The king is dead, long live the king! In the realm of the modern striker fired pistol, it can be argued that the GLOCK, the pioneer of the genre, is no longer the head of the class. While I am sure fanboys are already angrily typing comments below this post in response to this statement, what is not arguable is that this newest generation of pistols outperforms the Austrian wunderpistole in both form and function.
When discussing this new breed of gun, three specific models are frequently touted as the best in show: The Walther PPQ, the HK VP9, and the SIG P320. It just so happens that I own all three of these guns, and so I have decided to pit them in a three way winner-take-all battle to help determine which one is top dog. All of these guns tested are chambered in 9mm, but there are other caliber options should you want something more exotic. Here is a quick primer on the three guns included in this test.
Introduced in 2011, the PPQ is less of a new gun and more of an updated, re-imagined P99. They even share the same magazines. Depending on your perspective, you could say that Walther had the next generation pistol on the market two generations ago. The main difference between them is the trigger. While the P99 used a DA/SA system with a decocker, the PPQ skips all that mess for a simple GLOCK style system.
The P320 is a striker fired reboot of SIG’s P250 modular handgun. Introduced in 2014, it has caught on rapidly, and now holds a permanent place on most gun store shelves. Unlike the two German pistols in this test, the P320 is a completely modular system.
The internals of the gun can be removed from the frame without tools, allowing the user to customize the grip, slide length, and barrel length to their desired specifications (provided they purchase those parts, of course). It is this modularity that prompted the U.S. army to select a modified version of the P320 as their new M17 duty pistol earlier this year.
The only truly new gun of the three, the VP9 breaks from HKs long line of hammer fired pistols, and is the first striker fired pistol made by HK since the venerable P7 went out of production. Also introduced in 2014, the VP9 is magazine compatible with the older P30 and P2000, which makes upgrading a bit less painful for the HK faithful. A sub compact version has also recently been announced.
You will notice the aforementioned GLOCK is nowhere to be found in this list. There are two reasons for this. First, as I stated, the GLOCK is old hat and cannot compete with these guns in terms of features. Second, I don’t own a GLOCK, and I’m too cheap to buy one for you guys. I’m not made of money like fast cars Farago.
Also noticeably absent is the brand new Beretta APX, because I don’t have one either, but if I win the contest I promise I’ll do a new head to head with it as soon as I get it! *wink wink, cough cough* Also, the Rp9 isn’t here because it’s a Remington and therefore sucks. Let’s get on with it.
Size and Weight
The specific model of P320 I have is the P320 Carry, which has more or less the exact same dimensions as the other two models, so this will be an apples to apples comparison across the board. I will get into the modularity aspect of the P320 later.
All three guns are nearly identical in terms of size and weight. The PPQ is the lightest at 24.5 ounces, with the VP9 and P320 at 25 and 26 ounces, respectively. Overall height, width, and length are all equally close, with less than a .2-inch spread between highest and lowest for any metric.
Just for the record, the PPQ is the shortest in length, the P320 is the shortest in height and the VP9 is the thinnest. Since each one is smallest in one distinct category, the tie will go to the lightest which is the PPQ. In all honesty, this category is the least important because 1.5 ounces or a quarter of an inch is not going to mean a hill of beans in any practical scenario.
Winner: PPQ Loser: P320
This one is very simple. The HK has a 4.1-inch barrel, the PPQ has a 4-inch barrel and the SIG has a 3.9-inch barrel (notice a pattern with these numbers?). Longer is better, and the HK has the added bonus of being polygonally rifled.
Winner: VP9 Loser: P320
From the factory, all of these guns come with two high quality 15 round magazines, so to find a winner we will have to look deeper. Walther offers 17 round factory magazines, while SIG has 17 and even 21 round magazines available for the P320. HK? Nothing. You’ll have to go aftermarket if you want more pills in your gat.
Winner: P320 Loser: VP9
Now it gets a little interesting. The PPQ and HK both have European paddle style releases while the SIG has a reversible button for your thumb. I know there is a lot of controversy over paddle releases on this side of the pond. I am a big fan of them because, being a lefty, I am used to dropping the mag with my trigger finger so it’s a natural motion for me.
Not all paddle releases are created equal, however, and this is very apparent when comparing the HK with the Walther. While the Walther’s release is a generous inch long tab, making it very easy to activate, the HKs release is a lousy little half inch nub peeking out from around the base of the trigger guard.
It is neither far enough back to reach with my thumb nor is it forward enough to comfortably hit it with my trigger finger, requiring me to either use my off hand thumb or awkwardly bend my trigger finger back behind the trigger to activate. I would go as far as to call the mag release on the VP9 bad.
Needless to say, the HK loses this battle. The PPQ also comes in an American version with a reversible thumb button a la the P320 that some of the more colonial among us will appreciate. This Burger King have it your way level of choice is unprecedented among pistol manufacturers, and the PPQ wins this part of the match hands down.
Winner: PPQ Loser: VP9
This is another less than straightforward category. All three guns allow you to customize the grip size to your liking, but they go about it in very different ways.
