July 2013

Three More Midsize Forties: SIG, FNH-USA, and Walther

This trio had a tough hill to climb: The Gen4 Glock 23 is a recent Grade A gun, so why would we recommend any others?

To expand the coverage of 40 S&W semi-automatics we have tested recently, our test team recently looked at three midsize pistols we thought would be worthy challengers to the Glock 23 Gen4 40 S&W, $650, evaluated in the May 2013 issue. In that test, our team gave the G23G4 an A grade, effectively setting a standard for other pistols in this category to try to reach. So we threw an array of other pistols at it, going from a budget discontinued model (the FNH-USA FNP-40 No. 47832, $450), to a longtime competitor (SIG Sauer’s SP2022 No. E2022-40-B, $570), to a model introduced in 2011, about a year after the Gen4 was released (Walther PPQ No. 2776481, $680.)

40 s and w polymer pistols

From left are our most recent lineup of 40 S&W self-defense handguns: SIG Sauer’s SP2022 No. E2022-40-B, the FNH-USA FNP-40 No. 47832, and Walther’s newish PPQ No. 2776481. Supporting them are boxes of our 40 S&W test ammos, Winchester USA White Box 165-grain FMJ USA40SWVP, Hornady Steel Match 180-grain HAP 91362 hollowpoints, and Speer Gold Dot hollowpoints in 180-grain weights. Two of the rounds came from Cheaper Than Dirt! but were out of stock recently, and the third was from Alamo Ammo, which has had the white box Winchester in stock recently.

The latest three polymer test pistols have similar stats for size and weight, but fit, feel, function, and design varied greatly, with the last consideration playing more of a role than we initially expected. To recap why we graded the Glock so highly two months ago, we noted that the different back-strap contours allow the owner to easily find the best fit for his or her hands. The grips allowed good control. The Glock had a minimum of controls, rivaled in this test only by the PPQ, which had a trigger safety like the Glock and just ambi slide releases beyond that. The Glock’s magazine release was reversible, a feature duplicated on the FN and SIG guns, and possibly topped by the two trigger guard mag-release levers on the PPQ. The Glock sights had a wide, square, U around the rear notch and a white dot on the front, while the newest guns all had three-white-dot sight arrays.

Dimensionally, the guns were close in size. In overall length, the numbers were 7.2 inches for the Glock, 7.4 inches for the SIG, 7.25 inches for the PPQ, and 7.4 inches for the FN. Overall heights (measured from the top of the sights to the bottom of the magazine or magazine extension) were Glock 5.0 inches, FN and PPQ (5.4 inches), and SP 5.5 inches. The barrels were all right at 4.0 inches (Glock, Walther, FN), or nearly so, 3.9 inches for the SIG. Loaded weights were 32.1 ounces for the 13+1 Glock, 33.6 ounces for the 12+1 Walther, 37.0 ounces for the 12+1 SIG, and 37.2 ounces for the FN, which partially reflects its larger capacity of 14+1. Functionally, during our shooting, we had perfect reliability from all the pistols.

Elsewhere, the Glock had a tactile loaded-chamber indicator in the form of a slight step on the extractor that could be easily felt with the (right-hand) trigger finger, with a similar feature duplicated on the PPQ and FN. On top of the G23, the slide was smooth enough not to cut the hands during clearance drills, and the new guns were likewise dehorned, except for their sharp sights. Takedown was simple, and likewise easy on the FN and SIG, but much more complicated on the PPQ. Workmanship inside all three guns was excellent, just as it was on the outside. Thus, these midsize guns were more than a match physically for the Glock, but would they bring positive individual differences to the fray and overcome the Austrian? We find out below.

FNH-USA FNP-40 40 S&W No. 47832, $450

FNH-USA is the sales and marketing arm of FN Herstal, S. A., Belgium, which makes and sells defense, law enforcement, and commercial firearms worldwide. The FNP-40 was discontinued in 2009 in favor of the FNX, which has ambidextrous controls (safety-decocking lever, slide stop, magazine release), an M1913 Picatinny rail, and a different magazine that is not interchangeable with the FNP because the magazine latch cuts are different. Also, the FNX has an interchangeable backstrap system with three increasing size inserts, whereas the FNP came with interchangeable arched and flat backstrap grip adapters. We bought our LNIB FNP-40 for what we considered to be a good price, if the pistol performed well.

