June 05, 2020
You just can’t talk about the new Ruger-57 pistol without covering a little history, so let’s very briefly roll things back a couple decades. In 1990 FN developed the 5.7x28mm cartridge in conjunction with its select-fire P90 PDW, similar to what John Browning did with the .45 ACP and the 1911. With the P90, the FN engineers wanted to create a firearm for military and law enforcement that was easier to shoot than a traditional handgun and would penetrate soft body armor (dedicated armor-piercing ammo is not available commercially) but was substantially smaller and lighter than a traditional rifle.
Once the P90 was introduced, the engineers then started looking for alternate platforms for the interesting new cartridge. They ultimately realized that while it was long, the cartridge would still fit into the grip of a traditional handgun. Thus, in 1998, the FN Five-seveN pistol was born.
It’s taken more than 20 years for another major gun company to introduce a pistol chambered in this cartridge, but that day is finally here with the Ruger-57 (pronounced “five seven”).
Before we dive into the ballistics of the curious little 5.7x28mm cartridge, let’s look at the pistol itself. Externally, the Ruger-57 looks like a stretched Security-9, with a few unique features. This is a polymer-framed pistol, but it is not striker-fired. It is a single-action pistol with an internal hammer.
There is an ambidextrous 1911-style thumb safety that blocks the movement of the trigger: up for Safe, down for Fire. The safety can be engaged when the hammer is not cocked, and the long lever, while narrow, is easy to work with your thumb. There is also a safety lever on the trigger to prevent impact-related accidental discharges.
This pistol appears stretched because it sports a 4.94-inch barrel to get as much as possible out of the bottleneck high-velocity cartridge. Why 4.94 inches? Ruger says it’s because the slide has a recessed breech face, so the distance between the breech face in the slide and the tip of the barrel is actually 5.0 inches.
The slide is alloy steel with a black oxide finish. There is a lightening cut in the top of the slide, and aggressive cocking serrations front and back. The pistol has a relatively robust recoil spring. For its size, this pistol is surprisingly light. With an empty magazine in place, it weighs just 24.5 ounces.
The front sight is a tall steel post with a green fiber-optic insert. The rear sight is plain black and steel. It is fully adjustable for windage and elevation. Both sights are dovetailed into place.
As the FN Five-seveN is the only other traditional handgun on the market chambered in the 5.7x28mm cartridge, comparisons are unavoidable. One clear difference between these two pistols is the Ruger’s ability to mount a red dot. The Ruger’s slide forward of the rear sight is drilled and tapped for an optic adapter plate, available separately at ShopRuger.com. Currently, the only plate available fits Burris and Vortex red dots. The magazine release is also reversible, whereas the FN pistol’s is not.
This Ruger-57 is fed by 20-round magazines. The magazines have steel bodies and polymer base plates, and two are provided with the pistol. If you live in a state with magazine restrictions, Ruger sells a version of this pistol with 10-round magazines.
Because the 5.7x28mm cartridge is quite long, so is the grip of the pistol. However, the cartridge is also narrow, and the grip of this pistol is narrower than most double-stack 9mm handguns, so it doesn’t feel big in your hand. That said, most everyone will have to rotate the pistol in their hand to reach the magazine release.
The polymer frame has ample sections of moderately aggressive texturing, and you will not have to worry about it moving in your hand. At the front of the frame is a long, five-slot Picatinny-style rail for mounting lights or lasers.
Since this pistol’s introduction, the most common criticism I’ve heard is, “Great, Ruger’s introduced a pistol that no one was asking for.” My response to those complaints: What kind of firearm could you possibly want that Ruger isn’t already making?
Before developing this pistol, Ruger looked at the marketplace and tried to identify segments where it didn’t have a presence or where its products were under-represented. In examining the market, it realized there was only one handgun chambered for the 5.7x28mm cartridge, and it was far from inexpensive.
The first time I laid hands on, much less fired, an FN Five-seveN pistol, it was over a decade ago. I was surprised by two things: As light as the pistol was, felt recoil was less than that of a 9mm, and the pistol’s slide was polymer—well, steel wrapped with polymer, but still.
As “different” as the Ruger-57 looks, it still has a much more traditional handgun appearance than the FN, while having the same magazine capacity and being roughly half the cost. Suggested retail price for the Ruger-57 is $799. The current suggested retail for the FN Five-seveN is $1,435, and even though I suspect FN shortly will be quietly dropping the price of the Five-seveN, that’s still not even close.
Now to the caliber. The 5.7x28mm cartridge has a bottleneck design, which is uncommon when it comes to pistol cartridges. Think of it as a two-thirds-size .223 Remington and you’ll have a good idea of both its looks and its performance. For reference, overall length of a 9mm cartridge is 1.169 inches, a .45 ACP is 1.275 inches, and the 5.7x28mm has an overall length of 1.594 inches. A .223 Remington has an overall length of 2.26 inches.
Current 5.7x28mm loads offer bullets between 28 and 40 grains in weight, running between 1,650 and 2,000 fps out of a handgun-length barrel. Most 40-grain loads will do roughly 1,700 fps.
For this article I thought it would be appropriate to compare the 5.7x28mm cartridge to the two cartridges that are most similar in performance, the proprietary .22 TCM from Rock Island Armory and the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire. With all of these cartridges, you are flinging a .22 caliber bullet downrange, and all of these cartridges have less recoil than what you normally find with traditional handgun cartridges.
