Our retailer friends tell us that the most popular carry gun in America is the compact 9mm self-loading pistol with a single-column magazine. These handguns are handy, concealable, and powerful enough for personal defense. They deliver acceptable ballistics without harsh recoil and are affordable. Most are based on service-size handguns. The engineering in downsizing the pistols has been faultless in many, but not all, renditions, so everyone wants to know if Compact Pistol “A” is as reliable for practical use as any full-size pistol. And if Compact Pistol “A” is that reliable, it makes it easier to narrow down the many choices to the best choice for you. We get a lot of questions about such handguns, and this lineup includes four handguns readers have asked us to test.
The Smith & Wesson and the Glock, are based on service guns, while the Honor Defense Honor Guard and Walther PPS are purpose-designed compacts with no service-size big brother.
When we first tested the Glock 43 Subcompact Slimline G43 two years ago, it earned a B+ in our evaluation when it was paired with the Walther CCP head to head. In that evaluation, we noticed that the slide was narrow and nicely beveled. Glock did not simply stick a Glock 19 slide on a slim frame. The locked-breech operating system and trigger action are preserved. Anyone owning a Glock of any size or frame will be able to use this handgun in the same manner because the action is identical to all other Glock pistols.
The sights were standard Glock, with a white outline rear and white dot forward, the same as the test gun this round. They proved adequate for combat firing and were reasonably good for accuracy work at 15 yards. We also noted then that there is a shelf under the slide on the frame that protects the slide lock from a finger contacting the slide lock during recoil. It is common for the support-hand thumb to bump the slide lock and lock the slide to the rear when firing a hard-kicking compact. The shelf seems to eliminate this problem, then and now. Also, the Glock frame does not incorporate a light rail for a combat light.
In both guns, the Glocks featured a spring-within-a-spring guide rod that we feel does an excellent job of containing recoil. Once on target, however, the Glock was handicapped by a 6.75-pound trigger pull. This time around, the G43’s pull was more than a pound lighter. Two years ago, we also noted that due to its polygonal rifling, you should rule out lead-bullet handloads.
|American Eagle Syntech 115-gr. FMJ||Glock 43||Honor Defense Honor Guard||Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield||Walther PPS M2|
|Average velocity||1009 fps||1034 fps||990 fps||998 fps|
|Muzzle energy||259 ft.-lbs.||272 ft.-lbs.||250 ft.-lbs.||254 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest group||2.8 in.||2 in.||2.9 in.||2.3 in.|
|Largest group||3.6 in.||2.8 in.||3.3 in.||2.9 in.|
|Average group size||3.3 in.||2.4 in.||3.1 in.||2.7 in.|
|Black Hills Ammunition 115-gr. JHP +P|
|Average velocity||1187 fps||1216 fps||1190 fps||1204 fps|
|Muzzle energy||359 ft.-lbs.||377 ft.-lbs.||361 ft.-lbs.||370 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest group||3.3 in.||2.2 in.||2.6 in.||2.2 in.|
|Largest group||3.9 in.||2.8 in.||3.4 in.||2.8 in.|
|Average group size||3.6 in.||2.5 in.||3 in.||2.5 in.|
|Hornady XTP 147-gr. Hollowpoint|
|Average velocity||920 fps||880 fps||909 fps||900 fps|
|Muzzle energy||276 ft.-lbs.||252 ft.-lbs.||269 ft.-lbs.||264 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest group||2.6 in.||1.9 in.||2.6 in.||2.3 in.|
|Largest group||3.7 in.||2.5 in.||3 in.||3 in.|
|Average group size||3.2 in.||2.3 in.||2.8 in.||2.6 in.|
|Notes: Average velocity readings were recorded by firing five-shot strings over a Competition Electronics Pro Chrono. The muzzle was 10 feet from the first skyscreen. Ambient temperature: 45 degrees. Elevation: 815 feet above sea level. The accuracy figures are the average of three five-shot groups. For accuracy, we fired the test gun from a benchrest at a target 15 yards away. Ammunition details and sources: American Eagle Syntech 115-gr. full metal jacket ($13.49 /50 rounds from SportsmansGuide.com); Hornady 147-gr. XTP ($19.25/25 rounds from LuckyGunner.com); and Black Hills Ammunition 115-gr. JHP +P ($15.10/20 rounds from VenturaMunitions.com).|
In November 2016, we looked at a specialized version of the gun, a Glock G43 Limited Edition ProGlo TALO Edition UI4350501. TALO is a wholesale buying cooperative that creates special edition firearms, which have to be ordered from a local dealer. On this Glock 43, the pistol’s slide was standard save for the sights, which were made by AmeriGlo and featured a brilliant orange post around a white-insert tritium front. The rear sight featured a U-notch for rapid target engagement, and the rear face of the rear sight was serrated to reduce glare. Even with these upgrades, we gave the Glock a B grade.
