Way, way back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, FN engineers threw caution to the wind, eschewed the knowledge of what guns were supposed to be, and invented the future. That future looked unlike anything else around at the time. That future was the P90 PDW and the Five-seveN pistol.
Although still new to many shooters, the P90 was released 27 years ago. Its younger sister, the Five-seveN pistol, still can’t quite buy a beer yet legally, just now hitting its second decade of production.
Beyond their distinctive shared cartridge, both the rifle and pistol share a great deal in common. They are both blowback-operated firearms, the P90 being direct blowback and the Five-seveN being delayed. They both feature heavy use of polymers. Even the slide of the Five-seveN pistol is polymer wrapped.
Both guns reconsidered the ergonomics and manual of arms of guns, the P90 obviously more so than the pistol. They are both unusually high in their magazine capacity in their standard formats. Both use unique magazines and loading techniques. The flat topped P90’s magazine is obvious, but the Five-seveN is rare in that the polymer magazine feeds the bottlenecked rounds into the chamber without the use of a feed ramp.
The PS90 is FN’s civilian legal version of the P90, a rifle that has come to epitomize the Personal Defense Weapon concept. Although it has become the model of the modern PDW, it certainly didn’t start the idea. The concept was that
filthy non-combat designated military personnel really didn’t need all the capability of a full battle rifle that was able to kill the enemy at 300 yards and beyond. They would, however, need to be able to effectively defend themselves in case of a direct attack. pogs
Considering that these troops weren’t as likely to use their weapons or train with them, priority was given to weight, size, and ease of use, over the general lethality of the particular cartridge. FN developed the P90 around this idea. The result was a unique, easy-to-use select fire compact rifle. At 900 rounds a minute in the full-auto version, the sheer volume of fire would aide a great deal in getting a rapidly advancing enemy to halt.
Don’t be confused about the lethality of the 5.7X28mm round. The 5.7X28mm cartridge was designed to replace the 9X19 NATO round, not a true rifle round. The result is something in between a .22 Magnum and the .22 Hornet.
At close ranges, some rounds are effective. I’ve seen the SS192 do good damage on smaller feral hogs at just under 50 yards, but no pass-throughs at that range. That was using the PS90 with a 10.5″ barrel. The shorter Five-seveN’s barrel would obvious reduce muzzle velocity further, as well as its corresponding energy even more.
ShootingTheBull410 did a great review of the current popular civilian-available Hornady round. His results are an “ok at best” and that’s been my experience as well. In short, remember the 5.7X28mm cartridge does well in its intended role, a replacement for the 9X19 NATO. It doesn’t come anywhere close to the potential lethality of a true rifle cartridge, even compared to the 5.56 NATO.
In order to make the firearm easy to use for the new shooter, as well as keep it compact and easy to carry, FN radically rethought how people used a rifle. The result of their experimentation was a rifle with ergonomics unlike anything else. It doesn’t look like any other modern rifle. It’s got all the geometric shapes right there in one gun. A giant rectangular slab of a stock ending in swirls and circles up front.
It looks weird. It looks neat. It looks otherworldly. But once you get your hands on it, it feels completely natural to human hands. The balance, even with the PS90’s full 16” barreled version, is still outstanding. Almost all of the weight is tucked in close to the body. Given that, it’s very easy to start and, more importantly, to stop the gun’s muzzle quickly.
The P90 and PS90 are actually easier to get used to if you aren’t too indoctrinated with ARs, AKs, and other modern firearms.
The firing hand grip is simple. Put your hand so that you can use the trigger with your trigger finger. There’s pretty much only one way to do it.
Everyone struggles with where to put their support hand on the PS90, at least anyone who’s ever fired a traditional rifle, or seen one fired. We’re all just used to spreading our hands out, but there’s nowhere to do that on this bullpup design. Your hands are stacked right up against each other on the grip. Like the firing hand grip, once you get the support hand grip in your hands just a few times, it quickly becomes natural.
However, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. A lot of shooters tend to wrap their support hand thumb inside the grip, just in front of the trigger, like the image above. In fact, every person I handed the rifle to at The Range at Austin held the gun that way to start.
Held in this manner, the PS90 allows the shooter to use the grip similar to a traditional vertical foregrip on a modern carbine. If you have small hands, that might work. For larger hands, that won’t work at all.
If you have bigger paws, you’ll likely find the meat of your thumb ends up resting on the safety, and may get in the way of the trigger as well. With gloves on, I couldn’t even fit my trigger finger in the trigger well at all with my support hand thumb wrapped around the grip without depressing the trigger.
The better option is to keep your support hand thumb forward, like you would on a two hand grip for a pistol. Resting under the charging handle like this, the thumb is out of the way, and generally pointed at the target, making instinctive lowlight shooting easier, as well as getting it out of the way of the firing hand.
It’s good that you have 50 rounds in a standard magazine, because in comparison to most modern “military-style” weapons, the PS90 magazine isn’t particularly quick or easy to change. The twin magazine release tabs are located at the rounded rear of the magazine. They are small, easy to miss, and require some hand dexterity to remove.
As the magazine sits on top of the rifle, it does not eject. You will essentially need to push one of the tabs with your support hand thumb, then lift the magazine up with the fingers of the same hand. This is a process made more difficult while wearing gloves, or with slick hands.
Pushing another magazine in flat along the top of the receiver is simple enough; just slip the rectangle side in forward and slap the round side down. Then all you have to do is pull the bolt charging tabs rearward.
I refuse to call these ambidextrous tabs “handles.” They don’t stick out much and are barely large enough for a finger to catch on. Again, if you have gloves on, you’ll want to slow down here, as it’s easy to slip right off the charging tabs. I’ve seen it done both palm up and palm down. Palm down, like you are charging any series of H&K rifles and sub-guns, is the most effective method for me.
Although the PS90 is a little challenging to refuel when compared to other rifles, the same cannot be said for the Five-seveN pistol. The slide locks back on an empty magazine, and it did so every time during my testing. Empty magazines practically launch downward from the gun the second the easy-to-reach swappable magazine release button is hit. The 20-round magazines funnel right back into the pistol with ease.
The slide lock/release is right above the firing hand thumb, so a firm hit with that thumb sent the slide forward with authority. Folks with smaller hands had a problem hitting the slide lock/release with their firing hand thumb, and generally found manipulating the slide back and releasing it to be a more effective method.
For some reason that I can’t understand, the PS90 ships with a 30-round magazine. At first I thought the magazine I had for this Trial and Evaluation gun was defective.
Part of the appeal of the P90 in the first place was that the magazine holds 50 rounds. Perhaps the 30-round magazine was to get around some kind of state magazine limit. Riverdale, Illinois has a 35-round magazine limit on long guns, but I know of no state with a 30-round magazine limit. Many have 10 or 15, but not more than 30, so this limitation on the part of FN is an odd one to me.
Fortunately, 50-round magazines are available online from a number of dealers for in between $30 and $40 each. At 50 rounds, a couple will do just fine.
The Five-seveN pistol also has a higher capacity than most pistols of this size. The standard magazine holds a full 20 rounds. There are some aftermarket magazines and extensions that allow the pistol to hold a full 30.
To my great disappointment, I found that the Five-seveN includes a magazine disconnect “safety.” I cannot stress my disdain for this feature enough. It’s a bad idea for a private citizen’s self defense weapon, and has absolutely no place at all on a duty gun.
For both the PS90 and the Five-seveN pistol, there’s a lot of work for your index finger. Both guns are designed for your firing hand finger to be used to manipulate the safety, as well as, obviously, the trigger.
