Product Review: Heckler And Koch Vp9

Though the Hecklar and Koch VP9 has been on the market for a few years now, I felt that this review is going to more useful then earlier posted. I’ve now owned my personal handgun for over 2 years, and was issued a second from my police department over a year ago. Between the two guns, I’ve fired over 15,000 rounds in various conditions, competitively, professionally, and for day to day self defense. With this level of experience, I will do my best to be as comprehensive and objective as possible.

Let’s start out with the features. The HK is a striker fired, 4″ barrel, semi automatic handgun with a 15 round capacity. The pistol is ambidextrous with the slide lock and mag release. Like most striker fired pistols in comes without an exterior safety. It also comes with a standard 1913 picatinny rail for lights, lasers, or chronographs. The slide has vertical serrations front and rear for solid grip. As with the current trend of tactical Tupperware, the HK comes with 3 replaceable straps for the back and each side. One of the more unusual features that was added to this model pistol was two little polymer wings at the rear of the slide, to aid in manually cycling the action.

Like I mentioned before, I have two pistols I’ve had the pleasure of beating on for the past 2 years. My personal pistol is running Trijicon HD sights with the large orange front dot and a Surefire CX1 weapon light. My department issued pistol was the standard LEO package with night sights and an added Streamlight TLR1 HL weapon light. My personal gun was purchased used, with a few thousand rounds through it, and I noticed a few things that I’ll comment on as the review progresses. My duty pistol was brand new from the factory. Each of these guns was used in either competition, numerous classes ranging from a few hundred rounds to up to 1500 rounds of firing. The classes ranged from fairly basic, to position oriented, advanced instructor certifications, and tactical in nature (SWAT, HRT). They’ve also been carried exposed (and shot) in all weather conditions, from extreme cold (15 degree days out on the range) to extremely hot (100 degrees….that’s pretty warm for the midwest), snow, sun, wind, dusty and clear, with varying levels of maintenance applied.

The fit of this pistol is tough to beat for a 4” gun. The multiple back and side straps for this gun allow it to be extremely adjustable for all shooters. Running all small straps seems to fit even the smallest hands comfortable, while the large straps seem to work very comfortably with larger hands. If you have a thumbs forward grip (which I do) and you happen to have been blessed (or cursed) with truly monstrous size bear paws, you may find that your support hand thumb is edging awful close to the muzzle. It most likely won’t break the front plane of the muzzle, but if that makes you nervous, this pistol might be a little on the small size. Hopefully that will be remedied with the newly announced long slide variant. However with this pistol, and huge hands, you might want to consider a different pistol. I personally run the pistol with the medium side straps and the large back strap. This combination seems to fit me perfectly. The straps are easy to replace with the use of a small punch to remove the roll pin at the base of the grip. Once removed, the other straps are easy to replace. The texture of the straps is modestly aggressive, but not at all biting into the hand. It’s enough that the pistol does not move if you have moderately moist/sweaty/wet hands, but if you’re soaked or shooting in a down poor, a more aggressive stippling might be appreciated. With the thinness of the strap replacements, I’m not sure if this pistol is a contender for stippling or not. It’s worth a consideration and worth a test with the unused panels.

The sites on the factory LEO package are steel with tritium insert using a 3 dot configuration. They’re a standard site type and work very well. The front edge of the rear sight has a nice over hanging lip which is great for one handed operations. I train with this setup regularly and it works incredibly well if you have anything with a lip (duty gear, belt, pant pocket) to press into and against. The front sight is single post and has a flat and level top, perfect for dry fire drills with a spent shell casing or penny. I’m not going to get into details on the Triji sights, as they’re not a factory option and they are deserving their own independent review.

Now onto the juicy bits of the review. Shooting this pistol is a pleasure. The recoil impulse is light and smooth, and I’ve never heard any complaints of “kick” from anyone, small framed, week handed, or the bulkier types. The bore over axis is a little high, at least compared to that of a Glock for example, but thankfully the weight of the pistol and the high rear tang seem to manage recoil incredibly well regardless. The pistol also points naturally, which is a huge bonus for kinesthetic shooting. That may have more to do with type of grip, but even the 1911 shooters at my department agree that it’s very natural.

