You might wonder why a company would introduce a new version of a discontinued pistol that wasn’t selling particularly well? The Browning Hi Power was becoming too expensive to be competitive at its price. You would have to think hard whether the pistol was worth the money compared to something like a SIG P226, Beretta 92 or CZ 75 9mm.
At the same time, nothing else is quite like a Hi Power. And collectors, shooters and niche pistol sales don’t always climb the logic ladder. There have been other clones of the FN Browning Hi Power such as EAA’s P35, but the Springfield may be the best of the bunch (I haven’t seen the new FN release yet).
The pistol is all steel and there are no MIM parts, which is all to the good. The new Springfield Armory SA-35 isn’t a straight-up clone of the Browning pistol (Springfield doesn’t call it a Hi Power). Springfield chose to upgrade the pistol while listening to various complaints concerning the original.
One of the updates Springfield has made to the SA-35 is a redesign of the small safety lever of the Hi Power. Springfield also decided against the ambidextrous safety of the later Browning MKII 9mm.
The SA-35 safety is a speed safety that’s very similar to the excellent Cylinder and Slide Inc. aftermarket safety. The new version is well fitted with a sharp indent.
The sights aren’t like anything offered on a Hi Power type previously. The rear sight is a well designed wedge type U notch that allows fast target acquisition. The front sight is a simple white dot post.
The Hi Power’s magazine disconnect “safety” feature, which prevented the pistol from firing if the magazine is removed, was a regular bone of contention as it adversely impact the trigger action. Springfield wisely chose not to include this feature in the SA-35.
Springfield tells us that they’ve made minor changes to the feed ramp and extractor contours to improve reliability with JHP ammunition. It’s handled the hollow point ammunition I’ve used so far without a problem.
Besides its slim lines, part of the appeal of the original Hi Power was its thirteen-round magazine capacity. That was a lot back in the day when the Hi Point was first introduced. The SA-35 is fully compatible with those original magazines, but Springfield’s new mags hold 15 rounds (a single 15-rounder ships with the pistol). I’d rather pay a little more for the gun and get two magazines.
Springfield has also improved the grips over those on the Browning Hi Power. Most High Powers had grip panels that were too thick for many shooters. Later variants used plastic grips. The slimmer checkered walnut grips of the SA-35, which I like very much, are reminiscent of Herrett’s checkered stocks.
The big change over Hi Power handguns of the past is the SA-35’s trigger. I have never felt a truly good factory trigger on a Browning Hi Power. Some are better than others. Some are fairly smooth, if heavy. The heavy hammer fall was a component of the pistol’s legendary reliability with heavy primers and off-spec cartridge brass.
With modern ammunition from the major makers, though, a crisp trigger is more desirable than a heavy trigger action. The SA-35’s action has a bit less takeup than other Hi Power clones. My example breaks at a very smooth 5.1 pounds. This is virtually unheard of in a factory Hi Power.
Firing the pistol was very enjoyable. The factory magazine is easy to load and I’ve added several Mec-Gar 13-round magazines as well.
I used primarily the Remington UMC 115 grain FMJ for testing. Over time I have used quite a few different types of ammunition, all with good results and didn’t clean the pistol until the end of the test period. I don’t think that’s abuse, but I would clean my pistol more often if I were trusting my life to it.
In short, the SA-35 is reliable, plain and simple. I had no problems with any of the ammunition I’ve used including JHPs and bullet weights from 115 to 147 grains.
As for combat accuracy the pistol is very fast to an accurate first shot. Draw the handgun get on target as you flick the safety off and press the trigger to the rear. You will get a hit. The sight system is ideal for combat shooting and speed loads are very fast. A tapered magazine going into a magazine well this size isn’t difficult to handle with real alacrity.
The SA-35, weighing almost 32 ounces, handles recoil well. The pistol is an excellent defensive handgun. Fast to a hit, easily controlled, and boringly reliable, the SA-35 may stand on its own merits without comparison to any other handgun.
Absolute accuracy may be the least important part of a personal defense handgun, but just the same it’s interesting. I fired the pistol from a solid bench rest taking every advantage to see what the SA-35 can do. The rear U-notch sight is at its best in combat shooting, but when properly aligned, can be very accurate. I carefully hunkered down on an MTM K Zone shooting rest and put five rounds into 2.3 inches at 25 yards with Golden Saber. That’ll do.
Springfield has done a good job here This is an accurate, reliable 9mm with good capacity. And priced at $699 MSRP (retail isn’t discounted much yet) this callback to a classic is very much within the reach of the average gun buyer. That can only be a good thing.
Specifications: Springfield Armory SA-35 9mm Pistol
Length: 7.7 inches
Height: 5.2 inches
Barrel length: 4.7 inches
Weight: 31.5 ounces
Sights: Fixed, U notch rear, white dot front
Action type: Single action only
Magazine capacity: 15 rounds
Ratings (out of five stars):
Reliability * * * * *
No failures to feed, chamber, fire or eject. Perfect.
Accuracy * * * * *
Springfield has improved the sights from the originals and the results are there. Accuracy is better than expected.
Fit and finish * * * *
Very good. The walnut stocks are good. I’m less of a fan of the matte finish, but it’s done well.
Concealed carry * * * *
The pistol is long but reasonably slim. The SA-35 is an easily concealed EDC gun if you don’t mind the weight.
Overall * * * * ½
Springfield has given us a pistol with better sights, an improved safety lever, a much better trigger, and without the hated magazine disconnect. The SA-35 is a well-executed tribute to the original Hi Power at a price most will be able to afford.