In 1949, the armed forces of the United States put out a call for a new handgun. The M1911A1 had served American GIs faithfully in the Second World War, but the top brass wanted something smaller and lighter to issue to officers. Colt, Browning, FN, and Smith & Wesson put their hats in the ring for the contract to this new “Commander”-size handgun, but, as so often happens, military leaders reversed course and disbanded the project.
Left with a stack of R&D bills and no fat government contract, Colt released the Commander 1911 to the civilian market chambered in 9mm, .38 Super, and 45ACP. It featured the same grip frame as the full-sized version with a smaller, 4.25-inch barrel and an aluminum frame. Four decades later, Colt released the Officer’s 45ACP, an even smaller version of the original 1911 with a 3.5-inch barrel.
Today, like Kleenex and Velcro, “Officer” and “Commander” have become household names synonymous with a certain handgun style—even when produced by a different company.
Taurus USA has been manufacturing 1911’s since 2005, and this year they released two new models based on Colt’s legendary designs. The Officer and Commander are both chambered in 45ACP and offer consumers all the features of a modern 1911 without the modern price tag.
Finish: Matte Black
Caliber: 45 ACP
Grips: Checkered Black
Capacity: 8 +1
Weight: 38 oz
Barrel Length: 4.20″
Front Sight: Novak Drift Adjustable
Rear Sight: Novak Drift Adjustable
Safety: Manual Safety
Neither the Officer nor Commander are currently available in 9mm, though Taurus has 9mm’s available in their line of full-sized 1911’s.
Taurus has been a major player in the U.S. commercial firearms market since the publicly-traded Brazilian company Forjas Taurus formed Taurus Holdings in 1982, which in turn formed Taurus International Manufacturing (also known as Taurus USA). Since then, the Miami-based Taurus USA has offered a variety of Brazilian-made revolvers and semi-automatic pistols, including the (in)famous Judge and Raging Bull revolvers.
I know I’m not alone when I say that I’ve never been quite sure what to make of Taurus and their products. Some gun enthusiasts swear by them; others… not so much. Their reputation took a hit earlier this year when they settled a class-action lawsuit and recalled nine of their semi-auto pistol models. Still, it’s tough to beat their prices, and for some folks a less-expensive Taurus is a heck of a lot better than nothing.
“Better than nothing” isn’t the highest praise, and I managed my expectations accordingly before getting my hands on Taurus’ new offering. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, for the price point, the Commander represents a fantastic value for anyone looking for a 1911 in this size. At $450-$500 on the street, the Commander fights well above its weight class by including features usually found on handguns at least $200 more expensive.
A few of those additions are easy to spot. The Commander’s blacked-out exterior is sharp, and the checkered grips provide a positive surface to control 45ACP recoil. The front and rear of the grips feature a rough, skateboard tape-like texturing, and the extended beaver tail also helps control recoil and protect your hands from slide bite. The enlarged, textured safety paddle is easy to disengage, the rounded hammer resembles that on the classic Colt Commander, and the mag release lets the magazine drop freely.
Both front and rear sights are dovetailed, allowing for easy replacement with Tritium or fiberoptic sights. But you might not need them. The three-dot Novak sights provide an easy-to-acquire sight picture, and their all-metal construction appears durable. The rear sight can also be adjusted for windage with the provided Allen wrench, which I found to be especially useful the first day at the range.
The slide includes serrations on both the rear and the front, as well as a flared ejection port to help eject spent casings.
Other features are less obvious — and less obviously beneficial. Any time I test a 1911, I begin by checking how well the barrel and the barrel bushing fit together. Broadly speaking, a snug fit indicates good design and quality control. On an individual pistol, a good barrel-bushing fit increases accuracy. I tested the fit by depressing the recoil spring and attempting to turn the bushing by hand. It was easier to turn that I would like, but also consistent with other sub-$500 1911’s.
The slide-to-frame fit mirrors the barrel-to-bushing fit. It’s good, but I did feel the slightest bit of movement. Strange as it sounds, I take this as a good sign. The Taurus Commander is no Ed Brown, but it also isn’t trying to be. No slide-to-frame movement would be cause for concern in a 1911 at this price point.
The trigger is good—not amazing, but certainly better than expected. It’s skeletonized, includes an adjustable trigger stop, and features straight vertical texturing. It broke consistently at 6 pounds after 0.04 inches of pre-travel, but the break is a bit mushy. The out-of-the-box trigger will work for defensive purposes and target shooting, and a qualified gunsmith can easily modify the Series 80 clone mechanism for crispness and weight.
After familiarizing myself with the handgun’s features, I was excited to head out to the range. I began by acclimating myself to the gun on a man-sized steel plate from 10 yards out. I’m no Jerry Miculek, but I didn’t have any trouble putting shots in the vital area in a timely manner. The Commander size is more difficult to control than a full-size 1911, but the texturized grip and the extended beaver tailed helped compensate for the 4.25-inch barrel and stout load.
Those features were especially useful in the rapid-fire sequences. Aiming for a paper silhouette from the same distance, I loaded the magazine to full capacity (with one round already in the chamber) and pulled the trigger as fast as I could manage. The gun remained pleasant to shoot, and I didn’t have trouble controlling shot placement beyond what rapid fire usually does to my group sizes.
I conducted this test several times and experienced the gun’s only malfunction during the first sequence. Though I didn’t want to give the Commander an automatic pass, it’s a well-known fact that John Browning’s design requires a firm hand at the wheel. Making sure to keep a secure grip over the next three rapid-fire sequences, I didn’t run into any additional issues throughout the course of my time at the range.
Satisfied with the gun’s handling and reliability, I moved on to accuracy testing from a bag at 10 and 25 yards. It’s difficult to eliminate the human element in such a test, but I was satisfied with the groups I managed to shoot. I used Hornady’s American Gunner 185g XTP as well as their Critical Duty+P 220g. I included group sizes below each image.
The Commander didn’t produce match-grade accuracy, but it isn’t a match-grade firearm. With the right hand at the trigger, it’ll hit the vital area from 25 yards, which is exactly what it’s designed to do. I’d carry the Commander out of the box, but a trigger job would shrink those groups and make it that much more fun to shoot.
While Taurus’ reputation has admittedly had its ups and downs, the Commander uses a tried-and-true design, tuned and perfected over the last 30 years by dozens of companies. Manufacturing quality varies from company to company, of course, but Taurus isn’t reinventing the wheel. They’re taking advantage of modern manufacturing technology to offer a feature-rich 1911 for just a little bit more than you’d pay for a basic GI 1911.
Is it perfect? No. But it’s reliable, easy to shoot, accurate enough to get the job done, and good-looking to boot. For $450, that’s not a bad deal. In fact, if you’re in the market for a Commander-sized 1911, it might just be the best deal on the market.