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Smith & Wesson 2023 Spec Series M&P Metal M2.0: Full Review

Smith & Wesson's Performance Center builds the metal-frame M&P Spec Series for go-­fast gurus.

Smith & Wesson 2023 Spec Series M&P Metal M2.0: Full Review
(Photo by Mark Fingar)

In 2023, Guns & Ammo awarded Smith & Wesson the title “Innovator of the Year” for recent introductions including the Folding Pistol Carbine (FPC) as well as the versatile Response Pistol-Caliber Carbine (PCC). The company also launched the easy-­to-­use Equalizer 9mm pistol, along with myriad new chamberings and configurations across its pistol, revolver, and rifle lines. Among those, G&A’s staff was most impressed with Smith & Wesson’s Tempo barrel system, which facilitated the development of both the M&P 5.7 and M&P 22 Magnum pistols. Taken as a whole, it’s clear the company is dedicated to pushing ballistic boundaries and delivering interesting products to its customers.

So, if Smith & Wesson is a center for firearm development and innovation, consider the 2023 Spec Series offerings the company’s “Skunkworks” projects. A lab within a lab, Spec Series design ideas come not just from the R&D team, but from the sales force, team shooters, professional users, and customer requests. Under the Spec Series flag, standard model firearms are modified and tuned to better fit a specific purpose. The gun is packaged with some chachkies, including knives and challenge coins, along with more practical accessories such as custom-­cut hard cases and extra magazines. A limited number are produced and put into circulation, adding to the line’s mystique.

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The most distinctive feature on the 2023 Spec Series M&P Metal 2.0 is the Faxon compensator and the Cerakote O.D. finish. Enhancements are both aesthetic and functional. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

The 2022 Spec Series was an enhanced M&P Compact pistol, featuring suppressor-­height sights, a threaded barrel and the CORE optics mounting system. It wore a distinct gray Cerakote finish and was easy to configure for carry, range use or home defense, accepting both slide-­mounted red dots as well as suppressors or muzzle devices. It was a neat package for about $800.

For 2023, the Spec Series team expanded the coalition to include the go-­fast folks from Smith & Wesson’s Performance Center. Traditionally, the Performance Center has offered tuned firearms with a higher degree of fit and finish, as well as additional feature sets. Best known for competition-­oriented upgrades for handguns and rifles, the Performance Center is also home to upgraded sight packages for defensive and hunting handguns, longer and shorter barrel options for pursuit-­specific platforms, and modifications such as barrel porting, muzzlebrakes and slide-lightening cuts. The Performance Center’s influence is obvious in the 2023 Spec Series M&P9 Metal M2.0. Let’s break it down.

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The Faxon compensator diverts gases up like a booster to push the muzzle down during recoil. Lightening cuts in the slide offset the added weight of the comp to ensure reliability. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

The Spec’s Specs

Smith & Wesson’s Military & Police (M&P) products date back to 1899 when the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy placed orders for the company’s .38-­caliber Model 10 revolver. Since then, the M&P brand has become synonymous with ruggedly reliable, duty-ready firearms. In 2005, the first polymer-­frame, striker-­fired M&P pistols were introduced and, in 2017, the lineup received the comprehensive “M2.0” overhaul with notable improvements to the trigger, grip texture, and the accuracy of the barrels.

Evolution continued and, through time, the pistol’s articulated triggers were replaced by flat-­faced units with central safety levers. Other aspects were tweaked and modified, but in my opinion the two most notable advancements were the inclusion of the Competition Optics Ready Equipment (CORE) optic-­mounting system as standard equipment (for most models) and the development of the heavier and more rigid T6-aluminum frame. Compared to the 27-­ounce polymer-­frame M2.0 Full Size model (i.e., empty mag and no optics), the “Metal” pistol weighs about 30 ounces. Although it’s a modest increase, the aluminum frame’s added heft and reduced flexibility to better absorb recoil, resulting in a flatter- and faster-shooting platform. 

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Four magazines come with the 2023 Spec Series, two 17-rounders and two extended 23-round mags. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

A brief aside regarding Smith & Wesson’s CORE mounting system: The company has taken some flak for its polymer mounting plates, as well as with its optic-­ready pistols. What naysayers don’t understand is that the plates are just spacers and seals, not mounting surfaces. The CORE mounting screws pass through the optic body and the mounting plate to affix directly to the slide. In my experience, Smith & Wesson’s solution is superior to typical plate-­style multi-­optic mounting systems, which often mount a plate to the slide first and then attach the optic to the plate.

