March 08, 2023
Readers often ask, “What subcompact 9mm pistols are available for everyday carry and cost less than $400?” Guns & Ammo’s editors surveyed the current market for an answer and didn’t find many. You may see quality used pistols such as Glock 43 trade-ins offered for less than $400, but we only found five new models that met the criteria.
Each of the five brands listed offer other products that cost less than $400. However, to simplify the answer we kept the results to either the most premium model for the money or the newest variant.
Bond Arms Stinger
In 2019, Bond Arms launched its Rough Series, which included single-action pocket pistols based on the Defender series. These tip-up over/under pistols start at $269 in .380 ACP. However, Bond Arms’ most affordable 9mm derringer is the Roughneck ($277). The Stinger ($389) is the most premium model under $400, which is new and went into full production in July 2022.
What distinguishes the Stinger from the company’s other double-barrel handguns is that it’s half the weight and offers a slim profile. The Stinger comes with Bond Arms’ standard rubber grips installed, but inside the box is a slimmer set of polymer grips to skinny it up for pocket carry. The 7075-aluminum frame is black hard-coat anodized, which contrasts with the matte stainless-steel 3-inch barrel and controls.
With the barrels swung open, you can see the pistol’s firing pin block within the aluminum frame. This is important because the firing pin block, which houses pins to fire both barrels, is made of stainless steel. When loaded, chambered and the barrel in battery, the stainless-steel barrel recoils into the firing pin block without risk of damage to the aluminum frame.
To be sure that the Stingers were safe while being lightweight, Bond Arms tested them through thousands of rounds. No stress to the frame was detected. They also used +P and proof loads to verify the stoutness of the new design.
Stingers feature three safeties: A rebounding hammer, a cross-bolt safety, and a release-lever retention system that prevents the barrels from opening unintentionally. For those nervous to pocket carry a pistol with a light trigger, one might also consider that the 6-pounds of pull needed to fire these derringers is a passive safety feature.
Due to being chambered in 9x19mm, a cartridge designed for semiautomatic pistols, the Stinger lacks an extractor. The 9mm case does not have a rim such as on the cases of traditional revolver cartridges, so Bond Arms machined a notch on the left side of the dual chamber. Spent cases can be pried out of the chambers using a tool, perhaps a finger nail, or another cartridge case’s rim.
Sights are fixed and non-adjustable, but Bond Arms does a great job calibrating alignment for the range of 9mm ammunition. During G&A’s testing, we observed 3- to 4-inch groups at 15 yards using Winchester USA Ready Defense 124-grain +P ammunition. This load produced a velocity average of 1,114 feet per second (fps).
Tolerance for felt recoil is subjective, but standard-velocity 115- to 147-grain projectiles are more comfortable for repeated shooting. If you have the grip strength, carrying defensive-type ammunition and +P loads is manageable. The thicker, rubber grips that come installed on the Stinger are more comfortable than the optional polymer set, but if deep concealment is the priority the polymer slabs are noticeably slimmer than the rubber set.
When Guns & Ammo introduced the LC9 on its April 2011 cover, the “L” in “LC9” stood for “Lightweight Compact 9mm.” When the EC9s replaced the LC9 and LC9s in 2018, Ruger indicated that the “E” stood for “Essential.” The new name has two meanings, one suggesting that the EC9 is necessary for everyday carry. The second indicates that the model comes equipped only with the features needed to meet the lowest price point without compromising the brand’s reputation for reliability and quality.
The EC9s starts at $339 but climbs to $359 for colored-frame options and $369 for models with a colored frame and a slide with given a Cerakote finish. Additionally, a standard black model is offered for $379 that adds a Hogue HandAll grip sleeve with Cobblestone texturing, palm swell and finger groove. To lower the price for the EC9s, the adjustable iron sights on the former LC9s were replaced with a fixed blade at the front and an integral notch at the rear. Compared to the LC9s, slide serrations were minimized on the EC9s, also, which reduced machine time, and the finish was changed from a blue to a black oxide to cut costs. The last MSRP for the LC9s was $479. When you consider that the EC9s starts at $339, you can see that these changes resulted in significant savings.
The lower-case “s” suffix was added to the LC9 moniker in 2014 to highlight the fact that these models are striker fired. The EC9s continued that naming convention. The original LC9 was a hammer-fired action with a loaded chamber indicator (LCI) positioned on top of the slide behind the ejection port. Many customers found the LCI was distracting and the trigger too heavy for accurate fire. These were changed to a visual inspection port on the LC9s model along with a lighter, cleaner trigger with the striker-fired design. The LC9s was successful, but nothing like the EC9s has been since the MSRP dropped below $400.
Regardless of configuration, the EC9s comes with only one seven-round magazine. The magazine’s basepad does have an extended profile at the front for better control. The EC9s will accept the LC9 series magazines, including the extended nine-rounder. Spare seven-round ($42) and nine-round magazines ($49) are available at shopruger.com. ProMag also offers a 10-round extended magazine for the EC9s and LC9s.
