To law enforcement and select members of the Special Operations community, the brand Heckler & Koch (HK) evokes thoughts of special weapons and tactics, the pinnacle of small-arm design used by those entities. Since the days of the G36, MP5 and USP families of firearms, HK has continued making leaps in design while advancing technology through manufacturing. If you were to trace the etymology of the phrase “over engineered,” you’d probably find that it was first used to describe an HK product.
Made in southwest Germany, VP9 pistols are produced in the Oberndorf factory. Decidedly appropriate for civilian sport shooting, self-defense, security, as well as for military and law enforcement duties, the VP9 remains an example of HK’s reputation for quality and engineering prowess. With the VP9 having won Guns & Ammo’s 2016 Handgun of the Year award, our staff didn’t anticipate disappointment with the new VP9 B model.
Out of the Box
Shipped in a plastic clamshell case, VP9 pistols only come with two magazines, which is surprising given that many brands offering similar-purpose pistols include three. (LE models include three magazines.) Also included with VP9’s are changeable backstraps and separate side panels that serve as palm swells. The backstraps are remarkably well shaped, conforming to a variety of hand sizes. The interchangeable side panels mean that you can customize the entire grip surface, or just a single side. Backstraps are labeled small, medium and large, as are the side panels. They fit and work together in any combination. Until this year’s introduction of the Steyr L9A2, the VP9 series was the only striker-fired pistol offering this level of grip alteration.
Changing the backstraps and panels on any VP9 requires only a roll-pin punch to remove the pin. G&A staff members are not fans of having to use additional tools to remove and change parts on any gun — including backstraps. Generally, shooters will either size the grip once or never change them at all.
Lastly, the VP9 incorporates finger grooves, which are difficult for any company to truly make universal. With that said, the VP9’s grip fit feels right in our all of our hands, and we hear that HK customers have been happy with it since the pistol’s debut.
The suffix “B” in the new “VP9 B”stands for “button.” The push-button magazine release is a feature developed specifically to satisfy the American market. The original VP9 showcased an ambidextrous paddle-style magazine release by the triggerguard, repulsive to all but the most die-hard HK fans. However, HK is not the only brand affected by the West’s desire for push-button magazine releases. Consider some Walther pistols, for example. HK stands to acquire a new percentage of button-favoring American customers that had previously dismissed the original interation of the VP9.
The magazine release button may not appear to be reversible for ambidextrous operation, but it is. Unfortunately, we had to consult HK’s website for a video that demonstrated how easy it is after learning that the VP9 B owner’s manual is the same literature as the original VP9s.
Perhaps it will change, but as of now we know that the commercial version of the HK VP9 B comes with two magazines, yet pistols destined for law enforcement service receive three, as well as night sights. With its reversible magazine release and a slide lock/release lever accessible on both sides of the gun for easy manipulations, the VP9 B is an ambidextrous pistol suitable for all shooters, right or left handed.
Satisfactorily textured, the frame is both attractive and functional. Cutouts at the base of the magazine well allow aggressive stripping of a bound-up magazine, should it occur. If you should need it, a lanyard attachment is cleanly incorporated and utilizes the same roll pin that keeps the grip panels and backstrap in place.
A four-slot, extended Picatinny rail is molded into the frame’s dustcover and will accept the addition of lights and aiming lasers. We’ve seen some guns malfunction when certain accessories were mounted, but HK assures everyone that this won’t happen with any VP9. It’s worth noting that the rail was tested to accept mounted accessories weighing up to 5.6 ounces, which is more than enough for even the largest of light and laser assemblies.
Made of high-carbon steel and nitro-carbonized for hardness and durability, the slide is finely machined. It’s positively serrated, both forward and rear, and the slide’s easter egg is that it also incorporates wings at its rear. Designated “cocking supports,” these wings aide users in racking the slide when it’s wet, manipulating the pistol with gloved hands and offer extra purchase for those with reduced hand strength. If you have no use for this feature, the manual suggests that flush-fitting inserts can be ordered to replace the wings. To accomplish this, you’ll need to have the ability to remove the rear sight.
At the rear of the slide, the striker’s cover plate integrates a cocked striker indicator. When cocked, it presents a raised red dot for a visual and tactile indicator of its status. Day or night, knowing your firearms condition is important, so we appreciate this feature.
