This truly is the year of the civilian sub-gun. From the MPX to the CZ Scorpion and all the various options in between, it seems there’s a pistol out there to suit every shooter. The reason is simple: just about everyone already owns an AR-15 and now American gun owners are moving on to more interesting range toys and potential home defense guns. While an original H&K MP5 would fill that role nicely H&K doesn’t seem interested in releasing a civilian version of that gun any time soon and proper examples cost upwards of $29,000. There is hope, however: Zenith Firearms is importing something that is about as close to the original MP5 as you can get without a tax stamp . . .
I mentioned the Zenith Z-5 pistol line earlier this year at the NRA Annual Meeting and the first impressions were very good. I followed up a little while later with the guys at Zenith and pretty soon a small package arrived at my door carrying a German designed, Turkish manufactured bundle of joy. But before we get to the gun let’s take a step back and talk about how this all came to be.
If you ask some American gun owners, H&K’s unofficial motto is “you suck and we hate you.” That’s arguable been less and less true as the years go by and H&K releases more new guns for the US market. There are still some items, however, that the folks in Germany haven’t exported across the pond in decades for the civilian market. One of those much coveted items is the venerable MP5 and its variants. While the actual H&K gun might be unavailable, there are a couple companies that have found a way around that sticky wicket.
In the latter half of the last century Germany was rather generous when it came to providing their designs and their machinery to overseas manufacturers, allowing them to make local copies. In this case, the Turkish arsenal MKE received a set of German stamping machines (complete with German inscriptions) for the H&K parts and began cranking out a local (officially licensed) version of the iconic MP5.
Fast forward about three decades — the American firearms market is booming like it never has before and MKE wants to get in on some of that cash to bolster its bottom line. The patent on the MP5 design has long since expired, allowing MKE to modify its version of the gun and sell it on the open market, something they couldn’t easily do under their licensing agreement. The only thing remaining on the MP5 is the trademark on the model designation so they slap a new name on it and ship it off to the United States.
The result is the Z-5 line, and the MP5K equivalent is their Z-5P Pistol.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time with the original MP5K (full review here) and in general the Zenith gun is identical to the real deal. The proportions of the Z-5P are correct, as is the overall design. The rear strengthening plates are present and accounted for on the back of the receiver, for example — necessary additions to combat the added stress of the shorter receiver, but oddly missing from other imported MP5K clones. In fact, it’s probably easier to talk about what MKE has changed rather than what’s the same.
When MKE first started importing these guns into the US, they changed so much of the gun to meet compliance regulations that it was basically a whole new beast. In the intervening years they’ve gone back toward the original design only changing a bare minimum of items, which makes the Z-5P as close to an actual original MP5K as you can get.
One of the major changes that needed to happen was a redesign of the trigger housing. It looks like they needed to design a way to keep the full auto trigger packs from slotting into the gun and their solution was to create their own polymer trigger group to do the job. They executed this well, and not only does the new trigger group look good but it also feels really good. Except for the actual trigger that is, which is unfortunately similar to the standard MP5 trigger and includes all the associated heaviness.
For those thinking about simply grabbing a trigger group off GunBroker and slotting it into the gun, MKE is a half a step ahead of you. They have welded a small bar onto all of their magazine wells which only works with MKE’s semi-automatic trigger housing. Full auto trigger groups will not fit without first grinding that little nub off. I’m not gonna ding them on it since it’s easy to fix for those who actually have a registered MP5 trigger pack and want to enjoy some full auto fun, but it’s something that prospective buyers should be aware of.
Another change is the addition of a Picatinny rail mounted along the top of the firearm. There are a number of aftermarket Pic rails available for the MP5 platform and much like those, this is also a bolt-on accessory that attaches to the top of the gun. This allows the owner to choose whether they want to run an optic on their pistol (something like an Aimpoint red dot) or if they want to go completely retro and run with a simple set of iron sights.
The rail looks awkward and bulky on the gun. The clamping mechanism required to make it work adds a lot of extra material and starts to obscure the beautiful lines of the MP5 design. The rail’s also just a hair tall for my taste. Then again removing it is as easy as pie.
The gun comes from the factory with a fitted hard case, three magazines, and a cleaning kit that all fit in a plastic container.
The pistol takes down exactly like a standard MP5K — easy as 1-2-3. The major components slide right out of the gun and it works exactly as a normal MP5 should. There are some minor differences in the parts that a seasoned MP5 expert might (and did when I showed some pictures to one) catch, but nothing that the average Joe will really care too much about. All the usual bits and bobs sold online as aftermarket replacements should and typically will fit.
Speaking of accessories, the Z-5P is indeed properly sized to accept the usual MP5K accouterments. SB Tactical is producing a pistol arm brace specifically for the MP5K these days (which includes the mounting hardware already installed) and they sent me a sample to test out on the gun. Not only does it look amazing, but it also works really well. The guy I asked to model for me had never used the brace “properly” before (attached to your arm), and after trying it he mentioned that it really did help reduce the perceived weight of the gun and steady his aim.
While most external accessories will fit, one very important one will not. In fact it brought the review to a screeching halt and may have sunk the gun’s rating.
