By Vince Anderson
It is a great time to buy a gun! Specifically, a striker-fired pistol. Manufacturers have seemingly finally figured out that the design GLOCK made famous is here to stay, and all of the big players now have their own take on the striker-fired plastic fantastic.
We’re going to take a quick look at nine of the modern striker-fired offerings (in alphabetical order of manufacturer). It’s important to note that the following is just one person’s observations of one sample of each pistol. Fifteen rounds were fired off-hand (i.e. not benched) at seven yards with the same 124 grain FMJ ammo. Most, if not all, of the pistols are offered in various calibers and sizes, but for this article the 9mm full-sized were reviewed. With nine pistols to cover, each review is relatively basic (in the interest of space).
The FNS is a full-sized pistol from the renown Belgian firearm manufacturer Fabrique Nationale d’Herstal (often referred to as FNH or just FN). The FNS has a rather basic appearance. It’s not quite as spartan as the GLOCK, but it certainly isn’t the prom queen of the bunch. It is the foreign exchange student that has that certain je-ne-sais-quoi that really intrigues you when you spend some time with her.
The grip appearance is a little blocky, but the grip texture is really surprising. It offers a solid grip, and almost may be a touch pokey. Slide serrations both front and rear that aren’t particularly noteworthy. The trigger is hinged, and seems to have less of a curve to it than most of the others. It isn’t quite flat faced, as has become popular in aftermarket offerings.
The sample that was shot had a manual safety, but the FNS is offered sans safety. One notable about the pistol is the magazine release button. It’s somewhat oval shaped, and kind of domed as opposed to a flat button. It’s also completely ambidextrous, as a push button. The trigger pull has a bit of a springy feel to it, not a crisp break. Still, it was better than several of the others and can safely be called average.
GLOCK 17 (Gen 4)
GLOCK is the standard for striker-fired pistols. Although Gaston Glock did not invent the striker-fired design, or even create the first polymer striker-fired pistol, the GLOCK 17 is the pistol that made it all mainstream. GLOCK didn’t exist until some of the other manufacturers had already been making firearms for over a century, but they quickly rose to the top of the game.
The pistol is just about the definition of utilitarian. It’s so ugly it’s past so-ugly-it’s-cute and just plain fugly. The GLOCK is known for to-Hell-and-back reliability, easy maintenance and having a grip like a 2×4. The fourth generation improves on the grips a little. They offer interchangeable backstraps, better grip texture and a larger magazine release.
GLOCK’s trigger is completely mediocre. It uses a trigger “dingus” as a safety device. There’s some take-up, a bit of give as it fully cocks the striker and then the break. The reset is absolutely average. Although the GLOCK is the standard, it doesn’t really set the standard, which is why a lot of GLOCK owners make use of the expansive aftermarket options to customize their pistol to fit their tastes.
Heckler & Koch VP9
H&K started after WWII and is known for high quality firearms, often used by top-notch military and law enforcement agencies. You may or may not know that it was actually H&K that made the first polymer framed, striker-fired pistol, a dozen years before the GLOCK. But the VP70 was even uglier than the GLOCK, had a worse trigger and was not a commercial success by any standard. H&K had another striker-fired pistol, the P7, that was fairly successful (and now coveted) before they moved on and made excellent polymer framed, hammer fired pistols. They recently went back to having a striker-fired offering with the VP9
The VP9 is sleek and sexy. Many people say it just melts into your hand. In addition to front and rear serrations, the VP9 introduced charging supports, which are “ears” at the rear of the pistol to aid gripping the slide to rack it. In addition to changeable backstraps, they also have changeable side panels which allow the user to configure the grip something like 27 different ways.
The VP9 uses a paddle style magazine release, which is foreign to many American shooters, but embraced by many at the same time. It is unknown if the button magazine release version will be released in the States. The trigger of the VP9 is in the top three of the group. There is little bit of take-up, the slightest creep and then a fairly clean break. The reset is both tactile and audible. The trigger uses a blade/dingus like the GLOCK as a safety.
Ruger American Pistol
Sturm, Ruger & Company may sound German, but they are American and all of their firearms are 100% American made. Ruger is historically known for their revolvers, .22 pistols and rifles, and outfitting the A-Team with Mini-14s. They’ve seen major success with their subcompact/pocket pistols and their latest offering to the polymer striker-fired world is the Ruger American Pistol.
The Ruger American Pistol has nice lines, even if it looks somehow sinewy. The pistol is relatively heavy for a polymer pistol, but the upside is that it makes for a soft-recoiling firearm. Like the GLOCK, the slide is only serrated at the rear. The grip of the Ruger feels smaller than the others, but does have changeable straps. The grips themselves are not as textured as the other pistols. The Ruger uses a blade-style trigger safety. The trigger pull itself leaves a bit to be desired. It is rather mushy or spongy, and has pretty long reset.
SIG Sauer P320 (Carry)
Like H&K, SIG is known for high quality, hammer fired pistols. SIG ventured into the polymer framed, striker-fired world with the P320, which recently won the military’s Modular Handgun System competition, and will be known in the military circles as the M17.
