Polymer-Bodied 9mms: Ruger Scores Surprise Victory
In our hand-pounding head-to-head tests, we found the H&K USP9, Glock 17, Sig Sauer Sigarms Pro 2009, and CZ 100 took a back seat to Ruger’s P95DC—a Best Buy at $351.
[IMGCAP(1)] When it comes to caliber and handgun design, handgun owners and manufacturers alike have taken cues from law enforcement agencies across the country. When police departments changed from the 4-inch .357 magnum to 9mm Parabellum, the market was soon flooded with semi-autos chambered for this round. The logic for the change was largely based on higher capacity, as many as 15 rounds in the mag plus one in the chamber. Once the legal limit for civilian-owned magazines was set at a maximum of 10 rounds, a new trend toward larger calibers began. We’re not sure who moved first, but many police departments geared up to more powerful .40-caliber semi-autos, giving up capacity for power. Not long after, the sales of smaller-framed subcompacts chambered in larger calibers took off, and many shooters wondered if yesterday’s favorite—9mms—would be eclipsed.
Not a chance. The 9MM round is available worldwide. You would be surprised how many professional bodyguards carry a nine based on availability alone. The nine is also a good deal less finicky to chamber and is certainly cheaper than any other semi-auto round large or small. As a target round the 9mm is in the process of replacing .38 Super for games such as NRA Action Pistol. In terms of real world self defense, the average citizen is far more likely to spend the necessary time practicing with a nine than with the .40- or .45-caliber pistols because they’re cheaper and easier to shoot.
With these factors in mind, we wanted to evaluate the current state of 9mm handgun development in an increasingly popular area, polymer-bodied guns. We gathered up comparable guns from Heckler & Koch, Ruger, Glock, Sig Sauer, and CZ USA and shot them side by side. Of the lot, we hadn’t tested the Sigarms Pro 2009, $596.00, since it’s a new model. Also, we hadn’t tested the CZ 100 in the 9mm configuration, $389, though we tested the CZ 100 .40 S&W chambering in April 1999. We had previously examined the Glock 17, $616, H&K USP9, $701, and Ruger’s P95DC, $351, in the May 1998 issue, and all three guns got buy recommendations. We thought they would be good foils against which to compare the two new guns, especially since the Ruger and CZ were in the same price ballpark, as were the Sig, Glock, and H&K offerings.
Here’s what we got for our money.
The different ways in which these guns may be fired presented a challenge to our test crew, which we chose to solve in the following manner. Since the majority of the guns could be fired single as well as double action, we designed our test procedure to accommodate. Normally, we fire from a bench via sandbags or a Ransom Rest to gather accuracy data with all shots passing through an Oehler Print Chronograph with proof channel. It is our experience that the least amount of sight picture disruption is experienced when firing from the single-action mode. With this in mind, we elected to shoot the guns from a sandbag rest single action at targets 25 yards away. We then followed up with groups fired double action only standing at a distance of 12 yards. Naturally, in the case of the CZ we were forced to use DA at all times. We handled the Glock differently as well. Shooters who compete with Glock pistols in rapid-fire competitions such as IPSC say they have to learn to adjust the distance of finger movement between the first and second shot for quickly resetting the trigger. Consensus is that the first shot requires a slightly longer pull than subsequent shots. To address this, our “double-action” session with the 17 was a drill of, mag in, rack slide, remove mag, and repeat. Another “rumored” potential problem we sought to address was that of the amount of rounds in a given mag effecting accuracy. Theory: Would a full mag apply greater pressure to the bottom of the slide than a lesser filled or empty mag, thereby affecting accuracy? We kept track of groups fired with 10 rounds in place versus those shot with five or fewer.
The issue of firing the first shot double action then single can be a built-in problem. It is common knowledge that since policemen traded in their revolvers, their ratio of shots fired to actual hits in the line of duty has worsened dramatically. Are auto-pistols less accurate, or are today’s peace officers in need of additional training? We feel that one contributing factor is the complication of learning a gun with two triggers. At the range we fired single action with a finger-to-trigger orientation of pad on the trigger, finger crooked with a space between the great knuckle and the frame. Firing double action, the trigger is buried into the first fold of the joint at the end of the finger. Imagine learning to make this adjustment automatic under duress.
