By Trampas Swanson

When the US military searched for a new service pistol to replace their aging Beretta semi-automatics, SIG Sauer answered the call. After a long, grueling series of expert testing, the polymer, striker-fired SIG model P320 beat out submissions by other top names in the industry such as Glock, FN and Smith & Wesson to win the Modular Handgun System trials. As the announcement came in January of 2017, the model P320 would be renamed the M17 with a compact version titled the M18, both chambered in 9mm. Sadly, initial design flaws reported possible cartridge ignition when dropped onto the rear of the slide. Fortunately, the internal issue that caused the problem seemed to have been corrected quickly. Military representative reports show the new training and equipment have already begun to integrate smoothly.

Since the $580 million military contract announcement, civilian sales have seen an all time high for P320, and this has created three new variants under the X-series. The new variants sport subtle custom features to make each unique and more functional. Of the three models (P320X-Frame, P320 X-VTAC and P320 X-Carry), the most striking must be the X-VTAC. This week’s article not only looks at the P320 X-VTAC variant’s design specifications but why it is a superior option to the original design as well.

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Background

To start with, I had the opportunity a few months ago to extensively shoot a standard issue P320 SIG SAUER in 9mm. The relatively straight drop grip angle and long trigger pull left me with a less than stellar opinion on the pistol. While I wasn’t overly impressed, my time with the standard P320 laid a great foundation for reviewing variants of the base model in the future. 

When I learned the X-VTAC variant would be available for testing soon after, I was excited to give the P320 platform another chance. Why would I be excited about a second round with a pistol I wasn’t very fond of the first time tested you ask? Not only does the X-VTAC feature the much better designed “X” frame, but SIG teamed up with someone I deeply respect in the firearms training industry, gunfighting guru and Viking Tactics founder, Sgt Major Kyle Lamb (Retired). This collaboration added much needed extra features to basically create a factory custom pistol offered to SIG shooters.

First Look

When the T&E sample pistol arrived at my local FFL dealer for pick up, I rushed to the gun shop to check it out. When I opened the standard black plastic SIG Sauer gun case, I was captivated with the good looking two-tone finish. The slide came direct from the factory with a smooth, non-reflective Flat Dark Earth Cerakote finish that was in good contrast its black polymer frame. While looks do nothing for performance, I have never liked colorful or decorative colors on guns. Also, I have always felt non-black colors on firearms were better as accent tones rather than full schemes. Perfect case in point, as much as I liked the Glock 19X derivative of their company’s military contract submission, the pistol’s lines seem to have been lost in the completely coated brown finish. I was happy to see SIG take a different approach with their civilian offering.

Slide Reductions

Anyone who has had experience with the standard P320 would immediately recognize the slide reduction along the top and sides. These reductions were put in place to aid in reducing muzzle flip during recoil. To begin with, the slide’s top surface was milled down leaving only a small hump at the original slide height for the front and rear sights to mount. Down the center of the slide’s top, a series of grooves were cut running from the base of the rear sight hump to front sight parallel to one another. These grooves can have an influence on glare reduction, weight reduction as well as aid in eye focus on the front sight.

A subtle change was made to the slide’s wide curved top profile by cutting to a steeper angle. In working the action, the slide felt thinner in my hand due to those cuts and the deep cocking serrations that were located at the front and rear of the slide. Located above front serrations were one of the most noticeable weight reductions made in the form of what SIG calls “lightening cuts.” These two cuts ran approximately 1.2” across the side of the slide. If press checking a pistol is your “thing,” these cuts did not interfere with doing so smoothly.

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Sights

Atop the slide were a set of front and rear sights from Viking Tactics (VTAC) that differ greatly from the standard white 3 dot system offered with the P320. These new sights offer basically two sights in one. The top set are a bright green in the rear sight and fire red in the front sight. Below these are a set of small night sights that glow brightly under extreme low light settings.

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X-Carry Frame

The X-Carry frame used by the X-VTAC was noticeably different from the standard P320 as well. The shortened dust cover and rail still offered plenty of space for a tactical light but gave the overall appearance of the gun a 1911 look with the bottom of the slide being exposed. The grip used the same textured stippling as the original P320 but came higher up on the frame to give it a more controllable feel. From the rear of the frame stretched an extended beaver tail that felt great in the hand during dry fire. Again, this seemed to give a nod to the 1911 design.

