ABOVE: The P320 in full business attire. The extra-long Picatinny spec rail allows for a multitude of add-ons.
SIG Sauer means quality and performance. Their level of engineering and execution has never really been challenged. Their reputation was earned on merit having secured their prestige based on performance and result. For the individual or agency in search of a premium firearm for defense and duty, there is a short list of choices and SIG Sauer is on that list.
It is impossible to predict where and how a sidearm will be employed. The potential “Area of Operation” can range from a harsh desert to the complexity of a metropolitan city to the confined and treacherous space of a home. A job may require a covert subcompact, or may allow for the presence and power of an exposed full-sized pistol. As such, there is likely no “best” classification for a fighting sidearm so one must use caution when assigning such an absolute title as “best” to a handgun. Considering that, these are carefully chosen words: in this author’s opinion, the P320 could prove to be the best sidearm SIG has ever made. It’s convertible, adaptable, modular, and upgradeable. It’s engineered to be safe, yet instantly ready in any situation. It’s a departure from the classics – new operation and new lines – and no hammer. SIG Sauer has not changed its goals; just followed a new path to achieve the same goal of creating the most rugged, reliable, and capable pistol on the market.
SIG’s “bread and butter” lineup of pistols that includes the P220, P226, P228, etc., will be a hard act to follow. They have literally “saved the day” too many times to ever be proven outdated or insufficient. No, they will never be fully eclipsed by the P320. Law-enforcement, military, and civilians alike know and trust these “two-hundred” series guns. These are the guns that put SIG Sauer on the map. They represent sound concept, solid engineering, and flawless manufacturing. These “classics” have been offered in seven calibers, and beyond the basic model designations, they have been offered in well over one hundred different variations and trim levels to suit most any role. The basic design of all the “two hundred” guns (except the P210 and the Colt clones) features the simple double action/single action operation, with a hammer de-cock lever (no safety). This fire control configuration ensures that the pistol can be carried in a completely safe condition, until such time that the gun be deployed to fulfill its role. The act of firing the gun requires no special maneuver or preparation: just a trigger pull. SIG Sauer has maintained that “instant readiness” and is a distinct tactical advantage. SIG pistols are always safe and always ready (including the P320). SIG has lately released single action only (SAO) variants of the P220 and P226 models, presumably for competition and target shooting. These offer supreme trigger control in the SIG lineup.
Nothing is perfect and there are advantages some other brands can claim over the old SIG Sauer pistol. One is an internal working mechanism; that is, no exposed hammer. Another may be advanced ergonomics by offering user customizable size and fit in the form of snap-on grip panels. Other brands may claim superiority by utilizing advanced materials and processes in their construction. These claims are all legitimate. The old SIG was crafted entirely of metal and was heavier and more expensive than the competitors’ offerings (a P226 weighs about 32 ounces). The old SIG could never brag of its advanced ergonomics as the frames had to be cut from a solid block of aluminum or steel and used a conventional exposed hammer; a centuries old means of ignition. It is effective, but demonstrably inefficient in terms of its size, weight, and the energy required to move the hammer. It also creates a potential entry point for debris. The old SIG could certainly never claim to be convertible and adaptable and completely serviceable without tools. The improved ergonomics afforded by a molded frame, and the cost advantages of such construction suggest that this method is the way forward in design and manufacturing.
In the early days of “plastic guns” there were skeptics of the technology. The doubts have been quelled and today we see healthy commercial and professional demand for a half-plastic pistol. SIG’s first stab was the SIGPRO series, introduced in the late 1990s. The “Pro” featured a plastic frame with a magazine release that could be flopped over for left-handed use. The operation was conventional SIG: SA/DA with a decock lever. The SIGPRO carried a bargain price tag and could be had for under $400 dollars. The gun was accepted in the U.S., but was not an overwhelming success. It met heavy competition from other makers; some U.S. domestic firms, but mostly from SIG’s European neighbors. In the world market however, the SIGPRO continues to enjoy real success among military and law-enforcement departments. SIG has produced something in the ballpark of a quarter million of these pistols on a single contract with the French. And the SIGPRO is good enough for the U.S. Army’s tank crews. TACOM keeps 5,000 SIGPROs on hand. The latest revision is called the SP2022. It’s still available at retail for $500.
The 250 was SIG’s next step into the polymer frame market. In 2007, SIG engineers took a new approach to their formula. The P250 is an economical gun; half its parts are either injection molded or formed sheet metal. The genius behind it is its modular arrangement. The actual serialized “firearm” component is nothing more than a trigger-pack that can be removed from the plastic frame for service, repair, or to be fitted into a different grip frame. The gun can be configured as a compact carry piece, or a full sized duty piece. The frames can be had with differing girth as well. To support true convertibility, SIG has offered accessory slides and barrels as caliber conversions, and the components are cheap enough to justify this program. The only thing missing for any die-hard fan of a SIG pistol is the decock lever. The P250 has a hammer, but it is spurless and rests concealed within the slide. It fires in double action only. The hammer is always down, thus, always ready to fire. The pistol features an internal “passive safety” that prevents against accidental ignition until the trigger is pulled. This action requires 5 1/2 pounds of force, and a long, deliberate stroke of the index finger to pull the trigger through its motion.
