Because of its popularity and wide acceptance, the .40 S&W is destined to become one of the great cartridges. For the most part, anything a 9mm can do, a .40 S&W can do better. If a manufacturer has a 9mm handgun in its product line, it is very likely that there is a .40 S&W counterpart. Many police departments, who switched from the .38/.357 double-action revolver to the 9mm pistol, are now rearming with the .40 pistol.
Six full-size .40 S&W pistols in the $600 to $800 range are the subjects of this test. They are the Smith & Wesson 4006, the Glock 22, the Walther P99, the Beretta Model 96, the Heckler & Koch USP40 and the Sig Sauer P229.
Concealed carry aside, full-size models do everything better than their smaller counterparts. They have full-length grips that provide a larger gripping surface and easier control. Their longer barrels give better bullet performance. Their longer sighting radius affords better accuracy.
Smith & Wesson Model 4006
Introduced in 1990, the Smith & Wesson Model 4006 was the first .40 S&W pistol. So, it set the standard for all other .40 S&Ws. This handgun’s major components, including the frame, are constructed of stainless steel. It features a traditional double-action trigger, a 4-inch barrel and a 10-round magazine. Suggested retail price of this model is $758.[PDFCAP(1)]
We rated the appearance of our Model 4006 as very good. The metal work, and attention to detail, were without fault. Most stainless steel parts had a uniform frosted finish that didn’t glare. The frame had a rounded, undercut trigger guard. There was well-defined checkering on the front of the trigger guard and the frontstrap of the frame. The barrel’s feed ramp and chamber area were brightly polished. When locked in battery, there was only a hint of movement between the slide and the frame. There was no noticeable movement in the barrel-to-slide fit.
This Smith & Wesson had a one-piece black plastic grip that wrapped around and became the frame’s backstrap. The grip was cleanly molded and mated to the frame without any gaps or sharp edges. It was held securely in place by a single roll pin located at the butt. This pistol came with two 10-round magazines. Both of these stainless steel double-column magazines were well constructed. Each had a blue plastic follower and a removable black plastic floorplate.
At the range, our Model 4006 readily fed and fired all of the commercial ammunition we tried. As designed, the slide automatically locked to the rear on an empty magazine. However, it also locked open once when there was still rounds in the magazine. Since this was the only malfunction we encountered while firing this pistol, our shooters considered it to be reliable.
Weighing 37 ounces, the 4006 was the heaviest pistol in this test. It had the least felt recoil, and shot recovery was the easiest. The pistol balanced well in the hand, making it a natural pointer. Some of our shooters thought the back of the grip was too straight to be truly comfortable. However, the grip afforded a solid grasp, and was long enough to accommodate all fingers of the shooting hand.
Right-handed shooters could readily manipulate this Smith & Wesson pistol’s controls with the thumb of their shooting hand. The slide catch was a serrated lever on the left side of the frame. The magazine release consisted of a checkered button at the left rear of the trigger guard.
Left-handed shooters liked the Model 4006’s ambidextrous manual safety. It consisted of dual two-position levers located on the slide. When either lever was moved downward to the engaged position, this safety blocked the firing pin, disconnected the trigger and decocked the hammer. This handgun’s other safeties included a magazine disconnect, which disconnected the trigger when the magazine was removed, and a passive firing pin block, which disengaged only when the trigger was pulled all the way to the rear.
Although this Smith & Wesson’s trigger was acceptable, we felt its single-action pull was about two pounds too heavy. After 1/4 inch of takeup, the single-action stage released at 6 pounds. The long but smooth double-action pull released cleanly at 11 pounds. Neither stage had any overtravel.
Our Model 4006 was equipped with standard fixed sights. The front was a black 1/8-inch-wide blade with a white dot on its slightly angled face. The rear was a black Novak-style no-snag sight with a 1/8-inch-wide notch and two small white dots. Both sights were dovetailed to the slide, making them drift-adjustable for windage only. This arrangement provided a clean and well-regulated sight picture. The pistol’s point of aim was the same as the bullets’ point of impact.
