May 13, 2021
Prior to the introduction of Smith & Wesson’s striker-fired semiautomatic M&P9 in 2005, my experience with handguns was limited to hammer-fired double actions and single actions. I’d seen various Glock models and S&W’s Sigma pistols at the range, of course, but I had no interest in those so-called “plastic” guns.
I wasn’t alone. The uncertainty surrounding polymer-frame pistols goes back to the 1980s, and it festered long into the early ’90s. I was so backward in my own thinking about what constitutes a “quality” handgun that I never considered the similarities between my polymer-frame Heckler & Koch USP .40 and those other plastic guns the media had everyone up in arms over.
It wasn’t until ’05 that I actually considered a foray into tactical Tupperware. That summer, my law enforcement agency gave us the option to carry either Smith & Wesson or Glock duty pistols. Given my reservations about polymer handguns, I was hoping to ease into the deal with a lightly used G17. Somehow, I ended up buying a brand-new M&P9, but to my surprise shooting the M&P was fun and effortless. So, my love grew with S&W’s polymer-frame, striker-fired pistol from that point on.
Like other polymer pistols, the M&P9 was a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t pistol perfection. Lacking texture, the frame had a slippery orange-peel finish, and the trigger was lackluster; it felt mushy and had a sluggish reset. As much as I enjoyed the original M&P, I wanted improvements. The bloom was leaving my flower through the following years, but talented gunsmithing and readily available aftermarket parts held my interest.
Finally, 12 years after introducing the M&P pistol, Smith & Wesson’s M&P M2.0 series hit Guns & Ammo’s March 2017 cover. The slide, frame, grip and trigger all received upgrades. Every essential aspect of the pistol had been enhanced in the M2.0 series, and S&W’s modifications were well received.
Now, three years in to the M2.0 era, Smith & Wesson continues to expand the M&P line to include optics-ready (OR) versions of the most popular pistols. The M&P9 M2.0 4-inch Compact OR is the latest variation, and the subject of this review. At this writing, the feature-packed pistol is only available in 9mm, which is ideal for defensive use and typically accessible and easy on the budget — “typically.”
Top to bottom, inside and out, the M&P M2.0 series look, feel and perform remarkably well. Quality materials, significant upgrades and good ergonomics make the M&P as close to straight-from-the-box pistol perfection as one can get. Some of the greatest improvements with the M2.0 series were made to the frame assembly. Not having to add skateboard tape or use a soldering iron to add grip texture is time and money saved, for example. Smith & Wesson describes the frame as “aggressively textured,” but I think it’s appropriate for anyone’s hands. The four interchangeable palm-swell backstraps are textured to match. They are sized small, medium, medium-large and large to afford shooters optimal hand fit and trigger reach.
If you worry about plastic frames not being strong enough, fear not. The M2.0 frame has an extended stainless-steel chassis embedded to improve rigidity. I’ve never noticed flex or torque when firing any M&P, but high-speed video has proven it’s a common occurrence during recoil with polymer-frame guns. Smith & Wesson’s engineers reduced those effects by extending the chassis to the dustcover, which also added strength to support lights or lasers mounted to the accessory rail.
The slide-lock lever was completely redesigned for the M2.0 series. An added spring and detent prevents the gun from slamming into battery when aggressively inserting a topped-off magazine into the pistol. Personally, I appreciate this detail as it keeps reloads consistent. My first-gen guns will sometimes slam into battery while reloading and, while some people like this “feature,” it causes me to pause as I wonder if I should rack the slide or not. Consistency is key when learning firearm operation.
Whether for cosmetic or dimensional reasons, Smith & Wesson trimmed the beavertail at the rear of the frame on the M2.0. Whatever the cause, it’s reasonable to reduce the profile of any pistol that is likely to be carried concealed. The high-undercut backstrap, combined with and an 18-degree grip angle, help make the gun point naturally for me.
The list of improved features goes on as we look inside the pistol. Engineers smoothed out and lightened the trigger, for example. The two-stage trigger now boasts both a tactile and audible reset. After just a little first-stage slack, the M2.0 trigger has a firm pressure wall that is broken consistently around 4 pounds, 12 ounces, which is perfect for a defensive pistol.
I’ve been asked many times, “Why do you like the M&P pistol so much?” Truthfully, it’s not just about me or my opinion. As a trainer, when it comes to guns and gear, I ask myself, “Can I make it work?” And, more importantly, “Can I teach others to make it work?” With Smith & Wesson’s M&P series, I get positive results from all of my fellow shooters.
