May 1999

Good Buy or Gyp? We Check Out The Beretta Combo Kit Pistol

We wondered if the $279 two-for-one package—extra parts that allow you to convert the 9mm Model 92 to the more potent .40 S&W Model 96—would be a bargain or a bust.

Beretta is selling a 92/96 Combo Kit Pistol, a $908 parts package that allows the shooter to get a double-action semiautomatic ten-shot pistol in both 9mm and .40 S&W calibers. For an extra $279 above the base price ($629) for either a Model 92 9mm or Model 96 .40 S&W, the Combo Kit owner gets one barrel, slide, and magazine in each caliber, and one specially made and marked aluminum-alloy receiver designed to accept them both. But is this a deal, or simply a way to thin out your wallet? We ran a test recently to find out.

What It Is
The Beretta 92/96 Combo Kit Pistol is built on a frame that differs from both the 9mm Model 92 and the .40 S&W Model 96. Thus, to answer the most common question put to Beretta, you cannot simply buy a Model 96 and use the slide/barrel/magazine from a Model 92 to make your own convertible handgun. If you want the caliber-swapping capability with the Beretta handgun, you must buy the Combo. So, if you want to shoot both rounds, the $908 Combo Kit can save you $350 less than buying two guns separately ($1,258). Assuming the Kit works as advertised.

With that potential cost savings in hand, we examined the Combo carefully and shot it thoroughly.

Swapping
Changing calibers on the Beretta Combo is a breeze. One simply presses and holds in a locking button protruding from the right side of the forward end of the slide, then rotates the dismount lever on the opposite side. Presto, off comes the slide and barrel, plus the recoil spring and its guide pin. Move the recoil spring and its pin to the other barrel/slide Combo and slip that onto the frame, turn the dismount lever back to its original position, grab the other magazine and you’re set to go. If the owner wanted to buy a second recoil spring and guide pin and keep one in each unit, barrel swapping could be done in well under 10 seconds. As it is, it takes all of 30 seconds. This near-instant dismount also makes clean-up very easy.

Click here to view the Beretta 92/96 Combo Kit Pistol features guide

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The metal finish on the Combo is an overall very even and smooth matte black, and the grip panels are checkered black plastic. The front and rear grip-frame straps have vertical serrations that help keep the gun lined up in the hand on recoil. Unfortunately, like any handgun designed by those who have never been to a shooting school, the Beretta has stuff sticking out of the sides and top of the slide that will gouge your hand when you perform standard clearance or malfunction drills. The big offender is the ambidextrous decocker-safety lever, but a close second is the rear sight itself, which has sharp edges on its forward face.

The magazine release is on the left grip frame just below the trigger guard. Pressing it inward releases the magazine. The bottom edges of the magazine well in the frame are sharp, and could be rounded or beveled to ease reinsertion of the magazine. It is possible to catch the lips of the incoming magazine on that sharp edge. One touch we really liked was that the bottom of the magazines are easily removed, allowing easy cleaning.

We like the feel of the Beretta’s grip and the ease of dismantling the gun for cleaning. The fit and finish are superb. All the controls fall to the hand. The double-action pull is long and smooth, with a pull of around 11 pounds. The single-action trigger pull is crisp and without creep. Although it broke a touch heavier than we’d like, at 5.25 pounds, it’s very useful as it is.

The Combo set comes in a very nice carrying or storing case made of plastic with slots for all the components. It’s a decently thought-out package, in our estimation. Shooting

The .40 S&W cartridge in a big handgun like the Beretta gives significantly less felt recoil than the .45 ACP cartridge in a similar-size handgun. The feel of the Beretta is one of extreme comfort. The grip is large but comfortable, and easy to grasp. It spreads recoil over the hand, so there is no pain no matter how hot the ammo. There are no rough spots to cut or abrade the hands. The front of the trigger guard is relieved for those of us who have learned to shoot with the supporting hand index finger wrapped around the guard. Everything works correctly on this handgun, and works in both calibers, as our accuracy testing showed.

We got essentially the same accuracy with both calibers. Accuracy in either .40 S&W or 9mm Luger is 2 inches at 20 yards. In .40 S&W we got slightly better groups with the PMC Starfire ammo, but the Speer Gold Dot is a bit hotter. However, the Gold Dot gave more of a muzzle blast. Your choice. Best of all, the 180-grain .40 ammunition shot exactly where the sights looked at 20 yards. In 9mm the 124-grain ammo printed to the sights, with the 115-grain fodder 2 inches lower than point of aim. All in all, the Beretta Combo’s parts delivered a splendid bit of usable handgun accuracy.

