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The heckler and Koch VP40: the "people's pistol" gets more muscle.

These days you can't turn around without a new striker-fired semi-auto hitting you in the face. One of the newer models getting a lot of press has been the Heckler and Koch VP9, introduced in 2014. The newest version of this pistol to become available is the VP40. Consumers savvy to handgun names will no doubt correctly suspect the VP9 is chambered in 9mm, and the VP40 in .40 S&W, and that is the case.... but that isn't the only difference between the two models.

The VP40 is a full-sized, "duty-sized" pistol. It has a 4.09" barrel, is 7.34" long and 5.45" tall. Yes, those are weird dimensions, and they aren't any less irregular when you convert them to millimeters. Capacity on the VP40 is 13+1, compared to the 15+1 of the 9mm VP9. For those of you to whom the 9mm Luger cartridge is useless for shooting anything larger than a Dachshund, perhaps this is the VP model for you.

And now, time for a mea culpa--or "my bad"--from me.

In my review of the VP9 last year I wrote, "The chances of seeing a VP in .40 S&W? Well, considering the .40 S&W is falling into the shadows in this country, and impossible to find in Europe, I'd say slim to none."

Apparently I was wrong.

In profile the VP40 looks identical to the VP9. It was only when I picked it up that the pistol seemed different. I checked--apart from the VP40 being 1 millimeter taller (that's .04" for those of you who think the metric system is stupid), it sported the same dimensions as the VP9.

Technically it is not any wider than the VP9 at 1.32", so at first I was at a loss to explain why it looked and felt so different in the hand. Then I observed that the VP40's slide is slab-sided like a 1911--it is the same width from the bottom where it meets the frame to the top radius. The VP9's slide is machined at an angle so it is a lot narrower at the top. The end result is that at 26.56 ounces the VP40 is over three ounces heavier than the VP9, with all of that extra weight in the slide. From the top it looks absolutely beefy.

That extra weight is designed to help tame the recoil of the more powerful .40 S&W cartridge, as well as strengthen the slide. If you have your eye on a holster for your VP40 that is meant for a VP9, chances are the fatter slide of the VP40 won't fit.

Most people think the Glock 17 was the first striker-fired gun ever made. Wrong--it was the first commercially successful striker-fired pistol. For those of you a little hazy on your firearms history, this is not HK's first striker-fired pistol. Their VP70 was a striker-fired design, and also the first polymer-framed pistol. It was introduced in 1970. VP stands for Volkspistole, literally "people's pistol," which is ironic since the people of Germany have been pretty much disarmed by their government. Those who are ignorant of their history, etc ...

A quick rehash of just exactly what a "striker-fired" gun is. Striker-fired guns do not have hammers, they have strikers (or firing pins if you prefer) that may be partially or fully cocked or under tension when the slide is forward. When the trigger is pulled the striker is moved backward under tension of the striker spring (for those models like the dock whose strikers are not fully tensioned), and then the trigger bar moves out of the way, letting the striker fly forward and ignite the cartridge.

Most modern striker-fired pistols have polymer frames, and the VP40 is no different. Polymer is easier and cheaper to work with than metal, and has proven itself to be more than durable for use in firearms. Perhaps the biggest news in HK's introduction of their VP9 was the surprisingly low. (for HK) suggested retail of $719. The VP40 has the same MSRP, which makes it very competitively priced in the American market. In fact, there is a law enforcement version of the VP40 with tritium sights and three magazines which retails for $819, which is perhaps an even better deal.

HK fans will think that the VP40's profile is rather familiar. That is because it looks a lot like their DA/SA P30. Did they just throw a striker into the slide of a P30 and call it a day? No. To HK's credit, they came out with a completely new gun when they designed the VP9/40. Yes, it does look a lot like their P30, and it uses the P30's magazine, but that's about it.

