There are basically three levels in any market for firearms. The bottom rung is the entry level, where companies compete to mass produce an item at small margins that gets the job done without any frills. The middle rung is the “professional” market, where consumers are willing to pay a little bit more for a functional firearm that better fits their needs and won’t break anytime soon. The top rung is populated by enthusiasts who are willing to pay a premium for perfection, where the initial investment isn’t as important as the quality of the product and the ownership experience.
CZ’s excellent Scorpion fills the entry level market perfectly for civilian sub guns. SIG SAUER’s MPX line is shaping up to be the pro level choice. As for that top rung, Brügger & Thomet, more commonly known as B&T, hopes that their APC9 will provide enough “wow factor” to separate connoisseurs from their hard earned cash.
If you’ve never heard of B&T, you’re not alone. I asked random people at the range if they’ve heard of them and got responses ranging from pure confusion to an obscure rhythm & blues group. The company was originally titled “Brugger & Thomet,” but after the T in B&T decided to leave, they chopped the title down to just the acronym.
The name still doesn’t mean much here in the United States, but in Europe and among those who really know the gun industry B&T is known as a watchword for quality. They’ve been around since the early 1990’s, and their primary business has been as an accessory manufacturer for H&K’s firearms. H&K re-brands B&T’s silencers and sells them as a package with their guns — those iconic H&K suppressors (like the one above on the MP7) that you know and love are really B&T products.
Early last decade B&T bought the rights to the Steyr TMP and started manufacturing their own firearms. Nearly 10 years later they are about to significantly expand their firearms line, importing them into the United States. One of their very first products on the market is the APC9.
CZ’s Scorpion is a spiritual successor to their vz. 61. SIG SAUER’s MPX is designed as a straight replacement for the MP5. For the APC9, B&T took their cues from H&K’s moderately successful UMP designs. The UMP was intended by H&K to be a lighter and more modern replacement for their MP5 SMG, and while the UMP did some things very well it didn’t hit it out of the park.
B&T think that they’ve refined that original design to the point where the gun is damn near perfect, and given the results it’s extremely hard to argue against that. Firing both the UMP45 and APC45 side by side, you can plainly see the similarities, but the differences are like night and day.
To get to the real substantive changes you need to take the gun apart. Anyone who has ever disassembled a SCAR rifle will immediately be able to figure it out. The main difference between this and an AR-15 being that the rear plate on the gun is slotted into place to provide a more solid connection. A quick tap on the top of the end plate and it falls straight out. The takedown pins look similar to the H&K style takedown pins, but these are captured so that they won’t get lost in the increasingly large junk pile on your gun bench.
The first major change is that instead of an extruded plastic receiver, the APC9 uses an extruded aluminum receiver, a difference that has done wonders for the look and feel of the gun. It feels solid and substantive instead of flimsy and cheap like the UMP. The machining on that upper receiver is exquisite, and the finish on the exterior of the metal bits feels silky smooth. In short, it feels exactly like a quality firearm should.
Just like the UMP (and the Scorpion for that matter), the APC9 is a direct blowback firearm. Which means that the force of the expanding gas in the barrel acts directly on the bolt, causing the case to fart out the breech as soon as the bolt starts moving rearwards. This action requires a hefty bolt and spring to keep everything in place long enough for the powder to burn and as a result these guns can be notoriously difficult to cycle manually.
The bolt on the APC9 is significantly more hefty than the MPX for that exact reason, but instead of simply throwing a big chunk of metal in the gun and calling it good B&T created a masterpiece of metalwork to fit in the receiver. This thing is a monster, but a beautifully constructed monster that might well be considered for a design award all on its own. The finish is silky smooth just like on the receiver proper and combined with the precision machining used to make all the parts it glides through the receiver much unlike John Belushi through a warehouse full of cocaine.
What makes this APC9 somewhat unique is its recoil system. Instead of just having a really heavy return spring to keep the breech locked and get things running, the APC9 actually uses a hydraulic buffer in the rear of the receiver to soak up the excess recoil and start the bolt back on its journey to to the front of the gun. This has two really cool effects on how the gun runs.
