40 S&W Polymer Pistols: H&K, Glock, S&W Shoot It Out
Updates to the $1005 Heckler & Koch P30S V3, Glock’s $649 G22 Gen 4, and Smith & Wesson’s $530 SD40 makes each gun better. But at the range, the HK shot faster and more accurately.
In this test we evaluate three 40 S&W polymer handguns that offer significant changes to their original designs. In the case of the $530 Smith & Wesson SD40, the SD40 and its new trigger provide an upgraded version of the Sigma pistol. Glock’s $649 G22 Gen 4 is an optional version of the G22 series pistol, with an aggressive grip texture and a choice of three different backstraps. Heckler & Koch’s $1005 P30 V3 adds an ambidextrous thumb safety to the latest edition of that company’s newest polymer platform.
According to Smith & Wesson representatives, the primary difference between the Sigma and SD pistols was the latter’s lighter trigger-pull weight. We can recall testing several of the original striker-fired pistols that simply wore out the shooter who had to pull a long, heavy trigger. Many years later, improved springs and improved mechanisms have made all the difference. We measured our SD40’s trigger to present about 7.5 pounds of resistance. It seemed somewhat lighter because after a takeup of about 0.3 inches, true compression was smooth and relatively short.
One of the most popular handguns for law-enforcement personnel is the Glock Model G22. The G22 is a full-size handgun that fires from a 4.49-inch barrel. Since the introduction of the Glock pistol, there have been only subtle changes, and most people still think of the Glock as being available without options or variation. But we’ve been able to purchase different models with upgrades to the trigger, sights, slide release, magazine release, and other operational components. Also, at www.teamglock.com, we found another lineup of RTF pistols that offer streamlined grips with a radical surface texture—but the Gen 4 Glock pistols go even further. They offer an aggressive grip texture and a choice of three different backstrap profiles. The Gen 4 pistols include the 9mm G17 and G19, the .357 SIG G31, and the 45 GAP G37.
Most polymer handguns are simple in design. Rather than call the HK P30 more complex, we’ll use the word sophisticated. There are six variants of the P30 series pistol— seven if you count the suffix "S" for ambidextrous safety. In our December 2007 evaluation of the 9mm Heckler & Koch P30 V3, we began our Gun Tests Report Card by saying: "Based on the fine accuracy we achieved firing single-action only, maybe this is a gun that should have a thumb safety rather than a decocker." The P30S V3 pistol in this test adds an ambidextrous thumb safety.
How We Tested
When we began putting these guns through their paces, we first wondered how bullet weight might affect accuracy. The most popular and readily available 40 S&W rounds are topped with 155-, 165-, and 180-grain bullets. The 155-grain JHP bullet is rapidly gaining popularity with law enforcement. This round was represented by Black Hills Ammunition. Next, we chose two Winchester USA rounds, one topped with 165-grain FMJ bullets and the other driving 180-grain JHP slugs.
Baseline accuracy was recorded from the 25-yard line firing from a sandbag rest. We also fired an action test standing offhand from the 7-yard line. This was a timed exercise designed to tell us more about trigger response and consistency, grip fit, and sight acquisition. We chose the Black Hills 155-grain JHP ammunition for our action test because we wanted to test each gun’s rapid-fire capability firing a hard-hitting defensive round. Our drill began with the shooter facing the target with the pistol held in both hands, arms retracted towards the chest. The front sight was at the bottom of the shooter’s peripheral vision. An electronic timer emitted an electronic start signal and registered elapsed time for each shot fired. We recorded the total elapsed time for all three shots as well as the time that had elapsed from the start signal to the first shot. After ten separate strings of fire were completed, we looked for 30 shots on the IPSC-P target from www.letargets.com. Vaguely humanoid in shape the lower A-zone is a 5- by 9-inch vertical rectangle. The upper A-zone measures 4 inches wide by 2 inches tall and could be considered the space between the cheekbones and the brow. We considered two hits inside the lower A-zone and one hit inside the upper A-zone a perfect run. Our overall objective was to find out what was required of the shooter to perform perfect runs on a consistent basis.
