December 27, 2010
By James Tarr
The latest variant of Beretta's PX4 Storm is a midsize compact that's just right.
By James Tarr
Beretta first came out with the full-size PX4 in 2004 and followed it up with subcompact and .45 ACP versions, but it wasn't until now that it offered a midsize variation, which is not the way gun companies usually do things. Manufacturers most often start large and work their way into compacts and then subcompacts. I suspect Beretta was going after the burgeoning CCW market with its PX4 Sub-Compact (and who can blame it?) but I'm glad to see a midsize version of the design. Not everybody who carries a gun wants something small.
The Compact is a soft-shooting rotating-barrel design that permits fast, accurate follow-up shots.
The PX4 Storm is a polymer-framed double-action/single-action semiautomatic with an enclosed, rotating barrel, making it strikingly different in appearance from Beretta's flagship pistol, the Model 92 (the M9 for you military veterans out there).
Most people think of rotating barrels as something too bulky or complicated to be of much use in a pistol, but that's not the case. While rotating barrels aren't common these days, they can trace their roots back to at least the Savage Model 1907, which is a cool little art deco-looking pocket automatic. The PX4 is not the first Beretta to use a rotating barrel, but it is the shortest; the PX4 Compact's barrel is a mere 3.2 inches long.
The Beretta's design is ingeniously simple. As the barrel and slide move backward under recoil, underneath is a "central block" that is cradled by the frame and does not move. The block has a steel tab that indexes on a curved slot in the underside of the barrel. As the barrel moves back, the tab forces the barrel to rotate.
The barrel rotates about 45 degrees counterclockwise as it unlocks and moves rearward approximately half an inch during the recoil cycle. Since the 3.2-inch barrel does not tilt downward (as it does on the Storm Sub-Compact, which uses a tilt-barrel design), the magazine holds the rounds in a nearly straight line with the chamber.
|Storm PX4 Compact|
|Type:||DA/SA rotating-barrel semiauto|
|Caliber:||9mm (tested), .40 S&W|
|Capacity:||15 (9mm), 12 (.40)|
|Barrel: ||3.2 in.|
|Overall Length:||6.8 in.|
|Height: || 5.0 in.|
|Width:|| 1.4 in.|
|Construction:||polymer frame; stainless steel slide w/Bruniton finish|
|Sights:||three dot combat|
|Trigger:||DA, 10 lb.; SA, 6 lb.|
|Manufacturer:||Beretta USA, BerettaUSA.com, 800-929-2901|
The frame is constructed of a proprietary glass-fiber reinforced polymer that the company says is resistant to extreme heat, chemicals, impact and wear. This polymer is expensive, a company engineer told me, but they've found it to be ideal in extensive testing. There are steel inserts in the frame on which the slide rides.
The grip is big enough for me to get my whole hand on it, including my pinkie, without needing an oversize magazine base pad. This is a very good thing. The grip is only 0.2 inch taller than the Sub-Compact, but that fraction of an inch is all it takes to make me happy as I can get all my fingers on the gun. This makes a huge difference when it comes to controlling the pistol.
The Compact sports a slightly beveled magazine well, and it has checkering imprinted on the front- and backstraps that was not very aggressive but did give some purchase during firing.
The half-cock notch doesn't reduce the trigger pull, but it does move the trigger slightly to the rear for an easier reach.
As it is a true double action, if for some reason the round doesn't go off you can just pull the trigger again — -unlike most striker-fired pistols.
Now, while the PX4 Storm Compact is no pocket pistol, I don't really think the Sub-Compact is either. The Sub-Compact is more than six inches long and weighs 26 ounces, which to me sounds like something I'd like to carry in a holster.
The Compact is equivalent in size to a Glock 19 and is what I consider a midsize auto. The Compact is available in both 9mm and .40 S&W, and due to its polymer frame it carries what just a few years ago would be considered a full complement of ammo: 15 rounds in 9mm or 12 rounds in .40 S&W. The Compact also takes full-size PX4 magazines, so you can reload with a big stick and increase your capacity to 17 rounds of 9mm or 14 of .40.
