(This is a reader gun review contest entry, click here for more details.)
By Jonathan Yaphet
In the American marketplace, the subcompact handgun category is a crowded field. Every major manufacturer has at least one baby model available, and many have several for sale. Some are slightly larger, smaller, thinner, thicker, longer, or shorter, but they all share the same characteristics: barrel length at or below 3.5 inches, double stack 10 – 13 round magazine, and a short grip for easy concealability. These guns are considered the best all-around carry guns, and there is one that sets the gold standard: the GLOCK 26. It has what many people consider the best combination of weight, size, and capacity for the average concealed carrier, not to mention it’s rock solid reliability and above average accuracy. But is it the best? Are there options out there that can give the baby GLOCK a run for it’s money? As a matter of fact, there is one…the Walther P99c AS . . .
On paper, you would have a hard time telling the two apart. They both have more or less the same weight, barrel length, and standard capacity. They come from (roughly) the same part of the world. They’re both polymer framed and striker fired.
As similar as they may sound, there are a few features that make the Walther stand out from it’s Austrian counterpart. For starters, while the Walther is a striker-fired pistol, it has a traditional DA/SA operation, something very uncommon for hammerless handguns. The AS in the name stands for ‘anti stress’. When you first rack the slide the striker is fully cocked, but the trigger is in the same place as it would be for a double action shot.
When you fire the gun, the trigger will be extremely light for about half the travel. You will eventually hear a click which signifies the end of the first stage. Now the trigger is in single action mode. If you release the trigger at this point, it will stay back in the single action position unless you decock the gun or re-rack the slide. If you keep pulling you will feel slightly more resistance for about a quarter inch, then just a tad more until you hit the break.
Overtravel is imperceptible. The reset is super short with a nice reassuring click. If you prefer, you can also decock the gun and carry it in double action mode. In this mode the trigger is long and heavy (but smooth) just like a traditional double action pistol. Once it fires it will revert to single action again. This also means that if you get a hard primer you can simply pull the trigger again and give the round a second chance to fire. This gun gives you all the advantages of a traditional SA/DA as well as all the advantages of a striker fired gun with virtually none of the drawbacks.
Walther makes two other versions of the P99c: a DAO version which always has the long heavy pull, and a QA (Quick Action) version which only has the light single action trigger with no DA option. It’s up to you which version you want, but why pick only one when you can have both?
The Walther also has an ambidextrous magazine release, but depending on who you ask, that might be a bad thing. That’s because the P99c uses a paddle style release. I personally love the paddle release because you never have to change your firing grip to drop the mag, but some people hate them. Your mileage may vary.
The extractor pulls double duty as a loaded chamber indicator. It isn’t the best system I’ve seen, but it works. The P99c also has a rail for all your nighttime shooting accessories. On a subcompact it’s probably not necessary, but it’s a nice touch.
The P99c comes in a standard hard side foam-lined case, pretty par for the course at this price point. Two ten-round magazines are included, one with a flat base plate and one with a finger extension. The mags look and feel well made, and the finger extension is just the right length. Additional front sights are also included in order to get the gun shooting exactly where you want it. The rear sight is adjustable for windage. Also included is a second backstrap for a more personalized fit (I have short sausage fingers so I have the smaller backstrap on). Under the top foam you’ll find a manual and the factory supplied test target proving the gun shoots better than you do (Unless your name is Miculek). A plastic cleaning rod and blue chamber flag round out the package.
I am not a GLOCK owner (I don’t even play one on TV), but I decided that if I was going to make so many comparisons to a gun I didn’t even own it would only be right to put my money where my primary vocal orifice resides and pony up for a rental at the local shooting gallery. I even brought along my Sig 2022 to see how the baby 9s do against a full grown handgun (spoiler: quite well, actually).
Before the shooting started, I took some comparison pictures (I apologize in advance for the picture quality. Underground bunkers Indoor shooting ranges aren’t known for their ambient lighting). The Walther is just a hair longer and taller than the GLOCK. Weight and general handling are very similar for both guns. Fit and finish are also comparable, but since the GLOCK is a rental I really can’t compare too closely. I shot a total of 100 rounds through the guns: 40 from the GLOCK and Walther, 20 from the Sig. Federal FMJ 115 grain was the ammo du jour. All targets were shot from 20 feet with 10 shots per target. Results below.
These are the best groups from each gun. All in all, not a huge difference between them. My last name is not, in fact, Miculek, so I am pretty sure a more proficient shooter could tighten all three of these up a bit. I did not notice any significant difference in recoil between the two subcompacts. All guns were 100% reliable (duh, German!).
