November 06, 2018
Photos by Mark Fingar
Any time a manufacturer considers creating a concealed-carry gun from an established duty sidearm, scaling to a compact size is always at the forefront of design discussions. Getting the most attention is usually grip size and contouring.
As a lawman and a citizen who has carried a gun for many years, I’ve explored diverse methods and trained for a variety of circumstances. Shortening the grip on a pistol reduces the portion of a gun that protrudes from the holster. Whether carrying appendix or on the strong-side hip, the grip of the pistol is the first part situationally aware bystanders see protruding and printing through clothing. Rounding off the butt of the grip smooths out that gun’s imprint and can help reduce the chance for snags on clothing.
On the heels of grip alteration is barrel and slide length. Having a barrel and slide that are too long can cause comfort issues for concealed carry. Too short and it can cause some performance concerns. With today’s defensive ammunition choices now optimized for short-barreled handguns, performance as it relates to the length of barrel is not a concern of mine. However, longer barrels offer a longer sight radius and a longer sight radius can make a shooter more accurate.
It is from these considerations that Beretta’s new APX Centurion and Compact models were created. The Centurion is a mid-size pistol that’s easier to conceal than the full-size APX. The APX Compact features a flush-fit magazine that shortens the gun’s profile with the ability to run on full- and Centurion-size magazines. Both the Centurion and Compact models are available in either 9mm or .40 S&W chamberings.
While fundamentally the same pistol as the full-size configuration, the two new models do have their differences. The APX Centurion and Compact models offer less protrusion from the grip and both have had half an inch removed from the barrel length when compared to the full-size’s 4¼-inch barrel.
The tradeoff for gaining more concealability is slightly less capacity and a little less room for your hands. Both new handguns sport 3.7-inch barrels, but capacity and grip length distinguish the Centurion from the Compact. The Centurion magazine holds 15 rounds of 9mm (13 rounds for the .40), while the Compact magazine totes 13 rounds (10 rounds for the .40).
Capacity is usually compromised by the nature of compact gun designs, and many who carry concealed look at capacity as a decision point. Gone are the days when we believe that two or three rounds will end the fight. Terrorism and those with evil-intent have changed our times.Living with the APX
Technically, the Centurion is a mid-sized pistol. Dimensionally, the Centurion measures less than 5¼ inches, while the full-size APX measured more than 5½ inches. It’s new grip module can be separated from the chassis since the serialized part is the internal chassis. The chassis contains the fire-control assembly much like the removeable chassis found in the SIG Sauer’s P250 and P320 models. The APX Compact is significantly shorter at 4¾-inches tall, so the “compact” moniker is appropriate here.
As an owner of a full-sized APX, I was interested in what the Compact was going to feel and handle like. I quickly discovered the Centurion has a good balance to it. It fits nicely in my large hands with plenty of room for all my fingers. Handling the Compact was a different story. If I had a blindfold on and picked up all three APX models one right after another, I would have set the Compact back down and simply forgotten about it. To me, the dimensions of the Compact make it feel awkward, specifically its top-heavy feel.
Having all three APX variants side by side was convenient for comparison, although they look so much alike that I found myself picking up the wrong gun and magazines more than once. If you’re already an owner of the full-size APX, you’ll be pleased to learn that the full-size magazines fit and function in both the Compact and Centurion models.
Using a full-size magazine in a carry-size pistol is a neat way to increase capacity when training or to have on your person as a spare for reloads. As with other makes that share this feature, the smaller magazines won’t function in the larger guns due to each grip’s length. Like a new guy, I inserted the shortened magazine into the full-size gun and had it fall out on more than one occasion.
Like the full-size APX, the slide on the smaller pistols remain coarse and serrated for the full length. The front-to-rear serrations are effective, although they have been controversial to some enthusiasts. Sights within the dovetails remain the steel, three, white-dot, post-notch setup. They can be drift adjusted for changing windage, and tritium night sights are readily available as replacements.
The controls of the APX are ambidextrous, which, as a trainer, is a must. Having the slide-lock lever operable from both sides of the gun offers lefties the ability to manipulate the same gun as it was designed. The magazine release is reversible and was designed to be changed by its user.
The polymer grip module is textured in all the right places.
Virtually unrecognizable, due to its clean design and fit, the backstraps can be switched out between small, medium and large sizes. Having the ability to change backstraps is nice, and I can hardly recommend a gun that doesn’t offer this option today. The medium-sized backstrap was sufficient for my taste, and I left it that way throughout testing. It’s important to note, however, that to change backstraps you must disassemble the gun and use a punch to knock out a pin. This is not my preferred method of swapping out backstraps, but they are otherwise well made and thoroughly textured.
A standard Picatinny rail is molded into the dust cover, but there are two slots for attaching accessories on the Centurion and Compact due to the shorter slide and barrel length. The full-size APX has three rail notches.
Unfortunately, takedown and detailed disassembly procedures are not as simple as most other striker-fired pistols, so don’t throw out the manual. There are step-by-step instructions you’ll need to consult with said manual that require a tool (again), good dexterity and some manipulation skills. I’ve not struggled with disassembling a pistol as much as with the APX models since I took my last Ruger Mark III-series rimfire pistol apart. The APX really tested me.
