Throwback Thursday: 5 of the Best Polymer-Frame Pistols

It is no secret that polymer-frame striker-fired pistols dominate today’s market. This dominance isn’t completely based on affordability, but on performance as well. There are cheap polymer-frame guns, and there are pricey polymer-frame pistols. However, most are considered affordable.

The most common adjective used to describe polymer-frame handguns is reliability. Reliability, as demonstrated by the Glock pistol, is the primary requisite of a personal defense handgun. Reliability cannot be compromised, but of course, affordability is also a factor.

IWB holster female shooters
When choosing a defensive pistol, you must consider whether it will be available strictly in the home or for concealed carry as well.

Why choose polymer-frame pistols?

We cannot all afford custom 1911 handguns or high-end CZ types. Many who could afford any type of handgun trust polymer-frame pistols for daily carry.

Some handguns are not the easiest to master with limited training time. All shooters are not gun cranks, they simply need personal protection. They want a handgun that is simple to use, fires well, and is reliable.

Polymer-frame handguns eliminate the bar stock metal used in other handguns. They are also able to forgo the expensive and time-consuming machine operations. Frills are eliminated in modern pistols. Barrel bushings, swinging links, and complex trigger mechanisms are expensive to machine and fit. Without repeating enumerated fallacies concerning polymer-frame striker-fired pistols, we must instead have a working distinction between fact and fiction.

Quality striker-fired handguns, with their firing pin blocks (sometimes called a drop safety), blade lever safeties set in the trigger, and safe action triggers, are as safe as any modern pistol. It is the user who renders a pistol unsafe. There were plenty of negligent discharges with revolvers as an example.

There have been with Glock pistols as well and by the same type of people. Striker-fired handguns do not suffer fools lightly, but then, what handguns do?

Glock 19X laying on a bed of spent brass at a shooting range
The Glock 19X is a first-class combat pistol.

The simple trigger action, with its rapid reset, offers excellent practical accuracy. Hand fit, practical accuracy, and physical principles leading to a successful defense are present. On the other end of the spectrum, a certain amount of chutzpah is present when makers claim polymer-frame pistols have reached ‘perfection.’

They are very good but nothing man-made is perfect. For most shooters, most of the time, the polymer-frame striker-fired handgun is well-suited to personal defense. Let’s look at five of the best polymer-framed striker-fired pistols. These were not just pulled out of a hat or a catalog. I use each often and have found them at the top of the heap.

Glock 19X

The Glock 19X has increasingly become one of the most popular Glock pistols. This handgun features a full-size Glock 17 frame. However, the 9mm Glock 19X utilizes the Glock 19’s shorter slide. The result is among the finest balanced handguns in the world.

Holster wear on the muzzle end of a Glock 19x handgun
This is one of the first 19X pistols. The finish is worn but not enough to invite corrosion.

The full-size handle allows a full firing grip when the pistol is grasped and drawn. The short slide allows good concealment. The short sight radius allows getting the pistol on target quickly. While there is a place for both the Glock 17 and the Glock 19, the Glock 19X 9mm remains among the best-handling pistols in the Glock lineup. The similar Glock 45 9mm is another great choice.

Bul Axe Cleaver

The new Bul pistol is deserving of a full report, and you will get it here. This handgun features a revamped and carefully redesigned grip frame. The front strap and back strap offer excellent abrasion and adhesion. The trigger action is well designed with a sharp reset.

Forward cocking serrations on the front of the slide of a Bul Axe 9mm handgun
Forward cocking serrations are a great design unique to the Bul.

The Axe Cleaver 9mm features a gorgeous slide with extremely interesting machine work. While a new handgun, reliability seems excellent in testing. The Bul Axe Cleaver pistol offers a bit of bling in a dull, black polymer world. It is a Glock 17-sized handgun.

SIG P365 XL Spectre

This is a SIG P365XL 9mm, so it handles well and exhibits good reliability. The pistol features SIG X-RAY night sights among the best designs available. The straight trigger offers excellent control. Putting 12 rounds into this size handgun is quite an accomplishment — especially when it is accomplished in a pistol with modest recoil.

SIG Sauer P365XL Spectre 9mm semi-automatic handgun, right profile
SIG’s P365XL Spectre is among the author’s favorite pistols.

The P365XL is surprisingly accurate. The Spectre improvements are primary in finish, grip texture, and a dramatically unique slide. While not strictly necessary, they certainly give the end user a great deal of pride of ownership.

Smith and Wesson M&P 2.0 10mm

By a curious turn of events ranging over a space of several years, this handgun has become my favorite 10mm. Not only that, but it has also replaced a few heavy revolvers in the role of protection against animals when hiking and camping.

Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 10mm handgun, right profile
Smith & Wesson’s 2.0 M&P 10mm is a reliable and hard-hitting pistol.

The sights and trigger are excellent. Smith and Wesson designed a recoil system that controls 10mm recoil better than most. With 15 cartridges in the magazine, relatively light weight, and good practical accuracy, the Military & Police 2.0 10mm is a standout in the Smith and Wesson lineup. While I would be hard-pressed to choose a favorite 9mm, this is my favorite 10mm — hands down.

Walther PPQ Sub-Compact

This is a seldom-seen variant of the popular PPQ 9mm pistol. While the PPQ SC is a bit thick across the slide, the whole package is surprisingly light and concealable. With the extended 15-round magazine in place, the Walther PPQ SC is more of a compact size, but then these definitions sometimes split hairs.

Walther PPQ compact 9mm pistol, right profile
The Walther PPQ compact 9mm is an exceptionally well-handling pistol.

The Walther PPQ SC handles very well. I am not prepared to say this handgun shoots better than any other 9mm of the size, but it would not surprise me, as it does shoot very well. Ambidextrous slide locks make for rapid speed loads. I don’t like the shorter grip and magazine, but if you need that type of concealment, this is a good choice. The Walther PPQ 9mm compact/sub-compact pistol is a very good pistol with much to recommend.

If we made a list of the 5 best polymer-frame pistols or top 500, I am sure we would miss someone’s favorite. Share your favorite polymer pistols in the Comment section.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September of 2022. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

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