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Handguns

People’s Pistol: HK VP9 Review

by Tom Beckstrand   |  October 22nd, 2014   |   10

hk_vp_9_FWhenever I discover a new pistol on the market, I often wonder about the name or model number provenance. Manufacturers pick names and model numbers for a reason, and it can be insightful to try and figure out their intentions for a new firearm by examining its nomenclature. In the case of HK’s new VP9, it’s not hard to figure out that the etymology of the “VP” designation harks back to the world’s first polymer-frame pistol, the HK VP70. The VP title comes with some history.

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Wartime Hardship and Evolution
The “VP” is German for Volkspistole, translated as “people’s pistol.” The term originated in 1944 when wartime Germany had a tremendous need for firearms and painfully few resources to build them. German manufacturers began looking at ways to increase efficiency through streamlined manufacturing and cost reductions.

The Home Guard, or Volkssturm, needed guns, and German small arms engineers worked hard to meet those needs. Ernst Altenburger, head of design at the factory in Obendorf, Germany, coined a phrase that typified the spirit of the times: “Think sheet steel right from the start.” Efficiency and performance superseded aesthetics during this difficult period in history.

There were few of the original VP pistols produced, and only two of these sheet-steel VPs escaped the war, but the blueprints and one member of the design team survived. That surviving member, Alex Seidel, assembled his own design team and began work once again on the Volkspistole in 1965. By 1970, his semiautomatic handgun was complete and ready for production. It was called the VP70.

The chief characteristics of the VP70 were ease of use, simplicity and the application of plastics. Seidel’s VP70 would be the first polymer-frame pistol ever produced. The decision to use plastic was unheard of at the time and done to keep down manufacturing costs while still producing a quality pistol. Some might think a simple and efficient pistol would be cheaply made, but the VP70 reportedly had a barrel life of 30,000 rounds. Just because the HK engineers wanted to minimize expenses didn’t mean they were going to make a flimsy pistol.

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HK VP 70Z, 1970-1984, “35th Edition Blue Book of Gun Values” $750. Photo: Eric Eggly

While the new VP9 takes its prefix from the VP70, it gets some of its other design features from HK’s later models. The first time HK made a pseudo-striker-fired pistol was in 1976 with the design of the P7. The P7 had a squeeze-cocking lever on the pistol’s frontstrap that cocked the firing pin when depressed. With the firing pin cocked, there was no need for a hammer or a long, heavy trigger pull. Manipulation of the trigger simply released the firing pin, discharging the pistol. The VP9, like the P7, is also striker-fired.

The Bottom Half Evolves
There’s no doubt about it, the VP9 represents HK’s best effort at a people’s pistol that doesn’t compromise on performance. While the VP70 was the first handgun to use a plastic frame, the VP9 uses one strikingly similar to HK’s P30.

The VP9 and P30 are very similar in size and appearance. They even share the same magazine.

The VP9 and P30 are very similar in size and appearance. They even share the same magazine.

The polymer (not plastic) frame of the VP9 shares the same great ergonomics pioneered with the P30. The side panels and backstrap are removeable, and each pistol ships with various sizes of panels to ensure that endusers can obtain the right-size grip for almost any hand. The VP9 shares the same contour and texturing pattern found on the P30, so it has fantastic ergonomics.

The one deviation on the grip frame the VP9 makes as compared with the P30 comes when we look closely at the backstrap. The P30 has a traditional HK contour that doesn’t allow the firing hand to get right up underneath the slide. The VP9 has a beavertail-like tang at the top of the backstrap, encouraging the shooter to take a very high grip close to the bore’s centerline axis. Grabbing high up on the grip is the best way to manage recoil and speed follow-up shots with a pistol. As much as I praise the P30 I currently carry, the VP9’s backstrap has a better design.

The VP9’s magazine release is a small paddle that straddles the triggerguard just forward of the frontstrap. This was also borrowed from the P30. This type of magazine release makes it much more difficult to get an accidental magazine release because recoil cannot cause our hand to activate it. With some shooters, certain magazine releases (especially extended ones) mounted on the pistol’s grip can inadvertently drop the magazine when our support hand bears down on the pistol when fired.

The frontstrap transition is my favorite of all the striker-fired pistols. It seems like a lot of manufacturers leave a small bump where the triggerguard meets the frontstrap. This bump can cause the knuckle of our middle finger to blister if we put several hundred rounds through our pistol in a single day. The VP9 has an undercut triggerguard that lets us grip high on the frame, but the undercut is contoured to flow seamlessly into the fronstrap. It is very comfortable, even after a long day of shooting.

