If you have found the full-size pistol you bought is just too big and heavy to carry around for hours at a time, you are not alone. Fortunately, most of the manufacturers are way ahead of us on this one. Chances are you can buy a compact model in the same caliber and from the same company that made your big service-type pistol.
This can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing, depending on your expectations. If you think you are going to shoot the smaller pistol as well as you shoot the larger model, you will probably be disappointed. It isn’t that short-barrelled handguns are less accurate, per se. Quite often they are not. But, for the compacts to shoot as well as their full-size counterparts, the human element has to be removed. This decrease in accuracy is primarily due to the decrease in grip area and the reduced sighting radius of the compacts. But, when employed within their limitations, most of the time their accuracy is just fine.
Of the relatively new calibers available, the .40 S&W has been the most widely accepted. But, you just about have to be a ballistician to determine what ammunition to use. There are now so many different bullet weights and loads in this caliber that you occasionally just have to stand back and scratch your head. With certain reduced-velocity loads and lighter bullets, you can actually turn your .40 into a 9mm and lose the reason you went to the larger caliber in the first place.
The Test Guns
The three compact .40 S&W pistols in this test are the new Beretta 8040F Mini-Cougar, the Sig Sauer P239 and the Smith & Wesson Model 4013 TSW. All of them have double-action triggers, 3-1/2-inch barrels and fixed sights.
The Smith & Wesson 4013 TSW (Tactical Smith & Wesson), was introduced in 1997. It differs from the standard Model 4013 in that the Tactical is a wide-body pistol while the 4013 is a single-stack design. Other differences are the TSW’s lengthened slide and frame rails for added strength and support, and an extended lock time for (according to the manufacturer) less felt recoil.[PDFCAP(1)].
When the Sig Sauer P239 was introduced in 1996, it was made in 9mm and .357 Sig. The .40 S&W version is a recent addition. Excluding the .380 ACP P232, the P239 is the manufacturer’s smallest and, in our opinion, most reasonably-priced pistol.[PDFCAP(2)].
The Beretta 8040F Mini-Cougar is a recent addition to the manufacturer’s Cougar line of pistols. As its designation suggests, this model is a compact version of the full-size .40 S&W Cougar. All Cougars have a unique locking system which utilizes a rotating barrel that cams against a central block.[PDFCAP(3)].
The Smith & Wesson 4013 TSW’s slide was made of stainless steel with a matte silver finish. Covering much of the left side of the slide was the word “TACTICAL” in big, black letters, along with the Smith & Wesson name and logo. We could have done without this affect. There were good cocking serrations at the rear of the slide on either side. The double-wide aluminum alloy frame had a matte silver-white finish, which was lighter in color than the slide. It featured a rounded undercut trigger guard. Machined serrations were present on the front of the trigger guard and the frontstrap. The belled barrel was left in the white.
On the Smith & Wesson, the grip was a one-piece unit made of plastic with molded checkering on the sides and serrations on the back. It wrapped around the back of the frame, becoming the backstrap and housing the mainspring, but left the metal frontstrap exposed. The grip was held in place by a pin at the back of the butt. Two 9-round double-column magazines were furnished with this pistol. Both had stainless steel bodies, blue plastic followers and black plastic removable floorplates. The floorplates were extended to lengthen the gripping surface of the pistol.
The Sig P239’s slide was made of stainless steel with a dull black finish. Its ample cocking serrations were nicely cut, and, unlike the other pistols in this test, there were no controls on the slide to restrict the shooter’s access to serrations. The aluminum alloy frame had a matte black finish, which matched the slide’s finish, and a rounded trigger guard. There were shallow serrations on the frontstrap. The steel barrel was finished in a blue/black.
Both of the Sig’s black plastic grip panels had non-slip texturing on the sides and molded serrations on the back. The panels met at the back of the frame and served as the backstrap, but didn’t cover the frontstrap. Each grip panel was held in place by a slotted screw. Two 7-round single-column magazines were provided with the gun. Each magazine had a steel body and follower with a dull black finish. The removable black plastic floorplates were extended enough to serve as a rest for the shooter’s little finger.
The Beretta 8040F Mini-Cougar’s slide was steel with a dull black finish. Its cocking serrations were not very tall, due to the shape of the slide, but afforded a good grasp. The aluminum frame had a matte black finish and a hooked undercut trigger guard. There were serrations on the trigger guard, the frontstrap and the backstrap. The steel barrel was finished in a blue/black.
Each of the Beretta’s grip panels was made of black plastic with molded checkering and had the company’s logo. The panels covered only the sides of the frame. Two slotted screws held each panel in place. This pistol came with two different magazines—a standard 8-rounder and an extended 10-rounder. The larger magazine had a long base that served as a grip extension. Both magazines had steel bodies with a black finish, black plastic followers and removable floorplates.
Fit and Finish
We considered the Smith & Wesson’s workmanship to be more than satisfactory. There was only minor movement in the slide-to-frame fit. When locked into battery, only a slight amount of movement of the barrel was detected. The matte finish of the slide and frame were not closely matched. We don’t know if this was done on purpose, but it didn’t do anything for us one way or another.
Fitting of the parts on the Sig was, in our opinion, very good. The grips mated together at the backstrap very well. So well, in fact, they looked like they had been molded together. The grip-to-frame fit was also without fault. The slide was fitted to the frame so skillfully that there was almost no vertical or horizontal movement. No movement of the barrel was detected when it was locked into battery.
We judged the fit and finish of the Beretta to be flawless. There were no gaps between the grips and the frame. There was also no horizontal or vertical movement between the slide and the frame. When in battery, the barrel locked into position with the slide as well as we’ve ever seen on a semiautomatic pistol.
