July 07, 2023
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I review things for a living, and sometimes feel I have a good grip on the market—what’s going to be popular, and what’s not—but even so I sometimes find myself completely blindsided by the success of a product. The past few years, it’s the weird and offbeat guns that have had this surprising success, and I think I’ve figured out why—with all of the panic buying motivated by politics over most of the last decade, people have bought all the defensive/practical guns they want and need. The trickling sales of AR-15s seems to confirm this, and the sales of concealed carry guns (which were so hot for so long) has seriously slowed. At least until some more “fiery but mostly peaceful” riots break out.
But gun people like buying new guns (it’s the same if you’re into shoes), and many of them seem to have moved on from practical choices to guns that don’t fit into any traditional category—the “I don’t know what I’d use it for, but I want it” guns. In that group you’ll find the Ruger-57, the KelTec P50, the Desert Eagle (always and of course) and now, apparently, the Smith & Wesson M&P FPC, Folding Pistol Carbine. As I write this it’s just becoming available, and I know a lot of people eager to buy one. Why? Even they’re not quite sure. But the S&W FPC actually has some practical uses, unlike a few other “gotta have it and don’t know why” guns.
If you’re looking at a photo of this gun folded and you’re tilting your head one way and the other like a dog waiting to hear a word they recognize, trying to make sense of it, let me give you a quick rundown—it is a 9mm blowback carbine fed by S&W M&P pistol magazines, that folds to the side, and has storage
under the butt for spare magazines. The only direct competitor on the market seems to be KelTec’s SUB2000, also a folding pistol caliber carbine, but other than pistol chambering and the ability to fold these two guns are nothing alike—which I think is both good and bad, but I’ll let you make up your own mind.
The FPC has a 16.25-inch barrel that is threaded 1/2x28 and comes with a thread protector. The barrel is threaded for attachments—muzzle brake, suppressor, whatever—but if you do add one it is going to extend beyond the butt stock when folded and compromise compactness, not that this gun really has that much of that. Seriously, I know a lot of people are thinking that this is S&W’s answer to the KelTec SUB2000, which is known as a “backpack gun,” but there’s a reason S&W includes a big separate nylon carrying case for the FPC. I just don’t see people sticking it inside a backpack, as there won’t be much room left. In fairness, S&W never refers to it as a backpack gun. They’re giving you that carrying case for a reason. More on that in a bit.
The barrel is 4140 steel with a black oxide finish, and it sits inside a handguard with M-LOK compatible attachment slots. The caliber is marked at the top of the barrel behind the muzzle and on the side of the bolt. The handguard is roughly 12 inches long and constructed of polymer that feels tough under the hand. The handguard is two halves held in place by sixteen screws. The barrel doesn’t free float inside the handguard, there is a collar just inside the front of the handguard which surrounds and supports the barrel, just in case you’re (justifiably) worried about flex with a polymer handguard. Truthfully, the lack of a free-floating barrel won’t affect accuracy much. When you get out to fifty yards and beyond, the accuracy of a pistol cartridge has as much to do with the aerodynamics of the bullets (or lack thereof) as it does anything else.
There are M-LOK accessory slots every 45-degrees around the handguard, which is somewhat narrow, and a full-length MIL STD 1913 “picatinny” rail running along the top. That rail is where you’re going to mount an optic, or iron sights. Yes, the rail is polymer, but it’s tough polymer, and please refer to the preceding paragraph. This is a folding pistol caliber carbine—if you’re looking for a precision tackdriver, you’re in the wrong article. The buffer tube of this gun is aluminum. At the rear the buttstock mounts on it. At the front it is enclosed by polymer. The lower receiver half is all one piece with the polymer grip. The upper half of the receiver is bolted to the lower around the aluminum tube in which the bolt moves. If that sounds cheap or weak to you, trust me, it’s not. The FPC, for all of its polymer, seems to be built stupid tough. The ejector is fixed inside the receiver.
