While attending the Civilian Response to Terrorist Threats class recently at the SIG Sauer academy, I made a rather fatal mistake. I was in the process of purchasing a SIG Sauer P938 (click here for my review on that gun) and I happened to jokingly ask the guys in the pro shop if they had anything else that I needed to get. One of them asked me, “How about a P210?” I couldn’t believe that they had one. The P210 is an almost mythical gun – you hear about it, but you rarely see it. It’s manufactured in very small quantities and you have to look long and hard to find someone who has it in stock. A few months ago while contemplating the purchase of a highly accurate gun for IDPA that could make up for some of my shortcomings . . .
I had considered the P210, but when I asked about its availability, the pro shop guys kind of laughed and said good luck finding one. But there I was with a chance to actually buy of these guns. While I really couldn’t justify buying two guns at the time, I figured that if I passed on this opportunity, I’d regret it. Just please don’t tell my wife.
The P210 began its service life in the Swiss Army in 1949 and remained the Swiss Army’s primary sidearm until 1975 when it was replaced by the P220. Rather ironic that just around the time the U.S. Military was getting ready to replace its .45 1911s with 9mm Beretta pistols, the Swiss were going the other way moving up in the world to the .45 P220.
Original P210s were all steel and came in both 9mm and 7.65x21mm varieties. The design was based on the earlier French Modele 1935A pistol created by Charles Petter in 1935. The Modele 1935A was chambered in 7.65x21mm which may explain why the P210 was originally offered in two calibers.
One of the unusual design features of the P210 is that the slide rides inside the frame rails rather than on the outside as is common on pistols derived from John Browning’s design (see comparison photo below – the P210 is on the right).
The advantage of this is that that the pistol can be made with a very tight fit between the frame, slide and barrel without compromising the reliability. The upshot of all this tightness is that by eliminating the slop in the fit, the pistol is highly accurate as there is very limited movement between the parts that could affect the bullet’s flight. In short, you get a pistol design that can be manufactured in moderate quantities, but with the tightness of fit usually reserved for hand-finished guns.
In 2010, SIG announced that they’d be re-releasing the P210 in an updated design. The factory in Eckernförde, Germany acquired the license from the original Swiss Arms when the German company bought SIG Arms, AG. At the present time, all SIG P210s are manufactured in Germany. You really can’t do much better heritage-wise; you get a Swiss design manufactured by quality-obsessed Germans.
The new model keeps some of the design features of the original, but also has some changes that are much appreciated. It’s still completely made of carbon steel (the slide is machined out of a solid billet of steel) which makes it a fairly heavy gun, weighing in at a hefty 37.4 ounces. Both the slide and frame receive SIG’s standard Nitron coating process which helps to ward off rust.
The new model includes a drop safety and according to the SIG website, the manual safety has been improved over the original (unfortunately it still sucks, but more on that later). The beavertail was extended and curved to make it both more comfortable and more effective. Finally, thankfully, SIG dropped the original European bottom magazine release, changing it to a frame-mounted mag release where God intended it to be.
In keeping with German design sensibilities the sights are very utilitarian. You won’t find any dots, lines, tritium or fiber optics here, just a black post and notch. This is the exact same sight setup on the only other German pistol that I own, a H&K USP Tactical. The sights on the standard P210 are fixed, but the even more expensive target model ships with an adjustable rear sight.
There’s also no rail, so you can forget about any gun-mounted lights, lasers or other doodads. This gun is clearly designed to be shot in decent ambient light. The grip’s simply gorgeous and fits my medium-large sized hands extremely well. I’m not normally a huge fan of wood grips. For me, I seem to get a better fit with either aluminum or plastic, but in this case, there is no way I’m even going to consider changing them out (it’s not like there are a lot of aftermarket alternatives anyway).
The P210 is renowned for its accuracy. The design specs calls for every P210 to be capable of putting five rounds into a 2 inch circle at 50 yards before leaving the factory. As with some of SIGs higher end pistols, a test fire target is included in the box. I’m a little confused as the target included with my pistol does indeed show five shots within the 2 inch circle, but the 25 meter (roughly 27 yards) box is checked. Three of the five shots could be covered with a dime with the other two shots remaining in the 2 inch circle. It’s possible this gun was actually tested at 50 yards. The test target is a standard one used by SIG and doesn’t contain a check box for 50 yards, so perhaps the engineer simply used what he had available.
My testing bore the accuracy claims out (keeping in mind that I won’t be keeping Rob Leatham awake worrying at night). At 7 yards, the pistol‘s a tack driver.