Firing single action we did find some evidence of loaded mag support effecting accuracy, but not every gun exhibited this syndrome. Results from the Ruger were inconclusive other than it seems to favor the heavier 147-grain bullets. The CZ also produced its best groups with the 147s, but showed no preference for support from a mag at all. While all the groups shot standing were done without a mag in place, the Glock 17 displayed a real deterioration of accuracy beyond 12 yards with five or fewer rounds in place. Best groups from a sandbag rest were consistently 2.7 to 2.9 inches with all ammo when the mag emptied from 10 to five rounds. Groups with five or fewer in the mag were as small as 3 inches but several 4-inch groups were also recorded. Standing at 12 yards the Glock shot 1-, 1.5-, and 1.2-inch groups with the 115-grain round ball ammo. As we noted above, this was with one round at a time chambered and no mag in place. It should be pointed out that in a group of pistols intended for tactical duty and not target practice the Glock excels due to its superior off-hand pointability and consistent trigger. It did, however, have a hard time digesting the Cor-Bon rounds. Based on this, we wouldn’t recommend this round for use in the Glock 17 even though it produced a small 1.7-inch group on average.
Another pistol that didn’t like the Cor-Bon rounds and fell victim to the five rounds-or-fewer syndrome was the H&K USP9, but groups shot with five to ten rounds in place were 2.0 to 2.5 inches at 25 yards with all other brands of ammunition. The only other outstanding shooting we were able to do with the H&K was with the Speer 147-grain Gold Dots, which consistently produced 1.6- and 1.7-inch groups offhand. The Sig 2009, by comparison, liked the Cor-Bon with a 2.5-inch group at 25 yards fired single action with five to ten rounds loaded. The gun’s best single group was with the Nato 115-grain round ball at 1.6 inches. The Speer Gold Dot hollowpoints kept the Sig under 3 inches for all groups fired, but a best of 2.2 inches was fired starting with a full mag. Standing and shooting that all-important first shot from double action the Sig 2009 produced the second smallest group and the second smallest average group (1.1 and 1.4 inches respectively) with the Cor-Bon.
Three guns made single action available to us for careful shooting from a rest and double action for draw from a chambered condition. The USP9 took center stage here for offering cocked and locked carry as an option. Certainly this is the professional’s choice when danger is in the air. But let’s compare the available double actions and their ability to transform into single action. To fire double action many of us revert to folding the weak hand thumb over the other, a la the traditional double-action revolver grip. This grip adds the strength necessary to comfortably pull the heavier DA trigger. But we feel this can stifle the trigger finger for subsequent SA shots. Ergonomically, the effect is that beginning with the SA grip of thumbs out, the first shot may be harder to let off. Firing the Sig DA repeatedly for the purpose of our test was very tiring, but with SA grip in place the transfer to the lighter SA pull with trigger further back in the trigger guard was not entirely unnatural and accuracy could be maintained. Activating the de-cocker can be done with the strong hand thumb if your hand is big enough, otherwise you have to use the support hand thumb. Either way, we didn’t like having to disturb our grip to lower the hammer. We rate the Sig 2009 double action as acceptable but with room for improvement. Other judgments specific to the guns follow:
Our recommendation: The $351 Ruger P95D is a bargain. It proved to be the most comfortable and reliable pistol in our test.
The Ruger design pre-dates most if not all of the other guns in this test. Adding the polymer body did nothing to that design except drastically reduce the price tag. The front sight is double roll pinned in place and the rear sight, drift adjustable for windage, includes an allen-style set screw. The controls make the gun look clunky, maybe even out of date, but the de-cocker is ambidexterous. The hammer is lined and modestly skeletonized for decreased lock time. The mag release is also “ambi” and should be considered safe from accidental operation rather than a little stubborn. Ruger includes its insignia and some tasteful but ephemeral lines to the grip, but we saw no great attempt to add friction for a sure grip. However, the polymer blend used by Ruger is different from the other “plastic” guns on the market. This was the only pistol in the test that did not prompt the use of a grip compound to hang on to the gun. In short we as a group felt the P95DC has the best overall ergonomics.
