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1911s Handguns

Review: Colt Lightweight Commander 1911

by Evan Brune   |  July 27th, 2016   |   0
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Colt introduced a modernized Lightweight Commander in 2016, which certainly proves that what’s old is new again.

Colt’s Manufacturing Company introduced a number of new guns in 2016. The lineup features the Expanse M4, the Colt Competition Pistol and the new Colt Lightweight Commander in 9mm and .45 ACP.

All three guns are clearly aimed at rapidly growing sections of the firearms market. The AR15 rifle has never been more popular, scores of people are getting involved in shooting competitions and the number of concealed carry holders is skyrocketing.

Each of Colt’s new guns hits these segments, but the Lightweight Commander in 9mm is a particularly great one to examine for concealed carry.

The Colt Lightweight Commander is the offspring of one of the most popular firearms ever made: the Colt M1911 pistol.

The 1911 had an active-duty service life from the year of its adoption until 1985, and it served reliably and admirably through nearly three-quarters of a century. However, that term of service was far from guaranteed.

In the aftermath of WWII, as the United States examined the lessons learned from the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific, the Department of Defense embarked on a search for a new issue sidearm.

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The Lightweight Commander is a no-frills carry gun that comes in 9mm and .45 ACP. The gun shown is in 9mm.

The military decided that a lighter handgun was needed for officers, and this was the primary motivation for the search. However, other considerations came into play.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, was founded in 1949, the same year that the military embarked on its new handgun program. In a nod to allies opposite the Atlantic, a supplementary requirement was added. The gun had to be chambered in 9mm, in the interests of standardization.

So, in total, the military wanted a gun that was no more than 7 inches in length, weighed no more than 25 ounces and was chambered in 9mm.

When the call came for proposals, an obvious submission was Browning’s other ingenious design: the Hi-Power 9mm made by Fabrique Nationale. Smith & Wesson developed Model 39 as a candidate, while Colt downsized the M1911 into the aluminum-framed Commander.

In the mid-1950s, the accountants won out, and the Army decided that it would stick with its inventory of M1911 .45s and cancelled the handgun trials.

Colt saw a benefit in having the small-size Commander around, though, and put it into production in 1950. In addition to the original 9mm chambering, Colt also produced Commander-sized pistols in .45 ACP and .38 Super.

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Unlike some other 9mm 1911s on the market, the Lightweight Commander uses a traditional barrel bushing setup.

That’s quite a lot of history for a “new” gun. So, what’s new about it? Well, it seems that Colt has taken the approach that “What’s old is new again,” as with so many things these days. However, there are some modern touches that bring this classic design into the 21st century.

The Gun

First and foremost on the Colt Lightweight Commander is the inclusion of the Dual Spring Recoil System, which has been introduced in every Colt 1911 model since the solicitation of the Colt M45 CQBP by the Marine Corps Systems Command in 2010.

The Dual Spring Recoil System features an inner recoil spring and an outer recoil spring that are wound in opposite directions to prevent binding. The springs are contained by a recoil spring guide and plug and fit into the standard dust cover found on the typical Commander.

The benefit of the Dual Spring Recoil System is an increase in the life of the spring. Typically, it is expected that recoil springs have a service life of 5,000 rounds. The new dual spring system increases that to 15,000 rounds, according to Colt.

In addition, the added control of the dual spring system softens the recoil impulse slightly and heightens the feeding capability of the gun, improving reliability.

The Colt Lightweight Commander also comes with Colt Black Cherry G10 grips, which have an attractive look and provide a solid gripping surface for your hand.

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The trigger included on this Lightweight Commander broke cleanly at 4.5 pounds. Since it is a carry gun, the trigger pull weight is non-adjustable.

The frame itself is made from aluminum, which is finished in an anodized matte black. The slide is machined from carbon steel finished in a brushed blue. In keeping with the gun’s defensive build, the top of the slide is textured to prevent glare from blinding the shooter.

The slide is finished with low-profile Novak sights that are well-rounded to aid in concealment. There are deep, aggressive cuts to the rear of the ejection port that aid in racking the slide under slippery conditions.

These aggressive slide serrations are particularly welcoming on the Colt Lightweight Commander, since it is styled as a defensive pistol. In a defense gun, it is always desirable to have an easy gripping surface to ensure positive action even when covered in sweat, water or blood.

Moving down to the frame, shooters will find typical M1911 controls. The slide stop is directly above the trigger on the left side of the frame along with the thumb safety to the rear. The Lightweight Commander also still retains the grip safety and magazine release found on the 1911 platform.

On the frontstrap and backstrap of the gun, Colt has foregone the use of checkering. However, the company has included some vertical striations that do improve grip on the gun.

The trigger itself is a 3-hole trigger and is part of a Series 80 firing system with a firing pin block.

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The Lightweight commander has no checkering on the frame. Instead, it features these vertical striations. The author felt that, while not as effective as checkering, they still helped to improve grip.

Testing

The Colt Lightweight Commander I received came in a blue, double-latched, hard-sided plastic case with soft foam padding. Inside, I found the gun, an owner’s manual and two magazines.

Size- and weight-wise, the Colt Lightweight Commander seemed a decent choice for concealed carry. Of course, there are smaller guns on the market today, but this particular gun appeals to a certain group of concealed carry holders.

