When speaking about the 40 S&W Auto cartridge these days, we’re reminded of that famous Samuel Clemens quote: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” While you may think the 40 S&W is dead, it is very much alive. Albeit, it is not as popular as the 9mm is today. The irony is the 40 S&W became law enforcement’s darling when it debuted in early 1990 and nearly eclipsed the 9mm in popularity. The 9mm back then was considered an underpowered cartridge. The FBI geared up with the 40, and other law-enforcement agencies followed.
Smith & Wesson and Winchester designed the 40 S&W, which is basically a shortened 10mm Auto cartridge. As you will recall, the FBI was keen on the 10mm Auto until it was discovered the round had too much recoil, and agents found it difficult to control. So, the FBI had a reduced-velocity 10mm Auto round produced, and that was better until Smith & Wesson and Winchester suggested the same velocity and energy could be had in a medium-frame pistol instead of a large-frame pistol. Hence, the 40 S&W Auto was developed, and the S&W Model 4056 and the Glock G22 and G23 were the first pistols chambered in 40 S&W. By 2007, the pendulum was swinging back as the FBI changed from the 40 S&W to the 9mm due to advances in ballistic technology. So long 40 S&W, hello 9mm.
There still are a number of LE departments that use the 40 S&W, and what improved the 9mm also improved the 40 S&W, as well as other cartridges. Regardless, gone are the days of 9mm pistol introductions followed by the same pistol chambered in 40 S&W. In fact, there are fewer 40 S&W-chambered pistols these days. Still, we think the 40 S&W has a lot to recommend it for self defense, and three manufacturers apparently agree because we found three new pistols in 40 S&W: the Glock G23 Gen5, S&W M&P40 M2.0 Compact, and H&K P30. We also picked up a police trade-in SIG P239 to complete this quartet. We last evaluated the 40 S&W-chambered P239 in the November 2003 issue, in which it earned a “buy it” recommendation.
All of these 40-caliber pistols are similar in dimensions and barrel length. The P30 and P239 are hammer fired, and the G23 and M&P40 are striker fired. All feed off a double-stack magazine except for the P239, which uses a single-stack magazine. In general, the hammer-fired pistols were a bit more complicated to operate due to the additional controls. The decocking button on the SIG was initially confused with the slide stop, and that is due to user error and lack of training. Across the board, we feel the Glock and the S&W were simpler to handle and operate. What can we say, we like simple.
We chose these particular pistols since they represent a good variety of proven, reliable pistol designs. Our test checklist included reliability, accuracy, concealed carry, and ease of use. It had been a while since some of our testers fired a 40 S&W, but the snappy recoil of the round brought back memories. Yes, the 40 S&W is still alive, and kicking. A thin-grip pistol can produce more felt recoil in the palm of your hand, and we anticipated that as well as lots of muzzle flip.
How We Tested
Ammunition consisted of training and defense loads. For defense loads, we used Hornady Critical Defense with a 165-grain FTX bullet. For training, we used MagTechs loaded with a 180-grain FMJ-FLAT and a handload with a 155-grain JHP. These bullet weights are the sweet spot for the snappy 40 S&W.
With these rounds, we saw the wider-grip pistols transfer less felt recoil. We anticipated getting rapped in the palm with the P239, which wasn’t the case, but we do have other gripes about this pistol. The G23 offered a totally new 40-caliber shooting experience in the Gen5 variant. The P30 is a good hammer-fired pistol, but it’s more complicated to operate. The M2.0 variant of the M&P40 was a stellar shooter with good accuracy and good recoil management.
We fired the pistols for accuracy using a rest and cardboard targets at 25 yards. For speed work, we moved the targets in to 7 yards and fired many Bill Drills. We started with our gun at low ready and fired six rounds. We found with these guns that following the front sight was easy, so follow-up shots were quick. The average five-shot group for these pistols averaged 1.7 to 2.9 inches, good accuracy for a defense pistol. In the speed test, we found the H&K was a bit snappy with muzzle flip, while the SIG had flip but was more controllable. The S&W and Glock were the clear winners in the speed shooting, with much softer recoil.
We carried the Glock, H&K, and S&W in a Safariland GLS 575 IWB Pro Fit Compact holster ($68; Safariland.com), which is a multi-fit holster, meaning it can be used with a litany of guns. That said, because of the very nature of being multi-fit, it is slightly oversized. Fine by us. The holster shell is nylon and has a bit of flex and does not scratch the pistol’s finish. We like the Grip Locking System (GLS), which is a retention device. When drawing, your middle finger deactivates the lock. We found the retention device did not impede the draw, and we were able to draw quickly and smoothly. The 575 comes with two clips: an over-the-belt and under-the-belt. We thought the under-the-belt design could be thinner to reduce bulk. Other than that, this is a nice holster with the added value of a retention device. We plan on adding this holster to our EDC routine.