The Ruger EC9s proved reliable through G&A’s initial testing of 500 rounds, and it maintains a positive reputation among shooters. Like many pistols in this budget-9mm class, it offers an average five-shot group of 3½ to 5 inches at 25 yards. At 7 yards and closer, the EC9s is capable of producing 1½- to 21/2-inch groups. As the abbreviated name suggests, the Ruger EC9s offers everything you need for reliable self-defense use.
SCCY CPX-1 Gen 3
- Starting MSRP: $329.95, $359.95 (optic-ready)
SCCY was founded in 2003, and the flagship pistol for much of the last 20 years has been its CPX-1 and -2, which feature Joe Roebuck’s Quad-Lock barrel system. Though the Roebuck Quad-Lock barrel design remains a salient feature in current models, SCCY refined ergonomics through two generations. The thumb safety on CPX-2 models was also improved so that it was less obtrusive.
When seven- and eight-shot single-stack 9mm pistols began the trend toward the flood of micro compacts that we saw starting to appear in early 2015, the CPX-1 was already on the scene with greater capacity — a 10-round magazine in a 1-inch-wide frame. For its sub-$400 MSRP, few alternatives existed that bested its capacity and concealability. The CPX line expanded to include the CPX-2 featuring a manual thumb safety. Of course, stainless-steel slides were also an option. If you’ve been reading Guns & Ammo for several years, you know that the CPX-3 arrived in the July 2017 issue and was chambered for .380 ACP. The CPX-4 followed in January 2020, with its manual thumb safety lever. Until recently, there were only two fundamental platforms, one for 9mm and the second for .380. Options meant that you could have a pistol with or without a thumb safety, with or without a stainless-steel slide, and with one hue from an assortment of frame colors.
In the October 2021 issue, SCCY released its first striker-fired pistols, the DVG-1 and DVG-1RD, the latter being red-dot ready. These were noteworthy for being one of the first — if not the first — red-dot ready, striker-fired pistols costing less than $400. And both models sported a straight trigger. If you stepped up and paid a dealer $400, you could get a DVG-1RD with a Riton Optics MPRD 2 installed.
For 2022, SCCY unveiled the new Gen3 frame. It is unique for its redesigned grip that lacks the finger grooves on the frontstrap. Instead, the Gen3 frame has a straight frontstrap and a two-slot accessory rail under the barrel for mounting a light or lasers. The Gen3 grip-frame was also retrofitted to both hammer-fired CPX-1 and CPX-2 models. (It has yet to appear on the CPX-3 or DVG-1 pistols.) Both models can also be purchased with or without the red-dot-ready optic cut and cover plate for an additional $30. (An optic is not included.) Without a doubt, the Gen3 frame and optic-ready option advances the relevance of the CPX series in today’s market.
There were known issues with previous generations of the CPX series, but those seem to have been sorted out and do not appear with G&A’s Gen3 samples. Accuracy, for example, seems to have improved, but that could likely be due to the improved DAO trigger. The original CPX pistols had a trigger weight measuring above 10 pounds. The Gen2 pistols reduced that figure to 8 to 9 pounds, but accuracy testing any handgun is difficult with a heavy trigger. The trigger in the Gen3 T&E samples averaged between 6½ and 8 pounds and lacked any grit or hiccup. Five-shots now group in 3½- to 5-inch clusters with defensive loads at 25 yards. Two-inch groups were frequent within 10 yards when the pistol was fed premium defensive loads.
Did you know that Stoeger used to produce a .22-caliber Luger? Yep, from 1969 to 1985. Stoeger also produced the 8000 Cougar, which was a Turkish-made version of the Beretta Cougar known for its rotating barrel lockup. The STR-9 was introduced in G&A’s March 2019 issue. Despite its history, the STR-9 seemed to be a surprise to many that the brand was charging into the handgun market with a serious striker-fired auto. Even today, Stoeger is better known for its affordable, yet reliable shotguns. However, that view is changing.
With the STR-9, Stoeger met contemporary market demands at a sub-$350 price point. Its profile and size conjured thoughts of a Glock, but the STR-9 is a Turkish-made pistol that shares nothing in common besides its shape and striker-fired, safe-action operation. The STR-9 launch was so successful for Stoeger that it quickly evolved into 18 models as of 2022, including a few optic-ready configurations.
New for ’22 is the STR-9SC. The size and profile mimic a G26, so some might argue that this pistol is not a “micro.” For its 6.54-inch overall length, it does qualify as a sub-compact that could be pocket carried given the right holster.
If money is tight, or you just prefer the traditional way of aiming, the STR-9SC has all the fundamentals of a dependable carry pistol: Metallic sights (night sights are optional); a tactile loaded chamber indicator; and decent trigger. It’s rather accurate for this class of pistol, also. During G&A’s official performance test at 25 yards, we printed a couple of 1¾-inch groups from the bench. However, 2½ to 3½-inch groups were more often typical.
