Exceptional products can come from companies that are willing to think outside of the box.
In this Smith & Wesson Performance Center M&P380 EZ review, I take a look at a finely tuned gun from a line that broke a lot of the norms in the shooting industry to become extremely popular.
While the base model M&P380 EZ is an excellent pistol, this Performance Center version takes things to a new level. Visually, the gun is striking. But, it is more than a fresh coat of paint on yesterday’s hotness.
Practitioners of aikido will tell you that the martial art is special because it does not require strength to be effectively utilized. Smith & Wesson may have developed the M&P380 EZ Shield line with the same philosophy.
Sir Isaac Newton posited that for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. Therefore if there is no mechanical system to absorb the recoil, higher-powered cartridges will recoil more than lower-powered ones. By chambering the M&P380 EZ for the .380 ACP cartridge, the designers clearly aimed to limit felt recoil.
But, that’s not the only thing the company did to make the gun well designed for those with reduced upper body strength.
Instead of developing a tiny pistol, Smith & Wesson opted to create a more substantial, but still compact, gun. This has two benefits. First, you can get your entire hand on the grip. Second, the handgun absorbs more of the recoil.
The larger size allowed the company to use a longer slide and barrel in the gun. A longer slide accommodates sights that are farther apart for increased aiming precision. A longer barrel ensures that the bullet velocity is maximized for optimal terminal performance.
Although it looks like other striker-fired pistols in the M&P line, the M&P380 EZ is actually hammer-fired. The hammer is just concealed inside of the slide assembly.
Remarkably, the slide on this pistol is nearly effortless to manipulate. It requires very little strength to lock to the rear with a resistance akin to that of some .22 LR pistols.
While the gun is seemingly ideal for anyone who doesn’t like the kick of more powerful pistols, it remains a viable option for self-defense. The .380 ACP cartridge is seen by many experts as adequate for personal protection, and the gun maximizes the shooter’s ability to deliver multiple shots on target.
The gun has an accessory rail for the addition of a white light or laser unit.
Performance Center Upgrades
Smith & Wesson’s Performance Center (PC) is highly respected for its ability to tune and upgrade the company’s pistols. I’ve had a chance to shoot several of the guns that have crossed the PC bench, and they have all been of excellent quality.
For the M&P380 EZ, the Performance Center made several enhancements and changes to the original gun. First of all, the PC installed a longer barrel: 3.8″ vs. 3.675″. While the additional 0.125″ may not seem like much, it allowed the PC to machine a wide oval port on the exposed section of barrel.
Porting has fans and detractors. Regardless of what side of that argument you fall, a port like this one can redirect escaping gasses upward to counteract the muzzle rise that comes when the gun recoils. Since the port is on the extended portion of the barrel, it should have little to no effect on the velocity of bullets compared to the base model gun.
On top, the PC added new sights: HI-VIZ Litewave H3. These sights combine a tritium vial with fiber optic rods to provide highly visible sights in a broad range of lighting conditions.
Tritium is a radioactive isotope that emits visible light energy. It is the most commonly used substance for night sights. It is great for low light and dark conditions but is thoroughly washed out when ambient lighting is brighter.
Fiber optic rods, on the other hand, gather ambient light and funnel it toward the ends. The end result is brighter sights when ambient light is brighter. However, in low light conditions, there is little light to gather and focus.
By combining the two methods, HI-VIZ created a sight set that provides visible aiming points across a broad spectrum of lighting conditions. In low light, the fiber optic rods gather any available light and combine it with the glowing tritium. In brighter conditions, the ambient light boosts the aiming points, so the sights are not washed out.
Another improvement to the Performance Center M&P380 EZ is the trigger and action work. The Performance Center upgrades the trigger to a flat-faced, aluminum unit that feels very good when pulled. Additionally, the action is tuned so that the pull is smoother and the break is very crisp. On my pistol, there was about 0.25″ of take-up followed by a short pull.
Using a Lyman digital trigger pull gauge, I measured a 10 pull average of 4 pounds, 2 ounces.
While the above performance upgrades are well worth the $103 premium, the Performance Center went a little farther to deliver enhanced styling as well. Each of the models has lightening cuts in the forward portion of the slide. These offset the additional weight from the longer barrel. The cuts also allow you to see the barrel. Why is that important?
The PC offers this gun in three flavors: all black, black with silver accents and black with gold accents. The accented pistols have a barrel, grip safety and trigger that all match each other and contrast the matte black frame and slide.
I’m not one for pistols with any “bling.” However, I think these look good.
The model I reviewed had silver accents. The trigger and grip safety are both anodized aluminum with a matte silver color. The barrel is highly polished and has a silver, almost chrome, tone. The slide cuts allow the silver of the barrel to peek through, giving the pistol a thoroughly custom look.
The cosmetic enhancements won’t appeal to everyone. If that’s you, the same features are available in all black.
