9mm Compact Pistols: Ruger, Springfield, CZ USA, and Glock
When we tested the Glock 19, Springfield Armory’s XDM 3.8, the CZ USA 75D PCR Compact, and the new Ruger SR9C, our evaluators found four very good handguns you’re sure to like.
Recently, we received a letter urging us to test more deep-concealment guns, claiming that they are the most popular gun of the day. Checking with one of the larger distributors (www.camfour.com), confirmed that it is the subcompact and micro guns that are currently driving the market. In this test we’re not going to evaluate pocket guns, but we are going to shoot four compact pistols that in are just one step larger than the smallest model available from each manufacturer.
The first test gun we chose was the $697 XDM 3.8 from Springfield Armory. Since the first XD pistol to hit our shores from Croatia was the Four-inch Service Model, we were tempted to refer to the XDM 3.8 as belonging to a "sub-service" category. The $525 Ruger SR9C is another new model that attempts to cross over the design of a larger pistol (the Ruger SR9) into the role of concealed carry. The $646 Glock G19 is the smaller brother of the G17, found on the hip of law enforcement worldwide. The Glock 19 gets little press, but remains popular. Another pistol that continues to perform is the CZ 75B. In this test we shoot one of its little brothers, the $651 CZ USA 75D PCR Compact.
Throughout our tests, each gun ran reliably without a single malfunction. The Glock, Ruger, and Springfield Armory pistols operated with a single continuous trigger system. The Glock 19 required a longer trigger press because movement of the trigger is what loads the spring to propel the striker, or firing pin. Release of the striker was part two of this double-action system. The XDM 3.8 utilized the trigger to release the striker after rearward movement of the slide had loaded the striker spring nearly to full strength. Pressing the trigger on the XD series pistols tops off the compression of the striker spring and releases the trigger. The Ruger SR9C works with a similar action, but the trigger applied more final compression to the striker spring than the XD/XDM. The CZ is a hammer-driven pistol with two modes of fire. Once the slide has been moved rearward, the hammer stays back and trigger is used for the single action of releasing the hammer. But after using the decocker to lower the hammer to a locked position about 0.36 inches from the firing pin, pressing the trigger will perform two actions. First to move the hammer rearward, and, second, to release it toward the firing pin. To collect accuracy data, our test team fired the CZ 75D PCR Compact from the bench in single action only.
We began with three choices of test ammunition, consisting of Remington UMC 115-grain JHP rounds, Federal American Eagle 124-grain FMJ rounds and 115-grain FMJ rounds of new manufacture (red box) Black Hills ammunition. When we realized our supply of the American Eagle rounds was going to be limited, we decided to shoot our action tests with a fourth, less expensive, round. These were the Black Hills remanufactured 124-grain FMJ rounds sold in the blue boxes. Curious about the accuracy of these economical rounds, we decided to add them to our bench session. Test distance from support was 15 yards.
After accuracy data had been collected from our bench session, we set up a timed close-quarters exercise. For this test we posted a paper replica of an IPSC Metric target from www.LEtargets.com 7 yards downrange. The drill was to engage the target with two shots to the 5.9-by-11-inch rectangular A-zone at center mass, and then a third shot to the upper A-zone. The upper A-zone measured about 4-by-2 inches and represented the cranial pocket of this roughly humanoid silhouette. After ten runs we looked for 20 hits to the "chest" and ten to the head. Start position was holding the pistol in both hands at roughly the position one would clap their hands. We kept track of elapsed time by using a shot-activated timer and took note of our accuracy. Our operator began by dry-firing the exercise at the command of the audible start signal. Once the operator was able to completely visualize the run, at the sound of the timer the shooter was ready for live fire. But keep in mind that each gun was afforded one try and one try only at our action test. We almost broke this promise when it came time to test the CZ pistol. It was the last gun to be field tested and we suddenly realized that we had not yet fired the pistol beginning with a double-action first shot. We even went so far as to write in a warmup round on our score card. Then we decided to take the challenge and report how we shot the CZ from first-shot double action under pressure without additional practice.
