August 06, 2020
By David M. Fortier
To be frank, I was caught by surprise when the lowly .380 ACP suddenly exploded in popularity. Since its rise it has eclipsed previously highly regarded service calibers, such as the .357 SIG and 40 S&W, which had been commonly recommended for concealed carry. Today, many prefer the “short” 9mm for personal protection. Why carry a pistol chambered for .380 ACP instead of a harder hitting cartridge? The primary reason is due to their small size, light weight and how easy they are to both carry and shoot. Over the past 10 years, .380 ACP handguns have been continually reduced in size and weight until they became similar to many .32 ACP models. This new crop of .380 ACP pistols drop easily into a pocket, yet possess improved terminal performance compared to a traditional .25 ACP or .32 ACP “mouse gun.” For good or bad, their very small size and light weight make them appealing to many interested in concealed carry and personal protection.
Two new economical options on the market are from SCCY Firearms of Daytona Beach, Florida. SCCY’s new CPX-3 and CPX-4 go against the flow of ultra-compact .380 ACP pocket pistols. Rather than trying to make a .380 ACP as small as possible, SCCY set out to design a piece with a balance between being small enough to easily conceal yet still large enough to be able to shoot well. The obvious difference between the two models is the CPX-4 features a manual external safety. They ended up with a compact Double-Action Only (DAO) design feeding from a 10-shot dual column magazine. Size-wise it is somewhat reminiscent of a Russian 9x18mm Makarov PM. Unlike the PM though, this is a thoroughly modern design built on a polymer frame with a push-button magazine release and easy to see combat sights.
SCCY’s engineering team has been working on this model for some time now. Firearms News was given a first look a couple years back during an Outdoor Sportsman Group Editorial Roundtable in Grinnell, Iowa. Our staff spent some time on the range with a preproduction model and it looked promising. Not long after the event I received a preproduction piece from SCCY for review. This had functioning issues which I reported to SCCY. Now, two years later, I have a production model in hand. Due to its features, and economical price-point, I felt readers would be interested in this new offering in .380 ACP.
I first learned of SCCY Firearms in 2012 when I had the opportunity to meet the company’s founder, Joe Roebuck, and test their new 9x19mm Parabellum pistols, the CPX-1 and CPX-2. He went over the basic design of the CPX-2 as he pulled it apart. As he did so he was rather blunt, stating its nothing new or revolutionary just well proven concepts. Instead, he commented what makes his pistol stand out is how it’s machined, and how work flows in his factory. It’s his manufacturing processes and work flow which allows him to price his firearms so economically.
Usually when a product is priced low it’s due to inexpensive components utilized in the assembly. It’s no secret, cheap parts lead to a cheap price. However, Roebuck stated the economical price of his pistols was possible through the simple elimination of unnecessary manufacturing steps, and by streamlining production. Holding up the barrel and slide he commented, “These are both machined from billets of 416 stainless steel made here in the USA.” Basically SCCY pistols have been carefully designed to simplify their manufacture.
SCCY has been working on this new .380 ACP line for some time, so I was interested in having a look at a production model. A modern looking design, the SCCY CPX-3 and CPX-4 are built on a Zytel polymer frame. The frames are available in a wide variety of colors beyond just Model T black. Earth tone colors are available, as well as bright colors appealing to female shooters, including pink. The frame features finger grooves on the front-strap, thumb grooves on each side and texturing on the sides and backstrap. It’s wide enough to sit comfortably in the hand. Frame length is long enough for two of my fingers, with my pinky resting comfortably on the magazine extension.
Sitting inside the frame is an assembly machined from 7075 T-6 aircraft grade bar stock. This heat treated piece features the rails the slide rides on, plus it holds most of the internal parts. A slide machined from 416 stainless steel bar stock is utilized. This is available with either a black hard nitride surface finish, or natural stainless steel. Both the CPX-3 and CPX-4 utilized for testing wore a natural stainless finished slide. The slide features a fairly beefy external extractor and a spring loaded firing pin.
A short 2.96-inch barrel machined from 416 stainless steel bar stock is fitted to the slide. This features seven groove rifling with a 1 turn in 16 inches right hand rifling twist. Operation is traditional Browning short-recoil with a tilting barrel which locks into the slide. Beneath the barrel is a captive recoil spring assembly. This consists of a full-length steel guide rod and a flat wire spring. Low profile three-dot combat sights are fitted with the rear adjustable for windage via a locking screw.
A Double-Action Only (DAO) firing mechanism is standard. Both models utilize an internal hammer with restrike capability. An inertial firing pin is fitted to prevent accidental discharge if the pistol is dropped. The trigger has a relatively long stroke similar in feel to a double-action revolver. SCCY lists the standard pull-weight as nine pounds. This long, heavy DAO trigger is appealing to many who are leery of carrying a striker-fired design. In addition, the CPX-4 features an ambidextrous external manual safety for extra peace of mind. This is well placed and easy to disengage. Other external controls consist of a traditionally placed push button magazine release and a slide release.
