March 07, 2016
Flexibilty Instead of Uniformity" is the Walther company motto. It's a welcome departure from some company's mottos detailing "perfection." Walther is one of those companies that actually believes a pistol should conform to the needs of the owner, not that the owner needs to adapt to the pistol. This motto was the same guidance Walther gave to Horst Wesp, the technical team leader assigned with developing the P99, and the company adhered to its motto in the creation of the new PPQ M2 .45.
Wesp came to work for Walther in 1994, but had been in the firearms industry for several decades prior. He had a wealth of experience designing firearms and had steadily risen through the ranks to that of technical team leader at both Steyr and Glock before settling down in Ulm, home to Walther. Not long after Wesp started at Walther, the company tasked him with designing a completely new pistol. The P99 was ready just three years later.
One of the new design features was a polymer frame, a new development for Walther at that time. While the use of polymer frames wasn't uncommon in semi-auto pistols in the 1990s, Walther had to assume a lot of risk getting into this highly competitive market. Polymer frames do significantly reduce the cost of manufacturing, but also present hurdles when creating a feature-rich model that will remain competitively priced.
Where Hesp chose to challenge the existing polymer-framed pistol market was by offering the owner the ability to tailor the pistol to their specific needs. The P99 was one of the first polymer pistols to have an interchangeable backstrap. This allowed the shooter to fit the grip size to their hand. Where other manufacturers chose a minimalist "take it or leave it" approach, Walther wanted to offer as many options as possible and began with the grip size. History would prove that Walther correctly identified what the customer prefers because almost every manufacturer of polymer-framed pistols now offers interchangeable backstraps. Walther and Hesp were simply the first to recognize their value.
The P99 was designed as a hammerless pistol but with an interchangeable trigger system, keeping with the flexibility theme that Walther favors. The first P99s had the classic double/single-action trigger system so popular in the mid-1990s. While there was no hammer, the trigger pull was long and heavy for the first shot and then short and crisp for subsequent shots. Walther also placed the decocker on top of the slide behind the ejection port. Depressing the button safely released the spring tension on the firing pin, much like previous decockers that safely lowered a hammer.
Depending on a customer's wishes, the P99 could be fitted with a double-action-only (DAO) trigger or a partially cocked single-action system. Having three trigger types available from which to choose was unheard of at the time. Much like interchangeable backstraps, this feature is more common now.
Military & Law Enforcement Influences
Most of the major manufacturers pay attention to the demands of the law enforcement and military communities for a couple of reasons. Military and police contracts give a manufacturer some stability because they often last for years and have a fixed procurement cycle. This makes life easier and more predictable for a manufacturer.
These two customers also establish trends, for better or worse, which frequently carry over to the civilian market. A lot of civilians value the opinions of armed professionals and the perceived expertise that comes with them. For these two reasons, law enforcement demands had a heavy influence on the changes that the P99 would undergo for almost the next fifteen years.
The dust cover and the front of the polymer frame would change from two grooves underneath and parallel to the frame rails, to the standard Picatinny system that is now everywhere. This was a good change that made it possible for the owner to choose what accessory, if any, he wanted to mount to his pistol. We no longer had to endure proprietary systems that mandated specific lights or lasers.
Several other tweaks occurred with the frame ergonomics and sights. The frame became less angular, with sharp edges giving way to rounded contours. Sights changed from white outline to two- and three-dot models.
One of the biggest changes came when Walther migrated from the P99 to the P99Q. This change occurred in 2008 with the addition of Walther's partially cocked single-action system (what many refer to as striker-fired). Striker-fired pistols had gained steadily in popularity and more law enforcement organizations (such as the Dutch police) wanted pistols with this trigger system. The problem is that law enforcement agencies employ persons with disparate proficiency levels, to the point that some folks are downright dangerous with a loaded firearm.
The typical law enforcement solution is to put a heavier trigger pull on a pistol, making it harder to have a negligent discharge. The P99Q was a pistol developed directly for German police contracts, a decision that proved profitable for the company. Two variants of the P99 were developed for this project, the "Q" and the "D". The "Q" model had the lighter trigger with a shorter reset and proved to be the more popular of the two versions.
One of the features of the P99Q was a relatively heavy trigger pull as mandated by the requirement it was designed around. While many might wonder why a pistol with a heavy trigger would be popular (other than agencies like NYPD that think a heavy trigger is the best way to prevent negligent discharges), the idea of purchasing a pistol designed and tested to rigorous German standards appealed to many. The P99Q was adopted by several German law enforcement agencies and by several foreign countries, Poland being one of the biggest procurers.