Glock G19 9mm, $646
We can remember when the Glock pistols were shipped in a kind of Tupperware box. The model lineup was short, but one of the first variations in size was the Model 19. Today, Glock pistols arrive in handsome and distinctively styled hard-side cases. There are as many as six different models chambered for 9mm, including the G18 and G18C select-fire machine pistols. Glock’s www.teamglock.com website boasts of the G19, "The compact version of the G17, this is the preferred pistol of NYPD’s 40,000 officers and the standard weapon of the United Nations Security personnel." Designed and built in Austria, but assembled and tested at the Glock facility about 25 miles from Atlanta, specifications of the G19 list more easily in metric. For example, the 102mm barrel was 4.02 inches long. Height was an even 5.0 inches, but width is listed as 1.18 inches, and the G19 measures 6.85 inches, or 174mm long. The frame included an accessory rail along the dust cover, but the tip of the gun was noticeably tapered, so the rail was integrated without adding bulk. The frame was constructed of polymer.
The appeal of the G19, in our view, was its simplicity and the directness in which the design takes on the smaller chores that make up the operation and maintenance of a handgun. Takedown begins with removing the magazine and clearing the chamber. If the trigger is cocked, it must be pulled to release tension. The slide was retracted about one-quarter inch. There was an audible click and a sense of disengagement. Two sliding levers located on each side of the frame just above the trigger were pulled downward. We then released the slide against the tension of the recoil spring and continued moving it forward off the frame. Actually, we found the slide was eager to leave the frame, so we had to be careful to catch it. One aspect of the Glock that is unique and somewhat fascinating is reassembly. You just slide the top end on to the frame and it clicks into place.
Lubrication as recommended by the owner’s manual was sparse. Surfaces such as the outside of the barrel, barrel hood, and inside the top of the slide were to be lubricated by passing over them with an oiled patch of cloth. The slide rails themselves required only a single drop of oil spread over each slide rail cut. We’ve heard of people oiling the firing pin channel, but this is expressly prohibited on page 38 of the multilingual manual. Only one component of the action assembly is to be oiled. That was the point at which the rearward end of the trigger bar touches the connector at the right rear corner of the frame. We should note that Glock pistols are commonly referred to as being striker fired. Indeed, both our Ruger and Springfield Armory pistols use this terminology in their owner’s manuals. But the parts list inside the Glock manual lists a firing pin, and we could find no reference in the manual or on the manufacturers’ website to a striker.
Holding the Glock 19 in your strong hand immediately makes you aware of a rakish angle to the grip and the sense of palm swell jutting into your hand. From here the pad of the index finger compresses the firing pin safety located on the face of the trigger. The square profile of the slide was topped with a rear sight blade that was tapered on each side, bringing the eye to the rear notch that was surrounded by a bold white "U" shaped outline. The front sight shows a single white dot.
The trigger was simple and repeatable, with a consistent 5.5 pounds of resistance for each shot. In our action test we concentrated on moving the trigger quickly and evenly. But it was at the bench where we utilized a slow, controlled press. It is in this mode that any grit or creep will come to light, but we found no such imperfection.
Our best accuracy was achieved when firing the Remington UMC 115-grain JHP rounds and the Federal American Eagle 124-grain FMJ ammunition. Each round produced an Average Group Radius (AGR) between 0.75 inches and 0.79 inches. The Black Hills 115-grain FMJ rounds were not far behind with an AGR of 0.85 inches. The remanufactured Black Hills 124-grain rounds were not as accurate but still more than acceptable at 1.27 inches. We think the most important conclusion we could draw from this data is that the Glock 19 was versatile and did not necessarily favor one weight bullet over another.
In our action tests, our first run lasted 2.09 seconds. The fastest of our ten runs clocked 1.84 seconds, and the first six consecutive runs printed shots perfectly inside the lower and upper A-zones. We ended with four shots outside the lower A-zone and two shots outside the upper A-zone. Average elapsed time was 1.99 seconds. We found that the quality of our follow up shots was closely linked to how smoothly we let the trigger reset. In terms of speed, almost anyone can move his trigger finger faster than he can pick up the sights. We probably would have been able to shoot faster and more accurately if the G19 was fit with higher definition sights. But may we suggest that taller sights would probably be less impact resistant and more prone to dragging out of a holster. When we talk about scoring zones, we’re referring to a theoretical game. In harsh reality, every one of our hits were effectively placed to provide a stopping blow.
Our Team Said: We think the G19, with its trim, fast handling, may be the most versatile Glock of all. The 19 dared us to shoot faster, but adding higher-visibility sights would be the ticket to better accuracy at speed. In this matchup, where each gun is worth buying, we’d pick the Glock first if ease of maintenance is high on your list of wants.
