SIG employees were in a celebratory mood at this year’s SHOT Show, since it had just been announced that the firm’s P320 will be the next U.S. service pistol under the designation M17.
That’s a total of $580 million over several years, though SIG shouldn’t celebrate just yet: Glock is protesting the decision, and once in a while, protests stick, as in the case of the KC-46 tanker plane.
But barring a successful protest, SIG will get to enjoy the feeling of get-back, since its P226 was edged out by Beretta in the 1985 service pistol competition that led to the M9.
It was widely thought at the time that Beretta got a leg up in that program because Italy agreed to host nuclear cruise missiles aimed at the USSR. An alternate explanation is that Beretta offered a better price, and that is being whispered as the key to SIG’s win over Glock.
We reviewed the P320 RX, a variant modified for a red dot sight, in Issue 5 and normally wouldn’t be back for a second helping so soon, but SIG has announced the P320XF-9 VTAC, a pistol with both tactical and competition possibilities that has notable differences from the base model.
The VTAC was designed with input from Kyle Lamb, a former Special Forces man, firearms trainer and writer for our sister publication Guns & Ammo. He’s also co-host of Guns & Ammo TV.
Like a gratifying number of our former snake-eaters and throat-cutters, he came back from the wars with a business plan in his back pocket, and his company, Viking Tactics, offers training as well as merchandise that runs from night sights to dog leashes.
SIG chose to unleash Lamb on the X-frame variant of the P320. The X-frame provides a much more 1911ish feel to the P320, which is a great concept when you are marketing to experienced and competitive shooters who are used to Old Slabsides.
The X-frame incorporates a finger groove that undercuts the trigger guard and a modest, but effective, beavertail at the rear of the pistol that allow a higher grip.
It also incorporates a molded-in magazine well with a gaping opening for fast magazine changes.
There’s a three-slotted accessory rail on the dust cover for mounting lights or lasers. Don’t succumb to the temptation to put a vertical foregrip there: it’s illegal.
The trigger has a straight blade with a smooth face. One of the purported advantages of this is that it is at 90° to the boreline when the striker is released.
The combination of trigger and grip shapes really does give a 1911-style feel to the VTAC, and while I found that great, I do wonder about a user with a shorter index finger.
The slide is distinctive, both in color, which is a greenish bronze, and in shape. The first thing you notice is the 11⁄4-inch long openings on either side above the dust cover.
You might immediately suspect a ported barrel, but these are strictly for weight saving; the barrel is perfectly conventional.
A lighter slide moves faster for quicker follow-up shots, and less slide mass means less muzzle jump. Obviously, there’s a point of diminishing returns reached where you begin to give up reliability if you lighten it too much.
The top surface of the slide is lowered between the front and rear sights, and striated along its axis. This presumably has a glare-reducing function, but I suspect it mainly looks great.
Grasping grooves at either end of the slide got their start on competition pistols fitted with red dot sights, and now have become almost universal. The front groves of the VTAC are necessarily shorter because of the angled top contour of the slide, but still give plenty of grip.
The sights are Viking Tactical products that combine fiber optics and luminous dots. This sounds needlessly complex, but in daylight you’ll never see the luminous sights, while the green fiber optics jump out at you.
Both sights are dovetailed into the slide, so either can be moved left or right for windage adjustment. The instruction manual helpfully points out that moving the rear sight .02″ left or right changes windage by about 3 inches at 25 yards.
So, if you can see that you’ve moved it, you’ve likely moved it too much. SIG offers an adjustment tool if you plan to be regulating windage a lot.
Elevation is regulated by substituting optional front or rear sights. Six rear sight heights are available, and they move point of impact about 2 inches at 25 yards.
Five front sights can be had, and they move point of impact an inch at 25 yards. Given the possible permutations and combinations of front and rear sight, you should be able to zero for just about any imaginable load.
Keep in mind, of course, that replacing either sight with a taller or shorter one will require rezeroing for windage.
Unlike the forthcoming M17 service pistol, which has a manual safety lever, the VTAC is slick-sided. There’s a takedown lever over the trigger, a reversible magazine catch and a bilateral slide stop.
On previous P320s, we had found the latter hard to operate with the left thumb, but the effort level was about the same for both sides with the VTAC.
The pistol comes in a high-impact plastic carrying case with a cable lock and two 17-round steel magazines.
These have witness holes at five, 10 and 17 rounds, and are forcefully ejected from the pistol when the magazine catch is depressed.
If you live in a backward jurisdiction that limits you to 10 rounds, SIG can supply appropriate magazines.
The big sales point of the P320, especially to police administrators, is its modular construction. When firing it, you wrap your fist around a part, the grip module, that is entirely injection-molded plastic, except for the magazine catch.