The FNP-40’s high-capacity polymer frame had a beveled magazine well. Other features included an ambidextrous manual decocking lever; reversible magazine release; hammer fired double-action/single action (DA/SA) mechanism; a firing pin safety, and optional magazine disconnect. The stainless-steel side had a matte-black industrial tool coating.

Elsewhere, we noted checkering on the frontstrap, backstrap, and trigger guard front. An integrated rail system under the muzzle accepted tactical lights or lasers. The sights were dovetailed into the slide front and rear. The FNP-40 came with three high-capacity stainless-steel magazines and a hard storage case. Missing from our package was the factory-supplied lock.

The FNP measured 7.4 inches in length with a sight radius of 6.0 inches. The frontstrap measured 2.3 inches in length, with the backstrap going 3.3 inches. The maximum grip circumference was either 5.5 or 5.75 inches, depending on which backstrap panel was in place.

From the bench, the FNP-40 printed its best five-shot groups (2.6 inches) with the Winchester USA White Box 165-grain FMJs, followed by Hornady Steel Match 180-grain hollowpoints (3.3 inches) and Speer Gold Dot 180-grain Gold Dot hollowpoints (3.8 inches). The Glock shot better overall in its test.

In more detail, we liked, but didn’t like, the trigger. The initial trigger pull weight in double action was 9.6 pounds, and the double-action pull had three phases. The heaviest take-up phase included the hammer moving back, then the pull stacked before the gun fired, then there was a spongy let off. During the pull, the shape of the trigger tended to let the finger slide down to the bottom, where it nearly pinched the trigger finger against the inside of the guard. In single action, the 4.1-pound pull and the accompanying 2.75-inch trigger span (versus 3 inches for the DA pull) didn’t cause these problems. The outer surface of the hammer was grooved, making it easy to thumb back for first-shot single action.

The 14-round magazines with polished stainless steel bodies didn’t drop free like the SIG, Glock, and PPQ mags did. The release button was finicky, allowing the magazines to release — but not clear the frame — when the button was pushed on the frame side or bottom of the button. But push the front edge of the release, and the magazines popped right out. Also, the shiny stainless magazines were harder to load as they got full. Up to 10 rounds, no problem. But loading between 10 and 12 rounds required more effort, and loading 13 and 14 was difficult, and almost not worth it. Still, we experienced no failures to fire, feed, or eject.

The two decocker levers were in reach of the thumbs, but for those accustomed to shooting with the strong-hand thumb against the side of the frame or atop a safety lever, they had to be careful not to touch the decocker. Once we learned to keep the strong-hand thumb away from the side of the pistol, decocking the FNP-40 unintentionally was not a problem.

Our Team Said: The FNP-40 is the predecessor to the now popular FNX and FNS lines, but it has a different fit and feel and remains a popular choice and is widely available. We liked the ease of field stripping the FNP, making for easy cleaning after a day at the range. Simply locking the slide back, flipping the take-down lever, then slowly releasing the slide forward off the frame was all it took to separate the slide and frame. The FNP does have an accessory rail for lights or lasers, but it only has one notch, which could limit what can be attached. We liked the ergonomics of the FN the most behind the Glock, and with the two backstraps, all of our testers could easily reach the slide release, decocking lever, and magazine release with one hand. The three dot sights performed well, and despite the texture on the grip being the smoothest of the three, we had no problems maintaining a strong grip.

SIG Sauer SP2022 40 S&W No. E2022-40-BSS, $715

SIG Sauer has been making the SP2022 for more a decade now, and in that span, it has become a popular choice among shooters. SIG Sauer fans will note many similarities to the P226 and there are plenty, with the biggest differences being the polymer frame and the $300 difference in price. The word “Pro” used to be included as part of the gun’s name, but the prefix “SP” is there now to remind us of the family name. The frame of our SP2022 read “Exeter, NH”, denoted that this pistol is built in the U.S. rather than Germany. At the outset, the SP fell short on accessories, arriving in a cardboard box with one magazine, a lock, and two grips.