Our only time to have tested an S&W M&P9 Shield 9mm Lugerwas in the March 2013 issue, so this update is overdue for a handgun that so many people seem to like. Four years ago, we called it a pleasant, compact, slim, nicely made handgun.
Then, as now, we said it was easy enough to get it into a pocket of reasonable dimensions. There was nothing sticking out of the Shield to get caught on clothing. The magazines were easy to get out and back into the gun. They had a somewhat staggered design that made them more compact for their capacity. The gun was matte black with semi-slick pebbly inserts on front and rear of the grip straps.
The Shield had an external safety on its left side. The sights were excellent, dovetailed into the slide, and tritium is an option. The rear was secured with a screw so you could adjust the windage. The front was held solely by friction in the dovetail. The trigger pull was heavy and consistent at about 7.5 pounds, and the trigger rebound was short.
Takedown required locking the slide back and applying manly force to the takedown lever to rotate it 90 degrees. Then the slide could be let down to its normal position, the trigger pulled, and the slide comes off the front. Removing the captive double recoil spring was extremely easy. There’s no danger of parts flying across the room, or losing an eye when you put it all back together. We noted a significant fillet on the hook of the S&W’s extractor. It also had a slight pocket to help catch the incoming rounds as they feed from mag to chamber. The striker-locking safety plunger inside the slide is cammed upward by the trigger arm, which actively forces the plunger out of the way.
We first tested the Walther PPS 9mm in the October 2008 issue, so it, too, would be due for an up-to-date test, but the product here is the M2 version, which we haven’t tested heretofore, along with the Honor Guard Sub-Compact. Let’s see how these current models stack up when we shot them side by side.
Glock 43 Subcompact Slimline G43 PI4350201 9mm Luger, $445
GUN TESTS GRADE: B
Accurate enough for personal defense, reliable, and fast handling, the Glock performed well. It isn’t as accurate or as light kicking as the larger pistols, but neither is it inaccurate
or a hard kicker.
|ACTION||Locked breech DAO semi-auto|
|OVERALL LENGTH||6.26 in.|
|OVERALL HEIGHT||4.25 in.|
|MAX WIDTH||1.08 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||16.2 oz.|
|WEIGHT LOADED||22.4 oz.|
|BARREL LENGTH||3.39 in.|
|MAGAZINE||6-rd. detachable box|
|FRAME FRONT STRAP HEIGHT||1.5 in.|
|FRAME BACK STRAP HEIGHT||2.5 in.|
|GRIP THICKNESS (max)||1 in.|
|GRIP CIRCUMFERENCE (max)||5.2 in.|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||5.5 lbs.|
|TRIGGER SPAN (SA)||2.5 in.|
|SAFETY||No manual safety|
This was our price recently at CheaperThanDirt.com. The Glock 43 single-column magazine thin-frame version of the proven Glock 9mm handgun has proven very popular, even outperforming the Glock 26 9mm in sales, according to our gun-shop contacts. The Model 43 is light enough at 18 ounces. The grip frame fits most hands well. With the extended magazine in place, the grip was good for all but the largest hands, while with the flush-fit 6-round magazine in place, the small finger hung over. The other handguns, in contrast, offered a full firing grip with either type of magazine. The pistol is supplied with one flush-fit and one extended magazine, although the capacity is the same with either magazine. (Measurements in the specification box for each pistol reflect overall height and strap measurements with the extended magazine in place.)
The trigger action breaks at exactly the specified 5.5 pounds, one-tenth of a pound lighter than a Glock 43 carried by a rater. The pistol features a flat magazine release that isn’t likely to be inadvertently struck. The smaller the handgun the more likely of a problem in handling the slide lock or magazine release. The Glock flat magazine release is a good design. The slide lock is buried by a protecting swell in the grip frame. We like this a lot. When firing small-frame handguns with an appreciable kick, the thumb sometimes rides into the slide lock and locks the slide to the rear during a firing string. This isn’t going to occur with the Glock. Yet, with practice, the magazine release could be quickly manipulated.
The sights are standard Glock white-outline rear and white dot front. There are no forward cocking serrations. The rear serrations are adequate, and the slide isn’t difficult to rack. The grips are lightly pebbled, the simplest treatment of the four pistols tested. Overall, the pistol cannot be faulted on simplicity or function.