Here’s why we think the 40 S&W will be around for the foreseeable future and is better chambered in striker-fire designs.
Gun Tests Grade: A
We’ve tested the G23 Gen3 and Gen4 variants and thought the Gen4 variant better allowed the user to control the recoil of 40 S&W. With the Gen5 variant, we think Glock has done an even better job mitigating recoil. From what we understand, the Gen5 G23 has a slightly larger slide and more slide mass to deal with the recoil from the 40 S&W. The G23 Gen4 weighs 23.81 ounces, while the G23 Gen5 weighs 26.67 ounces; that’s a 2.86-ounce difference between generations. From a user’s perspective, this means less felt recoil and bit more weight to conceal carry. Our testers saw a noticeable improvement in recoil management with the Gen5 G23.
|Action||Semi-auto locked breech, striker fire|
|Overall Length||7.2 in.|
|Overall Height||5.0 in.|
|Maximum Width||1.3 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||26.6 oz.|
|Weight Loaded||34.3 oz.|
|Capacity||13+1 (double stack)|
|Slide Retraction Effort||15.0 lbs.|
|Frame Front Strap Height||2.2 in.|
|Frame Back Strap Height||2.8 in.|
|Grip||Textured polymer, 2 modular grip inserts (M, L)|
|Grip Thickness (max)||1.3 in.|
|Grip Circumference (max)||5.7 in.|
|Sights||Fixed; dot front, outlined notch rear|
|Trigger Pull Weight||6.4 lbs.|
|Trigger Span||2.7 in.|
In the hard case with the gun were three polymer 13-round magazines, a magazine loader, and four modular backstraps, two with beavertails. The backstraps are held in place with a tool used to swap out the straps. We appreciated that the tool was included with the gun. We mostly tested without any backstraps added. We like the modular backstrap, and our ham-fisted tester tried the large back strap with the beaver tail. It is simple to swap out backstraps.
From a cosmetic standpoint, the Gen5 G23 has a flat front gripstrap with plenty of texture. Gone are the finger grooves in the Gen3 and Gen4 variants. The slide now has front serrations, so performing a press check is easier with a sure grip. The slide muzzle is also chiseled and less blocky looking for easier holstering. Like Gen4 variants, this new Gen5 has the dual-spring recoil guide rod, which helps decrease felt recoil. Also new with Gen5 guns is an ambidextrous slide stop. Sights are standard Glock with a white-outline notch rear sight and a white-dot front sight. The slide has a new finish that offers increased protection against corrosion and scratching. We thought the finish was well executed.
The Gen5 guns also have a flared mag-well that creates a larger funnel for faster reloads. Inserting the tapered double-stack magazines was very smooth. Magazines also have an enlarged floor plate, making it easier to pull a magazine free if needed. But we had no need to pull out a magazine; they all free-falled with a push of the magazine button.
The new Marksman Barrel has sharper rifling for better accuracy.
The trigger pull was better than the typical Glock trigger we are accustomed to. There with a bit of take-up and a consistent 6-pound pull. We have become accustomed to Glock-style triggers, and while they are not crisp by any means, they are serviceable. Looking back at the data, we found the Glock had the second-best accuracy of the four guns.
When we went hot at the firing line, we were amazed at how well the Gen5 G23 tamed the snappy 40 S&W. Some of our testers were pleasantly surprised. We found the Glock shot right on. We covered the target with the front sight and proceeded to create holes that looked like they were made with a 40-caliber hole punch. We had no need to adjust sights. The most-accurate load was the Hornady Critical Defense 165-grain FTX, with a 1.65-inch five-shot group at 25 yards. The other loads were closer to 2.5 inches. The MagTech 180-grain FMJ-FLAT gave us a best group of 2.30 inches, and the handload with a 155-grain JHP was 2.71 inches. On average, we shot 2.5-inch groups across the ammo. Going to the speed test, we found the G23 Gen5 allowed us to get back on target fast. We think Glock got it right with the dual-spring recoil guide rod and the slide mass. The magazine release was large and very easy to manipulate with the shooting hand.
Our Team Said: The Glock worked flawlessly, had good accuracy, and helped us manage the snappy recoil from the 40 S&W. We think this pistol and this cartridge should definitely be considered by a person wanting an EDC pistol.
