Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have probably heard about the new HK VP9 pistol that was introduced a few months ago. It is one of the biggest new firearm announcements for 2014, and popularity for the gun seems to be growing exponentially. Having one in my possession for several months now, I completely understand why people love this gun.
What is the VP9? The new Heckler & Koch pistol is a polymer-framed, striker-fired pistol chambered in 9mm. It is a duty-size handgun, slightly larger than the Glock 19, but a hair smaller than the M&P9. (See the below table for a comparison of these three pistols.)
On the surface, it may sound like the gun doesn’t offer anything new. But the specs don’t tell the whole story. This gun is a real joy to shoot, and it offers a number of unique features that can’t be found on other companies’ guns.
No review of the VP9 would be complete without looking at the historical roots of the gun.
The VP9 is a striker-fired, polymer-framed pistol. Certainly it is not the first plastic, striker-fired gun ever made. Nor is it the first one ever made by Heckler & Koch.
Beating the Glock 17 to market by more than a decade, the VP70 was the first striker-fired, polymer pistol to see commercial introduction. The guns sold in two versions: a semi-automatic pistol for civilians and a select-fire variant for military use. Versions of the gun were manufactured from 1970 through 1989.
The VP70 name had a meaning to it. VP stood for Volkspistole, or the “People’s Pistol.” Just like Volkswagen was a car for the masses, HK perhaps intended for the VP70 to be a quality handgun that everyone could afford. “70” referred to the year it was introduced.
Though the gun never achieved the same level of sales success that the Glock pistols did, the VP70 clearly blazed a new trail that would be followed by nearly every major gun maker by the early 21st Century.
Drawing inspiration from its historical roots, HK developed the VP9 as an affordable pistol that delivers great features and incredible performance. Many of the features relate to making the gun useable by a wide range of people, further enhancing the Volkspistole legacy.
Prior to the introduction of this gun, HK had been selling (and still does at the time of this writing) a similar pistol called the P30. The P30 is a polymer-framed pistol that uses a hammer-fired action.
The new VP9 has a lot of similar features to the P30 pistols including the magazine release being mounted on the trigger guard and the adjustable backstraps and side panels. The new gun also has a slide release lever mounted on the right side of the frame in addition to the standard left side of the gun.
However, the two guns do not use an identical frame. For example, the trigger guard is significantly different in the two guns. This prevents many of the holsters designed for the P30 from working with the VP9. Read more on VP9 holsters here.
Lets take a look at the pistol’s features.
The VP9 is fully ambidextrous. Every control on the left side of the gun has a duplicate control on the right side of the gun. There are no parts that have to be swapped to make it south paw friendly as must be done on some other pistols.
A long slide release lever is mounted on the right side of the frame to mirror the function of the one in the traditional location. The lever is low profile, and though it looks like it might interfere with the running of the pistol, it does not. At no point during any of the testing did any shooter have the lever interfere with the gun’s operation.
Most pistols uses a push-button magazine release. HK deviated from this convention and used a paddle-style release that is mounted at the rear of the trigger guard. I was very skeptical of this arrangement when I first saw it. However, I found I was at least as fast with this style as I was with a push-button release.
While I found it easiest to use my thumb to release the magazine, other shooters like to use the trigger finger to release the mag. This has the benefit of not breaking your grip to change the magazines.
Carrying the idea of the People’s Pistol forward, the handgun has interchangeable backstraps and side panels to fit nearly any hand size. Right out of the box, the gun can be configured for 27 different grip sizes. This allows each shooter to best fit the gun to his or her hand. Proper gun-to-hand fit will allow for proper finger placement on the trigger. Correct finger placement on the trigger can improve accuracy immensely.
HK claims the trigger pull on the VP9 is superior to any other striker-fired mechanism on the market. This is a highly subjective claim, but I am unable to name a trigger I like better.
The VP9 trigger is relatively light with a smooth press and short reset. When I first began shooting the pistol, the reset was overly energetic. It pushed my finger past the reset point so that I had to take up slack in the trigger before firing again. I noticed that the more I shot the gun, the less this was a problem.
A positive reset still exists. The reset is still obvious, but now it is slightly less energetic. It no longer pushes my finger forward of the reset point and I can take a follow up shot without the need for additional take up.
At the rear of the slide is a pair of protrusions called charging supports. These inserts appear to be polymer pieces that are dovetailed into the sides of the slide. The supports extend at a 90˚ angle from the side of the slide, and are designed to improve the shooter’s ability to work the slide.