The PPQ is Born
The P99 had been around for about 14 years and had seen many updates and refinements over its lifespan. While the internals hadn't changed much, the polymer frame had steadily evolved over the life of the pistol. Walther decided to take many of the best features from the P99 and build a pistol better suited for the commercial market. The pistol that would come from this effort is the Walther PPQ 45.
The Walther PPQ 45's polymer frame is almost identical to the last P99 model. This is a good thing because those ergonomics were almost 15 years in the making. No other manufacturer can claim they've got that much study and effort into getting the grip right. As a result, the ergonomics make the Walther PPQ 45 one of the most comfortable pistols any of us here at G&A have held. Demonstrating early in the polymer pistol craze that they were serious about ergonomics, Walther's interchangeable backstrap system is the most time-tested and simple to use. One pin holds the backstrap in place and, with multiple sizes from which to choose, the pistol can be made to fit almost every hand.
The Walther PPQ 45's grip texture strikes a good balance between being aggressive enough to hold under any condition and smooth enough to not damage our clothes if we carry the Walther PPQ 45 concealed. The beavertail on the back of the frame allows our hand to grab high up on the grip to help us control the pistol under recoil.
While the grip and frame on the Walther PPQ 45 appear almost identical to the P99Q, the trigger is where we see the biggest changes and the most improvement. Walther wanted to offer the best trigger on any polymer-framed pistol, so they focused on lightening the trigger pull weight and shortening the amount of trigger movement required to fire the Walther PPQ 45.
The P99Q's pull weight was lightened by over 25 percent and trigger travel was shortened by 66 percent for the Walther PPQ 45 trigger. The short, light trigger pull makes it easier to concentrate on shooting, with less focus on trigger management.
To make the Walther PPQ 45 safe for concealed carry, Walther's solution was to widen the trigger, cut a slot in it, and insert a narrow shoe that prevents the trigger from moving until it is depressed.
Placing the safety on the trigger face makes it very fast to disengage while ensuring that we have to deliberately pull the trigger to fire the pistol.
The Big Bore
The Walther PPQ in .45 ACP is the company's latest addition to its flagship line. All the research and design that went into previous P99 and PPQ models are present in the .45. Slide releases are located on both sides of the frame and the magazine release can be placed on either side of the grip.
The Walther PPQ 45's magazine holds 12 rounds and is made from steel. If you can choose between steel and polymer magazines for your pistol, always choose steel. One of my biggest complaints about polymer-framed pistols is the fact that many ship with polymer magazines. If you've ever reloaded a polymer pistol that has a polymer magazine; once the slide has locked to the rear, you may have noticed that the magazines are slow to fall out of the well.
Empty polymer magazines frequently don't have the weight to drop free on their own. Polymer just doesn't like to slide across polymer well. You'll often see pistol shooters flick the pistol to speed the polymer magazine's exit from the frame.
With rare exceptions, all those headaches seem to go away once we use steel magazines. Steel magazines leap out of the magazine well when compared to their polymer brethren. While this might seem like a small issue to some, if you need to change magazines quickly, it matters.
The Walther PPQ 45's slide has serrations up front and rounded edges for comfortable carry. The striker is visible at the rear of the slide when the pistol is cocked, making it easier to determine the pistol's status when glancing at it.
Taking the Walther PPQ 45 out for several range sessions rekindled our love for the gun and its excellent trigger. The short pull keeps pre-ignition shenanigans to a minimum and the light crisp let-off makes it easy to keep the sights on the target throughout the pull.
The excellent ergonomics allow for a high grip and the angle at which the trigger guard contacts the frontstrap is easy on the middle finger. The ergonomics of the frame took a long time to evolve and in our opinion, Walther got them right on the PPQ 45.
The three-dot sights are pretty standard fare and strike a balance between speed and precision. During testing, I managed a five-shot group at 25 yards that measured 1.68 inches from center to center using Barnes 185-grain Tac-XPD. That's excellent accuracy from a service pistol. I burned through many magazines just for fun and think that the reset on the Walther PPQ 45 trigger is exceptional. It is short and tactile, making it possible to work the trigger vey quickly.
Accurate; yes. Reliable; absolutely. The Walther PPQ 45 is on my "must have" list. It's there because of the M2 trigger, metal magazines and ergonomics.
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