One huge advantage of a striker-fired trigger system is that it allows for a much lower bore than you'll find with other types of pistols, especially other HK pistols. A low bore does more to reduce muzzle rise and felt recoil than any other aspect of a pistol--that is the only reason Glocks are so shootable even at their light weight. This is a point completely missed by SIG with their P320, which (decent ergonomics and great trigger aside) is simply a striker-fired version of an existing DA/SA design.

I found the contoured grip of the VP40 very similar to the Walther PPQ. This is not a bad thing, and the grip is very comfortable in the hand. Grip angle is closer to that of a 1911 than a Glock. The frame has a full MIL-STD 1913 rail on the front for mounting anything short of a FLIR system.

Like the P30, the VP40 offers both interchangeable backstraps and side panel grip inserts. Medium size panels and backstrap were installed on my pistol from the factory, but the small and large ones were in the case in their own foam cutouts (along with a spare 13-round magazine). All the backstraps and grip panels are marked with S, M, or L, and the grip panels are also helpfully marked "LEFT" or "RIGHT." The grip panels slide out to the rear after you've removed the backstrap. To get the backstrap off, all you have to do is push out a roll pin.

The edges of the panels and backstraps are beveled so that mixing and matching different sizes will not result in sharp edges or steps. So, if you want a large right grip panel, small backstrap, and medium left grip panel, go for it. There's a bigger difference between the M/L sizes than S/M.

The sights are 3-dot steel and dovetailed into the slide. The rear is a longer no-snag model. The dots are greenish white in color and luminescent. While luminescent paint isn't as high-tech as true tritium-powered night sights. Tritium is more expensive and many countries (and potential HK customers) have import restrictions on anything radioactive. I found that the dots were as bright as good night sights when I tested them in a dark room (after hitting them with a bright light first).

Slide serrations are wide, flat-bottomed, and cover a lot of real estate both front and back. Apparently simple slide serrations weren't enough for the HK engineers, however, because they also equipped the pistol with "charging supports". These are polymer wings that stick out from the very rear of the slide under the rear sight, behind the rear slide serrations* and provide for the ultimate in traction for people wearing gloves or with reduced hand strength. They should not interfere with any holster. From behind they make the fat slide look even fatter, but from the side they're hardly noticeable. The slide is coated with HK's proprietary corrosion resistant "hostile environment finish."

When cocked the rear of the striker is visible through a hole in the back of the slide, and there is a small red dot on it. It does not protrude from the slide at any time. The cold hammer forged barrel has polygonal rifling, the same type as found in Glock barrels, which means you should not shoot lead bullets through it or risk a bulged barrel. The recoil spring is flat wire and is captive around the guide rod.

The trigger has a nearly flat face with a safety lever on it. Because there are slight ridges on the trigger to either side of the lever, the face of the trigger feels serrated. There is about a quarter inch of takeup on the trigger before the break, and total length of trigger travel on my sample was .45". Reset was about half that, both audible and easily felt. Measured pull weight was 5.25 lbs on my sample and was very nice. The trigger pull on my previous VP9 sample was 5.5 lbs and very comparable, so the VP trigger pulls seem pretty consistent.

For a striker-fired gun the VP40's trigger is very nice. HK calls it an "enhanced 'light pull' trigger" and reports, "the end result is trigger quality unequalled in any production striker fired handgun." To compare the VP9/ VP40s trigger system to its competitors, in my opinion while it has less takeup than a Springfield Armory XDM, the trigger break on the HK felt very similar to the XDM, which means it feels superior to a Glock or M&P, but not as good as a Walther PPQ or Caracal. Nobody can find Caracals, but the next time you visit your local gun store try out the trigger on a Walther PPQ if you want a truly pleasant experience.

I'm surprised that HK states that their trigger system has a "single-action type break." HK usually goes after the military and law enforcement sales, and modern LE especially is terrified of anything "single action" on their duty handguns. For decades a "single-action trigger" meant a 1911-type and/or "hair trigger" to them--and all they could see in their future were lawsuits due officer-caused negligent discharges.