Feed is from steel dual-column single-feed magazines. Capacity is 10 rounds, and one magazine comes with a finger extension base-plate installed. Three magazines are included with each pistol.
The magazine body has two witness holes on the right side. The first indicates six rounds and the second 10 rounds.
Each pistol arrived in a small black and red card board box. Contained within was the pistol with a child-proof safety lock installed, two keys, two additional 10-round magazine fitted with low profile base-plates, well written and profusely illustrated manual and a warranty card. It was an attractive looking package, so we were off to a good start.
Initial examination revealed both pistols to look quite good, especially considering their economical price point. Examining them I noted the slides operated smoothly, magazines ejected with vigor clear of the pistol and the slide release operated easily. The trigger pull is quite long and goes on further than most expect. The manual safety on the CPX-4 was initially on the stiff side, but became easier to manipulate with use.
Everyone who handled them commented on their trigger pull. It’s no big deal if you grew up on a double-action revolver. If you grew up on a Glock though, it may take a few rounds to get used to. The sights also seemed quite sufficient for their intended purpose. So my initial impressions were quite positive.
Size wise they are fairly compact, although a bit wide in the hips. Basically, they are designed to be compact enough to easily conceal, yet still large enough in the hand to enable you to get a good grip on them to shoot well. Dimensionally they are 4.5 inches high (with extended base-plate), 5.7 inches long with a width of 1.1 inches. Weight comes in at 15 ounces, empty.
A natural piece to compare SCCY’s CPX-3 and CPX-4 to would be a Glock 42, except I don’t have one of those in my collection. So, I compared them to the slightly larger 9x19mm Glock 43. I found them to be a bit shorter in length than the Glock 43, but the SCCY pistols butt is both longer and wider. Handling them I noticed the SCCY pistols are, in my opinion, more comfortable in the hand than the narrower Glock 43. The SCCY’s polymer frame is wide enough to fit well in the hand and to absorb felt recoil. The two external controls shared by the CPX-3 and CPX-4, slide stop and magazine release, are both generous in size. Both are easy to reach and activate. The manual safety on the CPX-4 is well-placed. During initial handling I noted the SCCY pistols pointed well. So, for me at least, the grip angle is right on.
While rifling through the boxes the SCCY pistols came in I noticed their warranty cards. These models have a “No Questions Asked” lifetime warranty. Better still, this warranty applies to the pistol, rather than the original owner, and is good for the life of the pistol. If something goes wrong with it, even if you purchased it second hand, SCCY states they will take care of the problem.
Before we get into testing let’s pause for a moment to consider the cartridge these two models are chambered for. The .380 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) cartridge goes by a few names, including .380 Auto, 9x17mm, 9mm Kurz and 9mm Corto, in different parts of the world. It was introduced in 1908 and the design of John Moses Browning. Intended to be used in blow-back operated firearms, the cartridge fires a .355-inch bullet typically weighing around 95 grains, at a muzzle velocity of about 980 fps.
While today looked upon as a mere pocket pistol cartridge, the .380 ACP was adopted by a number of armies as standard issue prior to World War II. These include Czechoslovakia (Vz.38), Hungary (FEMARU 37M), and Italy (Beretta M1934) plus The Netherlands and Yugoslavia which both fielded the FN Model 1922. It was also used extensively by Nazi Germany, who captured or purchased hundreds of thousands of pistols in this caliber during World War II. So, like the .32 ACP, in its early years the .380 ACP did see its share of combat. The Soviet 9x18mm Makarov cartridge is close in both size and performance.
The .380 ACP also has the dubious distinction of being the cartridge used to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. Gavrilo Princip (Гаврило Принцип) wielded an FN Model 1910 pistol in .380 ACP on 28 June 1914 when he ignited a fire which led to the “Guns of August” and the Great War. He fired two shots using common FMJ ammunition. One hit the Archduke in the neck and the other his wife Sophie in the abdomen. Both died within the hour.
The recent explosion of interest in .380 ACP pistols has led to many modern loads being introduced by ammunition manufacturers. Ball or rudimentary early generation jacketed hollow points, which may or may not expand, are no longer our only choices.
Today there are a host of modern JHP designs to choose from. These offer reliable expansion with moderate penetration when fired into properly calibrated 10% gelatin. Designing an expanding projectile for the .380 ACP is a bit of a balancing act. If you design the projectile to expand to a large diameter, you end up with shallow penetration. So the best loads try to balance the two, providing adequate expansion and penetration. If penetration is more of a concern than expansion, then I suggest traditional Full Metal Jacket loads.
