Subcompact 9MM Shootoff

For our subcompact 9MM shootoff, we chose the Ruger LCP and Kahr PM9, along with the Springfield EMP, Kimber Solo and SIG P290. While the EMP and PM9 have been around for several years, the other three are new on the market.

All five have machined-steel slides. Those on the EMP, Solo and PM9 are made from stainless steel while the P290 and LC9 have high tech finishes to protect them from the elements. Both the EMP and Solo are more traditional in that their frames are made from lightweight alloy while the other three make use of polymer.

The five pistols feature a variety of trigger types. Being a miniature 1911, the EMP has a traditional single-action trigger with an exposed hammer, which allows it to be carried cocked and locked.

The LC9, PM9 and P290 are all of the double-action-only persuasion, but they differ in detail. The LC9 and P290 are both hammer fired whereas the PM9 is striker fired. The hammers on the LC9 and P290 are bobbed so they won't snag and therefore cannot be cocked manually. None of the three have double-strike capability.

The Solo is a single-action, striker-fired pistol that sort of splits the difference when it comes to triggers. Chambering a round cocks the striker and holds it in place until a full stroke (which is rather short and light) of the trigger releases it. For this reason the pistol features ambidextrous safety levers that must be engaged once a round is chambered. Like the PM9, P290 and LC9 it does not have double-strike capability.

The five pistols are all locked-breech designs. The EMP functions just like a 1911--'nuff said--while the Solo's locking system has features of both the Browning Hi Power and Polish Radom.

The remaining three use a system that is common to many of today's semiauto pistols: The barrel hood moves up into and bears on the front edge of the ejection port, locking the two units together. The slide and barrel move rearward a short distance until the barrel is cammed down, allowing the slide to continue to the rear, extracting and ejecting the spent cartridge case.

Four of the pistols feature manual safeties. The EMP and Solo both have ambidextrous thumb safeties while the former, as befits a 1911, also has a grip safety.

The LC9 and PM9 have thumb safeties, although the latter's is moved backwards: down for Safe and up for Fire. Both sport loaded-chamber indicators, and the LC9 has a magazine disconnect safety. The P290 is the odd man out in this area: Its "safety" is a long, revolver-like double-action trigger pull. Last, the EMP and LC9 both have key-operated security systems that prevent unauthorized firing.

Magazine capacity ranges from six rounds for the P290, Solo and PM9; seven for the LC9; and nine for the EMP. The PM9 came with a spare, seven-round magazine that provided a more substantial grip, and I have been informed by both Kimber and SIG Sauer that such magazines will be available for the Solo and P290 later this year.

I'm happy to relate that all five pistols had the magazine release located in the "proper" position, which greatly facilitated reloading. The Solo was the only one of our test pistols to sport ambidextrous magazine releases.

I conducted the accuracy tests at 15 yards with a selection of Hornady, Winchester and Federal ammunition. All five of them shot close enough to point of aim to satisfy me and produced groups ranging in size from 1.75 to 3.5 inches. As can be seen from the accompanying chart, all five showed a preference for heavier projectiles and shot the tightest groups with the Winchester 147-grain PDX1. And it came as no surprise to me that the smallest average groups were shot with the two pistols sporting single-action triggers.

I then disassembled, cleaned and lubricated each pistol, which would be the only maintenance they would receive. If a gun choked we would attempt to correct the problem at the range and keep shooting.

After that, my brother Vincent and friends Butch Simpson and Jim Tosco adjourned to the range to test the pistols in a series of drills, Galco providing a selection of holsters and magazine pouches. Guns were graded for ergonomics, trigger control, recoil control, sights, offhand accuracy, ease of reloading and concealability. As our hand sizes ranged from rather dainty digits to ham fisted paws, we felt we would get a good overall feel for these mini pistols.

I met my assistants at the Trigger Time Training Center in Carthage, North Carolina.

Our offhand testing consisted of the following three drills performed on IPSC targets set at "real life" distances. All pistols and spare magazines were carried and drawn from concealment.

El Presidente. Draw and double tap on each of three targets at seven yards. Perform a combat reload and repeat. Reload magazines as necessary and repeat one more time.