The great thing about that is that there’s just one digit doing work, and it takes some deliberate effort to switch from the safety to the trigger. On one hand, I can see that leading to fewer negligent discharges. On the other hand, I can see it leading to fumbled efforts getting the safety on and off, and that fumbling leading to negligent discharges.
With slick hands or in gloves, I can miss or slide off the safety of the PS90 and hit the trigger instead of engaging the safety when attempting to put the safety back on. As the safety is ambidextrous, lefties will have the reverse problem, possibly firing the gun before they are completely ready when they go from safe to fire.
Because of the long trigger, I find the scenario of accidentally firing when trying to manipulate the safety highly unlikely. I’ve also seen some pretty unlikely things happen under stress, especially in combat. That’s why I choose to slide my non-firing hand back and to manipulate the safety of the P90 and PS90 with my thumb.
On the Five-seveN pistol, the ambidextrous safety is frame-mounted just above the trigger. It too is manipulated with the firing hand trigger finger. If you have larger hands, like me, it’s very easy to simply sweep the safety straight down to the fire position and continue on to the trigger.
At close range, under five yards, I can sweep the safety straight to a trigger pull in one motion and score a center mass hit. That takes a little practice, so I consider that a feature, not a bug. As the act of sweeping the safety up and on is the opposite action of pulling the trigger, I find a negligent discharge as the result of the safety placement impossible.
The PS90 is ridiculously easy to shoot. Recoil is practically non-existent. Remember, these guns were designed for
REMFs non-combat personnel to fire full auto with relatively little training. In semi-auto, it’s an absolute breeze. Seriously, I’ve shot the full auto SBR version of this gun single handed. There’s just nothing to shooting the semi-auto version. Recoil-averse or small statured people will have no difficulty at all shooting the PS90 all day long.
The Five-seveN pistol, firing the same round as the PS90, obviously has more recoil, but it’s still extremely light. Again, assuming they can get their hands around the slightly large grip, new shooters will excel with the Five-seveN pistol.
There’s just no challenge in handling the recoil of this gun at all. I’ve had children as young as eight years old shoot it without any issue at all when it comes to recoil. The only challenges for marksmanship is keeping the very light muzzle in place throughout the trigger squeeze. Be advised, quality earpro is a must. The Five-seveN is not a quiet pistol.
The PS90, like the P90 from whence it came, is one of the first rifles that came from the factory with the expectation that a 1X or low magnification optic would be the primary sighting system.
It comes standard with a MIL-STD rail section on top of the receiver. At this time, it does not come standard with other rails in order to attach a light or laser, but rail sections are available to attach just below and on either side of the optic rail. There are also other previous models, like the PS90TR (triple rail) that include these section right out of the box. Looking around, the PS90TR doesn’t seem too hard to find.
The backup iron sights of the PS90 are built into the rail section. Ultimately, this is a long tunnel peep sight with a thin, black front sight post. That leaves the shooter with a relatively short sight radius. In fact, at just over 7″, the sight radius of the PS90 is almost identical to that of the Five-seveN pistol.
That short sight radius really limits the potential accuracy of the rifle. The color, or specifically the lack thereof, makes that front sight post work just fine in bright light, but I found that it completely disappeared on dark targets in anything but the brightest sunlight.
Using the PS90’s iron sights, I was able to get pretty consistent 4″ five-round groups using SS197SR with the rifle rested on bags at 100 yards. Mounting a Primary Arms 1-6X24 scope on top of the rail, the same ammunition shot 1.5″ average five round groups for four shot strings, also mounted on bags. The American Eagle 40gr FMJ round printed groups identical to SS197SR cartridges.
Bullpup designs have rarely been known for their stellar accuracy and combined with a mushy, but serviceable trigger, this level of precision actually surprised me. What’s more, with the weight balanced as it is and the extremely low recoil, keeping the sight on target during shot strings was super easy. At 50 yards the gun moves so little that I can watch the round strike the target, even using the irons.
