In spring 2015, I was a lucky writer to have received a sample copy of the relatively new handgun from Heckler & Koch (HK), the VP9. Though HK invented striker-fired systems, they ignored this platform in their own production line until virtually every other household-name gun maker was making their own rendition—but it’s clear now that HK was working all that time behind the scenes to produce an outstanding pistol, intended to dominate the modern pistol market. On most counts, they succeeded.
Convinced it was a great design, I made that sample gun my own. It became a steady sidekick for me as an instructor and student. Three years on, I feel I’ve got a handle on what HK did right and where the gun falls short of high standards. This is my take.
This is a pistol you can make your own
Interchangeable backstraps are a great invention, but were commonplace by the time the VP9 was released. What we didn’t see coming was interchangeable grip panels combined with a modular backstrap—three sizes of each. Users can mix and match these simple-to-install pieces for a truly custom fit. Bonus point: mine have never come loose until I pried them off, nor do the seams gather dirt more than other places on the gun.
Not only is the fit to the hand customizable, it’s perfectly accommodating to what’s been called the world’s largest minority, left-handed people. The paddle style magazine release and extended slide lock lever make this gun uniquely all ambi, all the time. The slide lock is perhaps the easiest to operate of any semi-auto, thanks to its length which puts it in easy reach of most thumbs as well as its lack of stiffness.
Along with being ambi-friendly, the paddle magazine release overcomes the argument often launched against always-on ambi releases. Located along either side of the trigger guard, the VP9’s mag release cannot be unintentionally applied when the gun is holstered. And there’s no labor involved in making it ambi—it just is.
For those who think racking a slide is hard work, HK threw in a set of optional slide-in “ears” on the rear of the slide. They’re too small to be of gross-motor use; I think the gun would be fine without them. But, they cause no harm and aren’t in the way.
The VP9 gets an A+ in the ergonomics department. It was clearly made with the user in mind.
The best-looking pistol on the planet is worthless if it doesn’t go bang when the trigger is pressed. I’ve run every type of factory brass- and aluminum-cased ammo through the VP9, and have no doubt it will cycle. Other than match shooting, the reasons we keep pistols are too important to choose one that occasionally doesn’t work. The VP9 won’t let you down.
While HK may be a German company, they now have a factory in Columbus, Georgia where the VP9 and its descendant, the subcompact VP9 SK, are made. Americans are notoriously demanding about having a good trigger, and the company does not disappoint in this regard. After a half-inch or so of slack, there is perhaps 1/16 inch of roll before a clean break, rated by the factory at 5.4 pounds.
If you’re old enough to remember the power of daylight “charging” the slightly radioactive, luminous numbers and hands on your wind-up Baby Ben or Big Ben clock so it would glow all night long, you know what the VP9’s night sights are about. It’s nice that HK includes a three-dot green, glow-in-the-dark set as standard equipment, but it seems no one gave thought to the front sight being in a holster all day. After a long day of training in the sun, the rear sights are almost comically bright after dark. The front sight is visible, but less so than the rear. It’s the opposite of the way it should be. But as with most accessory issues, it’s a matter of training to be accustomed to a non-intuitive sight picture and exercising the mental discipline to focus on the front sight anyway.
Abundant gear choices
The market has responded enthusiastically to the VP9, and many great holsters, mag pouches, and slide-milling services are readily available. Those who wish to use the VP9 for CCW under a jacket or other covering should check out the BCA OWB holster from Bravo Concealment. This belt-mounted holster is flexible, form-fitting, and has all smooth edges for comfort. The 10-degree cant keeps the gun well concealed under clothing, and the molding accommodates a threaded barrel and protects the slide from sweat. The retention is just right, keeping the gun completely safe but also releasing it easily for a correct draw. Bravo remembered to make room for the middle finger on the draw, a feature I really like that eases the transition from holster to putting rounds downrange.
What could be better
This full-size pistol is well-suited for duty, target, and match shooting, and even for concealed carry by the determined individual. But there is not perfect pistol, and this one has a couple aspects that could be better. The first is capacity. While it’s the size of other models that pack 17 or 18 rounds, its magazines only hold 15. That means an extra reload I wouldn’t have to make in a 32-round stage of a USPSA match. The cost in combat could be much more than the couple seconds a reload steals in a match.
Those metal mags, while functional, are some of the most expensive in the business. Each new VP9 is sold with two. My third cost $52. By comparison, the metal mag for my Canik TP9 SA holds 18 rounds and is $20 less at my local store.
The recoil spring guide rod, at least on my first-generation VP9, was polymer. The guide rod and recoil spring are connected with a pin, which failed in dramatic fashion during a field strip at around 3,000 rounds of mileage, when I felt the slide cycling a little slow. The spring and guide rod went their separate ways, and I managed to retrieve them. But with the pin broken and no spare in my bag, there was no repairing the gun that day.
An A+ for customer service
A call to HK’s customer service department, and a recitation of my VP9’s serial number, led to a surprisingly rapid replacement of the guide rod/spring assembly—it took two days, and I live a long way from Georgia. The company only asked for the return of the broken equipment I could find. The new guide rod is steel. Based on the company rep’s understanding tone and instantaneous replacement of the somewhat worn part, it would seem HK is familiar with this weak link. The polymer guide rod is something to be aware of and a potential negotiating point if buying a used VP9.
In another nod to customer satisfaction, the VP9 is now offered in several colors and with a factory-installed laser. MSRP is $719 for a standard VP9.
Length: 7.34 inches
Height: 5.41 inches
Width: 1.32 inches
Barrel: 4.09 inches cold hammer-forged with polygonal rifling
Sight radius: 6.38 inches
Weight, with empty magazine: 25.56 ounces
Eve Flanigan is a defensive shooting and concealed carry instructor living in the American Southwest. Today she works full time as an instructor and writer in the gun industry. Flanigan loves helping new and old shooters alike to develop the skills needed to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.