So, after all is said and done, is the P99c better than the GLOCK? In my opinion, yes, although admittedly not as much better as I thought before the test. In fact, I can give you at least 4 reasons the P99c is better than it’s rival (and two big reasons why it isn’t, but more on that later).
1. It’s sexier
Lets be honest: the GLOCK is no looker. It has all the visual appeal of a 2×4. Looks may not win gunfights, but the GLOCK (any GLOCK) isn’t going to make the best dressed lists. The P99c, on the other hand, is hotter than Bar Paly in a sauna. The angled slide, the sharp engraving, the big Walther logo. It’s just a handsome piece of machinery. A small point, but when you’re competing against Gaston’s vundarpistole, every advantage helps.
2. It has a better trigger
The trigger on the P99c is the real difference between these two guns. The P99c is not only lighter in AS mode, but it gives you carry options as well. Don’t feel comfortable carrying it cocked? Then don’t. Don’t like a long, heavy pull? Then do. In other words, if you like your single action, you can keep your single action…for real.
3. It’s safer
The GLOCK has a bit of a (probably undeserved) reputation for negligent discharges, most of which stem from two features: a relatively light, short trigger and the need to pull the trigger before disassembling the gun. The P99c solves both of these. Even in SA, the trigger pull is longer (albeit lighter) than a GLOCK, which means you have that much longer to notice (and hopefully stop) a ND before it happens. As I stated before, the P99c has a de-cocker. If you feel the AS trigger is too light for safe carry, simply de-cock it and now you have a long heavy trigger for your first shot. The de-cocker also allows you to to disassemble the gun without pulling the trigger. In short, you never need to pull the trigger… until you do.
4. It’s not a GLOCK
The GLOCK is the Toyota Corolla of the handgun world: reliable, affordable, practical…and completely boring. You can’t take five steps at a gun shop or range without running into whole tables full the damn things. Everyone has one. I don’t want to sound like a hipster, but wouldn’t you rather have something more unique? Besides, there’s nothing more satisfying than looking condescendingly over the rim of your Ray-Ban wayfarers at some clueless pleb before saying “No, it’s a Walther P99c. It’s very rare…you’ve probably never heard of it.”
Of course, not all is rainbows and unicorn farts in the land of Walther. There are two problems with the gun that might be a deal breaker for some. The problems aren’t actually with the gun itself, though. The biggest problem is finding one. I mentioned earlier that these are uncommon. Uncommon might be a bit of an understatement…’rarer than hen’s teeth’ is more accurate. The .40 caliber version is in plentiful supply, but as of this writing I can’t find a single 9mm version, new or used, for sale on gunbroker or gunwatcher. Because of this, expect to pay very close to or over MSRP to get one.
There is also the matter of accessories. While the GLOCK has a nearly infinite supply of holsters, magazines, sights, and other widgets, the Walther’s selection is significantly less. Standard capacity mags are easy enough to come by (although a bit pricey), and extended mags are also not terribly rare either (PPQ m1 mags will work in the P99), but the adapter sleeve? Fuhgeddaboudit!
Holsters are a similarly sticky wicket. While there are a few companies that make Kydex holsters for the P99c, you most likely will not find anything off the shelf at your local Cabela’s. The good news is that some GLOCK 26 holsters will fit the P99c due to their similar dimensions. I run a N8² Tactical holster with mine and it works great.
All in all, this gun is a winner. If you can find one for sale (and that is a big if) I highly doubt you will regret the purchase. If you want a longer, lighter trigger in your carry gun, or you simply enjoy a DA/SA trigger, you can’t go wrong with the P99c.
Caliber: 9 X 19
Barrel Length: 3.50”
Overall Length: 6.60”
Weight: 20.80 oz
Price: $629 MSRP
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Style * * * * *
Look at your GLOCK. Now look at the Walther. Now back to the GLOCK. Now back to the Walther. Sadly, your GLOCK isn’t a Walther.
Ergonomics * * * *
Interchangeable backstraps? Check. Ambi mag release? Check. Pinky extension? Check. We are good to go.
Trigger * * * * *
THE reason to buy this gun. True DA/SA, a light and smooth pull, and a multitude of carry options. Take that, Safe Action.
Reliability * * * * *
You dare qveztion ze German engineering? NEIN!
Accessories * *
The biggest downfall. While it does have a rail, holsters, mags, and other amenities will be fewer and pricier. You’ve been warned.
Carry * * * * *
Light, tight, and outta sight. On par with the GLOCK 26. You aren’t doing better with any other double stack.
Overall Rating * * * *
No other pistol on the market does what the P99c can do, and it does it well. Aside from availability, there is no reason not to have one.