August 2011

45 ACP Carbine Showdown: Is Kriss Vector a Hit, or a Miss?

We pit the Swiss-designed favorite of TV gun shows against the plebian Hi-Point and the highly regarded Heckler & Koch rifle. Our testers liked the Super Vector, but they cringe at the price.

The operational concept of carrying a carbine that shoots the same round as your handgun makes a lot of sense. It streamlines ammo choices and reduces complexity in the middle of a fight, which is always a positive. The downside, however, is that handgun ammo shot from a rifle is still handgun ammo, and though the longer rifle barrel generally produces more fps at the muzzle for a given round, the operator still gives up rifle-cartridge velocities.

For example, in this test of the Kriss Super V Vector CRB/SO Civilian Carbine 45 ACP, HK’s USC 45, and the Hi-Point 4595TSFG, we looked back a couple of issues to see what 45 ACP pistols developed in terms of muzzle velocity and energy. In July, we tested three short-barrel 45s, the Glock Model 36, Colt Defender, and Springfield Micro. Shooting the Black Hills 230-grain FMJ, a round similar to our test ammos in this test, we saw average velocities run 780 fps, 756 fps, and 769 fps for the Glock, Colt, and Springfield, respectively. That corresponded to muzzle energy calculations of 310 ft.-lbs. for the Glock, 291 ft.-lbs. for the Colt, and 301 ft.-lbs. for the Micro.

The Kriss CRB/SO Basic Kit we tested is the civilian semiauto model, which has a folding stock, custom flip-up/lock-down sights, and two Glock 21 mags, which can be extended to 30-rounders as shown.

 

In three full-size guns tested in February 2011, we shot Cor-Bon Performance Match 230-grain ammo through a Colt Gold Cup, Kimber Eclipse, and Springfield Loaded Target. In the same order, those guns produced average velocities of 820 fps, 829 fps, and 811 fps and muzzle energies of 344 ft.-lbs., 350 ft.-lbs., and 335 ft.-lbs.

To ensure we got head-to-head readings, we looked back to the February 2010 issue and found another test of full-size 45s using Monarch 230-grain MC ammo. In that test, an STI Sentinel Premier’s readings were 785 fps/315 ft.-lbs., with a Springfield TRP at 780 fps/311 ft.-lbs., and a Smith & Wesson MSW1911 getting an average velocity of 779 fps and muzzle energy of 310 ft.-lbs. The slowest ammo in this carbine test was the Monarch 230-grain fodder, with readings in the Hi-Point of 787 fps/316 ft.-lbs.; the HK 846 fps/365 ft.-lbs., and 888 fps/403 ft.-lbs. for the Kriss. Averaged across the three rifles, the Monarch’s velocity would be 840 fps, or 59 fps (7%) higher than in the 5-inch pistols.

That doesn’t seem like a lot, and in reality it’s probably not. But rifles add the ability to carry lights and lasers, compliance items such as toothy flash suppressors, and a lot more. But which of our test guns should be the one you want to sling up and get mobile with? Here’s what we found:

Kriss Super V Vector CRB/SO

KCRBS0803801 45 ACP, $1895

Kriss USA is incorporated and located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and is part of the Gamma Applied Visions Group SA, a Swiss-based global technology development firm. A Gamma subsidiary, Transformation Defense Industries, Inc. (TDI) rolled out the Kriss Vector CRB/SO (Special Ops) in 2008, following up the fully-automatic SMG sibling announced a year earlier. Kriss is also working on a project to adapt the action to a 50 BMG machine-gun platform, with goals of 90% or more reduction in recoil and 50% reduction in weight versus the M2HB platform.

The Kriss Vector CRB/SO is an ATF-approved, 38-state legal (folding stock), 16-inch barrel semi-auto firearm, sharing the same milspec frame and Super V operating system as the SMG. The Kriss’s redesigned action rethinks the linear operation of current MG design. Any semi- or fully-automatic weapon generates tremendous energy in the form of gas. Because there’s so much excess energy, self-loaders use very heavy mechanisms, making the weapons heavier than they need be, generating a lot of recoil and muzzle climb, and making them more complex and expensive to build and maintain.