With this gun, Smith & Wesson includes its compact pistol cleaning kit. The kit is actually a good quality kit and not some throwaway that I’ve seen other companies use. It includes a rigid carrying case that contains a rod, brushes and tips to clean the most common handgun calibers including 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. The only thing you need is a quality CLP.
|action||internal hammer fired|
|weight||18.5 ounces unloaded|
|sights||HI-VIZ Litewave H3 Tritium & Fiber Optic|
|finish||Armornite matte black|
If the sales at my local gun shops are any indication, the original M&P380 EZ has been quite a hit for Smith & Wesson. The guns tend to be very reliable with all kinds of ammunition and are easy to run. When I took the Performance Center version of the pistol to the range, I had high expectations. The Performance Center delivered, meeting all of my notions of what this gun should be.
First and foremost, the gun was completely reliable. When I received the gun, I ran a patch through the bore and applied a light coat of gun oil to the rails. For the next 670 rounds, the gun ran without any problems. I tested all kinds of .380 ammo in the gun and all of them functioned flawlessly.
The sights were a pleasure to use. In both daylight and indoor shooting, I quickly acquired the sights and was able to align the dots without issue. There is no comparison between these sights and what is frequently found on a .380 ACP handgun. That’s one of the advantages of the gun being more substantial than many others chambered for this cartridge.
Of course, the larger size of the gun also helped to make it very comfortable to shoot. Like the original M&P380 EZ, I was able to get a full grip on the pistol.
Shooting an original back-to-back with the Performance Center edition, recoil seemed to be slightly milder in the newer pistol. While the .380 ACP in a larger gun doesn’t generate harsh recoil, the barrel port seemed to reduce what is generated.
I witnessed no increase in muzzle flash from the barrel port. Barrel porting can be concerning for some shooters who are worried about being temporarily blinded if some of the muzzle flash is directed upward. This was not an issue with this pistol. I suspect that the average .380 ACP cartridge doesn’t have enough powder for much of it to still be burning after 3.5″ of the barrel. This is in contrast to other loads, like the .357 Magnum, that are famous for large muzzle flashes from sub-4″ guns.
I found the trigger pull to be delightful. It was light and crisp with a reasonably short reset. Combining the smooth trigger pull with the great sights and limited recoil, accuracy was very good. Additionally, follow up shots were quick and on target.
I shot a base model M&P380 EZ side-by-side with the Performance Center edition to see what, if any, velocity changes I would see. The PC gun has a slightly longer barrel, which generally will result in a higher velocity, but it is ported. Here is what I measured:
Performance Center M&P380 EZ
Original M&P380 EZ
|Armscor 95 gr FMJ|
|Hornady American Gunner 90 gr JHP|
|Hornady Critical Defense 90 gr FTX|
|Liberty Ammunition 50 gr JHP|
|SIG SAUER 100 gr FMJ|
|SIG SAUER V-Crown 90 gr JHP|
|Winchester PDX1 Defender 95 gr JHP|
|Winchester Train & Defend 95 gr FMJ|
|Winchester Train & Defend 95 gr JHP|
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.
As you can see, most loads had a slight increase in velocity when shot from the Performance Center M&P380 EZ. However, a few showed a drop in velocity. At these speeds, I would not expect to see much of a performance difference in defensive ammunition.
Accuracy was very good with this pistol. With some of the best 5-shot groups, I obtained close to 1″ with many of the loads at 7 yards.
I like the Performance Center M&P380 EZ a lot. The gun is a breeze to shoot, offering plenty of fun with little recoil. Is the pistol an adequate defensive firearm? I absolutely think so.
Given my druthers, I’d carry a 9mm instead of a .380 ACP. Whether you look at lab testing in ballistic gelatin or the “street results” from a variety of different sources, quality self-defense ammunition for the 9mm cartridge almost always outperforms the similar load made in .380 ACP. The comparison is similar to that of the .38 Special and the .357 Magnum.
However, reality sets up a variety of circumstances in which a compact (not sub-compact) .380 pistol makes sense. If you fall into this category, I expect you will be quite pleased with the Smith & Wesson Performance Center M&P380 Shield EZ. It is reliable, accurate and easy to run. With the upgrades, the gun can still be had for less than $500 at your local gun shop. That’s one heck of a bargain.
The Smith & Wesson Performance Center M&P380 EZ Shield M2.0 is a well-designed gun with enough upgrades over the basic model to warrant the additional cost. Throughout my testing, it was completely reliable and accurate. The recoil is light, the sights are very visible and the trigger pull is light and crisp. It is available in all black or with accents in silver and gold. If you want a top-performing compact pistol chambered in .380 ACP, this gun is an excellent choice.
The Performance Center M&P380 EZ in this article was loaned to me by Smith & Wesson. No promises of a “good” or “positive” review were made by me, nor were any asked for from S&W.
I have no financial interest in Smith & Wesson or in any other firearms manufacturer. Smith & Wesson is not an advertiser, nor have they provided any compensation to me to write this article.
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