To demonstrate what I mean, take my carry gun for example. My daily carry is a Glock 19 Gen 3. Now, when you compare a Glock 19 to the Colt Lightweight Commander, things don’t seem to be quite equal.

The Glock 19 carries 15 rounds in a magazine, while the Colt carries nine. The Glock 19 weighs 23.5 ounces, while the Colt weighs 29.5 ounces. The Glock 19 is 5 inches high while the Colt is 5.3 inches high.

Based on those numbers, the Glock wins in capacity, weight and size. However, that’s not the whole story.

To really understand why the Colt Lightweight Commander is a great carry option for someone over the Glock, it’s important to know that optimum firearm choice is a matter of both personal preference and familiarity.

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The Lightweight Commander comes with an enhanced beavertail and Back Cherry G10 double-diamond grips.

I have no doubt that there are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who have learned how to shoot with the single-action semiauto. Thousands of those people have grown to excel in shooting with guns based on the 1911 platform.

When it comes to choosing a defensive pistol, familiarity is your friend. So, for fans of the 1911 and other single-action guns with a mechanical safety, the Colt Lightweight Commander is a fantastic option due to the matchup with standard controls found on the 1911.

The Colt Lightweight Commander is a breeze to shoot, due to its all-metal construction, full-size grip and relatively tame chambering. When I first took it out to the range, I fell in love with its easy handling.

The truth is that many carry guns are built for concealment, not as range toys. Conservation of Energy laws come into play pretty heavily when shooting some of these diminutive defense pistols, and it makes practicing a chore.

However, I can happily say that is not the case with the Colt Lightweight Commander. It is among the few carry-size guns on the market today that are concealable while still being controllable on the range.

Both are great qualities in a carry gun, because it makes it easy for shooters to practice with their defensive firearm. The more concealed carry holders practice, the more likely it is that they’ll have the skills they need when it counts in a defensive scenario.

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The Colt features Novak carry sights with three-dot sight alignment.

A must-have quality in all defensive handguns, however, is reliability. So, I gathered up eight different kinds of defensive ammo and ran the gun through its paces to see how it performed.

Some background on this particular gun is worth mentioning, however. The Colt Lightweight Commander I received was not a fresh, off-the-line, unfired example. In fact, this little gun has seen some abuse in its relatively short life.

The gun served as a demonstration example at the 2016 SHOT Show Range Day. Suffice it to say that quite a lot of rounds were fired from discerning media members. Afterwards, Guns & Ammo’s Patrick Sweeney took it out for a spin before it arrived at my desk.

When I began testing the gun’s accuracy, I had a few hang-ups where the slide did not want to go fully into battery. At this point, it is likely that the gun and its magazines had not been cleaned or lubed in 6 months of heavy use.

Despite the grime, the Colt Lightweight Commander made a great showing of accuracy. I think it’s safe to say that the gun will shoot better than I can. My personal best was 1.22 inches with Winchester’s PDX1 Defender, but several other groups came very close to that.

However, since the Colt Lightweight Commander is designed and marketed as a personal defense gun, reliability is a must-have. To give the gun a fair shake in the dependability department, I gave it a thorough cleaning and lubing before setting off on my 600-round endurance test.

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Here, the Lightweight Commander is shown next to a full-size Springfield Armory Range Officer 1911 to illustrate the difference in size.

For the most part, the gun performed admirably during reliability testing. However, I did have a few instances where the gun failed to go fully into battery. After discussing the instances with Editor-in-Chief Joel Hutchcroft and G&A’s Patrick Sweeney, I feel safe in placing the blame squarely on the OEM magazines included with the gun.

I verified this by using two different after-market magazines in the gun. One was a 10-round 9mm 1911 magazine from Mec-Gar. The other was the 10-round XP-9 magazine from Chip McCormick Mags.

Both seated easily and firmly into the gun. I ran each magazine to failure, up to a maximum of 200 rounds. Unfortunately, the Mec-Gar magazine ran into some of the same issues as the Colt OEM mags.

However, the Chip McCormick mags seemed to function perfectly, at least in my limited test. I had no issues with seating or feeding with the XP-9.

Of course, now the question is, “Why?” As far as I can tell, the only major difference between the Colt and Mec-Gar mags and the Chip McCormick mag is that the McCormick mag uses a spacer in the front of the magazine body to accommodate the shorter 9mm cartridge. Both the Colt and Mec-Gar magazines use spacers at the rear of the magazine body.

In total, 3 magazine-related malfunctions were recorded during the 600-round endurance test with the Colt OEM mags. If you intend to buy the Colt Lightweight Commander for defensive purposes, be sure to test the gun with the magazines you plan to use when carrying. You should ensure that your carry gun will be 100 percent reliable, so that you can count on it when you need it.

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Despite the occasional magazine-related issue, though, I found the Colt Lightweight Commander to be a joy on the range. The single-action trigger broke cleanly at about 4.5 pounds, which no doubt contributed to the accuracy capabilities of the gun.

The Colt Lightweight Commander would be a great choice for any shooter looking for a 1911-style single-action semiauto for a daily carry gun. It is well-balanced, easy-to-shoot, comfortable in the hand, accurate and affordable. But the best part? It’s a genuine Colt.

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