The foundation of the P320 is the P250. SIG created modularity by making the fire control unit the serialized part and offering various slide and grip frame combinations. Currently the P320 is offered in Full Sized, Compact, Carry (full length grip, compact length slide), and Sub-Compact. Each grip frame style is offered in small, medium and large. Additionally, fire control units and grip modules are the same across 9mm, .40 S&W and .357 SIG, so caliber can be changed with slide and magazine changes.
The P320 may not be as slick looking as the VP9, but it has a clean, modern look. It has serrations front and rear. The grip has a short beavertail and is taller than the other pistols in the group. The P320 is the only pistol of the group that does not use a passive trigger safety. It does have a slightly heavier trigger than the others, but it is top three with the VP9 and PPQ. There is very little slack and a nice clean break (even if it could be ½ pound or so lighter). The positive reset is really good as well.
Smith & Wesson M&P9
Smith & Wesson has been making firearms longer than any of the other manufactures in the group (founded in 1852). S&W initially countered GLOCK with the Sigma in the early ‘90s. The Sigma was practically a copy of GLOCK, and even resulted in a lawsuit settlement. After the turn of the millennium, they launched the M&P line, which has been a great commercial success. The M&P has recently been updated to version 2.0, improving the grip and trigger.
S&W saw some mixed success eating into the domination GLOCK enjoys in the law enforcement market. The M&P offers different sized backstraps to accommodate shooters’ different hand sizes, with reasonable friction to the grips. The trigger on the M&P uses a hinged trigger as opposed to the more common blade dingus. The trigger pull is generally considered gritty, with a so-so reset, placing it in the bottom third of the bunch.
Although there isn’t quite the aftermarket support for the M&P as the GLOCK, there are options to improve the trigger. Overall the M&P is a fine pistol, but it just doesn’t seem to have a soul to it. The improvements made with the 2.0 may be just what is called for. The question is: why did it take so long?
Springfield Armory XD(M)
Springfield Amory, Inc. capitalized on the name of the former government arsenal that dated back to George Washington. Much of what they made was clones of what the original Springfield Armory made: 1911s and M14s. Around 2002, they started importing a Croatian made pistol, the HS2000, but changed the name to the XD to market it in the United States. Later, they released the XD(M), with the M standing for a match grade barrel. The trigger was also updated and interchangeable backstraps were incorporated.
The XD(M) has several barrel lengths for the full sized grip, the one pictured below is the shortest 3.8” barrel. The XD(M) uses a bladed trigger safety, but also has another passive grip safety. The grips are decent, with larger patterns than others. The trigger pull is very mushy; there is no take up to a wall then a break, just steady rearward pressure will fire the pistol. The reset is also rather indistinct. That is not to say it is a bad trigger, just different than many of the striker offerings.
Steyr Arms is the American subsidiary of historical Austrian firearm manufacturer Steyr-Mannlicher. Steyr is most famous for their bullpup rifle, the AUG. Wilhelm Bubits, who worked closely with GLOCK, was brought on by Steyr to design a pistol which became the L9-A1. The influence of the background with GLOCK can be felt in the grip angle of the Steyr.
Like the Steyr AUG, the L9-A1 has a futuristic appearance. The slide is as short (height-wise) as you can possible make one. It makes for a very low bore axis, for those who that is important to. Unique to the L9-A1 is the sight system.
The front sight is a triangle, with a triangular cut out in the rear sight, as opposed to the standard front post and notched rear, common to most pistols. The sights work the same way, just line up the tops of the sights. However, some may find getting proper height alignment challenging at first. The trigger uses a blade safety and has a very nice, smooth trigger pull. The reset is rather short, but is almost imperceptible.
Walther PPQ (M2)
Walther is known as the maker of James Bond’s pistols. Okay, maybe he didn’t want to give up his Beretta, but he’s been a Walther man for decades now. Walther entered the polymer, striker-fired market in 1997 with the P99. It was somewhat unusual in that it could be carried as a DA/SA trigger. Although not adopted by US law enforcement agencies, it is used across Europe. One of the variants of the P99, the P99QA, evolved into the PPQ, which was released in 2011.
The PPQ has arguably the best striker-fired factory trigger. After depressing the safety blade, there is a relatively long take up of slack, but then there is a relatively light, very crisp break. Some feel the trigger is actually too light for a carry pistol. The reset is very short and quite positive. The original PPQ had paddle-style magazine release levers on the trigger guard, like its P99 predecessor. In 2013, Walther introduced the PPQ M2, which uses a push-button release common in America. Walther uses changeable backstraps like many of the others. The grip is almost as ergonomic as the VP9, but the factory stippling leaves a bit to be desired.
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The purpose of this review is not to pick a winner or rank them from the best to worst; pistol preference is very subjective. Additionally, each pistol tested was a sample size of one, handled and fired by one shooter. Ultimately, all of these pistols tested pushed a 124 grain projectile down range and did so more accurately than this shooter is capable of. The real differences between the pistols are how the end-user interfaces with them. Use this review as a starting point, try out the pistols that interest you the most, and buy the one you shoot the best.
As variety is the spice of life, shooters who enjoy the striker-fired platform can be excited that two more manufacturers are entering the fray soon. CZ is bringing the P-10 C to the table and Beretta has tossed their hat in the ring with their APX. Both have gotten excellent early reviews and are much anticipated. It truly is a great time to buy a striker fired pistol!