The KSVS overcomes the shock-creating effects of the recoil gas by re-directing gas energy down and away from the traditional "straightline" design. The KSVS, in addition to "re-vectoring" the forces of recoil, also reduces muzzle climb by activating a counter-balancing mass that further absorbs shock. Due to its fewer and

Kriss has test-fired several brands of 45 ACP ammunition and certified them as suitable for the gun. One of our test rounds was on the list, Remington’s 230-grain full metal jackets, right. Because we’re contrary, we also shot two “non-approved” low-cost 230-grain ball rounds from Aguila and Monarch.

lighter-weight components, the automatic Kriss is able to fire at extremely high speeds.

Kriss has test-fired several brands of 45 ACP ammunition and certified them as suitable for the gun. Those rounds are the Federal American Eagle 230-grain FMJ; Federal BallistiClean 165-grain Close Quarters Training round, Fiocchi 230-grain FMJ, PNW Arms 230-grain Ranier LeadSafe, Remington 230-grain FMJ, Remington 230-grain Golden Saber HPJ, Speer Lawman 230-grain TMJ, US Government MILSPEC 230-grain FMJ (Olin Corp), and Winchester Ranger 230-grain SXT. Kriss warns against using MagTech and PMC Bronze due to those rounds’ excessive fouling and production variations.

The CRB/SO Basic Kit we tested contains the CRB/SO civilian semiauto model, folding stock, custom flip-up/lock-down sights, two Glock 21 13-round magazines (where legal), custom cleaning kit, grip storage module, vertical foregrip with dry storage, slingpoint attachment bracket and custom cable lock. The CRB/SO TacPac includes all the equipment listed above in the Basic Kit, plus a complete Surefire E1B custom 80 lumen tactical light, Kriss adaptor (required) and momentary switch tailpad, a custom single-point breakaway sling, GripPod bipod foregrip system that extends to a bipod with the push of a button, and an EOTech red-dot holographic 511.A65 sight. The TacPac adds about $900 to the Kriss’s heft price tag.

Elsewhere, the Fire Control switch has a Safe/Fire selector and offers ambidextrous use. There’s also a custom-designed magazine extension kit that will add 17 rounds to the Glock 21 magazine, taking the mag capacity to 30 rounds, and the mags will still fit the Glock 21.

With the stock folded, the gun’s overall length is 25.9 inches; with the stock extended, it measured 35.1 inches. The 16.25-inch barrel had a shroud to protect the shooter’s hand from a hot barrel, and on top, the maximum sight radius was 11.0 inches. With a 30-round magazine inserted, the gun’s overall height was 13.25 inches. Length of pull with the stock extended was 12.5 inches. Maximum thickness with the stock folded was 3.9 inches, a substantial increase above the maximum thickness of just the action, 2.4 inches. Unloaded, but with a magazine inserted, the Kriss tipped the scales at 7.9 pounds. With a loaded 30-round mag, it went 9.4 pounds. There were no handguards. Trigger-pull weight was 6.3 pounds. The Kriss warranty is good for the lifetime of the original owner.

Kriss claims the Vector will shoot consistent 6-inch groups at 150 meters. We only tested with the supplied sights at 50 meters and shot some groups near the company’s claimed 1.4-inch standard for that distance. The Kriss shot the best groups or tied for the best groups with all three test ammos we used. Shooting the Aguila 230-grain ball, the Kriss produced 2.0-inch groups, beating the HK (2.6 inch) and Hi-Point (3.25 inch) handily. With the Remington UMC 230-grain MC cartridge, the Kriss and Hi-Point tied at 1.6 inches for best average group size, with the HK lagging at 2.9 inches. Those two tied again with the Monarch 230-grain total metal jackets, both shooting 1.9-inch groups to the HK’s 3.8-inch average group size. All three rifles were 100% reliable with all three brands of ammunition.

