May 2006

.40 S&W Carbines: We Shoot Hi-Point, Beretta, Olympic Arms

And the results? Based on its function and low price, we think Hi-Point’s 4095 is a winner. The Olympic Arms K40 was a crowd pleaser, but we’d pass on Beretta’s pricey Cx4 Storm.

If you’re in the market for a .40 S&W carbine, one of these might please you. We really liked the odd-looking Hi-Point (bottom) with its low price and great performance, and we were right at home with the AR-15-looking Olympic Arms K40 (top), but the compact, modern-looking Beretta Cx4 Storm (center) didn’t please our shooters, though it performed well enough and completely reliably.

A handgun is many times more difficult to learn to shoot well than a rifle, but there are times when a rifle cartridge is too powerful for the task at hand, whether it’s punching holes in old tin cans or defending your home. The solution is one about as old as cartridge firearms, a short rifle that shoots handgun cartridges. A pistol-caliber carbine makes hits easier, and often gives away very little practical usefulness or stopping power to a full-size rifle cartridge. There too is the advantage of multiple firearms taking the same cartridge, so ammunition supply is simplified.

With the steady or even increasing popularity of the .40 S&W cartridge, it seemed to us it was time to see what’s available in .40 S&W carbines. To that end, we acquired three, Hi-Point’s Model 4095 ($225), the compact, polymerized Beretta Cx4 Storm ($800), and Olympic Arms’ K40 with its collapsible stock ($834), and put them through our paces. As with pistols, we tried them for fast bursts of two shots, and also from the bench at 50 yards. We tested with Cor-Bon 140-grain DPX JHP, with Remington 155-grain JHP, and with Speer 180-grain GoldDot HP. We also tried several other types of ammo, but didn’t record all the results. This is what we found.

This all-black carbine was not the most space-age looking of the trio, but it was not far behind the Beretta. The first thing we had to do was install the bolt handle, which is shipped disassembled to ensure it won’t poke through the shipping box. This was an easy operation, and the necessary small wrench was included in the form of a multi-purpose tool that also adjusted the sights. The Hi-Point came with a laser kit ($85) and a clamp-on compensator/flash hider ($25). We did most of our testing without the compensator installed, but when we tried it, we’re sorry we didn’t have it on all the time. It worked very well to keep the gun in place and helped keep the rather sharp recoil off our faces.

But let’s look at the gun more closely before we take it [PDFCAP(2)]. Like the Hi-Point pistols this carbine won’t win any beauty contests, we thought. The stock was a one-piece molding that extended from the butt to near the muzzle. It was extremely comfortable to the face and put the eye, for most of us, right in line with the outstanding (aperture rear, post front) sights. The forend portion of the stock had deep grooves molded in that gave excellent traction to the fingers, even if wearing gloves. The pistol grip, which accepted the ten-round magazine, was a touch on the large size, but comfortable. The grip had a left-side-only magazine release in the same position as found on 1911 autos. Pressing it allowed the magazine — with its extended bottom for fast reloads — to drop free. However, many of our shooters found it difficult to operate the mag release or the safety without shifting the hand position toward the left. The safety worked properly, which is to say, down to fire.

The upper part of the action was of blued sheet steel, and to it was screwed the excellent and well protected rear sight assembly. It included a fully adjustable aperture, which was large enough, but could be made larger if desired for even quicker pickup by the eye. The front sight was very clever, we thought. It was a post protected by an eye-guiding ring of steel, and both the post and its guard were adjustable by loosening a bolt within a slot, so the front sight could be made to regulate properly with the rear sight, if needed. We didn’t need to touch the front sight, but many times we’ve wished other guns had such an adjustable or compensating front sight. The barrel was shrouded with a slotted guard to let heat escape and keep the fingers off the hot bits. As noted above, the cast-metal flash hider or compensator clamped onto the front of the barrel, and added a bit of weight there.

The accessory laser sight was a loss to us. We examined it and all its many parts, but the odd-shaped battery that came with it was dead on arrival, and we could not find a replacement. Also, the instructions for the laser sight, which ultimately clips to the bottom of the compensator, were very poorly written and failed to describe the uses to which we were supposed to put the many small screws and other parts that came with the laser sight. We noted the laser was adjustable to match your bullet impact.

