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S&W CSX: When Intent and Realities Don't Coincide

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Just before SHOT Show 2022 Smith & Wesson released the CSX, an aluminum-framed,

hammer-fired micro-compact chambered in 9mm. Add to that ambidextrous slide and safety controls and the combination had the chance to really stand out in the crowd of polymer-framed, striker-fired micro compacts. A release by "big blue" has to be well-thought out and used the company's great resources for design and testing, right?

The first pictures spread around the web appeared to me to either be fakes or of a beta version. Surely Smith & Wesson didn't put all that energy into slide design only to leave the frame looking so unfinished! If Walther (Q5 Match Steel Frame) can sculpt such an amazing frame from steel, surely Smith & Wesson can do more with easy-to-work with aluminum. There must be some simple genius to the CSX design, right?

Early reviews came out and were full of complaints. As we've come to know, not all voices on the internet speak from a perspective of knowledge, and quite often the loudest are those with the least validity. Surely they were just, once again, misunderstanding a product because it was too different from what they "know", right?

Thanks to our Patrons we were able to purchase one for ourselves and see what all the fuss was about. My initial assessment was not a positive one. I wanted to disprove all the negatives I had heard about the gun, but just in filming the tabletop video I had a few concerns. So many in fact that I opted not to publish the original video and wait to talk to S&W at SHOT Show just to be certain I wasn't misunderstanding the gun. Getting the truth out there is important to me and I've seen too many others misunderstand and then misrepresent a gun in videos, resulting in viewers having an incorrect understanding as well. Here's the second tabletop video I produced after speaking with S&W:

Maybe it's just one of those guns that feels totally different in live fire than dry handling. We've known a few guns to have two different personalities, and even more that just needed a good 100 rounds through them before they started behaving better. I know I can't fault a micro-compact for being too small in the hand, that's the intent and I have large hands.

Concerns (both mine and those on the web) and their possible counter-points (I'm not agreeing with them, just playing devil's advocate) included:

  • A long trigger reset with a false reset about where a normal pistol's reset would be. The false reset could be a liability under duress, causing an untrained user to think their CSX has malfunctioned.

This is a defensive pistol, not a competition gun. That reset length doesn't matter when you're mashing the trigger to save your life. All users should know their gun and train with it before carrying.

  • The trigger is very heavy for a single-action, hammer-fired gun. The trigger wall is so firm it almost feels like the safety is on.

Trigger weight is not as important as many think, and seldom felt when fighting for your life. What a heavier trigger with a harder break can do however is save a life and prevent an accidental discharge.

  • The plastic grip panel on the front strap breaks off.

This happens by improperly inserting a magazine over and over again. Anyone with training can avoid it, and as a sub-compact carry gun repeated magazine changes are much less likely than on a true range or competition gun.

  • The sides of the frame/grip are slick.

Propper grip technique applies pressure to the front strap and backstrap, handguns recoil rear to front and try to rotate along that axis, not side to side.

  • There is no rail for attaching a light or laser

This is a micro-compact gun, chosen for its size, not for the ability to make the package larger. Defensive use of a handgun happens at ranges so close a light or laser is not needed. If you want a duty-type gun then select something larger.

  • The magazines do not load to their advertised capacity

Some users have found the magazine springs to have been improperly installed. Fix it yourself or send it back under warranty.

  • Why is there a trigger safety and a thumb safety on an already long and heavy trigger?

Not all shooters like thumb safeties, the trigger safety serves applies to all.

  • Takedown requires a tool

If you're going to take down your gun, chances are you've got tools around.

Without making too long of a list, those above cover the biggest concerns and complaints I had either heard about the S&W CSX or observed myself and asked S&W about at SHOT show. The answers given are not necessarily official retorts from the company, just another way of looking at the gun so we have a more complete perspective before we shoot it. How did the S&W CSX perform on the range?