We tested the pistol with four types of ammunition. During the offhand-firing evaluation stage on the combat course, we used Blazer 115-grain FMJs ($10.99/50 rounds Brownells.com). For the accuracy evaluation, we used the American Eagle Syntech 115-grain round, the Black Hills Ammunition 115-grain +P ammo, and the Hornady 147-grain XTP. We also fired the Black Hills +P load during the offhand-firing evaluation. We felt that it was important to confirm reliability and control with a range of bullet weights and with a +P loading. We were surprised to find that the Black Hills Ammunition +P load averaged 1200 fps from the short-barrel 9mm handguns and delivered 360 or more foot-pounds of energy. This load gives the shooter confidence in the stopping potential of the 9mm handguns. However, this load was more controllable in the heavier guns and demands practice to master.
We began the firing evaluation with the Blazer FMJ loads. Drawing from a D. M. Bullard crossdraw holster, we fired at silhouette targets at 5, 7, and 10 yards. (As an aside, we found this holster is a good choice, especially when moving on the range and setting up targets and moving tools and notebooks. The handgun is out of the way when holstered.) The Glock gave acceptable results. However, toward the end of the firing test, the short grip began to slip in the hand and recoil was more noticeable. We fired a magazine of the +P loading in all pistols to evaluate recoil. The Glock 43 did not sting the hand or twist uncomfortably in recoil, but it would take an experienced shooter to control +P loads in this handgun. Firing from the benchrest, we found the Glock was consistent in accuracy, with five-shot groups averaging 3 inches on average at 15 yards, making it the least-accurate pistol tested. It was controllable, but the other pistols were easier to shoot well, our testers said.
Our Team Said: If you need a truly compact handgun from these four, the Glock 43 is the lightest handgun tested and the most compact. It is the only pistol that might be acceptable for pocket carry, given large pockets.
Honor Defense Honor Guard Sub-Compact HG9SC 9mm Luger, $449
GUN TESTS GRADE: B
The Honor Guard 9mm is a good-shooting pistol. It was the most accurate in the test and the handgun that was deemed most comfortable to fire. The sights are good, and the other features are well thought out. The trigger is the heaviest of the handguns in the test, which leaves us wondering what type of shooting we may have done with a lighter trigger compression. The only defect was the problematic slide lock, which we found far too heavy.
|ACTION||Double action only|
|OVERALL LENGTH||6.1 in.|
|OVERALL HEIGHT||4.8 in.|
|MAX WIDTH||1.2 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||22 oz.|
|WEIGHT LOADED||26.5 oz.|
|BARREL LENGTH||3.2 in.|
|MAGAZINE||8-rd. detachable box|
|FRAME FRONT STRAP HEIGHT||2.45 in.|
|FRAME BACK STRAP HEIGHT||3.2 in.|
|GRIP THICKNESS (max)||0.9 in.|
|GRIP CIRCUMFERENCE (max)||5.3 in.|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||7.2 lbs.|
|TRIGGER SPAN (SA)||2.6 in.|
|SAFETY||No manual safety|
This was our price from CheaperThanDirt.com. The Honor Guard is a purpose-designed 9mm compact based designed from the outset as a carry-sized 9mm handgun. Honor Defense also states that the pistol is designed for +P loads. The Honor Guard features aggressive cocking serrations, including forward cocking serrations. The sights are well thought out, with two white dots in the rear and a single red painted front dot. The sights are designed to allow easy cocking on the belt if needed. We like the Honor Guard takedown, which is performed by rotating a lever, more than the Glock or Walther takedown. The lever is easier to use well, and the pistol need not be decocked for field stripping, another plus. The frame is aggressively stippled, and this treatment is superior to the Glock and Smith & Wesson, but only equals the Walther, and some preferred the Walther treatment. The extended magazine holds eight rounds, giving the pistol a two-round advantage over the Glock and a cartridge over the other handguns. The trigger breaks cleanly enough, but it was the heaviest handgun at 7.2 pounds. Trigger control was aided by a trigger stop molded into the frame.
Using the same mix of ammunition as in the other handguns, the pistol felt controllable in rapid fire. Felt recoil was the lightest of the handguns tested. The heavy trigger was controllable, aided by the frame-mounted trigger stop. Reset is good. Control is good, and the trigger feels fine, but it suffers in comparison due to its heavy press. While it was the most accurate handgun tested, we wondered what we could have accomplished with a lighter trigger. Still, the heavy trigger is a safety feature in a handgun with no manual safety. Considering the accuracy performance, perhaps we should not complain, but the trigger’s weight isn’t subjective, it is measureable. One rater felt that the Honor Guard was more of a tactically minded handgun than the others, designed to maximize the slim 9mm platform.
