Chopped with Style: The SIG P938 Extreme and P224 Extreme Review
August 01, 2012
For 2012 SIG Sauer has added two high-end offerings to the growing number of ultracompact concealed-carry pistols on the market. The slim, new, 3-inch-barreled, 9mm P938 is a tiny, scaled-down single-action 1911-style design that weighs just 16 ounces unloaded. The new 3.5-inch .40 S&W P224 is a cut-down version of the double-stack, duty-size SIG P229, and it's somewhat larger and heavier (25.4 ounces), with SIG's Double-Action Kellerman (DAK) trigger. The P224 will also be available with a conventional DA/SA mechanism and in 9mm and .357 SIG chamberings.
Let's take a close look at both new models.
The single-stack 9mm P938 is a scaled-up version of the popular SIG P238 .380. It weighs only 0.8 ounce more than the P238 and is just 0.4 inch longer overall. Mind you, the P938 has a 3.0-inch barrel and the P238 has a 2.7-inch barrel. Most of the P938 versions offered come with a six-round, flat-base magazine; however, the "Extreme" P938 version (shown in the photographs here) comes with an extended, wraparound-basepad, seven-round magazine, which is also available as an aftermarket accessory.
Mechanically, the P938 is in all ways a little Model 1911, reminiscent of the Colt Mustang .380, but in 9mm. It is a recoil-operated, locked-breech, single-action mechanism with conventionally located 1911-type operating features. The slide locks open after the final round in the magazine is fired, and the magazine release button drops the magazine free. The pistol has an ambidextrous manual thumb safety but no grip safety. The design features a full-length recoil spring guide rod and bushingless slide. The low-profile yet highly visible SIGLITE night sights that come standard on several P938 versions may be the best "pocket-gun" sights on the market. And I really appreciate the P938's semibeavertail, hammer-cupping frame, which eliminates the hammer bite that can occur if you let your grasp slide a little too high.
The P938 is the most compact 9mm in the SIG Sauer product line and is currently listed in four configurations. Following in the footsteps of SIG's other "Extreme" models, this P938 has a Nitron-coated, stainless-steel slide; black anodized frame; and black-and-gray Hogue G-10 Piranha grips for maximum grip and a distinctive look. The "Blackwood" version features a natural stainless-steel slide and black hard coat anodized alloy frame paired with Hogue Blackwood grips. The "Rosewood" configuration offers a Nitron-coated, stainless-steel slide over a dark hard anodized alloy frame with Hogue Rosewood grips. The "Equinox" version has a polished Nitron two-tone slide paired with a black hard coat anodized frame, TruGlo front sight and SIGLITE rear sight, and Hogue black Diamondwood grips.
Considering the universal ubiquity of the basic Model 1911 and its familiarity to Shooting Times readers, there is no sense going into a detailed description of how a Model 1911 autoloading pistol works. What is interesting, however, is the fact that the diminutive SIG P938 1911 grew out of the little .380 P238, instead of the reverse. Pocketsize .380 pistols have gained huge popularity as concealed-carry personal-defense pistols in recent years due primarily to advances in the performance quality of .380 Auto ammunition. But almost immediately after manufacturers began offering an ever-growing list of micro-size .380s in response, customers began clamoring for pistols of the same basic size and form-factor in 9mm. The result has been a recent ongoing surge of tiny 9mm pistols, essentially "up-scaled" from the recent .380s.
Of course, a 9mm cartridge in a pistol of the same essential size as a small .380 presents quite different recoil-handling and shootability issues, which has led many who have tried such new "Baby 9s" to go running back to the .380s (particularly those who are not active or regularly practicing shooters). Which leads to the first question many are likely to ask about the new P938: How "shootable" is it?
The P238 gained a quick reputation among other small .380 pistols for being extraordinarily shootable. Many first-time purchasers have reported it was a gun they could have fun on the range with as well as rely upon for extreme emergencies. This was due to the inherent handling qualities of the P238's 1911-type format, the short single-action trigger pull, and the gun being available in aluminum-frame versions and a heavier (5 ounces heavier, in fact) stainless-steel-frame version. After working with an aluminum-frame P938 Extreme for a week on the range, I'd say the same holds true for the P938.
Compared to other mini-9mms coming on the market, I find the P938 more fun to shoot. That may, of course, be primarily due to the fact that I'm a 1911 guy from way back, and I like the short, crisp feel of a cocked single-action pistol's trigger. My slight-of-build wife likes the P938 for the same reason, but then she's a 25-year veteran IPSC competitor. So we both have a thing about 1911s. Most of my range work was with the flat-base, six-round magazine — which allows only a two-finger "wrap" on the grip — because I was interested in working with the gun in its extreme-concealment configuration. Using the available extended-basepad, seven-round magazine provides a three-finger grasp and definitely allows a more secure grip and better control of recoil flip, but with either, the P938 just sits better when fired than other small 9mms I've reviewed. Again, that could just be me and my familiarity with the feel of a 1911, of any size. One thing I don't have any personal problem with is the concept of carrying a small cocked-and-locked single-action pistol in my pocket.
