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FN High Power 9mm Semi-Automatic Pistol: Full Review

The new FN High Power single-action semi-automatic pistol is a reinvention of one the most important handguns of the 20th century - the P.35 Hi Power; here's a full review.

FN High Power 9mm Semi-Automatic Pistol: Full Review

(Michael Anschuetz photo)

A few years ago, Detroit’s automakers set their sights on re-creating the great muscle cars of the 1960s and ’70s. In 2005, it was the Ford’s Mustang; the Dodge Challenger for 2008; and Chevrolet’s Camaro in 2010. These cars paid tribute to the originals with retro styling, but they were not clones or reproductions. The firearm industry seems to be experiencing a similar trend. We are seeing more and more modern interpretations of classic models. In that vein, FN America released its all-new High Power for 2022. Is it a worthy tribute to one of the most enduring handgun designs in history?

The High Power was developed as a collaboration between John M. Browning and a brilliant FN engineer named Diedonné Saive. The short story is that Saive designed the groundbreaking double-stack magazine and Browning built a pair of guns around it so that FN could bid on a French pistol contract. Browning died in 1926, and Saive pressed on. Saive chose Browning’s locked-breech prototype for further evolution, but the end result was as much Saive as it was Browning.

FN High Power Grip Examples
(Michael Anschuetz photo)

Their combined efforts became the P.35, first known as the “High Power” for its capacity, and later remarketed as “Hi Power” following World War II. It was one of the most prolific and successful combat handguns ever. It was used by both the Allies and Axis during World War II, and has seen action in almost every conflict since. The design influences of this handgun can be seen in nearly every modern semi-automatic pistol since. Despite its widespread use and influence, sales of the final Mark III lagged, which led to it being discontinued by Browning in 2018. They say, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Similar to the current situation with many classic revolvers, demand for the High Power quietly emerged.

FN High Power Grip Options
Multiple finishes and seven G10 or wood grip options are available for the FN High Power. The backstrap contours up to an extended beavertail for comfort. (Michael Anschuetz photo)

My first centerfire pistol was a Browning Mark III purchased new around 1993. Later, it became my first carry gun. Needless to say, the design holds a special place in my heart. In 2020, I poked a group of engineers from FN America and asked if they’d considered bringing back the “P.35.” They were well along the path at the time, but they were suitably tight-lipped.

As great as the original Belgian High Powers were, they had their shortcomings. So, FN developed its new High Power and was careful to address each of these. Designers also incorporated a variety of features that modern handgun customers have come to expect, ambidextrous controls being one of them.

FN High Power Trigger
With the absence of the magazine disconnect safety, the FN High Power presents a cleaner and smoother trigger feel. Trigger weight averaged 4 pounds on a digital trigger-pull gauge. (Michael Anschuetz photo)

The new High Power is an American-made, all-steel handgun. It is a larger pistol overall than its predecessors, being longer, wider, taller and heavier. Holsters designed for the P.35 and subsequent models are unlikely to be compatible. Due to its size and weight, it is unlikely to be anyone’s choice for concealed carry. Honestly, this will see more use as a range or duty gun.

FN High Power Ambi Controls
Ambidextrous controls were included in the new High Power design from the ground up. The new ambi slide-lock/release dictated that the disassembly lever be located to the right side. (Michael Anschuetz photo)

It wasn’t unheard of for high-volume shooters to crack the frames on vintage High Powers, especially with +P loads, hence FN’s engineers scaled up dimensions at critical stress points. Despite being a larger handgun, the grip dimensions of the new FN High Power are similar to those of a P.35. The steel frame is wider, but the polymer grip panels are thin enough to even things out. Two sets of grip panels are included with each FN High Power. My test example arrived with both black and brown colors. A variety of wood and G10-material grips are also available from FN; you can really dress up this gun to your preference. The grip panels are textured with a pattern of squared pyramids, and the front and rear frame texture were cut to match.

Like the P.35, the High Power is a single-action semi-automatic pistol. With a manual thumb safety, this handgun can be carried cocked and locked without concern. The new High Power’s safety is very well-executed. It is both ambidextrous and oversized.

Due to a requirement in the original French military request, Saive had to incorporate a magazine disconnect safety as part of the High Power’s design. Not only did this make it impossible to fire the handgun without a magazine inserted, it worsened the gun’s trigger pull. Gunsmiths often removed this feature to improve the gun’s shootability at the risk of increasing liability for the user. FN’s engineers addressed this by eliminating the feature altogether on this new High Power.

FN High Power Triggerguard
In addition to the checkering on the backstrap and texture of the grip panels, the frontstrap features checkering and a high-grip triggerguard undercut. (Michael Anschuetz photo)

Due in part to the lack of a magazine disconnect, the trigger pull of the FN High Power was very good. The trigger on our test samples averaged around 4 pounds — even with no noticeable creep. Reset was short and positive. For me, the trigger is the star of this show. The new High Power has a cleaner stroke and a shorter reset than a custom P.35 that I once paid quite a bit of money for.

More about the controls: The slide stop on the FN High Power is ambidextrous and easy to reach without needing to shift your grip. The checkered steel magazine release sits on the left side of the frame. Of course, one of the more annoying aspects of the older P.35s and Hi Powers was the propensity for the hammer spur to bite the shooter’s hand during recoil. One of the most common customizations of these guns was to trim back the hammer or extend the frame’s beavertail to prevent any bloodletting. FN designed the High Power to ensure that this would not be an issue. Not only does the geometry of the frame place the hammer further away from the shooter’s hand, the hammer is now rounded to decrease its profile. The ring-style hammer is another nod to old-school High Powers, which was present on some pistols made before 1970.