Beretta engineers have done their best to make the PX4 a modular pistol, "modular" meaning you won't need a file or blowtorch to change certain features on the
pistol. The magazine release (which had a very stiff spring, I thought) is reversible, and the hammer group is easily replaceable.
The PX4 has a replaceable backstrap, but the test pistol came with only a flat one. It also has a lanyard loop in the butt, but the first time I pulled on it a little too hard, I sent it flying across the room. That's not something you look for in a lanyard loop, so I called Beretta, and the engineers told me the lanyard loop on my sample pistol was obviously defective. These things happen.
The author didn't care for the ambi safety because the levers are angled outward at the front and can hurt hands during rapid slide manipulation.
Also, unlike other PX4 models, the Compact features an ambidextrous slide release. I found the slide release to be nicely rounded, and it did not get in the way. It was easily manipulated, which is more than I can say for the slide-mounted ambi safety/decocker.
The safeties are angled outward toward the front, with hard edges, so if you are quickly racking the slide or doing malfunction drills the forecast calls for pain. The safety levers are serrated at the top but not the bottom, and I found it was a lot easier to put the safety on than get it off.
I can honestly say that while I would carry this gun, I would never carry it with the safety on because I do not think I could get that safety off under stress without one or two false starts.
While the slide has front and rear cocking serrations, they are shallow and not very functional, but admittedly they're a lot better than no serrations at all.
The Compact features very serviceable three-dot, combat-type sights, and the top of the extractor is painted red to serve as a loaded-chamber indicator. If you can see red, the gun is loaded. Honestly, there is not much red to see even when the gun is loaded, and I always prefer to chamber-check my handguns.
The Compact also features a passive firing pin safety to prevent the gun from going off if it's dropped.
The Storm's grip is large enough for a solid four-finger hold. The magazine release, which had a stiff spring on the test gun, is reversible.
While the owner's manual states that the Compact's hammer has a half-cock notch, I would consider it more of a quarter-cock notch. Setting the hammer in that position does not reduce the weight of the double-action trigger pull (10 pounds in our sample), but it does reduce the length of the trigger pull by 20 to 25 percent. Sometimes every little bit helps.
Taking apart the Beretta is even simpler than taking apart a Glock, which is saying something. After removing the magazine and making sure the pistol is unloaded, with the slide forward, pull down on the takedown lever (either side of the frame) and pull off the slide assembly. That's it.
The captive recoil spring sits inside a trough that Beretta calls a "slide absorber," which is new for this model. It stays attached to the slide upon disassembly but sits inside the frame during firing.
This trough is attached to the central block, which incorporates the tab on which the barrel rotates. Manipulating that block and trough to make sure they're in correct position is the only tricky part when reassembling the pistol.
Berettas, in my experience, always have had excellent double-action trigger pulls. They're usually consistent, smooth and light. The PX4 was no different, and both the double-action and single-action trigger pulls felt at least a pound lighter than they measured- — perhaps due to the design of the trigger, which was wide and smooth.
I've been shooting pistols long enough that, based on weight, caliber and bore height off the hand, I can accurately guess how much a pistol is going to recoil. Based on all of the above criteria, my estimate was that the Beretta would have slightly softer recoil than a similarly sized Glock 19, with slightly more muzzle rise — -all things being equal.
But all things are not equal. The Glock has a more traditional tilting barrel design, whereas the Beretta uses the rotating barrel I described earlier. I was really curious and eager to see how much recoil (if any) the rotating-barrel design absorbed.
While most pistols don't run well with hot loads, with the Compact it was just the opposite: It loved the hot stuff but choked on soft match loads.
Shooting the PX4 brought several surprises. First, recoil was much softer than I was expecting. The Compact's recoil impulse was more of a push than a hard whack into the hand, and fast and accurate shooting was easy. Compared to most polymer-framed guns its size, the Beretta was a pussycat.
