Smith & Wessonís New M&P .40 S&W Pistol

 

by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn

March 14th, 2006

 

 

 

It is difficult for me to get too worked up about a new polymer-framed auto pistol. Unlike an old Colt Single Action Army, S&W N-frame, or Ruger Flattop, plastic pistols do not stir my soul. To me they have no warmth, no charm, nor any character. Plastic pistols are tools.  They serve a purpose to be sure. That is; they exist to protect their owners from harm. Plastic pistols are generally used as defensive pieces. They can be found in about ninety percent of the police holsters in the United States. They also serve with various military units around the world. They are also quite popular with individuals who carry a handgun for self defense.  Glock introduced the first successful plastic-framed pistol over twenty years ago, and it is still the most popular by a large margin. That is not to say that other makes are not good pistols as well. Several manufacturers have excellent polymer pistols on the market, but none have been anything like as popular as the Glock with law enforcement or the public. Much of this could be attributed to marketing, as Glock has aggressively marketed their pistols in the United States, with great success. However, this article is not about the Glock, it is about Smith & Wessonís newest entry into the polymer-framed service pistol market. Still, comparisons are inevitable, and the new Smith will most definitely be compared to the Glock whenever it is considered by any police agency in this country.

I first heard of the new Smith & Wesson M&P (Military & Police) a few months ago, and have been waiting somewhat patiently ever since for the guns to go into production. I first fired one at the writerís gathering the day before the 2006 SHOT Show back in February, and was impressed by the weapon. About a week later, I received a production gun chambered for the .40 S&W cartridge, which is the test piece reviewed here.

The new S&W pistol differs from their earlier efforts in several ways.  While their Sigma and SW99 pistols were good guns, the M&P is better in every way. Smith & Wesson  apparently looked at every part of their other polymer pistols, and also those of their competition, and sought to improve each feature. Little details make a big difference when comparing pistols. S&W went to great effort to assure that their new M&P pistol actually fitís the human hand.  Someone in Springfield, Massachusetts also recognizes that the human hand is not a one-size-fits-all- proposition. While sales to individual shooters will always be a big part of the pistol market, it is readily apparent by just the name of the new Military & Police pistol that S&W intends to take a larger share of the law enforcement market with this new weapon. They realize that law enforcement officers come in all shapes and sizes, with usually proportional hand sizes as well. The M&P was made to fit the hand. It is a good thing that most pistol manufacturers do not make boots, or we would all be forced to cram our feet  into a size 10D, and make do the best we can.  The M&P grip is easily adjustable to fit different sized hands. What a concept! Smith & Wesson  first introduced this idea with their SW99 pistols, but have perfected it with the M&P. The pistol comes with three different size grip backstraps, which not only alter the  size of the grip from front to back, but provide different sized palm swells as well. One can also shoot the M&P with no backstrap installed, effectively giving a choice of four different grip sizes in all. I shot the M&P without a backstrap installed, and it did just fine.  However, I find the "medium" sized one to feel best in my hand.  You may prefer the small or large. The pistol comes with all three.

Another nice feature of the M&P is the takedown system. It is very similar to the SIG, being a rotating lever on the left side of the frame. Before the slide can be removed, a little yellow lever inside the magazine well must be pushed downward, similar to the Ruger P-series.  Doing this disconnects the sear, and forces the shooter to retract the slide before disassembly, emptying the chamber. The sample gun also has a magazine disconnect safety, but some models intended for police or military sales will not have this feature. Also optional on the M&P is an internal key lock system. The test gun did not have this feature, but it will be available to those who desire such a device, or where required by law.

The sights on the test gun were of the familiar three-dot pattern, and tritium night sights will be offered as well. Both the front and rear sights are dove-tailed into the slide, and are easily drifted to adjust for windage correction.

The M&P comes supplied with two steel magazines, which hold fifteen rounds each in .40 S&W and .357 SIG calibers. The soon-to-come 9mm is reported to hold seventeen rounds. Add one round to these for total capacities of sixteen and eighteen, respectively. The magazines drop free when the magazine release is pressed. The magazine release is easily switched for either right or left hand operation. I shoot left-handed, but prefer to operate the release with my trigger finger, which right-handed shooters might want to give a try. I find that it works much better than using the thumb. The frame of the M&P is also fitted with a slide release lever on each side, which is a bit stiff to operate, but works well.

The trigger guard on the M&P has ample room for a gloved finger to operate the trigger, which is of the Smith & Wesson articulated variety. The trigger pull on the test gun released at six pounds, five and one-half ounces, and was very smooth to operate, much like a short-stroke double action pull. The trigger must be reset by the slide after each pull, hence the weapon has no double-strike capability, which is touted by some to be desirable in the event of a bad primer. However, I always prefer to get the dud cartridge out of the weapon, chambering a fresh round instead of wasting time trying to repeatedly get a bad round to fire.

Like most polymer framed autos, the M&P has an accessory rail at the front of the frame for those who like to attach flashlights and such to their weapons.  The front of the slide is contoured for easy re-holstering, and the rear of the slide is scalloped for a secure grip when retracting it to chamber or eject a cartridge. The barrel and slide are of stainless steel, with a durable black finish.