The only other drawback to the Honor Guard was the slide lock. We like a buried slide lock that isn’t easily activated inadvertently. However, you should be able to operate the slide lock. Honor Defense stresses that the control is only a slide lock and is not designed as a slide release. We were able to grasp the unloaded Honor Guard and lock the slide to the rear without problem by pressing the slide lock upwards. The slide lock is ambidextrous, which seemed a plus. Once the firearm fired empty and the slide locked open on the last shot, most of the raters were unable to drop the slide by actuating the slide lock.
We tried several speed loads with the other handguns, and the slide locks functioned normally as a slide release, with no real difference between them. None of the raters, from a female with a small but long thumb to a rather strong individual, could drop the slide of the Honor Guard after loading a fresh magazine using the slide lock. After a monumental effort, one rater did manage to trip the slide. This is a drawback, we feel. But then, it is operating as designed.
When firing the Honor Guard there were no failures to feed, chamber, fire, or eject. The pistol offers the lightest recoil of any handgun tested, although none of the handguns were uncomfortable to fire. The difference was most pronounced when firing +P ammunition. The Honor Guard offered good control when fired off hand and seemed the most sure when firing combat drills. Firing with one hand and the Black Hills Ammunition +P loading, the pistol really demonstrated its light recoil. Firing the Honor Guard off a solid bench rest for accuracy, the pistol was the most accurate handgun tested.
Our Team Said: The score card was impressive. The Honor Defense Honor Guard is the most controllable handgun and the most accurate. The frame treatment provided excellent adhesion when firing. This is balanced against the fact that this is the heaviest handgun tested and the largest in some dimensions. Hand fit was deemed excellent by most raters. If purchasing the handgun for home defense, the Honor Guard is the obvious choice. For concealed carry, the Honor Guard isn’t large and heavy, but it is heavier than the other handguns, and this is a consideration. The slide lock was a drawback, and this needs to be redesigned, we felt. Based on the problem with the slide lock, we rated the pistol down a grade. Just the same, this is a desirable handgun.
Walther PPS M2 2805961 9mm Luger, $451
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
The Walther PPS M2 is a class act. All controls and the sights and grip frame seem well thought out. Some did not like the bumps on the grip frame at the first examination, but they came to like the grip’s abrasion and adhesion during firing. The PPS is almost as accurate as the Honor Guard handgun. In the end, it is the most expensive pistol tested, but it earned a hearty A rating anyway.
|ACTION||Double action only|
|OVERALL LENGTH||6.375 in.|
|OVERALL HEIGHT||4.75 in.|
|MAX WIDTH||1.1 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||22 oz.|
|WEIGHT LOADED||24.5 oz.|
|BARREL LENGTH||3.4 in.|
|MAGAZINE||7-rd. detachable box|
|FRAME FRONT STRAP HEIGHT||2.4 in.|
|FRAME BACK STRAP HEIGHT||3 in.|
|GRIP THICKNESS (max)||0.93 in.|
|GRIP CIRCUMFERENCE (max)||5.25 in.|
|FRONT SIGHT||White dot|
|REAR SIGHT||White outline|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||6.5 lbs.|
|TRIGGER SPAN||2.75 in.|
|SAFETY||No manual safety|
This was our price from BudsGunShop.com. The Walther is the most expensive handgun tested (by a small margin of $2), so the PPS would have to live up to its cost. We like the ease of takedown of the handguns that use a lever for takedown, including the Honor Defense and Smith & Wesson pistols. The Walther uses the Glock-type takedown. However, the Walther takedown levers are easier to use than the Glock, and takedown was easier. In common with the Glock, the trigger must be pressed to remove the slide for disassembly.
The slide is well finished and barrel fit is good. We like the sight picture the best of any of the handguns tested. It is more open than the Glock, and the three white dots offer a good aiming point. The trigger action isn’t the lightest tested, but it breaks cleanly at 6.5 pounds, about a pound heavier than the Glock. The frame treatment drew mixed reviews, all good but varying in enthusiasm. None found it uncomfortable.
Measurements are not everything, and our female rater narrowed the choice down to the Walther versus the Honor Guard, and in the end did not like the bump in the PPS grip. Another rater preferred the PPS grip and treatment to all other handguns. The magazine release and the slide lock are well protected. Just the same, they worked well for all hand sizes. The slide lock proved positive in operation and did not present a difficulty for any of the raters.
When fired offhand on the combat course, the Walther turned in good-to-excellent combat hits. The only pistol that bettered the PPS in the combat runs was the Honor Guard, and only by a slight margin. Fired off the benchrest for accuracy, the Walther turned in good groups. The best effort at 15 yards was a 2.25-inch five-shot group with the Hornady 147-grain XTP. The pistol was controllable in all firing situations, off the bench or offhand, but recoil was noticeably increased with the +P loading.