The Z-5P ships with a copy of H&K’s typical 3-lug barrel design. Not only is the barrel threaded for silencers but they also include the iconic 3-lug system which was one of the very first standardized fast-attach systems for silencers. It allowed the operator to quickly add or remove a silencer and use a single can on as many of H&K’s pistol caliber firearms as they have at their disposal.
When I reviewed the B&T APC9 I talked Liberty Suppressors into sending me a 3-lug adapter for my Mystic-X silencer so I could test it out and see how it works. I was excited to do the same thing with the Z-5P. Unfortunately that was not to be.
This is a close-up picture of the 3-lug adapter on the Z-5P pistol. Having consulted with some MP5 experts and reviewed the technical drawings I know that the OD of the barrel should be uniform from start to finish to allow the mount to work properly. If you take a look at the ridge just behind that small trough highlighted in the above picture you can see that it is clearly higher than the preceding barrel surface. This is a problem.
The way the 3-lug mount is machined is they start with a complete circle of material at that location and machine out the slots to allow the petals on the mount to pass and lock in with the lugs. It looks like in this instance the machinists in Turkey left just enough material in place to pass the QC at the factory yet still keep my Liberty mount from locking on.
I contacted Zenith about this issue and they confirmed that yes indeed my gun was out of spec and immediately replaced it with a new gun (including return shipping on the old gun). According to Zenith that’s the standard warranty response should anyone else have this issue, and they are changing their QC process to include fitting a 3-lug adapter on every gun that comes in to filter out this issue in the future. When the new Z-5P came it had the exact same issue so I’m guessing that this is a common feature on the MKE guns.
Here’s the catch: the 3-lug mount on this gun will work just fine with most silencer adapters. Liberty Suppressors took the technical drawings on the MP5 a little too literally and as a result they expect the mount to be 100% perfectly in spec, when in reality that’s probably not a common occurrence. The SilencerCo 3-lug adapter will fit just fine, for example. Nevertheless the thing is still out of spec, which is a bit of a concern for me. The good news is that the threads on the end of the barrel are still good and will be useful for mounting silencers.
Out on the range the Z-P runs just fine. I didn’t have any malfunctions, and the gun seemed equally well suited to the few types of ammunition I fed it. Accuracy is what you’d expect for a rather heavy pistol with iron sights: more than minute of bad guy at 30 feet. The trigger is as heavy as a typical MP5 and the controls are still annoying — the thumb selector switch is always a bit awkward for me to action. Then again that’s more of a knock against the original MP5 design and not against MKE’s faithful reproduction.
So how does this Z-5P/MP5K stack up against the competition? At $1,800 MSRP (street price around $1,700) the gun isn’t cheap, but it also isn’t the most expensive one out there. There are three manufacturers that come to mind when I think of MP5s in this price range: Zenith/MKE, Pakistani Ordnance Factory, and Brethren Armament. There’s a couple more, but they are like the Wilson Combat of MP5s and command an appropriate hilariously high sum of money for their work.
Zenith’s MKE guns are right smack dab in the middle of the three in every way possible. The build quality is miles better than POF (who don’t even really have a “K” version, its just a shorter MP5 and lacks some of the proper “K” features) yet Brethren Armament still leaves them in the dust. It’s the same for price, aesthetics, and just about every other category on the plate. And yet the three are only separated by about $500, which makes the argument for cheaping out less persuasive in this case.
The only reason why I would recommend this gun over the Brethren version is that pedigree. This is as close as you will ever probably get to owning an original MP5 since it rolled off the very same machines H&K sold to Turkey all those years ago. It shares a direct lineage with the original MP5 and for a collector I can see that being a big thing. Of the manufacturers that make licensed MP5 copies, this is probably the best-executed version I’ve seen out there — despite the 3-lug niggles. There’s also the minor fact that Brethren Armament is a small shop and having trouble keeping up with demand, so you’re probably more likely to actually find a Zenith/MKE gun available for sale.
If you want the best MP5K for your money (legally in the United States and without a tax stamp), Brethren Armament for $150 to $275 more gets my vote. But if you want the closest thing to an original MP5K on the market for a price that won’t break the bank (and is actually in stock) then you’ll want to go with the Z-5P.
Specifications – Zenith MKE Z-5P Pistol:
|MSRP:||$1,800 ($1,675 street)|
|Sights:||H&K notch and post|
|Barrel Length:||5.8 inches|
Ratings (out of five stars):
Fit, Finish, Build Quality: * *
Overall the gun is acceptable, but the lack of attention to detail is evident from the 3-lug adapter all the way back to the end plate.
Customization: * * * *
All of your favorite MP5K accessories will fit just fine, and the addition of a Picatinny rail is a nice touch for optics.
Accuracy: * * *
Meh. Not impressed, but not horrified either.
Overall: * * *
What we have here is the definition of a benchmark. The gun is functional and generally well made and the added extras are a hit in my book. It isn’t the worst MP5K I’ve seen this year, but it also isn’t the best. Middle of the road is the best way to describe it — the definition of average. Definitely worth the money.