed for a particular optic mount. If you want to use a red dot that doesn’t work with your slide, you can make it work with an adapter plate.

Springfield Echelon modular gun review

The Echelon exhibits a fresh take on a vexing problem. It comes with what Springfield calls the Variable Interface System for mounting pistol optics. It’s a series of patterns and holes cut into the slide that take a combination of supplied self-locking pins and screws.

Springfield Echelon modular gun review

There are no plates involved. The VIS allows you to use the whatever combination of hardware works for your red dot sight without having to buy an adapter plate.

The Echelon comes with hardware for RMSc, DeltaPoint Pro and RMR mounts, which are by far the most popular mounting patterns and let you mount more than 30 different red dot sights.

Springfield Echelon modular gun review

Springfield also made their slide cut on the deeper side. Since you don’t need to use adapter plates, your red dot sits lower and you can co-witness with standard height sights. I mounted a TruGlo’s XR21 which uses the RMSc mount for testing. It was attached easily and gave me good results.

Springfield Echelon modular gun review

Springfield has also chosen to make the Echelon a modular design handgun. Much like the SIG P320, the Echelon uses a removable chassis/fire control group — Springfield calls it the central operating group — that is the serialized legal “firearm” and can be used in any number of slide/frame combinations.

Springfield Echelon modular gun review

Small and medium size frames (and you have to assume aftermarket options by other makers) will be available from Springfield down the road, making the Echelon adaptable for a range of hand sizes, carry styles and uses. To remove the COG the takedown lever is rotated and removed and the COG lifts right out. Simple enough.

The Echelon is also totally ambidextrous. That doesn’t mean it can accommodate lefties…there’s no need to swap sides on the magazine release button. The pistol comes with controls on both sides of the handgun.

Springfield Echelon modular gun review

Some pistols are prone to letting the thumb hit the slide lock during a firing string, inadvertently locking the slide open. That shouldn’t happen with this design given the slide catch’s placement.

Springfield Echelon modular gun review

The nicely textured grip fits most hands well and and the Echelon comes with three backstrap options to fit just about any hand size. There’s a decent undercut of the trigger guard as well for a higher, controllable grip.

Springfield Echelon modular gun review

A flat recoil spring and plastic guide rod ride under the 4.5-inch barrel. I imagine a market will exist for steel guide rods for the Echelon for those who insist on such things.

Shooting tests included my favorite cheap ammunition that replicates what most people feed their guns. Folks who shoot know there is a certain tier in accuracy. A really good load from, say, Black Hills Ammunition may put five shots into two inches at 25 yards. So will Federal Premium and Hornady.

We set at the MTM K Zone rest and concentrated until blood pops out on our forehead to achieve this. Armcor PMC and Sellier & Bellot may break a three to four inch group. Tula and Wolf should hit the target.

Standing and firing offhand and making combat runs with MagTech is fine. Whatever is on sale. If I elect to carry the pistol for personal defense or make it a home defense I bring out my carefully hoarded cache of premium ammunition. I did so with the Echelon.

Springfield Echelon modular gun review

I drew from a Galco Belt Slide during most of the testing. The Echelon comes on target quickly. Recoil is modest as it should be with this size and weight class. Trigger reset is sharp and tactile.

Firing strings at 5, 7, 10, and 15 yards gave very good results. The pistol ran through the allotted ammo for testing without any failures. I was pleased with the good results and burned through more of my modest hoard of 9mm ammunition.

Springfield Echelon modular gun review
The Echelon is a full-size gun, so concealment will be a challenge until smaller frame are available.

The Echelon is a very good shooter that compliments your skills. Recoil isn’t much of a consideration. During the test I found myself shooting a bit better than I should have with a new-to-me handgun. I impressed myself and I’m not easily self-impressed.

Next I settled into a secure steady firing position using the MTM K Zone shooting rest. I fired a couple of cheap loads with the expected 5-shot 3-inch groups at 25 yards. The better class of ammunition rewarded my efforts with 5-shot groups of 2.5 inch or less.

The pistol likes 124 grain +P ammunition as both Buffalo Bore and Black Hill ammunition 124 grain +P rounds put five shots into just under two inches. In one case two bullets were touching with four shots in 1.4 inches and the fifth making it a 1.75-inch group.

My conclusion: the Echelon will shoot and it will outshoot most of the polymer frame clan and quite a few steel frame guns as well. I have no complaints at all with the Echelon’s performance. I think you will find it very satisfactory as well. After hundreds of cartridges expended over the past few weeks, Springfield’s lates pistol gets a solid recommendation.

Specifications: Springfield Echelon

Caliber: 9mm
Magazine capacity: 17 and 20 (one each comes with the gun)
Height: 5.5 in
Length: 8 in
Width: 1.2 in
Weight 24 oz (unloaded)
Frame: Polymer
Slide: Melonite coated steel
Barrel length: 4.5 inch
Sights: U-notch rear, tritium front or three-dot tritium
MSRP: $679 (about $650 retail)

Ratings (out of five stars):

Style and Appearance * * * * 
Nothing clunky here and no bling. This is a serious-looking pistol highlighted by nice slide cuts.

Customization * * * (for now)
As this is a brand new platform, nothing much is available. It has a rail and is (very) optic-ready. But if Springfield does with the Echelon what SIG has done with the P320 — and you have to belive that’s their intention here with the same basic modular design — the possibilities will soon be almost endless.

Reliability * * * * *
With a wide range of loads, the pistol runs very well. I waited a few weeks into the test to come back and finish this rating…the Echelon is very good to go.

Accuracy * * * * *
The pistol is very accurate for its class and nips at the heels of the Beretta 92/SIG P226 class handguns That’s a very good class.

Concealed carry * * * *
One star off for its size. The Echelon a sold now is a full-size gun which means concealment can be a challenge. Keep in mind the different size frames coming in the not-so-distant future so you’ll be able to configure the Echelon into a more concealable, everyday carry package.

Overall rating * * * * ½
It’s nice to see another truly modular option out there. I’m not sure why it’s taken so long for someone else to get into a market that SIG’s had basically to themselves until now. The Springfield Echelon is a very capable pistol and its innovative approach to optics mounting is a plus.

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