Test: Heckler & Koch VP9 semiautomatic pistol

My first experience with Heckler & Koch pistols was with the USP series. Attracted by the low felt recoil and the options of double action or cocked and locked in the same gun, I picked up a .45 and a compact 9mm versions. While I was a great fan of the accuracy and the ease of use, the triggers were a bit on the spongy and gritty side.

Heckler & Koch VP9
The VP9 is Heckler & Koch's first striker-fired pistol since the legendary P7 line

Later, I was able to acquire the superb HK P7 PSP, which had a terrific trigger, very low bore axis but was also heavy for the capacity and slow to reload with the heel release. It also lacked any provision for a weapon light or laser, something that the USP at least permitted with a Picatinny adapter.

The recently introduced Heckler & Koch VP9 pistol seemed to combine the lightweight polymer frame with a double-stack magazine, the standard accessory rail, the paddle magazine release of the HK USP series with the low bore line and striker trigger mechanism of the P7. 

Since the USP days, I also carried Glock 17 and full size Smith & Wesson M&P pistols, so the obvious first comparison was to those striker-fired designs. VP9 is similar to G17 or the M&P in size and size. It feels like a service pistol in hand, although its 15 rounds match only the mid-size Glock 19 in magazine capacity. The grip shape can be fine-tuned for depth and width with the included panels, a process that takes only a couple of minutes with a punch (not included). Setting all dimensions to minimum made the pistol easier to handle for me. 

Heckler & Koch VP9
Extremely lightweight and thin for its category, the VP9 is apt for both concealed and open service or defensive carry

The first and overwhelming impression of the new Heckler & Koch VP9 pistol is the low felt recoil. I could tell little difference between the kick of Geco ammunition, Remington Golden Saber +P and Federal Personal Defense HST, all 124 grain loads.

+P ammunition had more muzzle flash, but the recoil was equally tame with all loads. The pistol also worked fine with steel-cased Sellier & Bellot 115-grain ball, again with minimal felt recoil. 

My trigger finger got tired before the rest of my hand – a slightly wider trigger finger would have been a help. Unlike some other designs, VP9 doesn’t achieve the recoil reduction by using an excessively stiff recoil spring. It’s one of the easiest pistols to rack. 

Heckler & Koch VP9
The Heckler & Koch VP9 offers a pretty linear recoil sensation and low muzzle climb levels with mostly any load
Heckler & Koch VP9
Thanks to its low bore axis, if compared with other HK series handguns, the VP9 remains manageable during rapid fire

Slight contoured projections on both side at the back of the slide help with keeping the hand on the slide even if greasy, wet or bloody. While the slide is plenty tall for a good grasp, the pistol doesn’t feel top-heavy like the old HK USP series. Heckler & Koch manage to strike a good balance between the light weight of the frame and the overall feel of the pistol. The grip is textured enough to aid retention but not so aggressively as to leave marks on unprotected skin. The forward slide serrations, likewise, are functional but not so sharp as to abrade holster leather. 

People who already own HK P30, can use the same holsters and magazines. The new Heckler & Koch VP9 is essentially a striker-fired adaptation of the P30, with lowered bore height and a substantially lower price tag. VP9 retails for nearly $300 less than P30 at this time.

Those who are new to this line of handguns can pick from a wide variety of leather and Kydex. I tested two hybrid designs: a Galco KingTuk IWB and a Galco TacSlide belt holster. Both held the pistol very close to the body and allowed concealment and rapid deployment form under a minimal cover garment.

Heckler & Koch VP9
A low-profile gun despite its full-size design, the Heckler & Koch VP9 is comfortable to carry 24/7 in all positions
Heckler & Koch VP9
A low-profile gun despite its full-size design, the Heckler & Koch VP9 is comfortable to carry 24/7 in all positions
Heckler & Koch VP9
The Heckler & Koch VP9 pistol is sold with two 15-rounds magazines and interchangeable backstraps and side panels

The pistol comes in a fitted case with spare backstraps and side grip panels and two 15-round magazines. The box had a cut-out for a loader but one wasn’t included. Fortunately, the magazines proved very easy to load without mechanical assistance.

Heckler & Koch VP9
The Heckler & Koch VP9 remains compatible with the P30 pistol magazines from the same Company
Heckler & Koch VP9
The quick and easy drop-free magazine release system allows rapid tactical reloads

Several reviewers faulted HK for only fitting 15 rounds into the magazine: that relatively modest capacity allowed easy insertion with the slide forward, and perfectly reliably feeding.

