Whether you love them or hate them, you’ve got to admit that pistols with polymer frames are becoming very popular. There are a number of good reasons for this trend. A polymer frame is lighter and more corrosion-resistant than a steel frame. Furthermore, it doesn’t conduct hot and cold as well as metal. Have you ever picked up a gun that has been exposed to extremely hot or cold weather for a couple of hours? Ouch!
A polymer frame on a compact pistol makes a lot of sense. Carrying a lighter handgun is certainly easier than dragging around a heavier one. During the heat of the summer, sweat won’t cause the polymer parts of your carry gun to start rusting. Also, a polymer-framed pistol’s integral grip is usually thinner and, in turn, easier to conceal than that of a metal-framed pistol.
Gun Tests has evaluated many of the 9mm and .40 S&W compact pistols with polymer frames in the past. So, we decided to look at what is available in .45 ACP. Three such handguns—the Heckler & Koch USP45 Compact, the Glock 30 and the EAA Witness P Compact—are the subject of this test.
One of Heckler & Koch’s newest handguns is the $716 USP45 Compact. Like all USPs (Universal Self-loading Pistols), this German-made pistol utilizes modular internal components that allows it to be offered in 10 different versions. Each variant can be converted to any other variant by an armorer with the proper parts. Features available include a double-action trigger or a double-action-only trigger and an operating lever, located on either side of the frame, that serves as a manual safety and/or a decocking lever. This compact .45 ACP has a 3-3/4-inch barrel, a spurless hammer and an 8-round magazine.
Glock’s compact .45 ACP pistol is the $668 Model 30. This Austrian-made handgun features an internal striker firing system and a Safe Action trigger, which has one type of pull and doesn’t have a second-strike capability. A 3-3/4-inch barrel, a 10-round magazine and fixed sights are standard equipment. The polymer frame’s integral grip has all of the manufacturer’s latest improvements.[PDFCAP(2)].
The $336 Witness P Compact is made by Tanfoglio of Italy and is imported into this country by European American Armory (EAA) of Florida. Based on the all-steel Witness (which is a copy of the CZ-75 pistol), this double-action .45 ACP compact features a polymer frame with an integral grip and inverted slide rails. It has a 3-5/8-inch barrel, an external hammer with a round spur and an 8-round magazine.[PDFCAP(3)].
The Heckler & Koch (H&K) USP45 Compact’s black polymer frame had an integral grip with simulated stippling on the sides and cleanly molded checkering on the front and back. The squared face of the oversized trigger guard was also checkered. There were dual 1-3/4-inch-long universal mounting grooves in the front portion of the frame for the attachment of a flashlight, a laser sight or other accessory. The dull black steel slide and barrel had what the manufacturer referred to as a Hostile Environment finish to protect them from corrosion. Gripping serrations at the rear of the slide were well-cut and functional.
The Glock 30’s molded black polymer frame had a squared and undercut trigger guard with serrations on the front and an integral grip. The grip had two finger grooves, 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. The front of the frame and slide were beveled to make the gun easier to insert into a holster. Steel parts were finished with a matte black surface treatment called Tenifer, which made them very hard and corrosion resistant. The wide gripping serrations at the rear of the slide worked well.
Unlike the other pistols in this test, the EAA’s black polymer frame had a rounded trigger guard and a beavertail that extended from the back. The integral grip had serrations on the front and back, texturing on the sides and a flared bottom. The steel barrel was left white, while the slide had a matte blue finish. There were useable gripping serrations on the front and the back of the slide.
The Heckler & Koch came with two 8-round magazines. Both had black steel double-column bodies and black plastic followers. The black plastic floorplates, which could be removed for cleaning, also served as a rest for the shooter’s little finger.
Two 10-round magazines were furnished with the Glock 30. Each had a black plastic double-column body with a steel reinforcement insert and ten witness holes in the back. The removable floorplates, which were long enough to serve as a grip extension, and followers were also made of black plastic.
The EAA was shipped with one 8-round magazine. It had a steel double-column body with a shiny blue/black finish. The follower was made of black plastic, as was the removable oversized floorplate that extended the front of the grip.
All of the magazines slid readily into their respective pistols, locked securely into place, and dropped freely when released. The Heckler & Koch’s magazines were easier to fill to capacity than the others. Inserting the last two rounds into each of the Glock magazines was especially difficult, even when using the plastic loading tool supplied with the gun.
Fit and Finish
In our opinion, the Heckler & Koch’s workmanship was very good. Its polymer frame had no cosmetic or structural shortcomings. The slide-to-frame fit was just about perfect. There was only a hint of movement when the slide was locked in battery. There was no noticeable movement between the barrel and the slide.
The Glock 30’s fit and finish was average. Some minor molding marks were present on non-critical internal areas of the polymer frame. No tool marks or sharp edges were found. The slide fit the frame so loosely that there was considerable lateral and vertical movement. But, the barrel-to-slide fit was very good.
We considered the EAA’s workmanship to be below average. Internal surfaces of its polymer frame had more molding marks than the Glock. There was a lot of play, both laterally and vertically, in the slide-to-frame fit. A significant amount of movement was also noted in the barrel-to-slide fit.
Most of our testers thought the Heckler & Koch’s handling qualities were the best of the test. It was a natural pointer, so target acquisition was a snap. Shooters with small hands felt the grip was too big, but those with larger hands said it was very comfortable. Felt recoil was very pronounced, but controlling the muzzle wasn’t difficult for a compact .45 ACP pistol.