The Smith & Wesson wasn’t very accurate with Winchester 155-grain Silvertip hollow points, averaging 3.60 inches at 25 yards. However, its performance was satisfactory with heavier-bulleted loads. This .40 S&W’s smallest five-shot groups averaged 2.85 inches with Speer Lawman TMJ ammunition. Remington 180-grain JHPs yielded 3.28-inch groups.
The second pistol chambered for the .40 S&W cartridge was the Glock 22. This $616 pistol utilizes an internal striker firing system and a Safe Action trigger, which provides one type of trigger pull and doesn’t have a second-strike capability. Other features include a 4-1/2-inch barrel, a 10-round magazine and a polymer frame with an integral grip. Accessory mounting rails on the front of the frame are now standard equipment.[PDFCAP(2)]
We considered the Glock 22’s appearance to be plain but businesslike, and its workmanship was satisfactory. The steel slide was finished with a dull black surface treatment called Tenifer, which made it very hard and corrosion resistant. The barrel was made of steel with a matte blue/black finish. The black polymer frame, which had a squared and undercut trigger guard, was cleanly molded. When locked into battery, there was quite a lot of movement between the slide and the frame. However, there was no movement in the barrel-to-slide fit.
The synthetic frame’s integral grip had three finger grooves on the front, serrations on the front and back, and shallow texturing on the sides. There was also an indentation on either side of the grip that served as a thumb/finger rest. Both of the double-column magazines provided with this pistol had black polymer bodies with steel reinforcement inserts and removable floorplates. No cosmetic or structural short-comings were found.
During firing, the Glock 22’s functioning proved to be absolutely reliable with the three kinds of commercial ammunition used. Slide movement was positive, and retracting it required only a moderate amount of effort.
Handling was this Glock’s strong suit. Our shooters liked the way the pistol sat in the hand. The shape of the frame allowed the pistol to sit down low in the shooting hand, which put the hand in close proximity to the axis of the bore. Consequently, controlling muzzle climb was not a problem. The kick generated during recoil was average for a .40 S&W pistol. The grip was reasonably comfortable, and its serrations afforded a secure grasp.
Right-handed shooters could readily operate the Glock 22’s controls with the thumb of their firing hand, but only the manual safety was ambidextrous. This safety was a small lever in the middle of the trigger that blocked the trigger’s rearward movement unless the lever was depressed by the shooter’s trigger finger. The slide catch was a relatively small lever on the left side of the frame. The magazine release was a polymer button at the left rear of the trigger guard. All of the controls worked as they should.
Unlike the other pistols in this test, the Glock’s Safe Action trigger had only one pull. We considered it to be satisfactory. After a lot of takeup, the trigger released cleanly at 6-1/2 pounds. There was no noticeable overtravel.
In our opinion, the Glock 22’s fixed sights were the most visible and easiest to acquire of the test. The rear was a dovetailed blade with a white-outlined square notch, which could be drifted for windage changes. The front was a triangular blade with a white dot on its slightly angled face. Both sights were made of black plastic. This system’s point of aim was well regulated to the point of impact.
Although Glocks aren’t known for being especially accurate, this one was the second-most accurate pistol of the test. Its smallest five-shot average groups, 2.65 inches at 25 yards, were obtained using Winchester 155-grain Silvertips. Remington 180-grain JHPs came in a close second with 2.75-inch groups. Speer Lawman 180-grain TMJs managed 3.38-inch groups.
A relative newcomer, the .40 S&W version of the Walther P99 has only been available for about six months. This $799 pistol features a striker firing system, similar to the Glock, but its has an entirely different double-action trigger system. An armorer can convert the trigger to double-action-only. The gun has a 4-1/8-inch barrel and a 10-round magazine. Its polymer frame has an integral grip, a changeable backstrap and an accessory rail on the front.[PDFCAP(3)].