Shooting the gun, our test team said the shrouded barrel gave the appearance of being suppressed, but our model was not. However, the shrouded barrel was not strictly for appearance. We fired 30 rounds as fast as we could pull the trigger, and the shroud barely got warm. The folding bolt handle is located forward on the left side of the rifle. It was a stout pull to get the bolt handle back. The bolt will lock back without a magazine inserted. We liked that Kriss chose the Glock magazine because that brand is available, affordable, and reliable. We had 14- and 30-round magazines, but we could only fit 29 rounds into the larger-capacity magazine.

The skeletonized stock was the only one of the three that could be folded. It was comfortable to shoot, even when folded. The front and rear sights were both of the flip-up design and clamped onto the milspec rail. The rear sight was windage adjustable, with small and large apertures. In order to adjust the elevation, the height of the front post would need to be adjusted by using a required, but not supplied, sight-adjustment tool. We felt that this was a poor design choice or that the tool should have been supplied.

Elsewhere, the front sight post was wider than we like, so we felt the sights were second best to the Hi-Point’s. The trigger was the best of the three tested, our shooters said. The trigger was heavier than we would have liked, but it broke cleanly and reset quickly.

Here is a representative 50-yard result with Aguila ammo shot from the Kriss.

Surprisingly, there are a lot of accessories available for the Kriss, a couple of which interested us. The standard aluminum solid Barrel Shroud Type 01 is $160. There’s a neat looking one, M2 Holes Type 02, that offers a drilled "M2MG" type shroud cover. The MagEx G30+SL kit comes with an Uplula loader/unloader, and if we were getting a Kriss outfitted, we’d strongly consider the $100 extension parts kit and loader. The MagEx G30 Glock 21 Extension Kit by itself is $36, and it converts your existing Glock 21 magazine to 30 rounds with no tools required.

Our Team Said: The Kriss did indeed produce the least felt recoil. We had previously fired a full-auto version at the SHOT Show and noticed the muzzle did not climb. That’s not as big an issue on a semiauto, but it’s a nice performance factor to note nonetheless. Holding a 45 ACP polymer carbine on target as fast as you can pull the trigger is a feat for any gun. In our view, the Kriss delivers what it promises.

Heckler & Koch USC 45 ACP, $1883

Heckler & Koch (pronounced "coke") is a West German firm with domestic corporate offices in Trussville, Alabama, and Columbus, Georgia. With operations in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States, HK is major supplier of small arms to several NATO countries.

Several lookalike guns for HK products exist, but to be sure you’re about to buy the genuine article, look for "Made in West Germany," "Made in W. Germany," or "Made in Germany" on the firearm, as required by German export law. Those markings usually appear on the receiver and magazine as well. Older models may say Sterling, Chantilly or Arlington, VA, or indicate SACO as the importer. Any other product not marked as above is not an official HK product and is not covered by HKI’s warranty. Our particular sample was a real HK, and it was provided by Collector’s Firearms of Houston, www.CollectorsFirearms.com. It came with an optical sight and foregrip, but we removed those and shot all three rifles with just the supplied factory iron sights.

Derived from the HK UMP, the USC is a civilian utility carbine that uses a blowback operating system. The stock is made of the same reinforced polymers as those used on HK’s line of military and police arms. Our testers said the skeletonized buttstock, topped with a comfortable rubber cheekrest and recoil pad, was particularly comfortable to carry and shoot. In particular, the web of the pistol grip accommodated nearly any size of hand, offering a comfortable site to hold the carbine.

Metal quality and finish were topnotch, our testers said. The 16-inch cold-hammer-forged target barrel and the bolt mechanism felt solid, and we noted above that we had no reliability issues with the HK. However, as we also noted above, the HK’s accuracy lagged behind both the Kriss and the Hi-Point, a major disappointment considering the HK’s price. Our team noted the easy adjustment of the rear sight, which made windage and elevation changes simple. We preferred the HK system over the Kriss, but the Hi-Point’s sights were the best of the test, our shooters said.