SIG got itself out of the interchangeable backstrap business by making an almost endless assortment of modules. They come in full-size, compact and subcompact configuration. Each of those then is available with a small, medium or large grip.
Just to make it more confusing, you can specify black, flat dark earth or olive drab for your color scheme. Each module costs just $46, so if you’re tired of your color, it’s cheap to change.
The X-frame is the largest, and presumably heaviest, of the grip modules, and it weighs just 3½ ounces, so you can imagine a subcompact frame would be exceptionally light.
All the fire control parts are contained in the chassis, a 4½ inch-long component largely constructed of stainless steel. At 4½ ounces, it’s not especially heavy, either.
The chassis is the serial numbered part, and from a legal standpoint, is the gun. The serial number is engraved on the right side and peeks through a window above the magazine release. All components of the pistol other than the chassis are just parts and can be mixed and matched as you see fit.
Again, this is probably of greater interest to a police administrator trying to outfit officers of various sizes and duties than it is to most of us. But it does give you the chance to configure the P320 for different members of the family, and the ease of disassembly makes it practical, even at the range.
Takedown is simple, and does not require pulling the trigger. Eject the magazine and retract the slide, using either thumb to lift up on the slide stop.
Rotate the takedown lever clockwise: it’s stiff to start. When it is pointing downward, you can retract the slide slightly to release its stop and move the slide forward and off.
Drive out the takedown lever right to left. Carefully lift upward on the front end of the chassis; if you need leverage, slip the rear of the slide over the guide rails and use the slide to lift up. Pull forward slightly and remove the chassis from the grip module.
Any and all cleaning, maintenance or parts replacement can be done with the chassis out of the grip module. Reassembly is in reverse order.
The slide assembly is easy to strip, as well; the flat recoil spring is captive on steel guide rod.
Striker-fired pistols have come to dominate the police market because they reduce training time and improve results on the street. Conventional double-actions have a long, heavy trigger pull on the first shot and a lighter pull on subsequent shots.
Striker-fired pistols have the same pull weight from the first round of a magazine to the last, and that means much quicker familiarization and qualification. A trainer from a major state police agency told me that hit percentage in shootings went from 11% with conventional double-actions to 65% when the agency went to Glocks.
The intensive training that went along with the switch contributed, too, but there is no question the change to a striker-fired pistol made cops more effective, completely justifying the cost of the changeover.
What’s good for the cops is good for the civilian user whose interest is primarily personal defense. There’s not a whole lot to remember about a P320; you pick it up and pull the trigger, and every pull is the same.
Conventional double-actions, especially those with aluminum or steel frames, are on the same path as the brontosaurus. Those who need Camp Perry-level accuracy or simply are hopelessly nostalgic will hew to the single-action, everyone else will gravitate to plastic-framed, striker-fired pistols.
Whether there will be room for a CZ75 or Beretta 92 20 years from now seems questionable. You certainly won’t see much in the way of new introductions.
The X-frame definitely goes for a man-sized grip. I found the medium frame as big as I could want, and I cut my teeth shooting USPSA matches with a Para-Ordnance. I would have liked to try the small frame, and can only wonder what NBA centers are using the large one.
That said, the feel of the grip is much more 1911-like, which no doubt was the whole idea. I wouldn’t have minded more aggressive stippling.
The large mag well succeeds in its object of making reloads surer and quicker. The mag release is large enough to find easily with the thmb, and empty mags are ejected forcefully.
In broad daylight, the green fiber optics are blazing. Any notion that the sight picture is too busy goes out the window when the sun is out. There might be a period of minutes around twilight when the sight picture might be a little vague, but that would be it.
It would have required a side-by-side comparison between a stock P320 and the VTAC to gauge the effect of the lightened slide. If recoil was increased at all, I couldn’t detect it.
The trigger pull is excellent for a striker-fired pistol. It’s not going to make you give up your Colt Gold Cup, but it will inspire confidence in any of the practical disciplines.
It will be interesting to see if the new M17 is authorized for National Match competition. Shooting a striker-fired pistol at 50 yards one-handed would be a true test of marksmanship.
Speaking of marksmanship, the sample pistol shot about 4 inches to the left at 25 yards, though elevation was about right.
The rap on SIG pistols is that they are very high in the hand. The VTAC corrects that to a degree, but is not entirely going to satisfy those who insist on a low boreline. Either you like how it looks when trained on the target or you don’t.
If you’re looking to shoot practical competition with a striker-fired pistol, the VTAC will let you do that right out of the box. It also is a great-looking piece that will draw approving glances everywhere you go.