Our P99’s appearance was first rate. The black polymer frame, which had a squared and undercut trigger guard, was very cleanly molded. The metal work and matte black finish of the steel slide and barrel were flawless. There was only a slight amount of movement detected between the slide and frame. There was no movement of the barrel when locked into battery with the slide.
The Walther’s integral grip had texturing on the sides, serrations on the front and back, and three shallow finger grooves on the front. Three interchangeable backstrap inserts of different sizes (small, medium and large) were provided with the pistol, which allowed the backstrap to be customized to suit the shooter. Each of the two blued steel double-column magazines had a black plastic follower and a removable black plastic floorplate. No sharp edges or other imperfections were found.
Functioning of this P99 was very unsatisfactory. During the first 100 rounds, the slide locked back four times while there was still rounds in the magazine. During the second 100 rounds, we had three failures to fire. These misfires were a result of the striker decocking, instead of going all the way forward and firing the chambered round, while we were firing rapidly in the single-action mode. None of our shooters felt this pistol’s operation was reliable.
Overall, we considered this Walther’s handling qualities to be very good. The grip’s backstrap could be changed to suit the individual. All of our shooters felt the grip’s overall shape fit their hands very well, making it easy to establish a solid and very comfortable grasp. However, most shooters also commented that their trigger finger had a tendency to drag on the bottom of the trigger guard.
The controls on the P99 took some getting use to, especially the decocker. This control’s unusual location, mounted flush with the top of the slide, toward the rear, made it difficult for us to learn and remember where to find the decocker. Most shooters found the decocker easier to depress with the fingers of their support hand than with the thumb of their firing hand. There was an indicator that protruded from the rear of the slide when the internal striker was cocked.
The ambidextrous magazine release consisted of dual levers on the sides of the trigger guard. Pulling either lever downward released the magazine. The slide catch was a long, slim lever at the top of the grip on the left side of the frame. The manual safety, which was built into the trigger, prevented the trigger’s rearward movement unless the trigger was pivoted slightly. All of the controls worked positively.
None of our shooters were satisfied with the movement of this Walther’s trigger. The single-action pull had 1/4 inch of slack and released at 6-1/4 pounds, which we felt was about two pounds too heavy. The long double-action pull felt gritty, but released at a reasonable 11 pounds. Neither pull had a noticeable amount of overtravel.
Partially-adjustable sights were standard equipment on the P99. The rear was a snag-resistant blade with white dots on either side of its square notch. It had an adjustment screw for windage changes. Four interchangeable front blades, each with a white dot on its face, were supplied with this pistol. Elevation changes could be made by switching the front sight. This system provided a clear sight picture, and its point of aim was well regulated to the point of impact.
Considering this Walther’s high price, we felt its accuracy should have been better. The pistol’s best five-shot groups, averaging 3.13 inches at 25 yards, were produced with Speer Lawman 180-grain TMJs. Remington 180-grain JHPs and Winchester 155-grain Silvertips managed 3.68 and 3.88 inches, respectively, at 25 yards.
Beretta Model 96
The Beretta Model 96 is a .40 S&W version of the manufacturer’s Model 92 9mm pistol, which is the issue sidearm for the US military. This relatively large pistol features an open top slide with an ambidextrous safety, an aluminum alloy frame with a lanyard loop, a 4-7/8-inch barrel and a traditional double-action trigger. Shipped in a plastic carrying case with two 10-round magazines, this model has a suggested retail price of $613.[PDFCAP(4)]
We rated the fit and finish of the Model 96 acquired for this test as very good. All of its metal parts had a uniform matte black finish that Beretta calls Bruniton, which has been found to be more corrosion resistant and more durable than bluing. No cosmetic or structural flaws were noted. The barrel’s chamber face and feed ramp were highly polished. Moving parts, including the barrel and slide when locked into battery, had little or no play.
