I just put in a quick range report on the STI Spartan today. Just out of the box and its great.
Unless you are after looks and the finish, the spartan is a great way to go. I have a spartan, trojan, springer loaded and a kimber target 2. The spartan is not better but shoots just as good as any of the rest.
The Springfield Range Officer is about $750 and worth more. This is the best gun in your price range IMO.
check local gun shows I have bought 2 new colts for under $900 defender and commander anniversary model