Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Critical Look at the SIG P-210 9mm

By Stephen Camp

Generally regarded as the most intrinsically accurate "service" pistol extant, the SIG P-210 has always commanded a hefty price. While part of this can be due to both import tariffs and exchange rates, the fact is that the gun's always been expensive. I bought my first one in the mid-'70's for the princely sum of $350.00 which would have bought two Browning Hi Powers and left change or nearly three Colt Series 70 forty-five automatics! A kindly gun dealer, Mr. Wilford Pierce, let me pay it out "on the book," as it was commonly called. At that time, the model designation was P-210-6 and it came with a very good trigger and a fine click-adjustable rear sight with a post front sight. The stocks were finely checkered and almost blonde. I don't recall what kind of wood, but the pistol appeared elegant.

Foolishly, I traded it off for a new S&W Model 66 with 4" barrel, an extra set of grips, a buck knife, and $35 cash!

I bought another on 03/26/96. Surprisingly, mine is marked "P-210-6," but is a fixed sight pistol. Perhaps model designations changed or the guns were originally intended to be for an adjustable sight pistol. I flat don't know.

This is my second SIG P-210. It's put together very well and its POI exactly matches POA for me with most ammunition. I've read that its spectacular intrinsic accuracy is limited to but one load, a 147-grain Swiss FMJ round made for maximum accuracy performance in this model pistol. I've never shot any of it so I don't know, but reports that the P-210 "is no more accurate than other quality automatics" has not been proven true in my experience. I have some other pistols that group as tightly as the P-210 for me, but none that group better and I'm not capable of shooting well enough to tell the difference. The pistol is 8.5" in overall length with a barrel measuring 4.72." It weighs 2.14 lbs. and is all steel. The single-stack magazine holds 8 rounds of 9mm ammunition. It has a FLGR and a captive recoil spring and uses a one-piece feed ramp like the Browning Hi Power and other pistols. Rifling twist is listed at 1:10 in most places, but it's actually closer to 1:9. It has internal slide rails, i.e., the slide rides inside the frame and this allows for longer slide rails. Like the Makarov, it has its magazine release at the pistol butt to the rear of the magazine well. There is no internal firing pin safety, nor is the external thumb safety ambidextrous. The extractor is external and pinned. It does have a magazine safety.

I do not know if the trigger, slide release, and hammer are hard chromed with a matte finish or some other finish has been applied or if they're matte finished stainless, but on the well-done blued slide and frame, they make for an attractive appearance.

This pistol's front sight is a serrated ramp that's steep enough to be almost a "semi-ramp" and is dovetailed in place. The top of the slide is nicely serrated.

The rear sight is a "U" shape that I find mildly annoying, but must say that it has not affected being able to get both a good sight picture in slow fire. Its front sight is thin and fine for precise, slow shooting, but hard for me to pick up at speed. You can see the finish on the hammer and slide stop in this picture as well as the thumb safety in front of the grip. Note also the reversed slide rails and the fit between slide and frame.

An unusual feature of this pistol is that the entire hammer, sear, mainspring assembly can be removed from the frame as a single unit for ease in cleaning.

In this picture, you can see how well the stocks fit the gun as well as the almost invisible seam where they meet. Under the tang, you can see a screw head. Removal of this screw allows for the hammer, sear, and mainspring to be lifted out of the frame when the slide is removed.

The interior finish on the P-210 is better than the exterior finish on many of today's pistols.

The SIG P-210 is well finished both inside and out. Though they cannot be seen in this photo, the slide grooves in the frame run the full-length of the frame and there's very little movement either vertically or horizontally between the slide and frame.

The barrel is precisely machined and fitted to the pistol. This feed ramp has not been polished nor have any "tool marks" been removed. What you see is how the P-210 comes out of the box.

The pistol feels "graceful" to me an in a way similar to the Browning 9mm Hi Power. I do wish that from the factory, the Browning/FN Hi Power had either fine stippling or serrations to improve the grip when hands are wet or sweaty.

The P-210 has a finely serrated front grip strap. It provides ample purchase and is quite comfortable in firing.

So, it's a well-made, very expensive pistol in 9mm, but how does it shoot and is it reliable? The two that I've owned were with ball and most JHP rounds but do hang up now and again with the short 90-grain JHP 9mm cartridges. This really doesn't bother me as I seldom shoot anything less than 100-grains and most often, 124-grain bullets are my choice.

This 10-shot group was fired using a rest from 25 yards with the shown handload that's proven accurate in several other 9mm pistols including Browning Hi Powers and CZ-75's.

If you happen to mortgage the house and buy one of these, you'll at least find that it groups the widely used Winchester 115-grain USA FMJ very well. The flyers in both targets are my fault, not the gun.

Also fired from a rest and with wrists sandbagged, this group was fired at fifty yards. It's the handload shown above and uses Hornady's excellent 124-grain XTP over 6.0 grains of Unique.

I killed this javelina using the same handload from the SIG P-210 in far south Texas a few years ago.

As shown in the preceding picture, I've used the P-210 in the field on a couple of occasions. I did not find the smallish sights to be a problem, but I do think they would be in dimmer light or if trying to use them very quickly…at least for my eyes. (I'm also happy to report that I've lost about 35-lbs. since that picture was taken!)