Both of the grip panels were made of plastic with a dull black finish and molded checkering. They covered the sides of the frame only, leaving the front and back straps exposed. Each panel was held securely in place by two slotted screws. The grips mated to the frame with no gaps or rough edges.
The two double-column magazines supplied with the pistol had steel bodies and were finished to match the rest of the pistol. There were two witness holes in the rear of each magazine. The followers were made of black plastic, as were the removable floorplates. The floorplates extended slightly below the bottom of the frame. Both magazines were expertly constructed.
Functioning was almost perfect. The only glitch was one failure of the slide to automatically lock to the rear after the last round in the magazine was fired. Since this occurred on the 20th round, well within the normal break-in period for a new firearm, our shooters did not fault the pistol.
This Beretta’s extractor also acted as a loaded chamber indicator. When it engaged a chambered round, the extractor protruded from the right side of the slide and exposed its red dot. In low light, when the dot could not be seen, it could be felt. We thought this was a definite plus.
Although this Beretta was moderately muzzle heavy, it pointed slightly high. Target acquisition was satisfactory. Serrations on the rear of the slide were relatively shallow, so some of our shooters grasped the safety levers when manipulating the slide. Those with small hands felt the grip was almost too large, but no one thought it was uncomfortable. Grooves on the front and back of the grip frame weren’t what we would call deep, but were an aid in gripping the pistol. Felt recoil was sharp, but not heavy.
The Model 96’s controls worked smoothly. The slide release, positioned on the left side of the frame, was easy to reach and manipulate. Reaching the reversible magazine release, located at the left rear of the trigger guard, was a long stretch for those with small hands. But, once reached, the large button was easily depressed. This pistol was equipped with two safeties. The first was a passive firing pin block that prevented firing if the trigger wasn’t pulled to the rear. The second was a manual safety with dual two-position levers mounted on the slide. When moved downward to the engaged position, the manual safety blocked the firing pin, disconnected the trigger and decocked the hammer. Right- and left-handed shooters could readily operate either safety lever with their dominant thumb.
The ungrooved trigger’s movement was smooth, but its ease of operation was dependent on the hand size and trigger-finger length of the shooter. Those with small hands had a hard time working the trigger in the double action mode, but the pull let off cleanly at 10-3/4 pounds. After 1/4 inch of takeup, the single action pull let off at 5 pounds.
Fixed sights were provided on this pistol. The front sight consisted of a 1/8-inch-wide blade that was integral with the slide. It was non-adjustable and had a white dot on its face. The rear sight had a 1/8-inch-square notch with white dots on both sides. It was dovetailed to the slide, providing drift adjustment for windage only. The white dots stood out well against the black finish of the pistol.
Although the Model 96’s sights were fairly easy to find and align, they were not regulated very well. At 25 yards, our Model 96 shot 2 inches high and 4 inches to the left of the point of aim with all the brands of ammunition used. Deviation was not as great at closer distances, but high and left was the order of the day.
This .40 S&W pistol’s accuracy was, in our opinion, acceptable but nothing special. Its smallest five-shot average groups, 3.25 inches at 25 yards, were obtained using Remington 180-grain jacketed hollow points. Speer’s Lawman 180-grain totally metal jacketed load produced 3.50-inch groups. Winchester 155-grain Silvertip hollow points finished last with 3.80-inch groups. For more information, see the Performance Table.
The Sig Sauer P229 is designed specifically for the .40 S&W cartridge. Although its looks and operation are the same as this manufacturer’s other full-size pistols, its slide is constructed differently. Instead of being welded together, it is made from a single piece of forged stainless steel.[PDFCAP(5)]
Other features of this model include an aluminum alloy frame with a decocking lever, a 3-3/4-inch barrel and a traditional double action trigger. Packed in a plastic carrying case with two 10-round magazines, the pistol has a suggested retail price of $795.
