(This is a reader gun review contest entry, click here for more details.)
By Charles Thompson
When I saw the first press release for the SIG SAUER P320, I was immediately intrigued. I had on several prior occasions handled the SIG P250 and liked how it felt in my hand. However, I couldn’t get past the DAO trigger. The modularity, while an interesting selling point, also seemed a bit gimmicky to me. For those of you who don’t know, the P320 is basically a P250, with a slightly different slide look. And the P320 is striker-fired fired. In fact, P250 magazines and frames are interchangeable with the P320. There are supposedly some barrels that can be swapped between the two, but the fire control unit and the slide are completely different. Because the dimensions between the pistols are essentially the same, most P250 holsters will accommodate the P320, so you don’t have to wait around for all the holster manufacturers to get caught up. The P320 Compact Carry is the midsized gun from among three different frame sizes . . .
The closest parallel would be the G19 in the GLOCK 9mm lineup. Its purpose is for carry, as the name would suggest. But everyone makes a compact, polymer, striker-fired pistol these days and SIG is reeeaaalllly late to the party. So, how does the P320 stack up to the competition, specifically the reigning heavyweight champion of the plastic-fantastics, das GLOCK? Is it worth the wait?
Polymer duty pistols are just that; duty pistols. They don’t have to look good to be effective, but if they do look good, it’s an added bonus. The P320 probably won’t win any prizes with most people for appearance alone, but it is definitely less brick-like than a utilitarian/utopian/Tupperware GLOCK brand GLOCK. Personally, I think the P320 is quite comely and, after all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
The P320 has a simple and yet refined look to it that appeals to the eye but doesn’t overwhelm you. SIG decided to eschew the traditional lines on the slide from their other pistols, instead going with a gradual, tapered flow down to the muzzle. I suspect this was as much about differentiating the P320 from the P250 as it was about trying to make the pistol look good.
The front slide serrations are a nice touch, if nothing else, and for all you operators out there, you will be able to press-check to your heart’s content. As all duty pistols should, the P320 comes with a 4-slot rail to attach lights, lasers and such to. The trigger guard is a very squared-off affair, having a flat face with serrations for those of you who like to rest your off-hand finger there. Some people have complained that the polymer frame looks chintzy. It does have a more matte finish than many other polymer pistols, which I’ll get to later. All-in-all, it’s a nice looking pistol, as far as polymer guns go.
I, for one, love the P320’s ergonomics. It seems to fit my hand perfectly. But if it doesn’t quite fit your hand size, have no fear; SIG has an answer for you. As you may have noticed, one of the selling points of the P320 is its modularity. Within each frame size, there are three different grip sizes (small, medium, and large) to allow the shooter to choose the one that fits his or her hand the best. All of the pistols ship with a medium sized grip module, which just so happens to fit my hands perfectly. I consider my hands to be average in size, which is probably why SIG defaults to the medium as the standard compliment.
The different grips will change the overall circumference of the grip, to include palm swells, which provides a more natural feel then just extending the length of the grip with a back strap (cough…GLOCK…cough). The downside, however, is that if you want to try a different grip size, you will have to go buy the second frame, which will run you about $45 – $50 after shipping.
In their infinite wisdom, SIG doesn’t have an exchange program to swap out your medium grip for a small or large, which they absolutely should. That means you’ll be stuck with a second, useless grip module (unless you like to do coating, stippling, and cut-down experiments). And good luck selling that extra medium grip because everyone else already has the one that came with their own gun. Oh, and the frames aren’t even available yet. You could get a P250 frame, but it can be hard to come by the non-medium sizes. I’m not going to lie, this is a total fail by SIG and they need to correct it, and soon.
The grip angle is much more vertical than most other brands, even some of SIG’s own offerings. It may take some getting used to because you will naturally want to point the weapon a little low until you get accustomed to the different angle.
The magazine release can be reversed for either right- hand or left-hand shooters. It’s a bit triangular in shape and has serrations on it for a positive, tactile feel. I can easily reach it with my thumb without having to adjust my grip at all. The slide stop lever is fully ambidextrous and very conveniently placed towards the rear of slide. This makes releasing the slide one-handed extremely easy. In fact, I don’t think I have ever used a slide release this easy before in my life.
