May 2004

Compact 9mm Pistols: Sigarms P226 Is Our Pick Over Taurus, FN

Taurusís new Model 24/7, $594, is a pretty good polymer pistol, but the pricey $830 Sigarms P226 shoots better. In comparison, the $450 FN 49 RSS is appealing on price, but itís average fare.

The Taurus 24/7ís accessory rail accepts a Surefire high-intensity light using an SFS Flashlight mount, $54.95 from Cylinder and Slide, 402-721-4277.

According to a recent Gun Tests reader survey, the most popular cartridge among readers is still the 9mm Parabellum. Frankly, with the steady emphasis by manufacturers on newer loadings like the .357 Sig and .40 S&W, plus renewed interest in the .45 ACP, the results of this survey were not expected. However, continued allegiance to the 9mm makes sense. Most traditional double action and polymer pistols we now take for granted were first introduced in the 9X19mm chambering. Furthermore, we have written on numerous occasions that pistol A or pistol B was at its best when chambered for 9mm rather than .40 S&W. The 9mm round is a well-mannered, easy-to-reload, cheap-to-shoot, powerful-enough choice for self-defense, plinking, and many other uses.

In this test we try out three widely-priced 9mm pistols in lightweight carry sizes—good physical matches for the round. The Taurus 24/7 is a polymer-framed 9mm pistol that lists for $594. Much less expensive at $450 is the polymer FN Model 49 RSS. At the top of the price list is the $830 Sigarms P226, an alloy-framed stalwart with a traditional double-action mechanism.

With almost $400 separating the guns, we had a number of questions relating to a central idea: Is the P226 worth the extra money? We also wanted to know if the FN was up to date in design and construction, or was it mired in problems that other makers of striker-fired polymer pistols have long since addressed.

Looking at the Taurus 24/7, we wondered if its fancy grip was hype or did it help? How far out in front of Taurus’s Millennium Pro series was this new design? We knew the answers to these questions were just a few shots away, so we got going.

FN Mfg. Model 49 RSS 9mm, $440


Well into our testing we found out the FN 49 RSS pistol is now out of production. The largest quantity of new pistols was found through a product locating site, www.gunrush.com. Here we were directed to The Armory in Wauseon, Ohio (419-337-3422). Although the model 49 has been replaced with the FNP9 (similar if not identical to the latest version of the Browning Pro 9) websites such as www.fnmfg.com and www.fnhusa.comhad not yet been updated to reflect this change.

The FN Model 49 striker-fired pistol was tagged with the letters “RSS” for its second-strike capability. Officially, RSS stands for Repeatable Secure Striker. Should a round fail to ignite, the shooter can make the gun strike the primer again by pulling the trigger additional times.

Fabrique Nationale Manufacturing Incorporated, or FNMI, is located in Columbia, South Carolina, and represents the American arm of FN Herstal. FN Herstal is among the most famous manufacturers of firearms in the world, including the Browning and USRAC Winchester brands. The Herstal Group has its headquarters in Liege, Belgium, with offices in nine other European countries, North America and Asia.

The 49 RSS is the simplest and most straightforward of the FNMI products, including automatic weapons and the Five Seven Tactical pistol, which fires 5.7X2.8 ammunition and was designed as a companion to the P90 sub-machine gun.

FNMI has incorporated some nice structural features into the model 49 RSS that make a lot of sense. First, removing the top uses nearly the same procedure as the simple and secure method used by the Sigarms pistols. After removing the magazine and clearing the chamber, the shooter locks the slide back. Rotate the latch located on the left side of the frame just above the trigger guard 90 degrees in a clockwise direction. Then release the slide latch and control the forward movement of the slide until the slide and frame are in the forward or closed position. Pressing the trigger will then release the slide, and it can be removed from the frame. This last part of the process differs from the Sigarms design that does not require working the trigger.

With the slide removed, we saw that slide-to-frame contact was primarily accomplished via a set of modular rails. The composition of these rails was not specified in the owner’s manual or on the fnmfg.com website, but a common refrigerator magnet stuck to them, so they’re steel. The advantage of this system, besides extended metal-to-metal contact, was that this unit can be replaced if it becomes worn. An additional pair of smaller metallic rails was inset at the rear of the frame.

