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- (BEST BUY)
The Taurus GX4 has nice hidden features, such as a nitride-finished slide and coated internal parts. The pistol is similar to other subcompact pistols and is easily the most compact of the three pistols tested.
|Action Type||Locked breech, single action semi-auto|
|Overall Length||5.6 in.|
|Max Width||0.9 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||18.0 oz.|
|Weight Loaded||22.8 oz.|
|Slide Material||Alloy steel|
|Slide Retraction Effort||14.4 lbs.|
|Front Strap Height||2.15 in.|
|Back Strap Height||2.5 in.|
|Grip Thickness Max||0.95 in.|
|Grip Circumference||5.4 in.|
|Rear Sight||Fixed notch|
|Front Sight||Post front|
|Sight Radius||4.75 in.|
|Trigger Pull Weight||6.5 lbs.|
|Trigger Span||2.5 in.|
The GX4 is a single-action design with a safety lever set in the trigger face. The slide is well finished and closely matches the polymer frame in color. The pistol is striker fired. The trigger breaks cleanly at 6.5 pounds, with about a quarter inch of take-up. Reset is rapid. The trigger is very close to the Shield in quality and is tighter than the Ruger. The trigger is a good feature of the pistol.
The trigger guard is squared on the front and features an undercut near the rear. The grip features a thumb rest without checkering on either side and a gritty grip treatment. The treatment and texture are not uncomfortable, and they provided excellent purchase. The Taurus GX4 is the only pistol of the three that offers a changeable backstrap, with a single spare backstrap. The sights are fairly low profile, but they provided a good sight picture during combat shooting. The rear sight features serrations on the rear face. The front sight has a small inset white dot centered and recessed in the front post. The sights are designed to accept aftermarket sights compatible with Glock sights. The slide features both front and rear cocking serrations. Unlike the Smith & Wesson’s scalloping, the forward serrations are useful and easily gripped. The front of the slide is nicely beveled.
The barrel features a decent crown, unusual on such a inexpensive pistol. The frame features two serrated spots for finger support. They may prove useful for some grip styles.
Takedown of the pistol is simple enough, we think. Double check to be certain the pistol is unloaded with the magazine removed. Be certain the pistol is uncocked. Turn the takedown screw a half turn and remove the slide. When we reassembled the pistol, the screw popped back to the locked position.
As for its compact size, the slide is shorter than the other slides and so is the grip. While the other pistols hold more ammunition, this isn’t the whole story. Both the Ruger and the Smith & Wesson feature flush-fit and extended magazines. Each features a flush-fit 10-round magazine, while the Ruger’s extended magazine is a 12-rounder. The Smith & Wesson extended magazine offers 13 rounds. With the flush-fit 10-round magazines in place, each pistol is still taller than the Taurus, while the Taurus offers an 11-round magazine that is more compact than the competing pistols. The Taurus isn’t supplied with an extended magazine at all. The Taurus is just enough more compact to be used in an ankle holster, while the other pistols are a bit much for carry in this location. If concealment is at a premium, the Taurus GX4 is the superior pistol. But how does it perform?
The pistol fared well on the firing line. The pistol is easily controlled, even with +P loads. In common with the other handguns, a well-designed grip and reasonable weight, as well as a modern recoil-spring set-up, makes the pistol a soft shooter, all things considered. With concentration on the firing grip, our shooters fired strings that gave up little to the heavier pistols. Reliability was good, with no failures to feed, chamber, fire, or eject. In bench accuracy, overall the pistol was the least accurate tested, but it was close. At 7 yards, all the pistols will place every shot into a single ragged hole. You are far from helpless with any of the three past 15 yards, if you can shoot.
Our Team Said: We rated the Taurus down a half grade on accuracy compared to the other pistols. Still, we find the Taurus to be a viable choice, and as the least expensive pistol, it becomes a Best Buy.
The Taurus GX4 is more than $150 less than its competitors. The sights and fit and finish are equal to the Shield, while the trigger is good as well. The Taurus doesn’t have an optics-ready slide or fiber-optic sight, but, again, you have a larger price differential if you want to make those changes. On the other hand, the GX4 pistol is supplied with two 11-round magazines that are more compact than the larger pistols’ 10-round magazine. If concealment is at a premium, the Taurus is the top choice by virtue of simple measurement, yet it shoots almost as well as the larger guns.
Also, just as we wrapped up the testing, we obtained a 12-round extended magazine for the GX4, which is available but not supplied with the pistol. We prefer the flush-fit magazines, although the extended base pad makes for better shooting.
If your carry gun and your home-ready gun are the same gun, the Ruger really makes sense. The dimensions of these guns in the slide and width are so close the holsters we tested fit all three guns well. In the end, we like the Ruger best for carry and shooting, unless we are splitting hairs for concealed carry.
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.|