I’ve seen 17-shot guns of the same size fail to strip the top round if too gently handled, and I’ve seen magazines drop on the first shot when inserted without sufficient force during tactical reloads. Drop-free VP9 magazine provides 15 sure shots and that doesn’t seem like much of a handicap. 

Heckler & Koch VP9
The Heckler & Koch VP9 semi-automatic striker-fired pistol, seen from the right side...
Heckler & Koch VP9
...and from the left side: all controls are extremely well placed and user-friendly
Heckler & Koch VP9
The flat ambidextrous magazine release lever, located on the lower rear portion of the trigger guard, is quintessentially German: this design and position has been used by Heckler & Koch and Walther alike

The slide stop lever is also present on both sides of the pistol, though it is very much asymmetrical in execution. This control, combined with the ability to sculpt the grip differently on the left and the right, makes it a very leftie-friendly design. Ironically, the left-side slide stop is recessed and harder to activate than the right-side control intended for southpaws. The safety sub-trigger works the same from both side, and the only control not duplicated is the infrequently used takedown lever. All the controls work well with gloved hands. To my mind, the ambidextrous flipper mag release is far easier to activate rapidly with either hand than a button release, and it doesn’t activate accidentally. 

Heckler & Koch VP9
Two metal lugs protrude from the rear portion of the slide to provide a secure hold and a quick racking in all conditions

The trigger is relatively heavy at about 5.5 pounds of pull, and has about twice the take-up distance of a Glock trigger. The re-set distance is the same, 1/8 inch. In my sample, some of the forward edges of the trigger were too sharp for shooting without a glove and had to be smoothed with fine sandpaper.

The reset is quite positive, making rapid fire very easy. The back of the striker is marked in red and it is visible to the shooter when the pistol is cocked. The extractor doubles as a loaded chamber indicator, extending far enough outward to be checked by feel. 

Heckler & Koch VP9
The polygon-rifled barrel mounted on the Heckler & Koch VP9 pistol enhances the platform's intrinsic accuracy

The pistol’s polygonally rifled barrel is quite accurate. Geco and Remington ammunition produced one inch groups at seven yards, and Federal a tighter group of about two thirds of an inch. Predictably, 25 yards groups were about three inches across and centered at the point of aim. The pistol was definitely more mechanically accurate than the shooter in this case.  

My main problem was maintaining front sight focus. The situation improved after I swapped the smooth factory sights with luminescent dots for the excellent HiViz fiber optic sights. 

These sights were brighter and textured against glare, making front sight focus a snap and reducing the group sizes. VP9 is accurate, but it’s not a target gun. Appropriately to its calling as a defensive pistol, it produces almost the same accuracy in rapid fire as with slow, deliberate shooting. A typical rapid-fire group was comprised of one large, ragged hole with no fliers. 

Reliability was predictably perfect. I had no malfunctions of any kind, which exactly what I’ve come to expect from HK firearms. I don’t recall ever having a malfunction with USP or P7 models, either.

Heckler & Koch VP9
The white dot front sight can be adjusted for windage or replaced with aftermarket alternatives...
Heckler & Koch VP9
...and same goes with the dovetailed rear sight
Heckler & Koch VP9
Aside from civilian purposes, law enforcement issue or private security service, the Heckler & Koch VP9 would make an excellent alternative for standard or special issue as a military sidearm

While the take-down is very simple, I did no pre-shoot lubrication and ran the gun as it came from the factory, just wiping off some excess oil that seeped out during shipping. When cleaning would become necessary – by all indications longer after I run through a case and a half of ammunition obtained for the review – it would be very easy. The pistol comes apart into just four sub-assemblies: the frame, the slide, the barrel and the recoil spring guide with a captured spring. 

Heckler & Koch VP9
The Heckler & Koch VP9, hereby field-stripped; all HK pistols have been fairly easy to strip ever since the introduction of the USP design, but the VP9 is at the sum of simplicity

The new Heckler & Koch VP9 pistol is a mature evolutionary design. It incorporates proven solutions into a streamlined, consistently reliable weapon with good accuracy and mild recoil. It is priced fairly close to the competition. The adjustability of the grip makes it a viable choice for people with varied hand sizes and grip preferences.

My review nit-picked a little, which is reasonable considering that there were no real faults to complain about and plenty to like. 

Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise
Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise
Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise
Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise
Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise
Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise
Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise
Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise
Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise
Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise
Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise
Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise
Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise
Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise
Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise
Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise
Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise
Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise
Heckler & Koch VP9
A rapid-fire sequence with the Heckler & Koch VP9, photographed with a high-velocity camera to capture the behaviour of the gun, recoil and muzzle climb-wise


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