On the exterior, the forward, or dust-cover, portion of the frame is grooved for adding an accessory. This groove was very mild and may require a special mount to hold a light in position. We doubt that Weaver-style fittings will be suitable for this design. The frame was black polymer with a very pleasing grip profile. But even with its pebble finish, the grip was slippery. This is a common problem with polymer pistols that some shooters will choose to address with grip tape. The three levers and two mounting pins provide a pleasant contrast in silver. Neither of these levers should present a snagging problem, but we felt that the slide release was too well shielded. We often had to use a fingernail to raise it into position.

Underneath the slide we found a linkless barrel with flat wound spring captured on the guide rod. The sights were tall and clear with three white dots for additional visual index. Each of the two provided magazines included a basepad that completed the front strap of the frame with a finger rest. We thought it was just the right size and weight for an all-purpose pistol intended for concealed carry for self defense.

We found the double-action-only trigger to be smooth on the trigger face and consistent in its pull. We noticed however in the owner’s manual that there was an extra warning about dropping this gun and the possibility of accidental discharge as a result. But there was a plunger on the underside of the slide that was connected with a lever extending from the trigger. We suspected that this plunger operated a striker block that frees the striker for movement only when the trigger is pulled past a defined point. Neither the FNMI web address or the company’s telephone number appeared in the owner’s manual. After finding the website using a Yahoo search, we called to ask about the striker block. A technician said that the 49 RSS was indeed fitted with a striker block. The warning about dropping the gun was just extra verbiage for legal protection, as were the words on the slide, “WARNING NO MANUAL SAFETY.” One other safety feature was the chamber-loaded indicator, which consisted of a cutaway section of the breechface just above the extractor. Through this gap we could see the loaded round. In the dark we could feel the extractor bulging outward.

In

our initial range session

we fired odd lots of ammunition, including Remington UMC, Denel PMP from South Africa and Winchester USA 115-grain full metal-jacketed rounds. Our target was a Bianchi plate rack consisting of six 8-inch plates 15 yards downrange. Accuracy was erratic, but we traced at least some of the problem to shooter error. We then spent some time perfect our grip on the FN 49 RSS. The challenge was to hold the gun level and straight throughout the long stroke of the trigger. The slippery polymer grip surface made follow-through more difficult, altering our points of impact. Using gloves for added grip improved accuracy.

Still, one problem plagued us throughout the test. The FN 49 RSS had the habit of throwing empty cases straight back over the rear sight into our foreheads. This was annoying to say the least.

In search of ammunition for our formal test session, we returned to Pruett’s Guns and Ammo (832-237-GUNS), the shop where we obtained the FN pistol. We had already decided to continue with the Winchester 115-grain FMJ rounds and 115-grain hollowpoints from Zero Ammunition, (800-204-1526). But we wanted something special. Jim Pruett directed us to the 64-grain +P 9mm Stealth cartridge from MagSafe. This round consists of nine pieces of No. 3 shot sealed in an expandable hollowpoint, designed to move at an average velocity of 1,950 fps in a Glock 17. Perhaps this round would silence critics who argue that 9mm ammunition is not aggressive enough to provide adequate stopping power. But then again, any time we hear about frangible ammunition we wonder about accuracy and reliability. With our trio of 9mm pistols we felt this would be a good test for both the MagSafe rounds and the guns themselves. Since all of our test guns featured barrels longer than 4 inches and a sight radius of 6 inches or more, our benchrest session consisted of firing at targets placed 25 yards down range.

Approaching each shot with a controlled press we realized three light hits on the primer resulting in failures to fire. It is plausible (but not acceptable) that the slow release of the trigger did not transfer enough energy to the striker.

This might be a flawed explanation, but our theory was based on the fact that this did not happen during rapid-fire sessions. We noticed that the stud just above the trigger continuously shifted to the right as though it was going to leave the frame, but it never did. Periodically we pushed it back, but its travel back and forth did not affect function. Some of our groups were ruined by a flyer. Usually the first shot was high. This could indicate that slide reset after a fired round was more consistent, or at least different, than after manually racking the slide in the course of loading. The MagSafe ammunition actually outperformed the advertised velocity in the FN pistol. At an average velocity of 2019 fps, the round developed 580 foot-pounds of energy, the highest energy rating in our three pistols. Unfortunately, accuracy with the MagSafe rounds was only 4 inches at 25 yards. The “100-round value pack” Winchester USA rounds registered an average of 3.0 inches per five-shot group. The one round that delivered a sub-2-inch group in this gun was the 115-grain JHP NC from Zero Ammunition. Overall, the average group from this combination was a very respectable 2.6 inches with an average velocity of 1138 fps, developing 331 foot-pounds of energy.