In all of our tests, reliability was a top priority. Ease of maintenance, cost, and shooter enjoyment were also high on the team’s grading list. Let’s see how each gun performed:
Heckler & Koch P30S V3 40 S&W, $1005
First, let’s review the features shared by all P30s. Beginning at the muzzle, the forward profile was tapered for easy holstering. The slide carried cocking serrations fore and aft and low-mount sights dovetailed front and rear. The dust cover was cut with four crosshatches to form a versatile Picatinny rail. The trigger guard was large and square, with the frontal surface grooved to accommodate larger hands and fingers. Ambidextrous magazine release paddles were located at the lower rear corner of the trigger guard. Some members of our staff were able to release the steel 13-round magazines with the strong-hand thumb, others shifted the gun so it could be pressed by the middle finger or the trigger finger. One staffer swept the paddle with his weak-hand thumb as he moved his hand toward the spare magazine mounted in a belt pouch. Two magazines were supplied.
We almost missed the night-sight feature on our HK pistol. Appearing to be a plain white three-dot set, the sights came alive after basking in the spotlights of our photo studio. These sights are not self luminous. Periodic charging turned them into moon-like orbs in dark or dim light.
The grip could be customized by choosing side panels and backstraps from three complete sets (small, medium, and large). After mixing and matching, we finally stuck with the large set because we liked where it placed our index finger in relation to the trigger for both double and single action fire. The front strap was carved with finger grooves that offered just enough scallop for each finger without getting in the way. We found the texture of the grip surface to be comfortable and effective, even with sweaty hands in 100-degree Texas heat. The panels were secured externally, meaning they did not interact with any internal parts. If you had to, you could fire the P30S V3 without any grip panels at all. At the base of each side panel was a slight inward relief. This was to help the shooter get a grip on the base pad should it become necessary to rip the magazine out of the receiver. If this seems like over-engineering, we should point out that the HK was designed to meet military requirements.
The P30 pistols operate with a hammer to drive the firing pin. Some variants of the P30 pistols operate with a full-time double-action trigger. Others utilize conventional DA/SA, traditional double-action triggers with a decocker. The decocker was mounted on the rear face of the frame immediately to the left of the hammer. The ambidextrous thumb safety locks the trigger in both single and double action, but allows the slide to be moved back and forth. This feature allows the chamber to be cleared with the trigger on safe.
The presence of a hammer was another type of safety feature. Should anything enter the holster along with the pistol, such as a shirttail, causing the trigger to move, the trailing thumb will monitor any movement at the hammer. When holstering a pistol that does not have a locked slide, such as a 1911-style pistol with the thumb safety on, it is advisable to place the thumb on the rear of the slide. This is to prevent the slide from shifting out of battery. With the HK’s decocker located on the same plane as the rear of the slide, the act of holstering and decocking was easily coordinated.
The slide lock/release could be found on both sides of the pistol. During takedown the right slide lever stays in place. It is the left side lever that is connected to the slide stop pin. With the receiver and the chamber empty, we pulled back the slide until the rectangular cutout in the slide matched the profile of the slide stop pin. We couldn’t use a fingertip, but just about anything else will do to push the pin out from right to left. The slide moved off the frame without having to press the trigger. The flat wound recoil spring stayed captured on the guide rod. So did a nylon bushing that rode over the spring, acting as a shock buffer. The rear tip of the recoil-guide rod assembly was lugged to interface with the slide-stop pin and the lug beneath the barrel hood. This interaction was the source of locking and unlocking the 3.86-inch barrel during cycling.
From the 25-yard line we fired single action only. The single-action trigger pull presented 4.0 pounds of resistance. Takeup measured less than 0.1 inches. Feel was smooth and progressive rather than crisp. Each choice of ammunition registered an average group radius ranging from about 1.25 inches firing the 165-grain FMJ rounds to little more than 1.50 inches shooting the 155-grain hollowpoint ammunition. This was good shooting with little variation, considering the difference in the power of our test rounds. The Winchester 165-grain FMJ ammunition produced almost 100 ft.-lbs. less muzzle energy than our most powerful choice, the Black Hills 155-grain JHP load.