The Five-seveN pistol’s sights are more traditional three-dot sights. You’ll find a tall front sight in front of an adjustable ledge rear.
Using the same rounds SS197SR rounds as the accuracy testing with the PS90, I averaged 2.75″ five round groups for four strings seated off bags at 25 yards. The American Eagle ammunition opened up only so slightly printing an average only 1/8th of an inch larger with the same set up.
The trigger of the PS90 is ok. I guess. For a submachinegun. It breaks at just over 7lbs with a bit of long sliding mush. The trigger doesn’t hinge, but pulls straight back, like a 1911 pistol. It’s infinitely better than many other “mil spec” triggers, especially on submachineguns. If you are happy with the MP5’s trigger, this one is going to thrill you. If you would like to easily improve the trigger pull of the PS90, aftermarket kits abound.
Similarly, the Five-seveN’s trigger isn’t bad at all, for a plastic(ish) fantastic. The trigger break isn’t particularly consistent, but stays between 5lbs and 5lbs 5oz. It has a little bit grit at the front, and the tiniest bit of mush at the break. Still, if you are used to a Glock trigger or, egads, the first version of the semi auto Smith and Wesson M&P, you will be extremely pleased with the Five-seveN.
The PS90s barrel is right at 16″ total. That includes the integral flash hider/brake. Unfortunately, that means to legally attach a suppressor will require either shortening the barrel and machining it or just buying a readily available threaded 10.5″ barrel. Either will require a tax stamp.
The Five-seveN isn’t threaded for a suppressor either. That’s a shame, because many relatively inexpensive .22LR caliber silencers will also work with the 5.7X28mm round. Fortunately, a threaded barrel for the pistol is fairly easy to find online, and the swap couldn’t be simpler. It’s the only immediate upgrade I’d make to the Five-seveN pistol. As the stock Five-seveN sights are so tall, no sight change on the pistol would be necessary to clear a silencer.
FN doesn’t sell a semi-automatic version of the PS90 as an SBR. At this time, it’s only offered with a full 16″ barrel. That makes no sense to me at all, as the SBR is what many customers really want and FN already does sell an SBR version of their FN15.
It is possible to convert your PS90 into an SBR. The parts and installation will run you anywhere from $350 to $500 from an aftermarket source. It’s possible to do the swap yourself, but I would not recommend it for the inexperienced. Of course, prior to purchasing your shorter barrel, you’ll need permission from our federal overlords, which currently will take you four to six months of wait time and another $200.
Often, when manufacturers create new firearms, reliability can be an issue. With either the PS90 or the Five-seveN, reliability is no issue at all. I went through 500 rounds of two types of ammunition with each of these guns for this review.
I never had any problems loading, firing, ejecting, anything at all with either gun. I’ve shot many thousands of rounds with the full-auto P90. At 900 rounds a minute, it doesn’t take long. In all that shooting, I’ve never seen a malfunction with any of these guns. (If you want to get your hands on a P90 and you live in central Texas, The Range at Austin rents them to shoot on site.)
If, in the highly unlikely scenario of a malfunction, the Five-seveN is cleared just like most other semiautomatic pistols. The PS90 takes a little more work.
Assuming just cycling the bolt doesn’t fix the problem, and remember you don’t have much purchase on those tabs to manipulate a stuck bolt, you’ll have to pull out the magazine. At that point, you need to pull back the charging tabs at the front of the gun, and then reach under the stock to push the flat deflector tab high up and parallel with the top of the receiver in order to hold the bolt open. The photo above is what it should look like. At that time you can clear your malfunction, load your magazine, and cycle the bolt to load another round. Oddly enough, the FN manual provides no information on how to clear a stoppage, or how to hold the bolt open.
Field stripping for cleaning of either the PS90 or the Five-seveN is simple and requires no tools at all. Detailed stripping of the PS90 is another thing entirely, and FN recommends you send it to FN or an authorized smith for that kind of work. I seem to remember that FN recommends a service on the P90 at 20,000 rounds.
