By Massad Ayoob, GUNS Magazine
Photos By Robbie Barrkman
A current meme in the world of the handgun is “anything 9mm through .45 is the same for ‘stopping power.’” Some buy it, some don’t. For those in the latter group, the Walther PPQ, which arrived in late 2015, offers a 12+1-round .45 ACP capacity.
ars ago, serious shooters loved it but balked at its HK-like magazine release, an ambidextrous double lever running along each side of the bottom of the triggerguard. It was actually very fast, but in this country anything other than a mag release button behind the trigger area seems to all but reactivate the House Un-American Activities Committee. Walther listened and introduced the PPQ M2 with American-style mag release, and sales soared. They wisely kept the same system for the new .45 ACP version.
A quarter century ago, when GLOCK introduced the first double-stack polymer .45, the G21 with 13+1 capacity, there were complaints the grip was too thick and the trigger reach, too long. This led them to introduce G21’s with shorter trigger reach, the Gen4 and the SF (for Short Frame). Smith & Wesson with the M&P .45 and Springfield Armory’s XD 45 took different approaches to magazine (and therefore grip-frame) dimensions when they attacked the G21’s market. The XD 45 has the same 13-round mag capacity as the G21, but its longer, thinner frame makes the gun harder to conceal but allows the web of the hand and the trigger finger to “get in deeper.” The M&P45’s magazine holds but 10 of the fat .45 ACP rounds to achieve the same effect.
With their first commercial .45 ACP, Walther has taken a middle ground on capacity: our test sample, serial number FCA2571, came with two metal double-stack mags of 12-round capacity. Insertion and ejection were clean. They were easier to fill all the way up than some other double-stack .45 magazines. With the Walther’s slide forward, there was a little resistance to full insertion, but a firm rap got it seated without needing two men and a boy, a rubber mallet or anything else.
Between the magazine dimensions and the generally excellent ergonomics of the PPQ 9mm which preceded it, the PPQ .45 ends up with excellent trigger reach out of the box. Short fingers can comfortably center the pad of the distal phalange on the center of the Glock-like trigger safety, and average size adult male index fingers like my own can get to the “sweet spot” of the distal joint that double action revolver shooters call “the power crease.” Those with different hand sizes need not fear; this pistol comes with the now almost obligatory interchangeable grip inserts which, if I remember correctly, Walther pioneered in the late 1990’s.
When you ask PPQ fans why they prefer that gun, most will answer “because of the trigger pull” as their first reason. Lighter than most of its competition, and most often compared to the HK VP9, the PPQ’s trigger pull is indeed one of the sweetest on this planet of polymer pistols. Out of the box, there is no palpable scraping feel as you bring the trigger rearward. It’s almost 3-stage: At first, there’s a very short movement with almost no resistance. Then comes a longer second stage that feels like a smooth roll, until at last the finger reaches the final stage of firm resistance just before the shot breaks. The three stages seem to meld into one when you’re shooting the PPQ .45 fast.
It sounds more complicated than it feels. Trigger reset is very short and very quick, and the shooter who “rides the link” with his or her trigger finger and lets it come just far enough forward to be ready for the next shot will appreciate it. On the Lyman digital trigger pull scale from Brownells—weighing from the toe of the trigger where maximum leverage is found—averaged 3 pounds, 7.84 ounces. Measuring from the center of the trigger, where the human index finger is most likely to actually be placed, brought pull weight up to 4 pounds, 3.46 ounces. Some of us consider that pretty light for a striker-fired service pistol with no thumb or grip safety, but many consider it great for competitive shooting. It also measures lighter than Walther factory spec, currently published as 5.6 pounds. This frankly worries me on a defense gun, having been involved in trials where “too-light” trigger pulls became an issue allowing the accusers to claim negligence.
Recoil with 1,000+ fps 185-grain JHP and 880 fps 230-grain duty loads wasn’t at all punishing, but the PPQ’s relatively high bore axis does increase muzzle rise compared to some other .45’s. My petite girlfriend liked the soft rearward kick but not the muzzle jump. A marathon shooting session on the last day of testing didn’t fatigue any of the shooters, and most important, the hundreds of FMJ and JHP rounds that went through the gun ran 100 percent, with zero mechanical malfunctions.