Springfield Armory XDM 3.8
XDM9389BHC 9mm, $697
Our 9mm XDM 3.8 pistol arrived in a formidable black synthetic attaché case measuring about 16 inches wide by 12 inches tall, with a long handle that rotated flat between the high-quality locking points. Inside was the pistol and two 19-round stainless-steel magazines. There were also two backstraps, a paddle holster and a dual magazine pouch. Each item had its own cut-out in the heavy foam interior. Additional areas were precut for storage of other accessories, such as a weapon light. The edges of the magazine pouch—and the edges of the attaché itself— were finished with a Picatinny rail. A slick operator could use these rails to hold a light temporarily or for illumination of a work area.
The XDM pistols do not replace the original XD series. The XDM pistols are an American-style update of the XD. Before being imported and marketed by Springfield Armory, the XD was the primary sidearm of Croatian law enforcement. After the Glock pistol showed everyone what a success the polymer pistol could be in America, nearly every pistol company tried to develop and manufacture its own polymer pistol. Springfield Armory simply bought into a proven product and developed new models varying in frame size and caliber for the stateside market. The XDM series is the next generation based on a few thoughtful improvements.
These include a streamlined low-mount rear sight with the rear face flush to the back of the slide for maximum sight radius. The front sight has a new profile, too. When you line up the rear sight of the XDM with the blade on the XD Four-inch Service Model, rear edge to rear edge, the shorter-barreled XDM 3.8 actually has about the same sight radius. That’s because the rear sight on the XD pistol is inboard about 0.30 inches. The grip of the XDM was flatter on the sides and longer, too. This resulted in greater capacity by three rounds.
The XDM 3.8 features three sizes of interchangeable back straps (small, medium, and large). The medium should suffice for nearly all shooters, in our view. A more subtle change was the relief sculpted into the top of the grip. Here the thumb dish (on both sides) was slanted downward, pre-staging the thumb toward the ambidextrous magazine release. The grip texture was, according to our staff, much improved.
The slide-release and takedown levers have been streamlined and so has the profile of the slide. More stylish and effective cocking serrations have been added, and the accessory rail now offers three cross hatches instead of two. The most noticeable change internally resulted in the operator no longer needing to press the trigger to remove the slide from the frame.
Two-tenths of an inch doesn’t seem like much, but combined with the increased leverage of the longer grip, we think the XDM 3.8 offers greater shooter control. We also liked the tactile sensation of the grip and index to the trigger. From the bench we were able to print an AGR of less than one inch with each choice of ammunition. We think this was because the XDM grip helped us with our follow through. At 0.75 inches, the Black Hills 124-grain FMJ rounds shot the tightest AGR. But thanks to a greater variation between largest and smallest groups, the shots were spread the most haphazardly across the target (mean shot radius was computed to be 3.14 inches). The 124-grain American Eagle rounds finished second with an AGR of 0.82 inches, but we were able to achieve greater consistency with this round, as illustrated by the least difference in size between smallest and largest group radius (maximum spread). The total area covered by all ten hits on target (maximum shot radius) was also the tightest as well.
It was in our action test that we found more evidence of a higher level of control and consistence performance offered by the XDM 3.8. Although not the fastest of our test pistols over the course of ten runs (average elapsed time was about 1.99 seconds), we were able to shoot a perfect score on target. That means that all shots were inside the A-zones top and bottom. Third shots were not merely in the head area but inside the tight 4X2-inch head area. With this kind of consistent accuracy, we don’t think it would take much practice to deliver effective hits in a much shorter period of time.
Our Team Said: It’s not always easy to make a gun look better and perform better, but we think Springfield Armory has managed to take an efficient European-style gun and make it more American in both form and function. In this tightly contested matchup, where each gun is worth buying, we’d pick the XDM first if ambidextrous controls and superior action accuracy were our most important buying factors.
Ruger SR9C KSR9C/3313 9mm, $525
We tested Ruger’s SR9 pistol in our December 2007 issue. The SR9 fit 17 rounds of 9mm into a frame that was narrow enough to belong to a 1911-style pistol. The SR9 should have been a breakthrough pistol, but was overshadowed by the wave of enthusiasm for Ruger’s 380 ACP LCP, which came out about the same time. Sales were also slowed by a recall some time later.
