Handguns have evolved and changed significantly since the Post-WW2 era. These changes include simplifying their manual of arms, increasing their capacity, and reducing their weight. One of the most important changes has been to exclude the external safeties that were present on older designs, such as the M1911A1.
The best 9 handguns include a mix of old and new. The Canik TP9SFX easily makes this list, as does the classic Sig Sauer P226. Not everything is a Semi-auto, with both S&W and Ruger revolvers finding their place. And before you ask, no, Glock didn’t make the cut.
While any modern handgun has safety features built into it, for the purpose of making this list I’m not going to consider handguns with an exclusive safety device. Any handgun that has all safeties disabled by pulling the trigger will be considered.
The list will not have rankings, and handguns will not be listed in any particular order. If it makes the list, I consider it to be an excellent overall handgun.
Sig Sauer P226
A true classic of a handgun, the P226 began production in 1984. It began life shooting the excellent 9mm Luger cartridge and had a standard magazine capacity of 15-rounds. With a weight of 34 ounces, it isn’t lightweight, but it isn’t as hefty as a steel-framed pistol either. In terms of size, it is fairly standard when compared to other service pistols.
With its exposed hammer, it functions as a double-action/single-action (DA/SA) pistol. It is meant to be loaded and decocked before being holstered. Truly without an external safety, the draw weight of the DA trigger pull provides a measure of safety. After the first shot, the light and fast SA trigger pulls will continue until the handgun is decocked or runs out of ammo.
The P226 deserves a place on this list not because it was popular in the 80s and 90s, but because it’s a really good pistol right out of the box. The P226 fits the hand well, is comfortable to shoot, and shows a high level of workmanship.
The Canik TP9SFX is manufactured in Turkey and is currently imported by Century Arms. This handgun is a true value king and has forced the handgun market to become more competitive. With a 5″ barrel, the TP9SFX is considered a “long-slide” model but is minimally bigger than many other comparable models.
As a polymer-framed handgun, it is lightweight at 28 ounces. It still packs quite a bit of firepower though, coming with two 20-round magazines. This TP9SFX is only chambered in 9mm Luger.
What gives the Canik TP9SFX a spot on this list is how many features this pistol has for the price. For starters, the trigger is excellent out of the box. It also has a fiber-optic front sight, a well-designed grip, and is optics ready with four included mounting plates.
In the past, this set of features would typically be associated with buying a $500-600 pistol and adding at least $100 worth of aftermarket parts. I have seen the TP9SFX sell between $450-550, depending on the market.
I’ll give the nod to the TP9SFX over the newer Mete because it has better iron sights and a more versatile red-dot mounting system.
Smith & Wesson 686
The first revolver to make the list, the 686 is has been known as a work-horse for a long time. While other revolvers have cost more and looked better, the 686’s track record can’t be ignored. It is chambered for .357 Magnum and is currently offered in either a 4″ or 6″ barrel. Performance Center models add additional options.
.357 Magnum is, without question, the most versatile magnum pistol cartridge. It’s powerful, but not punishing to shoot. As an all-steel handgun, the 686 absorbs the recoil well. For casual shooting or newer shooters, the 686 can shoot .38 Spl cartridges too (as can all .357 Magnum revolvers).
As an L-frame revolver, the 686 can eat an unlimited diet of full-power .357 Magnum loads. While most shooters won’t do this, it is capable of it.
Overall, the 686 is just a beautiful handgun. Still, don’t let that fool you. It’s just as much a beast.
Sig Sauer P320 X5 Legion
The second and last Sig Sauer to make the list, the P320 X5 Legion is a very innovative handgun. Built to be a competitive gun, the P320 X5 Legion has a tungsten-infused frame to add weight, but without the cost of machined steel. This pistol is meant for USPSA Production and IDPA Stock Service Pistol division, as well as Carry Optics in both disciplines.
While Sig Sauer is known for being proud of the firearms they produce, the P320 X5 Legion is actually a pretty good deal at $900. It comes with adjustable sights, a good trigger (for competitive purposes), a detachable magazine well, and a slide cut for a red dot.