Another thing that will take some getting used to is the P320’s high bore axis, and boy is it high for a striker-fired gun. However, while I did notice a bit more muzzle flip than I get from my M&P9c, it wasn’t to the point that I felt like I couldn’t quickly get back on target. Like everything else, YMMV. I can’t speak to how much more snappy the .40S&W/.357SIG and coming .45 ACP version will be. For the 9mm, though, it was a pleasure to shoot. I ran several hundred rounds through it one session and didn’t experience any discomfort.
The slide serrations are comfortable and the slide racks easily with one exception; the magazine springs come from the factory extremely stiff. Consequently, when you have a fully-loaded magazine inserted in the mag well, and the slide is in battery, the upward pressure from the magazine spring makes racking the slide a bit more difficult. It’s doable, but a little stiff.
I really like how SIG made a cut in the bottom of the grip to allow the user to grab the magazine and pull it from the magazine well more easily in the event that debris is preventing the magazine from dropping freely. It’s a nice touch that I wish more manufacturers would pay attention to. The texturing on the frame is very nice; not too aggressive, but allows for a very secure grip. It’s very similar to a sandpaper style grip tape.
The P320 Compact Carry ships with either standard 3-dot contrast sights or SIGLITE Night Sights. Both are drift adjustable and of metal construction. There is a difference of about $40 – $50 between the two options. Mine came with the night sights, and I will speak to the effectiveness of them below in the accuracy section.
There is nothing more irritating than picking up a >$500 gun from a major manufacturer only to find that the trigger is terrible. You would think that companies would try to get it right the first time, rather than rush the pistol to market only to have to fix it later. And even after the fix still have a third party manufacturer make a better upgrade kit that makes their stock trigger look like a Pinto sitting next to 1967 Mustang Shelby Cobra…I’m looking at you Smith and Wesson… seriously. I am happy to report that SIG decided to get it right the first time, producing a trigger that has very little take-up, minimal over-travel, and a nice, short reset. The break is crisp and clean. SIG lists the trigger weight at 5.5 to 7.5 lbs. I measured the pull weight with my trigger scale and it broke consistently around 5.5 – 6.0 lbs. I took 20 measurements and got the following results
Min: 5.5 lbs Mean: 5.75 lbs Mode: 5.5 lbs (12/20 observations)
Max: 6.5 lbs Median: 5.5 lbs
Keep in mind that these measurements are not out of the box. They were taken after firing 500 rounds. I’m not going to say that the trigger is as good as the Walther PPQ, but it is very, very close. It is more than acceptable in a duty gun and translates over to some very satisfying accuracy, as I will show below. The trigger is all metal and has a smooth face, though it is available with a GLOCK style trigger safety. Personally, I hate plastic triggers and trigger mounted safeties, so this is a nice touch from SIG, in my opinion.
Fit and Finish
As I mentioned before, the polymer seems a bit on the cheaper side based on look and feel. I don’t really know much about polymers, so I can’t say for sure if it is lower quality or not. Based on my experience so far, I don’t think it translates over to any quality concerns in the frame when it comes to operation. However, I have noticed that it is starting to show some wear from using the takedown lever and from holstering and un-holstering, and I have only had the gun about 3 month now, which is rather disappointing. The slide finish is Nitron® that appears grayish-black in most lighting. It appears to be good quality and fairly resilient, as evidenced by the fact that I banged it around quite a bit at the range and it has nary a scratch to show for it. The slide rides on 4 steel contact points/rails that are part of the modular fire control unit. Lock up is solid and reliability is superb. The dual captured recoil spring has a steel guide rod and all of the controls are metal, including the magazine release. In fact, the only plastic I can find on this gun is the grip frame module itself and in the magazine. Every single other part on this gun appears to be made of metal. There may be an exception, but I have yet to find it. As far as the slide, barrel and fire-control unit go, it can all be summed up with this; Classic, West-German style SIG quality. The magazines are metal with plastic base plates and plastic followers. They are supposedly made by MecGar, so you know they are solid quality. All of mine are stamped “Made in Italy.” I picked up two additional 17 round magazines which function perfectly in the smaller frames.
Disassembly and Modularity
Disassembly is fairly straight forward. Remove magazine, lock slide to the rear, rotate the takedown lever, release the slide and ride it off the frame. Remove the recoil spring and barrel pretty much like every other semi-auto.
For all you Safety Sallys out there, note that the operation did not require the trigger to be pulled. The slide must be locked to the rear, ensuring that a visual inspection can be made of the chamber. Also, the takedown lever cannot be rotated with the slide in battery or a magazine inserted. Reassembly is just as easy. Insert the barrel and spring into the slide, guide the slide back onto the rails and lock to the rear (make sure the takedown lever is the down position). Rotate the takedown lever up, release the slide and you are done.