The PS90 and the companion Five-seveN are interesting guns. They both represent new takes on age-old problems and are worth shooting and owning just on that alone. Unlike most “interesting” guns, they also perform their intended tasks very well.
The PS90 definitely gets points for being a small, easy-to-maneuver and infinitely fun to shoot firearm. You know what’s even smaller and even easier to maneuver and shoot? The SBR version of the same rifle.
For anyone who likes the PS90, you’ll like the PS90 SBR a whole lot more. It’s definitely worth the money to buy the stock PS90 and then shoot the heck out of it while you wait for the ATF to approve your paperwork, buy the barrel kit and install it, or have it installed, and have the firearm in its intended size. You can suppress it and its overall length will still be shorter than with the factory barrel.
After that, you’ll want to buy ammo by the pallet. You’ll be using it.
Operation: Closed bolt, direct blowback
Mag Capacity: 10 or 30 rd.
Weight: 6.28 lb.
Barrel Length: 16″
Stock Color: Matte Black
Overall Length: 26.23″
BARREL: Hammer-forged, chrome-lined, integral ported muzzle brake
RECEIVER: Bottom ejection port, alloy upper receiver and barrel support
STOCK: Synthetic thumbhole bullpup design
OPERATING CONTROLS: Ambidextrous
MAGAZINE: Translucent polymer body, 30 round capacity standard
SIGHT:MIL-STD 1913 accessory rail and back-up iron sight
Sights: Adjustable 3-dot
SLIDE:One-piece machined steel slide, matte black finish
BARREL: Cold hammer-forged stainless steel, chrome-lined chamber and bore
Barrel length: 4.8”
Overall Length: 8.2”
FRAME: Polymer, MIL-STD-1913 accessory mounting rail
OPERATING CONTROLS: Fully ambidextrous safety lever, reversible magazine release
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance
PS90 * * * *
There’s a good reason this rifle is used in so many sci-fi films. FN threw away what rifles were “supposed” to look like and went only with how they should feel. The result was a unique firearm that works. Unlike every other FN gun I’ve seen, the finish on the attached optic mount and receiver is just ok. It’s also impossible to make that much plastic look good.
Five-seveN * * *
You like black polymer? Here you go.
PS90 * *
There are a few aftermarket options available that allow you to add additional rails as well as improve the trigger. The barrel change is needed, but not as easy as other rifles. The lack of a suppressor options, or a directly sold SBR is disappointing.
Five-seveN * *
The lack of a suppressor ready version from the factory is a bummer. Other sight and trigger option are available, but not much else.
PS90 * * * * *
Perfect, all the time.
FiveseveN * * * * *
Just as perfect, just as many times.
PS90 * * * *
Given the short sight radius, the irons did better than I thought, although they are worthless in anything other than bright light. With a magnified optic, the rifle will deliver groups beyond the reasonable expectation of the effectiveness of the round.
FiveseveN * * *
Dead nuts average for a pistol of this size.
PS90 * * * *
In the full 16” configuration, you lose a lot of what this rifle was made to do. It’s still shorter and lighter than full service rifles, but it’s not a service rifle. It’s more like a shorter pistol caliber carbine. Under that criterion, the size and weight is good, but not great. The accuracy is a little better than standard, and the reliability is perfect. The unique ergonomics of the rifle, as well as its low recoil, make it a dream for new shooters. Reloading and clearing a malfunction are slower than most guns in this category. Unfortunately, the barrel swap is more involved than most shooters are willing to put up with, and there is no way to suppress the rifle without one. An extra star was given for the innovation, the rebirth of the PDW concept, and generally just being different.
Five-seveN * * *
Great reliability and average accuracy. The lack of customization, including a threaded barrel, from the factory is disappointing. It’s a great pistol for new shooters, as long as they can get their hands wrapped around a large grip.