May 2009

Two Big 9mms: High-Capacity, Full-Size Self-Defense Picks

At the range, S&Wís M&P9 had a great grip that was comfortable to hold and shoot. The double-action CZ 75B had plenty of good points, but we got a sore finger from shooting it.

While many of us prefer full-caliber cartridges in full-size pistols, there are many reasons and many mandates to pack a large, high-capacity 9mm handgun. There are plenty out there to choose from. For this test we chose one of the oldest, a double-action CZ 75 B ($597), and one of the newest, the S&W M&P9 ($679) to compare. Both held a lot of rounds, 16 and 17 respectively, and both were big handguns by any measure. They approached the bulk of a full-size 1911 45 ACP, though both were shorter and the M&P was a good deal lighterÖ unloaded, of course.

Full-Size Self-Defense 9mm Pistols

We much preferred the M&P 9, front, over the CZ, though both were very good guns. The M&P had slightly better accuracy, very comfortable handling and lots of innovation, but we think the CZ might last longer. Itís all steel and fully machined, a dying breed of auto pistol, we suspect.

We tested them with Fiocchi 115-grain jacketed hollowpoints, American Eagle 115-grain full-metal-jacket rounds, and Black Hillsí 147-grain full-metal-jacket bullets. We "broke them in" with a mix of other types of ammo to get a feel for the guns before serious accuracy and function testing. Here is what we found.

CZ 75 B 9mm, $597

A short while back we tested the single-action CZ 75 B SA 9mm pistol and liked it fairly well. We recently had a chance to test the DA version, and got a feel for what it offers that the SA version does not. Besides being double action for the first shot, the DA version of the CZ 75 can also be carried cocked and locked, not a common thing for DA pistols. That feature, we thought, would make this DA gun more attractive to those who are required to carry a DA pistol, but have the option to carry it in whatever condition they choose. The use of cocked-and-locked carry gets away from the need to shoot the first two shots with widely varying trigger pulls, which is generally not conducive to best shooting.

The all-steel DA CZ has a cut into each side of the front of the slide, which reduces weight and moves the balance back toward the hand. We liked that. The overall balance was better, we thought, on this gun than on the single-action model. However, with the gun cocked for the first shot, all was not rosy. Pressing the trigger dragged the cocked hammer rearward slightly before dropping it, and this motion resulted in a trigger pull that we didnít much like. The pull was stiff and creepy, which didnít help us get the best accuracy with this gun. We hadnít liked the SA versionís trigger either, and we conclude CZ really needs to pay some serious attention to the setup on the triggers on these 9mms. Gunsmiths can generally fix almost any trigger, but the added expense ought not to be necessary.

The finish was matte black "polycoat" and was excellent. The gunís overall look reminded us of the Browning Hi-Power. The CZ had a long beavertail that kept our hand from getting pinched, unlike with some Hi-Powers. The top of the slide had a serrated rib that led the eye to the pinned-in front sight. The rear sight was too sharp in front, but offered an excellent sight picture with the small, forward-beveled front blade. The sights had three green dots, but no tritium. The gun had a strong-side-only safety that was fine for right handers, and it could be operatedósort ofówith the left forefinger if grasping the gun in the left hand, but this was not convenient. Grip panels were checkered black plastic. The gun came in a compact plastic case with 25-meter test target, basic cleaning tools, and two 16-round magazines. The controls were straightforward and easily operated. Other than the one-sided safety, there was a large takedown lever on the left side, and a magazine-release button on the lower-left side, just behind the trigger guard. For a high-capacity pistol, the grip was relatively compact and comfortable, we thought.

Takedown was simple. Clear the gun, remove the magazine, and then pull the slide back slightly to align a mark on the slide with one on the frame. Then rap the right side of the slide stop with something hard, and itíll come part way out the left side. Pry it out all the way, press the trigger to lower the hammer, and the slide comes off forward. Barrel lockup is like that on a 1911, grooves machined in the slide that match those on the barrel. A simple camming action pulls the rear of the barrel downward out of lockup as the slide moves rearward. Workmanship inside was excellent, and all the parts looked very stout. The gunís smooth DA pull is partly due to the trigger yoke that acts on the hammer from both sides of the frame. There is nothing dainty or flimsy about any of the parts inside the CZ. Itís clearly built for long, hard service, in our opinion. We noticed and admired all the carefully machined parts inside the heavily machined frame, but by contrast with the polymer/sheet-metal parts of the ultra-modern S&W M&P, we felt we were looking at a dying breed. There is no way machining can compete with stamping and molding for producing effective and functional parts in great quantities.

