Guns: Get Down With The Thickness - S&W M&P9C review
Introduction - Second Time's the Charm
Long ago and far away, Smith & Wesson introduced the Sigma, a polymer-framed pistol so close to the popular GLOCK series that GLOCK actually sued for patent infringement. Gaston and Co. didn't need to waste their time; the Sigmas were notoriously unreliable pistols when they were first introduced (S&W has supposedly ironed out the bugs, but, to this day, many people derisively refer to them as "Smegmas").
S&W's M&P pistols have built a far better reputation, and have made serious inroads into the competition and law enforcement sectors. In almost any gun store in the country, you'll see M&Ps and GLOCKs facing off, with very similar price points and models.
So, when faced with a choice between a G26 and the M&P9 Compact for a new carry gun, I decided to try out the latter. Will the M&P takes its rightful place beside my beloved S&W J-Frames? Or is it just another GLOCK wannabe?
If the M&P9C was a person, it'd be one of those morbidly obese people on "20/20" that only gets filmed from the chest down. I realize double-stack service 9mms are invariably chunky, but the M&P's 1.2" wide slide still feels fatter and bulkier than most. In terms of total area, the slide profile is actually comparable to a J-Frame revolver cylinder:
Despite the thickness of the slide, the M&P's grip is pretty comfy. It's got a more oval cross-section than a GLOCK, and the gun comes with three interchangeable backstrap inserts. I stuck with the small backstrap - for me, the grip's thick enough as it is without adding more material. The large backstrap has side palmswells and extends up into the M&P9C's tang, which seems counterproductive for recoil control unless you have enormous hands:
In addition to the backstrap inserts, the M&P line has a laundry list of features that are sure to make it popular with institutional customers. Depending on what their needs are, a police department can configure the M&P with a thumb safety, an internal lock (boo! hiss!), and even a magazine disconnect. The M&P is also completely ambidextrous right out of the box; the mag release can be reversed and the slide lock is accessible from both sides of the frame.
The M&P pistols use a sear deactivation lever for disassembly without pulling the trigger. It's a little chintzy, since it's a mechanical solution to a training issue (you should always chamber check a firearm before handling it). Still, I can see how a PD might be excited about preventing officers from shooting themselves with unloaded GLOCKs. In order to access the sear deactivation lever, you have to retract the slide, which essentially forces you to unload the gun anyway. You can see the lever in the picture below (the greenish-yellow squiggle):
The M&P9C has one feature that the G26 does not: a mini rail for mounting a light or laser. This accomplishment is tempered by the fact that there's really only one good weaponlight that fits on the rail - the ultracompact Streamlight TLR-3, which uses smaller CR2 batteries instead of the traditional CR123s. Here is the light on someone else's M&P9C:
The M&P9C comes with two magazines; one has a flat floorplate, and the other has an extension for your little finger. Both hold 12 rounds of 9mm, and are ridiculously stiff and hard to load out of the box (getting 12 rounds in is a chore). They do loosen up, however:
Sights & Trigger
The M&P9C sights are a basic three-dot Partridge arrangement. I think they're a little on the large side for precision work, and I've always found three dot sights to be too busy for my eyes in general, but those are personal preferences. Both the front and rear sights are made of steel and dovetailed into the slide - they're extremely solid and tough. The rear sight even has a slight stepped portion to help you snag it on a belt or holster for emergency one-handed slide manipulation.
Like most striker-fired pistols, the M&P's trigger is mushy and spongey, with a fair amount of creep. It's miles better than the S&W Sigmas, but, at least in my hands, the reset is a little bit vaguer and longer than a GLOCK's. For its trigger safety, S&W uses a hinge mechanism instead of a separate lever. I don't have any problems with it, but some complain about the slop and side-to-side play of this system compared to other striker-fired guns:
All told, I've fired over 700 rounds of 9mm through the gun. Most of that was 115 gr. range FMJs - Winchester White Box, Federal, PMC Bronze, cheapo Tula steel-case - but I also blew through an entire 100-round value pack of UMC JHPs. All rounds cycled fine, with the only "failure" being a light primer strike on one of the Tula rounds (in Soviet Russia, the primer strikes you).
In terms of shootability, the M&P9C is one of the best compact pistols I've ever handled - right up there with a GLOCK or M1911-variant. Despite the gun's relatively small size, I was able to hammer rounds downrange in much the same manner as with a G19. Felt recoil was very modest with range ammo and only slightly more snappy with +P loads.
Accuracy was hard to evaluate, since I was still getting used to the trigger. I was able to squeeze 2" 5-shot groups at 15 yards with most ammo, but there were also some not-so-great "groups" (more like patterns) that I attribute either to myself or to the fact that I was basically emptying magazine after magazine through the gun, hoping to stress it a little by getting it good and hot.
The M&P9 Compact is sort of like the U.S. Honda Accord; a thoroughly American variant on a foreign design that's fatter, heavier, and has plenty of optional junk you can order on the side. With the well-documented failures of the Gen4 GLOCKs, S&W has a golden opportunity, and at this point I'd actually recommend the M&P over a Gen4 GLOCK. I won't get rid of the J-Frames, of course, but they're now accompanied by a rather portly cousin.