It weighs 43.5 ounces out of the box, but when the magazine well is removed it goes under 43 ounces to be legal for IDPA Stock Service Pistol. There is a tungsten weight in the grip that can be removed to decrease the weight further.
With a 5″ barrel, this is a big handgun for being chambered in 9mm Luger. Flush fitting magazines hold 17 rounds and Sig offers extended magazines with a 21 round capacity.
CZ75 SP01 Tactical
For those looking for a big and heavy 9mm in a solid steel frame, the CZ75 SP-01 Tactical should be a strong consideration. Other CZ75 based pistols could be on your list, but the SP01 Tactical model only has a decocker, making it fit the best on this list.
Very similar in features to the previously mentioned P226, the SP01 Tactical is a DA/SA hammer-fired handgun. It is only offered in 9mm Luger and weighs a hefty 40.5 ounces. The steel frame has a full-length dust cover, giving a handgun a very good balance.
The CZ75 itself is a proven design and is one of the most copied handguns in the world. They fit the hand excellently and help the shooter manage recoil with both their weight and ergonomics.
Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 (W/O thumb safety)
One of my favorite pistols, and the potential best striker-fired pistol after a trigger swap, the M&P 2.0 is an improvement upon Smith & Wesson’s already popular M&P. The 2.0 is available in the three popular cartridges of 9mm Luger, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. Aftermarket drop-in .357 Sig barrels are available and the new 10mm Auto version is now hitting store shelves.
The 2.0 is one of the most ergonomic polymer-framed pistols available. The grip fits the hand better than most other pistols and is aggressively textured straight from the factory. The texturing really is top-notch, and Smith & Wesson was one of the first to provide a factory alternative to custom stippling.
While most will be best served by a standard full-size model, or a 5″ long-slide variant, the 2.0 comes in the optics-ready C.O.R.E. versions as well as the more expensive Performance Center models.
Alas, if it weren’t for the hinged trigger, I could easily recommend the 2.0 as the best all-around pistol made. With the 10mm Auto version being released only the “flat-face” trigger option, hope exists.
CZ P10 F Competition-Ready
The P10F Competition-Ready is the newest of the US-made CZ pistols and is a variant of the CZ P10F. The P10F was already an excellent service-style pistol and could be recommended as the best all-around pistol in that market.
The Competition-Ready model adds a longer barrel, extended controls, better sights, and has a slide cut for mounting micro red dot optics. The Competition-Model isn’t a huge improvement over the P10F, but only because the original model was very, very good to begin with. Both models are comfortable guns to hold and shoot.
Pistols like the P10F, the Canik TP9SFX, and the Walther PDP mentioned below, show that great pistols can come straight from the factory. They make me ask why anyone would voluntarily shoot a Glock chambered in 9mm Luger.
Ruger Redhawk / Super Redhawk
Switching back to revolvers, the Ruger Redhawk and Super Redhawk easily deserves a place on this list. They are the epitome of Ruger revolvers, with an emphasis on being big and powerful. While chambered in a handful of calibers, they are best known for shooting .44 Magnum.
These lines of revolvers are an excellent choice for people who live in bear country and for those who wish to hunt with a handgun. The Super Redhawk offers an easy scope mounting option, while the standard Redhawk is meant to use iron sights.
There is no denying that both lines of revolvers are meant to be specialty handguns. But, if this is what you need, they are worth your consideration.
The newest pistol on this list, the Walther PDP is proof that German-made pistols can be a good value. They are a solid improvement over the PPQ, without the out-of-control price tag of the Steel Match versions.
The PDP is offered in both full-size and compact models, and with the choice of either a 4″, 4.5″, or 5″ barrel. While I don’t see the market for a long-slide compact model, maybe someone else does. All versions of the pistol are cut for red dots, though you do need to request it from Walther USA after buying the pistol.
What the PDP does right is update the PPQ with an aggressively textured grip and modernize the features. Like many of the latest generation pistols, the PDP is only offered in 9mm Luger.