Gradually, the small self-loading pistol has replaced the snubnose 38 Special revolver as the default carry gun for most Americans. While there are other choices, the slim-line 9mms, such as the Smith & Wesson Shield and Ruger LC9s and others, are the most-popular concealed-carry handguns in America. But despite those pistols’ popularity, companies continue to innovate, seemingly defying conventional engineering by make smaller pistols reliable and easier to shoot, while not losing a lot in round counts.
Ruger, Smith & Wesson, and Taurus have introduced pistols that are not quite slim-line nines but are a tiny bit larger. They are the Ruger MAX-9 No. 3500, Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield Plus 13246, and the Taurus GX4 1-GX4M931.
These new-breed pistols are among the more-innovative handguns we have tested in some time. We don’t think we missed anything in testing these pistols and in the end, there is little reason to choose the slim-line nine over these handguns. They take the small 9mm from single-digit to double-digit capacity. In this matchup we fired, field stripped and carried the three similar pistols and found good performance. All received a solid A or A- ratings. There were no malfunctions. The pistols seem well thought out. But there are differences.
Here’s what we thought of them after extensive handling and range testing.
Gun Tests Grade: A
The Shield Plus was purchased for within a few dollars of the Ruger MAX-9. It isn’t that long ago the standard Shield was on sale at the big-box stores for less than $300, but times are changing.
|Action Type||Locked breech, striker-fired semi-auto|
|Overall Length||6.1 in.|
|Height||4.6 to 5.0 in.|
|Max Width||0.85 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||21.0 oz.|
|Weight Loaded||26.0 oz.|
|Slide Material||Alloy steel|
|Slide Retraction Effort||15.0 lbs.|
|Front Strap Height||1.8 in.|
|Back Strap Height||2.8 in.|
|Grip Thickness Max||1.15 in.|
|Grip Circumference||5.25 in.|
|Magazines||One 10- and one 13-round|
|Rear Sight||Fixed notch|
|Front Sight||Post front|
|Sight Radius||5.25 in.|
|Trigger Pull Weight||4.5 lbs.|
|Trigger Span||2.75 in.|
A quick glance tells you little about the Shield Plus. It looks and feels like any other Shield. However, Smith & Wesson has made major changes in the Shield Plus, and a close examination points these out. With all respect to higher capacity, the trigger-action improvement is just as big an engineering feat, in our opinion.
Regarding capacity and footprint, there is literally no increase in size over the standard Shield 9mm discernable by the eye. The Shield Plus, according to Smith & Wesson, doesn’t use a double stack but instead employs a stack-and-a-half magazine. The pistol’s new flush-fit magazine holds 10 rounds, and the extended magazine holds 13 versus, seven and eight rounds in the original Shield. This is significant and is just enough to make things interesting. The other pistols cannot equal the 13-round magazine capacity of the Shield Plus, although with the flush-fit magazine, the Taurus beats the Smith & Wesson by one round, or if you’re totaling rounds, one 11-round magazine in the Taurus and one in a holster adds up to with 22 rounds versus the 23 rounds in two magazines with the Smith & Wesson Shield Plus. So, we are not going to sweat a round or two in capacity versus handling, but the Smith & Wesson Shield Plus handles well and has the greatest magazine capacity of the test guns. The Shield Plus grip has about 0.14 inch greater circumference for this added capacity.
Smith & Wesson redesigned the trigger in this model. We applaud this because we have had difficulty with the Smith & Wesson trigger in the past, and this seems mostly limited to the 40 S&W- and 45 ACP-chambered Shield pistols. The bifurcated trigger has been replaced with a blade-type trigger. No longer do you endure a spongy feel, which was not all bad compared to other pistols, but you now have a more modern blade-type safety lever that operates more like other pistols of this type. It isn’t quite a flat trigger, but it is far superior to the original. With the new trigger breaking at 4.5 pounds, we don’t feel the need for any changes.
Elsewhere, the pistol keeps the 2.0-model’s changes, including improved grip texture, forward and rear cocking serrations, and a slightly different grip angle. The pistol has a reversible magazine release. The slide lock is easily manipulated. The slide itself isn’t interchangeable with the standard-capacity Smith & Wesson Shield, but looking at them, we could see no difference. The sights appear the same. They are fixed sights with three white dots. They were behind the efficiency of the outstanding Ruger sights, but a step above the Taurus, we think.
We confirmed several things concerning any interface between the old and new Shield. Aftermarket sights, laser and light combinations attaching to the trigger guard, and holsters designed for the original Shield may be used with the Shield Plus. With good sights and a nicely shaped grip, we expected performance with the new trigger to be a pleasant experience. When firing with the flush-fit magazine, some shooters found the pistol more difficult to fire; others shot well with either the flush-fit or the extended magazine. This is by far the best-shooting Shield pistol we have tested. The trigger is that nice.
Surprisingly, we did not expect the 0.14-inch difference in grip girth to make the pistol more comfortable to fire, but the new Shield Plus is more comfortable than previous pistols to fire with all types of 9mm ammunition. An extra 2 ounces of weight over the Ruger and Taurus pistols also helps.
The Shield Plus 9mm turned in good combat groups, very close to the Ruger, and equaling the Ruger in some runs. However, we found ourselves firing 2 to 3 inches high in the initial drills. It was the grip, so the raters adjusted their hands on the grip and paid attention to detail, and the pistol responded by ramming the bullets into the X ring.
Combat accuracy is good to excellent for a subcompact-size pistol. As for absolute accuracy, this Smith ran neck and neck with the Ruger MAX-9 with only fractions separating the pistols.
