April 2001

Polymer 9mms: Can Anyone Do It Better Than The Glock 19?

Glockís GL19 fired the first shot in this niche, but the latest volley of Parabellums includes impressive pieces like Steyrís M9, Waltherís P99QA, and Intracís budget HS2000.

The Walther comes with three inserts, which
allow the owner to fit the gun to his hand.
Here, one is on the gun and two others are
shown above the grip.

Gun Tests has evaluated a variety of Glock pistols, and although we like some of the company’s models better than others, each model has proved to be formidable in its category. Naturally, other manufacturers see the success of the Glock polymer design as an opportunity to sell similar products, especially if the buying public might see them as an improvement over the original. But that’s a tough task.

For instance, the 9mm Glock 19, $614, offers durability, simplicity, and light weight. Still, in our view the gun could stand improvement—such as a more comfortable grip, improved sights, and the addition of a manual safety. A shorter, more predictable trigger and a lower price wouldn’t be bad either.

Three pistols we tested recently, the Intrac HS2000 ($419, imported from Croatia) the Steyr M9 ($610), and the Walther P99QA Quick Action ($799) each attack the GL19 in one of its soft spots. While Glock may wear consumer confidence like a bulletproof vest, let’s see how the GL19 stands up to this new trio of polymer pistols.

Range Session
Pistols with 4-inch-plus barrels and corresponding 6-inch sight radii qualify for accuracy testing at 25 yards from a sandbag rest. We would have preferred using a machine rest, but plastic pistol frames warp in a vise. Furthermore, we have found that hands-on benchrest shooting tells us much more about the sights and trigger than any other alternate device. After all, what is more important than firsthand knowledge of sight alignment and trigger control?

Click here to view the Accuracy and Chronograph Data

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We also performed rapid-fire testing at shorter distances to get a sense of recoil and shot recovery patterns. (These same models are or soon will be available in .40 S&W. It should be interesting to compare the level of recoil and durability once these designs are loaded with a more powerful cartridge than 9mm Parabellum.) We put in considerable time with each weapon to learn just how each pistol preferred to be shot. Presumably, there is an optimum way to fire every pistol, and we feel making an effort to find it is the only fair way to test.

Looking back on our original test of the GL19, we included 124-grain NATO Ball (surplus) ammunition from Olin (Winchester), but none was available for this test. We substituted Winchester’s state-of-the-art 115-grain Silvertip Hollow Point instead. We were, however, able to carry on with the same 95-grain PMC Starfire hollow points and the Remington 115-grain JHP+P rounds used in the earlier test to gain a direct comparison.

Here’s what we found on a gun-by-gun basis.

Intrac HS2000 US, $419
This pistol is imported from Croatia, and we hope it stays around. The HS2000 incorporates a grip safety the likes of which are commonly found on 1911-style pistols. Actually, since the HS2000 is a striker-fired pistol and the Browning design works off a hammer, the mechanics are different but provides for stopping the firing sequence.

Click here to view the Intrac HS2000 US features guide

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This is a valuable addition because the pistol will not fire unless it is held properly. As has been found on the 1911, however, the contour of the safety must be just right to close within the hollow of the average palm. A raised area at the bottom of the safety for sure safety deactivation was added by Ed Brown some time ago, and his Memory Groove design is almost standard throughout the ranks of 1911 manufacturers today. We didn’t actually have any problem depressing the grip safety, but an adaptation of the Memory Groove concept to the grip safety of the HS2000 would lend additional confidence.

Overall, we would have to rate the grip as first rate, with a mild palm swell at the backstrap and faux checkering molded in fore and aft. The magazine release is ambidextrous and cocking serrations along the slide are generous. Sight picture is a three white-dot design on a standard notch and post. This is clear and effective, and both front and rear units are dovetailed in place. A Glock-like safety adorns the trigger, and it along with the grip safety must also be compressed for the HS2000 to fire.

There are two visible cues to announce a ready-to-fire condition. When the chamber is loaded, a block rises from the slide just behind the barrel hood. When the gun is cocked, or rather when the striker is poised to fire, a corresponding pin protrudes from the rear of the slide.

Two magazines are included, and they are chrome plated and handsomely polished. Basepads complete the grip without adding unnecessary bulk.

Removing the top end for cleaning is simple. When the gun is locked back, the slide lock can be rotated. Releasing the slide with the trigger pressed allows the top end to move forward and off the frame. Looking inside the frame we couldn’t help but be struck by the simplicity. The magazine well is glossy and the mechanisms for the trigger and grip safety are recessed into the frame or hidden from dirt altogether. To service, such parts require the removal of corresponding pins in the frame.

Our only complaint with the HS2000 was its accuracy. At least three out of every five groups was spoiled by a flyer, and looking at the way the slide is fitted to the frame, we think we know why. Directly above the trigger area is a set of steel rails. To the rear there is another set of rails that are polymer. These rails are an integral part of the mold and machined to specification. However, you cannot expect polymer to offer the type of fit that can be achieved using steel. We deduce that these rails add support, but primary alignment is the job of the 1.35-inch-long steel rails that support the slide in the middle of the frame. An arrangement like this, we feel, is not the best way to assure accuracy. Alignment of the slide in a design such as this may suffer deflections due to pressure from the rounds in the magazine beneath it. As a result group sizes ran from 2.2 inches to 4.4 inches. This was disappointing because we felt we had the sight picture and trigger control we needed to shoot better groups.

