Gun Review: CZ75 SP-01 Tactical

During the 1980’s, police agencies across this country began questioning the use of revolvers as the standard issue weapon. While there were undoubtedly numerous supporters of the “trusty-six,” agency captains and directors soon realized that times were changing. Gang-bangers, drug-runners, bank-robbers, and other ill-spirited people often had access to sub-machine and other semi-automatic weapons. Police departments were obviously loosing the upper-hand, and they were losing it fast . . .

There were as many arguments for switching to semi-autos as there were reasons to stay with revolvers. Some agencies claimed that shootings typically lasted less than seven seconds and officers only had an opportunity to shoot 3 or 4 rounds. Other agencies claimed that semi-autos weren’t reliable enough. Point taken, but some agencies even went as far as calling the 9mm round “too powerful” with “too high a velocity”—fearing that it would pass through an assailant and strike a civilian.

Slowly but surely, the cops transitioned to semi-automatic pistols (and rifles). It was far from easy, and there are reports of some agencies not making the full “semi-auto switch” until the mid 1990’s. Call it ignorance, call it arrogance, but there are some kids at the playground who just can’t play nice. Eventually, the men and women “in blue” realized the advantages of 17+ round capacities. The 9mm proved to be effective, and a middle-of-the-road compromise between power and recoil.

The term Wonder Nine was used to describe these new service pistols. Pistols such as the Browning Hi-Power and S&W Model 59 incorporated several valuable features for a combat pistol. With double-stack magazines, DA/SA triggers, drop safeties, and modern polymer and alloys used for construction, these pistols were built with the emphasis on safety, speed, and lots and lots of ammo.

One of the pistols long considered a Wonder Nine is the CZ-75. Designed in 1975 by Česká zbrojovka Uherský Brod, the CZ 75 has been in service since 1976. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until 1993 that the first CZ 75 legally made it to the United States. Since then, it has gained popularity, almost to what can be considered a “cult status” (not to be confused with Colt status!). The popularity of CZ pistols in IPSC and IDPA competitions can be partially due to CZ-shooters Adam Tyc and Angus Hobdell. Both have won and performed well in championships held around the world.

First Impressions

CZ offers the 75-series pistol in over a dozen different variations, everything from a compact pistol, to an all-out Open-Class Ready IPSC race gun. As you may have noticed, the particular CZ pistol on the bench today is a CZ 75 SP-01 Tactical. This “Tacticool” variant of the SP-01 is available in both 9mm and .40S&W, but our tester is a 9mm.

Other than the accessory rail, there’s one main difference between the SP-01 Tactical and the standard SP-01: the Tactical model utilizes an ambidextrous decocker in place of the manual safety. For those who know me or are familiar with my other TTAG reviews, I don’t much care for DA/SA guns with safeties. The actual DA/SA setup was designed to be “safe”; an external safety is too much redundancy in a combat pistol. The decocker allows an easy and safe way to prepare the pistol for carry.

One of the first things you notice about the SP-01 when you pick it up: the pistol feels rock solid. Unlike most SIG and Beretta pistols, the CZ is all steel – frame and slide. Unfortunately, this means the CZ is heavy – over 38 ounces heavy. For most shooters, this will pretty much relegate this pistol to a “service pistol” or nightstand duties. Those of us who prefer to carry a full-size pistol will realize that the CZ is similar in weight to a full-size M1911. At a very minimum, you will want to invest in a quality holster and thick gun belt.

Fully loaded, the SP-01 Tactical carries a “Farago Approved” 18+1 in 9mm. Those who choose the .40S&W caliber will notice a sharp drop in carry capacity – 12+1. This is the case with many other combat pistols. Even though the CZ 75 was developed 15 years before the development of the .40S&W round, I was surprised to learn that CZ hasn’t tried to maximize the .40S&W magazine to accommodate more rounds. Of course, doing so would likely mean a change in grip size, so perhaps the ability to interchange parts is more important to CZ (and perhaps to armorer’s around the world) than a slight increase in magazine capacity.

Other features of the SP-01 Tactical include 3-dot tritium night sights, corrosion-resistant black polycoat finish, and contoured rubber grip panels. Overall, the pistol is well-finished and I was excited to get this pistol to the range to see how she would shoot.

At the range…

I put the CZ through the same smorgasbord of 9mm that I put the Beretta 92A1 a few months back in hopes of finding one that she wouldn’t like. Over all, about 600 rounds went through this pistol in my first outing, consisting mostly of Winchester WWB 115-gr FMJ. I like WWB, although it can get a back rap some times. I find it to be consistent, cheap, relatively clean, and always in abundant supply at Wal-Mart. I had some left-over Remington UMC 115-gr FMJ from the 92A1 testing, and I made sure to pick up some Winchester PDX ammo as well.

The CZ has to be one of the lightest recoiling 9mm pistols I have ever shot – even lighter than a M1911 chambered for the same round. The grip, which mind you is home to an 18-round magazine, is surprisingly thin and comfortable. The rubber on the grips is hard to describe in words – not “tacky” but certainly not like a hard plastic. CZ certainly sourced out a rubber compound that is what I would consider “perfect” for a combat pistol.

Accuracy of the SP-01 Tactical was excellent, as good as my XDm and maybe a tad better than the Beretta 92A1. At 7-yards, the PDX 124-gr +P grouped the tightest and had the most clovers. This is the first time where a JHP round has actually shot better for me than a FMJ, so this was a big day for me. At 11-yards, all rounds shot equally well.