The Glock’s handling was, in our opinion, acceptable. It sat well in the hand, but pointed high. Target acquisition was satisfactory. The finger-grooved grip was the widest, the deepest and shortest of the test. All shooters said it was overly stubby, but holding onto the grip and the magazine’s extended floorplate provided a reasonably secure grasp. Felt recoil was the heaviest of the test, but not uncontrollable.
All-steel versions of the EAA Witness are known for having very good human engineering, but some aspects of this polymer-framed model weren’t as good. The pistol’s comparatively light overall weight made it the hardest of the test to hold steady. When pointed, the front sight aligned low. The flat-sided grip was the thinnest, but not especially comfortable, and long enough to accommodate most of the shooting hand. Felt recoil was the mildest of the test, which we attributed to the favorable shape of the frame’s backstrap and beavertail.
This Heckler & Koch USP was a Variant 1, so its operating lever was on the left rear of the frame and served as a decocking safety. It was intended for right-handed shooters. (The left-hand version is the Variant 2). When the large three-position operating lever was moved all the way up to the safe position, the hammer and the sear were blocked. This allowed the gun to be cocked and locked. In the mid-position, the safety disengaged. Pushing the lever fully downward decocked the hammer, then the lever automatically returned to the fire (middle) position.
The slide catch on the USP45 Compact, a long lever on the left side of the frame, worked in the usual manner. The magazine release was unconventional. It was a double-ended lever at the rear of the trigger guard, which released the magazine when pushed downward from either side. All of this pistol’s controls could be operated readily with the thumb of the shooting hand.
Most of the Glock 30 controls weren’t conveniently located for left-handed shooters, but the manual safety was ambidextrous. This safety, a pivoting lever that was pinned to the trigger, blocked the rearward movement of the trigger if it wasn’t depressed with the shooter’s trigger finger. The small low-profile slide catch and the rectangular magazine release were on the left side of the frame and worked in the usual manner. Right-handed shooters could operate either of these controls with their dominant thumb.
None of the EAA’s controls were ambidextrous, but their low profile shape did make them fairly snag resistant. The manual safety, a two-position lever at the left rear of the frame, locked the sear when moved upward to the engaged position. This allowed the pistol to be put in the cocked and locked mode. The magazine release was in its traditional place on the left side of the frame, as was the slide catch. Right-handed shooters didn’t have to change their grip to manipulate the controls with the thumb of their firing hand.
We thought the USP45 Compact’s fixed sights provided a good sight picture, and were well-regulated to the point of impact. The rear was a rounded steel blade with two white dots and a 3/16-inch-wide notch. The front was a 1/8-inch-wide steel blade with a white dot on its face. Both were dovetailed to the slide, so windage adjustments (only) could be made by drifting the rear sight. The Glock 30’s fixed sights were the most visible and easiest to acquire of the test. The front was a triangular 1/8-inch-wide blade with a white dot on its face, while the low-profile rear was a dovetailed blade with a white-outlined 1/8-inch-wide notch. Both were made of black plastic. This system’s point of aim was right on the point of impact at 15 yards.
The EAA’s fixed sight consisted of a dovetailed high-profile rear blade with a white dot on either side of its 1/8-inch-wide notch and a 1/8-inch-wide front blade with a white dot on its angled face. At 15 yards, this sighting arrangement’s point of aim was 2-1/2 inches higher than the point of impact. Unfortunately, the rear sight was only drift-adjustable for windage.
According to our self-recording gauge, the Heckler & Koch’s trigger had a 4-1/4-pound single-action pull and a 10-1/2-pound double-action pull. We felt these weights were very good for a pistol of this type. The long double-action stage was smooth and released cleanly. There was about 1/4-inch of takeup in the single action stage, but no noticeable overtravel.
Like all Glock pistols, the movement of the Model 30’s Safe Action trigger was like a short double-action pull. (This isn’t technically correct, but is a good description of how it feels). The trigger had about 3/8-inch of takeup and released consistently at 6 pounds. The long takeup was necessary to fully cock the internal striker.
The EAA’s trigger had a 12-pound double-action pull and a 5-pound single-action pull. In our opinion, both modes were too heavy. Furthermore, the double-action stage was so rough that its letoff was more like a jolt than a clean release. The single action stage was creepy and had a moderate amount of overtravel.
At The Range
The Heckler & Koch’s functioning was 100 percent reliable with the three kinds of commercial ammunition we used, and it shot some very good groups. This compact .45 ACP produced the best five-shot average groups of the test, 1.68 inches at 15 yards, with Federal 230-grain Hydra-Shok hollow points. Winchester 185-grain Silvertip hollow points achieved 1.90-inch groups. UMC 230-grain metal case ammunition managed average groups of 2.30 inches.
The Glock 30 made it through the test without a single malfunction, and it was accurate enough for defensive work. At 15 yards, this pistol’s smallest average groups of 2.35 inches were produced with UMC ball ammunition. Federal Hydra-Shoks were good for 2.43 inches. Average groups opened up to 2.73 inches with Winchester Silvertips.
In our opinion, the EAA’s functioning was unacceptable. It failed to feed 6 times with Winchester Silvertips, 9 times with the Federal Hydra-Shoks and 13 times with UMC ball ammunition. We were surprised at these numbers because pistols typically feed ball rounds better than hollow points, but the opposite was true with this .45 ACP. We weren’t satisfied with the Witness P Compact’s accuracy, either. It produced average groups of 2.93 inches with the Federal load, 2.98 inches with the UMC ammunition and 3.08 inches with the Winchester load. We expected better at 15 yards.
Chronograph testing showed there wasn’t a significant difference in the average velocities these three compact .45 ACPs yielded. We felt all velocities and energies were satisfactory for defense use.