Gun Review: FN Five-SeveN

For some gun gurus, the Five-SeveN is the handgun equivalent of the world’s most fire-proof paper hat. It’s a brilliant technical achievement but who cares? For one thing, you’re more likely to find Keira Knightley at Country Buffet than a box of 5.7×28mm ammo at K-Mart. For another, firing-off a hundred rounds of Five-SeveN ammo costs more than draining a particularly good bottle of Scotch. As for the weapon itself, you can buy two Springfield XD’s for the price of one of FN’s strangely-chambered pistols. Did I mention that the Five-SeveN’s safety sits on the side of the gun’s barrel? Or that the grip is longer (end-to-end) than War and Peace? All of which makes the Five-SeveN a novelty gun for impressing range rovers who Glock around the clock. Right?

In the run-up to International Elvis Tribute Week, let’s put it this way: 23,000 Five-SeveN buyers can’t all be wrong. That’s the annual total. So I reckon the majority of Five-SeveN USG (United States Government) buyers have seen beyond the obvious drawbacks of owning an expensive gun in an obscure caliber to appreciate a weapon with genuine character and utility. What do they see in the the Five-SeveN? Let’s start with the pistol’s most obvious advantage: weight.

The Five-SeveN is as light as an episode of iCarly. Unloaded, the full-size handgun tips the scales at 617 grams (1.36 lbs.). Picking up the weapon for the first time, you’d swear the featherweight firearm is an Airsoft replica of itself. But the most plastic feeling of plastic-feeling polymer pistols is not an airport screener’s worst nightmare. The Five-SeveN’s Belgian manufacturers fashion the gun’s polymer-encased slide, barrel, trigger, springs, pins and various other mission critical bits from steel.

When FN USA introduced the gun to the American market a decade ago, customer Support Manager Bob Ailes used to tell buyers to carry it in a paper bag. These days, Sidearmor (above), Blade Tech, Galco and others offers custom holsters for the Five-SeveN’s distinctive shape. Mag holders? It’s Blackhawk or nothing. Still, if you’re looking to travel light whilst concealing a “proper” sized gun (4.75″ barrel), the Five-SeveN’s good to stow. Yes but . . .

The Five-SeveN is only slightly lighter than a Glock 17. The Austrian Mack Daddy weighs-in at 625 grams (1.39 lbs.). Gentlemen, add your bullets! Load the Five-SeveN with 20 of those needle-nosed 5.7×28mm cartridges and you’re aiming 744 grams (1.64 lbs.) of Belgian bad-ass at your target. Insert 17 9mm rounds into a Glock’s polymer pistol and you’re schlepping nearasdammit two pounds of handgun. A fully-loaded Glock 17 with a standard magazine gives up three bullets and about a half a pound of heft to the Five-SeveN.

And now for the twist . . .

As I pointed out in my ArmaLite 24-15C review, a heavy gun can be a good thing, not a bad thing. In particular, slight men and women and elderly people benefit from firing larger caliber bullets from a bigger, heavier gun. It reduces limp-wristing, flinching (which does absolutely nothing for accuracy) and removes a general preference to forgo range time for something more pleasurable like, say, paying bills. Which is why Glock’s turning to new technology to reduce recoil.

The Five-SeveN doesn’t need no stinkin’ dual recoil spring. Credit the smaller, lighter round for which the Five-SeveN was created. No question: the 5.7×28mm cartridge is a diddy thing. FN’s SS195 cartridge (the best choice for self-defense) is a 27-grain projectile, as compared to the average 9mm bullet’s 115 – 147-grain tally.

Although the FN’s muzzle flash would suit a small flame thrower, the Five-SeveN kicks like a slightly peeved gerbil; roughly 30 percent less than a 9mm bullet. Muzzle flip is simply not an issue. So much [not] so that this FN deserves an intra-consonant “u”. Punching holes or plinking with the Five-SeveN is Big Fun, with an amateur-friendly kill zone of 50 to 100 feet.

The Five-SeveN’s entirely endearing low-recoil also makes it possible for USG owners to grab their weapon in a crisis knowing that the only intimidation involved will be felt by those poor unfortunate souls who find themselves on the business end of a gun made in René Magritte’s homeland. Five-SeveN-istas will be able to fire quickly and very, very accurately.

