As much as I write so lovingly about John M. Browning's greatest creation, you might think the 1911 was my first and only handgun. But the truth is, my love affair with handguns began with a Sig Sauer P220 that my dad helped me purchase soon after I graduated from high school in 1987. Few American shooters knew much about the newfangled import at the time, but the few reviews I was able to find on it were so positive I ordered one sight-unseen. Five years and more than 25,000 full-power rounds later, that Sig had won me over with its accuracy, ergonomics and flawless reliability.
I've owned at least a dozen Sig Sauer pistols since that first .45. They've all served me well once I modified them with Sig's optional short trigger to make them more comfortable and accurate in my small hands, but eventually its slim grip and short trigger reach led me to the 1911. I'm still a die-hard 1911 guy, but the latest offering from Sig Sauer just may lead me back to my old double-action ways.
A Solid Platform
The new E2 is not an all-new pistol. Rather, it is an improved version of the classic 9mm P226. The new gun was christened the P226 E2, for "Enhanced Ergonomics." Its looks and operation will be familiar to anyone with experience with the Sig platform, but its ergonomics are greatly improved to make the gun a better fit in the hands of more shooters. I'll go over those improvements, but I'd like to cover the P226's technical features for the benefit of those readers who are not familiar with the pistol.
Like the rest of the P-Series, the P226's frame is CNC-machined from a solid block of 7075-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum that is hardcoat anodized for durability and corrosion resistance. The frontstrap has 30-lines-per-inch serrations for a more solid grip. The front of the triggerguard has slightly coarser serrations. The front of the triggerguard is hooked, and it's undercut where it meets the frontstrap to facilitate a higher grip. The dustcover has an integral accessory rail with three cross-slots that accept most pistol-mounted lights and lasers.
Frame controls include a spring-loaded decocking lever located just above the magazine release and a slide catch just aft of the decocker. The checkered, angled magazine release is in the conventional location, just behind the trigger. The flush-fit magazine holds 15 rounds of 9mm ammunition.
The frame-mounted disassembly lever is just above and ahead of the trigger. To fieldstrip the P226, simply remove the magazine, lock back the slide, rotate the lever downward and ease the slide off the front of the frame. Then tilt the barrel down and rearward to remove it, the recoil spring and the full-length guide rod. It takes, literally, just a few seconds, and reassembly is just as fast and easy.
The slide is CNC-machined from a stainless steel billet. It houses the P226's 4.4-inch barrel as well as its beefy external extractor, which is located at the bottom rearmost corner of the ejection port. Siglite night sights with three-dot tritium inserts and white outlines are dovetailed into the top of the slide. A tasteful white E2 logo is etched into the right side of the slide near the muzzle.
Like all of the original P-Series pistols, the E2 version of the P226 is a traditional DA/SA gun, whereby a long stroke of the trigger with the hammer down will cock and fire the pistol. Subsequent shots require a shorter, lighter, single-action trigger pull. The operation of the new gun and its controls are very similar in appearance to that of the original guns, but the E2 series is very different from the old-school P226.
The E2 is not just some fancy marketing ploy designed to sell a few more guns. The ergonomics of the new version of the P226 truly is significantly enhanced to make the pistols fit a wider range of hands better and make the controls easier to reach for all shooters. Of course, it also makes the P-Series more competitive in a market full of guns with slimmer grips and interchangeable backstraps.
The most significant ergonomic enhancement of the E2 line is the grip. Gone are the old screw-on slabs, which are replaced by a snap-on, modular grip with greatly improved texturing and ergonomic contours that make it feel much better in the hand than the older gun. The recontoured backstrap is smaller front to back all the way up, with a .15-inch reduction at the top of the grip and a .2-inch difference near the bottom. An integral lanyard loop is standard.
The smooth-faced short trigger, which the company calls the Reduced Reach Trigger, shortens the trigger reach by .4 inch. That reduced reach combined with the reduction in grip size makes the E2 much more manageable in my small hands. However, shooters with bigger hands who tried the gun also preferred the recontoured grip and shorter trigger to those of the original P226.
Other E2 features include the short-reset trigger system, which reduces the trigger reset by 60 percent, and a redesigned decocker that is easier to work without changing grips. An optional, ergonomic slide catch lever has a lower profile that is ideal for longtime 1911 shooters like me who keep their thumbs high. With the old-style lever, those high thumbs all too often prevent the slide stop from keeping the slide to the rear after firing the last shot.
My first impression of the new pistol was a good one. My friends behind the counter at Fountain Firearms in Houston were at first nonplussed when they learned the box I was opening contained a new P226. But when they heard me talking about the cool-looking new grip with another patron, they came over for a look. Shortly, they were all pawing the new E2.