Which leads to another important point already much discussed by reviewers and online forums concerning the previous .380 P238. Model 1911 pistols have manual safeties; most DAO-type pistols don't. The thing about a manual safety is that you have to use it. You have to remember to disengage it before you fire, and you have to remember to put it on if the gun is cocked. The choice between a manual-safety pistol or a more "idiot-proof" DAO pistol without a manual safety is not a point I'm going to argue here. You'll make your own decision, primarily based on what type of trigger "feel" you most prefer.
But what I will call attention to is that it's probably not a good idea to use a manual-safety pistol as a pocket gun and a nonsafety DAO pistol as a full-size home-defense or duty-carry gun. Or vice versa. In a crisis, you're going to automatically fall back on your training and practice. When the wolf breaks in the door, you don't want to be fumbling for a manual safety on a gun that doesn't have one or forget to disengage the safety on a gun that does. Don't mix and match. Don't be confused about which one's in your hand at zero hour. Make sure that all the guns you and your family may need to rely on operate the same basic way — and practice with them. All of you. If you ever take any formal defensive firearms training course from a truly experienced instructor, that's one of the first points he'll raise.
I ran the sample P938 through my standard 50-foot review protocol with five different varieties of personal-defense 9mm commercial ammunition. For ultrasmall pistols of this type, I see no reason to reach out to the standard 25-yard "duty gun" distance. That's not what this pistol is for. As the chart on page 46 indicates, the overall combined accuracy average, for all loads, fired handheld with arms resting on sandbags, was just under 3 inches. That's the diameter of a teacup. And there were no hiccups, no malfunctions. But you need to give it a firm grasp to ensure the slide has a solid platform to work against.
I like this gun.
A cut-down version (literally) of the SIG P229, the new 3.5-inch-barreled P224 is nothing at all like the P938. Initially offered in .40 S&W (9mm and .357 SIG versions will follow), the P224 has a short-grip, double-stack magazine that will hold 11 rounds of 9mm and 10 rounds of .40 S&W or .357 SIG, which gives the P224 a decided advantage over most other "subcompact" pistols. The P224 also accepts current P229 magazines, allowing users to carry a full-size spare magazine as a backup to the flush-fit P224 magazine. Law enforcement officers will especially appreciate not having to carry separate magazines solely for their backup guns.
Featuring a lightweight alloy frame, the P224 will be available in a number of configurations paralleling the features of other pistol models in the SIG Sauer catalog. There's an Extreme model, an Anti-Snag (SAS) model, a Nickel model, and an Equinox model, and there are more to come. Full-size SIGLITE night sights provide a full-service sight picture, which can be a challenge in most subcompacts. Initial P224 models will be equipped with the DAK trigger and will be chambered in .40 S&W. P224 versions with traditional DA/SA triggers will be available in the future. The short-reset trigger (SRT) will be available in the DA/SA versions.
The DAK trigger has gained an enthusiastic following in law enforcement and defensive-carry circles since its introduction in 2005. SIG fans instantly began clamoring for the DAK system to be incorporated throughout the SIG model lineup, and SIG has been adding DAK trigger versions to its catalog ever since. SIG also offers DAK trigger conversions for compatible models, although pistols made before 2005 may not be able to be converted.
Many defensive trainers regard the DAK as the best duty-pistol trigger out there. It's smooth and light, and it has repeat-strike capability. When I shoot it, it feels more like a gunsmith-tuned DA revolver than a double-action pistol. It's so light and smooth you can shoot as well as you can with a refined PPC gun, but it's long enough to provide real feedback during the pull.
In operational/mechanical terms, the new P224 is in all respects a classic SIG design only smaller (just "One Small Change," as SIG puts it). Which means it's an excellent choice for a concealed-carry or backup gun for anyone familiar with the basic SIG manual of arms. From a full-sized P226 to the P229 to the P224, the controls and operation all remain the same, as does disassembly and reassembly.
Like the P229, the P224 employs a stainless-steel slide milled from billet. The barrel is carbon steel, induction hardened for durability. On the P224 Extreme version reviewed, the aluminum-alloy frame is black hard anodized, and the barrel and slide are both Nitron finished. The frontstrap is checkered, and the same pattern is repeated on the finger rest of the magazine buttpad. The laminate grips wrap around the backstrap, and their scalloped/groove texture is continuous.
My range protocol for the .40 S&W P224 paralleled the review of the little 9mm P938, but the distance was 25 yards instead of 50 feet. The P224 will be a duty gun for many plainclothes law enforcement officers, where the classic "4.5 at 25" accuracy standard is the traditional administrative qualifying point for any authorized primary service pistol. With the five different varieties of defense and duty ammunition reviewed in the P224, again fired handheld over a sandbag rest, the combined 25-yard average was 3.21 inches. Obviously, that's way better than the mandatory minimum, even with my aging, farsighted eyes. The highly visible SIGLITE sights helped a lot.
Both of these new small-format pistols from SIG, the diminutive P938 and the somewhat larger P224 as well, answer real expressed needs from the civilian consumer concealed-carry market as well as from law enforcement. Both deserve a lot of attention and respect.