Gun Review: SIG SAUER P220 Elite .45

Imagine Sinatra in a satin charcoal Armani suit, sitting in a leather-lined smoking chair, puffing on a fat Cuban and sipping top-shelf whiskey. There’s your SIG P220 Elite. Sure, there are cheaper ways to get the same kicks. This SIG costs the thick end of a grand and does pretty much the same thing as weapons costing half as much. But would you really slum it if you didn’t have to? Who says you do? And here’s why you shouldn’t . . .

First Glance

Some people love the utilitarian look of modern polymer pistols. When they see a Glock or Springfield XD they know that these weapons are all business. No bells or whistles, and certainly no ‘bling.’ Others prefer firearms at the other end of the spectrum. They’re attracted to Grade AAA walnut stocks, gold plated triggers and inlays that hold more precious metals than their wife’s wedding ring. The SIG SAUER P220 Elite takes a Robert Palmer approach: offering enthusiasts the best of both worlds.

SIG mills the P220’s slide from a solid block of stainless steel. The craftsmen finish the result in their proprietary Nitron coating, turning it flat-black. They fashion the equally black frame from hard-anodized aluminum. Both processes leave the pistol with a very durable, non-reflective finish. The dust cover is railed to accept tactical lights and/or lasers. The front strap and the front of the trigger guard offer owners’ hands some light checkering,.

The P220 Elite’s beautiful rosewood grip panels are unique to the model. Visually, they grab your attention like custom wheels on a German sports car. The panels brandish the SIG SAUER logo with some light stippling for added grip.

Some people prefer aggressive checkering or sticky rubber grips on their combat pistol. For me, wood is good. For concealed carry, sticky rubber grips tend to grab at my clothing. The SIG’s wood panels are a perfect blend of form and function; they allow a smooth grab and provide more than enough grip when shooting.

The SIG SAUER P220 Elite boasts a big beavertail (BT); the same size as the one on my competition 1911. As with all beavertails, it serves a dual-purpose. When drawing your BT-equipped pistol, you put your hand on the grip and slide it up until you feel pressure in the web of your hand. You can then be certain that your hand is on the gun where it’s supposed to be.

The BT also ensures that no matter how high you grip the gun, you won’t  have to worry about slide bite: when the slide rockets backwards, removing skin from the thumb muscle. For people with large hands, a protruding abductor pollicis brevis muscle or digits that tend to “climb” up the grip when drawing (especially on smaller-framed pistols and revolvers), this is no small thing.

The P220 Elite SIG includes their SIGLITE© Night Sights. The tritium filled sights are similar to Trijicon’s Night Sights, which glow in the dark.

Tritium gets its name from “tritos,” Greek for “third.” It’s a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, commonly referred to as “H3” (no, not that ugly Hummer thing). Tritium releases electrons. In the presence of phosphors, the emitted electrons cause the phosphors to emit light without the need for batteries.

Bottom line: they work. As Tritium has a half-life of just over 12 years, plan on getting new sights installed every decade or so if you to keep the sights bright enough to use in a dark house.

Get a Grip?

The P220 Elite’s height and length are almost identical to that of a full-size Government Model 1911. Fom a thickness standpoint, the P220 Elite is quite a bit larger than other single-stack pistols. The factory grip panels account for lot of that width. Having handled other P220 pistols, I noticed that aftermarket grips really “thin” them out. I hear that the SIG Aluminum grip panels are the thinnest available, but have not yet had the opportunity to try those out.

The P220 Elite’s grip is simply too wide for my wife’s hands. My neighbor’s 14-year-old daughter (same physical size) shoots the P220 without a hitch. I asked a half-dozen other shooters to try to SIG SAUER P220 Elite, with a similar results. Some liked the width. Others did not. At a grand a pop, I’d suggest you find a quality gun range that rents a P220 Elite before purchase.

Firing Impressions

As with all my previously tested SIG’s, out-of-the-box accuracy is phenomenal; more than acceptable for a combat or a CCW handgun. The SIG SAUER P220 can certainly shoot better than I can. The picture below shows my first 10-shot grouping – shot with 230-gr Winchester WWB .45ACP ammo, handheld, at 33 feet. For those who are as OCD as I am, I know there are 11 holes! The flyer at the top right of the Shoot-N-C target was actually a VERY low shot by the person shooting at the target above this one.

Fit and finish is what you’d expect in a combat handgun costing a grand. There’s some slight play between the slide and frame, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Too tight clearances have been known to cause binding, especially if the pistol gets dirty or heats up from constant shooting. The SIG’s barrel lockup is very tight and there is no movement between the barrel and slide.