In their examination and shooting, the team noted hard points located on the top and front of the receiver to attach optional Picatinny rails, allowing almost any kind of sighting system or accessory to be mounted. The ambi safety/selector lever offered smooth operation from either side of the gun, which we appreciated, and the oversized trigger guard allowed easy access for even the thickest-fingered tester, or, more commonly, shooters wearing gloves. The HK came with 10-round magazines, making them a shot better than the Hi-Point but vastly undercounted when compared to the Kriss/Glock stock magazines or extended magazines. We are not aware of any high-capacity aftermarket magazines. The HK lacked the folding stock of the Kriss, measuring 35.4 inches in overall length. LOP was 14.4 inches, and we noted no cast or pitch. The 16.1-inch barrel had an adjustable rear sight with a notch and two flip-up flip/down apertures, and the entire assembly was protected by ears sticking up from the stock. The rear sight was windage and elevation adjustable by using a supplied Allen wrench. The front sight looked like a small pie wedge, but with a truncated point instead of a sharp point. The fixed front-sight post was protected by a circular steel shroud which was set into a molded-in stock stanchion. Sight radius was 12.9 inches.

Overall height with a magazine in place was 9.75 inches, substantially less than the Kriss, but with the capacity shortfall we noted above as well. Maximum thickness across the bolt handle was 1.4 inches, a slimmer profile than both of the other guns. Unloaded but with a mag in place, the HK weighed 6.75 pounds, and with a loaded 10-round magazine, it was only 7.25 pounds. The HK was the lightest of the three tested, but the recoil was very manageable, testers said. The trigger pull weight at 7.6 pounds was heavier than the Kriss but much lighter than the Hi-Point.

Here are three different ways to handle buttstock design. The sturdiest of the trio, and least in terms of mass, is the Hi-Point’s skeletonized unit at top. The polymer ribs were thick and substantial, and it offered a nice cheekweld that our team liked. The rubber buttpad offered good hold in the shoulder pocket. It was ambidextrous, and because the bolt handle could be swapped, the gun could be shot well with either arm. In the middle is the HK’s version of the skeletonized polymer buttstock, which was likewise sturdy-feeling and rigid. The smooth rubber pad felt good on the cheek. At bottom is the Kriss’s folding stock. Pushing in the button at the front of the stock (arrow) allowed the stock to fold to the right of the receiver. It wasn’t as strong as the fixed designs, but was by no means weak.

It reset with a loud click. Our testers said the HK’s heavier pull likely contributed to its diminished accuracy. There was no flash hider. All new Heckler & Koch Inc. firearms purchased after January 1, 1998, are warranted to the original retail purchaser for the lifetime of the original retail purchaser.

Our Team Said: Of course the HK is a superb rifle, but in this match up, it falls in an untenable spot. On a cost basis, it’s on par or roughly the same cost as the Kriss, which we heavily favor over the HK. On a value basis, it’s much more expensive than the rough but ready Hi-Point. Thus, operationally it’s an B+ gun, but in the eyes of our shooters, it’s a C—there’s just not enough bang for the buck.

Hi-Point Carbine w/Front Grip 4595TSFG

45 ACP, $340

Hi-Point of Mansfield, Ohio, makes every part on this carbine in the U.S.A., and produces several versions, all of which cost less than $450 MSRP. Common to all the Hi-Points are standard upper and lower Picatinny rails, all-weather black-molded-polymer skeletonized stocks, internal recoil buffers in the stocks, a last-round lock-open feature for the 9-shot standard magazines, +P pressure ratings, sling, swivels, and scope base, and trigger lock. There’s also a thumb safety and grip-mounted clip release.

The base model with no options (4595TS) runs $330. The 4595TSLAZ with laser retails for $394; the 4595TS4X with 4x scope, $349. The 4595TSRD comes with a red dot scope, $349. The 4595TSFGFL includes a forward grip like our sample and a flashlight, $369; and the most expensive package is the 4595TSFGFL-LAZ, which comes with forward grip, flashlight, and laser, $449.

