November 2004

Tiny and Not-so Tiny Forties: Kahr’s PM40 Is Our Carry Pick

For self-defense, we liked the PM40 better than the heavier, bulkier Springfield Sub-Compact XD and CZís new Rami.

Ray Ordorica found out that there are limits to what heís willing to shoot in a small, powerful handgun. If a powerful handgun has small dimensions, the shooter canít get his whole hand on the grip, so control can become a problem, depending on the load selected.

A short while back we tested some pretty small 9mm pistols, by Kahr and by Rohrbaugh. We particularly liked the Kahr PM9’s handling qualities, and the fact that it worked well as a back-up pistol. We noted Kahr produces a similar pistol in .40 S&W caliber, called the PM40. It seemed appropriate to try one, because anyone who liked the PM9 would probably welcome more power in a package nearly as small. But what to test it against? A brief and not-all-encompassing Internet search led us to the Springfield website, where we found the XD pistol available in .40 S&W and in a variety of colors. We also found another relatively new pistol in CZ’s Rami, and so arranged a three-pistol test of these small but potent .40 S&W-chambered handguns.

If you take the small/powerful concept to the limit, you’d be looking at a pocket pistol chambered for the .500 Linebaugh. But we would not dare shoot such a gun. The problem is, of course, recoil. If a powerful handgun has small dimensions, one can’t get his whole hand onto the grip, so control can become a problem, depending on the load selected. Self-defense handguns are normally loaded with strong-recoiling ammo. If the entire controlling hand can be wrapped around the grip, all fingers on the gun, control becomes more manageable. Unfortunately, with the trio of pistols in this test, we could not get all fingers onto any grip except that of the Kahr when it was fitted with its extended magazine. Even then, with stout loads the gun tended to jump out of our supporting hand. In a nutshell, we feel we’re at the edge of control with these small .40-caliber handguns, particularly the Kahr, and we think these 40s will be best used by more-experienced shooters, not novices. Even the heaviest handgun tested here, Springfield’s XD, recoiled way more than a full-size 1911. Here’s a closer look at the three.

Kahr PM40 .40 S&W, $814

Our test Kahr came with green tritium inserts in its excellent sights, but if you can do without such sights, the gun lists for only $707. That’s over a C-note for night-visible sights, but many shooters feel they’re essential on a carry gun. The slide of our PM40 was “white” matte stainless, and the frame was black polymer with molded-in square checkering on the front and rear grip straps. The gun felt top-heavy compared to our PM9, and though the two were actually similar in size, they didn’t feel or look that way. The “white” appearance of the PM40’s slide probably contributed to the larger look of the .40-caliber Kahr over the all-black 9mm version tested earlier. The PM40’s trigger was also white finished. We measured the slide dimensions on each gun and found the .40-cal’s slide to be 0.052 inch higher and 0.040 inch thicker. Kahr added steel to the slide to make the design viable with the higher-recoiling .40 S&W cartridge. We’re sure the spring rates were altered also, and we know the magazines are different. The five-shot .40-cal. mag won’t go into the 9mm pistol. However, the magazine for the 9mm worked well (with limited testing) in the .40 pistol. It even held the slide open after the last shot.

The fit and finish were excellent on the PM40. The metal polish was flawless, and the slide serrations were sharp enough to make controlling the slide easy during loading and unloading. The sights were dovetailed in place, but not pinned. We noted the barrel, which was matte finished, quickly showed marks from cycling. The PM9 did this as well, but after the wear shows up, it seems to stop and just looks slightly worn in. We didn’t find this all that objectionable. The PM40 was well deburred all over, presenting smooth surfaces to both hands and to a holster. How well it would work from the pocket would depend on the pocket and on the size of the shooter’s hand.