Our Team Said: After the range evaluation, we found the Shield Plus to be a credible pistol with good practical accuracy and complete reliability. We were unable to discern much, if any, difference in recoil as far as comfort goes between the three pistols, but the level of control was slightly different, favoring the heavier pistols. The Ruger MAX-9 is more controllable than the Smith & Wesson Shield Plus, and the former’s natural point seems better.
On performance and value, the Shield is in second place on our scorecards. Just the same, there were no problems when firing the Plus, so the pistol rates a solid A. If you like your slim-line Shield 9mm, you will like the Shield Plus better, we believe. There is no penalty in girth or weight, but the Shield Plus holds more rounds and is more comfortable to fire due to the slightly reshaped grip. The trigger is much better. Bonus: The new Shield fits your older Shield holster and accepts trigger-guard-mounted lights, so you won’t have start over buying new accessories.
9mm Luger Range Data
|Black Hills 115-grain EXP||S&W M&P9 Shield Plus||Ruger MAX-9||Taurus GX4|
|Average Velocity||1040 fps||1060 fps||1035 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||276 ft.-lbs.||287 ft.-lbs.||274 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||1.9 in.||1.5 in.||2.0 in.|
|Average Group||2.4 in.||2.0 in.||2.5 in.|
|Hornady American Gunner 124-grain +P JHP||S&W M&P9 Shield Plus||Ruger MAX-9||Taurus GX4|
|Average Velocity||1070 fps||1084 fps||1055 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||315 ft.-lbs.||324 ft.-lbs.||306 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||2.0 in.||2.2 in.||2.4 in.|
|Average Group||2.5 in.||2.6 in.||2.8 in.|
|Federal HST 147-grain JHP||S&W M&P9 Shield Plus||Ruger MAX-9||Taurus GX4|
|Average Velocity||959 fps||928 fps||941 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||300 ft.-lbs.||281 ft.-lbs.||289 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||1.9 in.||1.5 in.||1.9 in.|
|Average Group||2.4 in.||1.9 in.||2.5 in.|
GT3 Value Guide.xlsx
|Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield EZ 12437 9mm Luger, $479||Feb. 2021||A-||The Shield EZ9 was easy to manipulate and soft to shoot, but the sights needed to be calibrated better.|
|KelTec PF9 Blued-Black 9mm Luger, $358||Feb. 2021||B+||An inexpensive pistol that functioned flawlessly. It reminded us of a good 38 Special snubbie.|
|Taurus G3C 1-G3C931 9mm Luger, $306||Feb. 2021||B+||Best Buy. The Taurus G3C pistol is an inexpensive offering that functioned flawlessly and shot well.|
|Springfield Armory Hellcat HC9319BOSP 9mm Luger, $550||Mar. 2020||A||Our Pick. An 11+1 pistol, this small Springfield might be the most versatile pistol in the group.|
|Walther PPS M2 2805961 9mm Luger, $649||Mar. 2020||A||Best Buy. A smaller pistol with grips that will not abrade tender hands.|
|Ruger Security-9 Compact Model 3818 9mm Luger, $309||Feb. 2020||B||The pistol is adequate for the task of self defense and will not break the bank.|
|SIG P365 Nitron Micro-Compact 9mm Luger, $465||Feb. 2020||B||The SIG costs more than the Ruger Security-9 without overwhelming advantages.|
|Springfield Hellcat Micro-Compact 9mm Luger, $500||Jan. 2020||F/A||Hellcat #1 failed when the trigger wouldn’t reset (F). Hellcat #2 worked perfectly (A). Best accuracy.|
|Glock 43X Ameriglo Night Sights PX435SL301AB 9mm Luger, $542||Jul. 2019||A||Our Pick. Firing grip is superior to the G43 and allows better shooting with little compromise.|
|Mossberg MC1sc 89001 9mm Luger, $365||Jul. 2019||A-||Best Buy. The Mossberg 9mm gave up little to the Glock designs. Reliability was never a question.|
|Taurus G2S 1-G2S931 9mm Luger, $204||Nov. 2018||A||Best Buy. The Taurus pistol was reliable and controllable in rapid fire.|
|Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield SW180021BW 9mm Luger, $400||Nov. 2018||A||The Battleworn Shield is reliable, accurate enough, and compact enough for EDC.|
|Bersa BP9MCC 9mm Luger, $295||Nov. 2018||A-||Reliable, feels good in the hand, and offers excellent handling in fast-paced drills.|
|Honor Defense Honor Guard HG9SCF FIST 9mm Luger, $400||Nov. 2018||A-||The FIST option is viable. We tested it against barricades with excellent results.|
|Ruger EC9s 3283 9mm Luger, $231||Nov. 2018||B-||Most accurate handgun of the test, despite its light weight.|
|Kimber Micro 9 Desert Tan (LG) 3300168 9mm Luger, $659||Oct. 2017||A||The laser grip complements the large sights on this micro pistol. Edges are smooth for concealed carry.|
|SIG Sauer P938 Emperor Scorpion 9mm Luger, $639||Oct. 2017||A||With large sights, a crisp trigger and toothy grips, this was easy to shoot and control.|
|Springfield Armory XD-E 3.3 XDE9339BE 9mm Luger, $519||Oct. 2017||B||Trigger geometry took some getting used to. Decocker was hard to manipulate.|
|Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield 180021 9mm Luger, $394||Sept. 2017||A||Best Buy. Well designed grip checkering, good sights, and a decent trigger action.|
|Glock 43 Subcompact Slimline G43 PI4350201 9mm Luger, $445||Sept. 2017||B||Accurate enough for personal defense, reliable, and fast handling.|
|Honor Defense Honor Guard Sub-Comp. HG9SC 9mm Luger, $449||Sept. 2017||B||The only defect was the problematic slide lock, which was too heavy to operate quickly.|