In our action tests we began with a double-action first shot. Takeup to a double-action first shot was free swinging and measured about 0.1 in length. Resistance was measured to be 9.5 pounds. After 10 strings of fire we counted three shots pushed to the left of the lower A-zone on our IPSC-P target. Three shots were pulled low and out of the upper A-zone. One was unacceptably low, but two missed the A-zone by as little as 3⁄8 of an inch. This amounted to about a 3-inch 9-shot group. Regarding elapsed time, we fired cautiously on our first run. This resulted in a 0.92 second first shot and an overall elapsed time of 2.09 seconds. All nine of the following runs were completed in an average time of less than 1.85 seconds with an average first shot time of 0.82 seconds. Our fastest perfect run was over 1.78 seconds, beginning .77 seconds after the start signal. The P30S V3 was the first pistol to be tested, and we had no idea that it would be the only pistol to complete this test with an average time of less than 2 seconds.
We don’t think the P30S V3 was meant to be carried cocked and locked, if only for the non-locking slide. (It would be difficult to monitor the slide with the thumb at the same time as the safety lever when holstering.) But we decided that firing our action test a second time beginning with hammer back safety on was a necessity. Our very first run was over in 1.93 seconds (first shot 0.98 seconds). This run felt smoother and much faster than it actually was, but it was also the most accurate run fired by any of our guns. Two shots appeared in a 0.7 inch "snake eyes" pattern just above the letter A at center mass.
The letter A in the upper zone missed being perforated by about 0.7 inches to the left. Once we consciously tried to shoot faster our accuracy dropped off, but we still managed to land seven shots in about a 2-inch group inside the upper A-zone. Our fastest run fired single action only matched our best TDA run to the tenth of seconds. No malfunctions were encountered during our test of the HK P30S V3, and we found shooting it to be smooth, comfortable, and instinctive.
Our Team Said: Some say that today’s double-action handguns demand only coarse motor skills. Therefore, the average shooter under stress does not have to be at his or her best to get the job done. The P30S V3 can be fired as a full time double-action pistol to serve this theory. Or it can accept fine motor skills for greater accuracy. The P30S V3 easily topped our action test. We think the modular grip, a feature common to all P30s, makes the P30 series a superior platform no matter which trigger option is chosen.
Smith & Wesson SD40 No. 220400 40 S&W, $530
If you haven’t noticed, all metal-framed double-action pistols have been discontinued and no longer appear on the www.smith-wesson.com website. Today’s Smith & Wesson pistol lineup consists of polymer-framed pistols split primarily into two categories: the polymer-framed Military and Police (M&P) series and the SD9/SD40 pistols. According to a recent press release, the SD series was built to "…answer Personal and Home Protection Needs." Of course, the M&P pistols are available to civilians as well, but they are more expensive. For example, a 40 S&W M&P sold with 14-round magazines is listed at nearly $200 more, with optional models costing $300 more than the SD40.
While not as sophisticated as the M&P, the SD40 does offer some well-thought-out features of its own. The front sight was a tritium dot, which made it easier to distinguish from the two plain white dots mounted at the rear. Both front and rear sights were low profile and dovetail mounted. The front sight was very close to the muzzle, and the face of the rear unit was flush with the rear of the slide for maximum sight radius. Cocking grooves on the slide were wide set but proved effective. Only two such grooves were up front, but they provided more grip than many we’ve tried.
The entire pistol was black, and the top end was tastefully sculpted to appear as one solid block. Smith & Wesson calls the SD’s finish Melonite and lists hardness at 68 on the Rockwell scale. After extensive firing, we could find no discernible wear marks on the barrel or barrel hood.
Fit with a 4-inch barrel, minimally longer than the HK pistol, the SD40 actually appeared to be smaller and more compact. The polymer frame offered a steep 18-degree grip angle and a built-in beavertail, placing the web of the shooter’s hand deep beneath the slide. Those who have followed the evolution of modern pistols will recognize this "ray-gun" profile as that of the Smith & Wesson Sigma pistol. The Sigma was Smith & Wesson’s first entry into the polymer field after Glock shocked the industry.
There were several changes to the SD’s outer skin that differentiated it from the Sigma. Once was a 1.9-inch accessory rail with two crosshatches. Elsewhere, we liked the checkering molded into the surface of the left-side-only magazine-release button, the front strap, and the rear of the grip. A handsome knurled pattern was molded into the side panels of the grip and inside the finger locator points. These points found on either side of the frame served as tactile reminders for keeping the finger off the trigger until needed. Unfortunately, one carryover from the Sigma was the sheet-metal slide release. Compared to the rest of this sharp looking pistol, we thought this component looked cheap, and it was slippery too.