The P-210 does not have a "slow" barrel and here are the velocity figures for some loads I've tested in the pistol. As usual, they're based on 10-shot averages with the gun's muzzle being about 10' from the screens.

Load Velocity (ft/sec)

Handload: 115 gr Hornady XTP/6.0 gr Unique/Starline Cases/ WSP primer

LOA: 1.11" 1238 (ES: 9, SD: 6)

Handload: 124 gr Hornady XTP/6.0 gr Unique/Starline Cases/WSP primer

LOA: 1.11" 1280 (ES: 81,SD: 34)

Handload: Speer 124 gr GDHP/6.0 gr Unique/WSP/Starline Cases

LOA: 1.115" 1195 (ES: 62, SD: 26)

Winchester USA 115 gr FMJ 1242 (ES: 38, SD: 15)*

(*This is much hotter than previously checked loads. No Nato marking on cases.)

Remington 115 gr +P JHP 1291 (ES: 17, SD: 7)

Federal 115 gr JHP (9BP) 1173 (ES: 42, SD: 18)

MagTech 115 gr FMJ 1148 (ES: 50, SD: 18)

Notice that in the two XTP handloads, everything is identical except for the bullet weight. The slightly heavier, slightly longer 124-grain causes more pressure and in this case, higher velocity than the 115-grain load.

While this P-210 will group decently with cast and plated bullets, for me it has done its best with jacketed ammunition be it factory or home-rolled.

The pistol is a very good one, but it does have its less than stellar features as do all handguns. First, it is very expensive. Even used or refurbished ones run from about $800 and upward. Its importation is an on again - off again sort of thing and spare parts can be hard to find and they will be expensive. For example, a spare factory magazine costs around one hundred dollars. They're certainly well made, but I just don't see the single-stack 8-shot magazine being a hundred bucks' worth! As mentioned earlier, the recoil spring is captive so changing or replacing is not so easy as it might be was this not the case. In my case, the hammer routinely bites me and due to cost of replacing it, I'm very hesitant to try and bob the spur or alter the pistol very much at all. Unfortunately, as a result I don't shoot this gun as much as I would otherwise. When at the range, I take a bit lower grip on the pistol and usually have a piece of duct tape covering the web between my thumb and forefinger. When hunting, I just get bitten!

Though I've never really considered this pistol for a defensive arm, some might. While it absolutely has more accuracy than most could ever put to use, it does have some drawbacks in my experience. With eight rounds on tap, it has sufficient magazine capacity (some will disagree on this), but the butt release on this pistol is pretty stout and the magazine must be pulled from the gun. I really don't mind this for hunting or range work as a speed reload is not a necessity and I'm not so likely to drop, damage, or lose those high-dollar magazines, but it would be slow in a fight. For others, and myself the thumb safety is a bit too far forward for easy on and off manipulation and the smallish sights, slow to pick up in a hurry. Because the design uses the reversed slide rail set up, there's less of the slide to grasp in a hurry should you have a malfunction (very rare) or need to chamber a round in a hurry. While the trigger does have the usual military type take up, the actual trigger pull is light and crisp. I've not measured this one, but I'd estimate it at about 3 1/2 lbs. A momentary lapse of proper gun handling and a finger on the trigger with the safety off when not immediately preparing to fire might just result in an unintended firing of the pistol under stress.

I came pretty close to selling this pistol a short time back, but when I got it out and began photographing it from all angles for the prospective buyer, I realized that I really didn't want to…so, I didn't. I'll keep the thing and enjoy it for what it is, recognizing that while not perfect, it is very well made and try to appreciate it for its strong points. I am not interested in another unless at a ridiculously low price and in very good condition. I might consider some customization to such a P-210.

If they're still being imported, some of the complaints I've mentioned have been addressed by SIG in another version of the pistol. It has an extended tang, oversized thumb safety, better sights, and a push button magazine release. The last time I heard, it had a price tag near $5,000, too!

For me, the two P-210's that I've shot were extremely accurate with a wide variety of loads in several bullet weights. They've been reliable and easy to carry in the hunting field, too, but I remain quite concerned with the price and scarcity of both accessories and spare parts. That said, they do have a certain "style" or "class" about them and if you truly want high quality, this might be a viable choice. It will help if you have smaller hands to fully appreciate the pistol as you're less likely to get smacked with the hammer spur. If not, try and love a lower grip with this gun at the range!

Being perfectly honest, was I interested in another highly accurate and reliable 9mm, I'd probably get another FN Competition Model or STI Trojan 1911. The latter can be had in standard 5" barrel length or in the 6" long slide. All three of these have more built-in accuracy than I can wring out and I flat cannot tell you which is the most accurate. Even though I prefer the Hi Power in many cases, I'd probably go with another STI, but that's for another time.

For those still reading, I did buy the gun with the optional .22 conversion unit. While the conversion is quite accurate, mine has not proven reliable. Extra magazines are even more expensive than those for 9mm.

The finish and tool marks on the .22 barrel are much more visible than on the 9mm barrel.

Except for the magazine, this is the conversion unit. It, too, has fixed sights that are well regulated.

I like the P-210-6 and appreciate it for its extremely precise fitting and closely held tolerances, but in a fight and for general use with the 9mm, I'd take a lightly modified Browning Mk III Hi Power. For pure bullseye shooting, I prefer the FN Comp or the STI Trojan 6" and for hunting small game with a 9mm, I'll take the Trojan the vast majority of the time.