We considered our P229’s overall workmanship to be very good. The stainless steel slide and alloy frame had a dull black finish, while the barrel and other steel parts were a slightly brighter blue/black. No tool marks or sharp edges were found. The slide was fitted to the frame with only a moderate amount of side-to-side movement. The barrel was closely fitted the slide.
The two-piece grip was constructed of plastic with dull black finish and plenty molded non-slip texturing. The halves of the grip covered and became the back lower part of the grip frame. Each panel was held solidly in place by two slotted screws. We were particularly impressed by the way the two halves mated at the rear of the pistol. There was no discernible difference where they met. It was almost like having a one-piece grip.
Both of the double-column magazines supplied with this Sig had blued steel bodies with two witness holes in their spines. The followers were of dull black plastic, as were the removable floorplates. Each floorplate was large enough to serve as a finger extension for the shooter’s firing hand. We thought the magazines were neatly constructed.
Our test gun never failed to feed, fire, extract or eject. However, its slide failed to lock to the rear about 50 percent of the time after the last round was fired. This occurred with all three kinds of ammunition we used and with both magazines. The Sig’s passive safety, a firing pin lock that prevented firing until the trigger was pulled, worked correctly.
In handling, we found the P229 was the most evenly balanced pistol in this test. Consequently, target acquisition was the fastest. When pointed, the front sight tended to automatically align with the rear sight. Some of our shooters thought the serrations on the rear of the slide were shallow, but grasping the slide firmly wasn’t overly difficult. Most said the top of the grip was overly wide, but the rest of the grip’s contouring made it feel thinner than it actually was. Felt recoil was the heaviest of the test, but controlling the pistol wasn’t a problem.
As on all Sig pistols, this model’s controls were located on the left side of the frame, surrounding a right-handed shooter’s dominant thumb. This placement was awkward for southpaws. When pushed down-ward, the decocking lever at the top front of the grip safely lowered the hammer. This lever worked smoothly, as did the slide catch lever just behind it. But, due to the slide catch’s untraditional location, some shooters occasionally reached for the decocking lever when trying to release the slide. Experienced pistol shooters had to re-learn the location of these controls. The magazine release at the rear of the trigger guard worked as it should.
We were not impressed with the ungrooved trigger’s double action pull. It felt very gritty, but let off at a reasonable 11 pounds according to our self-recording trigger pull gauge. The single action pull let off at 4 pounds after 1/4 inch of takeup.
The P229’s sights consisted of a 1/8-inch-wide front blade with a white dot on its face and a fixed rear with a 1/8-inch-square notch and two white dots. Both were dovetailed to the slide, making them drift adjustable for windage only. Elevation changes could be accomplished by replacing the front sight with a higher or lower one (not provided). Our shooters said this system provided the easiest-to-acquire sight picture.
Furthermore, the sights were regulated fairly well. At 25 yards, the Remington and Winchester ammunition impacted the target 1/2 inch to the right and 1-1/2 inches higher than the point of aim. However, the Speer load hit 4 inches to the right at the same distance.
Like that of most Sig pistols, we found the P229’s accuracy to be very good with the right ammunition. The best five-shot average groups of the test, 2.28 inches at 25 yards, were achieved with the Speer Lawman 180-grain totally metal jacketed load. Remington 180-grain jacketed hollow points were good for 2.98-inch groups. Winchester 155-grain Silvertip hollow points managed 3.28 inches at 25 yards.