The grip is a standard Smith & Wesson M&P pistol grip, and S&W supplies four backstraps to customize the grip to your hand. Interestingly, this is not a full-size M&P grip but rather a compact grip. I realized this when I saw the 17-round magazine had a grip extender on it. That’s a smart idea, a compact grip frame will help make this foldable carbine more compact when folded…but then S&W didn’t supply it with a flush compact (15-round) magazine, negating the advantage of that smaller grip, at least until the owner buys one separately.
As the grip frame is the same as with the M&P M2.0 pistols, the steel magazine release button is reversible. However, you’ll also find this carbine is equipped with a manual pushbutton safety above the front of the trigger guard. If you lay your finger along the side of the receiver, the safety will be right under the tip of your trigger finger. It is steel and aggressively textured. Push it from right to left to go from safe to fire. The magazine release is reversible, but the safety is not. Folding the FPC is shockingly easy and simple. There is a big polymer latch on the right side of the gun. Push it forward, and the barrel can fold to the left. I suppose you could push it with the tip of your trigger finger, but to me it feels easier and more natural to use the thumb of my shooting (right) hand.
Interestingly, the lock-up mechanism for the folder is completely polymer, not metal. The polymer latch hooks into a very large notch in the side of a polymer housing around the barrel chamber area. Lockup is tight, with absolutely no play. If, through wear, any play ever does develop between the barrel and receiver, it won’t affect your sights/optics at all, as they’re mounted to the barrel/handguard assembly. The only thing play between the receiver and barrel could affect is feeding/reliability, and for that to happen I’m guessing it would take at least thousands of barrel foldings/unfoldings before you saw any wear.
Being a competition shooter, I tend to approach the firearms I get in for testing from a user perspective, so I had questions about this gun. Can you fold it with a magazine inserted? Yes. Can you fold it with the safety on or off? Yes. Can you fold it with a cartridge in the chamber? No. The extractor holds onto the case and that prevents the barrel from folding. Can you stick a cartridge in the folded barrel and then swing it closed for shooting? Yes. Smith and Wesson doesn’t recommend this, and you might think there’s no good reason to do it, but you’d be wrong. It is far easier to stick a cartridge in the chamber and fold it shut than it is to work the charging handle against the stiff recoil spring. There are pistols, old school Berettas specifically, which have tip-up barrels for the same reason. It’s easier to load them that way than to work the slide of a blowback gun.
The polymer charging handle also serves to lock the barrel assembly to the side when folded. There is a small notch on the left side of the charging handle that fits into one of the handguard’s M-LOK notches. The owner’s manual directs you to pull back on the charging handle slightly to free the handguard/barrel, but in truth you don’t need to do that, as the notch on the charging handle is shallow for a reason. Grab the butt of the carbine with one hand, the handguard opposite with the other, and pull them apart. Unless you’ve got a weak grip, this should be easy. And if you’ve got a weak grip…I’ve got bad news for you.
The S&W FPC uses a direct-blowback operating system. With such a system, the weight of the bolt/slide and the strength of the recoil spring are the only thing absorbing recoil. And you want a heavy bolt and strong spring, so the bolt doesn’t start moving back until pressures in the chamber have dropped a bit. As a result, it requires at least as much force to work the charging handle of the FPC as it does the charging handle of an AR-15. A quick note on the charging handle—it is much easier if you work it like an AR-15 charging handle in 1968 than in 2018. What I mean by that is—today, the manual of arms is to work the charging handle of an AR-15 from the left side while keeping a firing grip on the gun and maybe even keeping it shouldered. But back in 1968 you were far more likely to see someone going over the top and working the charging handle of an AR from both sides, with their index and middle finger. If you work the charging handle of the FPC that way, it seems noticeably easier. That said, kids still might have a bit of a problem. Then again…
The length of pull is strangely long at 14.5-inches, whereas the industry standard for most rifles these days is 13.5-inches. The buttstock length isn’t adjustable, so you’re stuck with that. Maybe S&W felt they needed a buffer tube that long for the recoil system, or to have clearance for the spare magazines, but that’s a long length of pull for an adult man, never mind a woman or child….