We liked the SR9 overall, but felt the gun was hampered by a balky trigger. The first time we handled the SR9C, we pulled back the slide to make sure it was empty, reset the slide and pulled the trigger. We were impressed and immediately called Ruger to find out if we could retrofit our original SR9 with the same trigger. No dice, they said. The SR9C has a completely different trigger group.
The SR9C fires from a 3.5-inch barrel. That makes it the smallest, most concealable, pistol in our test. But if you remove the 10-round magazine and insert the 17-rounder, the grip will become longer by about 1 inch. The short magazine was shipped with a flat basepad for a flush-to-frame fit. But an alternate base pad was included in the package that added a finger groove, which should accommodate the pinky of most shooters. The long magazine was fit with a collar to lengthen the grip. Fit was nearly seamless, and we shot the SR9C with this combination in place most of the time. The collar was removable, so it could be transferred to other magazines when needed. Not being fixed to the magazine, we worried that it would move around beneath our grip, but the connection was stable and solid.
Several experts felt the rough trigger on the original SR9 was caused by interaction with the magazine disconnect feature. But the SR9C will not fire without the magazine in place either. Yet the SR9C trigger was well above average, in our view. The face of the trigger carried a safety much like the Glock and Springfield Armory pistols. But unlike the long arc of most hinged triggers, the SR9C trigger offered a short travel of firm takeup followed by a break point that was easily overcome. We measured trigger resistance to be about 5.5 pounds, but it felt like less. We think that is because the thin narrow grip helped us get a lot more leverage on the trigger than was applied by the hook on our Chatillon trigger scale. As we pressed the trigger, we could see the striker indicator move rearward through the relief in the slide as it readied to strike.
The Ruger SR9C pistol frame was constructed of glass-filled nylon. There was a small but usable accessory rail along the dust cover. The SR9C pistols are available with a blackened alloy steel slide or a stainless steel brushed slide. Cocking serrations were front and rear. The sights were low mounted and snag resistant. The rear unit was adjustable for elevation via a screw on its topmost surface. Immediately forward of the elevation screw was an Allen type windage lock screw. Once loosened, the entire unit could be impact drifted left or right.
Ambidextrous thumb safeties were positioned on the frame where the beavertail reached over the web of the shooter’s hand. We had an easier time turning the safety on and off than we did on the original SR9. Some shooters may choose to ignore the thumb safeties, but our recommendation is to integrate them fully into your manual of arms. Our desire was to be able to raise the levers for on-safe and keep our thumb beneath them to maintain a safe condition. To raise the safety, our staff utilized the bulge of the first knuckle at the inside of our strong hand thumb. In our attempts to lower the safety, we found that this design does not permit a sweep or a rotational movement, such as when deactivating the thumb safety on a 1911-style pistol. Instead, we learned to bend the thumb so that it was parallel with the bore and pressed directly downward. Having to bend the thumb did tend to open our grip, but we were able to recover quickly, closing the hand to full contact against the back strap.
The slide release was small but easily accessed. Takedown of the SR9C called for first locking back the slide. Looking down through the ejection port we could see the ejector protruding above the empty magazine well. The manual instructs the operator to push down on the ejector with a pencil. It will move easily enough so that you do not need additional leverage, but we surmised that Ruger doesn’t want anyone accidentally closing the slide on their fingers. But we think this was a non-issue. Once the ejector is down, the slide stop can be pushed out of the frame from right to left. After lowering the slide-release lever, no further manipulation was required to remove the top end.
From the bench we had some very good results. Our 115-grain rounds from Black Hills and Remington supplied an AGR of less than 0.90 inches. Consistency was excellent, showing that we were shooting 10-shot groups that measured about 2.25 inches across on average. The 124-grain rounds lagged slightly, but the SR9C did prefer the American Eagle rounds over the Black Hills 124-grain remanufactured ammunition. Shooting the Ruger’s least favorite round in our action tests nevertheless resulted in very good performance. Hits in the lower A-zone showed a circular group of eight shots measuring about four inches in diameter. One shot was higher but still in the A-zone and another was left of the A-zone by about one-half inch. The upper A-zone showed seven hits in the cranial pocket with three more on the center line but one high and two low of the 4x2 inch border. Our first run took 2.11 seconds, but eight of our runs overall were clocked at less than 2 seconds. Average time was 1.92 seconds. Our fastest perfect runs lasted 1.77 seconds and 1.79 seconds, respectively. Our Team Said: In this hard-fought matchup, where each gun is worth buying, we’d pick the SR9C first if any of these factors are the major determining issue in your buying decision: a very good trigger, smaller size than the others, ambidextrous thumb safeties, flexibility in terms of grip size and capacity (10+1 or 17+1), slim profile, or low price.