I imagine many people might see these as a marketing gimmick. In fact, I was a bit skeptical about their usefulness when I first saw them. However, I found they do seem to improve my grip when manipulating the slide. They are removable if you do not like them.
The HK VP9 pistol comes with three-dot luminescent sights. Essentially, the sights glow in the dark. In bright light, they absorb energy and look white. In low light, the dots give off the absorbed energy and glow green. The more stored energy they have, the brighter the glow. If they have given off all of the stored energy, the sights appear to be white.
I found the sights worked as well as any other three-dot arrangement. In bright to moderate lighting conditions, they simply looked like other white dots. In low light conditions, the sights were very visible and easy to use. With my ProTac HL hand held flashlight I could “charge” the front sight for a few seconds and get an extremely bright glow.
The only complaint I have about the sights is the shape of the rear sight. The leading edge of the sight is sloped. Some people prefer this as a way to prevent snagging on clothing during a draw. I, on the other hand, prefer a sharp edge so I can perform a single hand reload and malfunction clearance.
I attempted to use the charging supports to perform a one hand reload, but I found they were not adequate for the task. Essentially, they are not tall enough and have a slight rounded nature that prevents them from griping the edge of a belt or holster.
Like nearly every modern duty pistol being made today, Heckler & Koch included an Picatinny-type accessory rail on the VP9. The rail allows a shooter to easily pop on a light or laser.
Unfortunately, there have been problems with reliability in polymer pistols from another maker when certain ammunition and accessory lights were combined. I believe that company solved the problem, but HK was determined never to have the problem in the first place.
Extensive testing by HK proved the VP9’s accessory rail is completely reliable with any light or laser unit with a weight up to 5.6 ounces. While 5.6 ounces may not sound like much, it does cover nearly every light and laser unit I could find including:
- BLACKHAWK! Night-Ops Xiphos NTX
- INFORCE APL
- Streamlight TLR-1, TLR-1s, TLR-1 HL, TLR-1 HP, TLR-1s HP
- Streamlight TLR-2, TLR-2s, TLR-2 G, TLR-2 HL, TLR-2 IRW
- Streamlight TLR-3
- Streamlight TLR-4, TLR-4 G
- SureFire X300 Ultra, X300V
- SureFire X400 Ultra (red laser), X400 Ultra (green laser), X400V IRc
- Viridian X5L, X5L-R, X5L-FDE, C5, C5-R, C5L, C5L-R, CTL
I found only one light and laser combination unit that exceed the 5.6 ounces. It was the Streamlight TLR-2 VIR. Streamlight states the unit weighs 6.0 ounces with batteries, lens cap and a remote switch. The market for this light is pretty small, so it should not affect the vast majority of VP9 customers. It is possible that without the long gun remote switch the unit would weigh less than 5.6 ounces.
Gun folks – myself included – like to debate the various performance benefits of different handgun calibers for self defense. I’ve shot almost all of them and own guns in most of them. As a police officer, I saw the effects of different ones out in the real world. As a writer, I’ve seen how a lot of them perform in gelatin.
For me, the 9mm is a very good balance of power and performance. What I mean to say is the 9mm, especially in +P and +P+ offerings, offers an excellent balance between the ability to stop a deadly threat and the ability of the shooter to deliver multiple, well-placed rounds.
Other calibers, such as the .40 S&W, may offer a small increase in the ability to shut down an attacker. However, this small gain in performance comes at the cost of a decreased ability to deliver multiple hits to vital areas. For each shooter, a balance must be struck when choosing a caliber. For me, the 9mm makes sense.
While I cannot say for certain why HK decided to make the VP9 a 9mm only pistol, I can only speculate that:
- 9mm is a NATO standard, which means the gun could be sold to various military units that need a 9mm pistol; and
- HK may not be limiting the line to 9mm only – other calibers may be coming soon.
HK stated in the original press release that the pistol passed both NATO and NIJ testing (drop tests, extreme environment, etc.) This would tend to indicate they are looking toward the military market in addition to the law enforcement and armed citizen markets.