There was no shake to the slide in its fit on the frame. We expect the fit might open up slightly, as it has on the PM9, but by no means has it got excessive on the latter. The trigger pull of the PM40 was consistent, and broke with some element of surprise, but though we could easily double-tap the PM9, we found that action to be distinctly slower on the PM40 because of greater recoil. The sight picture was, once again, excellent. We liked the tritium inserts and believe they complete the package of this small handgun. The grip checkering helped us control the little gun.

Takedown was a snap. Unload the gun, then align two marks on the slide and frame, and bump out the barrel-retention pin from right to left. Then press on the trigger, hold it, and ease the slide off the gun. The captive slide springs can then be removed, and the barrel can be lifted out for cleaning. The rifling was segmental, and worked well. Reassembly was easy, though we noted we had to take care to get the rear part of the tiny pin-retention spring in the correct place, on top of the small inner protrusion on the barrel pin.

The shorter of the two magazines provided with the gun in its fitted black case held five rounds, plus one in the chamber. The longer magazine upped capacity to six, plus one. We did most of our testing with the smaller magazine, and made sure to test the gun with a full complement of rounds. On the range, we had one failure to feed from a full magazine when the gun was entirely new, and one failure to eject a round. However, after a few shots (Kahr recommends 200 to break the gun in), everything worked perfectly, but for one shot along the way. We had a misfire, but there was no mark on the primer. The offending round came out with difficulty. We had fired many rounds at that point, and suspect there was dirt on the round or in the chamber, and it caused the slide to fail to go completely closed. That round fired perfectly once we cleared it and put it back into the gun. We don’t believe this was a fault of the gun; it was a failure on our part to keep things sufficiently clean in our test environment.

Trigger pull was right at 7 pounds. The

accuracy was adequate

, but not outstanding, with our test ammunition. Most groups were just over 3 inches at 15 yards. We tried three brands of ammo on target and over the chronograph, Cor-Bon’s 135-grain JHP, Winchester’s Personal Protection 155-grain Silvertip HP, and PMC’s 180-grain FJM/FP with flat tip. The Winchester ammo was the heaviest-recoiling load of the trio, and would be our first choice for a defensive round in the .40 S&W. We also tried two other types of ammo for function, Remington’s 155-grain JHP and Federal’s 135-grain Hydra-Shok JHP, and all worked perfectly with our limited shooting. We must note that with the Remington ammo, which chronographed slightly faster than the 155-grain Winchester test ammo, we got a huge ball of flame and a thunderous concussion with each shot. The flame ball was easily 2 feet in diameter, clearly visible on a bright day. Remington might want to change powder in that load, because such a flash would both blind the shooter at night and give away his position to anyone within a few miles. Undoubtedly that ammo would work better in a longer barrel.

Springfield Sub-Compact XD .40 S&W, $498

We thought this blocky pistol had a lot of gall trying to compete with the Kahr PM40 as a small .40 S&W handgun. It was thick, tall, top-heavy, ungainly, heavy, fat, and at first glance didn’t look at all nice. We found it to be quite a shooter, however, so bear with us.

Part of the Croatian-made Sub-Compact’s blocky look came from a rail in front of the trigger guard that accepted a small, powerful light, similar to those we’ve tested on other guns. We didn’t test the light because we thought it would be more applicable to primary weapons, and we thought the Sub-Compact XD (SC-XD) would be more of a pocket piece. We were wrong, but the light is available for those who want one. In some situations and uses for a handgun, it makes sense to have a light attached to it. The dedicated XML light lists for $72 more. This pistol is available in “Bi-Tone” (white slide, black frame), or with green frame and black slide. It’s also available as a 9mm, with 10 + 1 capacity, compared to 9 + 1 as a .40.