Fire in the hole as Mas shoots the PPQ .45 (above). The PPQ .45 “points well” and is comfortable to shoot. The high bore axis would indicate a lot of muzzle jump, but here is the axis of the PPQ .45 at height of muzzle jump (below) with Remington’s fast, accurate 185-grain, 1,000+ fps JHP. Photo: Gail Pepin
The PPQ .45 allowed Mas to easily ace 60-shot timed qualification with 300 out of 300 score. Photo: Gail Pepin
The three loads I picked for accuracy testing encompassed street-proven jacketed hollowpoints in the two most popular bullet weights, 185- and 230-grain, plus a popular generic 230-grain full metal jacket round. Testing was done off a Caldwell Matrix rest on a concrete bench at a measured 25 yards, with each 5-shot group measured once overall to the nearest 0.05-inch, and a second measurement of the best three shots then taken. The decades have taught me that this “best three” measurement is generally very close to what the same gun and load will do for all five from a machine rest, and is much easier for you to duplicate for comparison on your own local range.
Federal’s American Eagle 230-grain FMJ grouped a tad left of the aiming dot. While this sort of ammo made the .45 ACP a “legendary manstopper,” it is also quite over-penetrative by today’s standards and can present a danger to innocent bystanders behind the offender where the shooter may not be able to see them. Hence, the now virtually universal police (and knowledgeable armed citizen) preference for hollow points.
For some 4 decades or so, Remington’s standard line (now green and yellow box) 185-grain copper JHP has been sending homicidal felons to “The Prison of No Parole.” It feeds like ball, expands reasonably well, passes the FBI penetration standard, and turns out to be remarkably accurate. It garnered the best 5-shot group of this test, with all five shots comfortably within the 10-X ring of a Bianchi Cup target at 25 yards, in a 2.80-inch group. The best three of those hits were under an inch and a half.
Winchester Ranger-T 230-grain load is one of the most dynamic police and self-defense .45 ACP loads of modern times. I’ve seen it expand to 0.90-inch+ caliber in ballistic gelatin, still reaching optimum penetration depth. Its 5-shot group from the Walther was 4.60 inches, but four of them were in 2.55 and the best three were in 1.15 inches, the tightest such cluster of the test. This is why I take the “best three” measurement in the first place: to factor out unnoticed human error, which I expect occurred for one shot with this group.
The slide features forward serrations and is nicely sculpted to ease holstering.
The front of the triggerguard is square and serrated if you’re the sort who puts your offhand index finger there. The bottom of the frame has a multi-point rail for accessories.
The PPQ has a 1911-style magazine release on the frame protected by a molding from accidental release. The trigger has the center-style safety, and Mas says trigger reach was excellent. The long slide release lever is easily accessed.
On the Firing Line
As would be expected with a relatively light (28 ounces unloaded) polymer frame pistol with a high bore axis, this .45 has some kick to it, but nothing a trained and experienced shooter can’t handle. Nothing “bites” the hand in recoil. Muzzle rise wasn’t nearly as much as I had expected given the bore axis, and the pistol came quickly back on target.
The sights (thank you, Walther!) were pretty much dialed in at the factory for 185-grain ammo. The first shot from the 25-yard line hit the 1.25-inch aiming dot. If you’ve shot as many handguns as I have coming from a factory not “shooting where they look,” you’ll appreciate that as much as I do. The 230-grain did hit a bit left of center, but on the Walther, that’s easily fixed: the rear sight is adjustable for windage.
My schedule and the magazine’s deadline did not intersect well enough to shoot a match with it, and it only came with two magazines anyway, so the best I could do for stress testing was to shoot a timed qualification with it. With a mix of American Eagle ball up close and Remington JHP’s starting at the 10-yard line, the PPQ kept 10 of the 12 one-handed shots in one hole, with one “weak hand only” hit honked out of that group by yours truly. At 7 yards it put 12 rounds “in a knot.” By the end of the 15-yard line, there were 60 holes comfortably inside the A-Zone for a 300/300 score, in a group that measured right at 5 inches. I can’t complain about that at all. Tactical reloads, required because I didn’t have enough mags to do the whole course with speed reloads, proved easy, thanks to the PPQ .45’s good ergonomics.
With a $699 retail, this sophisticated Walther is right in the GLOCK/M&P ballpark for pricing. It’s reliable and fun to shoot. Trigger pull was lighter than I’d personally want for self-defense. I think the .45 chambering of the PPQ was a good move by Walther, and I expect the company to sell a lot of these pistols.
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