To do a caliber swap or to change out the grip module, simply remove the slide as before and then pull the takedown lever out the frame. Then, push the fire control unit forward and lift out. Honestly, I would still disassemble to this level just for cleaning because it is so much easier to get in all the nooks and crannies. The P320 is definitely the easiest-to-clean semi-auto I have ever used.
Grab your other frame, pop the unit in, reinsert the takedown lever (this admittedly takes some practice), reassemble as before, and you’re done.
Since we are talking about the modularity here, let’s talk about its real-world application. First, it’s kind of neat, and the ease of cleaning is an awesome bonus. Since only the fire control unit is serialized, the ability to order all the conversion parts and have them delivered to your door is really cool. However, unless they can get the street price of the caliber conversion kits under $250, then I don’t see the modular aspect being any more successful than the P250. Where I did see some value, however, is swapping out the frame sizes on the same size slide. So, that is what I did. I found a P250 subcompact frame (it took forever to find one in stock) and ordered a 12 round subcompact magazine. All told, it was about $100 after shipping (because SIG is really, really proud of their magazines). The end result looks like this:
I get the 3.9” barrel on a subcompact frame, with a slightly more concealable grip. And I am happy to report that the gun functioned flawlessly in this configuration. After experimenting with this set up, I have come to the conclusion that you shouldn’t waste your money on the Subcompact model when it comes out. Just get the Compact/Carry model and do what I did with the subcompact frame and magazine. The only difference between this configuration and the dedicated subcompact is .3” of barrel and maybe an ounce or two. That’s it. Since we are getting on the topic, let’s transition over to dimensions.
Using my own calipers, these are the actual measurements I got on the dimensions of the P320 Compact/Carry:
Slide width: 1.06”
Frame width: 1.07”
Width at takedown lever: 1.27”
Width at Slide Stop Lever: 1.31”
Width of Medium Grip: 1.34”
Overall Height w/ Magazine Inserted: 5.27”
Overall Length: 7.21”
Slide Length: 6.62”
Sight Radius: 5.7”
Barrel Length: 3.9”
Unloaded Weight with Magazine: 25 5/8 ounces
Loaded Weight with 15+1 124 gr Federal HST: 32 3/8 ounces
For the subcompact frame (which was also a medium), I got all the same values, with the following exceptions:
Overall Height with Magazine inserted. 4.71”
Unloaded Weight with Magazine: 24 3/4 ounces
Loaded Weight with 12+1 124 gr Federal HST: 30 3/8 ounces
Basically, the only difference between the two frame options is 2 ounces of weight, 3 rounds of capacity, and a little over half an inch of height. Is that enough to justify spending $100 on the subcompact frame? You be the judge. The real question, though, is whether or not the P320 Compact/Carry is concealable as it comes from the factory? I would say yes. While it is taller than the industry standard GLOCK19, the grip, the part that protrudes from the holster and impacts concealability the most, is basically the same length as the GLOCK. If you can conceal a G19, then you can conceal the Compact P320.
At long last we start getting to the good stuff. The day I went to the range for this review, I ran an assortment of ammo through the P320 and it ate every single one without a single issue. All told, I fired 355 rounds of the following:
115 gr Blazer Brass FMJ
115 gr WWB FMJ
115 gr Federal Aluminum Cased FMJ
115 gr Federal FMJ
147 gr Winchester Silver Tips JHP
135 gr +P Hornady Critical Duty JHP
124 gr Standard Pressure Federal HST JHP (my favorite carry load)
and some brass cased FMJ manufactured in Pakistan in 1980.
Coupled the 150 rounds I fired in a previous outing (which included 50 rounds of steel-cased Tula), I have 505 rounds through the P320 without a single failure…save for one recurring issue; inconsistent slide lock-back on the last round. The gun fires and ejects everything you feed it, and it shoots it all accurately, with either frame installed. However, the gun consistently failed to lock back on the last round. I take a very high grip, so sometimes my thumb can put pressure on the slide-stop lever. This is not uncommon, and happens on occasion with other guns. However, remember earlier when I said that the slide-stop was the easiest one to release I had ever used? Well, that’s where the problem lies. It takes a miniscule amount of pressure to keep the slide-stop from engaging. There were several times that I consciously kept my thumb away from the lever before I fired, but on the recoil my thumb moved and lightly grazed the lever and the slide failed to lock back. It did that over and over again. If I kept my thumb away it locked back every time, until my thumb barely touched it and then it didn’t lock back. I would say it didn’t lock back on about 2/3 of my strings. The slide stop might be easy to disengage for a quick reload, but it won’t do you any good if your slide doesn’t lock back on the last round. And in the heat of battle, you won’t be paying attention to where your thumb is. It is really disappointing, to say the least, because everything else was as reliable as it can be. That is going to hurt my overall assessment a little.
