Inexpensive handguns sometimes get a bad reputation. They could be unreliable, break easily or have a bad trigger.
In this Smith & Wesson SD40 review, I take a look at a gun that could reasonably be considered the Sigma 2.0. I wondered how this would shoot as the price is exceptionally aggressive.
S&W Adds the SD40VE
Smith & Wesson replaced the original pistol with the SD40VE. Subsequently, the company re-introduced the SD40 so that both versions are now options.
Is it the best value in self-defense handguns?
Let’s jump right in and take a look at what it is.
Rolling back the clock to the 80s, a scrappy upstart called Glock drastically changed the self-defense handgun market. In about a decade’s time, many police agencies and private citizens traded in their revolvers and metal-framed, hammer-fired semi-automatic pistols for this new plastic handgun that had no hammer at all.
During that time, there were attempts by competitors to offer an alternative to the Glock pistol. For example, Colt developed the ill-fated All American 2000 as the 1911 had fallen out of favor with many. Likewise, Smith & Wesson introduced the Sigma pistol as a direct alternative. A little too close in the Glock design it would seem as Glock sued Smith & Wesson for patent infringement among other things.
Fast forward to the 21st Century. Smith & Wesson let the Sigma line go. But, the company still wanted a simple pistol that could be affordably built for the low price end of the market.
Enter the SD series of pistols.
I was intrigued by the idea. Could Smith & Wesson build a reliable handgun that would be significantly less expensive than its highly regarded M&P series of pistols?
I reached out to Smith & Wesson and the company agreed to send me an SD40 for testing.
The SD40 is a striker-fired, polymer-framed pistol that falls below the M&P line of handguns in terms of price and features. While S&W publicly states the SD line is a completely separate entity from its lines, the SD40 definitely shares some of the parts and features of the Sigma and M&P series.
The SD40 is roughly the same size as a G19, but make no mistake: it will not fit in Glock 19 holsters.
The SD40 is chambered in .40 S&W while the SD9 is chambered for the 9mm cartridge. Both the SD40 and SD9 are available in standard capacity and low capacity. Smith & Wesson gets a huge attaboy for correctly pointing out that standard capacity magazines are not mythical killing machines.
The Smith and Wesson SD40 holds 14 cartridges in the magazine (10 in the low capacity mags), while the SD9 holds 16 rounds. Both the SD40 and SD9 ship with two stainless steel magazines. The magazines have visual inspection holes on both sides allowing the user to quickly assess how many rounds are loaded.
Prior to receiving the gun, it was my understanding that the SD magazines were interchangeable with the Sigma magazines. I strongly suspected this was true.
So, do Sigma magazines work in the Smith & Wesson SD line of pistols? Yes. I obtained a pair of .40 caliber Sigma magazines and confirmed that they run fine in the SD40 pistol.
I found the fit and finish of the SD40 were excellent. For the price of the SD40, I expected some minor tool marks and other imperfections, yet I could find none. Even the inside parts on the SD40 looked very good.
[Ed. note: It’s been about 10 years since I originally wrote this article, and I’ve put a lot of rounds downrange with the pistol. The finish remains in great condition – a testament to the company’s work and not my care of firearms.]
The stainless steel slide was coated with a black Melonite finish. Melonite was the same finish used on the Smith & Wesson M&P pistols, and in my experience, it worked every bit as good as the finishes found on other pistols.
The SD40 was easy to grip and manipulate. The pistol had a moderate amount of checkering in the front strap and back strap to improve how well you can hold onto it during recoil. Texturing was also used on the sides of the grip frame.
The grip sides swelled slightly, providing some fill for the hand. The high part of the grip is slightly recessed to improve trigger reach. I was very impressed by the grip and feel of the gun.
However, the fit may not be perfect for you. One of the downsides to the SD is that it lacks the interchangeable backstraps that are used on the M&P line.
There were serrations on the slide fore and aft of the ejection port. The serrations are not fish gills or another finely laid pattern. Rather the slide serrations are widely spaced and seem taller than on other pistols. With both bar hands and in gloves, the slide was easy to work. The forward serrations were adequate for press checks if you chose to use them for that purpose.
Sights on the Smith and Wesson SD40 used a simple, yet effective design. The front sight was a tritium night sight with a white outline. The rear sight was a notched black with two white dots. In daylight conditions, I found the design worked well. For low light conditions, I found the design worked equally well.
Some may argue that tritium in the front sight only was a cost-cutting measure. That argument may be correct. However, I prefer a glowing front sight only as opposed to glowing sights front and rear. Under extreme stress in real low light conditions, the eye is much more likely to be confused by multiple glowing dots. On the other hand, a single glowing dot is easy to pick up and use.
