Many people don’t know that it was H&K – not Glock – that designed the first polymer-framed, striker fired pistol. The HK VP70 (or “Volkspistole 70”, which translates to “the people’s pistol,” with the “70” designating the year of design) was designed in 1970, beating Gaston’s legendary Glock 17 to market by over a decade. It was produced until 1989.
The VP70 most likely didn’t take off as well as the Glock most likely because, while the polymer-striker combo was innovative, the operating system was an uncouth straight blowback, like a Hi-Point pistol, rather than the more sophisticated Browning short recoil system as seen in the Glocks. This resulted in a heavy slide, a heavy-weight recoil spring, and the VP70 also had a heavy double action trigger that was universally loathed. But don’t take my word for it: Alex Capps, notorious and confessed HK fanboy, did a full and unimpressed review of the VP70 for TFB back in 2014.
The Glock came to market in the early 80s, and the rest was history. H&K, one of the most well-respected and revered gun syndicates of all time, was bested by an Austrian upstart. Glock had the run of the polymer-framed, striker-fired market with no contenders from HK for decades. (Although, notably, the polymer-framed, hammer-fired HK USP garnered the respect and admiration of many over that same time period.)
In 2014, the People’s Pistol came back.
Note that Fabulous Fitch already did a full comparative review of the VP9 and VP40 (“A Tale of Two Volkspistoles: The H&K VP9 & VP40”) and I wouldn’t attempt to outdo what might be the most detailed review of the VP yet, so check that out if you want more details and comparisons to competitor platforms. Note further that we are talking about the H&K VP9-B today.
Like the VP70, the Heckler & Koch VP9 is a polymer-framed semi-automatic striker-fired handgun. Unlike the VP70, the VP9 does not suck at shooting. However, there would be many Americans who would reject the notion that any handgun with a European-style mag release (e.g. the heel release as seen on the original HK P7 or the trigger guard release on the VP9) could ever, ever truly be a “people’s pistol.” We are Americans, and we like our mag releases to be buttons to make it easier for us to eject spent freedom containers.
And HK, in a move that no one would have ever anticipated, listened to their customers. Enter the VP9-B (“button”) model:
WOULD YOU HAVE A LOOK AT THAT? THAT’S NOT THE BUDWEISER TALKIN’ TO YA, HANS ACTUALLY DUN DID IT BOYS!
That is, indeed, a pushbutton magazine release. I need my oil tycoons, day traders, trust funders, and other H&K owners in the comments to confirm or deny that this might be the first ever button mag release on a true H&K pistol? The USP, P2000, Mk23, P7, P7M8/13, VP70, etc. all had heel releases or trigger guard releases.
And what I wouldn’t have paid to be a fly on the wall when this conversation happened.
[Setting: Sparkling clean German lab with perfect lighting and copious right angles]
Engineer 1: “Why don’t we do a pushbutton magazine release for shooters in the US?”
Engineer 2: [pauses, places stein on drafting table] “Since when do we cater to *the Americans* Karl?”
Engineer 1: [rips pretzel in half] “It’s a very lucrative market, Günter. Plus, it’s the Volks-pistole.”
Engineer 2: [scowls over EDM as he slowly drives away in his Porsche] “Fein.”
Engineer 1: [angrily opens jar of rote grütze] “Fein.”
At least that’s how I pictured it and I bet that’s probably pretty close to the true events.
So the VP9-B is, exactly, a VP9 with an American-style pushbutton release. It’s similarly priced to the Glock which is a smart and ballsy move by HK. There’s been a 2-part strategy for competing with Glock in the US: (1) Try to offer a comparable gun with a feature or two that the Glock doesn’t have, and (2) make it less expensive than a Glock. H&K is skipping step 2 here, and I agree with that strategy. HK is an elite brand and they likely don’t want to tarnish that image by resorting to price undercutting as a competitive measure, instead relying upon the BMW-factor of premium product at a premium price, maintaining the prestige they are known for.
As far as competing with the market through additional features: The VP9 pitches itself as an ergonomic pistol, and the VP9 walks it like it talks it in this respect. Not only are the backstraps interchangeable, but the grip panels are, also. Not many polymer pistols on the market are doing that right now. While the more organic aesthetics might have its detractors, I don’t think there’s any debate among experts that the peeps’ pistol nails the ergos.
Speaking of ergonomics, the VP9 also has front slide serrations and even has a small set of charging wings on the rear of the slide to assist with racking the gun. Again, these are features not offered on other guns in the market.
And to round out the innovative feature set, the HK has one of the better striker-fired triggers on the market. Quick note here: Many critics like to pretend that the VP9 trigger is on another level above the Glock trigger, but I find them to be similar. If I had to opine as to one or the other, I would concede that the factory VP9 trigger is, in my personal opinion, better than the factory Glock trigger, but perhaps only slightly.
Further, the VP9 uses a cold-hammer-forged, polygonally rifled barrel which means that the average shooter will probably never shoot one out.
When you are a CCW guy like I am, you tend to keep an eye on what your colleagues are packing. I knew that YouTube celeb, personal defense guru, and HK brand ambassador John Correia of Active Self Protection has always been a fan of the VP9, before he even got on board with HK in a professional capacity. So I shot an email to John to get his impression of the VP9-B and he said the following:
I’ve carried a HK VP9 as my every day carry gun since shortly after it was introduced in the US. It is a reliable, soft-shooting handgun with excellent control placement (especially the full ambidexterity for left-handed shooters like me). It eats anything I feed it and the grip is fully customizable for a variety of hand sizes. I also think it has one of the best factory triggers on the market.
The VP9B meets a demand in the US market, in that American shooters are really fans of a push button magazine release. Personally I strongly prefer the paddle release for a host of reasons and will continue to use a paddle, but for shooters who don’t see the advantage of a paddle magazine release the button option lets them use and carry the VP9 as well and makes it a great choice for them. I have no doubt that HK will sell as many of them as they can make.
Personally, I prefer the “B” model and I welcome this change from Heckler and Koch. I think this is an astute move by HK to capture more of the US market, and the VP9-B is a true contender in the very crowded striker-fired polymer pistol market, with features that set it apart from the rest of the crowd. I think this is a great option for concealed carry, and when a guy like Correia wholeheartedly endorses this pistol, you know it’s a viable tool.
Hey HK: thanks for listening. Seriously.
Importer: Heckler & Koch
Caliber: 9 mm
Barrel: 4.09”, six-groove, 1:9.8” RH twist
Trigger: striker-fired; 5-lbs., 7-oz. trigger pull
Magazine: 15-round capacity, push-button release
Weight: 26.6 ozs.