The second thing I discovered was that the Beretta didn't like weak ammo. I don't know if this is a result of the strong hammer and recoil springs or the rotating barrel, or both, but match ammo from Atlanta Arms & Ammo features a 147-grain bullet at 875 fps (out of this length barrel), and most of the time it wouldn't even cycle the slide.
This AAA load is made to Team Glock specifications and works in every Glock and SIG Sauer I've tried it in, but the Beretta apparently needs hotter ammo to cycle reliably.
It loved Winchester white box (which runs a bit hot) and ran flawlessly with hot personal defense ammunition, which honestly is the opposite of how most guns work. That said, if you buy a PX4 and start carrying it, I highly recommend you put several boxes of your chosen carry ammo through it to make sure it functions 100 percent with that particular load.
While shooting, it was not uncommon for the nose of the incoming round to glance off the feed ramp before continuing on up into the barrel. The copper streaks on the black ramp were easy to see, and this is what feed ramps are for.
However, taking apart the Storm PX4 Compact revealed that its feed ramp is part of the frame, which means it is made of the same glass-fiber reinforced polymer. I was concerned about the long-term survivability (10,000+ rounds) of a "plastic" feed ramp, so I spoke to the folks at the company.
|Accuracy Results | Beretta PX4 Storm Compact|
|9mm Luger||Bullet Weight (gr.)||Muzzle Velocity (fps)||Standard Deviation||Accuracy (inches)|
|Black Hills JHP|| 115 || 1,102 || 14 || 2.6 |
|Hornady XTP JHP|| 124 || 1,088 || 12 || 2.3 |
|Winchester FMJ|| 115 || 1,099 || 18 || 2.8 |
|Atl. Arms & Ammo FMJ|| 147 || 872 || 11 || 2.2 |
|Winchester PDX1 JHP|| 147 || 970 || 13 || 2.0 |
|Wilson Combat XTP|| 115 || 1,175 || 9 || 2.4 |
|NOTES: Accuracy results are the averages of four five-shot groups at 25 yards from a sandbag rest. Velocities are averages of 10 shots measured with an F-1 Alpha chronograph from Shooting Chrony 12 feet from the muzzle. Abbreviations: FMJ, full metal jacket; JHP, jacketed hollowpoint.|
The engineers said that because the rotary barrel feeds almost directly in line with the chamber — -as I noted earlier- — the feed ramp doesn't really do anything. In fact, they said, the design doesn't even require a feed ramp. They have cut the ramps completely away, and it had no effect on function.
As far as my concerns regarding long-term survivability, Beretta says there are PX4s at commercial ranges that have more than 150,000 rounds through them — with zero feed ramp problems.
I must admit that at first I didn't like the looks of the PX4. It does, as an employee in a local gun store commented, look like a turkey head. In so many aspects of life, including the buying of guns, appearance does matter.
Once the reliability and caliber questions are out of the way, most people buy their pistols for the same reasons they do cars- — based on looks (Glocks being a notable exception). The slide seems big for the grip because, well, the slide is big compared to the grip. But in a holstered pistol the size of the grip is what determines concealability more than anything else. Plus, that chunky slide really helps tame felt recoil, even with +P loads.
Opinions and tastes change, and I can honestly say that I've grown to like the PX4. It certainly looks futuristic and unique. The guy down the street is not likely to own one, and my 12-year-old son thinks it looks cool.
I wish the Beretta engineers would redesign the safety, but that really is a small complaint as most people won't carry a double-action auto on "Safe" anyway.
The PX4 Compact is reliable, completely ambidextrous, small enough to carry concealed under most clothing choices and holds as much ammo as anybody is likely to need. (But if you need more, Beretta supplies a second magazine with the gun.) With attributes like that, and with a price tag of less than $600, it should appeal to a lot of folks.