That’s ten rounds that you are looking at on the target above. Moving back to 50 feet, things opened up a bit, but the pistol still did fairly well given my meager skills:
I had the opportunity this past week to use the P210 at SIG Academy’s Long Range Pistol Shooting course. We shot at various targets and distances that ranged from trying to cut a business card in half edge side out from 3 yards out to hitting a steel chest plate at 100 yards.
The P210 excelled across the board. In the card splitting challenge, I cut the card in half with my first shot. The other students took as much as a full magazine to accomplish the same feat. Out at 100 yards with a timed challenge, the accuracy of the P210 let me draw from my holster and strike steel in less than 9 seconds. One thing I learned about this gun was that the sights were calibrated for 25 yards. Once you get past 50 yards, you actually had to hold low to hit the target (a high hold was not needed because even at 100 yards, a 9 mm bullet is still pretty much point of aim, point of impact).
The single action trigger pull is a very smooth 4 lbs. with virtually no stacking or annoying take up. On a brand new P210, the trigger has the feel of a gun that has had several thousand rounds put through it. The trigger isn’t advertised as being one of SIG’s Short Reset Triggers (SRT), but comparing it to my P229 which does have an SRT, I had a hard time telling the difference.
According to SIG, the P210 is the most accurate pistol they offer. It even eclipses the X5 and X6 lines in accuracy, but has a price to match. At an MSRP of $2,199, it’s less expensive than any of the X6 pistols and many of X5s, but more than double the cost of most of SIG’s main line guns.
It’s a limited production pistol which means you can expect to pay full list price if you find one. A recent search of retailers and on Gunbroker confirms that you are not likely to find a new one at less than MSRP. I was fortunate to purchase it at the SIG Academy Pro Shop using my 20% class discount. That knocked over $400 off of the price meaning that if I wanted to, I could probably have bought all of the P210s they had in stock and sold them at a profit. I only wish I’d thought of it at the time.
Aside from the stratospheric pricing, there are a couple of nits I have to pick with the P210. The first is the manual safety. On my other single action guns, the safety lever protrudes far enough from the frame that it’s easy to disengage on the draw stroke. With the P210, the safety is a hair too small – while testing it on several occasions, I wasn’t able to smoothly disengage it on the draw. This is a known problem with P210s and I’m surprised that SIG didn’t address it during the redesign. If you have large hands, you are probably okay, but you’ll want to check this out for yourself before plunking down that kind of cash.
Then there are the magazines. SIG magazines have never been what anyone would describe as bargain priced, but with a list price of $75 for a P210 mag, they are horribly overpriced for an eight round single stack. On top of this, they are the most difficult magazines to load that I have ever used. Getting the last two rounds in is an exercise in frustration and you’re going to leave some DNA behind in an extended shooting and loading session. On the plus side, SIG is gracious enough to include two magazines with the pistol.
Aftermarket accessories for the P210 are lacking to say the least. Holsters in particular are difficult to find. My usual standbys – Blade Tech and Comp-Tac do not make anything for the P210. Mitch Rosen, however, does and I have placed an order with them. Beyond that, there isn’t much more you’d want to add. Unless you have huge hands, you probably wouldn’t want to replace those phenomenal wood grips, but if you do, good luck finding something to fit this gun.
All that said, the P210 is a pleasure to shoot and a true tack driver. It’s a tremendous pistol that carries an equally tremendous price tag along with a couple of warts. If you’re looking for a super-accurate 9mm though, this is certainly one worth considering.
Length 8.5 in
Height 5.6 in
Width (with lever) 1.3 in
Weight with mag 37.4 oz.
MSRP $2,199 (street about $2,199)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style: * * * * *
This gun is simply gorgeous. Not a lot of useless bling and those walnut grips are to die for.
Ergonomics: * *
The trigger is as smooth as a baby’s bottom, but the safety lever is almost unusable in its stock configuration. Fix this and we are looking at 4 stars or better.
Accuracy: * * * * *
All that I can say is, wow. I’ve never shot a gun this accurate and using it is a great leveler when shooting against people with more ability. The P210 consistently puts the bullet where you aim it. If you can overcome your own shooting shortcomings, this gun will not let you down.
Reliability * * * * *
It shot whatever I threw at it including frangible rounds (which give some pistols indigestion) without a single hiccup.
Customize This: * *
Forget it. If the grip fits you, you’re golden. If not, well, find another gun. If you like leather holsters, Mitch Rosen has you covered. If you prefer kydex, you’ll need to go the custom route.
Overall: * * * *
I really struggled with this final rating. The poor design of the safety really detracts from what is otherwise an exceptional firearm. On the flip side, the phenomenal accuracy of the P210 goes a long way towards making up for the problem. If you’re in the market for the Bentley of handguns and can comfortably reach the safety (and don’t mind paying through the nose for magazines) then this is your baby.