The STR-9SC’s accuracy potential may be easier to extract if you step up to the optic-ready version, also new for 2022. With an MSRP of $399, it qualified for this article’s roundup, though an optic is not included. Mounting optics on compact pistols allow shooters to sight-in on their target fast, and it’s usually a workable solution for those with aging eyes. The slide of the STR-9SC is machined low ahead of the rear sight. Stoeger provides four mounting plates to make the do-it-yourself process easier, which is unusual for a pistol retailing for less than $400. These plates help the STR-9SC accept most of the red-dot sights developed for pistol use.
How did Stoeger beat its competition on price? Stoeger imports the STR-9 series from Turkey, who are known to be excellent gun makers. You might be surprised to learn that many high-end gun companies are now having certain models and processes — like hand engraving — completed in Turkey.
With the STR-9 lineup, Stoeger managed to evolve a proven platform into its own value proposition. The magazine is unique to the STR-9SC, and only one is provided. Additional mags can be purchased at shopstoeger.com for $35.
Taurus is operating like a new company: one that’s flexible enough to anticipate the market. Since moving its U.S. headquarters and standing up a factory in Bainbridge, Georgia, Taurus has been met with success after success: TX22, G3, and now the GX4. They even have a custom shop that’s producing their Executive Grade handguns, which was covered in the July 2022 issue.
With so much news coming out of Taurus, the biggest story for 2022 may have been overshadowed: the GX4. Its components are manufactured in Brazil, but assembled in Georgia. The striker-fired GX4 was launched as Taurus’ first-ever micro-compact that’s similar in size and profile to compete with the SIG Sauer P365 ($599) and Springfield Armory Hellcat ($587). The GX4 beats both on price with retail of $392.42.
The GX4 has been in secret development since 2018. Every aspect was pored over, which resulted in one of the most ergonomic micros available for everyday carry. Though the GX4 is purchased with either a pair of 10- or 11-round magazines, Taurus is also selling a 13 rounder, which puts it on par with the competition’s extended mag capacities.
The trigger is Taurus’ best yet, and rivals the trigger in competing Micros. It is a single-action-only (SAO), and features a flat face. The trigger is distinct for the wide safety lever in the middle, which is also serrated. It provided us with a different feel than the usual narrow safety lever seen on other micros. Being serrated, wide and flat, the touchpoint is tactile and feels akin to a trigger you’d expect on a match-type pistol.
A rough texture surrounds the entire grip, and the amount of bite and no-snag comfort was perfectly balanced. The texture also appears ahead of the flush disassembly pin above the triggerguard; it serves as another tactile touchpoint to locate your support-hand thumb during firing and trigger finger when you’re not ready to shoot. Comfort is further enhanced by the fact that there are no finger grooves forcing your hand to grip the frame a certain way.
Controls are low-profile, while contours and touchpoints are intentional. Details such as the front white dot and blacked-out, serrated rear sight indicate that Taurus was paying attention to the trends in pistol shooting when developing the GX4. Forward-leaning serrations are available at the front and rear of the slide, and branded markings are modest.
Guns & Ammo’s staff has been observing the development of the GX4 since it was a prototype in 2019. During our evaluations, it wasn’t uncommon for various testers to produce sub-2-inch groups using quality defensive ammunition from a bench at 25 yards. The GX4 is perhaps the most accurate compact pistol for the money, and reliability has been flawless. Taurus listened to critical feedback and built the best semiauto pistol it has ever made. It is one of the best — if not the best — micro compacts available for less than $400. Though not qualified for the scope of this article’s roundup, it is worth mentioning that the GX4 is also available with Taurus’ optic-ready T.O.R.O. system that bumps the MSRP to $468.18.
You might say, “But I’ve seen these pistols priced less than listed here?” You are probably correct. The prices listed in Guns & Ammo’s specification charts are the Manufactured Suggested Retail Prices (MSRP). The MSRP is higher than what a dealer pays, sometimes 30 to 50 percent, and higher than a manufacturer’s Minimum Advertised Prices (MAP). Some companies have asked us to list their MAP or a so-called “street” price in our specification charts because it is often more appealing or closer to the actual price tagged at the dealer. However, while not every company reveals its MAP pricing, all companies publish an MSRP for the gun-buying public to compare. That is why G&A publishes MSRPs. However, you may likely find lower over-the-counter prices.
Why are options not mentioned from companies such as Armscor and Rock Island Armory, Canik, Charter Arms, EAA, Glock, KelTec, Kahr Arms, Mossberg, SIG Sauer, Smith & Wesson, Springfield Armory and TriStar? If the price threshold were raised to $450 or $500, the list of brands would expand beyond the space afforded to this article.
Why are revolvers not listed? There are EDC revolvers in 9mm, but all models surveyed exceeded this assignment’s $400 MSRP threshold.
Would you like to see a roundup for a specific category of firearm? If we get enough requests, you’ll see it published in a future issue. Email us at email@example.com.
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