There was a little disappointment with our last evaluation of new and used 40 S&W pistols. Reader Old Randy was disappointed because we didn’t include a specific gun. “Nothing on the Smith & Wesson SD40 VE? No love for America’s affordable version of the Glock?” Well, Randy, we have good news and bad news. First the good news: The SD40 VE is a bargain, and it is accurate. The bad news is, it has a trigger that feels like a bag of rusted wrenches, and the rear grip strap took bites out of our shooting hand with every shot. But we get ahead of ourselves.
The other guns in the match-up also have “unique” characteristics, and one we found has a liability. The Taurus G2c has a single-action trigger with re-strike ability that initially felt odd, but we got the hang of it. The Kahr CT40’s single-stack grip was thin and offered hard recoil as a result, and it has a super-long but very smooth trigger pull. Last, the FN FNS-40 seemed just right, with a nice trigger and manageable recoil, but it was flagged for recall by FN. Our evaluators weren’t disappointed with this match-up of 40 S&W pistols, and Old Randy shouldn’t either.
All of these 40-caliber pistols are similar in dimensions and barrel length. The SD40 VE, FN FNS-40, and CT40 sport 4-inch barrels and are, for all intents and purposes, full-size pistols. The G2c is a compact pistol with a 3.25-inch barrel. All of these guns are striker-fired with safeties built into the trigger, and all feature polymer frames. These guns then take different design paths, as you will soon see.
We chose these particular pistols because we wanted to see if we could find a reliable, easy-to-use, and accurate 40 S&W for defense and concealed carry. And we wanted to do it for under $350. The used Kahr and FN top out on the high end of our price range at about $350; the new Taurus and S&W are $271 and $258, respectively.
One thing to remember as the pendulum of popularity has swung toward the 9mm, there are plenty of shooters who have traded in their snappy 40 S&W-chambered guns for shiny new softer-recoiling 9mms. As a result, there are bargains to be had, and, in our opinion, the FN and Kahr are bargains, and there is a reason why they are more expensive than the Taurus and S&W firearms, which we’ll get into.
To assess the field, we assembled factory and handloaded ammo with a variety of bullet weights and types: Hornady Black with a 180-grain XTP bullet, Federal American Eagle with 155-grain FMJ, Remington Golden Saber with a 165-grain BJHP, and a 155-grain JHP handload. Bullets with weights between 155 and 180 grains are the sweet spot for the 40 S&W. We thought this was a good assortment of training and defense loads.
The wider double-stack-magazine pistols — FN, S&W, and Taurus — offered less felt recoil compared to the single-stack pistol by Kahr. The slide pulse of a 40 S&W is a lot different than that of a 9mm. The 40 S&W flings the slide back with force, and the recoil spring does its best to manage that. The S&W and Kahr had a clunkier slide pulse, while FN and Taurus had a smoother slide pulse.
For accuracy testing, we used our range bag as a rest and set targets at 15 yards. Trying to squeeze the trigger of the S&W was a chore, but we soon adapted and tolerated it. The FN’s trigger was the best of all the guns, with the Kahr coming in a close second. The average five-shot group for the these pistols averaged 1.5 to 3.7 inches, which is very serviceable for defense work.
For speed work, we moved the targets to 10 yards and used Thompson Target B27Q-RED Silhouette Qualification targets ($15; ThompsonTarget.com). These targets are full-torso life-size Police B27 and FBI Q center-mass human silhouette targets. We started with our gun at low ready and fired a total of 10 rounds as fast as we could. We loaded two magazines with different round counts so we had to perform a reload during the exercise and didn’t know when we would have to reload. With these guns, following the front sight was fairly easy, so subsequent shots were quick. We did land some hits outside of the center of mass. That typically happened when we swapped guns because the triggers were unique to each pistol, and it took some adjustment to get up to speed.
We concealed-carried the FN, Taurus, and S&W in a Safariland GLS 575 IWB Pro Fit Compact holster ($68; Safariland.com). This is a multi-fit holster, meaning it doesn’t really fit any pistol perfectly but is compatible with a lot of pistols. We used a DeSantis IWB Slim-Tuk Kydex holster with the Kahr and wore it appendix style. All of these guns are comfortable to carry, and the Taurus, due to its size, was the easiest, followed by the thin Kahr.
Here’s the rest of the nitty gritty — and we do mean gritty — on these four 40 S&W striker-fire pistols.
