The People's Pistol: HK VP9 Review
January 04, 2016
The HK VP9 is one of the newest polymer-framed striker-fired pistols from Heckler & Koch. Heckler & Koch (pronounced “coke,” if you didn’t know) is a German company, and I’d heard rumors for a while that it was going to be producing a new striker-fired gun, but I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that the firm was going to be selling it at the very competitive suggested retail of $719. The only question was would the HK VP9 be worth the price?
In case you haven’t noticed, the major gun companies have decided that polymer-framed striker-fired guns are where it’s at—“it” being a lot of potential profit and market share. There are a number of reasons for this. For the manufacturers, plastic is cheaper and easier to work with than metal, which means they can produce firearms more quickly and easily with better profit margins. Striker-fired trigger systems are all modern, which means they don’t require nearly the amount of hand-fitting even modern copies of old designs such as the 1911 do. For the consumer, striker-fired guns offer the same trigger pull each time and usually have a bore set lower to the hand, which means less muzzle rise and felt recoil.
The HK VP9 does look a lot like the company’s P30. The grip is very reminiscent of the Walther PPQ while the front end reminds me of the S&W M&P. But the trigger guard is pure HK, and the VP9 is not simply a hammer-fired P30 that has been retrofitted into a striker-fired gun. While it shares a lot of the style points and the P30 magazine, the HK VP9 is an all-new design, one that takes full advantage of the striker-fired trigger system, which allows for a much lower bore than you’ll find on any other HK pistol. Is it as low to the hand as the bore on the gold standard, the Glock? No, but HK did its darndest.
The VP9 is not HK’s first striker-fired pistol. The VP70 was a striker-fired design and also HK’s first polymer-framed pistol. It was introduced in 1970. VP stands for Volkspistole—literally “people’s pistol,” which is ironic since Germany has strict gun laws and doesn’t generally allow concealed carry for everyday citizens.
This first initial model of the HK VP9 is a full-size duty gun, bigger than most people would want to carry concealed; dimensionally it’s nearly identical to the Glock 17. It has a 4.1-inch barrel and is 7.3 inches long and 5.4 inches high. Total weight without magazine is 23.28 ounces. It is supplied with two 15-round magazines with numbered index holes on the back.
The sights on the HK VP9 are three-dot steel and dovetailed into the slide. The rear sight is a no-snag model. The dots are greenish white in color and luminescent. While luminescent paint isn’t as high tech as tritium-powered night sights, tritium is more expensive and many countries (i.e., potential HK customers) have import restrictions on anything radioactive. I found that the dots were as bright as good night sights when I tested them in a dark room.
Slide serrations on the HK VP9 are wide and flat-bottomed and cover a lot of real estate both front and back. Apparently, HK didn’t think they were enough, however, because the designers also equipped the pistol with “charging supports.”
These are polymer ridges that stick out from the very rear of the HK VP9 slide under the rear sight, behind the rear slide serrations, and provide for the ultimate in traction for people wearing gloves or with reduced hand strength. From behind they make the slide look rather fat, but from the side you might not even notice them.
When the HK VP9 is cocked, the rear of the striker is visible through a hole in the back of the slide, and there is a small red dot on it. It does not protrude from the slide at any time. The barrel has polygonal rifling, which should be very familiar to anyone who has ever looked down a Glock barrel.
The HK VP9 trigger has a nearly flat face with a safety lever on it. Because there are slight ridges on the trigger to either side of the lever, the face of the trigger feels serrated. There is about a quarter-inch of take-up on the trigger before the break, and total length of trigger travel on my sample was 0.47 inch. Reset was about half that. Measured pull weight was 5.5 pounds according to my NRA weight set.
Heckler & Koch is talking big about how great the VP9's trigger is when compared to other striker-fired guns, but nobody ever sold anything touting the mediocrity of a product. While it has less take-up than a Springfield Armory XD(m), the trigger break on the HK VP9 felt similar to the XD(m) to me, which means it feels superior to a Glock or a Smith & Wesson M&P but not as good as a Walther PPQ or a Caracal.
Part of the company's public relations blitz for the HK VP9 included a YouTube video in which a company representative runs through the pistol’s specs. What surprised me was his reference to the trigger as having a “crisp, single-action” break.