The front and rear serrations are aggressive enough to provide sure grip when loading, unloading, press checking, or even one handed function against a denim covered pant leg (with proper pressure). The front and rear placement allow shooters choice how to handle press checks and mechanical procedures for the pistol. The slide is also complete with a chamber loaded indicator/extractor. I have never held much stock in chamber loaded indicators, so I still press check and advocate others do as well. The wings found at the rear of the slide are made of polymer. They are held in little slots on the outside of the slide, and held in place by the rear site. I have beaten on those little wings, hard, more times then I can count, and I’ve never had an issue with them breaking or falling out. They also are very effective for use with one handed pistol operations.

This pistol is designed as an ambidextrous firearm. I’ve personally always been a fan of the euro style magazine release. In this case they’re small paddles at the rear of both sides of the trigger guard that are depressed down to release the magazine. I’m a right handed shooter, and typically engage the magazine release on the right side of the pistol with my middle finger of my shooting hand. It’s contrary to American style pistols, and most shooters, but it’s worth a look. The mag release paddles are made of polymer, and despite having been border-line abusive, I’ve never been able to break one of them off. If it WERE to happen in a gun fight, at least there’s a second one on the other side that can be used.

Since I already mentioned the mag release, I should comment on the magazines themselves. They are a steel, 15 round box magazine, that are welded in back along a dove tail connection. These magazines are not the best in the world, in my opinion. First of all, there are enough 9mm handguns of this size that are running AT LEAST 17 rounds. I see no reason HK couldn’t have made a slight adjustment to dimensions to get the extra few rounds. Will those 2 rounds make a huge difference in a gun fight? Maybe, maybe not. However, this has turned into the industry accepted standard, so I see no reason it shouldn’t have been done. My other issue with these magazines is the dove tail welded design. I’ve never felt it was particularly strong. I’ve only had the problem with one 9mm magazine so far. However. I saw it more often with my higher round count USP .45 magazines, which used the same construction. The top most dovetail weld will crack eventually from repeatedly dropping mags on hard surfaces (this is a fighting pistol, it should happen, and does, often). It is true, magazines are considered a ware item, and need to be periodically replaced. However, considering the cost of HK factory replacement magazines, HK really should have put more money into R and D to make a more sturdy magazine.

In addition to the mag release, the slide lock is ambidextrous as well. I’ve found that the left side slide lock is the biggest detractor from this pistol. I use a high tang, thumbs forward grip when I shoot. On an empty magazine, I’ve discovered my support hand thumb presses on the front of the slide lock, which prevents the pistol from locking open on an empty magazine. I’ve also seen the same from other similarly gripped and large handed shooters. From a self defense standpoint, I don’t worry to much about this occurrence. It’s extremely rare to find a gun fight that requires more then 16 rounds. From a competition standpoint, I would call this a disqualifying issue. Unless the stock release can be modified, or a replacement is made, this can cause significant time loss when running stages where running dry is common. In practice it’s an irritation, and can cause training issues if you get in the habit of guessing if you need an immediate action or just a reload. It’s the biggest drawback to this pistol. So hopefully HK has heard it and working to fix it.

Disassembling this pistol is incredibly simple. That simplicity is a huge plus to beginner level shooters. Lock the slide to the rear, swing the take down lever down, release the slide while holding it and pull it forward off the pistol. No need to press the trigger, which is common in the striker fired pistol universe. The rest is typical, remove the recoil spring and barrel and you’re done. Reassembly is simply the same in reverse. Full disclosure: I have seen reassembly screwed up by a coworker, another cop. Fun fact: If you hand an unbreakable object to a cop, he’ll find a way to return it in two pieces, but I digress. Once the slide was put back on the frame, the recoil spring managed to “fall” off the notch on the barrel, making it impossible to put the slide completely on, and also preventing it from being removed. I actually had to grab the recoil spring guide rod with a pliers, compress the spring and straiten it out while removing the slide. I tried to reproduce the malfunction on purpose and could not. The only things I can think of would be the recoil spring assembly was not fully seated, or the pistol was slammed onto the desk before everything got locked up and jumped off the notch. Either way, I could not reproduce it when I tried. If anyone reads this and has seen something similar, please, e-mail me with the circumstances of how it happened.

