This pistol may well be state-of-the-art in defensive sidearms, but it
does have one major shortcoming: It really strains the old saying,
"Handsome is as handsome does," to its limits. I was mightily impressed
by this pistol's performance, but it will be quite a while before I can
regard it as a thing of beauty.
Let's face it, some handguns are loaded with glamour, allure, "sex
appeal" or whatever you want to call it - the Luger is one such gun
that comes to mind, the Colt Python another. The SIG-Sauer P-226
is not such a pistol; it's built strictly for business. If your primary
interest in a handgun is as an object of aesthetic contemplation
a lovely thing with lustrous polish and blueing and a figured exotic
wood stock, I suggest you forget about the P-226 right now and turn
to the next article. If, on the other hand, you might be interested in
a superbly accurate, rugged, reliable service auto that may just be
the best thing of its kind in the world today, then read on ...
The SIG-Sauer story goes back to the 1960s. The highly respected
Swiss firm of SIG (Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft) had for
some 20 years been manufacturing a splendid 9mm Parabellum auto
based on the Petter modifications of the basic Browning locked-breech
design. Pistols of the SIG 210 series are regarded by many connoisseurs
as the Rolls-Royces of center-fire autoloaders, but even then their
manufacturing costs were becoming so prohibitively high that the
P-210s stood no chance of mass acceptance, despite their use as
service arms by Switzerland and Denmark. Consequently, SIG's R&D
staff turned their attentions to developing a pistol that could easily
be manufactured with modern technology, yet would have the
excellent accuracy and reliability of their famous 210 series.
Eventually, SIG's management determined that it would be more
economically realistic to have their new design manufactured by a
German company, and they entered into collaboration with the fine
old firm of J.P. Sauer & Son. Before World War II Sauer had been
located in Suhl in Thuringia-just down the road from Zella-Mehlis,
the site of the Walther plant. When, after the war, the Americans
turned Thuringia over to the Russians, Sauer, like Walther, reorganized
in the Western Zone and set up a new facility in Eckernfoerde
in the state of Schleswig-Holstein near the Danish border.
In the post-war years Sauer had made a variety of high quality firearms
(including the "German-made" Weatherby Mark Vs), but they had not
offered an auto pistol-despite having built one of the most advanced
of all DA pocket autos ever designed, the Model 38 (H), during the
latter years of the Nazi era. The final fruit of the SIG-Sauer
collaboration shows certain influences of the old Model 38 (H), most
notably in using a decocking lever.
In the mid-1970s, the first of the SIG-Sauer pistols made its appearance.
This was designated the P-220. It was a double-action locked-breech
auto using a Browning type tilting barrel lock-up. It differed from
most DA autos in employing, in lieu of a safety, a decocking lever
that lowered the hammer to a safety notch, and it was one of the
first autos to incorporate an automatic firing pin lock.
This pistol was designed for modern manufacturing techniques, and
German/Swiss mechanical ingenuity was applied to its fullest in creating
such shortcuts without compromising the quality, durability and efficiency
of the piece. Thus, the front of the ejection port in the slide mates
with the squared rear of the barrel instead of the conventional barrel
lug/slide recess locking arrangement. A separate breechblock is pinned
into the slide, and a steel feed ramp/trigger housing is fitted into the
alloy frame. Extensive use is made of stamped and welded parts. All
of this reflected advanced engineering and progressive design, but the
space-age appearance of the resulting gun was definitely jarring
to traditionalist sensibilities.
The P-220 uses a single column magazine holding nine 9mm Parabellum,
.30 Luger or .38 Super rounds or seven .45 ACPs. This pistol has seen
considerable military acceptance, and it is the standard service sidearm
of Japan, Thailand, Nigeria, Switzerland, Denmark and several other
countries; it has also seen some use by the armed forces of France. It
was imported into this country for a few years by Browning, who called
the P-220 the Browning BDA.
The initial success of the P-220 spawned several other pistols. The P-225
is a slightly "chopped" version of the P-220. SIG and Sauer also developed
a graceful, blowback-operated pocket pistol in .380 ACP - their P-230.