Besides its polymer frame, the SP2022 differs from SIG’s “P” series of handguns in a number of other ways. The rear portion of the grip that covers the hammer spring could be adjusted with two grip sleeves of different diameters and profiles. We used a screwdriver to depress the spring-loaded insert that held the sleeves in place, and we noted positively that there were no small parts or roll pins to lose. Our testers liked the feel of the SIG, especially the grip texture, but we couldn’t notice a measurable change between the two grips.

The Picatinny accessory rail on the underlug allows you to attach whatever accessories you deem necessary, such as a lightweight Streamlight TLR-3 weapon light. The magazine release was triangular instead of round, and we found it released mags smartly, much better than the FN and on par with the Glock and Walther. The decocker was placed under the slide release lever, and was fairly easy to manipulate with the strong-hand thumb — but not quite as easy to reach and operate as the FNP-40’s, and, of course, the Glock and Walther lacked one.

The trigger was double/single-action. The DA trigger pull weight was 10 pounds, substantially more than the Glock’s 6.4-pound pull, but about the same as the FN (9.6 pounds DA). We didn’t think this gun acquitted itself well when fired double action. For us, there was too much difference between the long double-action pull and the fine single-action trigger. We really liked shooting this gun single action, just as we did on previous tests of the SIGPro model going back to August 1999. But the PPQ’s SAO mode was only 5.0 pounds, which gave it an edge over the others on first-shot pull (see below for a cautionary statement about this, however), and the PPQ compared favorably with the FN (4.1 pounds) and the SP (5.6 pounds) for follow-up single-action fire. If you prefer, the SP2022 can easily be converted from a Double-Action/Single-Action to a Double-Action Only configuration through a unique integral fire-control unit.

From the bench, the SP2022 printed its best five-shot groups (2.3 inches) with the Speer Gold Dots, the best of the current trio, but behind the Glock’s best with American Eagle 180-grain FMJs (1.6 inches). Hornady (3.0 inches) and Winchester (3.3 inches) weren’t bad.

For disassembly, the slide must be moved substantially to the rear and held manually instead of locked back by the slide-catch lever. We needed at tool to push out the tight-fitting slide-catch lever from right to left. With the top end removed, we saw that the locking insert was cavernous to accommodate the barrel locking lug that traps the crosspin of the slide-catch lever.

Our Team Said: The SP2022 performed well at the range, functioning well with easy use and accuracy. We liked the SIG and had no problems with function, but our shooters had reservations about the grip plates being so similar and only one magazine. The consensus was that with improved double action, or better yet a full-time single-action trigger, the SP2022 would be a home run. Already the most expensive gun in the test, perhaps the biggest strike against the SP2022 was its not having a protective case like the others, which means we would have to buy a range bag or case for it. The oversight is worth a half-grade ding.

Walther PPQ No. 2776481 40 S&W, $680

Walther’s Police Pistol Quick-Defense, or PPQ, has already gone through enough changes to make this particular version obsolete and now replaced with the M2 model. One the one hand, we applaud Walther for upgrading the pistol ASAP, but on the other hand, such quick turnover makes us look even more closely at this earlier model that is still in wide supply. Our PPQ came with two 12-round Mec-Gar magazines, a loader, and a hard plastic case. We liked the assembly and finish on the Mec-Gars a lot, including several witness holes for 5-, 8-, 10-, and 12-round capacities.

Visually, some of team said the PPQ resembles the single-stack P22 pistol, except the slide is much taller on the PPQ. As noted above, it is about the same size as the Glock in most external measurements. In 40 S&W, the PPQ comes in one round smaller than the Glock 23 and two round smaller than the FN, and like the others has a Picatinny rail. Unlike the others, the PPQ has both front and rear slide serrations.

Like the others, it has a full-size grip with removable backstraps. The grip has a cross-directional texture that actually feels good — not the raspy wood-file grip of the Gen4 Glocks. Still, the molded grip was a point of contention among our testers, with some preferring the formed grip and some saying their hands just didn’t match up. Walther does offer three different backstrap plates. It’s hard for us to imagine anyone preferring the small backstrap, because for our shooters, the medium and large straps fill the palm better. However, the large strap makes the trigger span too long for some shooters.