Takedown and cycling of the SD40 mirrored that of the Glock pistol. This was achieved by retracting the slide about 0.3 inch and pulling downward on the latches found on either side of the frame. The slide was removed without touching the trigger. Recoil was controlled by a flat wound spring captured on a polymer guide rod. Barrel movement was keyed by interaction with a locking block set into the polymer frame. The slide rode on steel supports seated into the frame fore and aft. Reassembly required only putting the slide back into place.
Our shooters used a controlled trigger press to record accuracy data. We liked the deep arc of the trigger. The lower portion of the trigger was hinged. First contact straightened the trigger by about 15 degrees and released the passive safety. There wasn’t much in the way of feedback from this point to the break, but we did not find the SD40 tiring to shoot. We slowly pulled the trigger straight back without stopping.
The sights were easy to read, and in a totally dark room the tritium front sight was likewise easy to find. Many experienced lawmen prefer a luminous front sight over a full three-dot system because, in the dark, alignment is difficult when the eyes are tediously searching beyond the gun for a target.
Results from the bench showed that the SD40 preferred lighter bullets. The largest average group radius was recorded by the SD40 when firing the 180-grain rounds. The Winchester USA 165-grain FMJ rounds recorded an average group radius of 1.41 inches. The best news was that our most powerful defense round, Black Hills’ 155-grain hollowpoints, printed an average group radius of only 1.35 inches.
In our action tests we learned more about shooting the SD40. First, here is the data. Average total elapsed time was 2.07 seconds. Average time from start signal to first shot was .85 seconds. Our fastest perfect run was over in 2.08 seconds beginning with a 0.8-second first shot. Accuracy in the lower A-zone showed only two shots trailed off target, one barely beyond the line and another about 2 inches low left. It was the upper A-zone that offered more valuable information. One perfect shot directly to the letter A, one shot centered but high, and two shots unacceptably low. A six-shot 1.3-inch group including four shots touching was printed about 3 inches low of the upper A-zone. Our analysis was that shots to the lower A-zone were aided by the index of our start position. Raising the sights to the upper A-zone, we failed to lock into our grip platform before firing. As proven from the bench session, the pistol could be shot accurately. But our range notes read, "Hard not to scoop the trigger without more practice."
We did have one malfunction during our action test when the SD40 failed to elevate a round into the chamber. We traced the problem not to the gun itself but rather to how each of the two supplied magazine was loaded. Like each of our test guns, the SD40 magazines stored rounds in a staggered column. This means as each round is loaded it should shift slightly to the side of the round below it as it moves downward. If a round does not stack properly, it will either shift just when it should be moving toward the chamber or jam itself into place against the magazine walls. Purposely loading the magazines so that one or more rounds did not properly stack resulted in a malfunction about 20% of the time. We noticed that improperly loaded rounds take up more space in the magazine preventing full capacity. As such, we had no malfunctions working from a fully loaded magazine. Slamming the basepad on a table top after loading every couple of rounds was one way to assure proper alignment inside the magazine.
Our Team Said: Based on our tests, the only shortcomings we could find were shooter induced. Load the SD40‘s magazines properly, and it should be reliable. Practice with this pistol and feed it a strict diet of 165-grain ammunition, and it should be more accurate. A visually striking pistol, we also liked its compact size and feel. Its tritium front sight and overall shooter orientation put it well above other pistols in this price range.
Glock 22 Gen 4 40 S&W, $649
Upon first look, we thought our G22 Gen 4 arrived with three alternate backstraps. After looking for a way to release the backstrap in place, we realized that this was not the concept. At no time does this system ask you to disengage a segment of the frame. Instead, the two supplied alternate backstraps were designed to slide over the frame. We were fooled in part because the base grip frame showed a ridge outlining the rear border of the side panel. Not just a cosmetic feature, the purpose of this ridge was to grasp the edge of the alternate panels. Furthermore, there was a solid pin inserted at the top of the backstrap. But that was just a place keeper. A pushpin tool was supplied along with an extra retaining pin of greater length to accommodate the larger panels. We think this was a very clever design.
