THE UGLY TRUTH
I have always been a fan of the .45 caliber pistol round. Perhaps it is related to my first issued sidearm while serving as a Military Policeman during the Cold War. The 1911 model pistol has been a favorite of mine ever since. I was not impressed when the military changed over to the 9mm M9 Beretta pistol and I still stand by that opinion. The M9 is simply too large and too bulky for a 9mm pistol in the modern era. It isn’t so much that it is a poor firearm. It is just that I never really liked it. Glock seemed to remedy that situation with their introduction of the model 17 9mm pistol. I once read a review of the Glock that described it as the ugliest gun on the market. Well, if “pretty” is your goal, there are certainly a large number of other weapons out there to choose from. I do not consider myself a “Glock-phile” by any means. They are very reliable, accurate, and functionally simple for a combat handgun, which is exactly what they were designed to be. I own one. I carry one. And, I know I can count on it when I need it.
But, my Glock is a 9mm (G19). Which is fine. Most of the ridiculous comments you will find on the web and in magazines regarding what caliber weapon is a MUST for personal protection is just pointless drivel spouted by people who are trying to convince you that their personal preference is actually a scientific, combat proven fact. Trust me, an awful lot of people are killed with 9mm rounds every single year. With modern personal defense ammunition, I have no concerns about carrying a 9mm on my hip every day. But, again, I have always preferred the larger, meaner, heavier .45 round. So, last week, I went shopping for a compact .45 that would be useful for every day carry. I decided to move away from Glock with this purchase and experiment with the wide range of options that are now readily available. In the end, I decided on the now very popular Smith & Wesson M&P series of pistols. I chose the M&P 45 C (compact), and I have to say that it is a damned ugly gun. However, since the only part a bad guy is going to see is the muzzle, looks are not particularly important to me. This model included the thumb safety.
The M&P (Military & Police) line of pistols is a striker-fired design on a polymer frame. They come out of the box with 2 magazines and 2 additional backstraps for the grip that are quite literally changed out within a minute. The backstraps come in small, medium, and large in order to accommodate a variety of hand sizes and grip preferences. I tried all of the grip sizes during my initial functions checks on the pistol and eventually decided on the large backstrap. I have meaty hands, so I am told, and the larger backstrap did improve my grip and shooting comfort. I do wish the front of the grip wasn’t so narrow. Building up the back of the grip while the front of the grip remains narrow leaves much to be desired in the overall grip comfort. It isn’t terrible, but it could be improved. Since comfort was not my objective, and having a reliable, concealable .45 was, the grip complaint is moot. I would hazard to guess that most people will not have an issue with it.
Disassembly and reassembly is relatively simple but requires the manipulation of a sear deactivation lever located within the magazine well. The frame tool, which also acts as the lock for the interchangeable backstraps, is intended to be used for this purpose but I found that a variety of things can be used to move the lever. Then, a take down lever, located on the left side of the frame has to be rotated downward. Once the weapon is disassembled, Glock shooters will recognize the internal similarities of the designs. There is a limited number of ways to create a striker-fired system. The similarities between the two designs pretty much end right there.
You’ve already heard about the ugly, so let’s talk a bit about the good. This design has several features that will impress even the die hard Glock-philes out there. First, and foremost for me, is the design of the slide cocking serrations. The M&P 45C includes these at both the front and rear of the slide. The M&P serration design is probably the best I have felt. The grip is true and stable whether pushing the slide from the front, or the rear. After several hundred manipulations of the slide over the last few days, my grip has yet to slip in any way, no matter which method I use to work the slide.
The size of the 45C is almost identical in length and height to the Glock 19 which makes it easily concealable. One of the magazines has a pinky finger rest as its floorplate while the other does not. The one without the pinky rest is said to be for “maximum concealment.” Let’s be honest here. The additional 1/4″ of magazine provided by the pinky rest is irrelevant. I would prefer that both magazines come with the pinky finger extension and be done with it. But, the fact that they include the one magazine I prefer has to be listed as a positive for the purposes of this review.
Recoil management is good in this design although I have to say that it is not managed as well as Glock compact 45’s of similar size. This is mostly due to the recoil spring design used by S&W. Still, for a .45, it is a fairly easy shooting firearm. You still know you are shooting a .45 though. After yesterdays’s range testing, I have to admit that the palm of my hand is a bit tender today. Not enough to actually complain about, but enough to know you had a good day.