FBI Drill. Draw and fire two body shots and one head shot on a pair of targets at five yards. Perform a combat reload and repeat.

One-Handed Drill. Draw and engage three targets at three yards with two rounds each, firing all rounds with a one-handed grip. Perform a combat reload and repeat.

At the end, each pistol had a total of 240 rounds fired from it for a grand total of 1,200 rounds. And we did it in less than four hours including a lunch break. All pistols were scored on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest, and the results are shown in the accompanying table. Following are some highlights of the test.

Ergonomics. It should come as no surprise that the EMP finished first in this category. After all, no one has yet invented a pistol with better ergonomics than a 1911. And while the PM9 finished in second place, it must be pointed out that this was primarily a result of its extended magazines providing a more substantial grip.

While the LC9 pointed well, several of us found its grip too narrow. The Solo and P290 finished rather poorly because of their short grips and, in the case of the Solo, lack of checkering on the front- and backstraps of the grip frame.

Trigger Control. The single-action EMP finished well in the lead here. While the PM9 had a long trigger stroke, it was so smooth and stage-free that, in the opinion of the testers, it was equal to that of the single-action Solo. The LC9's trigger had a consistent, albeit heavy, stroke. The P290's trigger was quite heavy and had a definite hesitation about halfway through the stroke, which caused a number of flyers. By the end of the day it had smoothed out some, although the hesitation was still noticeable.

Recoil Control. With its full-size grip and excellent ergonomics the EMP was the winner here again. The LC9 came in second because, even though several of us found the grip a bit too narrow, the finger rest extensions on the magazines permitted a full three-finger grip. The PM9 came in third primarily because some shooting was done with the flush-fitting six-round magazine, which left your little finger dangling in the air.

All of us found the grip frames on the P290 and Solo far too short, which resulted in poor scores in this category. Neither SIG nor Kimber were unable to provide us with extended magazines for their pistols in time for these tests, and I look forward to trying both of these pistols with them in the future.

Sights. While all five pistols were fitted with excellent sights, the LC9's were the smallest, which accounts for its last-place finish in this category.

Offhand Accuracy. The EMP garnered further accolades in this category with the PM9 and LC9 tying for second place. The Solo followed close on the pair's heels, thanks to its light single-action trigger pull. The P290's heavy trigger pull and attenuated grip doomed it to last place.

Ease of Reloading. Okay, you guessed it. Thanks to its large grip and beveled magazine well the EMP took honors here also. Second place went to the LC9, with the PM9 following right behind it mainly because some of us had difficulty ejecting the flush-fitting magazine. The P290's magazines were difficult to seat although they fell free--sometimes too easily.

The Solo proved a trial as only one of the three magazines supplied with it would fall free when the release was pressed, and the other two had to pulled out by fingernail power. (The folks at Kimber informed me that our test sample was and early production model and that this problem would be resolved before the gun hits dealer shelves.)

Concealability. The PM9 took honors here, with the Solo and LC9 tying for second place. While very concealable, the P290 had the widest cross section and a rather "chunky" outline so it came in third. We were unanimous in feeling that the EMP was just a bit too large for serious concealed carry unless you used the proper style of holster and wore the correct garments.

Other Observations. On occasion, several of us failed to depress the EMP's grip safety when drawing the pistol. For this reason we felt that such a device was a poor idea on a handgun meant for concealed carry.

We experienced a few malfunctions with all five pistols ranging from failures to feed to smokestack jams and failures to extract. But as all were new, out-of-the-box guns, this was not unexpected, and the frequency of malfunctions decreased as the pistols were broken in.

EMP, PM9 and LC9 magazines could be loaded quickly and effortlessly. Unfortunately we found it extremely difficult to load the P290 and Solo's magazines to capacity--so much so that on several occasions we manually loaded a round into the chamber and used a magazine with only five rounds in it. One assumes this issue will also be resolved.

In addition, the magazine release on the P290 extended out too far from the frame. When the pistol recoiled, the thumb of the shooting hand hit it, which resulted in the magazine dropping down far enough to where the slide would not chamber the next round. I was the only shooter not to experience this problem because I consciously fired the pistol with a high thumb grip. We all felt that shortening or rounding off the button would solve this problem without compromising reloading speed.

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