Provided they’ve got a big enough hand. To accomodate that 20 bullet magazine (optional 30), the Five-Seven’s grip is as wide as a Glock’s, which is way too wide for a lot of small-handed shooters (hence the new Glock 23’s interchangeable backstraps.) To compensate for the big honking handle, the Five-SeveN’s grip texture is extremely aggressive. If you grab a gun as hard as I do, the Five-SeveN leaves a lasting impression—on the last three fingers of your strong hand.

Fortunately, there’s only 2.75 inches between the ridged trigger and backstrap. Activating the Five-SeveN’s pivoting internal striker-fire hammer is well worth the trip. After about 0.13 of an inch of take-up, the gun delivers a clean, crisp 4.5-pound pull, with no over-travel and near instant reset. Provided you remember to switch off the snout-mounted safety.

Yes, there is that. The Five-SeveN’s safety is, uh, unconventional. Training your brain to switch it off in a high-stress situation will require the usual 3000 round re-education process. At full retail, that’s $1800 worth of bullets. More importantly (for some), if you place your trigger finger as high as possible on the barrel (as I do), you can’t use your left thumb to deactivate the safety. Both digits are touching it at the same time; a recipe for confusion. The best way to flip off the safety: use your trigger finger.

On one hand (so to speak), the Five-SeveN’s safety forces you to NOT fire immediately. There’s your trigger discipline (in the proper place too). On the other hand, the Five-SeveN’s safety forces you to NOT fire immediately. A lot of self-defense pistoleros—guys and gals holstering Glocks, Springfields, M&Ps and the like—want to introduce an extra step into the firing process almost as much as they want to adopt Kevin Costner’s eyes-closed shooting technique from The Bodyguard.

Many of these combat-oriented shooters are concerned about the Five-SeveN’s stopping power. And with good reason. In its defense (or yours), penetration is not an issue. The Five-SeveN sends lead-free SS195 hollow-point jacketed bullet downrange at 1950 feet per second, generating some 220 ft-lbs. of muzzle energy. The SS195 round penetrates traditional ballistic gelatin (in the usual testing process) to a depth of 10.5 to 11 inches.

More to the point (so to speak), the SS195 round is designed to tumble and yaw when it hits its target, creating a wound channel as wide as the bullet is tall (21.6-mm or .85 in). The Secret Service is down with that. But then they get the law enforcement-only SS198LF cartridge. That bullet’s 2050 FPS velocity gives the feds body armor-piercing capabilities while maintaining the round’s flat-shooting flight characteristics and loss of lethality at 550 to 750 yards (vs. approximately one mile for a 9mm bullet).

And the taxpayer picks up the tab. Even shooters who value the Five-SeveN’s light weight, low recoil, amazing accuracy and 20-bullet capacity above bullet size have to pause before committing themselves to FN’s thousand-dollar pistol and its single-source, premium-priced ammo ($30 for a box of 50 cartridges). Controversy may have kept the Five-SeveN in the public eye, but price has kept it out of gun buyers’ collective grasp.

FN is trying to convince American bullet-makers to help Five-SeveN owners feed their USG without breaking the bank. But FN can’t do anything about the imported gun’s elevated price point. And so the Five-SeveN will never find mainstream success. But if you march to the beat of a different drummer with platinum plastic in your wallet, the Five-SeveN is a quirky but justifiable purchase. Hats off to FN.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Caliber: 5.7×28mm
Barrel: 4.8 inches
Overall Length: 8.2 inches
Weight (unloaded): 625 grams (1.39 lbs.)
Grips: Polymer
Sights: Fixed 3-dot combat sights with optional self-luminous tritium elements
Action: SA, delayed blowback
Finish: Black
Capacity: 20 (10 where restricted)
Price: $1180

RATINGS (Out of Five):

Style * * *
Our all-black tester was handsome enough, but a bit fussy and generic.

Ergonomics (carry) * * * * *
It’s a big (accurate) and light (easy to carry) weapon. What’s not to like? Unless you want something smaller.

Ergonomics (firing) * * * *
Ridiculously low recoil. Excellent trigger. Final star removed for the snout-mounted safety. I understand its benefits and could train to get used to it, but I don’t want to.

Reliability – Not Rated
No failures to feed, but FN didn’t send enough rounds to make a proper determination.

Customize This * * * * *
The Five-SeveN’s under-nose rail has plenty of room for lights and lasers. If you consider a 30-bullet magazine as customization, then way-hey!

Overall Rating * * *
Unique, fascinating and fun. But ammo cost and funky safety limit the appeal.