First, the buffer stretches out the recoil over a longer period of time so that the impulse feels much lighter. Instead of just having the bolt slamming violently into the back of the gun like on an AK-47 the bolt is cushioned and the felt recoil delayed (like dropping an egg onto a pillow instead of concrete). Second, it means that the force required to cycle the action is significantly less than with other direct blowback guns. Since the heavy lifting is being done by the buffer, the recoil spring can be lighter, and the force required to rack the gun for the first round is somewhat reduced.
Things are slick on the inside, but the features on the outside are just as impressive.
Starting at the rear of the gun, the APC9 immediately addresses one of the biggest complaints about both the MPX and the Scorpion. Neither of those guns were particularly easy to adapt into an SBR or to add a pistol arm brace. But on the APC9, all of that is built in from the beginning.
The metal endplate on the gun comes from the factory threaded for a standard size AR-15 buffer tube, which allows the end user to quickly add a buffer and a brace if that’s what they want to do. For those who just want it as small as possible that threaded hole comes filled from the factory with a nifty plug sporting a QD mount on the rear for a sling attachment point. Even cooler: the attachment mechanism already has stocks available in the market for this gun. The attachment plate is identical to the one on the UMP, allowing the existing stocks to slot right in without any fiddling. Admittedly they run ~$170, but they are available from day one (unlike either the Scorpion or the MPX).
Speaking of things that are available from day one, the magazines are on the market right now. B&T re-used the same stick magazines form their TMP/MP9 pistol for the APC9, meaning that not only are the magazines for the two weapons systems interchangeable, but spare mags are available and shipping right now. Again, the price point of ~$70 isn’t for the faint of heart, but that’s better than the Scorpion when it first launched or the MPX which has yet to ship a single spare magazine.
Up front the gun has another feature shamelessly stolen from H&K: the 3-lug interface on the barrel. 3-lug adapters are available for all of the major pistol silencers on the market, and they arguably provide a faster and easier means of attaching a can to your favorite gun than the direct thread process. I asked Liberty Suppressors for a 3-lug adapter for my Mystic-X and it was in my mailbox less than a week later, giving me the ability to suppress the gun without any additional mucking about.
There are also some rail sections up front for accessories and such. The top and bottom are machined into the receiver for maximum accuracy for mounting optics and lasers, but the sides are plastic and replaceable intended for lights and other such gubbins.
Along the top of the gun is a full length Picatinny rail which is great for mounting things like this Aimpoint optic, but there’s a hidden little surprise. Machined into the rail are cutouts for a set of flip-up iron sights that ship with the gun and are surprisingly well aligned. They aren’t adjustable, but given how much you pay for this thing it isn’t a stretch of the imagination that the time it spends in your possession without a red dot of some sort can be measured in minutes. Nevertheless, having a set of iron sights on the gun at all times is a huge benefit, and having them so well hidden is even better. Flip them down and they nearly disappear.
The controls on the gun are pretty nifty as well, but this is where I start to have my complaints.
B&T designed the fire control group to be truly ambidextrous, with controls duplicated on either side. The magazine release is located in roughly the same spot on both sides, and the safety selector is identical whether you’re shooting right or left handed. The button above the magazine release is the bolt release, which is a really cool feature that we saw on the SIG MPX and MCX and I’m happy that it’s making an appearance here as well. The bolt catch is located under the triggerguard and just behind the magazine, making it both easy to find and relatively easy to manipulate from both sides of the gun. I do really appreciate that it actually has a bolt catch, unlike some other offerings I’ve seen recently.
Complaint #1 is about the safety. It’s a little small and as a result it can be tough to operate in a hurry. It also tends to dig into your hand a little when firing the gun as a pistol, but nowhere near the uncomfortable mess that is the safety on the Scorpion. I do appreciate that the throw is only a 30 degree tilt instead of 90 degrees though (on the full auto versions, the “giggle mode” position is 180 degrees from “safe” almost asking “are you really sure you want to do this?” before engaging).
Minor gripe #2 is the feel of the bolt release. It’s in roughly the same position as the magazine release and the shooter in a hurry might mistake one for the other. The MPX fixes this issue by altering the feel of the button — a vertical bar for the magazine release as opposed to a horizontal bar for the bolt release — but on the APC9 it’s nearly the same thing.