CZ USA 75D PCR Compact No. 91194 9mm, $651
The CZ 75D PCR Compact was the only metal-framed pistol in our tests. Based on the CZ 75 but with an alloy frame and decocker, it may also be the design that has been in production the longest. The frame was aluminum alloy with diamond textured rubber grips. The backstrap offered a graceful palm swell, and the web of the shooter’s hand sat comfortably recessed below a beavertail. The CZ’s frame rails reach up and over the slide rails.
The left-side magazine release was slightly oversized. The polished trigger was the only break in the shadow of its black polycoat finish. The dustcover was streamlined rather than railed, and there was a small lanyard loop at the base of the grip. The front sight was held in place by a roll pin, and the rear sight was a new snag-free unit dovetailed into place. It was windage adjustable only via drift, but we found the sights to be dead on. The slide stop/takedown pin and the decocker were located on the left side of the frame. Takedown required that the slide be moved rearward about 0.20 inches so that guidelines in the frame and slide were touching. The slide-stop pin was to be pushed out from right to left, and the slide removed from the frame.
The CZ 75D PCR Compact was meant to be fired either one of two ways. After racking the slide to fill the chamber, shots can be fired single-action only. To fire the first shot double action, pressing the decocker delivered the hammer to a point about one-third the way to its most rearward position. We tried manually decocking our 75D PCR Compact, but the rest point was the same. When we tried manually decocking a CZ model 75 that does not have a decocker, the hammer ended up further forward. So, one advantage of the decocker model was that the double-action trigger press was shorter and the change to single action didn’t seem as drastic. The decocker was not a mechanical safety capable of essentially turning the gun off. But a decocker does make the pistol almost impervious to accidental discharge by unintentional contact with the trigger.
The magazine well of the CZ pistol was generously beveled, and magazines loaded noticeably easier into the CZ than our other pistols. Two 14-round magazines were supplied with viewing holes at 5, 10, and maximum capacity. But the holes were on the left side of the magazine, and right-handed shooters holding the mag in the left hand for loading will have to turn the magazine around and check, if they’re not counting. The magazines of the Ruger pistol offered viewing on both sides. The Glock and XDM pistol magazines show round count from the rear.
Our bench session was also our single-action-only session. What we discovered about this 3.5-pound single-action trigger was that there was a lot of creep and grit, so we did not expect too much from the CZ. But maybe we worked a little harder than usual and made sure we did everything possible to overcome the trigger. We felt that the CZ was more prone to muzzle flip than our other pistols, so we made sure not to over control the pistol upon recoil. Perhaps this was the key as our CZ showed that it was capable of superior accuracy. In fact, the round that kicked the most produced the smallest Average Group Radius of our tests, just 0.68 inches. These rounds were the Black Hills 124-grain remanufactured FMJ rounds. The largest single radii measured only 1.01 inches.
We entered our action test not having spent any time at all practicing with first shot double action. Perhaps we would have been justified taking some practice runs. But when we heard ourselves saying we’d make an exception for the CZ it just didn’t sound right. Call it ego but the challenge of this pass/fail situation began to appeal to us. Our first run was admittedly shot with caution. Elapsed time was 2.74 seconds, but we liked what we felt. More comfortable, our second run was 2.10 seconds long. Then 2.04, 1.85…. Our last run produced perfect placement of our shots in an overall fastest time of just 1.72 seconds. When we were done. we saw all shots inside the lower A-zone. Strung a little bit high and low they primarily filled the center. The upper A-zone showed only three hits inside the lines, but the head area was covered by about a 4-inch circle of hits.
Our Team Said: In this contest of evenly matched guns, we’d pick the CZ first if we wanted an aluminum frame, great accuracy with an economical round (Black Hills remanufactured 124-grain FMJ ammunition), or single-action operation.
We realize that if you’re in the market for a small 9mm, picking from among the four good options in this test is not an easy task—our team struggled with choosing one over another, and, ultimately, we couldn’t pick a winner. Complicating that decision are the five Grade A to A- guns listed in the Value Guide below. The upside is that you can certainly find the right mixture of features and price points to make your next 9mm the gun you really want.