The only thing we didn’t like was that it was hard to read the marking on the magazines to tell which was which. It would be easy to grab the wrong one. Does that make a difference? The .40 magazine is 0.005 inch larger across the lips at their rear end, but 0.020 inch larger at the front. They are, thus, not the same at all. We tried swapping ammo types to see if the 9mm magazine would feed .40 S&W’s, and if the .40 Mag would feed 9mms.

We loaded as many rounds of 9mm hardball round-noses as we could get into the .40 magazine (it held 14 rounds) and fired them all without a hitch. We then did it again, but put a fifteenth round into the chamber. Again all fed and fired with no problems. However, the rounds never felt secure in the magazine. They seemed to stick up too high, and were a bit loose.

We then loaded nine .40 S&W rounds into the magazine marked “9mm” and found that there was enough drag from the incorrect feed lips that none of them would feed. The lesson here is to mark your magazines clearly and keep the right one with each barrel. Only then will you get what you paid for.

Ballistic Advantages
During our chronographing, when we shot a lot of .40 S&W, swapped calibers to 9mm and kept on shooting, we could detect a slight increase in recoil when we shot the .40 S&W. The chronograph told us that there’s not a lot of velocity difference in all the various loads tried. The big differences are in bullet weight and diameter.

In .40 S&W we shot loads with 180-grain bullets. In 9mm we fired loads that used bullets weighing 115 and 124 grains. With the hottest .40 S&W we tested, Speer Gold Dot, we got an average of 980 fps. The hottest 124-grain 9mm ammunition we tested was the PMC, with average velocity of 1,070 fps. If we figure the Taylor Knock-Out values for each (bullet weight times diameter times velocity, divided by 7000) we get 10.1 for the .40 S&W versus 6.7 for the 9mm. If we use traditional kinetic energy figures, we get 384 foot-pounds for the .40 S&W vs. 315 for the 9mm. For comparison, the numbers for typical .45 ACP ammunition are a KO of 12.6 and 365 foot-pounds of energy.

Looking at the numbers, you can see the .40 S&W has a significant ballistic advantage over the 9mm. From a momentum/caliber standpoint, it’s a 51-percent advantage, but only 22 percent according to kinetic energy numbers. No matter how you test this, you’re better off in any self-defense situation with a .40 S&W than with a 9mm. You can get very hot 9mm ammunition that might close the gap, but you can also get .40 S&W ammunition that is hotter than we tested. Cor-Bon offers very hot ammunition in just about all calibers, to mention only one company. We tested hot JHP ammunition from one maker, Speer, in the same type, Gold Dot, in both calibers, so our comparison gives entirely valid relative performances of the two cartridges.

The Real Advantage
Many Beretta owners clamored for a combination package for years, a Beretta rep recently told us, and that is why the company brought out the Combo. It’s only about a year old as this is being written, but it has been well received.

Reason: The 9mm has been a military caliber since its introduction many long years ago. That means you can buy lots of relatively inexpensive surplus 9mm ammunition from numerous sources, and that’s the big advantage of the Beretta Combo. Shoot the dickens out of the gun with the 9mm fodder, get thoroughly familiar with the gun and all its quirks, and then—after you’ve shot enough .40 S&W ammunition to prove that the gun is entirely reliable—load it with .40 S&W for serious self-defense purposes. That is the way we’d use the Beretta. This makes for very cheap shooting and lots of good practice.

Specifically, we bought 50 rounds of 9mm ammo for $9.95. That’s 20 cents a round. Yet only 20 rounds of .40 S&W cost us $10.95, which is 55 cents a round. With the price differential of 35 cents a round, we would need to shoot only 797 rounds of cheaper 9mm ammo instead of .40 S&W rounds to recoup the cost of the kit.

Gun Tests Recommends
If you can be satisfied with a 9mm handgun, it makes little sense to buy the $908 Beretta 92/96 Combo Kit Pistol.

However, if you are in the market for a .40 S&W DA handgun, we’d instead look long and hard at the Beretta Combo with its 9mm option. It provides decent handgun horsepower in the .40-caliber version, plus the ability to digest any and all 9mm military or other inexpensive ammunition you run across. With a break-even point of only 797 rounds, we think it’s worth it to have the extra-cartridge 9mm option rather than buying a Model 96 alone.