Despite a great variance in height and hand size, all of us who handled the E2 liked the feel of the new grip. We also liked the reduced-reach trigger and its incredibly short reset. Shorter shooters were pleased to see that, finally, they could get Sig quality in a pistol that fits their hand, while those with larger hands also thought the changes were worthwhile improvements to an already outstanding pistol.
As much as we liked the thinner grip and shorter trigger, we were not thrilled with the DA trigger. Though it was reasonably smooth, it took more than 12 pounds of pressure to fire. I suspected a good cleaning and a few rounds downrange would smooth things, so I pried the new pistol away from the gang and headed home to clean and lubricate it in preparation for my shooting session.
I went to the ranch with a few boxes of ammunition from American Eagle and Fiocchi to get familiar with the pistol in a more informal setting. In between chores, I took it and my beat-up old-style P226 for some head-to-head plinking.
I began my evaluation with a few magazines of slow fire to get a feel for the trigger and see where the new gun hit. The E2 fed, fired, extracted and ejected flawlessly, putting American Eagle's 115-grain FMJ and Fiocchi's 115-grain XTP loads into nice, tight groups. The groups were well centered, but both loads impacted about two inches low at 15 yards. The single-action trigger was light, crisp and clean. The double-action trigger was smooth and a bit lighter than it was before I cleaned and lubed the gun, but it was still heavier than I like.
Once I felt comfortable with the pistol, I picked up the pace and began busting dirt clumps and cow patties at speed. I engaged various targets from five yards all the way out to 40 yards with the new pistol. As long as I did my part and held a little high, the E2 busted those targets with ease and continued to run as relentlessly as I have come to expect from a Sig Sauer firearm.
I hadn't shot my old P226 in six or seven years, but it shot as great as it always has. I won't compare the trigger pulls because my old gun's trigger was tuned by gunsmith Teddy Jacobson and I don't think the comparison would be a fair one. However, shooting the two guns side by side made the E2's ergonomic enhancements very obvious. The fit and feel of the new gun's grip are definitely a huge improvement over that of the classic gun. I also prefer the new grip texture to the old gun's molded-in checkering. The trigger reach and short trigger reset of the new gun are also significant improvements over those of the classic P-Series.
The only issue I had with the new gun was expected — I consistently kept the slide lock down with my high-thumb grip, so it failed to lock back nearly every time. The problem is related to my 20 years of shooting 1911s, but it can be overcome with a little training. I suspect that the optional ergonomic slide catch would correct that problem.
At home, I cleaned the gun once again in preparation for my accuracy evaluation. Unfortunately, a tight deadline and bad weather forced me to do my accuracy work at the local indoor range, so I had to limit my testing to 15 yards. I used ammunition from American Eagle, Federal, Hornady and Winchester in bullet weights that ranged from 115 to 147 grains. Most shot well, but there were a couple of standouts in the bunch.
American Eagle's 115-grain FMJ load is one of my favorite loads for reliability and accuracy testing because it is affordable, easy to find and always shoots way better than I expect it to. Once again, the bargain-priced ammo impressed me by producing an average of 1.40 inches for five five-shot groups. The rounds were well centered but, as expected, a good 11/2 inches below the bull.
Federal's 124-grain Hydra-Shok and Hornady's 147-grain TAP also shot very well, with 1.66-inch and 1.92-inch accuracy averages, respectively. Both are excellent defensive loads, and based on their accuracy and performance in real-world shootings, I would feel safe carrying either on the street. But the last defensive load I tested, Winchester's +P+ 124-grain Bonded JHP, was the accuracy champ.
The new Bonded JHP was designed, according to Winchester, "to maximize terminal ballistics, as defined by the demanding FBI test protocol, which simulates real threats." It performed so well in the FBI's tests that it is now its standard service round.
The Bonded JHP's features include six grooves at the tip to initiate consistent, 11/2-times expansion and a copper jacket that is bonded to the core to ensure that the bullet stays together for maximum weight retention and penetration. The 124-grain +P+ version I chose has a claimed muzzle velocity of 1,200 fps, though it clocked at 1,234 fps. It grouped the best of all the loads, with an average of just 1.22 inches for five five-shot groups. Were I to pack this particular P226 E2, it would be my defensive load of choice.
Testing the new P226 E2 was a lot of fun. It got me back to my pistol-shooting roots, and it showed that Sig Sauer is not content to rest on its laurels. The firm could sit back and continue to sell P-Series pistols as-is for years to come, but it chose to significantly redesign its flagship pistol to put a better product in the hands of American shooters. The new P226 E2 is, indeed, a significant improvement and a top-quality pistol for duty, concealed carry or home defense.