The next things we noticed about the SC-XD were its safety levers. The Glock-like trigger had one, and the grip had another, and both worked perfectly. The SC-XD (and the Kahr and Rami) would fire with the magazine out. The all-black finish was well done, though the top of the barrel at the chamber area showed some signs of wear after our shooting, much like the Kahr did. With a black-finished barrel, this showed up immediately, and didn’t look good. The sight picture was excellent, though there were no tritium inserts. The dovetail-mounted sights were driftable, but the SC-XD was sighted right on the money. (The Kahr hit about 2 inches left at 15 yards.) The gun was 1.2 inches thick at the top of the frame, and the heavy slide was 1.1 inches thick. Although the SC-XD and the Kahr both had 3-inch barrels, the slide of the former was 0.6 inch longer. Actual barrel lengths were 3.1 inches for the XD and 2.95 inches for the Kahr. A direct comparison of length and height of the two shows the SC-XD to be a lot bigger.

Most impressive, or most depressing if you’re looking for a pocket pistol, was the comparative weights of the two. The SC-XD tipped the scales at 26 ounces, but the pocketable Kahr went only 17.8. The empty plastic frame of the XD weighed 7.6 ounces, and the magazine 2.5 more, so the slide assembly made up the remainder, which was 1 pound for the slide, barrel, and springs. That’ll give you some idea of the top-heaviness of this pistol when unloaded. Add ten rounds and it wasn’t so bad, but by then the complete gun weighed 31.8 ounces, or nearly two pounds. A fully loaded, full-size 1911 weighed 42 ounces, and a Colt CCO, all up and ready to rip, tipped the scales at 31.7 ounces, less than the SC-XD and a whole lot slimmer, and far easier to shoot. So what do you get with this Springfield that might make it worth a look?

The gun was short enough on the grip that we could not get our full hand onto the handle. The little finger landed on the magazine floor plate, where it didn’t feel at all comfortable. The front of the trigger guard had a hook for those who want to place the supporting-hand’s index finger there. Most will be better served by keeping the supporting hand lower and pulling on the firing hand. In this manner we were able to keep both hands on the gun and able to fire it quickly.

The SC-XD had a decent, if heavy, trigger, the action of which was mushy in its description and appearance but not bad in practice. You had to depress the trigger lever to be able to move the trigger rearward, and then it ran up against a positive stop. Increasing pressure to about 8.5 pounds caused a soft-sounding but effective break. As with the Kahr, you get only one shot at the firing pin. Failures to fire require working the slide to get another round in place. That, we thought, was all to the good. We were completely unaware of the grip safety during our firing evaluations. That’s how a grip safety ought to work, we thought.

The SC-XD had pretty good accuracy, giving numerous groups under 2 inches at 15 yards, with some outstanding clusters for four of the five shots. Accuracy might have been helped by the hammer-forged barrel. There were occasional flyers that were not “first shot” syndrome. The forged slide was fairly tightly fitted to the frame, and did not shoot loose during our tests. The back of the slide had a cocking indicator in the form of the striker protruding rearward. There was an open space at the rear of the gun, at the joint between slide and frame. This hole was open for dirt to enter the mechanism. We didn’t like the look of it, but it has to be there to get the gun apart. The rear of the magazine (two came with the gun, and they each held nine rounds) had three inspection holes, indicating 3, 6, and 9 rounds. The mag was relatively easy to load. The mag release was fully ambidextrous, in the form of a button on each side of the gun behind the trigger guard.

The takedown procedure for the Sub-Compact was extremely simple. Clear the gun, then lock the slide back and rotate the disassembly lever upward 90 degrees. Move the slide carefully forward, drop the striker, and off comes the slide. Removing the captive double spring, like on the Kahr, lets the barrel be removed. Reassembly was just as easy.

On the range we noted the smack of the heavy slide in recoil, but after a while we got used to the gun and it became more comfortable. We particularly liked that the SC-XD shot exactly where it looked with all ammo tried, at 15 yards. It was easy to shoot, despite the high numbers on the trigger pull, but although we tried hard for small groups, we thought we could have done better with a lighter pull. The gun worked perfectly with everything we tried in it, and some bullet clusters were mighty small. All in all, we thought it was a well-made gun that worked, though it was bulkier and heavier than it needed to be.