I have no insight into the long term strategy Heckler & Koch has developed for these pistols. However, I would not be shocked to see a VP40 introduced at the 2015 SHOT Show. The P30 pistol is available in both 9mm and .40 S&W. It would seem that HK could easily build a .40 caliber version of the Volkspistole.
|standard magazine capacity||15 rounds|
|weight (with unloaded magazine, factory specified)||25.56 oz|
|weight (with unloaded magazine, measured)||26.4 oz|
|trigger pull weight||5.4 lbs|
HK VP9 ComparisonA comparison of the VP9 to other similarly sized striker-fired pistols from Glock and Smith & Wesson.
|Heckler & Koch VP9||Glock 19 Gen4||Smith & Wesson M&P9|
|magazine capacity||15 rounds||15 rounds||17 rounds|
|operating system||recoil operated, striker fired||recoil operated, striker fired||recoil operated, striker fired|
|weight||23.28 oz (unloaded, no magazine)||23.65 oz (unloaded, unknown if with magazine)||24.0 oz (unloaded, no magazine)|
|sights||three dot luminous (tritium optional as accessories)||three dot (tritium optional)||three dot (tritium optional)|
|warranty||limited lifetime||limited one year||limited lifetime|
There is no perfect apples-to-apples comparison since every gun company has a different approach to the development of firearms. One company’s “full size” is another company’s “compact.” However, the VP9 compares favorably in size to the Glock 19 and Smith & Wesson M&P 9 pistols.
Although the Glock 19 is a “compact” pistol, it is still large enough to be carried as a primary sidearm in law enforcement or military service. I carried my Gen 2 Glock 19 as a reserve deputy with the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office in Atlanta, GA. I never felt under-armed with the pistol then and would happily carry it again as a duty weapon.
The one criticism I have seen on the internet regarding this comparison is that the HK’s height is closer to that of the Glock 17, and that Glock managed to squeeze two additional rounds into the magazine with that additional distance. This is true, but it seems to me that 15 vs. 17 rounds is not as significant an issue as other things might be. However, if the round count is your primary concern in buying a pistol, the Springfield Armory XD(M) pistol might be the best choice (19 rounds per magazine.)
Performance on the Range
At the time of this writing, I have had the VP9 on the range on seven different occasions. To date, ten different people have shot the gun. Combined we have put more than 1,200 rounds through the pistol. The majority of ammunition (roughly 750 rounds) shot in the gun has been a variety of 115 grain and 124 grain full metal jacket rounds. Brands included Remington, Winchester, Federal and Perfecta (more info on the Perfecta below.)
The VP9 shot amazingly well in all regards. Reliability was rock solid. There were no malfunctions of any kind. All of the ammo cycled properly and went “bang.”
Accuracy was very good. Shooting from anything other than a bolted-down Masters Series Ransom Rest will have too much dependency on the shooter’s ability for it to be a very meaningful measurement of accuracy. I might shoot a 2″ group while the guy next to me using the same ammo could shoot a 1″ group. Which is the “true” measurement of the gun’s accuracy?
For closer shooting, I could put all of the rounds into a center mass area of a target as quickly as I could pull the trigger at seven yards. At 50 yards, I was able to consistently hit an 8″ steel plate. For my purposes – self defense – this is the accuracy I need.
Felt recoil was what I would expect from a full-size 9mm gun. Standard pressure loads are very easy to handle, and +P loads have slightly more kick to them. The Federal BPLE +P+ loads are definitely snappier than the standard pressure stuff, but are still very controllable. For someone learning to manage the recoil of a centerfire cartridge, this gun would be excellent – especially when you fit the grip panels and backstrap to his or her hand.
I was not sure how quickly I would adapt to the paddle style magazine release. I was extremely pleased to discover it worked very well for me. Releasing a magazine with my shooting thumb seemed to be a natural motion, and I became very fast at it. After several trips to the range, I had become as fast with the paddle release as I am with the push-button style.
