Digging The SIG

posted on August 28, 2015
Allison Earnest

Bullet architecture has advanced a great deal in recent years. The improvements are, in fact, so marked that caliber, within broad limits, has been relegated to “also-ran” status as a handgun selection criterion. Overall size, once so directly linked to caliber, is now much more inclined to be a function of round count and the expected application—usually between duty/open carry-sized versus carry/concealable-sized.

All of which is good: With many new participants (especially women) joining the ranks of American shooters, wide options greatly increase the likelihood of finding a firearm that is safe, useful and fun for every type and stature of shooter. It’s a “new normal,” we would argue, and a good one. 

As we proceed to the bad news, note that we said, “finding a firearm,” because the folks at SIG Sauer in Newington, N.H., are busily deconstructing that happy paradigm. And whistling too, we expect, while they work.Great magazines, great controls and a great caliber. The add-on Trijicon “HD” front sight is something else, too!

The reason for this ill-concealed glee takes the form of another striker-fired SIG Sauer first—the P320 in .45 ACP. The 320 in 9 mm was first introduced in 2014, and we had a chance to work it very hard indeed last fall. Hence we cut to the chase: It’s a superbly reliable and eminently shootable pistol with all the traditional SIG hallmarks—overall quality, top-to-bottom quality, and, ah, inside-and-out quality.

What we weren’t quuiiiiitte prepared to accept at the time were the promises from SIG that grip size, slide/barrel length and even caliber were going to be configurable around the internal, serialized guts of the pistol. Even more suspect was the claim that such conversion versatility would range from the 9 mm we had all the way up to the big dog of auto-loader handgunning—the .45 ACP. 

Well, use your imagination to conjure up a peculiar and vaguely disagreeable noise emanating from our corner: It should approximate the sound of a gun writer eating crow. 

From our time with the 9 mm, we knew the design would feed and fire virtually anything (and it did). Consequently, we didn’t really start at the beginning with the big-bore version: We simply took away our tester’s everyday pistol and substituted the .45 ACP P320. 

Blade-Tech Industries founder Tim Wegner was a willing co-conspirator in our plot and set us up with a drop/offset Pro-Series speed rig™ competition holster and magazine carriers, and an Eclipse OWB rig and dual mag carrier for CCW use. 

Also “all in” for our scheme was Trijicon, who sent us a set of their dazzlingly good HD sights. Not that the stock SIGlites weren’t darn good in their own right, but the big orange (or green) bezel around the lamp in the Trijicon front blade adds visibility from the moon and several nearby asteroids. We appreciated the visibility help, and the results spoke for themselves.

As a carry gun, the P320 proved very manageable despite a 37.5-oz. weight (relatively light for a full-sized .45 of 10+1 capacity). We attribute this to the superb adjustability of the Blade-Tech and no gouge-prone contours on the pistol itself. Both factors translated into surprising comfort. 

The P320 also saw substantial competitive work. The pistol handles so well that it won out over softer-shooting Production/SSP Division 9 mm guns in several Steel Challenge matches, even edging out multiple rimfires in a game where shot recovery and transitions are everything. In USPSA-style tactical competition, it ran over several big-bucks Limited 10 Division guns—even garnering the top spot in a Regional/Level II match, as well as wins in multiple club matches.The serialized core at the heart of the 320 masterpiece. It’s even a breeze to clean.

’Nuff said?

So how do our opening remarks about caliber selection and the truly fine P320 coalesce? We submit there are two ways to think about it, though they arrive at the same conclusion.

With a thoughtful initial caliber choice, you get in the P320 a superb defensive or sporting handgun. Marvelously reliable, accurate and easy to care for, you can tune your choice to either a predominant current need or a standing preference. 

Over time, other criteria may present. Now, the convertibility of your SIG weighs in, and tips almost any conceivable scale in your favor. Whether it’s teaching a loved one with a softer-recoiling caliber, or training and equipping for responsible concealed carry, only ancillary factors need change. 

Every press of the trigger and alignment of the sights has moved you safely, incrementally forward instead of, as a different grip, sights, action or caliber are wont to do, monumentally back.

Nuts And Bolts

Like most striker pistols, P320s are steel above and polymer below, but this is where much of the similarity ends. Design-wise, they borrow heavily from the modular, conventional single/double action P250, meaning that the slides and frames are convertible for many variations in overall pistol size and caliber. The firearm—the serial-numbered “heart” of a P320—is an ultra-versatile core around which many components can be fit. We also think the way this rugged core joins the front and rear slide rails is the reason it is so apparently soft shooting, even in .45 ACP. Our guess: about 15 percent softer than any other polymer-framed .45. 

Where it thankfully doesn’t borrow is in its striker-based ignition: We took the 320 straight out of the box for extensive competition and never looked back. About 5 lbs. to start, it “wore in” to about 4.75 with a wonderfully short take-up if you know how to “follow the reset.”

The slide is nitron-finished stainless steel with dovetailed front and rear SIGlite night sights. Other slide cuts consist of a good-looking nose taper to ease holstering and reduce weight, a generous ejection port, locking notch, disassembly relief, and front and rear cocking serrations—and these are arguably the best we’ve encountered. The finish, nearly 3,000 rounds down the road and with a lot of drawing and holstering, doesn’t show a mark.

The swappable grips come in four sizes by dust cover/accessory rail and grip length (full, carry, compact and subcompact) and three circumferences (small, medium and large). All are of one-piece construction with superb texturing. Reminiscent of the “E2” treatment introduced on the P226, the texture shrugged off every contaminant we applied, even including a generous coating of oil. To lose control of the pistol, you practically have to try.In the wake of numerous law-enforcement adoptions, the P320 is also in the thick of things for the new military “MHS” sidearm. We definitely see why. 

The bottom of either side of the grip has another feature we admire—a generous relief cut that permits a really authoritative grasp of the magazine baseplate. Experienced handgun shooters will anticipate why: A Type 3 malfunction can lock a magazine tightly during a “double-feed,” and serious leverage can be needed to free it. Since we did not experience any double-feeds, we simulated a few. The 320 allowed these to be reduced as fast as we were able with no double—or more—clutches at the crucial mag removal step. Another grip-resident joy is the magazine release. Of near perfect shape, protrusion and tension, it’s defaulted for righties but simple to swap to the other side. 

Caliber and barrel/slide conversions need to be considered together. Simply, most expect it to be a huge cost savings over another complete firearm, and are subsequently disappointed. This is unrealistic when you consider which components must be swapped (read “the expensive ones”): the slide, in order to get proper breech face dimensions, and the barrel for proper chamber and bore dimensions. By keeping that core, though, you retain the trigger, and this is where the P320 shines brightest—it’s smooth from mount to break. From full-size to subcompact, you will run better, and that means the pistol will, too. Then there’s that whole “shoot what you can find” ammo thing. After the last couple of years, we figure this needs no explanation.

Here’s a rumor we heard just before press time: In the wake of numerous law-enforcement adoptions, the P320 is also in the thick of things for the new military “MHS” sidearm. We definitely see why.

The price for the SIG Sauer P320 ranges from $649 to $879 depending on caliber and features. MSRP for caliber conversion kits is $399.


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