By Justin Opinion
The competitive shooting sports might just be shaken (not stirred) up by the name Walther this year. Say “Walther” to most people, and the image of James Bond’s PPK comes immediately into mind. To others it might be the iconic P38. Either way, brand association like that would be coveted by any company. But sometimes the public’s association with a brand can be so strong that it makes it difficult for the company to break the paradigm and introduce new products. Such might be the case, at least in the U.S., for Walther Arms Co.
I regularly shoot IDPA, and on any given day at a match at least one person tells me about trigger work their gunsmith did, or the new drop-in he just put into his favorite match gun. After an invited test of the new trigger, I often respond that, “if this trigger were twice as good as it is now, it would be half as good as a Walther PPQ”. And wise-guy remarks aside, that is pretty much my opinion, when we’re talking about modern polymer-frame striker-fired pistols. There just is no better out-of-the-box trigger (nor any aftermarket one that I have felt) that can come close to the trigger that Walther puts in the PPQ. Now, combine that with winning ergonomics, proven reliability, and good price – and you wonder why half the field of competitors don’t have a PPQ on their hips. All that might change when the 5-inch PPQ starts to appear in stores. It’s available in 9mm and .40 S&W. Our test gun was 9mm.
The Walther PPQ already had nearly everything to make it a great sport shooter, including the aforementioned trigger that is, in my opinion, the best stock trigger on a polymer-framed handgun. But seeing one at a match would be like a Bigfoot sighting. Why? One main reason was length. The 4” PPQ just couldn’t get noticed among all the 5” to 5 ¼” models out there by other popular brands. With a 5” barrel and longer slide, the new PPQ offers the advantages of better accuracy, longer sight radius and slightly increased muzzle velocity.
But don’t get the impression that this is a narrow-focused gun with a single use. Far from it. In fact, when introduced in 2011, the PPQ (now known as M1) was an evolution of the tried and true P99. The P99 has been a special forces and police duty sidearm for many years in Europe. Answering the demand for a consistent trigger pull (P99 is double/single action) and other improvements, the PPQ – which literally stands for Police Pistol Quick-defense, was born. It initially sported paddle magazine catches that were incorporated in the lower rear of the trigger guard. This configuration is fairly common in Europe, though still slow to catch on here in the States. To some, it was a brilliant departure from the U.S.-style mag catch button. For starters, it was truly ambidextrous on every gun. But most people resisted the alternate style mag catch, and sales were modest. In 2013, the PPQ M2 was released to the U.S. market sporting a very familiar mag catch in the traditional location. The catch is reversible for left-handed shooters. And what a mag catch it is! Large and easy to access, it depresses like it has power assist. It also boots the magazine out of the pistol with a great positive force, instead of relying mostly on gravity, another nuance that will not be lost on the sports shooter. The 5” version was teased about way back then, but has not become a true production reality until now.
The Walther PPQ 5” is one of the coolest looking handguns I have ever held, at least in the scope of today’s fashion. It is basically the tricked-out black rifle of the handgun platform. From the squared-off pyramid-shaped slide that sports deep angled cocking serrations front and rear, down past the ambidextrous slide stop levers that are extra-long and can be operated by most shooters without having to alter their grip – to the oddly unique but comfortable backstrap of the grip – decorated in a paisley texture. The angles of the polymer frame that lead toward the front accessory rail look like they might belong on the newest Stealth aircraft. All that would be enough to qualify as “cool looking” in any showcase, but Walther had to go over the top. To maintain the weight of the slide so that the 9mm round would continue to operate the pistol reliably, it was necessary to take some weight from the front of the slide. This is nothing new, and we’ve seen Glock and Springfield Armory do the same with their long-slide match guns. Walther’s engineers cut ‘port holes’ into the top of the slide, three on each side. These oval slots in the slide reminded me of a classic old Buick Roadmaster the first time I saw one. They are there for an engineering purpose, but they turn the “cool factor” of the gun up to 11 on the dial. Finishing touches included tapering the nose of the slide in significantly where it overhangs the frame and cutting a large hole where the guide rod travels during cycling.
The PPQ M2 comes in a good-quality plastic case that is lockable and suitable for transport. The pistol lies comfortably in a precision-cut foam bed. There are cut-out areas for the second magazine and the loader, lock and extra backstraps for customizing the grip size.