While there is a fair amount of takeup in the trigger, we judged it to be consistent from shot to shot. One attribute we yearn for in a hinged trigger is the ability to know where we are in the stroke. In the past, we found the Glock trigger to be the least predictable. The Walther P99 shortens this sweep. The HS2000 and the Steyr pistols go about it a different way altogether. They let you take up their triggers, but stop you at a predetermined point to let you know the break is coming. We actually felt more confident with the HS2000 than results might otherwise indicate. The 115-grain Winchester Silvertips proved the most consistent but at 25 yards this meant groups measuring about 3.5 inches. This isn’t bad and could be rated adequate combat accuracy.

Ease of operation and comfort are its strong points, and in our opinion should the manufacturer refine the slide-to-frame contact, the HS2000 could become a Best Buy candidate.

Steyr M9, $610
The Steyr is the “other “ pistol made in Austria. It is a strikingly handsome pistol topped with a unique pair of sights that are both its strength and its greatest weakness.

Click here to view the Steyr M9 features guide

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The front sight is a bold white triangle, and the rear aperture appears as a pyramid as well. The actual front sight is a trapezoid with white inlay measuring approximately 0.22 inch. The rear “notch” is the lower portion of another triangle with white lines inlaid on the sides. This is an unusual arrangement that we found works quite well out to 15 yards. Indeed we felt like our acquisition on closer multiple targets was fast and sure. From a rest we rapid-fired magazine after magazine of Black Hills 115-grain and 147-grain ammunition into a sub 3-inch hole. However, once we moved the targets back to 25 yards, we just could not get the sight picture we needed. As a result, accuracy fell below what we feel this gun is capable of.

That we nevertheless managed to average five-shot groups measuring 3.1 inches and under for two out of the three munitions should indicate that this is a very good pistol. What may have been its saving grace (besides the fact that the sights are dovetailed in so they can be changed out to suit your tastes) was the trigger. This may be the closest you can get to a single-action feel from a striker-fired pistol. Once you depress the safety in the trigger and move it the tenth of an inch (approximately) that it takes to reach the breakpoint, you are ready to fire.

The M9 comes with two magazines. It may seem like a small matter, but the presentation case features cutouts for storing both mags, which means the gun can be put away without a magazine in place.

Additional safeties include a block, which drops down from the frame just ahead of the trigger. This works, but requires the use of a second hand to set it. Deactivation is a matter of pushing upward with the trigger finger, which at worst upsets the shooter’s grip. There is a locking device that requires the use of a key, two of which are supplied. This is meant not only to lock the action but prevents unauthorized disassembly as well. However, we could not get the lock to turn and only managed to score the pistol with the two-pronged key.

This lock is on the right hand side next to the breakdown lever. When this lever is rotated, the top end comes off in a flash. Reassembly is just as fast because the breakdown lever returns automatically to a locked position as soon as the slide is fully reapplied to the frame. The Steyr M9 relies upon two sets of steel rails, one at the center and another to the rear, to stabilize the slide. Like the Walther, a flat recoil spring is used captured over a plastic guide rod. The barrel of the M9 is deeply crowned and features wide but shallow lands and grooves in what appears to be more twist than we are accustomed to seeing.

It was our perception that the M9 recoiled more heavily than the other pistols in this test. At the same time Steyr has gone out of its way to create a very low boreline above the grip. The angle of the grip is also raked to promote a locked wrist, and the circumference of the grip is reduced from the deeply undercut backstrap to beneath the trigger guard. Despite the creation of this built-in beavertail, how well this works for your hand is an individual matter. We would have preferred an arch to the profile of the backstrap to keep the hand forced high against the undercut of the frame.

Walther P99QA, $799
With the suffix QA for Quick Action, we might have expected the trigger stroke on this P99 to be very short and more like the stroke of the Steyr M9. But this is not the case.

Click here to view the Walther P99QA features guide

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The throw of the trigger is in fact shorter than the other P99 models, but it is distinguished by a faster reset and more consistent feel. Whereas the M9 and HS2000 require take up and press, the Walther trigger is consistent in pressure and encourages a smooth, continuous stroke.

Whether it was the trigger or overall quality, the Walther P99QA was our accuracy winner. We managed 1.5-inch groups with both the 95-grain Starfire round and Winchester’s 115-grain Silvertip, which calculated to tighter groups than all but the GL19 by nearly an inch on average. The P99QA helped us achieve this by offering a rear sight adjustable for windage and a choice of four different front sights with which to adjust elevation.

