(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)
By Sergio Martinez
There is an old adage among the People of the Gun: two is one, one is none. A long and arduous research process eventually landed me at a VP9 for my EDC pistol, but that’s another story. For my primary blaster, I was specifically looking for a striker-fired pistol that would shoot comfortably and reliably.
In the end, I am very happy with my choice. But for a man of expensive taste and limited funds, I wanted to get the best bang for my buck in my secondary/backup pistol. I could have bought another VP9, but let’s face it, variety is the spice of life and I wanted something a little different. Rather than wait for the VP9SK, I decided to look into the P30 line of hammer-fired pistols. There is already another review for the P30, but this review will focus specifically on the P30L V1.
Some well-known tech companies have really capitalized on the fact that consumers appreciate the functionality and familiarity of products that behave and interact seamlessly. Just look at the market of tablets that mimic their smartphone counterparts.
In a similar fashion, there are several reasons why the P30 series makes sense for a VP9 owner. The magazines are interchangeable, giving a slight relief to cash-strapped individuals that want to save on accessories. When magazines cost around $40 each, I don’t have to buy another set of mags for a second gun. By buying the P30L, I effectively doubled the number of usable mags for each pistol without spending anything extra.
In hand, the ergonomics of the P30L are nearly identical to the VP9. All P30 series pistols come with interchangeable side and back straps in small, medium, and large sizes. It should be noted that the grip panels have a different texture from the VP grip panels, having a more sandpaper-like finish. The ambidextrous mag release and slide release levers are located in the same place on both P30L and VP9 pistols.
As for the functionality and operation of the P30L, my specific intentions for the pistol led me to choose the V1 variant. I have owned and carried DA/SA pistols before, but since I was purchasing this one as a backup for my VP9, I wanted something where I wouldn’t have to change the way I train if I had to use or carry the P30L. The DAO/LEM variant is sans external safety and decking button, making its operation is essence identical to the VP9.
Rather than having a safety, decocker and slide release levers like other variants, the V1 has a single ambidextrous slide release, just like the VP9. Some shooters may not like that the slide release is not as flush and low profile, but I actually like it. It may come down to user preference but I for me the large, simplified layout makes learning the operation very easy.
The DAO trigger functionality is also very simple for a hammer-fired pistol. Once cocked, there is a nearly weightless first stage, then a second stage at approximately 4.5 lbs and total travel of around .55”. In contrast, the VP9’s trigger is about 5.4 lbs with .24” of trigger travel. The feel and travel of the trigger is very distinct from the striker-fired VP9, but without the DA/SA operation, I can rest assured that each trigger pull is still going to be consistent whether I am firing the first round or the last.
The decision between acquiring a P30 and the newer P30L model was a little more nuanced. The P30L was introduced in 2008, measuring about a half inch longer than its predecessor. The recoil assembly has the added feature of a floating metal/polymer buffer around the spring, ostensibly for the purpose of reducing recoil impulse. You can hear if it you shake the gun like a crazy person, but otherwise it is basically unnoticed. Everything else remains essentially identical.
The P30L looks like it should be the full size version and the P30 looks closer to the size of a lot of compact pistols from other manufacturers. Perhaps the P30 would have been a better choice for concealed carry, but having held and shot both, I just preferred the balance and pointability of the P30L. With a Surefire X300 mounted on the Picatinny rail, it has become my designated home defense firearm anyway, so I rarely have to worry about smuggling it in an IWB holster (which I would not recommend in warmer climates).
It cannot be argued that Heckler and Koch does not produce classy weapons. From the factory, the gun has an excellent fit and finish. There is virtually no play between the slide and frame. The texturing is comfortable and high quality. The serrations are well placed on both ends of the slide. In true German style, it is sleek yet robust, a modern incarnation of the USP series for the 21st century. This is a gun that would look just as good on a grunt in full battle rattle as it would in the leather holster of a suit-clad bodyguard protecting VIPs.
On its own, the P30 series has proved itself legendary in a well-known endurance test, lasting over 91,000 rounds without major component breakages. I may not ever push my pistol to its limits but unless I am shopping for a high performance aircraft, I prefer my tools to be overbuilt for the task. It is comforting to me that the P30L will outlast me and may be something my kids will use and cherish one day.
So how does it shoot? This question is more complicated than I would like to admit. When I first purchased this pistol, I was as excited as a kid locked in a toy store and couldn’t wait to take it for a spin. I loaded up the mags and fired the first round. To my surprise, the brass came straight back and hit me in the face. That was weird.
Second shot, and I already got my first stoppage. To my horror, the gun failed to extract the spent brass and it was sticking halfway out of the port. I quickly cleared it and continued firing. Another case off the bill of my hat. Next shot, another stoppage.