The Smith & Wesson 4013 TSW’s controls worked positively. Its manual safety consisted of dual levers on the slide, which made the safety equally suited for left- and right-handed shooters. When either lever was thumbed downward to the engaged position, this safety also decocked the hammer. Additionally, there was a passive firing pin block safety, which prevented firing when the trigger wasn’t pulled all the way back, and a magazine disconnect device, which prevented firing if the magazine was removed from the gun. The magazine release at the rear of the trigger guard was reversible for southpaws.
Of the three pistols in this test, the Sig P239 was the only one that didn’t have any ambidextrous controls. Instead of a manual safety, it was equipped with a decocking lever on the left side of the frame. The pistol also had a passive firing pin block safety, but there was no magazine disconnect device. The magazine release and the slide catch were located on the left side of the frame. Right-handed shooters could operate each of the controls with the thumb of their shooting hand.
Like the Smith & Wesson, the Beretta 8040F Mini-Cougar had an ambidextrous manual safety with dual slide-mounted levers, which also served to decock the hammer. The pistol was equipped with a passive firing pin block safety, but didn’t have a magazine disconnect device. The magazine release, located at the rear of the trigger guard, was reversible.
We found the Smith & Wesson to be slightly more muzzle heavy than the other pistols in this test. Due to the curved shape of the backstrap, the front sight tended to align high when the gun was pointed. Shooters with large and medium-size hands thought the grip filled the hand fairly well, but those with small hands felt it was overly wide. Nevertheless, since the grip was the largest of the test, it provided a solid grasp and the best control.
In our opinion, the Sig was slightly muzzle heavy. But, it sat well in the hand and was a good pointer. This pistol had the slimmest grip of the test. Shooters with small hands liked the size of the grip, but those with larger hands thought it was too thin. However, the grip’s squared frontstrap and rounded backstrap provided a secure, comfortable grasp.
Full-size Beretta Cougars have a grip shape that rates high in human engineering, but the Mini-Cougar had the shortest grip of the test. When using the standard magazine, the grip came into contact with only a small portion of the palm of the hand. This afforded the least stable grasp and reduced the shooter’s ability to control the muzzle. But, even so, its pointing qualities were very good. With either the short or long magazine in place, this .40 S&W pistol was a natural pointer.
We thought the Smith & Wesson 4013 TSW’s open sights were fairly easy to see and provided a good sight picture. But, we would have liked to have had a taller front blade and a deeper rear notch. The front was a 1/8-inch-wide blade with a white dot on its straight face. The very snag resistant rear was a Novak-style blade with 1/8-inch-square notch and two white dots. Both sights were dovetailed to the slide, making them drift-adjustable for windage only.
Our shooters said the Sig’s fixed sights provided a clean easy-to-acquire sight picture. The 1/8-inch-wide front sight had a white dot on its slightly angled face, while the rear had a white square under its 1/8-inch-square notch. To correctly align the sights, the dot should be put on top of the square. Aligning the dot and square consistently for every shot required an extra bit of effort. Since both sights were dovetailed to the slide, they were driftable for windage only.
The Beretta 8040F Mini-Cougar’s fixed sights provided a very crisp sight picture. The front was a 1/8-inch-wide blade with one white dot. The dovetailed rear was a low-profile blade with a 1/8-inch-square notch and two white dots. It was drift adjustable for windage changes only.
In our opinion, the Smith & Wesson’s 6-3/4-pound single-action trigger pull was at least two pounds too heavy. But, the double-action pull released at a satisfactory 10-3/4 pounds. The double action stage was long but smooth. The single action broke cleanly with only a hint of creep and no noticeable overtravel.
We felt both of the Sig’s trigger pulls were about one pound too heavy. It released at 5-1/2 pounds in the single-action mode and 11-3/4 pounds in the double-action mode. The double-action pull was heavy but smooth enough to be controllable. After a minor amount of creep, the single-action pull broke cleanly with no overtravel.
Our shooters felt the Beretta trigger movement was also too heavy. Its single-action stage released at 6-1/2 pounds, while the double action let off at 11-3/4 pounds. The double-action stage felt about a pound heavier than it weighed, but was very smooth. The single action had very little creep. There was no noticeable overtravel in either stage.
At The Range
The Smith & Wesson 4013 TSW performed flawlessly with the three kinds of commercial ammunition we tried. Accuracy was satisfactory for defensive use. At 15 yards, this pistol’s smallest five-shot average groups of 1.48 inches were achieved with Remington 180-grain jacketed hollow points. Winchester 155-grain Silvertip hollow points and Speer Lawman 180-grain totally metal jackets produced average groups of 2.23 and 2.28 inches, respectively. This pistol shot 3 inches low at 15 yards with all of the loads.
Throughout the test, the Sig P239 functioned without a hitch. Like the Smith, this pistol also produced its best five-shot groups with the Remington ammunition. This load achieved 1.55-inch groups at 15 yards. The Speer TMJs yielded 2.45-inch groups, while Winchester Silvertips managed 2.53-inch groups. We felt this level of accuracy was acceptable for a compact pistol. This .40 S&W’s point of aim was properly regulated to point of impact.
Like the other two pistols tested, we encountered no malfunctions with the Beretta 8040F Mini-Cougar. During the accuracy portion of the test, this .40 S&W stood out as being the only one of the three that shot very well with all of the ammunition used. We attributed this to the gun’s locking system, which utilized a rotating barrel—not a tilting one. The smallest five-shot average groups of the test, 1.11 inches at 15 yards, were produced with the Remington 180-grain JHPs. Second place went to the Speer Lawman 180-grain TMJs at 1.45 inches. Winchester 155-grain Silvertip HPs came in third place with 1.63-inch groups. The pistol shot to the point of aim at 15 yards.