Traditionally, the term “single action” has been avoided at all costs by manufacturers trying to sell guns to law enforcement because for decades a “single-action trigger” meant a 1911-type or “hair trigger” in LE circles—and all they could see in their future were lawsuits due to officer-caused negligence discharges. Apparently, HK thinks we are far enough removed from the era of the 1911 as a duty gun, and the striker-fired gun is such a fixture in law enforcement, that “single action” won’t cause immediate palpitations in police administrators’ hearts.
And the HK VP9 does seem to be a true single action. Taking off the slide with the use of the takedown lever reveals the sear release catch sticking up from the rear. A sharp corner on it cocks the striker as the slide goes into battery. Pulling the trigger drops the catch down out of the way, releasing the striker.
Usually, true single-action trigger pulls are shorter and cleaner than what the HK VP9 offers, but the travel is needed in part to deactivate the firing pin safety in the slide, which has to be rotated out of the way.
Like the P30, the HK VP9 offers both interchangeable backstraps and side panel grip inserts. Medium-size panels and backstrap were installed on my HK VP9 from the factory, but the small and large ones were in the case in their own foam cutouts. All the backstraps and grip panels are marked S, M or L, and the grip panels are also helpfully marked Left or Right.
The HK VP9's grip panels slide out to the rear after you’ve removed the backstrap. To get the backstrap off, all you have to do is push out what most of us would call a roll pin but HK’s engineers term a “clamping sleeve.”
I was curious if mixing and matching the different sizes would result in sharp edges or steps between panels and backstraps of differing sizes, but that’s not the case. So if you want a large right grip panel, small backstrap, and medium left grip panel, go for it. (There’s a greater difference between the medium and large sizes than between small and medium.)
The slide release and magazine are ambidextrous. The magazine release is sure to provide the most debate with this pistol. Instead of a traditional American-style push-button release mounted on the frame at the rear of the trigger guard, the HK VP9 offers an ambidextrous paddle-type mag release mounted along the bottom of the trigger guard.
If you want to activate it using the thumb of your shooting hand, you’ll find it requires twisting the pistol around quite a bit in the hand. My first exposure to this type of magazine release was with Walther pistols, and it caused me some problems until a Walther fan at my local gun store showed me that the quickest way to drop a magazine in a pistol with a paddle mag release is using the tip of the middle finger. Yes, that sounds weird, and it is very different than what most Americans are used to, but once you practice it, the technique is just as fast as thumbing a traditionally located button release.
Trying that middle finger technique with the HK VP9 worked, but I found that the mag release was actually a bit shorter than I would have liked—my middle finger was hitting right at the end of the release, half on the release and half on the trigger guard. However, it was still a faster and more efficient technique for me than trying to use my thumb. People with very large or small hands might find other techniques work better for them.
My opinion is that this feature will hurt the HK VP9’s chances of success, and I think HK would be wise to introduce a version with a button-style release for the U.S. market. After all, that’s exactly why we have the PPQ M2 from Walther, a model that cashiered the paddle release in favor of an American button-style release.
Testing the HK VP9
Reportedly in development for four years, HK VP9 test guns have gone through tens of thousands of rounds without a problem. HK is advertising that it expects a service life of more than 10,000 rounds for each pistol. I didn’t have that kind of time or ammo available to me, but I did head to the range with several eager volunteers.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to have any jams or malfunctions, and we didn’t after firing several hundred rounds of assorted hollowpoints and full metal jacket ammo. I mostly wanted to shoot the HK VP9 to see how it handled, as I’ve spent a lot of time behind striker-fired guns.
Felt recoil was what you’d expect for a full-size gun chambered in 9mm—that is, not bad at all. I actually would have preferred more distance between the trigger and the backstrap on the HK VP9, but not even the large backstrap does that; it just fills the palm of your hand.
Until I got used to them, the three-dot sights caused me some problems. The rear sight is a window frame; you look through it, not at it. That’s why I prefer a black rear sight. I shot the HK VP9 on a sunny day, and the dots on the rear sight were bright enough to keep drawing my eye away from the front sight until I’d put a few magazines through the pistol.
While it has a few features I am not fond of and wouldn’t have chosen—particularly the paddle magazine release—the HK VP9 is a well made pistol that was fun to shoot. Kudos to HK for trying a few new things, including the charging supports. And the decision to introduce a solid, dependable competitively priced striker-fired gun will be welcomed by many U.S. shooters.