March 13, 2013

Heckler & Koch P30S V3 40 S&W, $1005

In this test we evaluate a 40 S&W polymer handgun that offers significant changes to its original design — Heckler & Koch’s $1005 P30 V3 adds an ambidextrous thumb safety to the latest edition of that company’s newest polymer platform.

Most polymer handguns are simple in design. Rather than call the HK P30 more complex, we’ll use the word sophisticated. There are six variants of the P30 series pistol— seven if you count the suffix "S" for ambidextrous safety. In our December 2007 evaluation of the 9mm Heckler & Koch P30 V3, we began our Gun Tests Report Card by saying: "Based on the fine accuracy we achieved firing single-action only, maybe this is a gun that should have a thumb safety rather than a decocker." The P30S V3 pistol in this test adds an ambidextrous thumb safety.

When we began putting this gun through its paces, we first wondered how bullet weight might affect accuracy. The most popular and readily available 40 S&W rounds are topped with 155-, 165-, and 180-grain bullets. The 155-grain JHP bullet is rapidly gaining popularity with law enforcement. This round was represented by Black Hills Ammunition. Next, we chose two Winchester USA rounds, one topped with 165-grain FMJ bullets and the other driving 180-grain JHP slugs.

Baseline accuracy was recorded from the 25-yard line firing from a sandbag rest. We also fired an action test standing offhand from the 7-yard line. This was a timed exercise designed to tell us more about trigger response and consistency, grip fit, and sight acquisition. We chose the Black Hills 155-grain JHP ammunition for our action test because we wanted to test each gun’s rapid-fire capability firing a hard-hitting defensive round. Our drill began with the shooter facing the target with the pistol held in both hands, arms retracted towards the chest. The front sight was at the bottom of the shooter’s peripheral vision. An electronic timer emitted an electronic start signal and registered elapsed time for each shot fired. We recorded the total elapsed time for all three shots as well as the time that had elapsed from the start signal to the first shot. After ten separate strings of fire were completed, we looked for 30 shots on the IPSC-P target from Vaguely humanoid in shape the lower A-zone is a 5- by 9-inch vertical rectangle. The upper A-zone measures 4 inches wide by 2 inches tall and could be considered the space between the cheekbones and the brow. We considered two hits inside the lower A-zone and one hit inside the upper A-zone a perfect run. Our overall objective was to find out what was required of the shooter to perform perfect runs on a consistent basis.

Gun Tests October 2010

Fastest shooter. Offers a modular grip, multiple safeties, and a refined single-action trigger.

In all of our tests, reliability was a top priority. Ease of maintenance, cost, and shooter enjoyment were also high on the team’s grading list. Let’s see how it performed:

Beginning at the muzzle, the forward profile was tapered for easy holstering. The slide carried cocking serrations fore and aft and low-mount sights dovetailed front and rear. The dust cover was cut with four crosshatches to form a versatile Picatinny rail. The trigger guard was large and square, with the frontal surface grooved to accommodate larger hands and fingers. Ambidextrous magazine release paddles were located at the lower rear corner of the trigger guard. Some members of our staff were able to release the steel 13-round magazines with the strong-hand thumb, others shifted the gun so it could be pressed by the middle finger or the trigger finger. One staffer swept the paddle with his weak-hand thumb as he moved his hand toward the spare magazine mounted in a belt pouch. Two magazines were supplied. We almost missed the night-sight feature on our HK pistol. Appearing to be a plain white three-dot set, the sights came alive after basking in the spotlights of our photo studio. These sights are not self luminous. Periodic charging turned them into moon-like orbs in dark or dim light.

The grip could be customized by choosing side panels and backstraps from three complete sets (small, medium, and large). After mixing and matching, we finally stuck with the large set because we liked where it placed our index finger in relation to the trigger for both double and single action fire. The front strap was carved with finger grooves that offered just enough scallop for each finger without getting in the way. We found the texture of the grip surface to be comfortable and effective, even with sweaty hands in 100-degree Texas heat. The panels were secured externally, meaning they did not interact with any internal parts. If you had to, you could fire the P30S V3 without any grip panels at all. At the base of each side panel was a slight inward relief. This was to help the shooter get a grip on the base pad should it become necessary to rip the magazine out of the receiver.

Gun Tests October 2010

Flush with the slide when closed, the decocker was actually mounted on the frame. Note that the slide can be moved with the safety on. The three-dot sights (two shown on the rear) do not generate their own illumination but take a charge from ambient light. Just a few minutes in bright light and they became powerful beacons.