Recommended

FN High Power Field Strip
Field stripping the High Power reveals the deletion of traditional pins and bushings. (Michael Anschuetz photo)

Like the frame, the slide on the new High Power is beefy. Though it maintains the classic and distinctive cuts toward the muzzle, to my eye the top of the slide’s profile is more reminiscent of the SIG Sauer P220-series. (Do you agree?)

The 4.7-inch cold hammer-forged ramped barrel is made from stainless steel. The chamber area has been strengthened significantly when compared to the P.35 variants, and the top lugs on the new gun have been deleted. The barrel flares outward approximately .01 inch at the muzzle to lock snugly into the fixed bushing on the slide.

Recoil management is supported by a polymer guiderod coupled with a coil spring. With the slide drawn to the rear, the guiderod extends through the front of the slide.

Though we commonly associate the now-ubiquitous external extractor with the P.35, later Hi Powers used an internal extractor until 1962. These were expensive to produce and had a reputation for breakage with heavy use, so for the new High Power, FN returned the gun’s roots by giving it an internal extractor. The internal extractor is still large and powerful, and it looks more like what you’d expect on a Mauser 98 rifle than something in a handgun.

When the P.35 was developed, 9mm ammo was only available in full metal jacket (FMJ) loads, usually ranging from 115 to 124 grains. Hollowpoints didn’t become available until around 1963. Today, hundreds of 9mm loads are available, and consumers expect handguns to function reliably with all of them. To that end, the ejection port of the FN High Power is significantly larger than on the P.35, which facilitates simpler extraction and ejection. The barrel’s feed ramp is also polished and its surface area has been increased, too.

FN High Power Magazines
Two steel 17-round magazines increase the capacity of the High Power. The original P.35 was offered with 13-round double-column magazines. (Michael Anschuetz photo)

The front sight on the FN High Power is a serrated steel blade, and the rear is a plain black notch. Modern, but nothing flashy. These sights were visible at the range and drift-adjustable for windage. Since FN used the same dovetail profile as its 509 series of striker-fired handguns, a variety of aftermarket sights are already available.

Saive’s final 13-round magazine for the P.35 was ahead of its time, but the world has long since caught up. To modernize the High Power, FN engineered a 17-round magazine, which brings total capacity to 18 rounds. The magazine bodies are welded steel stampings, and the follower and base pads are injection-molded polymer. These magazines are not compatible with those designed for the P.35, or vice versa.

Disassembling the P.35 required removing the slide stop but, with the ambidextrous controls found on the FN High Power, that wasn’t feasible. Therefore, engineers installed a rotating takedown lever on the right side of the frame to facilitate removal of the High Power’s slide. The new slide design also has a thumb-relief cut above the takedown lever, another tasteful throwback to early P.35s. Having recreated Jeff Cooper’s Dozier Drill, with a disassembled P.35 and the FN High Power side-by-side, I can testify that the takedown system on the latter is easier and much faster.

FN High Power Sights
A serrated steel blade front sight and black notch for the rear provide ample contrast when aiming. The dovetail, however, is the same as the 509 series, so aftermarket options are available. (Michael Anschuetz photo)

FN offers the High Power in three different color schemes: stainless steel, Flat Dark Earth (FDE) and satin black. The latter two colors are achieved through a PVD-type finishing that is both durable and corrosion-resistant. I chose black for testing, but G&A had one of each for studio photography.

In March 2022, G&A Editor-in-Chief Eric Poole and I spent a full day on the range at a closed-door FN media event. Roughly a dozen gun writers put several hundred rounds each through various High Power samples. Several thousand rounds were fired by days end. I experienced zero malfunctions and don’t recall any of the other shooters having issues with the High Power either. I tested a second sample when I returned home and I found it to be equally reliable. It seems that the standards that built FN’s reputation in military circles have carried over to its civilian models, as well.

FN High Power in Action
(Michael Anschuetz photo)

The High Power is a heavy all-steel handgun. Hence, recoil is extremely manageable. With a good trigger and quality sights, I found it to be a very shootable handgun. Raw accuracy was excellent with two out of the three loads I tested. Most of all, the new High Power was fun to shoot.

If you are in the market for a true P.35 clone, this isn’t it. FN did not develop this new High Power to be a reproduction of the original. Rather, it was always meant to be a new handgun. It just happens to incorporate design elements offering tribute to the P.35. With a 17-plus-one capacity, ambi controls and user-friendly features, FN has taken a big step in creating a handgun that combines the best of old and new.

FN High Power Specifications

  • Type: Recoil-operated, hammer-fired semiautomatic
  • Cartridge: 9mm
  • Capacity: 17+1 rds.
  • Barrel: 4.7 in.
  • Overall Length: 8 in.
  • Width: 1.35 in.
  • Height: 5.62 in.
  • Weight: 2 lbs., 8 oz.
  • Finish: PVD black or FDE; stainless steel
  • Grip: Polymer, wood or G10 panels (two included)
  • Sights: Steel, serrated black (front); black U-notch (rear)
  • Trigger: Single action, 4 lbs. (tested)
  • MSRP: $1,269 (FDE/black); $1,369 (stainless)
  • Manufacturer: FN America, 703-288-3500, fnamerica.com
FN High Power Chart
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