With the spare magazine holders, there is only one way to put the magazines in, bullets down. If the spare magazines are fully loaded when they’re in the buttstock the carbine has a distinctly back-heavy feel. Even empty magazines in place change the weight and handling of the gun. The spare magazines are not going to come out by accident, so at least there’s that. There is a steel latch on the underside of the buttstock magazine holders that locks into the magazine release notch in the magazines. It is spring-loaded, and you can pull up one side or the other to release a specific magazine. The magazines do not seem to get in the way while shooting or working the charging handle. The charging handle does not reciprocate. However, if you crawl the stock so that the charging handle is adjacent to your upper lip, you will find it hitting you under recoil with every shot. Ask me how I know.
The bilateral slide stop is just that. It is not a slide release; don’t even try. Once you insert a loaded magazine you will have to work the charging handle to chamber a round. You can lock the bolt back without a magazine in place—pull back on the charging handle, and push up on one of the slide stops. I found pulling back on the charging handle with my left hand, while pushing up on the right-side slide stop with the tip of my trigger finger seemed to work the best. I would like to mention that Smith & Wesson itself refers to the FPC as their new “series” of firearms, which means you can be sure to see additional models in the line—and I’m guessing sooner, rather than later. If you take a peek at the owner’s manual, you’ll see that S&W references a .40 S&W model. All you’d need for production is a different bolt and barrel, but I can’t imagine they’d sell many, the .40 S&W has pretty much died everywhere except with certain police departments. I can’t imagine S&W would market the FPC to police departments, but then again…
The FPC seems a bit bulky and heavy for backpack use, but as a beat-around truck (or squad car) gun where space and weight aren’t considerations, it seems a solid choice. On the law enforcement side, a carbine which is fed by the same magazines as the pistol on your belt also seems a good idea. For citizens, I think pistol caliber carbines are the best choice for home defense for just about everybody, regardless of skill level. With the FPC you’ve got an additional option for rapid-access storage. You can stage it unloaded, folded with a loaded magazine in the grip, or fully loaded. S&W on their website lists the weight of the FPC as 80.42. A quick check of the scale confirmed that’s ounces, which translates to five pounds and not quite half an ounce. In comparison, the KelTec SUB2000 weighs four pounds, and is smaller in every dimension whether closed or open. If you decide to add the two spare magazines to the butt of the FPC, depending on your bullet choice, that’s roughly another pound and a half of weight.
To disassemble the FPC for cleaning, first you will be pulling the buttstock off. Then the recoil assembly and the bolt all slide out the tube at the rear of the receiver, after removing a few pins. I won’t be going into detail on it, because there is quite a lot of detail. It takes nine full pages in the owner’s manual to detail disassembly and assembly, and 35 illustrative photos. THIRTY-FIVE. The process isn’t difficult, or even that involved, just different, which is why you get nine pages of instructions. But, in brief—
If you look at the photo of the disassembled FPC, you’ll see two springs, big and small. The small spring is used to provide tension to keep the buttstock on the buffer tube. The big spring is the buffer/recoil spring. The buttstock, bolt carrier, and polymer buffer between the two springs are all held in place by various beefy pins. The stainless-steel bolt assembly weighs 26.2 ounces, which is a couple ounces more than the bolt/buffer of a 9mm AR-15. For testing I topped the FPC with an Aimpoint RDS, which seems a good choice. The FPC, at $659, is priced darn near the same as an M&P pistol, which means it is affordable, and the Aimpoint RDS provides most of the performance of the T-1 at a reduced price. Standard flattop AR mounts will work with the FPC’s rail height.
A quick primer, on firing pistol cartridges out of a rifle-length barrel. You will usually get more velocity, but how much depends on the load. Heavier slower bullets (like 9mm 147-grainers) will show the least improvement—and maybe none at all. You’ll see the biggest velocity gains with lighter bullets loaded to +P pressures, sometimes as much as 200 fps faster than out of a pistol barrel. How much faster, however, depends on the brand and cartridge, as everyone uses different powders. What would be interesting to me is an FPC chambered in 5.7x28mm. You’d maximize the velocity of that small bottleneck cartridge, and it would be as useful for defensive purposes as hunting small game. Trigger pull on my sample was at least as good as on an M&P pistol. The nearly flat-faced trigger broke with a somewhat clean break and a 5.0-lb pull. At the range, recoil was not bad, about what you would expect from a direct blowback 9mm. It is soft and consistent, and you’ll find the dot of whatever optic you’re using will move up and to the right with every shot before settling back down.
