“Buy once, cry once.”
You’ve heard the mantra before, probably on a gun forum and probably posted by someone richer than you.
Justifying expensive gear is a popular sub-hobby among gun owners, but one that I’ve never found appealing. Growing up without tons of expendable cash gave me a serious dislike of gear snobs, and at $800 on the street, the optics-ready H&K VP9 is one of the last guns I’d consider purchasing on my own.
But I gotta say, after shooting the new VP9 for the last few months, I’m starting to get the appeal. It’s a sweet gun. Is it worth the H&K markup? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know why their handguns are more expensive than the competition, and only the guys at the top of the company can answer that question. I can say this: if you can afford the optics-ready VP9, you won’t be disappointed.
Caliber: 9mm x 19
Length: 7.34 in.
Height: 5.41 in.
Width: 1.32 in.
Sight Radius: 6.38 in.
Weight: 25.56 ounces
Mag Capacity: 10/15/17
Trigger Pull: 5.4 lbs.
Trigger Travel: 0.24 inches
Return Travel: .12 inches
Barrel Length: 4.09 in.
Barrel profile/twist: Polygonal, 6 grooves, right-hand twist, 1 in 9.8 inches
Street Price: $750-$850
Do What Feels Right
What are you getting for all that cheddar? First, the gun feels well-built. I know that sounds mushy, but hear me out. I had the chance to test the VP9 alongside IWI’s new Masada pistol. The IWI Masada is great, and I gave it high marks in my review. But compared to the VP9, the Masada feels like a lightweight. It is literally a few ounces lighter, of course, but the grip, trigger, and slide just don’t feel as solid as the VP9. If you’ve ever picked up an expensive wood stock rifle alongside a polymer stock rifle, you’ll have a sense of what I mean.
Ergonomics helps the gun feel good, too. The VP9’s grip has just the right amount of texturing, and the finger grooves allow for a firm purchase on the handgun. Users can also change the size of the grip using the included plates. A swap wasn’t necessary for my medium-sized hands, but different users might find the larger and smaller plates improve the ergonomics even more.
All of this makes the gun a pleasure to shoot. The VP9’s weight helps control recoil, and the ergonomics allow for easy drawing, presenting, and transitioning. Paired with an optic, I can’t remember a gun I’ve shot more accurately or quickly than the VP9.
My only gripe is about the slide release. It’s small and difficult to press. If you like to return to battery by pulling the slide, you’re good to go. But if you’re like me, you might find that the slide release takes some getting used to.
The gun appears to have been designed with slide-pullers in mind. The rear of the slide features two ears that allow for easy, painless slide manipulation. It’s one of those features you don’t know you need until you use it, and I wish all my handguns were fitted with the same enhancement.
The test model sent to me features a paddle mag release, but H&K also advertises an American-style push button release on the VP9’s web page.
Factory striker-fired triggers have come a long way in the last five years. I remember a few years ago swapping out the factory trigger on my M&P Shield with an upgrade from Apex, and boy, that was an improvement. The trigger on the VP9 feels almost as clean as that aftermarket upgrade.
H&K lists the trigger pull at 5.4 lbs., which I confirmed with my trigger gauge. (Side note: It’s always a good sign when a gun company lists the trigger weight for their firearms because it means that their manufacturing processes are precise enough that they control the smallest details.) The pull includes a quarter-inch of travel before hitting a wall, at which point there is a minute amount of movement. The break is clean otherwise, and the reset is half as long as the original travel (about a quarter-inch).
Ergonomics affects accuracy, but not as much as a clean, consistent trigger. Whether shooting for accuracy or speed, I found myself shooting better with the VP9 than with almost any other striker-fired handgun.
The VP9 is late to the optics-ready game, but H&K system looks like it’s as tough as any. The plates are made of steel, and they attach to the slide using two steel screws. I had zero trouble installing a Leupold Delta Point Pro using the Pro’s provided screws.
Unlike many other optics-ready handguns, however, which come with plates already in the box, H&K doesn’t ship the VP9 with any plates at all. They must be purchased separately for $35. Steel plates are tougher and more expensive to manufacture than polymer plates, but it seems like H&K could throw in a few for the most common micro red dots. If a consumer is going to pay $800 for a handgun, it seems like the least they could do.
Still, the system looks like it holds up well. I’ve been shooting the VP9 regularly for the last few months and haven’t noticed any point of impact shifts.
I do wish the handgun shipped with suppressor-height iron sights that co-witness with the red dot. Aftermarket options run about $100, but the included high-viz front sight works well if users choose not to install an optic.
For me, the VP9’s accuracy sets it apart from the other striker-fired handguns in this class. I’ve tested my share of plastic pistols, and I can’t remember another that shoots more accurately.
Shooting from a Ransom Multi Cal Steady Rest at 25 yards, the VP9 posted a 2.7-inch group using Federal’s Syntech polymer 9mm. That’s not bad, but look what happened when I moved up to Federal’s higher-quality Punch 9mm:
That’s a 1.8-inch 10-shot group from a semi-auto 9mm at 25 yards. Just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, I shot another using the same ammunition and posted a two-inch group.
You may not be impressed, and I’ll admit that I’ve heard of striker-fired semi-autos that shoot this well or better. But in my personal experience—and I don’t think anyone can disagree with this—the VP9 is a darn good shooter.
H&K uses a proprietary polygonal profile barrel technology in all their handguns. Along with producing great accuracy, this barrel profile seals propellant gases behind the bullet (which increases bullet velocity) and has the potential to outlast traditional lands-and-grooves barrels.
You’ll have to take H&K’s work on their barrel’s other good qualities. I didn’t notice a huge velocity difference compared to other handguns, and I can only speculate as to its longevity.
But if the overall quality of the pistol is any indication, I believe them. The VP9 appears to be extremely well-constructed, and I’d bet good money on it lasting for years and years to come.
To review, the optics-ready VP9 provides accuracy, comfort, durability, a great trigger, and a solid optics-mounting system. I had zero reliability issues, and the gun performs as well as any other striker-fired handgun I’ve tested.
But is it worth the extra cash? It’s true you can purchase a new Glock, Springfield, or Smith & Wesson for slightly less money, but the cost difference isn’t as great as H&K’s spendy reputation would suggest.
Springfield’s new XD-M OSP is listed with an MSRP of $695, and in normal, non-pandemic times, the street price is only about $150 less than the VP9. Same with Glock’s G17 MOS. It’s definitely cheaper, but the optics-ready platform isn’t as cheap as their standard lines, making the cost more comparable to the VP9.
Still, many handguns in this category come with features and accessories the VP9 is missing. I already mentioned the optics plates, and Springfield XD-M OSP also comes with a threaded barrel and suppressor height iron sights. If you want to throw those accessories on a VP9, you’re looking at an extra $250.
So, to answer the question, I don’t know. The market has lots of cheaper options that will serve you just as well as the VP9, and I certainly don’t look down on anyone who goes with a Springfield, Glock, or Smith & Wesson. But I don’t think my original characterization of the “buy once, cry once” crowd is entirely fair. The VP9 isn’t that much more expensive, and its performance and quality don’t make spending the extra money totally unjustifiable.
You’ll have to make the decision on your own. But the next time I hear about someone purchasing a VP9 or one of the other “buy once, cry once” handguns, I’ll reserve judgment until I actually take one for a spin.