There are two additional features that make the Gen 4 special. Most noticeably would be the grip texture, consisting of rows of flat-tipped spikes molded into the surface of the grip. We found these spikes to be helpful, but not necessarily a perfect solution for sweaty hands. They actually work much better should you wear gloves, as many patrolmen do. We thought the downside to this texture might be unbearable abrasion to bare skin or garment when carried concealed, such as in an inside-the-waistband holster. But we tried wearing the G22 Gen 4 (unloaded), tucked into our belts beneath our shirt for an entire day. We were pleasantly surprised not to suffer a rash or other abrasion.
The last feature that makes a Gen 4 different was the fully captured plunger-style recoil assembly. We’ve seen several of these units, but we think this one appeared to be stronger. We certainly had to work harder to compress and reinstall it. The Gen 4 recoil unit utilized three separate springs. The plunger that worked in from the rear or barrel lug side was wrapped with one close-coil spring. The rod fed into a steel guide that encapsulated another larger diameter spring. The pipe-shaped guide was fit with a polymer bushing for contact within the slide yoke. The third spring, fashioned from noticeably heavier wire, surrounded the second spring and the guide. Alternate design recoil systems generally are designed to slow down and spread recoil over a longer period of time. We weren’t able to record any actual data regarding recoil reduction, but we do think our G22 Gen 4 suffered less muzzle flip than standard G22 pistols we have shot in the past.
Common features of the G22 pistol consisted of a front end with an effective taper to ease concealment and smooth holstering. The accessory rail on the dustcover measured a full 2 inches in length, but it offered only one cross hatch. Our pistol arrived with standard sights, meaning a single-dot blade up front and a white outlined notch in the rear. Features like those on the aforementioned Smith & Wesson SD40 included barrel movement via barrel lugs contacting the locking block, takedown procedure, and frame wear was protected by steel guides mounted in the frame rails. Three 15-round magazines were supplied. The trigger-pull weight measured 6.5 pounds. The trigger movement was defined by about 0.2 inches of takeup followed by a sense of compression.
From the bench we focused on steering the front sight through the surprise break of the trigger. Frankly, we didn’t feel as though we were shooting as accurately as the paper targets indicated. The G22 Gen 4 produced an average group radius measuring 1.58 inches when firing the 180-grain rounds, but liked our other ammunition better. Rounds topped with the 165-grain and 155-grain bullets landed an average group radius of 1.21 and 1.20 inches, respectively.
In terms of producing muzzle energy, the G22 Gen 4’s longer barrel didn’t seem to make a significant difference. Velocity being the key component to figuring muzzle velocity, the Glock’s half-inch-longer barrel accounted for less than 7 fps on average, compared to the Smith & Wesson and HK pistols. All three guns offered adequate sight radius, but some eyes may immediately prefer the front sight dot placed that half-inch further downrange.
Elapsed times in our action test were the slowest of all three guns. Only two runs broke the 2-second mark. But we did land seven of ten runs with perfect results, and we learned something very important about shooting the G22 Gen 4. Fired from the bench with full support, it didn’t seem to make much difference which backstrap we applied. But when we stood up and dry fired in preparation for our first run, our test shooter realized that he needed some help getting the gun higher in front of his eyes and leveling the sights. The fact is that some shooters take to the classic Glock grip angle right away and others have to work at it. We found applying the medium grip panel made shooting the G22 Gen 4 much easier from the standing position. Elapsed times were slow (2.06 seconds on average with a 0.85-second average first shot), but the result was very good accuracy, especially inside the upper A-zone. Two shots were noticeably high, but the A-zone was filled with a 2.5-inch eight-shot group. Our range notes read, "Held high, the gun felt more instinctive." We think this proves that the Gen 4 grip system is a valuable component. The lower A-zone showed a dense group that was pushed a little bit left by the shooter, but with minimal practice we think speed and accuracy would improve.
Our Team Said: Not everyone takes to a Glock pistol the first time they handle it. But we think the alternate grip system means shooters who passed on the G22 or any of the Glock pistols should give a Gen 4 model a try. The attractive new grip pattern looked aggressive was surprisingly benign to bare skin. Those who wear gloves while shooting will notice the greatest functional improvement. Crediting reduced recoil to the new guide rod may be difficult to prove, but we’d give it the benefit of the doubt.