Heckler & Koch USP40/2
The Heckler & Koch USP40 is a .40 S&W pistol with a steel-reinforced polymer frame. It has a 4 1/4-inch barrel, an integral grip and mounting grooves for accessories. A recoil reduction system is utilized to lower stress on the gun’s parts and lessen felt recoil. Due to its modular design, the USP is available in 10 different variations, each with a different mix of operating features. These features include a double/single action trigger or a double-action-only trigger and a control lever, located on the left or right side of the frame, that serves as a manual safety and/or a decocking lever. Also, all variants can be converted to any of the others in a few minutes by an H&K armorer with the proper parts.[PDFCAP(6)]
Since we tested a USP40 variant 1 in the March 1994 issue, we decided to try a variant 2 for this test. This $660 pistol was intended for left-handed shooters. It had a traditional double/single action trigger and an operating lever on the right side of the frame that served as a manual safety and a decocking lever. Although 10-round magazines are standard equipment, our test gun came with two 13-round (pre-ban) magazines.
Fit and finish of this Heckler & Koch was, in our opinion, very good. The steel slide had a nitro-gas carburized black oxide finish, making it corrosion resistant and very hard. Other metal parts were coated with Dow Corning’s Molykote finish, which combats corrosion and also reduces friction and wear. Both finishes were well executed. No sharp edges or other shortcomings were found. We noted that moving parts had a modest amount of play.
The black polymer frame and integral grip was very cleanly molded. Each of the two double-column magazines provided with this pistol had steel bodies with a deep blue/black finish. Their followers and removable floorplates were made of black plastic. The floorplates extended past the lower portion of the frame, lengthening the pistol’s gripping surface. Both magazines were faultlessly constructed.
During firing, we encountered no problems with this Heckler & Koch. All aspects of its operation were 100 percent reliable with the three kinds of ammunition we tried.
In handling, the USP40/2 balanced near the trigger. Pointing was more instinctive than with the other pistols in the test. Due to this handgun’s comparatively light weight, target acquisition was fairly quick. Generous serrations on the rear of the slide were a definite aid in manipulating the slide. Thanks to the stippled texturing on the sides and the deep molded checkering on the front and back of the large grip, it afforded a very nonslip grasp. The large squared trigger guard provided enough room for a gloved hand. Felt recoil was, in our opinion, average.
Most of this Heckler & Koch’s controls were large enough to be considered extended, but weren’t obtrusive. Since the slide catch lever was located in its usual place on the left side of the frame, it was the only control that wasn’t especially well suited for left-handers. Nevertheless, it worked positively.
The magazine release, mounted to the underside of the trigger guard, was a bar with a control surface on each side of the guard. This control unlocked the magazine when pushed downward. Its unusual operation took some getting use to, and never became a natural movement for some of our shooters. Nevertheless, it worked smoothly, and could be manipulated with the thumb or index finger of either hand. The bottom of the trigger guard was flared to help protect the magazine release. Being a variant 2, this USP40’s operating lever was on the right side of the frame. Left-handed shooters were able to easily reach and manipulate this control with their dominant thumb. When moved upward, the operating lever served as the manual safety. In this position, the hammer and sear were locked, allowing a cocked-and-locked mode of use or carry. Pressing the operating lever downward past the “fire” position safely decocked the hammer. After decocking, the lever automatically returned to the middle (fire) position. This pistol’s other safety feature, a passive firing pin block, never failed.
Our shooters felt the USP40/2 had a good trigger. In the double action mode, the pull was smooth and let off at 10-1/2 pounds. After 1/4 inch of takeup, the single action pull let off at 4-1/2 pounds.
The fixed sights featured a three-white-dot system. The front sight was a dovetailed 1/8-inch-wide blade. The rear sight was also dovetailed to the slide and had a 1/8-inch-square notch. Both sights were drift adjustable for windage only. We thought this arrangement provided a clear sight picture, and its point of aim was well regulated.[PDFCAP(7)]
Our shooters considered the USP40/2’s accuracy to be average. Its tightest five-shot groups, which averaged 3.18 inches at 25 yards, were obtained using Remington 180-grain jacketed hollow points. The Speer Lawman 180-grain totally metal jacketed load could be counted on for 3.23-inch groups. Winchester 155-grain Silvertip hollow points came in a close third with 3.28-inch groups.