The slide features a large, robust external extractor on the ejection-port side, which also serves as a loaded chamber indicator. With only a sliver of red visible, you can see and feel when the chamber is loaded. The red mark is not very visible, especially after being shot and not cleaned, but it is always tactile.
The three-dot sights are luminous, meaning that they glow when charged by light. If they haven’t been exposed to light, they’re pretty useless in the dark. The sights are in dovetail cuts and can be drift-adjusted for windage at the front and rear. It’s important not to confuse them for night sights with tritium-vial inserts. Should you want to replace the sights, superior options are available from 10-8 Performance; Dawson Precision; Heinie Specialty Products; HiViz; Meprolight; Trijicon; Truglo; and XS Sight Systems.
Law enforcement personnel considering the VP9 B as a duty pistol will likely notice the factory rear sight is ramped. These days, one-handed manipulation of the slide is generally done by hooking the rear sight on gear or the environment, but the sight’s sloped angle precludes this.
The internals will be familiar to some HK owners meaning that we won’t be taking anything down past fieldstripping. Built like a German watch, it exudes quality. There are several notable features.
The takedown lever acts as a disassembly safety when fieldstripping the VP9 B. To start, you can’t rotate the takedown lever with a magazine inserted or without the the slide locked to the rear. Conveniently, the rotation of the takedown lever decocks the pistol, and the slide slips right off the frame. All are nice features that incorporate safety while maintaining intuitive operation.
Several standard safety measures are built into the VP9 B. A unique, side-mounted drop safety blocks unintentional firing pin movement. The trigger-mounted safety prevents accidental discharge from impact if the VP9 is struck or dropped, and a disconnector ensures that the slide must be in battery for the VP9 to fire. None of these negatively impact the smooth, clean, non-stacking 5-pound trigger press. It’s obvious that HK engineers anticipated the gun might get rough-housed a little.
Known for durability, the VP9 utilizes a cold hammer-forged barrel with a polished feed ramp. Cannon-grade steel and a nitride finish are sure to provide long service life. An engineer reported that similar barrels on HK P30 models in 9mm have fired in-excess of 90,000 rounds in endurance tests. Absent of traditional lands-and-grooves, the polygonal bore profile improves service life and is purported to increase muzzle velocity.
VP9 pistols all use proven HK P30 steel magazines. Base pads are thick polymer and destined to endure years of carry and repeated falls onto range floors. Witness holes on the spine allow us to make quick ammo assessments. The VP9 B magazine still only accommodates 15 rounds of 9mm, but aftermarket extensions are available to bump up capacity.
G&A’s accuracy results were generally impressive. Lockup between the slide and barrel is tight, and the crisp, clean, single-action feel of the trigger enabled offhand hits on an 8-inch target consistently at 50 yards.
The VP9 B pistol was evaluated through a Combat Pistol class taught by G&A Contributor, Chris Cerino. Despite the high-bore axis — “high” as compared to other striker fired guns, such as a Glock or CZ P-10 series — the VP9 B was comfortable, fast, and flat shooting. We credit the proprietary, captive, flat recoil spring for its low felt recoil. Certainly, the ergonomics of the grip helped as well.
Drawing, presenting and firing the pistol hundreds of times resulted in no malfunctions, no sore spots on our hands and minimal slide wear. It’s a reliable shooter. Aside from the unique rear charging supports, we wouldn’t have known that we were not shooting another tuned-up, striker-fired pistol.
The Heckler and Koch VP9 B is a solid design. If it’s price that keeps you away from considering HK products, we encourage you to run a cost analysis and think in terms of total life cycle. If you’re looking for a sidearm with a long service life, one that is dependable and capable of shrugging off abuse, the HK VP9 series meets these requirements. The VP9 B model is better than its award-winning predecessors for its push-button magazine release alone.
HK VP9 B
Type: Recoil operated, striker fired, semiautomatic
Capacity: 15+1 rds.
Overall Length: 7.34 in.
Barrel Length: 4.09 in.
Height: 5.41 in.
Width: 1.32 in.
Weight: 1 lb., 10.56 oz.
Trigger: 5 lbs., 8 oz. (tested)
Safety: Firing pin block; trigger latch; out of battery
Sights: Luminous, three-dot, drift adj.
Trigger: 5 lbs., 8 oz. (tested)
Manufacturer: Heckler & Koch,