Ergonomically, what helped our shooters was the choice of three different backstraps. Using a light hammer and supplied punch to change components, the circumference of the grip could be changed radically. Control is the name of the game, and we liked the thinnest overall grip that still featured a healthy arch to fill the palm. One problem inherent to the polymer pistol from the beginning has been ergonomics, because the material just does not modify easily. Slip-on finger grooves by Hogue grips was one way to handle the problems that Glock owners experienced with earlier models that featured a boxier grip. Walther simply takes the modular approach to this problem. When in place the fit of the respective backstraps is flawless.

Breakdown of the P99 pistols resembles that of the Glocks, in which a latch forward of the trigger guard is pulled down to release the top end. But the Walther latch does not require risking one’s fingernails while being totally secure. Once we took the slide off, we saw more exposed mechanisms than on the Steyr or the HS2000. But like the other pistols in this test, there’s little debris because the mechanism doesn’t require much dirt-grabbing lubricants. In fact we feel all the pistols in this test are low-maintenance.

The Walther slide is connected to the frame by four steel rails, placed farther apart than in the other pistols. The Walther barrel is crowned and also features shallow lands and grooves. However, there is markedly less twist to the rifling than on the Steyr.

One unusual feature is the magazine release, which operates in the style of the Heckler & Koch pistols. The lever is ambidextrous and fits within the contour of the lower portion of the trigger guard, requiring a downward movement to operate. As we see it, the shooter has three choices of operation, depending on your hand. The standard procedure of shifting the gun toward the thumb is one method. Using the trigger finger on the right side of the guard is another. The third, and best, option may be using the middle finger because it helps maintain the strong-hand shooting grip.

The P99QA offers two safety devices. When charged, the back of the striker protrudes from the slide, and this point is concave and painted red. Additionally, there is a decocker mounted on the slide in an awkward position. It is a panel that requires considerable pressure to deactivate. However, this mechanism was not meant to be used as a traditional safety. It is merely a device to ensure safe administrative handling of the pistol without unloading the chamber. To recharge the weapon, the slide need only be pulled back about a quarter of an inch. While we found it too easy to pull back the slide far enough to discharge a chambered round unintentionally, we also found it easier to accomplish the recharging process using only one hand. This is done by imitating a strong-hand-only press-check, wherein you place the thumb underneath the frame just behind the grip. Then you pull back with the middle finger and forefinger curled over the slide. This technique is also similar to checking the chamber for a round with the fingertips when not enough light is available for a visual inspection.

Though the P99 pistol does not offer a variety of safety devices, like the Glock 19 it responds admirably to expert handling. The versatility and accuracy of this pistol makes it a top contender for king of the polymer pistols.

Glock 19
To refresh your memory of the last time we looked at the GL19 (Gun Tests, February 2000), we reprise here some of our likes and dislikes of this pistol to see how it stacks up against the latest comers.

First of all there is no decocker or external safety levers as offered by the other pistols tested. The safe action trigger is more of a drop-proof device than anything else. You must approach this pistol with the mindset that away from the practice range, the trigger should never be touched unless you perceive a threat, identify a target, know what is behind that target and have an acceptable sight picture. No matter how many safeties the competition puts on other pistols, sooner or later you’ll be in for trouble if you do not follow this advice. Within this mindset the owner is free to enjoy the simplicity of the Glock’s operation.

On a 25-yard target, the GL19 is a 3-inch gun. This is not spectacular, but its consistency with three very different bullet weights and designs is admirable. The 19 is also the lightest of the guns in this test by one-quarter pound or more. This will make it easier to carry, and its popularity has spawned a variety of available holsters. This may only be a minor consideration, but in comparison to Glock, the P99QA is bulky. Availability of aftermarket products for Glocks is far more prolific than those for the HS2000, Steyr M9 and Walther P99QA.

At only 5.0 pounds of effort, the GL19’s trigger is lighter than its competitors by at least 3 pounds. This doesn’t tell the whole story, however. We judge the GL19’s trigger to also be the longest. The sight picture is clean, but adjustable by drift for windage only. Some may opt for night sights or a thinner front sight. Again this is available after-market, but these options are not as easy to replace as on the other models in this test that either come with extra sights (the P99QA) or make gunsmithing easy with dovetails already cut into the slide.

In considering the GL19 or its competitors, you must ask if the newcomers are better overall than the 19. Here’s the bottom line from our point of view.

Gun Tests Recommends
Intrac HS2000, $419. Conditional Buy. While not our first choice, there are few pistols in this price range that are full size and this easy to shoot. We like the grip safety, and we doubt durability will be a problem. Perhaps future runs of this pistol will prove more accurate. If so, this gun could become a Best Buy.

Steyr M9, $610. Conditional Buy. We see ourselves buying this pistol and changing the sights, maybe modifying the grip, too. Then again, many will like the M9 as is. You’ll have to handle it to find out for yourself.

Walther P99QA, $799. Buy It. When you figure in the choice of three grips, four front blades and an adjustable rear sight, this is not as expensive as it may first appear. The P99QA proved to be accurate, and you can tailor it to different loads and even different shooters with the supplied extras. This type of versatility in a polymer gun is rare.

Glock 19, $641. Buy It. Glock’s durability and performance are proven. The GL19 is one of the company’s best models in terms of matching size and power within the Glock design.