The shooting public has never had it better when it comes to handgun selection. Here in the United States, we are able to choose from both domestically produced pistols and a wide variety of foreign-made models. This makes for a very competitive market that doesn’t tolerate a second-rate offering.
While there are many good companies that make pistols, I’m here to list the ten. As they say, “There’s no prize for eleventh place.” I plan to use my experience from the Army, Law Enforcement, and Competitive shooting to determine which brands make the best handguns.
The ground rules are as follows; All the brands being considered must have factory centerfire options and be available in the United States. They must be of established quality, but a long pedigree isn’t necessary. Ergonomics and trigger quality will be large considerations because this is how shooters interface with the pistol. And lastly, in the year of our Lord 2021, reliability makes a pistol average not excellent.
10th Place: Colt’s Manufacturing Company
Colt makes good 1911 pistols, but they are over-priced. Colt has largely created their own competition with its inability to compete on price and features.
Their revolvers are even higher in price, but those buying them understand this and are looking for status, not value. However, there are very few Colt revolvers out in the wild as a result of these high prices.
9th Place: Glock
Glock finds itself lower on my list than most other people’s list. They do make solid, reliable pistols. Their aftermarket support is second to none and factory magazines are excellent values.
What holds them down though is their insistence on maintaining their iconic look, at the cost of continued improvements. The ergonomics are below-average at best, the sights are still made of plastic, and the triggers are just average and generally require a very long pull. Some people like the Glock’s long trigger pull as a form of safety, but I feel it impacts accuracy.
When reliability alone made a pistol great, Glock was a king among men. But in 2021, almost everyone is making reliable pistols.
8th Place: Springfield Armory
Springfield offers a wide variety of 1911 pistols that I would purchase over a Colt at any given price point. They are simply a better value at the low-end and better all-around pistols at the high-end.
Their XD line of pistols, made by HS Produkt in Croatia, are solid pistols that come in all the popular sizes and cartridges. They aren’t as well-loved as other brands, but they have average to above-average ergonomics and triggers.
7th Place: Beretta
I feel like Beretta could be higher on this list, but has hurt itself in a few ways and is lower as a result. First things first, they make quality pistols. The Beretta 92 is a classic design and comes in a large variety of models.
But, too many of the used models on the market don’t have an accessory rail or a replaceable front sight. The new ones tend to be overpriced, especially for the less common models. The slide-mounted safety quite frankly shouldn’t exist outside of where the U.S. Military mandated it.
They also offer the new and underrated APX line of pistols. The APX, though not selected as the new U.S Army service pistol has an excellent grip and above-average trigger. But, there is almost no aftermarket support for it.
6th Place: Sturm, Ruger & Co.
Ruger places higher on this list than some would expect on the strength of their revolvers. Remember, we are comparing handguns, not just semi-automatics. They offer revolver models that are almost without competition at their price point. There is reloading data specifically for maximazine the potential certain Ruger revolvers.
For semi-automatics, Ruger isn’t known for innovation. They see where other brands find success and copy it at a lower price point. Over the years I’ve pointed many budget shoppers toward a quality Ruger pistol that sells close to, or under, $300.
For that price, it’s worth overlooking cheaper finishes or a lack of accessories.
5th Place: Sig Sauer
The classic line of pistols made by Sig Sauer, namely the P226, P229, and P220, fit the hand wonderfully and are just comfortable to shoot. They also understand that a hammer-down, DA/SA pistol needs only a decocker. The main gripe, that of a high bore-axis, isn’t readily apparent when actually shooting the gun.
The Sig P320 and M17 are good service pistols. I don’t love the base models, but I understand why others do. What I do love is their competition geared models, especially the P320 X-5 Legion. Leave it to Sig to make a $900 pistol a good value.
Sadly though, few of their pistols (and none of their magazines) can be considered good values. That keeps them from rising higher on this list.
4th Place: Carl Walther
Walther might just make the best pistols you haven’t heard much about. Their modern pistols are very comfortable to shoot, even if they are a bit funky-looking. They also don’t suffer from being heavily overpriced like a different German gun brand.
Being such well-designed pistols, with excellent triggers, many shooting them for the first time are surprised they don’t hear more about the brand.
What they lack though is many compelling options outside of 9mm Luger.
3rd Place: Canik Arms
Canik, quite frankly, crushes all other brands in terms of value. Before they entered the market, it was almost unthinkable that a $400 pistol could have good ergonomics, an excellent stock trigger, a fiber optic front sight, have a Cerakote finish, and be carry-optics ready.
This one model, the TP9SFX, should be the best-selling “plastic fantastic” in the U.S., and by a large margin. It’s not very upgradable, but it doesn’t need to be either.
It says a lot when a single pistol propels a company so high on this list.
Canik also produces excellent quality CZ-clones which are imported and sold under the Tristar brand.
2nd Place: Smith & Wesson
Smith & Wesson is the second brand on this list which is seriously helped by its revolver line. They are arguably the best all-around revolvers made. There are other brands that substantially undercut them on price, but the upgrade in fit, finish, and durability justifies the cost for a frequent shooter.
The M&P line of pistols come in all shapes and sizes, and the 2.0 version with the upgraded grip was a bold choice that worked out well. I don’t want to say there is a love/hate relationship with the hinged trigger, because I don’t know of anyone who loves it. But most find it acceptable and it’s easily replaced.
They also sell quality 1911 pistols and have performance center models for those with bigger budgets.
1st Place: Ceska Zbrojovka
Better known as just CZ, they brought to market the iconic CZ-75 line of pistols. The CZ-75 is easily the most ergonomic pistol ever made, and yes I’m a CZ fanboy though I shoot a Canik model myself.
CZ 75 pistols, and their clones, have been widely used in the competitive shooting world where single-action-only (SAO) pistols are not allowed. They have also found wide acceptance in military and police circles.
CZ produces striker-fired pistols for those who prefer them. Once again, they fit the hand well and have very good stock triggers. I’ve never heard a P-10 owner say they wish they had bought a Glock.