After the first day of shooting (200 rounds of Winchester WWB), I fully disassembled the pistol. None of the internals appeared to have formed any burrs or rough spots. The finish on the top of the barrel wore down evenly from the movement of the slide. The locking lugs on the underside of the barrel were clean and burr free as well. Inspecting the spent brass, I discovered that all primer strikes were centered and well formed.

Decock a doodle do?

Unlike modern polymer guns (e.g. the Springfield XD and Glock anything), the SIG SAUER P220 is a SA/DA (single action/double action) pistol. Slap a bullet-filled magazine in the well and rack the SIG’s slide. The action loads a cartridge and cocks the hammer. The P220 is now in single action mode. One 4.4 pound. pull from your fingertip sends a bullet downrange.

For safety’s sake, the SIG SAUER P220 has a decocking lever on the left side of the barrel. Press it down fully with your thumb and the mechanism safely lowers the hammer. The gun is now in double action mode. To discharge the weapon, you’ll need a ten pound trigger pull. After that initial trigger pull, the gun switches to single action mode, with the lighter pull.

For lots of enthusiasts, this SA/DA set-up is a deal-breaker. They don’t want to mess around with a lever and trigger modes or master two different trigger pulls. The argument for it? Safety. If the first pull is long and hard, you’re less likely to create a negligent discharge. The argument against the argument for it? Trigger discipline.

One things for sure: if you do have an DA/SA pistol, you want a decocking lever. I’ve seen two negligent discharges from two DA/SA pistols without the lever.

SRT Ate?

With older SIGs, the trigger bar controls and resets the firing-pin block. The bar has to push the firing-pin block all the way back to the “starting position” each time the trigger is released. With the new SRT (Short Reset Trigger) system, the firing-pin block is now out of the way through the cycling of the slide. When the trigger is released, only the trigger bar and sear need to be reset, resulting in a much shorter length of travel.

If you haven’t shot a SIG in a while, you’ll be blown away—I mean impressed by the SRT. The reset isn’t as short/quick as a pistol with a proper trigger job. But for a stock combat handgun, it’s entirely respectable. After putting the SIG SAUER P220 Elite through its paces during two 100-round steel matches, I can report that the reset is fast and concise. You can take up the small amount of pre-travel slack easily before obtaining a sight picture on the next target. The trigger break is very “glass rod” – clean and sharp. More importantly, the trigger break doesn’t vary from shot to shot.

Long Term Testing

To date, I’ve put over 1600 rounds of ammo through this firearm without any FTF’s or FTE’s with any ball ammo. The only issue: a single box of 230-gr Remington JHP rounds. It seems that UMC marked Remington ammo is loaded at the maximum headspacing (the distance between the top of the bullet to the top of the brass casing). With the magazine loaded with eight rounds, I couldn’t insert the magazine into the gun. The nose of the top bullet was jamming, preventing it from being properly inserted.

I don’t know if it was bad quality control. Nor do I know if these cartridges were mishandled during shipment. I have since used other boxes of Remington UMC 230-gr JHP ammo without a problem. The box of “oversized” Remington JHP’s shot well through a 5” Springfield 1911, but poorly through a 4” Wilson (go figure!). New boxes of the same ammo now seem to work just fine in the P220.

Other tested JHP ammunition includes Speer Gold Dots, Winchester PDX Bonded, Winchester WWB JHP (185-gr), and many others. Not a single FTF or FTE in the bunch. When used for CCW, I keep the SIG SAUER P220 Elite loaded with eight rounds of 230-gr Speer Gold Dots. That’s just personal preference to the Gold Dots—not because they perform any better than the others.

Carry on my wayward gun?

Many SIG fans tend to disregard the P220 Elite as a concealed carry piece. They gravitate towards smaller caliber offerings (SIG P228/P229). If they want a .45 ACP pistol, they consider the P220 Carry, or the newer P220 Compact. And yet . . .

A larger gun provides the increased stability of a full-size grip, plus the increased magazine capacity. People who complain about the difficulties concealing a full-size pistol need to look at their clothing/dress style and holster options. Even a Walther PPK will print and be difficult to carry if you’re wearing super tight—I mean “European Inspired” pants and shirts.

Some people—cough Farago cough—feel you need at least 16+1 capacity in a personal protection pistol. I think Col. Jeff Cooper put it best when he responded to a question of similar topic: “how many lethal antagonists do you think you are going to be able to handle?”