The low bore axis of the M&P pistol reduces muzzle rise and allows for faster follow up shots than with pistols having a higher bore axis. The angle, shape and texture of the grip are comfortable and require less effort to control the gun in recoil. Grip shape and trigger reach can be fit to work with any hand size. The ambidextrous slide-lock levers and reversible magazine release accommodate left-handed shooters, and are especially welcome when training a new left-handed shooter. Less effort is required to manipulate the pistol thanks to well-sited and well-cut slide serrations. Simply put, I’ve found the M&P series to be easy guns to shoot and train with, and the new M&P9 M2.0 Compact OR reinforces that notion.
Many shooters can remember Smith & Wesson’s M1.0 days. Later, they trademarked the acronym “CORE,” which stands for “Competition Optics Ready Equipment,” referring to the guns having a slide cut to accept a red-dot sight. The name was fitting because, back then, it was mostly competitive shooters putting red dots on pistols. Only the avant-garde were modifying carry pistols to mount them.
Today, it seems everyone has or wants a dot on their pistols — even on their everyday carry pistol! At my age, I struggle to see sights clearly, but it’ll be a cold day in hell when I put an optic on my carry pistol. Electronics, batteries and the learning curve are all things that scare me. However, I will admit that some of the new micro-red-dot sights, those designed specifically for carry pistols, have me intrigued. I fall squarely into the aging-eye demographic that really stands to gain from pistol-mounted optics, and the M&P M2.0 Compact OR with a Trijicon RMR atop the slide put that reality on full display recently.
Like the CORE models, Smith & Wesson ships the Compact OR with seven mounting plates to accept a long list of popular slide-ride optics. More than likely, the M&P Compact OR will work with your favorite dot sight. The gun also comes standard with a simple set of tall white-dot sights to ensure use with an optical sight. That’s right, the iron sights can be used for effective aiming through the lens of a mounted optic. That kind of backup is important on a defensive pistol, and it does a lot to reduce my worry about those who rely on a battery-powered device to aim with.
For this specific model, S&W enlarged the slide’s forward cocking serrations, making them more useful. The change was requested by a lot of M&P users, and it’s great to see the company listening to its base. I hope the larger scalloped serrations make their way into the rest of the M2.0 lineup.
In handling the Compact OR, I was impressed by the fit between the barrel and slide, and between the slide and frame. The tight tolerances should improve accuracy, and I was anxious to see how this pistol would shoot. Combat accuracy was verified by shooting a 9-inch-by-12-inch steel hanging target from 25 yards. Standing, offhand, using 115-grain full-metal-jacket practice loads, I went 10 for 10. The barrel’s 1:10-inch rifling and its Armornite finish combine to produce long-term accuracy and durability. Shooting these loads, I found accuracy was exceptional offhand out to 50 yards. Formal accuracy testing was done afterwards with heavier bullets in defensive loadings, as I view this setup as a viable option for law enforcement or personal-defense roles.
The M&P9 M2.0 Compact OR shipped with two 15-round flush-fit magazines. Also included were two sleeves that can slide over standard 17-round M&P9 magazines to increase capacity and gripping surface. It’s worth noting, though, that even without the extension, all of my fingers fit comfortably on the Compact OR’s frame.
Since receiving this pistol for testing, I’ve been busy at the range. Therefore, this new Compact OR has been used a lot, and not just by me. Despite all the firing and holster use, I can still brush it off, wipe it down and pass it off as if it were new and unfired. Armornite is the name Smith & Wesson trademarked for its proprietary black-nitride finish; it is fitting because it wears like armor.
It’s no secret that I like and trust Smith & Wesson’s M&P handguns. Heck, I’ve been using them for 15 years! If you asked me today to recommend one pistol that can do it all, the new M&P9 M2.0 Compact OR would be it. It’s large enough to train with all day, yet small enough to carry concealed. It has the versatility to increase its capacity to your needs, and the factory cut to accept a red-dot sight that allows for the use of metallic sights is value added. Considering its improved accuracy and proven durability, you can be confident that this gun is going to work when you need it.
Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0 Compact OR Specs
Type: Recoil operated, semiautomatic
Barrel: 4 in., 1:10-in. twist, stainless steel, Armornite finish
Overall Length: 7.3 in.
Weight: 1 lb., 9.8 oz
Frame: Polymer, steel reinforced
Finish: Armornite (stainless steel slide)
Sights: Suppressor height, white dots
Trigger: 4 lbs., 12 oz. (tested)
Safety: Manual thumb safety (optional); striker block; trigger safety
Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson; smithwesson.com
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