Issue #3 is that the pistol grip is molded into the receiver and cannot be replaced. Yet. I hear they’re working on a version that takes AR-15 grips, and that might be a good idea.
You may notice that these are fairly minor gripes. Honestly, I’m really grasping at straws here. There’s not much to fault.
Out on the range the gun performs amazingly well. The trigger on this gun is probably the best I’ve felt on a pistol caliber SMG thus far — not entirely free of creep, but it’s really only there if you’re looking for it. Recoil is much more manageable than even on the MPX thanks to the hydraulic buffer, and especially compared to the UMP you can tell the difference. The UMP had to have the cyclic rate turned down to keep the gun controllable, but the rate of fire on the comparable APC45 is just about twice as fast (600 RPM versus 1,060 RPM) without losing any of that accuracy or controllability.
Accuracy on this gun is exactly what you would expect: amazing. I shot this gun at the same distance and the same configuration as the MPX, and the group size is definitely tighter. Four rounds landed within about the area of a quarter, and I completely and totally take responsibility for the low flier. The gun performs — there’s no two ways about it.
The gun looks great, feels great, and performs great, but I guess it’s time to talk about the elephant in the room.
CZ’s pistol caliber thing is $849 MSRP. SIG’s MP5 replacement is $1,378. For this piece of Swiss mechanical art, B&T is commanding the princely sum of $2,250. You could buy both an MPX and a Scorpion for less than one APC9. The thing is we’re talking about three very different markets with these three guns. Let’s just look at the MPX and the APC9 and their 1911 counterparts.
The MPX is priced and marketed to the same kind of person who would buy a Springfield Range Officer 1911: it isn’t the cheapest, but the price point is reasonable enough that most people could purchase it. The gun runs and it runs just fine, but there are little things you could change to make it a much better gun. The finish is a little rough and the components aren’t exactly perfect but you could run it through the apocalypse and it would survive longer than you could.
The APC9 is marketed more like the Wilson Combat. The fit and finish is exquisite, and the gun is more or less perfect from the factory. Wilson Combat is doing just fine charging people thousands of dollars for a nicer looking and feeling version of a firearm they can buy off the shelves at a fraction of that cost, and B&T is looking to take their APC9 to that same market.
Fun fact: the Wilson Combat 1911 on that table still costs more than the APC9.
The real question here is whether the B&T APC9 is worth the money, and that really depends. For the average Joe the SIG SAUER MPX will get the job done, but this gun isn’t being marketed to the average Joe. This gun is designed for shooters who want only the finest firearms, the highest quality parts, and the best that money can buy. They’re marketing this gun to the kind of people who have money to burn and would rather pay extra for superior quality rather than get a great deal on something that will only do the bare minimum. People who aren’t price sensitive. In other words, the Bizarro version of .
In my opinion the gun has met the burden required to be considered acceptable in that price range, but it isn’t quite perfect just yet. There are some niggling issues that keep me from proclaiming it a five star gun but the work required to get it there can be done as a retrofit kit and doesn’t require a redesign of the firearm.
Specifications: B&T APC9
Caliber: 9mm (also available in 45 ACP)
Magazine: 30 rounds (15 also available)
Weight: 5.5 lbs (empty)
Barrel Length: 6.9”
Overall Length: 15.1″
Sights: Fold down iron sights
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style * * * * *
These Swiss gun makers really know how to make a firearm. Not only is it functional but she’s damn sexy to boot. Especially when you add a silencer and a stock.
Customization * * * *
Magazines and stocks are already available. Rail sections are everywhere you’d want to mount something. The best part: you don’t need a custom adapter to mount a buffer tube. It’s built right into the gun from the factory. That said, there’s only so much you can do to the gun at this point.
Reliability * * * * *
I have shot the absolute bejesus out of this gun without any issues. Suppressed or unsuppressed, it runs like a top. Even in full auto (with a full auto version) there was never so much as a hiccup.
Accuracy * * * * *
Best in class, no doubt about it.
Overall * * * *
There are some details that keep me from giving it that last star, and given the price they are asking the details really do matter. But even with those exceptions this gun is amazing.