Inside the frame of the M&P is a forward and rear steel block which contains the fire control mechanism, and also serves as the guides upon which the slide reciprocates. The slide only contacts the frame at four points, instead of the full-length rails on most pistols. This makes for a very good self-cleaning rail system, leaving plenty of room for any dirt, grit, or sand to fall out of the weapon instead of binding the slide. Good idea. The recoil spring is of the captive design, and contains a stainless steel guide rod, which should be much more reliable than the plastic rods used by some other pistols. The barrel locks up securely in the slide, and the chamber supports the cartridge case head adequately to prevent a blowout.  The rear of the chamber also has a witness hole, so that the shooter can visually confirm that a cartridge is chambered. The M&P .40 S&W pistol weighed in at one pound and eleven and one-half ounces with an empty magazine. Back to the ergonomics of the pistol, the trigger reach measured 2.640 inches on the sample gun, which is about one-quarter of an inch less than a Glock of like caliber. Again, I am comparing it to the Glock, but that is inevitable, so we might as well do so now.

Shooting the M&P was a real pleasure. While .40 S&W recoil is not bothersome, it does make some guns jump a bit in the hand. The M&P sits low in the hand, and the recoil is straight back. All shooting was done using Cor-Bon high performance ammunition. I found the M&P to be the most comfortable and controllable .40 that I have ever fired.

I fired five different Cor-Bon loads out of the M&Pís four and one-quarter inch barrel, with the chronograph results listed below. All testing was done with the screens of the PACT chronograph twelve feet from the muzzle, and an air temperature around seventy degrees.  All velocities are listed in feet-per-second. JHP is jacketed hollowpoint. DPX is a Barnes solid copper hollowpoint X bullet. PowRBall is a specialty load  consisting of a jacketed hollowpoint with a plastic ball in the cavity.

Load Velocity
Cor-Bon 165 grain JHP 1147
Cor-Bon 135 grain PowRBall 1337
Cor-Bon 135 grain JHP 1334
Cor-Bon 140 grain DPX 1256
Cor-Bon 150 grain JHP 1157

Any of these loads should work very well for social situations. Recoil was very controllable in the M&P, and accuracy ran in the two to three inch range at twenty five yards, depending upon the load. More importantly, it was very easy to keep a magazine full of bullets in the kill zone of a full-sized human silhouette target firing rapid fire at twenty-five yards from a standing position.  The M&P was one hundred percent reliable with all loads tested. It fed, fired, and ejected perfectly, every time.

Now comes the time to draw conclusions, as I will certainly get email, and lots of it, asking me to compare the M&P with other weapons, particularly the Glock, as it currently holds the top spot in the polymer-framed service pistol field. I like the Glock, and carry one often. However, comparing the two, the S&W feels better to my hand. It points better for me. I like its trigger function better. I like the roomy trigger guard, and the shorter reach to the trigger. I do not like a magazine safety on an auto pistol, but can live with it. I do like the steel M&P magazines better. I like the recoil feel of the M&P better than the Glock. I find the M&P easier to control and shoot accurately during rapid fire. I like the sights of the M&P better than the Glock. Both weapons are priced comparably. Neither weapon will inspire one to seek out custom engraving and gold decoration. Both are built for business. Both are tools which do their job well. However, above all else, the S&W just feels better in my hand, whether during shooting, or just holding the weapon.

I like my Glock 19. I liked the feel of the 19, until I tried the S&W. Compared, the Glock just feels blockier to me now. The S&W feels like it fits. You might think differently, but I believe that most shooters will find the S&W to fit the hand better than the Glock. I own stock in neither Glock nor Smith & Wesson, and am within the coveted gun writerís inner circle with neither company. I have carried my Glock 19 for many years, and will continue to do so, at least until the M&P is available in 9mm. I realize that it is unfashionable for gun writers to like the 9mm cartridge. I am supposed to prefer the .40 caliber, and proclaim the nine to be next to useless. Well it just ainít so. With good ammo, the 9mm is a dandy defensive pistol cartridge in capable hands, and when I can get a S&W M&P chambered for the 9mm with tritium night sights, I might have a Glock 19 for sale. I will just have to wait and see.

Check out the M&P, and other Smith & Wesson products online at:  www.smith-wesson.com.

To order Cor-Bon high performance ammunition, go to: www.cor-bon.com.

Jeff Quinn

 

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Click pictures for a larger version.

 

Smith & Wessonís New M&P .40 S&W Pistol.

 

 

 

 

S&W's new M&P features interchangeable backstraps to accommodate a wide variety of hand sizes. Changing backstraps is quick and easy.

 

 

M&P (bottom) with a Glock 19 (top).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The yellow lever disconnects the sear (top), allowing the gun to be field stripped by rotating the disassembly lever (center) and moving the slide forward off the frame (bottom).

 

 

 

 

The case head is very well supported.

 

 

The witness hole allows the user to see if the chamber is loaded.

 

 

 

 

Jeff was pleased to find that the M&P features an ambidextrous slide release lever (top) and a reversible magazine release (bottom).

 

 

The M&P sits low in shooter's hand for better recoil control.

 

 

The M&P functioned flawlessly with a variety of premium defensive loads from Cor-Bon.