During my testing of this pistol I used a variety of ammunition that included PMC 185gr JHP, American Eagle 230gr FMJ, and Steel cased Blazer 230gr FMJ. The 45C did not appear to give one single wit about what ammo I put in it. Every round fed, fired, ejected and hit the target without one single hiccup. Normally, I can overlook an occasional failure during the break-in period on a pistol and I know some guns prefer one type of ammunition over another. The 45C is not one of those guns. This pistol performed flawlessly with every round. I even tried loading a magazine with an assortment of the listed rounds in an attempt to throw it off but, to my surprise, the pistol just kept firing. In fact, it may have been mocking me.
My model 45C came with standard, white, three dot sights. Nothing impressive, but adequate. The rear sight is built in such a way as to provide a small cocking shoulder for those emergency, one handed, cocking situations. The shoulder provided adequate purchase on clothing and holster parts during my testing.
The thumb safety is a nice feature. Yes, you read that correctly. But, wait. You will see this feature mentioned again momentarily. The thumb safety gives the user extra confidence when re-holstering in a rush which is when the majority of Glock users shoot themselves in the leg. Clothing, retention straps from the holster, etc sneaks into the trigger guard, you push the pistol into place and BAM. You have a new hole in your body. This happens far too often and has led to some interesting viral videos on the internet. The existence of the thumb safety removes this hazard for people who may need to re-holster without looking, such as cops or soldiers during dangerous times. So, I can’t say that it is an absolute negative in the design. However, the thumb safety is removable if you so desire.
The “loaded chamber indicator” which, on the 45C is a small hole in the top of the slide that allows you to see a round in the chamber, is a nice feature. Many pistols have a tactile chambered round indicator that is both visible to a bystander and can be felt without having to inspect the firearm visually. It is a nice touch but I prefer the innocuous, and invisible to passers by indicator on this M&P.
AND NOW, THE BAD
Let’s get right down to it, shall we? The trigger on the M&P pistol is probably close to the worst trigger I have ever experienced on a striker fired pistol. There, I wrote it. And, it is true. The trigger is creepy and spongy with enough take-up and over travel for 4 guns. The break is soft and the reset is almost undetectable. The reset did seem to improve as my testing went along but, even after a few hundred rounds, it is still annoyingly soft and quiet. This led to the only mishap during my testing. I thought the reset clicked, but, as I pulled the trigger, nothing happened. No bang. No joy. Bad juju. At first I thought I had a malfunction, perhaps a bad round in the chamber. Then I thought about it for a second and reset the trigger again. Bang. I had short stroked the trigger and was fooled by the inconsistent mechanism. One thing is absolutely necessary before I carry this as an every day defense pistol: It MUST have a new trigger.
Remember what I said about the thumb safety? Well, here is the other side of the equation. Like most shooters who know how to manage a pistol, I use a grip as high up on the weapon as possible. This manages recoil and allows for faster follow-up shots. It is simple physics. The location of the thumb safety interferes with that high grip. As you will see in the photos, the shooting hand thumb winds up pressing against the safety lever during a normal (for me) grip. One more than a few occasions, my grip caused the safety to engage without intending to do so. The safety lever is very light and flicks on and off with just a touch. Either it needs to be much harder to engage/disengage, or it needs to be relocated. If you are a 1911 shooter whose grip includes holding your thumb atop the safety, then you will not have an issue with the M&P’s safety. But, after shooting Glocks for so long, I had to make a conscious effort to keep my thumb from engaging the safety while practicing instinctive shooting with this pistol.
Accuracy is important to all shooters. I found the 45C’s accuracy to be average, but acceptable, as-is, right out of the box. But, since acceptable has never been what I was aiming for, I was not impressed with the M&P. The pistol is capable of fine accuracy but, with the terrible standard trigger, it is a struggle.
From a modified isosceles stance with a two-handed, 360 grip, I could produce 1.75″ groups at 25 feet. This is more than adequate in a compact pistol but these groups will tighten up quite a bit with a proper trigger installed. I will do more accuracy testing on this pistol once I have the trigger replaced and will share the results with you at a later date.
Overall, this is a strong pistol with quite a few positive features. I do like it, even with the negative aspects I have listed. In the end, I will probably opt to remove the thumb safety when I replace the trigger with a sharp, crisp-breaking, clear reset design. If you have wanted a striker-fired pistol that is a little safer to carry than the Glock, this is a good option for you. At roughly $500 out the door, it is a reliable concealed carry pistol that seems to be without preference to ammo and shooting style.