One of my best personal attributes is directly responsible for one of my worst. In all things, I try to be as adaptive and versatile as possible. This has the unfortunate consequence of making me indecisive at times in my quest for adroitness, since I desire versatility but loath compromise. Thankfully, one of the engineers at SIG Sauer feels the same way, because they quietly introduced their most versatile, metal-framed handgun: The P226 Classic 22.
Readers wondering how on Earth a combat handgun chambered in .22 Long Rifle can be considered versatile aren't mistaken. While .22 LR has many uses, it has equally as many shortcomings. So how does a rimfire handgun achieve this? By using centerfire ammunition; though that's not entirely accurate.
Where most popular full and mid-sized defensive pistols have a .22 LR conversion kit developed for them, the SIG P226 Classic approaches the issue of a multi-caliber pistol differently. Built on a pistol frame designed for full-powered cartridges, the P226 Classic allows shooters to purchase, "Caliber X-change Kits" that convert it to one of several calibers. This means that a new shooter looking for their first pistol can buy the Classic 22 for plinking and honing essential marksmanship skills then purchase a full-caliber conversion later. Whether they wish to upgrade their plinker to a home defense pistol, concealed carry option or even a competition handgun. Though this still begs the question, "Why?" Why should a shooter start with a rimfire round then purchase a centerfire conversion kit rather than the other way around?
Most new shooters have no idea what caliber they need for either defensive or competitive use. Oftentimes, new buyers will opt for the largest caliber they can effectively control, without taking into consideration things like cost of ownership. Assuming they purchase an exotic or magnum chambering, purchasing enough ammunition to achieve proficiency would run five or six times the initial cost of the handgun. Though this isn't the only boon of the pistol's ammunition polyamory.
Shooters like myself that prefer developing their shooting skills on a platform that directly translates to others will love this setup. Regardless of which caliber conversion is employed, the trigger pull and controls remain consistent. So a shooter could run the .22 LR setup for plinking and small game hunting on the same frame they use for competition which is also the same frame as their home defense pistol. Meaning, throughout these separate shooting sessions, a shooter is building a solid core skillset; one that could either save their lives in a defensive scenario or help them achieve victory in an IDPA or 3-Gun match.
Personally, I use my Classic 22 to teach new shooters solid handgun fundamentals, then I change the slide, barrel recoil-spring and magazine to 9mm for both competition use and as my go-to sound suppressor host. When the handgun rests on my nightstand, it wears a .40S&W kit for added stopping power. This is great, because without its versatility, I wouldn't practice with my home defense setup nearly as often.
Readers concerned with the longevity of a .22 wearing a centerfire conversion kit can rest easy, knowing the author's personally owned P226 Classic 22 has seen more than 4,000 rounds of 9mm ammunition alone. In all those rounds, neither the frame nor the slide has shown any sign of damage or undue wear; though the trigger pull has improved dramatically.
Aside from ammunition flexibility, the P226 Classic 22 also features a multitude of impressive features living up the SIG Sauer reputation for quality. Shooters who haven't taken a closer look at SIG offerings recently will immediately notice the new grips. Gone are the traditional two-piece checkered grip panels. Instead, SIG improved the handgun's ergonomics by reducing the grip's width and backstrap by replacing these panels with a wrap-around polymer monogrip. Designated the E2 or Enhanced Ergonomics grip, it also features aggressive stippling for better control and retention.
The frame's dust cover is railed for use with tactical lights or lasers and the controls are classic SIG. The .22 slide is topped with post and notch-adjustable iron sights. The front sight is a high-visibility fixed post with inset white dot for increased target acquisition speed and contrasts well against the flat black rear notch.
Conversion kits however, use traditional fixed combat sights. Unlike the adjustable type found on the rimfire slide, the centerfire models feature photoluminescent night sights, ideal for use in low-light limited visibility situations.
Other differences between the calibers include magazine capacity and construction. The .22 model ships with a single, 10-round polymer magazine designed to fit fit centerfire frame magazine wells, and is easily distinguished from its combat caliber brethren. The 9mm magazines, on the other hand, are nearly identical to other centerfire mags. In fact, both .40S&W and 9mm magazines can hold either caliber, but their corresponding witness holes will properly function and their capacities will change.
To avoid potential issues, shooters who purchase multiple centerfire conversions ought to label their magazines accordingly. Personally, a dab of red or blue paint works much better than caliber markings. Evidently, SIG agrees with my observation, as they paint their recoil springs on both conversions differently to assist shooters in identification, where green is for .40SW and red is for 9mm parabellum.
In testing, the original .22 LR setup proved just as accurate as the centerfire conversion kits, though it wasn't quite as reliable. Like most semi-automatic rimfire firearms, it can be ammunition-sensitive. Though after 200 rounds of various ammo types, the .22 slide functioned 100 percent with all ammo tested except two brands from Aguila; the super colibri and the SSS. Both are non-standard and are designed for use in either rifles or manually-operated firearms.
Buyers concerned with finding ammo during future scares or when limited to big-box stores have found their perfect handgun with the P226 Classic 22 when paired with a conversion kit or two. It allows shooters all the benefits of a full-sized defensive handgun with a .22 conversion kit, without the ammunition limitations. Paving the road to professional-level pistol proficiency paired with two of the largest selections of defensive ammunition types makes the SIG P226 Classic 22 a very attractive option for new and veteran shooters alike.