This pistol shares certain design features with the bigger autos, like the
decocking and takedown levers. In common with other SIG-Sauer autos,
it uses an alloy frame, and this keeps its weight down to a feathery 16
ounces (compared, for example, to the 23 ounces of the Manurhin/Walther
PPK/S). Recently, a stainless steel P-230 has become available.
However, the most recent major development, and king of all the SIG-Sauer
line, is the P-226-which many experts regard as the most wonderful of all
the recent crop of "wonder-nines." Basically, the P-226 is the P-220
modified to accept a double-column magazine holding 15 rounds of 9mm
Parabellum ammunition. It also uses a Colt 1911-type magazine catch,
which most combat authorities consider preferable to the P-220's heel-clip
magazine catch. It's the most advanced pistol in the SIG-Sauer line, and
unquestionably one of the world's premier combat autos.
At first glance the P-226 does look like something that was designed
and slapped together for the Volkssturm as the Red Army was closing
in on Berlin, and this has doubtless caused many potential buyers to
pass it by in favor of prettier guns. However, a closer examination
will reveal that much of the money saved by advanced manufacturing
techniques has been put back into quality control. At a suggested
retail of $585.73, the P-226 is in no sense of the word a cheap pistol,
and it is a worthy bearer of the SIG tradition of producing pistols of
unsurpassed quality. This gun is extremely smooth to operate, with
no trace of stiffness, yet there is virtually no slide-and-barrel or
slide-to-frame play. Only a few tool marks hidden inside the top
of the slide of our sample prevent me from proclaiming the finish and
workmanship absolutely perfect. The fitting is simply impeccable.
Steel parts like the slide are finished in a very even gray-black matte
(the barrel is left bright), and the alloy frame is given a low-luster
This pistol measures 7.7 inches overall and weighs but 29 ounces. It
is one of the most compact of the high-capacity 9mm autos, being similar
in size to the Colt Commander, albeit a little wider.
The P-226 has one of the most compact, comfortable handles of any
9mm featuring a double-column magazine that I've ever tried. The
frame has no rear strap, and the black plastic grips are of the
wrap-around type. These factors doubtless help keep the bulk of
the grip down. Trigger reach is not excessive when the pistol is used
in the DA mode - unlike some of the SIG-Sauer's competitors. The front
strap is serrated, and the front of the triggerguard is squared and
serrated for those who favor a "finger-forward" two-hand hold.
Sights are naturally of the high-visibility combat type. They use the
"Von Stavenhagen" type of white dot and bar inserts identical to those
on the Manurhin/Walther pocket autos. Although nominally "fixed,"
both the front and rear sight blades can be drifted laterally to correct
windage (a special tool is available for this), and replacement front and
rear sight blades are available to adjust elevation. The SIG-Sauer
system thus offers the best features of fixed sights together with
extensive adjustment capabilities.
The trigger on our evaluation sample was first-rate. In single action it
broke at just over 4 pounds. There was considerable take-up, but no
creep and negligible overtravel. The double-action pull was around
12 pounds and extremely smooth - one of the smoothest I've ever seen
on a DA auto.
This is a very easy pistol to strip. Make sure the piece is totally empty.
Pull the slide back until the slide stop catches it. Remove the magazine
and lower the dismounting lever on the left side of the frame. Keeping
control of the slide with one hand so that it doesn't fly off, release
the slide stop and let the slide assembly go forward and off the frame.
The recoil spring and guide and the barrel can now be removed from
the slide to complete the task of fieldstripping.
Shooting the P-226 was conducted by G&A's new Western states ad
rep, Geoff Steer and myself at Angeles Shooting Ranges. With the
pistol was a test target fired at 25 meters with five shots grouped
into just under 2 inches. I felt I would have my work cut out to match
this standard. Imagine my pleasure wben my very first group, fired
with Federal's 123-grain FMJs, virtually duplicated the group on
the sample target. (Okay, I admit, at 25 yards I was 6 feet closer!)
A little later, using Frontier 115-grain JHPS, I printed an even smaller
group, just over 1 1/2 inches, at the same range. This is the kind of
accuracy one normally expects from a custom-tuned auto pistol,
and I was very impressed, to say the least.