The PPQ has the now ubiquitous replaceable backstrap. Simply drift out the rear pin, pull the backstrap off, and replace it with one of your choice. The gun comes with three sizes, and… that’s it. Nothing you haven’t seen before.
The VP9 takes this concept to 11 with replaceable backstraps and side panels, giving you exponentially more configurations to choose from. It comes with three sets of backstraps and panels.
The P320 goes in a very different direction. Because the gun is modular, SIG makes and sells frames of different sizes to fit your hand. While in theory this would be the best option, it is also the most difficult and expensive option because you have to buy the frames individually for 40+ bucks a pop. It also only comes with one frame, so if you want a different size you’re coughing up cash and probably waiting for the UPS man.
This one is a bit of a toss up depending on your perspective, but I’m calling the P320 the loser just because of the extra cash involved.
Winner: VP9 Loser: P320
All three of the guns come with traditional three-dot sights. The dots on the PPQ are slightly smaller, but all are clear and easy to see. The VP9 and P320 have dovetailed sights that are drift adjustable, while the PPQ actually comes with multiple front sights of various sizes and a click adjustable rear sight. A very nice upgrade, making it the victor in this category.
Between the other two, the stock VP9 sights are luminescent, meaning you can shine a light on them and they will glow in the dark for a little while. A bit gimmicky, but a feature is a feature.
I did a little research on the sights and it turns out some people actually dislike the sights on the VP9 because they are snag free. For those of you scratching your head, it means you can’t catch the rear sight on something and rack the slide one handed. This might be an issue for some people, but I doubt many will care. With that, I declare HK second place. Sorry SIG.
Winner: PPQ Loser: P320
Yes, it’s a release. All of these guns are designed to utilize the slide lock lever to release the slide after slotting a fresh mag. The P320 uses a smaller tab similar to a GLOCK but ambidextrous, while the PPQ uses a pair of nice fat rails down the length of the frame. HK apparently couldn’t decide which version they liked better so they split the baby and used both.
On the left side of the gun you have a large tab that sits in a recessed cut in the frame, and on the right you have a long rail which kind of looks like they threw it on at the last second. This two face level of asymmetry is highly unusual but it gets the job done and in my opinion has the most positive feel and function of the three guns.
The difference between the PPQ and the VP9 in this category is so small it could be in my head, but a winner must be crowned. The SIG comes in last because the tiny tabs on the side are simply not as easy to manipulate. That doesn’t make them bad, mind you. They’re simply less good.
Winner: VP9 Loser: P320
Time to separate the wheat from the chaff. This is what makes these guns special. Before we get into this I want to be clear: All three of these guns have excellent triggers. These triggers are head and shoulders above any other striker fired pistols on the market, and are usually on par with some of the aftermarket GLOCK or M&P triggers offered.
While one may be slightly better or worse than the other, this is like comparing a Ferrari to a Lamborghini. One may be a little faster, but they are both wonderfully fun. Now on to the triggers themselves.
First off we have the PPQ. Those of you with Walthers know that they put a little something special in their triggers, and the PPQ is no exception. It is the traditional GLOCK style with a wide curved face and a safety blade in the middle. The trigger has a considerable amount of take up which is very light and just a touch rough, before a pronounced wall and a break that would make some lower end 1911s blush. There is zero noticeable overtravel. The reset is equally short, crisp, and tactile. The listed trigger weight is 5.6 pounds, but to me it feels closer to 5.
Next we have the VP9, which has the same GLOCK style trigger as the PPQ. The take up is much shorter and slightly lighter, but the break is heavier and there is a noticeable amount of creep on the break. Overtravel is negligible, and the reset is short and pronounced. The listed weight is 5.5 pounds, which feels about right, but definitely heavier than the Walther.
Last we have the P320. This trigger omits the safety blade in the center and has the added touch of being metal instead of plastic. The take up is extremely short and light, but the break is noticeably mushier than the German pistols. There is also a slight but noticeable overtravel. The reset is longer than the other 2 and not quite as positive. The listed weight is the same as the VP9, 5.5 pounds, which also feels about right. For this round, I award the PPQ the winner and the P320 the loser, but remember: There are no actual losers in this category.
Winner: PPQ Loser: P320
Accuracy & Shooting
Here it is, the main event. The most important aspect of a handgun: the ability to put holes in a piece of paper. After a few warm-up mags, I did a series of five-shot groups at 30 feet with each handgun. I then did some general shooting to get a feel of the recoil impulse for each gun in relation to the others. The ammo used was good old Winchester white box. First, the groups. Here is my best group with the P320:
This is arguably my best overall group of the day. Coming into this I fully expected the PPQ would be the best shooting gun and the P320 would be the worst, but I was very wrong. The P320 had the absolute lowest felt recoil and muzzle rise out of the three. The P320 is the heaviest but I doubt 1.5 ounces makes a noticeable difference in shooting. Here is my best PPQ group for comparison:
I got a bullseye as well as that nice one-hole pair above the bullet, but you can see the group is more spread out. The PPQ had the harshest felt recoil and muzzle rise out of the three. Note that I wouldn’t consider any of them to have bad recoil or muzzle rise, but when the competition is this tight you have to split hairs.