40 S&W Range Data
|MagTech 180-grain FMJ-Flat||Heckler & Koch P30S-V3||Glock G23 Gen5||SIG Sauer P239||Smith & Wesson M&P40 M2.0|
|Average Velocity||949 fps||918 fps||929 fps||916 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||360 ft.-lbs.||337 ft.-lbs.||345 ft.-lbs.||335 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||2.54 in.||2.30 in.||1.56 in.||2.35 in.|
|Average Group||2.87 in.||2.33 in.||1.89 in.||2.60 in.|
|Handload 155-grain JHP||Heckler & Koch P30S-V3||Glock G23 Gen5||SIG Sauer P239||Smith & Wesson M&P40 M2.0|
|Average Velocity||1049 fps||1025 fps||1090 fps||1025 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||379 ft.-lbs.||362 ft.-lbs.||409 ft.-lbs.||362 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||1.48 in.||2.71 in.||2.65 in.||1.26 in.|
|Average Group||1.65 in.||2.79 in.||2.90 in.||1.72 in.|
|Hornady Critical Defense 165-grain FTX||Heckler & Koch P30S-V3||Glock G23 Gen5||SIG Sauer P239||Smith & Wesson M&P40 M2.0|
|Average Velocity||1065 fps||1095 fps||1096 fps||1098 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||416 ft.-lbs.||439 ft.-lbs.||440 ft.-lbs.||442 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||2.37 in.||1.30 in.||2.35 in.||1.60 in.|
|Average Group||2.61 in.||1.65 in.||2.75 in.||1.80 in.|
Value Guide: 40 S&W & 10MM Handgun Rankings
|Springfield Armory XD-M 5.25 10mm Auto, $681||Sept. 2020||A-||Best Buy. To take backpacking in the boonies, the XD-M and its 16-round payload might well be our choice.|
|Colt Delta Elite 02020RG 10mm Auto, $1134||Sept. 2020||A-||When we were firing the Buffalo Bore stompers, we were just fine with the Colt’s smooth front strap.|
|SIG Sauer Tacops 10mm Auto 1911R-10-TACOPS, $1050||Sept. 2020||B/A-||Had extraction issues initially. SIG fixed the problem fast, so we upgraded its marks to include customer service.|
|Lone Wolf TWL-S Frame/Gray Man Slide 10mm, $884||Aug. 2020||A||The Grey Man G20 is a handful. The small grip made this pistol easier to conceal. Trigger was excellent.|
|Springfield XD-S 3.3-Inch XDS93340BE 40 S&W, $378||Sept. 2019||A||Best Buy. Completely reliable, accurate enough for personal defense. Useful trigger action and good sights.|
|Kahr CW40 CW4043 40 S&W, $301||Sept. 2019||B||A well-made and reliable handgun, despite a number of corners being cut to offer the pistol at a low price.|
|SIG Sauer P224 SAS 224-40-SAS2B 40 S&W, $800||Sept. 2019||B||A compact pistol with a short barrel and grip that takes some getting used to, yet excellent accuracy.|
|Taurus G2C 1-G2C4031-10O 40 S&W, $250||Sept. 2019||B||An upgrade over the original, with superior grip treatment and a new matte-finished slide.|
|Smith & Wesson Shield 180020 40 S&W, $337||Sept. 2019||D/D||We tested two Shields, one with a safety and one without. The 180020 with safety short-cycled. The 10034 non-safety Shield had a failing trigger return spring that caused a stoppage.|
|Glock G40 Gen4 MOS 10mm Auto, $706||Mar. 2019||A||Longer sight radius and ability to mount a red-dot optic made the G40 a close contender for top dog in the test.|
|Springfield 1911 RO Elite Operator 10mm Auto, $1145||Mar. 2019||A||Well adapted for the 10mm cartridge. We like the sights and love the trigger. Grip texture is a bit raspy.|
|Springfield Armory XDM 10mm Auto, $779||Mar. 2019||A||Best Buy. Great ergonomics, nice grip angle, modular grip strap, crisp trigger, nice sights. Reasonable cost.|
|Glock G35 Gen3 PI3530103 40 S&W, $560||Jul. 2017||A||The G35 in 40 S&W is a good competition pistol. A 9mm barrel makes it more affordable to shoot.|
|Smith & Wesson Model 1076 10mm Auto, $800-$825||Nov. 2017||A-||As a compact 10mm, a used 1076 is an excellent choice. Trigger could have been better.|
|Colt Delta Elite O2020XE 10mm Auto, $1099||Nov. 2017||A||The latest Delta Elite is an excellent full-size 1911 chambered in 10mm. We liked the trigger, sights, grip.|
|EAA Tanfoglio Witness 10mm Auto, $665||May. 2017||A||Best Buy. Relatively compact and accurate, plus it is affordable.|
|Dan Wesson Bruin Bronze 1881 10mm Auto, $2194||May. 2017||A||If you are in need of a 10mm hunting pistol, the Bruin is an excellent choice, despite its expense.|
|Kimber Custom TLE II 3200347 10mm Auto, $1028||May. 2017||A-||Excellent version of a full-size 1911 platform chambered in 10mm. Grips chewed up our hands.|
|SIG Sauer P226R Factory Certified 40 S&W, $725||Jun. 2016||A-||The pre-owned SIG P226R Certified turned in as-new performance. Reliable and fast handling.|
|Beretta Model 96 Vertec Inox 40 S&W, ~$600 Used||Jun. 2016||A||Accuracy was good, if not outstanding. The pistol was reliable and we liked the safety features.|