The Ruger’s DA trigger has a long pull with a natural staging position that is identical in position to its SA “length of pull.” We felt this gun had far and away the best double action out of the box with no need for after-market gunsmithing, and in our opinion, it had the best SA trigger as well. Contributing to this was the smooth rounded contour of the trigger and the use of materials on both the grip and trigger that our test staff praised for shooting in hot, humid weather. The de-cocker is up high and available from either side and the sight picture is adequate.
Sigarms Pro 2009
Our recommendation: Made in Switzerland, the $596 Pro gun is a recent introduction to the Sig line. It was a perfectly adequate performer, and we’d buy it.
The Pro series features a rounded and textured grip that is finished by a lip at the bottom of the magazine. Whereas the Pro .40 caliber is available with interchangeable backstraps to accommodate different size hands, the 2009 was shipped without this option. The mag release, which by the way is triangular shaped and sits rearward of the trigger guard, may be changed for left handed shooters. A track for a tactical light is molded into the bottom of the dust-cover and tritium night sights are supplied. This gun may be fired single action, but no safety to prevent an accidental discharge is supplied. Instead of offering a condition one cocked and locked option, there is a de-cocker on the left side to lower the hammer, making the first shot double action. All controls are well streamlined and attention has been paid to make all surfaces smooth for snag-free carry. The only protrusions are the sights themselves, which are kept low at 0.15 inch above the slide. The rear blade is adjustable for windage only via impact or, drifting. With a mag inserted to support the pinky, we liked the way it sat low in the hand, giving us a natural-pointing well-balanced package.
Our recommendation: Pass. For the same money, the Ruger is a better product, in our estimation.
The CZ100 is the only gun in the test with a single mode of fire (double-action) and sights adjustable for windage and elevation via separate screws with click detent. The rear sight blade overhangs an extra 0.25 inch for additional radius, and we found the overall design to be not only the most accurate but the lowest mounted as well. Unlike the other guns, only one mags was supplied. Grip design offers the deepest “beavertail” of all and generally the best fit. However, we wished for more texture to the grip. All controls, slide release, break down pin and mag release are recessed but easily accessed. Atop the gun just behind the hood and above the externally mounted extractor is a curious item dove-tailed into the slide. It is actually a slide racker so that the gun can be charged with one hand. The 100 is designed as a police pistol, and this allows the patrolman to rack the slide if necessary on a table top, heel or even belt without letting go of his canine partner, for example. We found the trigger to be inordinately long, just as the Glock’s trigger is unusually short. The length of pull tends to make the shooter want to find the break point and stage the trigger, but we found greater success concentrating on pulling straight through. This is a striker-fired gun, you can see the pin going into battery at the rear and a chamber load indicator is included. The indicator is chrome so it is easily seen against the black finish, protruding from the left side when the gun is charged. A rail for mounting a tactical light under the dust cover is included.
The CZ offers the best sight picture but the most unpredictable trigger. The pull is long and mushy. Off a sandbag rest attempts at staging the trigger were frustrating, but even standing it was hard to get the gun to cycle quickly.
Heckler & Koch USP9
Our recommendation: Its $701 price gives us pause, since it isn’t noticeably better than the other guns. That said, the USP9 is a solid performer.