There are slide-release levers on both sides of the VP9. When considered with the magazine release, the controls are completely ambidextrous.

There are slide-release levers on both sides of the VP9. When considered with the magazine release, the controls are completely ambidextrous.

Slide releases are found on both sides of the VP9, making this pistol completely ambidextrous. They are small enough to stay out of the way, yet big enough to locate when we need them. The one hiccup I had with the VP9 came from where I put my thumbs. I like to lay both my thumbs forward (one on top of the other) along the left side of the pistol when I shoot. This meant that one of them was probably sitting right on top of the slide release, so the slide periodically failed to lock back after I fired the last round in the magazine. If I were going to retire my P30 and carry the VP9, I would have to pay attention to where I positioned my thumbs when I shot it.

Mechanical Workings
The VP9 is a striker-fired pistol that incorporates a safety mechanism into the trigger shoe. There is a small tab on the trigger face that must be depressed before the trigger can begin its movement rearward. With the tab depressed, the trigger moves a transfer bar rearward. The transfer bar rotates the firing-pin safety located on the bottom of the slide out of the way, freeing up the firing pin. Further rearward movement of the trigger bar releases a “catch” (HK’s term, not mine) located at the back of the frame that holds the firing pin. Once released, the firing pin (under spring tension) snaps forward, detonating the primer and firing the pistol. While the process takes a few sentences to describe, it occurs quickly.

There are a lot of striker-fired pistols on the market, but the VP9 easily has the best factory trigger pull. The takeup stage is clearly defined and is the “second” stage where the trigger firms up prior to let-off. From this stage, the trigger breaks cleanly with very little overtravel. The trigger also has minimal reset, so shooters who want a quick second shot will have it with minimal trigger manipulation. The reset is also tactile and audible, so it’s hard not to know when the pistol is ready to shoot again.

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The VP9’s ejector is a thick blade of steel that is firmly anchored to the frame. It looks like a pistol-size ejector descendant from an AK47. I can’t imagine one breaking. The extractor is a large claw-type that is a solid block of steel. It, too, will likely never need replacement.

There is a large steel block in the frame that houses the trigger pin and halts rearward movement of the barrel when the pistol is fired. The barrel has an integral feedramp and shares the barrel-hood lock-up system proven on so many pistols.

There are cocking serrations at the front and rear of the slide, so loading/unloading and press-checks are easy. The sights are luminous-paint three-dot models that should be interchangeable with any aftermarket P30 sights. There are a lot of aftermarket sight options available, especially for a new pistol.

At the Range
In shooting the VP9, it became immediately apparent that there isn’t much muzzle rise, even for a 9mm. I credit the beavertail on the frame for this and the high grip that it allows.

hk_vp_9_6The trigger is exceptional, and my only desire would be that it was a little lighter. There is an appropriate amount of takeup and a very crisp break for a striker-fired pistol, however. The overtravel is minimal, and the reset is exceptional. As I said before, I don’t know of a better factory trigger on any current striker-fired pistol.

The sights are robust, luminous and adequate for a factory handgun. They’re not cheap plastic “place holders” for aftermarket replacements like we find on so many pistols these days. Opinions on what makes for great sights vary, but the factory three-dot sights will do until you find exactly what you’re looking for. Casual shooters and HK purists will likely keep these sights.

There are small polymer toggles on either side of the slide that make it easier to grip for slide manipulation. These are intended for shooters with reduced grip strength and, while unorthodox, are very functional. They don’t get in the way, nor were they ever a distraction.

I tested the VP9 with three factory loads. Hornady’s 124-grain XTP had a best five-shot group at 25 yards measuring 1.61 inches with an average of 2.02 inches. The HK particularly liked Barnes 115-grain Tac-XPD +P, which produced the best group, measuring 1.24 inches. Barnes’ load averaged 1.46 inches. Remington’s new 124-grain Ultimate Defense also did very well, with the best group measuring 1.42 inches and an average of 1.88 inches.

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The VP9 is a tackdriver. The trigger made it easy to know exactly when the pistol would fire, and the sights worked well in daylight.

Notes
For a pistol that’s intended to be the “people’s pistol,” HK is offering an excellent choice with its VP9. It stays true to the principles identified in 1944 while leveraging design features from the most successful HK models.

HK borrows many inspirations from the P30 (even the magazines are the same), but I have no reservations in saying that it has managed to create a superior product when compared with other striker-fired guns currently available. Given a $719 MSRP, it’s the least expensive pistol I can remember HK offering. Sure, there are other striker-fired guns out there for less money, but none of them comes close to the VP9’s ergonomics and performance.

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