I have used sub –compacts (Micros) as my preferred everyday carry since first picking up a Walther PPKS due to the need for concealment in a business casual dress in my everyday life. Over the years I have used different .380s, most recently a Glock 42 and even more recently have moved to 9mm sub-compacts including the Glock 43 and Kimber Micro 9. For me, I prefer the 9mm; however, the .380 still seems to have a place in the market for those wanting a slightly lighter and subjectively softer shooting carry. I strongly agree with the school of thought that you should choose a gun you can and will carry and train with. In other words, carry what you can fire reliably and accurately (i.e. a solid hit with a .22 is better than a miss with a 10mm).
I will address some subjective criteria and my personal options briefly in this review but will try to simply provide comparative hard data for the reader to make their own decisions. All tactics including choice of a gun is a function of compromise, person, and gun. My choices are not highly influenced by cost but are based on caliber (I feel confident shooting 9mm) and concealability (and thus may be very different than someone who is more concerned with weight and cost). My hope is that someone considering different sub-compacts will find this article useful as well as someone just considering what gun to buy next.
I will review the Specs on four .380 and four 9mm sub-compacts. Guns were chosen based on availability and are not intended to be an exhaustive list. For the .380s I compared the Glock 42, Kimber Micro .380, Sig Saur P238 and the venerable Walther PPKS. For the 9mm’s I compared the G43, Kimber Micro 9, Sig Sauer P938, and the Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield.
THE METHODSAll eight gun Specs were drawn from company websites (See Table 1). Each gun was tested using a LabRadar chronograph shooting four different ammo brands and types (again not an exhaustive list, just chosen by availability and including one defensive round for comparative purposes). For each velocity test, 4 magazines of 6 shots each were measured (24 rounds from each gun with each ammo) and average velocity in feet per second at muzzle (FPS) and energy measured in foot-pound force (ft/lbf) are reported in Table 2 (.380s) and Table 3 (9mms). Finally, each gun was shot at targets at 7 yards, on signal, from low ready twice using 7 rounds (for some 6+1) as quickly as the author could shoot while maintaining front sight focus. See Image 1 for .380s and Image 2 for 9mm.
The felt recoil on Tables 1 and 2 is my own perception and was comparable over all eight guns (I actually do not detect a big difference in felt recoil from the .380s to the 9mms). I find the Walther PPK .380 to be fairly hard shooting, and did not like the muzzle flip I experienced with the S&W M&P9 9mm, but otherwise found the guns fairly similar. Though listed at a heavier pull based on company Specs, I prefer the trigger pull, break, and reset on the Kimbers compared to the to the other guns tested and liked the trigger on the PPKS and the M&P9 the least. Regarding my accuracy tests, I shot best overall with the G42 out of the .380s and the G43 and Kimber Micro 9 out of the 9mm (which admittedly is likely more about me than the guns). I personally like the Kimber, but a cool look and white dot sights do not justify the cost if you are shopping for a single sub-compact.
The Sigs and the Kimbers break down like a 1911, but simpler (no barrel bushing); however, the recoil spring in the Kimber .380 and 9mm can be a bit of a bear to get out and back in. The Walther breaks down easily but tends to get very dirty compared to the others. The Glocks, are, well Glocks; easy and quick to break down and clean.
The ballistic data tells a similar tale in both the .380s and 9mms, in both cases across all 8 brands of ammo, including Hornady XTP in both .380 and 9mm, the Glocks had the higher velocities and thus also were harder hitting (force). Any idea as to why that is? If so I would include that here.
I am currently going back and forth between the Kimber (I like its slightly smaller frame and lighter weight and more rounded ‘print’) and the G43, but the ballistic data has me considering increasing carrying the G43 more frequently.