Walther also provides you with a target demonstrating the test firing. The target is labeled as having been fired from 15 meters, with what appears to be about six rounds. This all-holes-touching-each-other group may attest to the gun’s potential, but it may never see that performance in my hand! The PPQ comes with two 15-round standard capacity magazines. Because this is clearly a model marketed to the sporting user, I would have preferred to see a third magazine included. Magazines can be difficult to find for the PPQ, and when found they are expensive. This is an inconvenience that some sporting shooters will not overlook when deciding on their next match gun. And speaking of after-market support for the PPQ, holsters are almost impossible to find as of this writing. I checked with all the popular holster makers for OWB competition-style rigs, and none have the 5” PPQ available. Be advised that most holsters designed for the 4” PPQ will not accommodate the 5” model because they are not fully “open toe”. I spoke with a couple of the leading brands to verify this. Initially, it will be the small holster makers that can adjust faster to their customers’ needs that will be your best bet. I was able to obtain a holster from Multi Holsters (http://www.multiholsters.com) that fit the pistol perfectly. On a hunch, I measured the PPQ magazine against a Sig Sauer P226 magazine, and the key dimensions are almost identical. I was able to use the P226 mag pouch for the Walther magazines.
But will the PPQ M2 be durable and reliable enough for the demands of sporting shooters? I know guys who shoot several matches before they clean their guns. Is the Walther too delicate or finicky to tolerate such abuse? I don’t have first-hand data, but let’s not forget that the PPQ is a duty gun in many parts of the world. It has, at the very least, proven itself worthy in acceptance testing.
The stock sights on the pistol are combat style 3-dot sights made of polymer. The rear sight is well designed for emergency slide cycling, but I don’t know how the polymer would hold up to such use. It is also adjustable for windage. Walther indicates that steel night sights are an option, but some searching on its website did not prove very successful. The stock sights are adequate, and I had good results with them. But there is a little more air space than I generally like in the rear notch.
So, why “Quick-defense”? When talking about the Walther PPQ, it always comes back to the trigger. Not only is the trigger as smooth as a baby’s butt and light-feeling as a snowflake, but it has an incredibly short and crisp reset. This short reset was designed to allow professional LE to engage targets in quick succession without having to slap a long-stroking trigger.
When it comes to performance, the PPQ holds its own very well. Being accustomed to the 4” PPQ M2 (I own a copy and like it very much), I thought some side-by-side comparisons made sense. First off, there are the obvious specifications to compare – but I noted that Walther’s website has errors where the specs are listed. For instance, I was skeptical when both the 4” and 5” barrel versions were listed with the same overall length… call me crazy. So, I measured the 5” myself and found that the missing inch is indeed there – overall length is approximately 8.1” versus 7.1” for the 4”. Similarly, I found that the 5” PPQ puts on about 2 ounces of weight, although also listed as identical to the 4”.
Trigger pull measures at an impressive, but still deceiving, 5 lbs. (actual was 4 lbs, 15.9 oz. on average over 10 pulls). It feels lighter than that, probably because it is so smooth. No grit, no hesitations, no feeling that you are pushing mechanical parts. Just a smooth take-up and crisp break – followed by one of the shortest resets on any handgun. The reset (I guesstimate it at about 1/8”) is also very crisp and provides good audible and tactile feedback. Once you have mastered this reset stroke (and I make no such claims personally), you can boast some very impressive split times!
Accuracy is excellent with the 4” PPQ, and I did observe a slightly tighter group with the 5”, but not enough so to draw conclusions. At 25 yards rested, the 5” produced a group of about 2 ½ inches versus closer to 3 inches for the 4” – but I had to call that a tie. I found that with “real” shooting during an IDPA match, the 5” put the hits exactly where I held it – out to about 15 yards. Recoil management is good with the 5” PPQ despite the higher-than-average bore axis. A heavy recoil spring, heavy slide and aggressive grip angle all contribute to keeping the gun flat. Speed reloads feel like they are on steroids with the oversized mag catch that is very well located and easy to press and the strong spring-assisted ejection of the empty magazine. A flubbed reload can cost upwards of a second on the clock, so this is a strong plus.
Takedown for field cleaning involves Glock-like slide lock release above the trigger, and it comes apart easily and smoothly using the same familiar technique.
Walther’s modern ergonomics are an acquired taste for some – but I find the pistol to be very well designed and thought out from a controls and grip perspective. The ambidextrous slide stop levers extend way back, allowing a sweep of the thumb to operate the control without altering the grip. The grip angle is aggressive and throws the web of your hand deep under the grip tang.
The PPQ has been around since early 2011, getting some heavy duty use in Europe. It might still be too early to say, but durability and reliability seem to be non-issues. Whether the 5” PPQ becomes a big success is up to the sometimes fickle sporting community, but I’m betting on it to succeed. I shot a match with this gun and found it to be the most natural feeling “new gun” I have ever used. In fact, I really didn’t have any conscious thoughts of the gun while shooting it – just front sight and trigger. I took first in my category and second in overall match accuracy with it. You won’t hear me complain, and it is welcome on my hip at any match!
The five-inch PPQ should be trickling into stores any time, and prices should be similar to the four-inch.