The FN 49 RSS is a reasonably if not budget priced pistol for its level of performance. Our few complaints, namely over the top extraction, a slippery grip, and incidental or situational misfires were problems that may not even exist in the next pistol that comes off the production line. Indeed, they are problems that have been seen before in similar DAO striker-fired polymer pistols. We think each of these imperfections can be addressed and solved either by the FN warranty department or by a competent gunsmith.

Taurus 24/7 Stainless 9mm, $594


The newest striker-fired 9mm in the Taurus stable is the 24/7, the lineage for which started with the compact PT111. Since then, variants of the PT111 have been improved and reconfigured for better handling, service and reliability. We remember the earliest PT111 Millennium models as having a very long trigger press that required a mighty trigger finger. One interesting feature was its manual thumb safety. The Millennium series continued to improve with the introduction of a variant called the Millennium Pro. This pistol featured a ribbed grip and improved ergonomics.

This brings us to the 24/7. The difference between the Millennium Pro and the 24/7 is the addition of a full dustcover frame with Weaver accessory rail, a full-valance trigger face and a ribbed finger-grooved grip. The magazine base pad did add an extra groove for the bottom finger, but the gun does not look unfinished without the magazine in place.

The grip may be the best one available on a polymer pistol. It had a deep cut at the web of the thumb, a bold palm swell and fine supple ribs cleverly integrated on the front. They were bold at the apex of the grip but tapered off at the sides.

The 24/7 is not a lightweight pistol: it went 31 ounces on our digital scale. The truth of the matter is that this is not really a polymer-framed pistol either.

To see what we mean, the shooter needs only remove the top end and inspect the frame. To do this, all we needed to do was lock back the slide, rotate the slide stop and pull it out. Pull the trigger and the slide moved easily off the frame.

Inside, the grip frame was polymer with a flush-fitting rubber inlaid over the receiver. The stainless-steel slide rode on an aluminum sub frame that housed all the action parts and the frame rails. Not only was there a striker-block that was released by trigger movement similar to the one found in the FN pistol, also the thumb safety locks the slide by freezing both the trigger and the slide. For storage the slide can be locked with a key. Two such keys were provided.

The barrel lockup was linkless, and like the FN 49 RSS, the recoil assembly was a flat wound spring captured on the guide rod. The extractor was externally mounted and a portion of the extractor was hinged to swing outward when the chamber was loaded. This was easy to see without taking an eye off the target. We feel this is a better option than cutting away a portion of the barrel hood, or in the case of the FN pistol, cutting away the breechface to expose the condition of the chamber. Loaded or not, a cutaway is an invitation to dirt or debris that could choke the gun.

Our first trip to the range to shoot plate racks set a positive tone for our test session. The smoothness of the trigger action was enhanced by the smoothness of the trigger face. People forget that in this respect a DAO semi-auto is playing by double-action revolver rules. One favorite trick in setting up competition revolvers is to radius and polish the trigger. The trigger on the 24/7 was a joy to compress. The superb grip allowed us to take a good hold and maintain it throughout the firing process. As a result we simply took the 24/7 out of the box and began mowing down plates. The gun’s weight, low bore-to-grip relationship and exceptional ergonomics made this gun one of the more user-friendly pistols we’ve found.

At the bench the 24/7 kept both the Zero and Winchester ammunition at about 2.5 inches for all shots fired. In each case the best group was under 2 inches and the largest just over 3 inches. The five-shot groups we collected firing the MagSafe ammunition averaged just over 3.5 inches at 25 yards. There were no failures to feed and no failures to fire. Accuracy was predictable and consistent.

Elsewhere, we thought the sights were clear and adequate, but the rear sight was not adjustable for elevation or windage. We would like at least a windage-adjustable unit. We also found that the thumb safety would flex rather than rise up if we did not approach it at just the right angle. A machined part rather than a stamped piece would be better, we think. We mean it as a compliment when we say this gun deserves better in these two areas.

