I'm very surprised that the M&P wouldn't have come out on top from a 'feel' test, but even though it didn't I would still strongly recommend giving the compact M&Ps in 9 and 40 another round of trials.
When I selected my first carry I put limited ammo through Glock, Sig, M&P and HK and a couple of random compact 1911s. At the time price wasn't an issue, and polymer was in the mix only because I wanted to be fair--I didn't think for a minute I'd select a plastic pistol. I bought the M&P 45c the day following shooting it--there was no question. So, if after shooting a bit you might have a similar experience: a clear-cut winner of your own that stands out, even if you can't put your finger on why.
I'm in the position of guiding my daughter through this same process, and while she thinks 9mm has to be the caliber choice, I'll make sure she shoots as much as possible in 40 as well--hopefully a few otherwise identical guns in both calibers. I'd recommend that to anyone. We hear fairly consistent comments about 40SW having 'snap' and so on, and I just don't see it. In the handguns I've shot (very few 9s, admittedly), I consistently preferred 40 over 9 from a feel perspective. Be sure to keep an open mind in this area so as not to miss out on a potential winner.
Note that the XD series sits pretty tall in the saddle as far as bore axis goes (like Sig), and the XD-M series in particular has a lot of corrugation going on at the grip. Some folks like that when they do the feel test--not so much after shooting a box of ammo. While maybe you can't shoot everything on your list, I'd made an extra special effort to shoot those guns where ergonomic features, claims and legends stand out as differentiators.
From a parts and aftermarket availability perspective, Glock and M&P would have to come out on top I'd think. Finally, take a few minutes to see what's available in holsters for the models you think are on your short list. While you might think there's many choices in holsters for all major-brand guns, I wouldn't count on it. It's critical that a practical holster that you like to wear is available, otherwise...well, you know what's going to happen.
Bet wishes on the adventure and be sure to have fun with it.
Having rattled on with all these suggestions, let me expose the fact that I practiced this method only for my first carry gun. I subsequently bought 3 handguns, the 1st and 3rd of these for carry specifically, without having ever even held them in my hand. The Kahr K40 I selected as my 2nd carry pistol I now wear just about any time I'm dressed, and I'd never held one before I ordered it. I've just ordered a Glock 29 for carry, and I don't even like Glocks. In these two purchases, I was 100% confident that I know what it takes to become proficient with an entirely new 'platform', if you will. I wouldn't recommend that approach to anyone--certainly not publicly.
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“If I had to live my life again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner.” T Bankhead
Last edited by Bongo Boy; January 25, 2013 at 02:20 AM.