We tried five different types of ammo in the P-226 - the aforementioned
Federal FMJs and Frontier JHPs, Winchester 115-grain Silvertips, Frontier
124-grain truncated cone FMJs and a handload using the Saeco #377
truncated-cone style cast bullet. No malfunctions of any kind occurred.
Our accuracy work finished, Geoff and I repaired to Angeles' combat
range for some fast 'n' furious shooting. Using the Weaver stance
and firing rapidly from 10 yards, I had little difficulty keeping all my
shots from a 15-round magazine either in-side or nearly touching the
X-ring of the half-scale silhouette. Despite the pistol's light weight,
controllability was excellent.
I also tried some instinctive or "hip" shooting at five yards. I don't
claim any great proficiency in this art - I'm certainly no Bill Jordan
or Thell Reed - but I managed to keep all but a couple of my shots
in the lethal "K-5" area of the silhouette. As far as I could judge,
the P-226 seemed to have good natural pointing qualities.
Do I have any criticisms of this pistol? Well, not exactly, but a couple
of items do call for attention on the part of the user. First of all, it is
possible to insert the magazine so that it is almost, but not quite fully,
engaged by the catch. Then the gun doesn't feed. Be sure the
magazine always snaps completely and positively into place. My
second criticism is that shooters who have long been habituated to
Browning-style auto pistols like the Colt 1911 or the P-35 may find
the arrangement of the levers on the SIG-Sauers a little confusing.
Thus the slide stop is where we normally look for the safety to be,
and the decocking lever/safety is where we normally expect the
slide stop. Both Geoff and I found ourselves on several occasions
reaching for the decocking lever when we meant to release the
slide. No doubt extensive familiarization and training could overcome
this tendency, but it might resurface under the extreme stress of
a combat situation.
Actually, I prefer the location of the slide stop on the SIG-Sauer,
where it is much less likely to be inadvertently disengaged by the
thumb at the end of a shooting string - or, worse yet, engaged
in the middle of a string. However, shooters like myself who have
fired tens of thousands of rounds through Colt, Browning and S&W
autos will find the SIG-Sauer takes some getting used to.
Many industry insiders had regarded the P-226 as the front-runner
in the U.S. military's recent tests for a new service sidearm, and the
decision in favor of Beretta's entry came as quite a surprise to those
who claimed to be "in the know." At this writing all sorts of
recriminations are flying, and rumors are circulating that
international political considerations influenced the final decision.
The official military position is that Beretta and SIG-Sauer were
the only two pistols that successfully completed all tests, and
Beretta had the low bid. I don't want to get caught in the middle
of this because I have a lot of respect for both pistols, and I am
glad Uncle Sam had two such excellent pistols to choose from
(even if they weren't American designs). Speaking personally, I
find that the grip, sights and trigger action of the SIG-Sauer seem
to suit me a little better than the commercial Berettas I've tried,
but, then, I haven't yet checked out the final version selected by
SIG acquired J.P. Sauer & Son a few years ago, and recently
SIG-Sauer, now the firearms division of SIG, set up its own
agency - Sigarms, 8330 Old Courthouse Road, Suite 885, Dept. GA,
Tyson's Corner, VA 22180 - to handle importation and distribution
of their fine line of auto pistols in the U.S.A. (Previously, Interarms
was importing these pistols, and many guns presently on sale will
have Interarms markings.)
Although the military's decision must have been a major
disappointment to the folks at Sigarms, a number of law
enforcement agencies, including certain elite Federal services, are
taking a long look at this splendid pistol - and well they should.
It's a top-flight service sidearm; it is presently the official police
pistol of several West German states and was recently adopted as
the issue sidearm of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the famous
"Mounties." The ordinary civilian may well consider the P-226 an
ugly duckling as it repines on a dealer's shelf, but I'll bet it will
transform itself into a majestic swan in his eyes if he gives it half a
chance on the shooting range and on defensive duty. I've personally
checked out a dozen or so different models of 9mm autos, and I've
yet to encounter one that I liked better than the SIG-Sauer P-226.
Set your prejudices about its looks aside, and I don't think you'll go
wrong with one either.