Some have claimed the PPQ trigger is actually too light, and while I won’t go that far I did have a flyer in another string that came from me touching off a round before I was completely back on target. It is not the first time I have done that with this gun, so those of you with less than stellar trigger discipline may not want the PPQ in your collection. Finally, the VP9:
Some of the sharper viewers will immediately notice this is a four-shot group. That’s because the fifth shot is somewhere out of frame near the bottom of the grip. I decided to ignore the one mistake on an otherwise great group, but it happened nonetheless so you should at least be aware.
The VP9 had about the same felt recoil as the PPQ but noticeably less muzzle rise. I attribute this to the low GLOCK-like bore axis of this gun compared to the relatively tall PPQ and P320. The trigger also seemed to help in accurate shooting. If the P320 was too heavy and the PPQ was too light, then this would be the goldilocks trigger, because it was juuuuust right.
One final point: I am not an amazing shooter and I had no problems scoring multiple hits on a 4 inch target at 30 feet with all three guns. I know these guns are capable of tigher groups with a better shooter. Since the P320 had the lowest felt recoil and muzzle rise, and since it had the best group, it gets the big win in the shooting department. The PPQ unfortunately comes in last due to the muzzle right and recoil.
Winner: P320 Loser: PPQ
As much as I complain about overpriced crap on TTAG you knew this would be on here. As close as these three guns come in performance and features, price may be the deciding factor in your purchase, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The HK has an MSRP of $719, making it the most expensive of the three (of course). The P320 is listed at $679, and the PPQ takes the lowest bid at $649. I could leave it at this, but I find using MSRP to determine the best priced gun is kind of like measuring a horse’s legs to determine how fast they run.
Using some Google-fu, I managed to find a VP9 for sale for $490, a PPQ for $480, and a P320 Compact for $500. These prices are close enough to be considered equal, but we must find a winner, so PPQ gets another point.
Winner: PPQ Loser: P320
One thing I have not spoken much about is the modularity of the P320 versus the other two pistols in the test. The P320 is at its core a very different firearm than its two German competitors because it is capable of changing to suit a wide variety of needs and users.
By simply purchasing different slides, grips, barrels, and magazines, you can change the size, color, and even caliber of the gun without actually purchasing a new gun. Granted, this sort of modularity does not come cheap, and you may end up spending two or three guns worth of money in order to complete these configurations, but for someone that wants a common manual of arms or magazine compatibility between his range pistol and his concealed carry gun this is extremely useful.
This modularity also allows you to fix broken parts much more quickly and easily than with a traditional handgun. If you were to break the frame on your VP9 it would be quite a big deal to get it fixed, but if you were to do the same to your P320, you could simply order a new one online, slap the old parts into the new frame, and you’re back in business. It also makes the gun much easier to clean when you can pull the whole thing out and spray it with gun scrubber. It is this modularity that caused the US army to choose the SIG over many other competitors for its new modular handgun system.
One other thing that I think is worth pointing out is that the VP9 has its own unique, if less interesting feature. Built into the rear of the slide is a set of hard rubber wings which give you increased grip and allow you to more easily rack the slide of the gun. Is it groundbreaking? No, but it is a nice touch, and one you won’t find on nearly any other pistol.
Finally, you will notice I have not touched on the reliability of these pistols anywhere in this review. That’s because there is no need to. I cannot put too fine a point on this: I have never had a malfunction with any of these pistols. Not once, ever, for any reason.
I have shot competitions with the Walther, carried the P320 every day for over a year, and put a combined total of several thousand rounds of ammo through all three of these guns without regular cleaning and they still work every single time. When I say none of these guns are bad guns, I mean it.
I will be completely honest: I wanted the PPQ to win. In fact after adding up my wins and losses from the previous sections it technically did win. But I just don’t feel right giving Walther the victory on this one.
For all the nitpicking I have done against the P320 in the last few pages, it came through where it really counted: the shooting. It had the best group of all the guns and it had the lowest felt recoil. On top of that, the modularity the P320 provides over the other two makes really puts it in a class by itself. There is nothing the other two guns could do to match that level of versatility.
With that in mind, I am going to rule the P320 the winner by divine intervention. If we must have a winner, then we must have a loser. That loser is the VP9, for one and only one reason, which is the magazine release. Out of all three guns it is the only thing that I can call a badly designed feature, having neither the familiarity of the P320’s thumb button nor the flexibility of the PPQ’s well designed and executed paddle release. If you like your magazine release, you can keep your magazine release, but it is definitely the low point of this test.
I hope this review helped you better understand the differences between these three amazing pistols, and I want to stress one last time that none of these three guns are bad. In fact these guns are such an advancement over the previous generation of pistols that I would recommend you pick any of them over a GLOCK or M&P just to see how far handgun design has come even in the last 10 years.
OVERALL WINNER: SIG SAUER P320