The pistol was just behind the Honor Guard in accuracy. We liked the forward cocking serrations of the Walther; they are good to have. The rounded trigger guard of the Walther makes for easier pocket carry than the squared Glock trigger guard, some felt. While all magazines dropped free when the magazine release was struck, with the PPS the magazine was ejected, it seemed, it left the frame so quickly. Speed loads were rapid.
Our Team Said: We prefer the Walther PPS to the Honor Guard, Glock 43 or Shield overall. The vote was close, with the Honor Guard receiving high marks as well.
Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield 180021 9mm Luger, $394
GUN TESTS GRADE: A (Best Buy)
The Smith & Wesson Shield 9mm featured a happy combination of desirable design elements, including well designed and executed grip checkering, good sights, a decent trigger action, and good reliability. The Shield wasn’t the most accurate handgun tested, but it was more accurate, overall, than the Glock 43, which was our baseline for performance. The manual safety is a plus in the minds of several raters. The Shield was the least expensive pistol tested.
|ACTION||Double action only|
|OVERALL LENGTH||6.1 in.|
|OVERALL HEIGHT||4.6-5 in.|
|MAX WIDTH||0.9 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||21 oz.|
|WEIGHT LOADED||25.5 oz.|
|BARREL LENGTH||3.1 in.|
|MAGAZINE||7- or 8-rd.|
|FRAME FRONT STRAP HEIGHT||1.8 in.|
|FRAME BACK STRAP HEIGHT||2.8 in.|
|GRIP THICKNESS (max)||0.9 in.|
|GRIP CIRCUMFERENCE (max)||5.25 in.|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT (SA)||5.5 lbs.|
|TRIGGER SPAN (SA)||2.75 in.|
This was our price from CheaperThanDirt.com. The Shield is the least expensive pistol tested, with the other handguns about $50 to $60 more. The Smith & Wesson, however, doesn’t cut corners. A first look shows the Smith & Wesson features better sights and a better frame treatment than the Glock G43, in our estimation. The Shield doesn’t have forward cocking serrations, which the Honor Guard and the Walther PPS feature. However, if the pistol is carried in a leather holster, these serrations may wear on the holster. You have to weigh the merits of forward cocking serrations carefully. The Smith & Wesson’s pebbled grip treatment received high marks from all raters. The sights are good examples of combat sights, and the controls are easily worked. We like the takedown-lever function better than the Glock-type takedown of the Glock and the Walther. The trigger is acceptable at 6.5 pounds. One advantage that cannot be overrated: the Shield features a manual safety. Those preferring a manual safety need look no further.
In firing the Smith & Wesson, comfort was good. It was rated easier to use well in the combat course than the Glock and close to the Walther. As we have noted, the heavier Honor Guard has advantages. Recoil with the +P loads was controllable, and they are a viable option with the Shield. In actuating the magazine release and quickly dropping a magazine, then slapping a new magazine home, we hit the slide lock and dropped the slide, ready to fire again. The controls are easily accessible to the firing hand without shifting the grip.
The pistol gave good results from the bench, where we found the four pistols were in a fairly narrow range of accuracy. However, the results were also very consistent with the Honor Guard, the most accurate, followed by the Walther PPS. The Shield is more accurate than the Glock 43. We feel that this is a result of the combination of a more comfortable firing grip and good sights. There is much to consider in features and merit, and the debate pro and con on the Smith went on for some time.
Our Team Said: While we prefer the overall efficiency of the Walther, price is a consideration. The Smith & Wesson M&P Shield never failed to function and gave acceptable results. This earned the Shield a Best Buy grade.
All in, we would buy any of these handguns. However, we feel that some have superior features. The Glock 43 is reliable, and as mentioned, it is the most compact, which means a lot in some applications. The Smith & Wesson M&P Shield features a manual safety, which is important to a number of shooters. The Walther PPS is perhaps the most refined. The Honor Guard is easy enough to use well, with modest recoil and good performance. The Honor Guard is the pistol for shooters and will reward a practiced shooter with good accuracy and combat groups. It is quite accurate and offers a superior firing grip. The nagging slide-lock problem was a distraction with the Honor Defense 9mm handgun to half the raters, but the other half deemed it a good feature for a carry gun—there is no chance of inadvertently locking the slide back during a firing string with this handgun. Each 9mm tested has a personality that will appeal to the individual shooter. We’ve laid out what we believe you can expect with each handgun, so go get yourself one and get to it.
Written and photographed by Bob Campbell, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.