Both the front and rear sights are dovetailed, allowing for easy replacement of one or both should you want to. The rear sight is marked M&P suggesting from which existing S&W line the sights are coming.
An accessory rail allows for the addition of a white light, laser or other accessories.
I found the magazine release button was easy to access with a positive “springy” feel to it. A small ridge protects the magazine release from accidentally being pressed.
The magazine release was not ambidextrous or reversible. Likewise, the slide stop was designed for righties only. I am right-handed, so this did not bother me during the Smith and Wesson SD40 review.
The SD40 had witness hole at the rear of the chamber that served as a loaded chamber indicator. This design is essentially the same as what is built into the M&P pistols.
Field stripping the SD40 is easy and identical to the Sigma and Glock pistols. With an empty chamber (please double check), press the trigger to decock the striker. Retract the slide slightly while pulling down on both sides of the takedown catch, and then push the slide forward and off of the frame.
Thankfully, the SD40 uses a captive recoil spring, so no worries about a spring or guide rod flying across the room.
The following are the specifications for the base model SD40:
|Magazine Capacity||14 rounds|
|Weight (unloaded)||22.3 oz|
|Frame||compact polymer – gray or FDE|
The SD40VE has the following factory specs:
|Magazine Capacity||14 rounds|
|Weight (unloaded)||22.4 oz|
|Frame||compact polymer – black|
No matter how inexpensive, a gun is no good if it cannot perform on the range.
During this review, I tested 8 different loads with the pistol. I shot nearly 1,000 rounds and the gun was completely reliable with FMJ, hollowpoints and lead RN. Nothing seemed to negatively impact the gun’s ability to run.
[Editor’s note: Since this review was written, I’ve continued to shoot this pistol. Conservatively, I have put an additional 2,000 rounds through it and it continues to chug along without a single malfunction.]
The gun was easy to shoot and did not rub or wear on the hand in any unusual places. Recoil was very manageable and all but the most inexperienced shooters should be able to run this gun without any problems.
Accuracy was excellent at all ranges up to 25 yards. Paper plates at 25 yards were no problem, with very tight groups at closer ranges.
I found the sights easy to use in outdoor, daylight conditions.
I have only one complaint about the SD40: its trigger.
The trigger on the SD40 was not great. It wasn’t the worst I’ve ever used, but it was gritty and felt heavier than it should be. It was somewhat heavy and long compared to a M&P or Glock. However, lighter than the Sigma pistols I’ve shot. It was also markedly better than the double-action trigger on the CZ P-07 Duty.
The trigger was consistent from shot to shot, which is to be expected. I observed a certain amount of improvement with the shooting and dry firing I did.
I don’t hate the trigger and appeared to have only minimal impact on my accuracy. However, many factory triggers are better than the SD40.
[Editor’s note: The original chronograph data was lost through an error on my part. I apologize.]
As I stated at the start of this review, the Smith & Wesson SD40 is one of the best handgun values on the market. Mine proved to be utterly a reliable handgun.
The pistol is chambered in a serious caliber and is a good size for both concealed carry and home defense. The gun is large enough to shoot comfortably for long range sessions and should serve very well in both training and self-defense.
Sure, the gun isn’t perfect. You can get a better trigger by spending more money, which you may want to do. Apex Tactical Specialties, for example, offers an amazingly good trigger enhancement kit for about $60.
However, you can’t beat the overall quality of this gun for this price. The original MSRP is $459, but you can buy the SD40 for about $375 online.
Keep in mind that for your money you are also getting the backing of a major company in the firearms industry. Smith & Wesson customer service is the same whether you need help with an SD40 or a custom S&W 625 Miculek Special.
Special note: The SD line of pistols is only one example of capable self-defense pistols that are affordably priced. For example, the recently introduced Palmetto State Armory PS9 Dagger is a Glock clone with an MSRP of $299.
Last update: August 30, 2021
All reviews at GunsHolstersAndGear (GHG) have a disclaimer statement to share any potential biases that I may have about a product I am reviewing.
The gun in this test was a loaner sent to me for review by Smith & Wesson. No monies or other considerations were offered or solicited for the writing of this article. At the end of the review period, Smith & Wesson expected the handgun returned. Instead, I liked the gun enough that I purchased it. The purchase price was reduced from the MSRP as the gun was now a used item.
I have no business interest in Smith & Wesson or any other firearms maker. Smith & Wesson is not an advertiser.
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