The P30 pistols operate with a hammer to drive the firing pin. Some variants of the P30 pistols operate with a full-time double-action trigger. Others utilize conventional DA/SA, traditional double-action triggers with a decocker. The decocker was mounted on the rear face of the frame immediately to the left of the hammer. The ambidextrous thumb safety locks the trigger in both single and double action, but allows the slide to be moved back and forth. This feature allows the chamber to be cleared with the trigger on safe.

The presence of a hammer was another type of safety feature. Should anything enter the holster along with the pistol, such as a shirttail, causing the trigger to move, the trailing thumb will monitor any movement at the hammer. When holstering a pistol that does not have a locked slide, such as a 1911-style pistol with the thumb safety on, it is advisable to place the thumb on the rear of the slide. This is to prevent the slide from shifting out of battery. With the HK’s decocker located on the same plane as the rear of the slide, the act of holstering and decocking was easily coordinated.

The slide lock/release could be found on both sides of the pistol. During takedown the right slide lever stays in place. It is the left side lever that is connected to the slide stop pin. With the receiver and the chamber empty, we pulled back the slide until the rectangular cutout in the slide matched the profile of the slide stop pin. We couldn’t use a fingertip, but just about anything else will do to push the pin out from right to left. The slide moved off the frame without having to press the trigger. The flat wound recoil spring stayed captured on the guide rod. So did a nylon bushing that rode over the spring, acting as a shock buffer. The rear tip of the recoil-guide rod assembly was lugged to interface with the slide-stop pin and the lug beneath the barrel hood. This interaction was the source of locking and unlocking the 3.86-inch barrel during cycling.

Gun Tests October 2010

Slide-release levers were ambidextrous. The right slide lever stayed with the frame when the slide stop pin shown here was pushed out from the left side.

From the 25-yard line we fired single action only. The single-action trigger pull presented 4.0 pounds of resistance. Takeup measured less than 0.1 inches. Feel was smooth and progressive rather than crisp. Each choice of ammunition registered an average group radius ranging from about 1.25 inches firing the 165-grain FMJ rounds to little more than 1.50 inches shooting the 155-grain hollowpoint ammunition. This was good shooting with little variation, considering the difference in the power of our test rounds. The Winchester 165-grain FMJ ammunition produced almost 100 ft.-lbs. less muzzle energy than our most powerful choice, the Black Hills 155-grain JHP load.

In our action tests we began with a double-action first shot. Takeup to a double-action first shot was free swinging and measured about 0.1 in length. Resistance was measured to be 9.5 pounds. After 10 strings of fire we counted three shots pushed to the left of the lower A-zone on our IPSC-P target. Three shots were pulled low and out of the upper A-zone. One was unacceptably low, but two missed the A-zone by as little as 3⁄8 of an inch. This amounted to about a 3-inch 9-shot group. Regarding elapsed time, we fired cautiously on our first run. This resulted in a 0.92 second first shot and an overall elapsed time of 2.09 seconds. All nine of the following runs were completed in an average time of less than 1.85 seconds with an average first shot time of 0.82 seconds. Our fastest perfect run was over 1.78 seconds, beginning .77 seconds after the start signal. The P30S V3 was the first pistol to be tested, and we had no idea that it would be the only pistol to complete this test with an average time of less than 2 seconds.

Gun Tests October 2010

The side panels and backstrap could be interchanged without having to worry about dislodging a spring or other internal mechanism. The finger grooves in the front strap never got in the way, and we thought the texture on the HK's grip was our favorite. Our team said it the most comfortable gun to hold and operate.

We don’t think the P30S V3 was meant to be carried cocked and locked, if only for the non-locking slide. (It would be difficult to monitor the slide with the thumb at the same time as the safety lever when holstering.) But we decided that firing our action test a second time beginning with hammer back safety on was a necessity. Our very first run was over in 1.93 seconds (first shot 0.98 seconds). This run felt smoother and much faster than it actually was, but it was also the most accurate run fired by any of our guns. Two shots appeared in a 0.7 inch "snake eyes" pattern just above the letter A at center mass.

The letter A in the upper zone missed being perforated by about 0.7 inches to the left. Once we consciously tried to shoot faster our accuracy dropped off, but we still managed to land seven shots in about a 2-inch group inside the upper A-zone. Our fastest run fired single action only matched our best TDA run to the tenth of seconds. No malfunctions were encountered during our test of the HK P30S V3, and we found shooting it to be smooth, comfortable, and instinctive.

Our Team Said: Some say that today’s double-action handguns demand only coarse motor skills. Therefore, the average shooter under stress does not have to be at his or her best to get the job done. The P30S V3 can be fired as a full time double-action pistol to serve this theory. Or it can accept fine motor skills for greater accuracy. The P30S V3 easily topped our action test. We think the modular grip, a feature common to all P30s, makes the P30 series a superior platform no matter which trigger option is chosen.