CZ 2075 Rami .40 S&W, $559

From the Czech Republic comes the relatively new CZ Rami, a double-action auto with exposed hammer. This gun is also available as a 9mm with 10 + 1 capacity. The Rami immediately impressed us with its comfortable feel. It was not at all top-heavy, as the other two guns were. Its grip fit our hands well, and though we could only get two of the three firing-hand digits on the grip, the curve and feel of the magazine extension gave us a feeling of security. The frame had a few horizontal serrations on the front strap and a few vertical ones on the rear strap, but combined with the checkered, rubber grip panels, the grip stickiness was enough, we thought, though we had yet to fire the gun.

The sight picture was outstanding (tritium inserts are $77 more), and the sight configuration was clearly designed with gunfighting — or at least, clearance drills — in mind, because the top of the slide was mighty smooth, and comfortably rounded. Front and rear sights were dovetailed into the slide. The front edge of the rear sight was smoothly ramped for stove-pipe-clearing comfort. The XD, by comparison, had sharp front edges to its rear sight. The Kahr’s was rounded, but not as well done as the Rami’s. The Rami’s rear sight had a locking screw to help keep it in place, and the front blade was staked to keep it where it belonged. The steel slide was sunken within the aluminum frame, and fitting was excellent. The entire gun was finished in matte black Polycoat, and the metal preparation before finishing was excellent. The slide had front and rear gripping serrations, though the gun’s design made press-checking a bit tricky.

The general look and design of the gun was not unlike that of a 1911 auto, with some added touches. The left side of the frame had a cutout into which were nestled the slide-stop lever and the safety. The right side had a depression for the take-down end of the slide-stop lever, like the Valtro 1911. The gun had an external hammer that looked like that of a Commander. But this was a D/A gun, and you could cock that hammer with a long and strong pull on the curved trigger After the first shot, the hammer remains cocked, making the gun what Jeff Cooper calls a “crunchenticker,” the word coming from the feel of the trigger action needed to fire two quick rounds. But wait! There’s a safety that operates in the same direction as a 1911’s, so we can carry the gun cocked and locked (C&L), and ignore that first, long, double-action pull. Can’t we? In a nutshell, no. We didn’t like the feel of the safety enough to trust it in C&L mode, and the excellent owner’s manual pointed out the safety was there for convenience between shot strings, not for carry purposes. The lever was too small, and its detents were not strong enough, to work for C&L carry, in our estimation. First-shot D/A pull was 10 pounds, and the second-shot pull broke at 7 pounds, with minimal creep. The single-action pull was two-stage, with about a quarter-inch of take-up. One might say the change between double- and single-action was thus minimal, but the key to good shooting is a good trigger. The single-action pull ought to have been about 3 to 4 pounds, not 7. The Kahr’s DAO trigger was 7 pounds.

Two 8-shot magazines came with the gun. The mag release was on the left side of the frame just behind the trigger guard. Our resident lefty had no trouble with it, but the manual said the safety can be reversed, making this gun ambidextrous. Although the Rami had a clean and attractive profile, it was still a thick handgun, more than 1.2 inches thick at the widest. Again, we thought the gun wasn’t small enough for back-up use, and the grips ought to have been larger for first-line defensive use. But some might think this size gun to be ideal for any purpose.

The excellent, color-illustrated, manual that came with the Rami told us how to take the gun down for cleaning. Clear it, put it on half-cock, and then use the bottom of the magazine to press out the slide-stop pin while controlling the slide with the off hand. Remove the slide from the gun. Then lift out the duplex slide springs (one is captive) and out comes the 3” barrel. This was easily done, and inside the Rami we found some interesting stuff. The frame was intricately machined, and held many small and machining-intensive parts. The innards of the gun showed evidence of what we thought was hand-fitting. We thought that if this gun had been made in the U.S., its asking price could easily be doubled. The slide, barrel, and spring assembly weighed only 12.3 ounces, compared with the XD’s 16. Also, we noted the front of the Rami’s slide was well rounded to be easily thrust into a holster. We thought that treatment was the best of the three pistols. It’s refreshing to note that more and more manufacturers are getting the little details of fighting pistols right, with less major aftermarket work being needed.