The .22 TCM is meant for 1911-style guns, and it’s basically a very shortened .223 case loaded with truncated 39- or 40-grain bullets. Out of pistol-length barrels, 40-grain bullets will do more than 1,900 fps.
The .22 WMR is a long rimfire round originally designed for small game rifles, but numerous pistols have been chambered in this cartridge. Loads offer bullets between 30 and 50 grains. This cartridge performs better out of rifle-length barrels, but in handguns you can expect to send 30-grain bullets downrange approaching 1,600 fps.
In terms of power, the 5.7x28mm fits between the .22 TCM and .22 WMR. However, there are other considerations.
As I mentioned, the .22 TCM is a proprietary cartridge, and Armscor/Rock Island Armory is the only company making ammo for it, and there are currently only two loads offered. Ammo for the .22 WMR is made by a number of companies, can be found all over and is the least expensive of these three calibers.
Right now the number of makers of 5.7x28mm ammo is slim: Federal/Speer/American Eagle and Fiocchi (which also makes the FN-branded ammo). Together they offer about six loads, and none of it is inexpensive. However, with the introduction of this pistol, I wouldn’t be surprised to see new offerings and perhaps a new ammo company or two deciding to manufacture the 5.7x28mm—with a resulting drop in price.
I talked to a Hornady representative, and he said the company has thought about making 5.7x28mm ammo, but with only one expensive boutique pistol on the market chambered in the caliber, Hornady didn’t feel there would be enough sales to jump in. That has now changed, because if there is one thing Ruger is good at, it’s selling lots of guns.
Ruger’s tagline for the 57 is “Fun to shoot, cool to own.” The company is not pushing it toward one intended use or another; it is leaving that up to the consumer, which I think is a very smart move. It’s one of those pistols where you see it and say, “I don’t know what I’d do with it, but I want one.”
The clerks at my local gun store tell me that over the years they have had quite a few people come in wanting to get a pistol chambered in 5.7x28mm—because it’s cool and different and something that they can show off to their friends. However, the conversation usually ends when they find out that the ammo is hard to get and the pistol itself is priced well over $1,000.
Now they actually have an affordable alternative, and as I said, I’d be shocked if you don’t see at least one more major manufacturer begin producing ammo in this caliber.
Ballistically, it’s more than suitable for small game. Hornady’s V-Max bullets, available in several different 5.7x28mm loads, are designed to excel on small game. As a defensive pistol, you have merely to turn on your computer to hear the screeching of people proclaiming the 5.7x28mm cartridge is unsuitable for defensive use—never mind the fact that it was specifically designed for anti-personnel use. While the number of actual shootings involving this cartridge is low, it seems to have proven itself roughly as effective as a standard handgun round while providing less recoil, more magazine capacity, but more muzzle blast.
In ballistic gel block testing, these bullets, when fired out of handguns, vigorously fragment, and the bases penetrate 12 to 18 inches.
It’s not exactly sized for concealed carry, but then neither is a four-inch revolver, and people have been carrying those for a century. If I was carrying a pistol this size, I would prefer one chambered in 9mm, but if forced to choose between this pistol and a revolver, I would choose the Ruger-57 over the wheelgun every time, no matter the caliber of the revolver.
Why? The Ruger-57 points great and has a great trigger, low recoil and 20+1 capacity and promises 12 to 18 inches of penetration. The biggest downside to this caliber for defensive use is the inability of the small, light bullets to penetrate any sort of barrier like drywall and auto glass without breaking apart.
On my first trip to the range, I also brought along an AR pistol for testing. Without thinking, I started loading the Ruger’s magazine as if it was an AR mag, and that worked just fine. You don’t have to slide the cartridges in from the front; you can just push them down from the top.
Felt recoil, as I mentioned, is less than a 9mm but more than a .22. You will get more blast and, depending on the ammo, usually more flash than with a 9mm, but not the recoil.
It is fun to shoot and reminded me of a USPSA Open division pistol, the kind with a large compensator hanging off the end of the barrel. There’s a lot of noise and flash but not much muzzle rise or recoil. As fellow gun scribe Michael Bane says about this pistol, “You can run it like a stapler.” With the fully adjustable rear sight, it is no problem getting your rounds to hit exactly where you’re aiming.
One thing I discovered is it’s difficult to drop the slide on a loaded magazine using the slide stop. You’re better off just yanking the slide to the rear and letting it fly. Also, that 20-round magazine capacity is awesome. Start shooting, keep shooting, shoot some more, and eventually, probably before you get tired, the magazine will run out of ammo.
With great sights, a long sight radius and an excellent trigger, shooting this pistol accurately and at speed is easy, whether you’re hunting, plinking steel or training a new shooter. Currently, the only downsides are the availability of ammo and its cost.
The staff at my local gun store seems to have the following opinion on this pistol: They’re not sure what people are going to use them for, but they’re confident that they are going to sell a whole lot of them. I think they’re right.
Ruger 57 Pistol SpecsType:
4.94 in. alloyOAL/Height/Width:
Polymer frame, oxide-coated alloy steel slideSights:
Fully adjustable rear, fiber-optic frontTrigger:
5.5 lb. pull (measured)Safety:
Trigger lever, manual thumb safetyPrice:
Ruger 57 Pistol Accuracy Results