Gun Tests grade: B
The SD40 VE was introduced by S&W back in 2012 and has direct design linage to the S&W Sigma and, in fact, could be called a second generation SD. This is S&W’s value line of striker-fire pistols. “Value” meaning less expensive. With the SD40 VE and SD9 VE, S&W added an improved self-defense trigger and better stainless-steel slide and barrel.
|Action||Semi-auto, recoil operated, striker fire|
|Overall Length||7.2 in.|
|Overall Height||5.5 in.|
|Maximum Width||1.2 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||22.4 oz.|
|Weight Loaded||30.2 oz.|
|Capacity||14+1 (double stack)|
|Slide Retraction Effort||17.0 lbs.|
|Frame Front Strap Height||2.3 in.|
|Frame Back Strap Height||3.2 in.|
|Grip Thickness (max)||1.2 in.|
|Grip Circumference (max)||5.6 in.|
|Sights||Fixed; steel 3-dot|
|Trigger Pull Weight||8.5 lbs.|
|Trigger Span (max)||2.6 in.|
For $258 plus transfer fees, you can order this online and still have money left over to buy a trigger-spring kit for the SD40 VE. You will need it, or you will need to learn to shoot the pistol with its gritty 8.5-pound trigger pull. The trigger did start to smooth up after use, so we have hope for this pistol. We also grew to like this pistol, the more we used it. Apex makes an Action Enhancement Kit ($55; ApexTactical.com) that will reduce pull weight, trigger pre-travel, and over travel. MCarbo also makes a trigger spring kit ($20; MCarbo.com) that states it will bring down the pull weight to 4.75 pounds.
The frame is matte-black polymer, and the slide is matte stainless. It is a smart-looking two-tone finish. In the hard case were two 14-round stainless-steel-body magazines.
The slide has coarse serrations both forward and aft that provide confidence when the shooter is racking the slide or doing a press check. It takes 17 pounds of effort to rack the slide, but it is easily manipulated. Steel three-dot sights are dovetailed into the slide and provide an adequate sight picture. The sights remind us of the 1980s. There is a dearth of aftermarket sights available, so bringing the sights into 2022 would be a challenge. Part of the issue with aftermarket sights is that S&W used different dovetails in the SD slide, so there is no consistent spec.
A hole in the top of the barrel breech and slide serves as a loaded-chamber indicator. In lieu of a safety lever in the center of the trigger, the SD40 VE uses the bottom half of the trigger as the safety lever. Pressing the trigger there gives a short initial take up to the wall, then a long, gritty pull and a mushy break. Not a great trigger, but one we learned to shoot. In fact, with our 155-grain JHP handload, we fired a best group that measured 1.67 inches. With factory Federal American Eagle 155-grain FMJs, our best group measured 2.11 inches. So even with the trigger, we were able to squeeze out good accuracy.
What helped with our shooting was the 18-degree grip angle, which offers a natural point of aim. The side grip panels have a fine texture, while the front and rear grip straps are aggressively checkered — a little too aggressive, in our opinion. We suspect the checkering is fine for guns chambered in 9mm, but in 40 S&W, the texture abraded our palm. If we owned this pistol, we’d probably run some fine-grit sandpaper over the rear strap to knock off the sharp points on the checkering. There is a textured finger locator directly above the trigger guard on the left and right side of the frame. Use this to place the thumb of your support hand when gripping the pistol. A universal Picatinny-style rail is built into the dust cover for tactical light or laser accessories.
While the SD40 VE liked 155-grain ammo, accuracy with the 165-grain Remington Golden Sabers averaged 2.84 inches, and with 180-grain XTP Hornady Black, it averaged 2.67 inches. It took effort to squeeze the trigger effectively with the SD40 VE.
For the speed evaluation, we found the Smith offered good recoil management, and we noticed a difference in the slide pulse. A bit clunky, but manageable. And the rear grip strap tore at our palm, making extended shooting uncomfortable. Otherwise, we had no issues with the SD40 VE. It ran like intended. We were able to keep most shots in the center of mass. Our first shots went leftward for right-handed shooters due to the heavy trigger. But we soon learned how to shoot this pistol.
Reloading was fast, but the magazine-release button is located for a right-handed shooter to operate, A ridge in the frame protects the magazine button from accidentally being pressed as well as guides the trigger finger toward the trigger. The slide stop reminds us of a Glock slide stop, a thin stamped-metal strip. A ridge in the frame protects the slide stop. We found it easy to manipulate the slide stop during reloads. The pistol also field strips like a Glock.