The base platform for the 2023 Spec Series pistol is the full-­size M2.0 Metal, and its most prominent new feature is the muzzle-­mounted compensator. Designed by Faxon Firearms  in collaboration with the Performance Center, the comp screws onto the gun’s 4.8-­inch, ½-­28 threaded barrel and is secured in place by a locking screw. The compensator features one large top-side port as well as two small, angled side ports. When a round is fired, pressurized gases propel the bullet down and out of the barrel, and escape the same way. Rather than simply letting the gas go, the compensator diverts it through the ports, primarily upward. Like a booster, the gas vented upward drives the front of the gun down, countering the muzzle rise from the rapid rearward movement of the slide during recoil. The net result is that the bore axis remains flatter as the action cycles, making it easier and faster to reacquire sights and make follow-­on shots.

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Controls include an M&P flat-faced trigger, a reversible magazine release, bilateral slide stop/release lever and a left-side takedown lever. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

So, why doesn’t every handgun utilize a compensator? There are a lot of moving parts in a tilt-­barrel pistol, and reliable cycling is all about balancing the weights and interactions of those components with the relatively diminutive power produced by a centerfire handgun cartridge. Any changes — such as an ounce of metal added to the muzzle — can throw that balance off and negatively impact reliability. That’s why compensators and slide lightening cuts often go hand-­in-­hand, as they do with the 2023 Spec Series gun. Yes, they look cool, but the practical reason for cutting ports and windows into a pistol’s slide was to reduce weight and increase slide velocity during recoil. When accessories such as optics and comps are added, the operating system remains in tolerance.

For the 2023 Spec Series, the lightening cuts take the form of bilateral windows beneath the front sight and a longer rounded rectangle cutout is on top of the slide, behind the front sight. Too, the front and rear cocking serrations are cut to a different pattern than the typical M&P fare. The forward serrations are full height, for one, and, rather than the scalloped design we’re used to, the Spec Series uses straight, forward-­angled ridges. Rounding out the slide’s features, it is optic-ready, as mentioned, and the sights are tall for co-­witnessing with red dots. Whereas three-white-­dot metal sights are the standard M&P offering, the Spec Series has upgraded night sights with green tritium lamps surrounded by white outlines.

Moving to the frame, being a full-­size gun, the grip accepts standard 17-­round 9mm M&P magazines. Two come with the pistol, along with two extended 23-­round mags. The dustcover sports a three-­slot Picatinny rail for mounting lights or lasers. Controls are unchanged from stock M&Ps, including a flat-­faced trigger, reversible magazine release, bilateral slide releases, and a left-­side takedown lever. Interestingly, the M&P Metal utilizes two polymer inserts in the frontstrap and backstrap to provide texture and purchase. The rear unit is the same interchangeable palmswell insert as used in all M2.0 M&Ps, and a total of four are included with the gun to fit a range of hand sizes: Small, Medium, Medium/Large, and Large.

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The 2023 Spec Series features a hard case cut to hold the gun, four magazines, a thread protector, palmswell inserts, the karambit knife and challenge coin. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

Besides the compensator, the gun’s most noticeable attribute is its color: Green. Distinct Cerakote finishes are one of the ways the Spec Series guns stand out. The previous model featured a hip Bull Shark Gray finish, and now the 2023 model wears classic Olive Drab (OD).

Recommended


Besides the gun, grip inserts and magazines, the Spec Series package includes a thread protector, should users prefer to remove the compensator; the CORE system of plates and screws; a karambit-­style knife with 21/4-­inch blade and kydex sheath; a commemorative challenge coin engraved with a likeness of the pistol on the front and the 2023 Spec Series logo on the reverse; and, finally, a large polymer carry case with custom-­cut foam to hold and display everything.

Overall, it’s a neat package, but here’s where it gets desirable: The MSRP is $899. The going-price for a Faxon compensator is $85. Slide lightening cuts and a set of tall night sights would conservatively cost about $100, each. So, not counting the gun’s finish, the extra magazines, the knife or the coin, I’d value the Spec Series pistol around $1,200; I wouldn’t have been surprised by an MSRP approaching $1,300. Instead, Smith & Wesson stuck a price tag of $999 for the whole kit and caboodle. Inexpensive? No, but I think Smith & Wesson is offering a real value.