For almost 100 years, people have trusted their lives with six or seven round revolvers and 1911’s. This SIG adds an extra round to the offering; the P220 Elite is “enough gun” for personal protection. Besides, if I’m going to get into a “proper” gun fight, a pistol is a backup gun, or to a bridge to more rifle ammunition.

I have carried the P220 Elite in both outside the waistband (OWB) and inside the waistband (IWB) holsters. For OWB, I recommend a Galco Concealable Holster. Quality, modern-made, pre-formed leather holsters (like this Galco) hold a pistol more securely than you imagined. During some quick sprints up and down my staircase couldn’t get the SIG to fall out of even wiggle loose.

When packing the P220, I conceal-carry it with a CrossBreed SuperTuck holster. These holsters are ugly; barely recognizable as a holster. However, they are the most comfortable carry system I’ve ever used. The quality and craftsmanship is hard to beat. [ED: review to follow.]

Rods, Rags, Raggae

Like many other SIG’s, and many models from different manufactures, now come from the factory with plastic guide rods. For those who are new to firearms, and/or pistols, the guide rod is that little thing that pokes out of the front of the pistol, just below the barrel. Its purpose is to support the guide spring as the slide travels backwards under recoil.

Many thousands of Glocks, SIG’s, etc use plastic guide rods without problems. On the other hand, there are cases of plastic guide rods breaking under heavy loads or rapid fire. To be quite frank – I don’t care how many rounds your plastic guide-rod equipped SIG has through it without issues. This gun cost more than my first truck and that came with metal bumpers! I have never heard of a single metal guide-rod breaking under pressure, in competition, or in battle. It’s as simple as that.

After wearing the P220 in a leather holster all day, the Nitron coating on the stainless slide tends to discolor in some spots. It’s nothing a little oil doesn’t clean up or wipe away, but it’s something that bothers me. I keep a small rag in my gun safe and a small pump bottle of Rem-Oil in there as well. A small spritz of oil on the rag and a quick wipe down leaves the gun looking like new. Since I usually have this in my CrossBreed (Kydex/leather combination) holster, only the front left part of the slide needs to be wiped down.

If You Don’t Understand It . . .

The SIG SAUER P220 Elite is a terrific gun, but it’s not for everyone. The SA/DA trigger system remains controversial and the ergonomics are . . .  personal.

Is this SIG really $400 better than my XDm-40? Probably not. Then again, is my Infiniti really $20,000 better than a Hyundai Sonata? You pay for quality and you pay for reputation. No one said pricing is linear and the SIG P-series pistols are no exception.

In a SHTF situation, price be damned. When I’m shepherding my wife and kids under one arm, you can bet the farm that my free hand will be holding a SIG SAUER P220 Elite. I can’t think of any better endorsement than that.


Item Number: 220R-45-BSE
Caliber: .45ACP
Action Type: DA/SA
Trigger Pull DA: 10.0 lbs.
Trigger Pull SA: 4.4 lbs.
Overall Length: 8.32 in
Overall Height: 5.50 in
Overall Width: 1.60 in
Barrel Length: 4.40 in
Sight Radius: 6.30 in
Weight w/ Mag: 30.4oz
Mag Capacity: 8 Rounds
Sights: SIGLITE® Night Sights
Grips: Custom Rosewood Grips
Frame Finish: Black Hard Anodized
Slide Finish: Nitron®
Accessory Rail: Yes
Features” Ergonomic beavertail grip, SRT™ – Short Reset Trigger
MSRP: $1,200.00
CA Compliant: No
MA Compliant: No

RATINGS (out of five)

Style * * * *

Combines the sleek and well known lines of the SIG P-series with factory rosewood grips. Sweet.

Ergonomics * * * *

The SRT Trigger is wonderful; however, this pistol may be large for some people (mainly smaller handed people). I find the slide-release and the decocker easy to manipulate, even under stress. People unfamiliar with decocker’s or DA/SA pistols should spend a few extra sessions at the range before committing this gun to home/personal defense duties.

Reliability * * * * *

It’s a SIG. I’ve put over 1600 rounds of ammo through her, and even put her through two rounds of Tuesday Night Steel (USPSA style matches). Not a single FTF or FTE. I currently carry the P220 Elite with Speer Gold Dot 230-gr ammo, but have tried everything from Winchester PDX to WWB 230-gr JHPs and haven’t had any issues at all.

Customize This * *

This model already comes with SIGLITE night sights and factory rosewood grips. It offers an accessory rail for mounting a flashlight and/or laser combo. Other than that, a quality holster is all you’ll need for general or CCW carrying.

Overall Rating * * * *

One of my favorite SIG’s to date. The SRT trigger is the icing on the cake.