Six more years would pass before SIG would drop the hammer from the P250 recipe to create the P320. The P320’s design and construction are founded on the P250; this time with an internal striker to do the job of the hammer. An enclosed ignition system promises ultimate reliability as there is less chance for particulate and fouling to get into the works. Also, the striker is a very light structure so much less force is required to move it at the necessary speed to ignite a primer. A striker system does away with the elaborate links, levers, struts and springs found on a hammered gun. There are fewer bits, and less motion to impart. The positive side effect is illustrated as a very light, short, and crisp trigger break. When compared to other striker-fired pistols of today, the trigger of the P320 is unmatched.
The P320’s external form has been streamlined when compared to the P250. The slide lacks the lines of the classic SIG Sauer pistol. Instead, the slide has been given facets on the sides and corners, but retains the familiar round top. The slide features aggressive front and rear cocking serrations – a feature previously reserved for premium trim packages on the “200” guns. In their wisdom, SIG’s designers have maintained reverse compatibility with aftermarket and OEM sight options as all aftermarket sights made for the P226 will fit the P320. Furthermore, this pistol includes a decent “SIGTac” holster in the package. If the included rig were unsuitable for concealment or duty purposes, any holster meant for the P250 or the other “200” series pistol of the “R” variety will fit the P320.
The frame of this pistol comes with an integral Picatinny style accessory rail to accept most weapon light or laser devices. The magazine latch can be reversed for left-handed operation. The slide catch mechanism is also fully ambidextrous. And it’s not just ambidextrous control as the slide stop is mirrored on each side of the gun as the stop engages notches in both sides of the slide. The only control surface that is not available to left and right-handed shooters is the takedown lever. The P320 does revive one feature that should never have been forgotten: the base of the grip is cut away to allow positive access to the magazine’s floorplate. The manual of arms for clearing a feed-related jam requires the magazine to be forcibly removed as a jam of this sort may “lock” the magazine into the gun. All the attention to enhanced reliability and rugged simplicity fails to account for a single bad ammunition cartridge that can render a pistol useless. So it’s there if it’s ever needed. The basic numbers of the full sized P320 are: 4.7 inch barrel, weighs 29 ounces, holds 17 rounds of 9mm and includes two magazines. It can be purchased for under $600.
The gun is easily broken down into its major subassemblies: the slide, barrel, and frame, by conventional means. The slide is locked rearward, the magazine removed, and the takedown lever is rotated clockwise. The slide can then be removed without the necessity to pull the trigger. This is an added safety measure created at the request of law enforcement. The frame can then be disassembled further to facilitate maintenance or to effect a frame swap. The plastic outer shell that is the grip, trigger guard and accessory rail is referred to as the “grip module. The frame is actually the internal subassembly that houses the fire control group and bears the weapon’s serial number. The takedown lever is pushed through and out the side of the grip module to free up the internal frame. The frame is lifted straight up as the tail end unhooks from a socket at the rear of the grip module. This is the extent of disassembly required to effect a thorough cleaning or grip or caliber conversion.
The P320’s ergonomics and balance leave little to be desired. The design of this gun has forced SIG to be efficient with their use of material; the polymer grip modules only weigh around 3.5 ounces, and the frame comes in about 4.5 ounces. The full-sized P320 weighs 5 ounces less than a comparable P226. The feel and natural point of the P320 is superior to most others on the current market. The grip’s shape, angle, and location relative to the gun’s balance point contribute to instinctive hold and pointability. The contour of the grip and web encourage a high and snug hold on the gun to enhance control. The grip module can be replaced to match various slide lengths: full size, compact, and sub compact. The grip size can also be selected – small medium or large to fit different shooters’ hands. In the case of a standard caliber P320 (not .45 auto) the user can adapt a single frame assembly to seven different grip modules, and nine slide and caliber combinations. Barring incompatibilities with differing slide and grip module lengths, there are – by all calculations – many possible combinations. The P320 is nothing if not full of potential. Cross your fingers for a competition module with a high-sweep beavertail and an integral flared magazine well. Or even an ultra slim single stack grip module.
In action, the P320 is beyond expectation considering the role it was created to play. Recoil and muzzle flip are slightly greater than a comparable yet heavier P226. Proper form, technique and stance are all that’s required to fix that. Accuracy has improved based solely on the short, consistent trigger pull compared to the P226. When we compared the accuracy, handling, and performance of some other striker-fired service pistols, we awarded yet higher marks to the P320. One common negative characteristic of any pistol incorporating lightweight plastic and striker ignition is that it can feel like what it is: a plastic gun with a spring loaded striker inside. Common reasoning from opponents of guns like these usually includes some reference to how the gun “feels” cheap, or that the trigger “feels” like a toy gun trigger. It’s evident that SIG heard the cries and cured the condition. This pistol feels like a solid tool-of-the-trade – it feels like a SIG Sauer. It’s fast on target, it points naturally; operation is instinctive, the trigger is responsive, and reliability is perfect.
The P320 will have its fans and its detractors. It’s expected that the professional market will readily assimilate the P320 for its capability and durability. Others who prefer a match-grade single action may not share the enthusiasm. And there are still those who think polymer on a gun is complete hokum. However, if you can subscribe to the notion that you need a workhorse pistol that is on-the-job and always ready, you can appreciate where SIG has gone with this one. It’s the product of years of development by some of the world’s brightest firearms engineers, and built on feedback from the world’s top gun-toting professionals. It has got everything a sidearm needs and fills that bill without compromise. This pistol could be a big “period” to end the current discussion on combat handgun design and development.