Our Team Said: The SD40 VE worked flawlessly, had good accuracy, and was dirt cheap. The trigger started to smooth out, but we would invest in a trigger-spring kit and tone down the teeth on the rear grip back strap. If you can deal with the trigger, then this pistol could be a Best Buy.
40 S&W Range Data
|Federal American Eagle 155-grain FMJ||Kahr CT40||Taurus G2c||S&W SD40 VE||FN FNS-40|
|Average Velocity||1144 fps||1064 fps||1117 fps||1107 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||451 ft.-lbs.||390 ft.-lbs.||428 ft.-lbs.||422 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||1.56 in.||1.48 in.||2.11 in.||1.70 in.|
|Average Group||2.27 in.||1.75 in.||2.27 in.||1.72 in.|
|Handload 155-grain JHP||Kahr CT40||Taurus G2c||S&W SD40 VE||FN FNS-40|
|Average Velocity||1043 fps||1000 fps||1036 fps||1054 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||374 ft.-lbs.||344 ft.-lbs.||369 ft.-lbs.||382 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||2.19 in.||2.54 in.||1.67 in.||2.13 in.|
|Average Group||2.49 in.||2.70 in.||1.88 in.||2.21 in.|
|Remington Golden Saber 165-grain BJHP||Kahr CT40||Taurus G2c||S&W SD40 VE||FN FNS-40|
|Average Velocity||1058 fps||1017 fps||1071 fps||1068 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||410 ft.-lbs.||379 ft.-lbs.||420 ft.-lbs.||418 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||2.95 in.||3.54 in.||2.80 in.||2.09 in.|
|Average Group||3.00 in.||3.79 in.||2.84 in.||2.27 in.|
|Hornady Black 180-grain XTP||Kahr CT40||Taurus G2c||S&W SD40 VE||FN FNS-40|
|Average Velocity||961 fps||892 fps||935 fps||951 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||369 ft.-lbs.||318 ft.-lbs.||349 ft.-lbs.||362 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||2.85 in.||3.18 in.||2.64 in.||1.36 in.|
|Average Group||3.17 in.||3.33 in.||2.67 in.||1.53 in.|
Value Guide: 40 S&W & 10mm Handgun Rankings
|Springfield Armory 1911 Ronin PX9121L 10mm Auto, $799||Nov. 2021||A||Best Buy. This Ronin is a no-nonsense 1911 with a good, sights, trigger, reliability, and accuracy.|
|Kimber Rapide Black Ice 3000387 10mm Auto, $1499||Nov. 2021||A-||The Rapide Black Ice is a near-custom version of a full-size 1911 platform chambered in 10mm.|
|Rock Island Pro Match Ultra 6” 52008 10mm Auto, $1199||Nov. 2021||A-||Offers excellent accuracy, a decent trigger and sights, and added heft with the 6-inch barrel.|
|Smith & Wesson M&P40 M2.0 11522 40 S&W, $581||Oct. 2021||A||Best Buy. The 18-degree grip angle made the M&P M2.0 feel natural. The trigger was very consistent.|
|Glock G23 Gen5 PA235S203 40 S&W, $700||Oct. 2021||A||Recoil management was excellent. We like the flared magwell, front slide serrations, and improved trigger.|
|Heckler & Koch P30S-V3 81000127 40 S&W, $859||Oct. 2021||A-||The P30 is the benchmark for a DA/SA-style pistol with an excellent grip and sights and good accuracy.|
|SIG Sauer P239 23940BSS 40 S&W, $600||Oct. 2021||A-||Recoil was controllable and accuracy was good. The design felt dated, but we’d buy a used P239.|
|Springfield Armory XD-M 5.25 10mm Auto, $681||Sept. 2020||A-||Best Buy. To take backpacking, 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. SIG fixed the problem, 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 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 made the G40 a 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.|
I’ve owned a SD40VE for 7 years now, with the trigger upgrade from Apex. (it was $21.50 seven years ago)
It’s perfectly acceptable in my opinion.
What gets me, is why so many people seem to think it’s a double action trigger? It’s single action.
The slide must be racked every time the trigger is pulled.
Double action triggers may be pulled without racking the slide.
Some forums have 12 guys thinking the sd40ve is double action. IT AIN’T!
I’m pretty sure you have some kind of malfunctioning SD. I can run the 10 rounds (what I usually load the magazine with) as fast as I can pull the trigger. No racking with each round.
He means unloaded, if the slide has to move to reset the trigger, whether that movement is caused by firing a live round or by you racking the slide, it’s not double action.