A couple of weeks ago, we ran a Top 5 .45 ACP Concealed Carry Pistols article that stirred up a lot of controversy. That isn’t surprising. A lot of you have already formed your own opinions. I expect this list will be just as contentious, if not more. The list of compact .45s is limited, as there aren’t that many out there. 9mm is a different story. There are a lot of compact 9mms–choosing the best five requires a lot more thought. But we’re up top the task.
Here’s my list of criteria:
A compact 9mm has to be compact. I’m not considering the sub-compacts, even though the definitions of these two adjectives is up for some debate. But there’s a mid-range of pistols that are not as long as full-sized duty pistols, and not so small that they are hard to handle. And they still have respectable capacity.
I’m only looking at double action pistols. I’m not considering the wealth of single action 9mm 1911 types. I’m also not considering the 9mm revolvers. I’m trying to keep the basic comparisons logical.
I have to start with the undisputed reigning champ. The King. If the GLOCK 19 were Coca-Cola, there would be no Pepsi. Every other gun would be in that RC Cola category of competition. The GLOCK 19 is the standard to which all of the other guns wish to rise. If you don’t agree, you’re deluding yourself. I’m not insinuating you have to like the 19, but you have to respect it.
The 19 is big enough to handle any duty requirement, yet compact enough to carry concealed. It is at home OWB as it is IWB. The blocky design makes summer concealment more complex, but the blocky design makes handling reliable. Recoil is modest, and the 19 will eat up rounds, any rounds, without fail, and is very forgiving. You don’t have to baby the gun, or even clean it all that often. Retailing around $600, it is affordable and one of the easiest guns to find. And everyone makes holsters and accessories for it. The last benefit has more to do with GLOCK–it is one in a long line of identical guns, making moving up or down in size or caliber a no-brainer.
HK has the second spot on my list, if only because of Jacob Epstein’s review for us. Jacob cut his teeth on a GLOCK, but I know what’s in his holster now. The HK is one of the latest, and most anticipated 9mms of 2014. It is a striker fired gun, something HK hasn’t done in a while.
The VP9 has some distinct advantages over some of its competition. The grip is deeply contoured, and well textured. It fits the hand very well. And the slide is also aggressively textured. The serrations make manipulating the slide easier. All of the early performance reports from the VP9 are glowing. When it becomes widely available, the price should settle out in the high $600s.
I’ve carried a PPQ M2 for a while, and I have nothing bad to say about the gun. The PPQ M2 is fast. While some compact 9mms have snappy recoil impulses, and excessive muzzle rise, the PPQ is easy to hold down and fast. MY split times and accuracy are faster with the PPQ M2 than with any other compact 9mm. As far as reliability goes, I’m several thousand rounds in with no serious issues.
Here’s the rub…. I see a lot of Walther’s PPQ in the HK VP9. Ergonomically, they are very similar. The Walther has an edge on price, though, as the PPQ M2 hits the market about $100 less than the VP9. But there’s more. The CCP, Walther’s newest pistol, should be making an appearance shortly. The CCP feels even better than the PPQ M2 (but I’ve yet to shoot it), and it promises a redefined recoil system that should make it even easier to shoot. When it hits, we’ll cover it. If the CCP does what Walther says it will do, the price on the PPQ M2 should get even more competitive.
This one is going to be really controversial, but I’ll try my best. Springfield Armory makes uncompromising pistols. If this were the .45 ACP top five, the XD-S would dominate. That single stack powerhouse is a compact beast. They make it in 9mm, but it isn’t going to make this list, even though it is a rocking gun. The reason, and I feel like its a sound one, is capacity. The XD-S in 9mm holds only 7 rounds.
I’m less concerned about minimal size. There is a race (albeit a slow moving race) to make large calibers work in smaller frames. As a result, you end up sacrificing capacity. But if there’s an XD-S with 7 rounds of 9mm on one hip, and an XD(M) with 13 rounds on the other, I know which one I’m going to draw first. What are the size differences? .28″ of width. About half-an-inch more length. I can live with those dimensions.
And the XD(M) is a rock-star. This gun flat out flies. If you want more barrel, the XD(M) line offers more sizes. In fact, the Springfield line has multiple options that are all very similar. The XD-S, the XD, the XD(M)–it is easy to find the pistol with just the right fit, girth, texture, etc. All are competitively priced, and the 3.8″ XD(M) comes in well under $600.
The last in my list is another gun that’s full of potential. While I like the P226, I think the P320 is one of the most innovative designs of 2014. The basic premise is this. Buy one serialized lower, and you can change frames and calibers at will, without the need for more paperwork. One frame insert will allow you to carry full sized, compact, subcompact, and (eventually) in 9mm, .40, .357 SIG, and .45 ACP.
Is this the wonder-gun we’ve all been waiting for? I’m not 100% sure. I still prefer the ergonomics and trigger of a full-sized P226. But the possibility of modularity has its appeal. Sales of the P320 haven’t taken off yet. I think some folks are waiting to see how well the gun stands up to abuse. But everything I hear is positive. The price is competitive, too, in that $600 range. And for what you get, that is a bargain.
In the end
Is this the golden age of the compact 9mm? I think so. I’ve got personal experience will all of these guns. And I’ve limited the list to just 5, which knocked out some of the other compelling competition (Smith, Kel-Tec, Beretta, Bersa!, Ruger…). There are so many, and reliability has reached a point that it is almost an afterthought.
But here we are at the end, and I know you’ve got something to say…