It was time to take the Rami to the range. One round failed to climb the ramp early in the shooting session. We gave the slide a tug, the round went home, and the problem never showed up again. We did have furious problems getting the eighth round into the magazine. A magazine loader came with the gun, making that task at least possible if not easy. We could not get the eighth round in without the helper. Inserting the seventh round by hand was not too bad, and all the others went in easily. We tried the gun with a full mag plus one in the chamber, and the Rami worked every time. We liked the excellent sight picture, but didn’t care for the pasty-green paint in the sight’s three dots. White would have been better, we thought. The Rami put five of the Cor-Bon loads into a 0.7-inch group, the best of the test series. With Winchester, four shots went into an inch. The Rami hit just above point of aim at 15 yards. We liked that. We found there were no problems whatsoever with the Rami, after that first bobble.

Gun Tests Recommends
• Kahr PM40 .40 S&W, $814. Our Pick. We would be happy to use the Kahr as a back-up to a larger piece, much as we would its smaller cousin, the PM9. As noted, we don’t think this gun would be suitable for inexperienced shooters because of its hefty recoil. However, we noted the kick of the Kahr was less objectionable with some hot loads than the same load in the heavy-slide Springfield XD or the Rami. We don’t know why this is, but the two heavier guns, particularly the XD, gave us a stouter whack on the hands with some loads than the PM40. We could not fault the PM40, though we found it to be a little slower for the second shot than the PM9. It was easy to shoot one-handed with the stoutest loads available. The PM40 was well made, reliable, and had enough accuracy for just about any purpose. We believe it fulfills its design parameters very well, and clearly was the best of this trio for back-up work. Street prices can save you a bunch, and that might make the Kahr perfect for you.

• Springfield Sub-Compact XD .40 S&W, $498. Buy It. We must confess we’re at a loss to define the Sub-Compact XD’s best niche. It was too heavy and bulky to be considered a suitable hideout, but it was a fine-performing and thoroughly reliable pistol. Springfield offers a 4-inch version, called the “Service Model,” that we believe would be preferable for most shooters. The Sub-Compact XD kicked us badly with some loads, probably because of the inertia of the heavy slide. We were able to control the gun well, keep both hands on the grip, and shoot it quickly, but we could do better work with a Colt CCO, which also has a superior trigger. Our small 1911 was also more accurate, not to mention more powerful. If the Sub-Compact’s grip were half an inch longer the gun would be more controllable, and thus more viable as a first-line defensive handgun. As it is, we thought it was too big and heavy for back-up, and too clumsy for first-line defense, though the latter is almost certainly what it’s designed to be. Sure, you’ve got ten shots, but you can get nine 45s out of a CCO by simply using a full-size 1911 magazine. The Sub-Compact was inexpensive enough that we think Springfield is going to sell a lot of these, and we believe their owners might just like the gun a whole lot, especially if an attached light is wanted. Though our shooters were not all that fond of the small XD — we all loved the fast takedown — it was a pretty good gun, all told, and comes with a lifetime warranty.

• CZ 2075 Rami .40 S&W, $559. Buy It. We had an easy time controlling the Rami in rapid-fire mode, largely because of its great ergonomics, and despite its DA first shot. It was easier to control than the XD, and though it weighed about the same, it felt lighter and less bulky. We liked the Rami, but again had trouble deciding on a use for it that would make us entirely happy. The gun was a handful, kicking more than a full-size 1911, and like the XD was fatter than, and nearly as heavy as, some light 1911s. We’d like this gun more with a longer grip, and with that, you may as well get a longer barrel, but then you’ve got a bigger gun. The Rami was more pleasant to us than the XD, and needed only a trigger job and perhaps night sights to complete it. We think you’ll like the Rami if you have need for a pistol of this size and caliber.