On the range, our first shot from the CZ resulted in a painful stab to the bottom of our trigger finger. This was caused by the sharp bottom edge of the curved trigger. After suffering through our preliminary session we attempted to file this sharp edge off, but the trigger was too hard. Grinding would fix it, but again it ought not to be necessary. We took to wrapping our trigger finger around the trigger too far, much like a beginner might do, and that solved the problem for us, but this was no way to shoot a pistol. The gun shot to its sights within reason, and performed well in fast pairs, either DA/SA or SA/SA, with the latter method giving far better results.

Our Team Said: The accuracy of the CZ was about 2.5 inches for all shots fired, and we thought that was more than adequate. Careful ammo selection might result in improved accuracy, if thatís important to you. The CZ was notably heavier than the M&P, and that helped dampen recoil. There were no problems with the CZ whatsoever. It fed, fired, and ejected all our loads. We liked the fact that it could be fired with the magazine removed. The empties didnít go far, but they all got out of the gun. Other than the poor trigger and its sharp edge, we liked this gun. It appeared to be very well made and built to last.

Smith & Wesson M&P #209001 9mm, $679

Our first impression of the S&W M&P 9mm was that it felt extremely comfortable in the hand. It was well balanced, not too heavyóat least without a magazine full of 17 heavy-bullet loadsóand was pleasantly devoid of extraneous controls and levers. We note S&W also sells a version with a thumb safety, along with a host of variants in 9mm, 40 S&W, and 45 ACP, and with longer or shorter barrels or grips, and in a variety of colors. One even has a pink grip insert.

Our test gun came in a large case with two different grip inserts to make the handle larger or smaller. We liked it as it was, so we left it alone. The sights were fixed, and excellent in all respects. There will be no cut hands here from stovepipe drills. The sights had white dots and again no tritium inserts. The rear could be drifted for windage (unnecessary for us) and was locked with an Allen screw. The front was dovetailed, but without the lock pin which weíd like it to have. A nice touch (there were many) was the wavy cut of the slide to form the serrations for slide retraction. The matte-black slide was stainless, and the polymer grip was hefty enough that the gun didnít have a top-heavy feel even when empty. The frame had a light rail beneath the muzzle. The controls were very simple. The trigger action was the prime safety on the gun. Donít touch the trigger and the gun canít fire. Pressing on the trigger first unlocks it so it can travel rearward, and then it releases the striker to fire the gun. It wonít shoot with the magazine removed, at least on our version. After the last shot is fired the slide stop locks the slide back. The slide lock is ambidextrous, another nice touch rarely seen on pistols.

There was a small hole at the junction of the chamber and slide on top that was supposed to serve as a loaded-chamber indicator. We could not see a loaded cartridge well enough to suit us, but it was easy to pull back the slide slightly to see the chambered round.

Forward of the small slide stop, on the left side, is the takedown lever. Field stripping was slightly tricky. After clearing the gun and locking the slide back, you first had to stick a tool into the open port and flip down a tiny, thin, and extremely fragile-looking part before you could remove the slide from the frame. However, that fragile-looking part has only the simple function of levering the sear down for taking the gun apart, and is thus adequate for its purpose. There was a tool provided in the heel of the gun for pushing down the lever, but we found it impossible to remove the tool with our fingers. We used a small screwdriver. Then, with the takedown lever turned 90 degrees down, off came the slide.

Inside we found some extremely clever use of multi-bent sheet metal, bent for strength and various dual purposes here and there. The slide spring was captive, so no tiny parts went flying as you took it out, another nice touch. We saw some items inside that were not as stout as we thought they should be. S&W recently published the results of a 50,000-round test of one version of this handgun, and noted that several small parts had to be replaced. We expect the failed parts will get beefed up as time shows the need.

Another item we questioned was the spring-loaded magazine disconnection system, which relies on a spring to move the trigger arm into contact with the sear as the magazine is inserted. As it was, it was a passive device and weíd prefer a mechanical link to move the levers instead of hoping no dirt gets in the way and defeats the spring. But weíre being picky. Obviously the gun works, and works well. In fact, we felt we were looking at the future of all auto-pistol design and production as we looked inside this very clever Smith & Wesson handgun. It was mighty impressive design, to our eyes. Reassembly was straightforward.

The trigger was pleasant, not too heavy, and worked well in fast shooting. The pull was identical for all shots, but if a round had happened to misfire you would have to eject it, rather than drop the striker again, which was an option you did have with the CZ.

Our Team Said: On the range we found the M&P to be just as comfortable to shoot as it was in the hand. Felt recoil with the heaviest loads was insignificant. Thatís what a comfortable grip can do for you, and the M&P had a great grip. There were exactly no problems with the gun.

CZ 75B 9mm

Smith & Weson M&P 9 #209001 9mm