|Federal 9BPLE 115 gr JHP +P+||1,246 fps||396 ft-lbs|
|Federal American Eagle 115 gr FMJ||1,065 fps||290 ft-lbs|
|Federal Champion 115 gr FMJ||1,129 fps||325 ft-lbs|
|Federal Hydra-Shok 135 gr JHP||1,045 fps||327 ft-lbs|
|Hornady Critical Duty 135 gr FlexLock||962 fps||277 ft-lbs|
|Hornady Critical Duty 135 gr FlexLock +P||1,069 fps||342 ft-lbs|
|HPR Ammunition 115 gr JHP||1,115 fps||317 ft-lbs|
|HPR Ammunition 124 gr JHP||996 fps||273 ft-lbs|
|Liberty Ammunition 50 gr JHP||2,057 fps||470 ft-lbs|
|Magtech 115 gr FMJ||1,129 fps||325 ft-lbs|
|Magtech Gold 124 gr JHP||1,068 fps||320 ft-lbs|
|Perfecta 115 gr FMJ||1,099 fps||308 ft-lbs|
|Remington Golden Saber 124 gr JHP +P||1,124 fps||348 ft-lbs|
|Remington UMC 115 gr JHP||1,132 fps||327 ft-lbs|
|Remington UMC Target 115 gr MC||1,075 fps||295 ft-lbs|
|Speer Gold Dot 124 gr JHP||996 fps||273 ft-lbs|
|Winchester 115 gr FMJ||1,113 fps||316 ft-lbs|
Performance measured with a Competition Electronics ProChrono Digital Chronograph at an approximate distance of 15' from the muzzle of the pistol. All measurements are an average of five shots.
All brands of ammunition performed very well out of the VP9. As mentioned elsewhere in this review, there were no malfunctions with the gun. However, there were a few ammo standouts that bear mentioning.
Liberty Ammunition – This ammo uses a nickel-plated, solid copper hollowpoint that is very light for the caliber. Combining the increased lubricity of the nickel jacket with the light weight of the bullet, the company gets exceptionally high velocities from standard length handgun barrels. The Civil Defense ammo we shot is rated at 2000 feet per second (fps) by the company. Out of the HK pistol, the average was 2057 fps.
Even with the wicked-fast velocities, recoil was no more than any of the other rounds we were shooting. Subjectively, I would rate the felt recoil similar to any other company’s 115 grain +P ammo. Felt recoil was definitely less than the Federal BPLE +P+ we shot.
HPR Ammunition – I was impressed by the accuracy and consistency we got out of the HPR Ammunition in both bullet weights. Both loads turned in standard deviations of 7 during velocity measurements. Only the Federal Hydra-Shok bested the HPR with an SD of only 3. The velocity was a little lower than I would be comfortable with as the loads use the Hornady XTP bullet. I have found the XTP tends to need more velocity than other bullets to reliably expand.
Perfecta – The Perfecta ammo is an inexpensive line that is now being sold in Walmart. The ammunition is made in Italy, presumably by Fiocchi, and it is distributed in the United States by TulAmmoUSA. I’ve always had very good performance from Fiocchi ammo in the past, and the Perfecta seemed to run great in the VP9. It is brass cased and Boxer primed, so it is reloadable. Accuracy was fine and there were no problems shooting any of the ammo.
I also shot a bunch of the Perfecta ammo in .380 ACP through a Glock 42 during my evaluation of that gun. It ran 100% in the Glock as well. The price on this ammo was significantly cheaper than the Winchester and Remington ammo at my local Walmart, so I think it is a good value.
When a new gun is introduced, it can be tough finding holsters and other gear designed for it. While the VP9 is still new at the time of this writing, there are many companies who have already jumped into holster production for it. I’ve assembled a full list of holsters here. Readers are leaving feedback on these rigs in the comments section, so I encourage you to read through those as well.
I’ve never taken to a pistol as fast as I have the VP9. There are a lot of guns I really like out there, but this HK handgun is the first that has so readily captured my attention.
There are a lot of things to like about this pistol. Heckler & Koch, though sometimes lampooned on the internet for their decisions on which guns to sell to private citizens, is universally acknowledged as a quality gun maker. The company’s traditional high standards for manufacturing have applied equally to this new gun.
When you consider a street price of less than $600 for this combat-ready 9mm pistol, it is clear that this is more than just a great gun, it is also a great value.
The sad reality is there are many “sponsored” reviews on the internet that are bought and paid for by the manufacturer. This does a disservice to the buying public who needs good information on products before laying down their hard-earned money. So, let me fully disclose all relevant information here.
First, this gun was provided to me as a loaner pistol by HK for the specific purpose of reviewing it. It arrived to me brand new and appears to be a low serial numbered production gun. No monies or other benefits were paid, offered or provided by HK to do this review. If I decide to keep this gun, I will have to pay for it, though it would be at a discounted price since it it is now a used gun.
Second, I also reviewed the gun for Combat Handguns and Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcement magazines. I was paid to do those reviews, but I was not instructed, told or otherwise encouraged to do a positive review of the pistol. This review is completely original work, though my conclusions are the same as what I reported in the other outlets.
Lastly, HK is not an advertiser (at least at the time of this writing,) nor am I in any talks with them to be one.