In my first outing of about 200 rounds, nearly half the shots either flung the brass in my face or failed to extract. I suspected the problem may have been the ammo I was using, so I switched to new loads from Federal. I only got a few FTEs in the next few hundred rounds, but the gun was still throwing the brass nearly straight back at me. I used to have a USP Compact that behaved similarly when it was brand new, and I suspect a very tense new spring combined with weaker remanufactured ammo may have contributed to the issue.
I switched back to new ammo from Federal which significantly reduced the amount of stoppages, however the brass was still ejecting between 4-7 o’clock with some regularity. After a few hundred rounds the issue eventually went away, even for the Freedom Munitions remanufactured ammo I am used to using. At this point I have nearly a thousand rounds through it, and it now cycles ammo consistently and reliably. I came to accept that there is a break in period for HKs, a price to pay for the overall endurance and longevity of their products.
For the record, defensive loads I tested from Federal, Speer, and Hornady always cycled reliably and I have never had any issues with anything other than the target ammo when the gun was brand new.
So back to the shooting. The gun is comfortable and accurate, very much like the VP9. Unlike the VP9, the trigger travel and reset is noticeably farther. This is not a race gun by any means, but the light and smooth trigger press is ideal for defensive purposes and it will put rounds where you want them.
I like that you will be far less likely to accidentally touch off a round due to the long trigger travel. Each trigger pull feels deliberate without being overly encumbered. The longer sight radius makes aiming and follow-up shots very comfortable and natural, one benefit over its shorter P30 brethren. Despite the added bore height over the VP9, my unscientific testing saw no noticeable difference in reacquiring the target for follow up shots. This may possibly be due to the added barrel length or that magical metal buffer device.
Specifications: H&K P30L V1
Weight: 1.72 lbs empty
Action: Light Law Enforcement Modification (LEM) DAO 4.5 lbs
Barrel: 4.4” polygonally rifled, cold hammer forged
Sights: Meprolight three-dot luminous night sights
Finish: Matte “Hostile Environment” Black
Price: $959 MSRP
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style * * * * *
As is the case with everything H&K produces, this gun delivers in spades. It combines the classic functionality of a hammer gun while looking very modern and futuristic, all while not appearing gimmicky or faddish. There is no mistake, though, that this looks like a gun meant to be used an abused, not babied in an oak cabinet.
Ergonomics-carry: * * *
The interface is simple, but for a carry gun it is very large. I would not recommend the P30L as a concealed carry weapon, but for an open carry or duty weapon, you would be hard pressed to find a better choice.
Ergonomics-firing: * * * * 1/2
Once this gun clears leather, the ergonomics shine. I originally chose this gun due its similar operation with the VP9, but the longer sight radius, balance, and grip texturing are superior to the striker-fired counterpart. It loses half a star for the trigger, which is still light and smooth, but has a noticeably farther travel distance for both pull and reset.
Reliability: * * * * 1/2
It is an H&K, and in my experience that means it’s built to last. I have no doubt this gun will last for decades if well maintained. Defensive ammo cycles flawlessly. However, the break-in period prevents me from giving the P30L a perfect score. The P30L can be a picky eater with cheaper training ammo. If your life is on the line, I have no doubt it will cycle duty ammo when it counts. But if you plan on taking this to a competition or training course, make sure you wipe off the packing grease and test it with the ammo you intend to use before the your big day.
Customizability * * * *
Being a fairly new pistol, and a fairly expensive one at that, expect the market for accessories to be reflective of that. All the P30 series pistols use the type sights and magazines, so there is already a small market for those, and the Picatinny rail makes for much easier rail add-ons than the USP series’ proprietary “universal” rail. The only area I really customize is the grip, and fortunately there are different size back and side straps already included. For being a rare-in-the-wild firearm, interchangeable parts from other versions of the P30 and VP series makes finding parts easy if you know where to look, but only from H&K factories or authorized partners. Expect to pay accordingly.
Overall * * * * 1/2
I love this gun, almost as much as I love my VP9. Yet as close as it comes to perfection, the trigger and break-in period give me a moment of pause. Its size can be a bit intimidating for someone who is looking for an EDC, especially with a wide array of compact and subcompact semiautomatic pistols hitting the market. But for someone shopping for a purpose-built, thoughtfully designed, full size duty pistol with simple, no-nonsense controls and operation, the competition is limited. There is very little that could be improved here, and for the price you will be hard pressed to find a better factory fresh handgun in the same class. If you are looking for a hammer-action pistol without safeties, DA/SA action, or deckockers, the P30L V1 should be high on your list, especially if you already own a VP9 or other P30 series pistol.