The Shooting Impressions video below unfortunately had to be done without Ms. Teya. She was unavailable that day, and had already decided she was no interested in exposing herself to the harsher recoil most small guns produce, nor the potential "shock" that recoil can transfer to the hand and wrist through metal-framed guns.

That later disinterest is one that particularly interested me. Metal frames tend to translate into a heavier gun, and when that weight is not reciprocating that also translates to a softer shooting experience, yet there is still validity to the "shock" one can feel transfer through aluminum or steel if the gun is sprung too softly and the slide still bottoms out, slamming against the frame at the end of its rearward travel. It was my hope that the hammer spring would absorb much of the slide's energy, and that during What's For Dinner™ I'd find a load that was just right.

Notes from the range experience:

  • The 12-round magazine would only accept 11 rounds of 115gr ball ammunition. We're not talking about "gotta really push that last round in", the magazine absolutely would not even consider accepting a 12th round. As a result the gun effectively failed the Full Mag +1 test. You can load on in the chamber, and then 11 rounds in the magazine for a total of 12 rounds, but the 12-round magazine would not accept 12 rounds.

  • The 12-round magazine also swelled to the point of needing to be smacked into place. For a carry gun this is acceptable as it's not a "range" or "competition" gun that is likely to be used with frequent magazine changes, but it's still a minus point in my book.

  • The trigger's longer pull and heavier break is not an issue when it is "punched" as one might on a double-action revolver, or during undisciplined fire. It is, however an issue during disciplined, fine presses.

  • The trigger's false reset is not an issue if it is used in a less-disciplined, "punch and off" style. It does, however cause issue until you train yourself out of good trigger control and remember how to shoot like you don't know what you're doing.

  • Concerns about grip may have been correct. With some loads the pistol certainly tried to rotate front to rear in my hands. This could easily have been due to my large hands trying to hold a smaller pistol and I've experienced it with similarly-sized guns. I tend to have a soft hold on handguns, relying on total hand contact area more than pressure per square inch of contact. (larger area with less pressure typically matching higher pressure from less contact). Smaller-handed shooters likely won't experience the same issue.

  • Teya's concern about shock transfer through the frame may be correct. It seems the balance of hammer spring and recoil spring resistance I had hoped for to prevent the slide from slamming into the frame at the end of it's rearward travel was not achieved by S&W. That slam still happens and the impact reverberates through the frame. With each shot the hand is hit with a shock similar to using an aluminum bat without gloves in baseball. With my hands that energy was sent right to MCP joint where the thumb meets the hand. Not a pleasant experience.

  • During the Trigger Control Test the S&W CSX's difficult wall and false reset got the best of me. The gun was plenty accurate, but I found it more difficult to time shots than any of the hundred or so pistols we've reviewed with that test.

In conclusion the S&W CSX is not a pistol I would recommend. I don't advise against it, and for some it might be just right, but in general I think there are better options out there for most. I hope that Smith & Wesson continues development and releases something better. There's potential in this platform, personally I'd like to see a DA/SA option without the trigger safety and in a larger size.

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David Pierce
David Pierce

My mags hold the stated capacity, it does take a mag loader to fill it to capacity.


i like the direction smith is going with the csx. i would like to see more variations of it. that being said, it definately needs more refining. obviously smith was in such a hurry to get this gun into production that they dropped the ball on it. i liked the way you tried to give it every opportunity to succeed, instead of jumping on the hater band wagon, like everybody else. hopefully smith will do better with it in a 2nd generation.

Graham Baates
Graham Baates

I try to understand the intent of every product, even if it's for a consumer that I may not personally be. This starting becoming very important for be back when the Diamondback DB9 came out. Many saw "world's smallest single-stack 9mm" and judged it against other single-stack 9mm pistols. That comparison was somewhat misguided and unfair as what the DB9 was really meant to be was a pocket pistol, chambered in 9mm. A more accurate comparison would be against the BodyGuard and LCPs of the time. We don't buy an F350 truck and then comment that it's awkward in the city, or complain that a Honda Civic lacks towing capacity.

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