The VP40 does seem to be a true single action. Taking off the slide with the use of the takedown lever reveals the sear release catch sticking up from the rear. A sharp corner on it cocks the striker as the slide goes into battery. Pulling the trigger drops the catch down out of the way, releasing the striker. Eyeballing the rear of the striker through the hole in the rear of the slide shows no rearward movement before the trigger breaks. Oh, and taking off the slide reveals the interior of a pistol that seems over-complicated to me.

The slide release is ambidextrous, as is the magazine release. As for the magazine release, it is a European-style number running along the bottom of the triggerguard instead of a traditional American-style pushbutton magazine release mounted on the frame at the rear of the trigger guard. HK favors this type of magazine release even though the American public does not.

With this type of mag release, if you want to activate it using the thumb of your shooting hand, you must twist the pistol around in the hand quite a bit. I've found that the quickest way to drop .a magazine in a pistol with a paddle mag release is using the tip of the middle finger. Yes, that sounds weird, and it is very different than what most Americans are used to, but once you practice the technique, it's just as fast.

Trying the middle finger technique with the VP40 worked, but I found that the mag release was actually a bit shorter than I would have liked--my middle finger was hitting right at the end of the safety--half on the safety and half on the trigger guard. It was still a faster and more efficient technique for me than trying to use my thumb. People with very large or small hands might find other techniques work better for them.

I don't understand European Companies who don't do the necessary research to understand the American market. HK went to all the trouble to design and produce a .40 S&W version of the VP9, a model that will almost exclusively be sold in America due to the caliber, yet they don't throw an American-style magazine release on the gun. In my opinion the negative of not having an American mag release on this model will outweigh the positive of it being chambered in a .40 to most prospective buyers. Walther discovered this with their original paddle mag release PPQ, which is why we now have the PPQ M2 with American-style pushbutton mag release.

That said, if you practice with your equipment and get used to the controls, in the real world one type of magazine release over another is a very minor detail.

HK, if you're listening, manufacturing a compact version of the VP9 and VP40 with an American-style mag release would be a very smart move for the U.S. market. Just sayin'.

My selection of .40 ammo isn't nearly as extensive as 9mm ammo, simply because the cartridge is dying a not-so-slow death. Law enforcement agencies around the country are moving away from the caliber in part because of increased recoil over 9mm with no perceptible increase in stopping power. However, there will always be people to whom no amount of evidence will convince that smaller bullets are just as good as big bullets, and it is to that exact Crowd that the VP40 will be attractive.

My test gun proved itself to be decently accurate and controllable and 100% reliable, but that is par for the course with HK pistols. Traditionally, their weak spots have always been heavy trigger pulls and high bores. The VP40 has neither of those characteristics. The VP40 is definitely a solid performer at a competitive price from a company with a proven track record.



Type:             Striker fired

Caliber:          .40 S&W

Capacity:         13+1

Barrel Length:    4.09"

Overall Length:   7.34"

Height:           5.45"

Width:            1.32"

Weight:           26.56 oz (with empty magazine)

Construction:     Polymer frame, steel slide

Sights:           3-dot luminescent

Trigger:          5.25-lbs (as tested)

Safeties:         Firing pin, mechanical
                  (trigger lever)

Accessories:      2 13-round magazines,
                  3 backstraps/grlp panel sets

MSRP:             $719.00

Manufacturer:     Heckler and Koch


Load                    Weight (gr)   Velocity   SD   Avg Group (in)

Federal HST HP              165         1112     21        2.9
Hornady Critical Duty       175         1014     13        2.4
Black Hills JHP             180         987      11        2.8
CorBon JHP                  180         1041     32        3.3

Accuracy results are the averages of four five-shot groups at 25
yards from a sandbag rest. Velocities are averages of ten shots
measured with an Oehler Model 35P 12 feet from the muzzle.
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Author:Tarr, James
Publication:Shotgun News
Date:Sep 10, 2015
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