Initially, the Walther PPQ had what seemed to us to be an excellent two-stage trigger — perhaps the only time we’ve encountered this design in a pistol. The first stage accounted for about 3 pounds of pressure on the safety lever/trigger shoe and four-tenths of an inch of travel before breaking. Adding another 2 pounds of pressure to the trigger broke the second stage and made the pistol fire. This was much lighter than all the others for the first shot. After the first round is fired, it doesn’t take much movement to reset the striker-fired action.

However, the owner’s manual specifically warns against “staging” the trigger in the way we describe, saying such a movement violates a basic safety tenet of keeping your trigger finger out of the trigger guard until “you have made the commitment to fire.” Language from the manual reads: “It has come to our attention that some users of Walther handguns may stage the trigger in anticipation of firing a shot. Staging is the act of pulling the trigger rearward toward – stopping just short of – the point where the handgun fires. Such manipulation of the trigger can reduce the user’s control of the handgun and can result in an unintentional discharge. Furthermore, if the user decides not to fire, release of the trigger from a position close to the firing point in the staging process could result in an unintentional discharge.” We suppose that staging a double-action revolver trigger is dangerous as well. Pity. Frankly, we found it difficult not to stage the trigger.

The Walther is the most ambidextrous of this quartet, with a slide release and magazine release on each side. The magazine release was another area our testers differed on. The horizontal magazine lever across the bottom of the trigger guard pulls down to release the magazine. Some of our testers said that with a little practice to get used to the lever position, they could change magazines faster. Other testers said that the lever was impeded by their grip and would not fully release the magazine.

From the bench, the PPQ shot best (3.0 inches) with the Hornady Steel Match, followed by Speer Gold Dot  hollowpoints (3.3 inches) and the Winchester 165-grain FMJs (3.5 inches). Our testers said the PPQ showed more muzzle flip due to its high bore axis and the weight of the slide in respect to the frame. We thought the PPQ had an edge in sights with a fixed front, windage-adjustable rear setup. We did notice the PPQ’s sights have small dots compared to those on the other guns, and big light bars between the rear and front-sight posts. All in, we think the Glock’s arrangement is faster than the three-dot setups on the latest trio, but your mileage may vary.

The PPQ is not equipped with a magazine disconnect feature. The pistol will fire if the gun is loaded and the magazine is removed from the pistol. To break it down, after double-checking that the gun is empty and the magazine is out, and with the barrel still pointing in a safe direction, grasp the serrated sides of the slide from the rear with the thumb and fingers and draw the slide fully rearward. Press upward on the slide stop lever while letting the slide move slightly forward, thereby locking the slide open. Verify again that no ammunition remains in the pistol. Close the slide, and pull the slide slightly to the rear. Slowly release the slide, allowing it to return to forward position. Point the pistol in a safe direction. Squeeze the trigger fully to the rear. Grip the takedown catch from above on both sides and press downward. Move the slide forward, and remove it from the frame. Remove the recoil guide-rod assembly from below the barrel while taking up the spring pressure. Remove the barrel from the slide.

Our Team Said: There’s a lot to like about this model of Walther PPQ, and some downsides that balance the good. On the plus side, it was reliable, accurate, and comfortable to shoot — mostly on par with the best in this three-way match-up and not out of range of the Glock 23 Gen4. But the trigger warning is a big problem. That puts us in a bad spot, where one of the potential strengths of the gun is specifically nixed by the manufacturer. So, that the PPQ’s trigger can be operated as a two-stage design has to be counted against the gun rather than for it. Also, field-stripping the PPQ hurt the gun’s overall grade. The process itself is more complicated than on the other guns, and we are exceedingly against having to pull the trigger to take down the pistol. Overall, we feel that the Walther PPQ is a good firearm, but our team was split on how to assess most of its features, thus the best we can do is give it an average grade.

Written and photographed by Austin Miller, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.

ACCURACY AND CHRONOGRAPH DATA

FNH-USA FNP-40 S&W No. 47832,

SIG Sauer SP2022 No. E2022-40-B 40 S&W

Walther PPQ No. 2776481 40S&W