We’re certainly fans of the Glock marque, but we can’t truthfully say we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Gen5s. Well, we should have been.
This feature appears in the November '17 issue of NRA America’s 1st Freedom, one of the official journals of the National Rifle Association.
In retrospect, the Glock Gen5 pistols might be a classic case of not knowing what we were missing. And by “missing,” one would rightly infer that between a lively aftermarket and our superb Gen3 and Gen4 samples, there would seem precious little to want. How, after all, does one complain about a tool that routinely shrugs at 100,000 or more uses in out-of-the-box configuration, yet can be modified almost beyond recognition? We’ve owned ostensibly good hammers—no moving parts whatsoever—that didn’t remotely meet such a standard.
This settled state of affairs is hardly news. Even very early Glock samples to reach our shores had technology, durability and reliability chops to be envied, despite deep suspicions at the time of both the caliber (9 mm) and materials (polymer frame). More than 30 years of enhancements have converted millions of dedicated fans, in every shooting community. All of which combine to make the clear advances of the Gen5 pistols a remarkable achievement.
External differences are likely to strike “Gen” watchers first. Many will cheer the demise of the front-strap finger grooves. The distaste for these always seemed a bit overstated as they were, in fact, a benefit to less-experienced shooters and aided with getting a secure, repeatable grip to some extent. Ah, well, different strokes for different folks.
One of the few clear needs that did remain was a lefty-friendly slide lock or stop. The original left-side lever has been replaced by a single part with extensions through the slide/frame junction on both sides of the Gen5s. This change eliminates the need for the second, upper pin in the frame and locking block. Combined with the swappable magazine release introduced in Gen4 guns, the new G17 and G19 are fully ambidextrous.
The finish on the new pistols replaces the storied Tenifer with ion-bonded “NDLC.” While it’s arguably too soon to tell, if Glock’s version of diamond-like carbon is as good as examples on other guns (see our October A1F review) and gun parts, it’s a more substantial add than might first—and pleasantly—meet the eye: Not merely handsome, these treatments are incredibly resistant to corrosion, moisture and wear.
Pressed to choose, however, the last two changes are our favorites. Glock has long used polygonally rifled barrels. These were always appreciated for their service lives, but not so much for their accuracy. New rifling and a true crown characterize the “Marksman” barrels of Gen5, and they shoot neck-and-neck with our match-barreled Gen3s and 4s.
Returning to the grip reveals the last major improvement. Staggered or “double stack” firearms have always held at least a theoretical reloading advantage over single-column magazines. Their reverse-funnel geometry guides the magazine into the magazine well in very forgiving fashion. Competitive shooters noticed and enhanced this characteristic long ago, often adding aftermarket components to augment the funneling effect.
In the Gen5s, a roughly 14 percent increase in the reload target area is now built into the shape of the grip. The scalloped relief in the bottom edge of the front strap (intended to aid magazine stripping in Type 3 malfunctions) adds even more clearance on a reload.
Much of our shooting of both Gen5s was concurrent with a run through Glock’s Operator Course in Smyrna, Ga. Over two days, we put between 400 and 500 rounds downrange in both the G17 and the G19 in a variety of challenging courses of fire. It was comradely, comfortable shooting at its best, and it was further enhanced by superb instruction and Gen5 education at the hands of the Glock Professional staff.
It would be a story livelier in the telling if our review pistols had subsequently revealed a different tale. But through an additional 1,000 rounds on our own, performance has remained at stratospheric levels. Our experience parallels that of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies in their adoption of the similar “M” models: If there’s even a slightly better handgun out there for a huge variety of duties than the Glock Gen5s, it’ll take some serious proving.
Nuts And Bolts:
Glock engineers are to be commended on the interoperability they preserved in the Gen5s, but it’s only fair to warn that it couldn’t be complete. With Glock’s website citing some 20 design changes, selective loss of backward compatibility was almost certain.
Several of the enhancements stem from what might be called “field testing” in the G42 and G43. Close examination will reveal changes to the breach face, striker, safety plunger and ejector/trigger housing. The net bad news is small—If you have spares for current Gens, they may not support Gen5s. The good is more than commensurate: Reliability (hard to believe, we know) and trigger feel are quite plainly improved.
Another change we think might be misunderstood as purely cosmetic is the de-horning of the front of the slide, which is reminiscent of G34/35 contours. Especially in discreet carry modes, the taper makes a Gen5 easier, and therefore safer, to holster or reholster.
G19 “Bite” — An exceptionally common gripe—especially from those with fleshier hands and fingers—has dogged the compact Glocks of every caliber since Day One relative to Gen 3/4 finger grooves. The molded-in front strap ridge that created the uppermost groove was too high, and pushed the middle finger hard against the underside of the trigger guard. “Dremel”-ed relief of the trigger guard was one cure, though excessive zeal could thin it to the point where it was a problem on other fronts (the better course was to relieve the finger ridge itself).
On the Gen5 G19, this is now moot. Upward pressure is once again regulated 100 percent by the shooter, with G17-like comfort the result. (We’d argue you should still be “high and deep” enough on the gun to form a callous on the up side of the second knuckle of the middle finger. It just won’t hurt to do so now.)
Magazines — Fabulously tough, vastly reliable magazines have been a strong suit of the Glock marque, especially in their drop-free, American-oriented variants. Nevertheless, a bright orange follower and extended front lip manage to raise the bar in Gen5 release. The former renders clear or round count that much easier to ascertain, and the latter makes aggressive stripping for malfunction clearance a piece of cake. Not that you’ll do much of this with a Glock, but practice it all the same.
Sight Options — Glock has taken a lot of heat over the years for their extremely modest factory sights, and we did our share of piling on. This was unreasonable on several counts, but is advantageously amended in Gen5. The inexpensive originals are still available—these always were, and still are, offered with the expectation that you’ll change to something better or tougher in short order. In other words, you were never compelled to buy a more expensive set of sights that you didn’t actually want.
However, excellent AmeriGlos are now available as a factory option on the Glock “Spartan” Operator pattern. These feature tritium lamps for low-light conditions (though remember—never take a shot at a shape, however ominous; target identification is an absolute priority and responsibility), but which are properly obfuscated to be no distraction in daylight. When light is ample, a high-visibility dot yields outstanding tracking of the front blade in every phase of the shot. Especially for speed work and over-40 eyes, these are an exceptional complement to the outstanding Gen5s and worth every penny.
Frank Winn has been studying arms and their relationship to tyranny, meaningful liberty and personal security all his adult life. He has been a firearms safety/shooting instructor for more than 20 years, and earned state, regional and national titles in several competitive disciplines.