Colt Lightweight Commander XSE .45 ACP Auto Pistol


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

July 25th, 2008




Click for video! (WMV format, 5.08 MB)

Colt Forty-Five. That simple phrase means different things to different people. To some, it means a cold brew. To a Cowboy Action Shooter, it is a Colt Single Action Army revolver. However, to most people, it means the 1911 semi-auto pistol. Designed by the legendary John Browning and produced for many years in this country solely by Colt in Hartford, Connecticut, the forty-five was carried by soldiers, ranchers, lawmen, and outlaws, and is the fighting pistol by which all others are judged. Colt licensed other manufacturers to produce the pistol during World War Two, but for decades, Colt was the producer of all commercial 1911 pistols in the US. Made famous by such legends as Alvin York and Jeff Cooper, the 1911 .45 ACP auto pistol is today more popular than ever. There was a time when “forty-five” meant “Colt”, but today, the 1911 design is produced in large quantities in this country by Colt, Kimber, Smith & Wesson and a few other manufacturers, and fine 1911 pistols are imported into the US by Springfield Armory, Taurus USA, and several other importers.

Made in just about any configuration imaginable from tiny pocket versions to full-blown tricked-out race guns, the 1911 has been modified and redesigned more than any other pistol on the planet. I have owned 1911 pistols from the small Officers size to longslide versions, but my favorite style and size of the 1911 pistol is the mid-size gun referred to as the “Commander”, most recently called the Lightweight Commander. Introduced by Colt several decades ago, the Commander was made to be a packing gun. Similar to the original Government Model 1911, the Commander had a frame made from a lightweight aluminum alloy, full-sized grip, a Rowell-type hammer, and a slide and barrel that were three-quarters of an inch shorter than the Government Model. These slight and subtle changes made the Commander much more suitable for concealed carry, shaving about nine ounces off the weight, and three-quarters of an inch off the length, it really changed the handling dynamics of the 1911 pistol. I never cared for the Combat Commander which was added to the Colt line a few years later, as it was almost as heavy as the Government Model, but usually not as accurate. However, the original Commander was a dream to carry, and the full-sized grip allowed it still carry seven rounds in the magazine while providing an ample grasp on the pistol to facilitate rapid fire with powerful ammunition. The Commander received the Series 80 firing pin safety along with the other Colt 1911 pistols in 1983. This prevented the pistol from firing if dropped hard on its muzzle. Lots of shooters whined loudly over the firing pin safety, but if set up properly, it does no harm at all, and a good trigger pull can still be achieved with the firing pin safety in place.

In the year 2000, Colt introduced the XSE series to their 1911 line, and the Commander benefited from those improvements as well. While the original Government Model and Commanders were very good pistols, the XSE changes gave the pistols much better combat sights using the three white dot pattern, and the sights are larger and sleeker as well. There is a relief cut just behind the trigger guard to allow the pistol to sit just a bit lower in the hand. The XSE has a lightweight aluminum trigger with an overtravel stop, and the slide is serrated front and rear to help facilitate a secure grasp for racking the slide. There is also a full-length recoil spring guide rod, and a beavertail grip safety. While I like the beavertail grip safety much better than the small narrow one on the original Commander, I find that I prefer a higher grip safety beavertail, which makes the pistol to sit lower in my hand. Hands are different, and some shooters like the Colt beavertail just fine. Anyway, that is something that is easily changed, and is more of a personal preference thing instead of a fault with the pistol. One of the best features of the XSE, for me and thousands of other left-handed shooters, is the ambidextrous thumb safety. The levers are long, wide, and easy to reach, but not so large as to detract from the Commander’s easy carrying qualities. The XSE has a polished and throated feed ramp to allow the pistol to swallow modern hollowpoint ammunition, and the .45 caliber XSE pistols come packaged with two eight-round magazines. Another excellent feature is that the front and rear sights are set in dovetail slots milled into the slide, allowing for windage adjustment. They are also much easier to change, if the owner so desires. The slide and small parts are made of stainless steel, and the frame is made of a lightweight aluminum alloy, finished to closely match the stainless steel parts. The grips are made of rosewood, checkered in the traditional and functional double-diamond pattern.

