The New Agent versus The Defender
When Colt finally decided to produce a true concealed carry 1911, they went whole hog with the Defender. Colt's new product was so different from their previous 1911s that they bestowed a new series designation on it, the Series 90.
The Colt Series 90 pistol is a three inch bushingless 1911 style pistol with a lightweight aluminum frame. They are designed for carry and self defense, not target practice. The Series 90 pistols have the Series 80 firing pin safety, but that is the only similarity.
The Colt Defender is not a particularly flashy pistol. It bears a stainless steel slide and a big rubber Hogue wrap around grip. The sights evolved from upright three dots to low profile swept back units. It has a three hole trigger, and a beavertail grip safety that morphed over time along with the sights. The Defender uses the Officer's ACP magazine, allowing for seven plus one capacity.
Where other three inch 1911 style pistols failed, the Colt Defender quickly gained a reputation for being a pistol reliable straight out of the box. Many shooters who had shied away from the smallest 1911 pistols, indeed shooters who had stated that any 1911 beneath Commander length would likely need professional gunsmithing to run reliably, were shown that reliability could come in small packages from Hartford.
The basic Defender formula was a good one, and the little pistol that could became the best kept secret of the 1911osphere. Typical of Colt's modern advertisement campaign, the pistol received little fanfare, and next to no mention in the gun rags. Across the internet though, buyers were raving about Colt's new product. They were buying it in droves and trading out the Good Year grips for slim slabs of wood.
Thus when Colt decided to produce a similar Series 90 pistol, one even more dedicated to concealed carry and self defense, they had their ear to the ground. The Colt New Agent debuted at the 2008 Shot Show and suddenly shooters were debating point shooting versus sighted fire for self defense again. The New Agent was similar to the venerable Defender, but with a significant twist. Conventional sights were absent. The top of the slide was as slick as Charlie Brown's head. Rather than dovetailed sights, the New Agent received a sighting trench, often termed a "gutter sight" along the top of the slide. The slide of the New Agent was blued, and the aluminum frame was black anodized. Other small differences abounded. The slim wooden grips that shooters were screwing on their Defenders came from the factory on the New Agent. The front strap had serrations. The slide was lightened in the front with a profile similar to the Browning Hi Power. The New Agent thumb safety was a GI style unit with a nubbin of a tab. The grip safety was reminiscent of the upturned grip safety found on some Commanders.
The reception for the New Agent, while initially enthusiastic, became more sedate as shooters contemplated the sighting system. Some preferred the black pistol to the stainless, and wished Colt had simply produced a blued Defender. Others decided to put sights on their New Agent. Over the course of a year, I purchased both pistols.
My New Agent stayed basically the same as it came from the factory. My Defender underwent some changes. Most notable was the addition of slim wooden grips, and the modification of the grip safety to achieve the spartan profile of an early Commander grip safety. I installed a Nowlin Speed Demon hammer on the Defender to complement the austere grip safety. Both pistols received trigger jobs and solid triggers.
Both pistols retained the polymer mainspring housings. While I routinely swap out the Colt polymer mainspring housing for steel, adding a heavier part just did not make sense on a pistol designed to be lightweight. The polymer housings are durable, and light. I kept them.
At the range, each pistol was stone cold reliable, and sufficiently accurate for self defense. Each pistol carried so easily in an OWB holster on a good gun belt that I forgot it was there. The real difference was in the sighting system.
Today, I decided to take both my Colt Defender and my Colt New Agent to the range and shoot them side by side. They have become remarkably similar pistols with the exception of the sights. I alternated between the pistols with each magazine, to prevent fatigue from creating the illusion one pistol was outperforming the other. At ten yards, I shot fifty rounds through each pistol into two targets, side by side, on the same frame.
Point shooting would have given similar results, so I used the sighting systems on each pistol. I shot by raising the pistol from low ready to the sights, squeezing off two or three shots of sighted fire, and back to low ready. After a magazine in one pistol, I moved to the other. I did not "warm up" with another pistol, and I made certain I shot when I was hungry and full of coffee, allowing hypoglycemia and caffeine to simulate an adrenaline dump.
The results were interesting. The New Agent target is on the left. It has rounds concentrated in the lower left, usually indicative of anticipating recoil. The Defender target on the right had considerably more rounds in the ten ring, but the flyers indicate I was breaking my wrist either up or down. While it wasn't my best day at the range, it is undeniable that every shot would have been center of mass. Either pistol would be a worthy sidearm in an armed confrontation. At the end of the day, when the pistols are put to their intended use, I think whether the buyer wants a blued or stainless pistol may be more important than what is on top of the slide.