When I had the pistol at my house, I noticed that one of the magazines wouldn’t activate the slide-stop. It turned out to be a bit dirty and have a slightly bent feed lip. I’m not sure if it came that way from the factory, or if the owner of this pistol had dropped it before, but a quick wipe with a mag-brush and a quick touch-up with a wooden dowel fixed the problem. I marked the magazine with a marker to make sure I kept track of it at the range to see if it was problematic.

It turns out that it wasn’t. The CZ handled all rounds without a hitch. While I shot all of the UMC and PDX ammo, I had a first-time shooter shot the majority of the WWB ammo. With 400 rounds of limp-writing and constantly-searching grip placement, there wasn’t a single FTF, FTE, or FTL – regardless of what magazine was used. Whether due to design or the sheer weight of this pistol, it cycles reliably and flawlessly.

Back home…

When I got back in the shop, stripping and cleaning the CZ was easy enough. Not “rotate this lever and your done” easy like a SIG or XD/XDm, but easy nonetheless. The frame and slide both have a little mark on each. Line them up, push out the slide-stop from the right, and you’re done. However, those with weak fingers or a pistol that hasn’t been shot much may find it easier to use the handle of a screwdriver or similar to push the pin out.

With 600 rounds pushed through in a single outing, the CZ was surprising easy to clean. Typically, after that many rounds I find that I need to use a soft bristled brush to clean the feed-ramp and throat areas. When shooting a lot of UMC or Wolf ammo, I often need to resort to a bronze-bristled brush. Since it has been well documented that the average gun-owner does more harm to a firearm while cleaning it than actually shooting, I try to stick to the basics. The CZ barrel simply wiped clean with some M7 Pro and a microfiber cloth. The rest of the pistol cleaned up in similar fashion.

Final thoughts…

The CZ is a great combat pistol and certainly a great starter gun for people looking to get into pistol competition. The tritium-lamped sights are easy to acquire and are fast on target. Recoil from this 9mm feels like shooting a BB-gun. One thing I did notice was that the slide is very stiff – particularly for a gun that I would consider to be “broken in”, and that chambering a round takes quite a bit of grip pressure. Something to keep in mind for those who have weaker hands or grip strength.

The decocker is in a well enough place and works as advertised. I have large hands and found it easier to decock the hammer with my weak (left) hand thumb. On my SIG pistols, the decocker naturally falls under my strong (right) hand thumb, but then again I’ve been shooting SIG’s for quite some time. The CZ decocker didn’t feel unnatural; it was just something that I noticed.

Handling and ergonomics are what you would expect on a pistol that has been around for over a quarter century. The size, shape, and reach are designed to accommodate a wide range of shooters. As mentioned earlier, the rubber grip panels provide a nice feel and have swells and relief cuts in the right areas. The beavertail isn’t really necessary for a 9mm chambered pistol, but is appreciated when unholstering as it provides the same index each time. The beavertail also provides a nice “pinch” in the web of my strong hand, increasing the speed and accuracy of follow-up shots.

The trigger on the CZ is perfectly acceptable for a combat pistol. While certainly better than a Beretta, it isn’t nearly as smooth as a Glock or XDm. And it certainly isn’t a SIG. The DA trigger pull has some stacking and feels a bit gravely, something that may or may not go away after a few thousand more rounds. The SA trigger has a fair amount of take-up and doesn’t break cleanly like I prefer. Instead, the CZ’s trigger has a little bit of “squish” just before breaking. In either mode, the trigger isn’t difficult to master, and I was quickly getting tight groups in both DA and SA mode.

The SP-01 Tactical is well built, reliable, and good looking (that’s important!). It has some heft, but for those who will carry the SP-01 Tactical will appreciate the almost none existent recoil. The 18+1 capacity makes this a great home-defense option or full-size service pistol for those who need one.

Special thanks to J.B. for letting me borrow another great combat 9mm!

SPECIFICATIONS

Weight: 2.4lbs
Overall Length: 8.2in
Barrel Length: 4.7in
Height: 5.8in
Width: 1.5in
Frame: Steel
Grip: Molded Rubber
Barrel: Cold hammer forged
Trigger: DA/SA
Sights: Fixed, tritium lamped
Safety: decocker, Safety Stop on Hammer, Firing Pin Safety

RATINGS (out of five)

Style * * *
For DA/SA pistols, the CZ SP-01 Tactical looks about as good as you can get. Throw in a set of rosewood or hardwood grips and I’ll add another star!

Ergonomics * * * *
Probably the skinniest double-stack 9mm I’ve ever shot. Everything is well placed and within reach for most shooters looking for a full-size service pistol.

Reliability * * * * *
So far so good. I had no issues with the CZ and the owner tells me that it has functioned flawlessly for him as well.  I contemplated only giving 4 stars because of the one magazine that wouldn’t lock the slide back. Since it was obviously dented, I will chalk it up to a magazine issue and not a gun issue.

Customizable * *
Already equipped with night sights and a rail. For home duty, those who want a laser and/or light combo have the space and option to do so. I wouldn’t mind seeing how this pistol looks with some nice wood grips, but I don’t know if I would trade in those factory grips in for anything else… they’re that good!

Overall Rating * * * *
Probably not going to replace SIG as my favorite DA/SA pistol, but the CZ certainly gives it a run for its money, especially considering that the CZ is a couple of hundred dollars cheaper! A trigger upgrade would be nice though…