Shooting the Commander XSE was a delight. I love the feel of a Lightweight Commander style 1911, and the Colt just feels near perfect in my hand. It balances very naturally, and points like the finger of God. I tried the Colt with every brand and type of .45 ACP ammo that I had on hand, and all of it is suitable for serious fighting purposes, except for my target handload. I tested the ammunition for function, accuracy, and velocity. The XSE weighed in at 28.6 ounces with an empty magazine in place. The trigger pull measured four and three-quarters pounds, and released crisply. The testing took place over the period of several days, with temperatures in the ninety degree Fahrenheit range. Velocities were checked using a Chrony Master Beta chronograph set at a distance of twelve feet from the muzzle. Velocities from the Colt’s four and one-quarter inch barrel are listed in feet-per-second (fps). Accuracy is listed in inches and fractions thereof, and are the result of firing five-shot groups at a distance of twenty-five yards, with the Colt clamped into a Ransom Master Rest, to eliminate all human error. JHP is jacketed hollowpoint ammunition. EPR and AF are specialty bullets as loaded by Extreme Shock Ammunition. DPX is a homogenous copper hollowpoint Barnes XPB bullet as loaded by Cor-Bon. PB is PowRBall, a specialty hollowpoint bullet with a nylon ball in the hollow nose. LWSC is a lead semi-wadcutter bullet of the Hensley & Gibbs Number 68 style.

Cor-Bon JHP 165 1295 2.25
Cor-Bon JHP 185 1093 2.875
Cor-Bon JHP 200 1056 1.75
Cor-Bon DPX 185 1102 3.75
Cor-Bon PB 165 1263 4.125
Buffalo Bore JHP 185 1153 3.375
Buffalo Bore JHP 200 1044 2.00
WCC Ball 230 785.4 1.875
Extreme Shock EPR 185 1179 3.375
Extreme Shock AF 125 1430 3.25
Handload LSWC 200 778 2.50

Accuracy was acceptable with most ammo tested, and excellent with others. Every load tried fed, fired, and ejected perfectly, displaying one hundred percent reliability. Even the high performance Plus P rated ammunition was very controllable in rapid fire, as is exhibited in the video.

A good concealed carry pistol is part of a system, and is only as concealable as the holster allows. Any holster maker worth his salt makes a holster for a 1911 pistol. A new holster maker to me is Harlow Holsters. I only recently learned of Mike Harlow’s work, and here is shown one of his most practical concealed carry holsters, called the “Mike’s Inside”. The holster has no loops, and that threw me for one when I opened the package. I thought “no way that thing will stay in place”, but I was wrong. The holster has a rubber section on the side facing the pants, and when inserted into the wearer’s pants, it stays in place. To remove, simply grab the holster and pull it out, gun and all. It can be worn in any practical position, at any practical angle. There is a leather section that rides between the gun and the wearer’s skin, to protect both. Being left-handed, I tried a left-hand holster on my strong side, and a right-hand model worn as a small-of-the-back holster, as is demonstrated in the pictures. Both worked extremely well. I never liked small-of-the-back carry before, but with Mike’s holster, I do now. The Mike’s Inside is as easy as "Mexican carry", or carrying without a holster, but a lot more secure. The Harlow holsters are all hand made, and the quality is top-notch. The Mike’s Inside is made from thin leather for better concealment, and is one of the most convenient holsters to use ever made. No loops or clips to fool with, it goes on and comes off very quickly, without loosening the belt.

While these days shooters have more 1911 style .45 autos from which to choose than ever before, I am glad to see that Colt is still making one of the best. The Commander XSE has just about every feature that a shooter could want, and is one of the best serious concealed carry pistols available. The design is timeless. The pistol carries nine rounds of .45 ACP power, it handles well, and is very accurate with its favorite ammunition. Like my friend Tom Peterson says; “If it ain’t a Colt, it’s a copy”. While there are many good copies on the market, this Commander XSE is a genuine Colt. It is built with quality, and built in the USA.

Check out the XSE and other Colt products online at

For the location of a Colt dealer near you, click on the DEALER FINDER at

To order the Commander XSE online go to

To order any of the high performance ammunition shown here, go to,, or

To view Mike Harlow’s entire line of holsters, in stock and ready to ship, go to

Jeff Quinn


For a list of dealers where you can buy this gun, go to: To buy this gun online, go to:


The Harlow holster is a very smart design; simple, efficient and versatile.



Harlow holster worn in the small-of-back position.



Harlow holster worn in the strong-side position.



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Click pictures for a larger version.


Colt's Lightweight Commander XSE..



Gun comes with hard case, two magazines, lock and instructions.



XSE is relieved behind the trigger guard to facilitate a higher grip on the weapon.





Lightweight trigger with overtravel screw.



Stainless steel recoil spring guide rod.



Sights are a highly visible, no-snag design.



Slide is serrated front and rear for a positive grasp.





Ambidextrous safety is a welcome feature for a Southpaw like Jeff.



Rowell-type hammer & beavertail grip safety.



Cocobolo grips are checkered in a "double diamond" pattern.





Magazine release (top) & slide release (bottom).



The Lightweight Commander was acceptably accurate and 100% reliable, as befits a fighting pistol.