There’s a striker deactivation button at the rear of the frame on the right side. You have to push it in to deactivate the striker before it can be taken down. This design feature was an attempt at providing a layer of additional safety beyond the Glock-type triggers so that the user doesn’t have to press the trigger to disassemble the gun. Once the striker deactivator is pushed, there’s a button on the opposite side of the takedown lever that also must be pressed before the lever can be rotated.
I have experience as an armorer, so you can imagine my frustration with the APX and the pity I have for the lesser-skilled purchaser. After roughly 20 minutes and reading (then re-reading) Beretta’s instructions, I was able to completely disassemble the new APXs. I managed to do it once more — more quickly — but I could not do it again, so the gun after my testing remains uncleaned. Perhaps someone at Beretta needs to show me the nuances of this procedure so that I may become competent.
What I found inside of the APX Compact was a well-built pistol. The APX is one of the simplest striker-fired designs I’ve encountered. Because it’s designed around a serialized chassis system, you can change between Compact and mid-sized Centurion frames without having to buy two complete guns. The internals are well machined, well finished and surprisingly minimalistic.
Safety inherent, Beretta designed the APX with all the safeties one could ask for. The usual passive striker-fired safeties are there along with the option of adding an external, manual thumb safety. Safeties include a trigger-drop safety, a striker-block safety and an out-of-battery safety. The manual thumb safety is end-user configurable.Off to the Range
I brought a wide variety of ammunition and all the tools of the trade to wring the best out of each new APX. With magazines filled with full-metal-jacket (FMJ) practice ammunition and the Challenge Targets TDI torso set at 25 yards, I shot to determine out-of-the-box practical accuracy. (Believe it or not, not all pistols can hit a torso steel target at 25 yards.) Both the Centurion and Compact had no issues ringing steel with every shot. Accuracy for defensive scenarios with each pistol was good.
Most of us know that new guns can malfunction as parts wear in, but these APXs did not. Of all the rounds I put through these pistols, there was not one hiccup to report. The pistols functioned correctly and went into battery each time. It didn’t matter if I sent the slide home by using the slide lock lever or by pulling the slide to the rear and letting go.
With both the APX Centurion and Compact at the range, I was able to see what I was missing from my full-sized APX and there wasn’t much. The grip is the biggest change.
The Centurion grip is sufficient, but the Compact grip is too short for my hands. It’s so short that there’s no place for my pinky unless I really cram my fingers up into the triggerguard. Both magazines included are flush fit, which is an issue. If Beretta is reading this, a little more real estate given to the Compact’s grip would make a world of difference. An extended base pad could be a fix, but including a mid- or full-size APX magazine with the Compact would aid shooting comfort.
The Centurion and the Compact share the same barrel and slide dimensions, so my test firing was done with the Compact model since it differs the most from the full-size APX. It’s definitely the harder of the two guns to shoot and control. All performance testing was measured at 25 yards while I shot from a sandbag rest.
My aging eyes had a hard time refining the three-dot sight picture at 25 yards. The white-dot sights are too busy to be accurate with. Using a black marker, I blacked out the rear dots to better focus on the front sight through the rear notch. Many new sights are doing away with markings on the rear to include removing the white ring around night sight ampules. In my experience, this makes it easier to focus on the front sight without struggling past the rear.
The triggers on both Centurion and Compact models required 6 pounds of pull each. Six pounds is not the best trigger weight for wringing out accuracy, but to me, it’s acceptable for a defensive pistol. The triggers were smooth to press and I liked the overtravel stop.
I wasn’t surprised to find that the APX liked defensive ammunition better than other loads. My best groups measured were with Winchester’s Ranger 147-grain duty round. Not only did it provide the best groups, but it impacted point of aim for me as well. This lends credence that the APX lineup was manufactured with law enforcement and military standards in mind.
Many manufacturers are content if their pistols print five-shot groups that measure 3 to 5 inches at 25 yards. My tests produced an average of 3-inch groups with the Compact, so I consider this pistol’s accuracy as par. The Compact’s short grip and reduced sight radius plays a part, as does the trigger weight.
Overall, the APX Centurion and Compact shoot well and are easy to manage recoil due to the low bore axis. Although the Compact was too small for my hands, it doesn’t mean it’s too small for yours. However, Beretta missed the boat by not including at least one magazine extension or larger-capacity magazine with each pistol as other companies already do.
The triggers are good for carry and recreational shooting. The overtravel limiter is a desirable feature and makes a difference. Interchangeability of magazines is handy and there are a host of accessory magazines available through beretta.com.
Disassembly is not for the faint of heart. A simple universal tool could help at the range should a person want to disassemble this pistol or change the grip.Just one gun?
Having owned and carried a variety of pistols, one could hardly say that I’m beholden to any specific brand. I change guns like most folks change clothes. Whether daily carry, training or competition, a handgun for me is a tool.
Your best asset when buying any gun is knowledge, so go handle and shoot as many different ones as you can. My hands know what they like and guns that feel good in my hands are always my first choice. I am a creature of habit but realize that there is no one gun for everyone. With the addition of the APX Centurion and Compact models, it’s apparent that Beretta is aware of that, too.
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