[PDFCAP(3)]
The Beretta looked modern and was pretty light, which we liked. It was all matte black, and most of what you see is plastic. There were mounts for a sling, two ten-shot magazines, a cleaning kit, and a key to adjust the front sight included in the box. On handling the nicely molded stock, we were immediately struck with the fact that you can’t get your thumb onto the bolt release unless you released the pistol grip and moved your hand rearward. Ditto for the over-stiff safety button. These controls were in the wrong place for us.

Next, we found the bottom extension of the stock to be in the way. Most of us found it impossible to release the magazine with the right hand. We wanted to move our wrist more in line with the stock but could not do so. One test shooter suggested sawing away that bottom extension, which we’d investigate if we owned this Beretta. Next, we noticed the rubberized face plate on top of the stock, which was a nice idea, but for most of us the stock proved to be too straight. This was especially noticeable when shooting from the bench and in rapid-fire. The stock interfered with our hearing protection, and we also found it hard to get low enough on the stock to use the sights easily The rubber butt pad was rough enough to keep the gun in place, but could have been softer without giving up any usefulness.

The sights were another bone of contention with us. The fully adjustable front worked okay, but though it was well protected by the stock protrusions, the sight looked and felt flimsy to us. It didn’t give confidence. The hinged rear sight held two apertures, a small one for close range and a smaller one for more distant shots. Both tiny apertures were very slow to use in rapid-fire mode. We’d leave one of them alone and drill the other out with the biggest drill we could find that would still leave a ring there, and use that for all our shooting. It would then be much faster to use, and would still provide all the needed accuracy. These carbines are, after all, self-defense or CQB weapons, not hunting rifles.

The magazine was quite difficult to load. We’d have appreciated a loading accessory for it. The magazine well was recessed, with cutouts on the size so you could grab a stuck magazine, but the forward and rearward extensions of the well prohibited fast and easy seating of the magazine. More and more we got the impression that the designers of the Storm had no idea what’s needed in combat situations. The shooter could not get the magazine out properly, had to release his firing grip to operate the safety and slide stop, could not see through the rear sight easily, couldn’t get his face down onto the top of the stock with ease or comfort, and on and on. This was the opposite of our impression of the Hi-Point design.

At the range, our first groups with the Cor-Bon were well over three inches, and we came to really dislike the low sights or too-high stock, which caused trouble with our hearing protectors. Next we tried Speer’s GoldDot ammo and got some decent groups, but at a much different position from where the Cor-Bon landed. Finally we tried the Remington fodder only to find accuracy pretty much gone again, or at best, not to our satisfaction. Also, our face began to hurt from the lousy stock pinching us against the ear protectors. The Beretta fired everything we fed it, but it put its groups all over the paper with different ammo. The solution seemed to be to search for the best ammo and stick with that. Some sort of high-positioned add-on sight would be far better than fighting the straight stock to get low enough to use the issue sights, we thought, but with the gun already way up there in price and way down there on control configuration, we were not happy shooters.

[PDFCAP(4)]
The K40 sure looked familiar. Now where have we seen that design before…? We’ve come to know that Oly Arms does good work, so it was no surprise this AR-15 based carbine looked very good to us. This carbine had all the common and desirable features of the AR-15: sights, collapsible stock, flash hider, etc. So we don’t need to give a belabored description other than to say the workmanship was excellent everywhere we looked. Perhaps the most important part of the design was the clever magazine, which went into a standard .223-caliber well, the magazine having an extension to let it fit perfectly. The bolt, however, didn’t stay open following the last shot.

Inside the K40 we found more cleverness, the most visible being a spring that served as an ejector, and of course the redesigned bolt, which is blow-back, not locked. The forward assist did nothing, by the way. The upper receiver is available separately if you wish to convert your own rifle, and a magazine comes with it. Uppers are available in 9mm or 10 mm, and in .40 and .45 calibers, for $594.