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Three-dot night sights are tall enough to provide some cowitness capability with most red-dot optics. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

On The Range

In preparation for testing, I opted to mount Trijicon’s Ruggedized Closed Reflex (RCR) red-­dot sight. The process was simple since the RCR shares the same footprint as the RMR, which is easily accommodated by the CORE system; it includes mounting screws. Despite the slightly taller deck height of the RCR compared to the RMR, the gun’s tall iron sights still provided a usable lower-third co-­witness, should the optic go down. (It didn’t, by the way.)

I’m familiar with the M&P series of pistols, so the grip felt natural in my hand. I appreciate the extra heft of the metal frame gun, and almost anyone can quickly become comfortable with the M&P’s 18-­degree grip angle. Between the weight and the aggressive texture of the front-­ and backstrap inserts, the pistol felt well-­anchored in my grasp.

Normally, I conduct my accuracy testing first and then move on to practical shooting exercises. I had to reverse my plan for the Spec Series because it just begged to be shot fast. It’s a gun that looks like it’s built to run, and I wanted to see how it performed at speed. Shooting several runs of the classic Bill Drill (i.e., six shots to the “A” zone at 7 yards), the Spec Series proved to be a sprinter. A good Bill Drill for me is usually between 21/2 and 3 seconds. I hit a 2.53 cold with the Spec Series and got down to 2.23 on subsequent runs. Similar results followed with plate racks, Failure Drills, etcetera. The gun shoots fast.

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(Photo by Mark Fingar)

Its weight, ergonomics and compensator definitely played a big part in keeping the slide flat between shots and minimizing the effects of recoil. I also can’t discount the aid of the Trijicon RCR; it has a big window for an enclosed optic and I was easily able to track the dot during multi-­shot strings. I was also impressed by the trigger, which was consistently 4 pounds, 12 ounces. It was at least a few ounces lighter than most stock striker-­fired pistols. There is a little bit of the usual grit, but it’s a clean and predictable trigger.

Having proved the Spec Series is ready to race, it was time to put it on the bags to evaluate its precision. For testing, I chose a range of bullet weights and ammunition types, including Hornady Critical Defense 135-­grain FTX; Remington UMC 124-­grain FMJ; Lehigh Defense 90-­grain Xtreme Defense (XD) — a machined, solid copper bullet — and a custom competition/training load from Wilson Combat. It quickly became apparent that the Spec Series had a strong preference for full-­power, standard-­weight loads. The Wilson competition ammo is intentionally loaded to lighten recoil, but given the added weight of the Faxon comp and Trijicon sight, there wasn’t enough power to reliably cycle the Spec Series’ action. The lightweight Lehigh load struggled, too, but I was able to limp through G&A’s protocol testing with a handful of failure-­to-­feed stoppages. On the other hand, the Hornady and Remington loads produced no issues. It’s very common for tuned and compensated pistols to exhibit ammunition preferences, so I would simply advise using loads with standard bullet weights and standard or +P velocities in the 2023 Spec Series M&P Metal.

Overall, accuracy was excellent and on par with modern, optically ­sighted striker-­fired pistols. The average of all 15 five-­shot groups fired was 1.99 inches. A decade ago, that level of accuracy would have been reserved for custom-­built handguns. Today, we expect production pistols to shoot better than 3-­inch groups, especially with a red-­dot sight mounted. Still, it was a strong showing from the Spec Series and confirmation that, when you let shooters design a gun, the results are going to be impressive.

Smith & Wesson 2023 Spec Series M&P Metal M2.0

  • Type: Recoil operated, semiautomatic
  • Cartridge: 9mm
  • Capacity: 17+1 rds., 23+1 rds.
  • Barrel: 4.8 in., 1:10-in. twist; threaded, Faxon compensator (included)
  • Overall Length: 8.5 in.
  • Width: 1.3 in.
  • Height: 5.5 in.
  • Weight: 30 oz.
  • Finish: Cerakote, OD Green (slide, frame); Armornite, black (barrel)
  • Sights: Tall, three-­dot white/tritium; CORE optic-­mounting system
  • Trigger pull: 4 lbs., 12 oz. (tested)
  • Materials: Stainless steel (slide, barrel), T6 aluminum (frame), 6061 aluminum (compensator)
  • MSRP: $999
  • Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson, 800-­331-­0852, smith-­wesson.com
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