On to the feel of the trigger. I don’t have a trigger weight tool, but it seems to be light and very crisp for a factory trigger. I’d personally say it’s one if not the best factory striker fired trigger on the market. It’s only challenger being the similar Walther offering. In truth it’s very comparable to the Walther. Shooting live fire on the range, side by side, I picked the HK offering, though not by much. Also keep in mind I very specifically said factory trigger. This will not compare to after market options that are available for other pistols. I tend to lean towards keeping my pistols factory anyway when it comes to mechanics.

I should add a side note about the triggers on these guns. When I first obtained the used pistol, it seemed to have what I would describe as a step in the trigger about halfway through application of pressure. It would offer slight resistance, almost like a second stage, but once you pushed past it, the trigger weight was consistent with that from before the resistance. It stuck around for about 1000 rounds or so and then disappeared. My new pistol also went through about a 500 rounds with this step in it. During the period that it existed, I checked the pistol for anything that would cause the hangup without success. I’m forced to conclude it was just a normal part of the wear during the life of the pistol and I’ll chalk it up to part of the break in process. Now both pistols have a smooth take up with little resistance

For a 4” barrel, this pistol has been supremely accurate. I’ve been able to shoot 1 hole groups at 15 yards, and can probably be done in the hands of a better shooter. That accuracy has not diminished as the round count has increased.

From a reliability standpoint, malfunctions have been extremely rare. Most have been explained by shooter error (improper grip), or magazines, and I could not duplicate them having fixed those issues. The VP9 series seems to have a light recoil spring to insure proper function even with underpowered ammunition. However, that light recoil spring can cause lockup issues when the gun is extremely filthy. Let me explain the circumstances. I was shooting a class requiring 1500 rounds of ammunition, and I arrived with a gun that already had a few hundred rounds through it. I also did not clean or lubricate the gun until it was time to qualify at the very end. What happened was around the 1000 round mark during class, I noticed that occasionally the pistol would stall slightly prior to locking completely up. Twice during the class it failed to lock up completely it was so dirty, and I had to tap the back of the slide to get lock up and continue shooting. This also occurred only first thing in the morning, on the coldest days. Aside from that, I’ve shot these pistols through multiple 800 round plus classes, and have not had this issue again, nor any other malfunctions.

Overall thoughts on the pistol: I’ve run it extremely hard in numerous environments without suffering any major problems, and my personal pistol has north of 10,000 rounds through it to date, and another 5,000 through my service pistol. The pistol is a dream to shoot, and for the first time in memory, it’s really an affordable pistol from the HK world. This alone is an oddity where HK is known for their high dollar guns. On a five star scale I’d rate the pistol as follows:

Overall image: 5 stars. It looks like a modern pistol, with good lines, and the proper features in the proper places.

Ergonomics: 4 stars. With the exception of one thing, this is the most ergonomic pistol on the market, especially with the ambi controls for everything. Unfortunately it has to lose a full start because of the slide lock issue when running the thumbs forward grip. It’s the most common grip being taught in police/federal/ and competitive circles. This should have been addressed during development, and I can’t believe HK didn’t see it during product testing.

Function: 4.5 stars. The gun runs no matter who shoots it, and more importantly it does it comfortably and accurately. It loses the half star do to the lower mag capacity when compared to other similar pistols.

Reliability: 4.5 stars. Both guns have run like absolute champs since I’ve gotten them, in various conditions. The only hiccup it experienced is when EXTREMELY dirty. Not a huge reason for concern, just something to consider.

Overall: 4.5 stars. This is a great looking, great operating, and incredibly reliable handgun. It has features that are attractive to the new shooter and experts alike. There are a few minor inconveniences. I don’t feel this issues are a disqualifying problem for self defense (very few self defense situations require more then a few rounds, let alone 16+), however I would not run this gun for competition. Personally, I feel so strongly about the quality of this gun, despite the stress I’ve put it through, I’ve made it a permanent place in my safe, and on my belt, on and off duty. If you pick one up, you won’t be disappointed.

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