I gathered together five different types of .380 ACP ammunition for testing. Loads consisted of SinterFire’s 75-grain RFHP lead free frangible, Wolf Performance Ammunition’s economical steel case 93-grain FMJ, Hornady’s 90-grain FTX Critical Defense, Hornady’s 90-grain XTP FPD TAP and Black Hills Ammunition’s 60-grain HoneyBadger copper solid. Of these the Black Hills Ammunition’s design is a bit out of the ordinary as it features a solid copper projectile which is not designed to expand.
The projectile’s nose of Black Hills’ HoneyBadger features a cross with scalloped cuts inside the arms. It is designed to punch deeply, but not expand. Rather, the sharp edges of the nose cut and redirect the tissue radially as it penetrates, so it will not clog going through clothing or light barriers such as drywall. In simpler terms, the edges cut and the curves on the body of the bullet shove the tissue out of the way. Traditional hollow points require velocity to initiate expansion and are handicapped in short barrel guns. In gel tests this bullet penetrated over 10.5 inches while creating a 6.5 inch x 2.5 inch temporary cavity.
I conducted initial accuracy testing from a rest at 15 yards using the CPX-3. Four five-shot groups were fired with each load. Out of the box the CPX-3 shot considerably to the right. Adjusting the rear sight consists of simply loosening the rear sight’s retaining screw and sliding it in the desired direction. With the windage properly zeroed, I got to work shooting groups and measuring velocity.
Best accuracy was obtained using Hornady’s 90-grain XTP FPD TAP load which averaged 3.2 inches at 928 fps. SinterFire’s 75-grain RFHP load averaged 3.4 inches at 933 fps. Wolf Performance Ammunition’s 92-grain FMJ load averaged 3.5 inches at 863 fps. Hornady’s 90-grain FTX Critical Defense and Black Hills Ammunition 60-grain Xtreme Defense both averaged 4 inches. The Black Hills’ offering was the fastest of the five loads tested. It zipped its solid copper bullet along at an average velocity of 1,149 fps.
Recoil proved very mild and the CPX-3 was quite pleasant to shoot. The trigger takes a bit to get used to, but gave no issues. Magazines load easily until the 10th cartridge, which takes a bit of extra effort. The sights are large and easy to pick-up and the pistol indexes quickly. When empty the magazine ejects cleanly and the slide release is easy to manipulate.
Once I finished work at the bench I moved to engaging steel and paper silhouettes from three to 25 yards. I ran a number of drills engaging a variety of steel targets including an Action Target Dueling Tree, eight-inch plates and a hostage target with a full-size silhouette and six-inch plate. At 12 yards I had no problem dumping a 10-round magazine as fast as I could fire into the head/neck of a silhouette. While the .380 lacked the oomph to knock the plates around on the dueling tree, it had no issue hitting them.
The CPX-4 I fired on steel from 15 to 25 yards. It performed similarly to the CPX-3, just with the addition of a manual safety. Both models are very comfortable to fire, the slides are relatively easy to retract, magazines insert and lock into place easily and the bold sights are quick to pick up. Both models proved fun on the range and I enjoyed my time with them. While the preproduction models I examined two years ago exhibited a number of reliability issues, it appears SCCY’s engineering team has remedied these.
My thoughts? There is a lot to like about SCCY’s CPX-3 and CPX-4 pistols. They are easy to operate, very smooth shooting and acceptably accurate. Their sights are actually usable and they have a generous 10+1 capacity. Recoil is very mild and it’s a very fun pistol to shoot. This is a pistol you can hand your petite wife, who’s not into firearms, and it will not beat her up. Downside is they are a bit big for a .380 Auto. Like I said, they are a bit wide in the hips. MSRP of the CPX-3 is just $239 while the CPX-4 is $249, making both of them quite affordable. So, if you are looking for an economically priced .380 Auto which is easy to shoot, you may want to consider a SCCY.
Be sure to take a look at Firearms News Editor Vincent DeNiro’s video on the SCCY CPX-4 pistol at FirearmsNews.com.
SCCY CPX-3 and CPX-4 Specs
- Caliber: .380 ACP
- Operation: Self-loading with tilting barrel
- Barrel Length: 2.96 inches
- Rifling: 7-groove, 1-16 RH twist
- Trigger: 9 pounds, Double-Action Only
- Capacity: 10 +1
- Weight: 15 ounces
- Height: 4.5 inches with extended baseplate
- Length: 5.7 inches
- Width: 1.1 inches
- Sights: Fixed front, drift adjustable rear
- Manual Safety: CPX-3 No, CPX-4 Yes
- Finish: Stainless steel or Black Hard Nitride
- MSRP: CPX-3 $239, CPX-4 $249
- Contact: (866) 729-7599, SCCY.com
SCCY CPX-3 Accuracy and Velocity Chart