The grip of the USP9 is checkered fore and aft and textured on the sides, but without the mag in place it feels very thin. The basepad to the mag finishes the grip, but only medium to large hands will notice because the grip is tall. When empty, the gun is top heavy, with the saving grace of a weight-forward bias due in part to the stainless slide. Certainly this is favorable, but we had to resort to using Pro Grip to hang on to the gun when the weather got warm. The extractor on the USP9 is mounted externally and blackened along with the hood of the barrel. Sights are a three-dot design, the rear set being pyramid shaped and windage adjustable if you have a rubber hammer or brass punch. The mag releases via a downward motion and requires either shifting the grip for the thumb to reach it or, since the release is ambidexterous, using the trigger finger. The bottom of the dust cover offers a tactical sight rail and just above it you will find a full-length guide rod. Going even further in the direction of 1911 design, you may carry this pistol charged with hammer back and safety on. While the thumb safety is polymer, the slide release is made of steel. For double-action fire of the first round, the thumb safety can be pushed down to drop the hammer. Shots fired thereafter will be single action, but the gun can be safely de-cocked to double action at any time.
The USP9 from H&K had the heaviest DA trigger pull and was absolutely tiring to deal with, which we are sure interfered with our ability to shoot it really well in the standing portion of the test. With a lighter trigger we are sure we could have done even better than its impressive 2.2-inch average for all ammunitions fired (1.6 inches from the Speer GDHP). Certainly trigger work by a professional is the answer if you are not enamored with carrying cocked and locked. The transfer from DA to SA seemed natural enough, the tall grip letting us spread out our hand enough for leverage. We like the connection available between the angle of the “beavertail” during the heavy DA press, and activating the de-cocker required the least change of grip among the three guns offering this feature in our test.
Glock Model 17
Our recommendation: Buy it. This $616 product is a no-nonsense self-defense gun. While H&K claims to have made the first polymer pistol, Glock put the plastic gun on the map. Its businesslike appearance is all black; the only other external color is white found as a dot in the front sight, which is molded permanently in place, and a squared outline surrounding the rear notch. As with the aforementioned pistols, the rear sight blade may be drifted to adjust windage. Save for modest protrusions for slide release and dropping the mag, the Glock is otherwise smooth and slick. No thumb safety is included because the Glock is made to fire from a hinged trigger, whose short action includes a second hinged control set into the trigger itself. Referred to as Safe Action, the hammer will only drop if a finger is actually on the trigger, avoiding detonation should the weapon be dropped. Ergonomically, the Glock grip frame has evolved to be more comfortable than earlier models. Our model 17 included undercutting to offer the benefits of a beavertail, molded checkering fore and aft, and the contour of an arched mainspring housing.
As test shooters we found out that the Glock is not the gun to shoot next after finally adapting to the CZ’s long firm pull. Muscle memory took over when we tried this and the pistol was fired long before we were ready. The point is, we feel that even though these two actions are at other ends of the scale, each can be learned for effective, safe use. But, it would prove more accurate and safer still if the Glock were the shooter’s primary gun.
Gun Tests Recommends
Best Buy. Ruger P95DC, $351. The gun’s transition from DA to SA was the least disruptive, and with enough pre-ban 15-round mags still available, the P95 can be a formidable defensive weapon. Shot standing in double action, its best average groups proved equal with both common ball ammo and the aggressive Cor-Bon round. This pistol would make for an ideal first gun of “old reliable” quality, one you’d never want to part with.
CZ 100, $389. Pass. Though competitively priced, we feel only a practiced hand will be able to take advantage of its offering of the smallest groups per dollar. If only the trigger pull were shorter or offered more feedback, we’d rate it tops.
Sig Pro 2009, $596. Sig triggers are known for breaking in, so we’d bet the DA pull would go from its acceptable status as shipped to very good with use. The 2009 feels just right in the hand and its night sights are exceptional. We feel this is the type of gun you can fall in love with, and it seems to have an affinity for the more radical defensive loads, especially when shot offhand. Buy it.
Glock 17, $616. Isn’t this what we’re all looking for in a defensive weapon? Buy it.
Heckler & Koch USP9, $701. Conditional Buy. If you can manage cocked and locked carry, this would put the USP9 head and shoulders above the lot. We like the grip, but not its texture for hot weather. Also, it seems to be particular about which ammo it will shoot accurately. But many people would choose it because it offers the benefits of both the 1911 design and the DA/SA guns.