We found the 14-round, Israeli-made magazine to be difficult to load, but not as hard as the Beretta’s. We had the devil of a time getting all 14 rounds in. We noted there was nothing on the website (www.olyarms.com) that indicted the number of rounds held by the magazine in each caliber. But a notice came with the instruction booklet that indicated the magazine situation for these pistol-caliber carbines is changing, and there will probably be information forthcoming shortly on this matter.

With not much to check out on this familiar design base, we took the K40 to the range. The trigger pull was clean at 5.9 pounds, which we found acceptable. Our first groups with Cor-Bon’s 140 DPX were pathetic. The K40 worked perfectly, but our smallest, bench-rested five-shot group was pushing seven inches. But we knew the Beretta had not liked that fodder, despite what the Hi-Point had to say about it, so we pressed onward to the Speer and Remington ammo. Our best five-shot groups were still around three inches at 50 yards, most disappointing given the look and apparent quality of the Oly Arms K40. The Oly K40 had clear ammo preferences, so we tried two other types of ammo with much better success, firing three-shot groups (being short on time) with Black Hills’ 180-grain JHP and Cor-Bon 135-grain JHP. The former averaged under two inches and the latter even better, making one group at about an inch, about what we had been expecting all along. Everything worked perfectly on the K40, and the controls were exactly where you’d expect them, easy to the hand, and they all worked and felt great. The workmanship was just fine, and we liked the balance and feel of this rifle, which for some of us felt a lot better than the same thing in .223.

Gun Tests Recommends
We found very few real differences between the Hi-Point and the Oly K40 for fast shooting at close range, though the slightly better trigger pull of the K40 and its adjustable stock were possible advantages. If you pick the Hi-Point you might want to consider shortening its stock if you want it for strictly indoors, close-range work. But the Beretta’s poor sights, poorly placed controls and poor stock configuration took it out of contention, we felt, for self-defense shooting.

• Hi-Point Model 4095 .40 S&W, $225. Best Buy. At the range, we made a slight adjustment to the rear sight to get centered, and proceeded to outshoot the other two guns by a good margin. The Hi-Point was the only firearm to like Cor-Bon’s DPX 140-grain JHP, putting them into groups a bit over 2 inches at 50 yards. This turned out to be the norm for this carbine, and the Hi-Point didn’t seem to vary its impact point with different ammo, which the other two carbines did. We could not make the Hi-Point falter. It digested everything perfectly, delivering the shots to the center of the 3-inch black with great regularity. The only thing we noticed was a slight variance in trigger pull, which was a bit stiff but manageable at 7.5 pounds on average. We could feel the recoil, the butt having no padding, but the compensator cut felt recoil to near zero, and helped a lot in rapid fire. We had no problems with the Hi-Point. It worked perfectly with everything, and its slide stayed open following the last shot. On the bad side, the safety was a little hard for some of us to reach, and disassembly was not too easy. A sling and mounts were included in the basic package. We’d spend the extra $25 for the comp, marvel at the overall low price (much less than a third of either of the other two), and go happily into the night with our lifetime-warranted Hi-Point.

• Beretta Cx4 Storm .40 S&W, $800. Don’t Buy. Despite its complete reliability, we didn’t like the Beretta Cx4 Storm much at all. It had fussy accuracy, poor stocking, slow if clever sights that were much too low for us (or the stock was too straight), and controls that were largely inaccessible to the shooter. The design didn’t seem to take the shooter into the picture at all, we felt. It was not a shooter-friendly design. The only things Beretta got right, we felt, were the relatively light weight and compact size. But because of the control problems, we’d leave this one entirely alone.

• Olympic Arms K40 .40 S&W, $834. Buy It. Clearly this neat carbine would pay dividends to a serious search for best ammo, but what we officially got was probably adequate for any purpose you might have for the K40. We liked the easily adjustable butt stock for indoors use, the flash hider, the easy controls, and the familiar package. For the extra money over the Hi-Point you get a finer-made firearm for which there are scores of accessories and easy spare parts, plus easier takedown and maintenance. All that’s important. We’d buy it, but would be happier spending lots less money on the Hi-Point.

 

-Text and photos by Ray Ordorica from Gun Tests field evaluations.

Hi-Point Model 4095 .40 S&W, $225

to the range

Beretta Cx4 Storm 40 S&W $800

Olympic Arms K40 .40 S&W, $834