As with the other tested carbines, the Hi-Points posit an argument that we take with a grain of salt. Would most of us choose the 45 ACP carbine over an extended-capacity shotgun for home defense? Or a 223 Rem. AR? Certainly there is a cost argument to be made that vastly favors the HP over the Kriss and HK samples in the same chambering. And the HP is less expensive than a tactically equipped 870 pumpgun or the like. If it works, that guarantees it at least a share of the self-defense market.

There are other self-defense upsides to the 45 ACP that we’ve yet to mention, but which bear consideration. In rifle form, the round doesn’t kick much, certainly less than a 12-gauge shotgun, and about the same as an AR. They’re easier to shoot than a similarly chambered handgun, and in carbine form, pretty maneuverable. An AR carbine seems to have all the advantages these handgun-round-chambered rifles offer, plus the advantage of more power. But the flip side of the power argument is that rifle rounds are more likely to shoot through your domicile and hit the neighbor’s cat. If you had to use the rifle to defend your castle, hitting the cat is the least of your worries, but it might be someone else.

The HP is as handy as the other tested carbines. Like the HK, it lacks a folding stock, which gives the Kriss a big edge in off-shoulder aiming. The HP measured 33 inches in OAL, 17.5 inches of which was its black powder-coated steel barrel. Sight radius on the top rail was 18.5 inches. LOP was 14.6 inches. Overall height with the provided 9-shot magazine was 7.4 inches. Maximum thickness was on par with the others at 2.5 inches. Unloaded, the gun weighed 7.4 pounds, and with a full complement of cartridges, it went 8.4 pounds.

The trigger was a major negative, breaking heavier than any of our scales would register, but which we call 10+ pounds in the accompanying module. The two-position safety worked as expected. Our testers praised the HP’s sights, a shrouded adjustable front post and adjustable rear ghost ring. Hi-Point warranties the gun for the lifetime of the original owner.

Our Team said: The Hi-Point was the least attractive gun in the test. It felt rough in the hands, even pinching the web of one of our shooter’s hands when the skin got caught between the screw-in bolt and the receiver. It definitely had the worst trigger, but offsetting that were the best sights of the rifles tested. Also, in accuracy testing, it was as accurate as the Kriss with two choices, and outshot the HK with everything. Of course, it was 100 percent reliable. Testers thought the 9-round magazines didn’t hold enough rounds, and the proprietary magazines hit a sticking point in the magwell about halfway in. We had to slap them in, but they always overcame the hang up, and the problem lessened with use. We are not aware of any high-capacity magazines for this rifle either.

Cosmetically, our test team members didn’t like the Hi-Point, but several of our shooters liked the rifle’s feel. The bolt handle looked like a hardware-store bolt that had been anodized, and the rifle will not fit in the cardboard shipping box with the bolt installed. However, if you lose it, you can always go to a local hardware store to replace it.

Overall, we’re not sold on any of these carbines for self-defense use. We think a 5-inch 1911 45 pistol with a 10-round extended magazine will produce very similar short-range results as the carbines with less weight and girth. Yes, the handgun will give up velocity and resulting energy, but accuracy under 10 yards can be similar with the right handgun sighting system.

All in, if we needed a carbine for tactical use, we would buy the Kriss Super V Vector, because of its high-capacity magazines, reduced recoil, and folding stock. However, that’s only if we could afford it. If we wanted a carbine to shoot for fun, we would buy the Hi-Point and try to find a gunsmith who could fix the trigger.

ACCURACY AND CHRONOGRAPH DATA

KRISS SUPER V VECTOR CRB/SO KCRBS0803801 45 ACP

HECKLER & KOCH USC 45 CARBINE 45 ACP

HI-POINT CARBINE W/FRONT GRIP 4595TSFG 45 ACP

GUN TESTS REPORT CARD SUMMARY

GUN TESTS VALUE GUIDE: CARBINES