So, is it accurate? In a word, yes. In two words, heck yes! It only took me a few strings to get the feel for the trigger down, and maybe another string or two to adjust to the 6 o’clock hold. It is more accurate than I am, that’s for sure. I really wish I had been at an outdoor range to see what it could do beyond 25 yards, but oh well.
Towards the end of the day, I put up several targets for record. Here were my results:
Slow-fire from a bench rest. 5 shots @ 7 yds. 115 gr. Winchester White Box FMJ
Slow-fire, off-hand. 5 shots @ 7 yds. 115 gr Bazer Brass FMJ
w-fire, off-hand. 5 shots @ 10 yds. 135 gr +P Hornady Critical Duty JHP
Slow-fire, off-hand. 5 shots @ 15 yds. 115 gr Bazer Brass FMJ
Slow-fire, off-hand. 5 shots @ 25 yds. 124 gr. Standard Pressure Federal HST JHP
Rapid-fire, from the draw. 5 shots @ 7 yds. 124 gr Standard Pressure Federal HST JHP
I was very pleased, particularly with my rapid-fire group in which I fired as quickly as I could get the sights back on target. The sights are very easy to use and really line up nicely. The tritium is easy to pick up in low light and total darkness. Plus, they are metal. I really like the 6 o’clock hold; I feel I have a better view of the target.
All around, the P320 was very nice to shoot and I feel fairly easy to use. I think it would be a solid choice for anyone looking to enter the polymer world or just expand your collection. I plan on rotating it in to my carry routine with my M&P9c. I am looking forward to the .45 ACP version and if they can get the conversion kit under $250, I may jump on one. If SIG got their act together and came out with a version in 10mm, I would jump on that conversion kit in a heartbeat. But I’m not holding my breath for that.
SIG SAUER P320 COMPACT CARRY NITRON 9MM
Caliber: 9mm Parabellum
Weight: 26.0 oz. empty
MSRP: $669 – $713 (around $549 street with night sights)
Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
(All ratings are relative to other similar guns.)
Accuracy: * * * * *
It’s about as good as it gets.
Ergonomics (Handling): * * * * *
It fits my hand perfectly and just feels natural.
Ergonomics (Firing): * * * *
It is very shootable and comfortable. However, that higher bore axis takes off a star.
Reliability: * * * *
It ate everything I fed it, but the consistent failure of the slide to lock back takes a star. Some folks might argue for two.
Customization: * * * *
Modularity, modularity, modularity. There is a lot you can do with this pistol. Want to paint the grip iridescent blue and then immediately regret your decision? No problem! Replacement frames are only $45 – $50. Since most of the accessories for the P250 will work with the P320, you should be in good shape…at least when SIG makes all the frames and conversion kits available, whenever that will be. Here is a list of holster manufacturers that make holsters for the P250. Most of them should work for the P320. This should be 5 stars, but the fact that you have to pay $50 to swap grip sizes is just asinine in today’s world of everyone and their mother shipping their guns with all the different back strap sizes included. But hey, it’s modular!
Quality: * * * *
I want to give it five stars because it’s reliable and clearly designed well. However, the quality of the frame is suspect and forces me to withhold a star.
Value: * * * * 1/2
Again, this should be five stars, but having to pay $50 a pop to just try out a different grip size is ridiculous. That being said, I have seen this gun for sale for $539 + tax, with the night sights. Compare that to a GLOCK which will run you in the same price range with plastic, non-night sights. Considering the quality and the modularity, I would say the price is competitive.
Overall: * * * *
The P320 Carry is a solid choice that should serve you well. It really comes down to whether or not the ergonomics agree with you. I would have given it five stars if I had more confidence in the polymer frame and if the slide-stop lever worked better and if you could exchange your grip modules for free or at least pay shipping. Did I mention that I really hate that? Oh, and SIG wants you to know that it is totally modular.