Sigarms P226 9mm, $830


Some time ago Sigarms realized that the sheet-metal slides that came with the Sig pistols wouldn’t hold up for shooters in the U.S. market, both civilian and military. That’s when the plant located in Exeter, New Hampshire. began forging its own steel slides and bluing them to match the frames arriving from Germany.

Our P226 pistol had a full-size alloy frame in dark blue. Available options include SigLite night sights, a K-Kote finish and nickel slide that can drive the price up another $100. A much heavier all-stainless model with accessory rail will also be available shortly. Standard sights consisted of a single white dot on the front sight and a vertical white bar in the notch of the rear sight.

The P226 profile was simple and snag free. Finding the trigger, the magazine release and levers for decocking and releasing the slide was easy thanks to a smooth blend of contours and plastic grip panels that point the way. The magazine well was gently flared, which plays a part in creating a small lip at the base of the front strap. The backstrap was also rounded off toward the front of the gun, but only those with larger hands will recognize it as a palm swell.

The P226 has been around longer than most semi-automatic pistols available today, let alone our other two test guns. Any bugs to be found in the design of this gun have long been exterminated, but popular innovations such as a chamber-loaded indicator and manual safeties were not available on the P226.

The barrel lockup is linkless, but unlike our other two test guns the recoil unit consisted of a hollow metal guide rod with a non-captured multi-filament spring. Field-stripping the P226 was still an easier chore than the Taurus 24/7 or the FN 49 RSS. Lock back the slide, turn the release and the slide comes off easily without having to manipulate the trigger. Any time pressing the trigger can be taken out of a maintenance routine the gun becomes that much safer. With the slide removed, we saw that slide-to-frame contact was maximized from dustcover to the tang, that extended over the web of the strong hand.

The trigger system is traditional double action, wherein the first shot is the result of a double-action pull, but subsequent shots are fired single action. Rack the slide, filling the chamber, and the hammer stays back. However, the gun cannot be locked in this position. To carry the gun safely, push down the decocker on the left side of the pistol, which lowers the hammer safely behind a chambered round. The first trigger press will perform two actions, causing the hammer to move back to a break point at which time the hammer falls, igniting a round. In single action the trigger simply releases the hammer and the slide automatically resets the hammer to the rearward position after each shot.

The face of the trigger was very smooth, and we did not find it hard to maintain a solid grip while pressing the trigger through the longer double-action stroke. Transition to single action was flawless and better than we’ve found on other TDA pistols.

Our formal accuracy data was collected single action only. As a result our P226 outperformed both the Taurus and FN pistols in nearly every case. Firing the Zero brand ammunition we achieved our best single group of the test and also the most consistency. Results varied only 0.2 inches from group to group at 25 yards. In the case of the MagSafe ammunition groups shrank from an acceptable 3.6 inches on average to a much more desirable 2.5 inches with 566 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. We liked having that much force with this level of accuracy from a 9mm pistol. Firing the budget Winchester USA rounds, the Taurus and the P226 were nearly tied on average. But the Sigarms P226 was way out in front in terms of predictability. Variation from group to group was a mere 0.3 inch. Was this a product of the P226 having the most metal-to-metal frame-to-slide contact among our test pistols? Or, was it a function of many more factors, including a design that may have been the easiest to adapt to our test procedure? We would say all of the above.

In the end we found the pistol that cost the most was also the most accurate. In our opinion, this is money was well spent.

Gun Tests Recommends
Taurus 24/7 9mm Stainless, $594. Buy It. In the Taurus we found a pistol descended from a good budget gun that is on the doorstep of another level where guns are bought for performance, not price. But it was also a safer gun than most other semi-autos and easier to learn.

FN 49 RSS 9mm, $440. Conditional Buy. The 49 RSS is a basic striker-fired polymer pistol with some nice features. The few problems we experienced were minor ones that we feel some owners may not even address. We recommend using top quality ammunition to ensure this gun’s accuracy and performance.

Sigarms P226 9mm, $830. Our Pick. This is a proven design executed with top-notch quality control. The Sigarms TDA trigger sets the standard for this type of action. At $200 more than its closest rival in this test, there was little or nothing about the P226 that we think requires improvement. If you’ve got the bucks to buy it, you’ll like it.