The faster you shoot, the more the dot bounces. I found that I had to work to get consistent hits on a pepper popper at 15 yards when I was pulling the trigger as fast as I could. Still more accurate and faster than a traditional handgun, but don’t confuse this with a tricked out zero recoil competition PCC (pistol caliber carbine). That’s the advantage of a PCC—not the extra velocity (although that’s nice), it’s that you can shoot faster and more accurately than with a handgun at any distance, and that increases the further away the target is. Most people would be hard-pressed to hit a silhouette target offhand with a handgun at 50 yards. With a PCC like this, it’s easy. Most PCCs, including this one, are accurate enough to hit a pie plate at 100 yards. They are still not as powerful as rifles, but you can shoot them far more effectively than handguns.
Whether it was hammering steel or paper, shooting the FPC was a lot of fun. I ran a wide assortment of ammunition through it, both varying bullet styles and power. From how much force it took to work the charging handle I guessed that if the FPC had any cycling issues it would be with light/soft ammunition, but I never had a problem. The carbine fed and fired everything I gave it. I specifically tried Black Hills’ 125-grain subsonic Honey Badger load, as these bullets have a funky profile, and the ammunition has very soft recoil. The FPC loved them, and everything else I fed it.
A review of the Smith & Wesson FPC really wouldn’t be complete without comparing it to the KelTec SUB2000. The SUB2000 is a straight blowback gun, fed by pistol magazines. It has a barrel which folds up and over the top. It is not quite an inch shorter, and a pound lighter. It comes with iron sights, but due to the top-folding design you can’t mount a traditional optic on it—you’ll have to track down an offset mount. Recoil is a bit more with the KelTec, but that’s not surprising given that it’s a full pound lighter. The charging handle for the SUB2000 is underneath the buffer tube; in my opinion more awkward to get to than that of the FPC, but easier to work when you do.
The side-folding barrel of the FPC means that you can mount whatever optic, in whatever mount, that you want. However, when folded the gun is significantly bulkier than the SUB2000. The SUB2000 lies flat, whereas the FPC folds into a rectangularish cubist piece of modern art. Provided with the FPC is one 17-round magazine, two 23-round magazines, four backstraps, a cable lock, and an owner’s manual, all in a light blue carrying case with pockets for the assorted items and straps to keep the folded FPC in place, and a shoulder strap for when the case gets too heavy for your hand. I found the M&P FPC to be reliable and acceptably accurate. I also think S&W will see a lot of sales of this gun to people who aren’t quite sure what they’re going to do with it, but want one anyway.
Smith & Wesson FPC
- Caliber: 9mm
- Weight: 5 lbs. 1 oz. (with empty 17-round magazine inserted), 5 lbs. 12 oz. (with all three empty magazines inserted)
- Overall Length: 30.4 in. unfolded, 16.4 in. (folded)
- Receiver: Aluminum
- Barrel: 16.25 in. 4140 steel 1/10 in. twist, black oxide finish
- Bolt: Stainless steel
- Muzzle Device: None, threaded 1/2x28
- Stock: Fixed, 14.5 in. LOP
- Safety: Manual
- Pistol Grip: M&P compact with interchangeable backstraps
- Handguard: 12 in. polymer, M-LOK compatible
- Trigger: Flat, single stage, 5 lbs. (tested)
- Sights: None
- Accessories: One 17-round magazine, two 23-round magazines, four backstraps, soft case, cable lock
- MSRP: $659
- Contact: Smith & Wesson
About the Author
James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. A former police officer he is a USPSA Production Division Grand Master. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O’Reilly Factor. His current best-selling novel, Dogsoldiers, is available now through Amazon.
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