Trigger

Finally, my inspection came to the trigger. This was not a high point of my experience with the P320 testing prior to this article. Fortunately, the X-VTAC was equipped with the X-Trigger in a straight configuration that I had heard so many great things about. According to my research, this trigger was roughly the same 5.8 lb. pull weight as the standard trigger but offered two items to make the felt weight seem much lighter. First the straight configuration feels more comfortable to the trigger finger and allows a reduced angle in which the weight is pulled. Secondly, the actual distance of travel and point at which the trigger breaks is reduced. Instead breaking past 90 degrees on the trigger’s path of travel, it breaks earlier at the 90 degree mark where a larger muscle in the finger is exerting pressure. Without getting into a term paper on biomechanics, I will just say that using larger muscles and tendons to do a job is always a large benefit over smaller ones.

An added benefit of the P320 series including the X-VTAC is the serialized fire control group which by ATF standards is classified as the actual firearm. The serial number is visible through a cut out in the frame. For around $40, additional frames including a shortened grip version can be purchased to change the overall carry size of the pistol. To change out frames, the pistol must be field stripped and the take down lever must be rotated upward and removed from the left side. Next the fire control pack is simply lifted up and out of the frame for removal. This is especially handy for those who like to change up the color of their guns from time to time.

320 X-VTAC SPECS

  • CALIBER: 9mm Luger
  • ACTION TYPE: Semi-Auto
  • FRAME SIZE: Full-Size
  • GRIP TYPE: Modular Polymer X-Series
  • FRAME MATERIAL: Stainless Steel
  • SLIDE FINISH: Flat Dark Earth
  • SLIDE MATERIAL: Stainless Steel
  • ACTION: Striker
  • TRIGGER TYPE: X-Series Straight
  • BARREL LENGTH: 4.7 in (119 mm)
  • OVERALL LENGTH: 8.2 in (208 mm)
  • OVERALL WIDTH: 1.3 in (33 mm)
  • HEIGHT: 5.6 in (142 mm)
  • WEIGHT: 28.7 oz (0.81 kg)

Range Time

First Range Session

For the initial range session, I took a trip to our private training grounds affectionally known as “The Swamp.” With the X-TAC being chambered only in 9mm, I had SIG Sauer send along some of their SIG 9mm 115 gr. FMJ Ammunition for use in breaking in the barrel and testing. After loading up the three factory supplied 17 round magazines, I started with a few basic double tap drills at 3 yards on 2” inch circular targets. Immediately, I noticed how tall VTAC sights appeared to be. At the given distance, my shots impacted roughly 1.5” low. Shot after shot, my groups were consistently one jagged hole working out to 7 yards. Even early on, X-VTAC barrel lived up to high standard of accuracy SIG Sauer is well known for.

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The primary focus of the first range session was to get a good volume of rounds through the barrel. During both slow and rapid fire, I wanted to test its reliability and to see how it functions and performs as the round count grew. The first 300 rounds sent down range not only saw zero malfunctions but provided stellar accuracy at typical defensive ranges as well. Notes from this session included sights, trigger and recoil management. The sights were clear and easy to require after the first shot. The trigger felt great and provided a very short trigger reset. Recoil was very manageable and allowed for a quick recover for follow up shots. Towards the end of the session, it began to rain as I was shooting. The textured grip of the X-VTAC really excelled at staying functional even as the pistol started to get wet. As I changed magazines, the cocking serrations were also easy to use without a single slip with wet hands. These points were almost an afterthought while shooting but compared to other handguns I have shot in the rain; the SIG was rock solid while soaking wet.

Second Range Session

The second range test session would be a completely different dynamic for testing overall. Instead of being outdoors, this session would be held at On Target Sports indoor range located in Orange Park, FL. Prior to opening for the day, I met with fellow Swanson Media Group writers Clint Steele and Craig Reinolds.

For this test session, shooters took turns running the X-VTAC with a variety of ammunition including Remington 115 grain FMJ, Hornady 124 grain JHP, Winchester 147 grain bonded JHP and SIG 115 JHP. As the pistol chewed up each brand of ammo, the biggest noticeable difference in recoil and performance came with the 147 grain loads from Winchester. The recoil was slightly lighter while shot groupings across the board seemed to be slightly lower at 15 and 20 yard strings of fire. All in all, the groupings were much better than my original testing of the P320.

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Critiques

It’s no secret, I as well my teammates, Clint and Craig are primarily Glock guys when it comes to daily carry. With that in mind, there was a bit of critique from the team regarding the height of the sights. As I noted during my first session, the height of the sights indeed take time to get use to and adjustments need to be made according to the distance from the target. With the lower height of the Glock sights, point of aim / point of impact seem to be a bit more in line with the barrel.

All shooters enjoyed the straight trigger and commented on how crisp it broke. Everyone loved the short trigger reset and overall good feel of each shot breaking. With Clint being left handed while Craig and I are shoot primary right handed, it is not uncommon to see strings of fire fade to one side or the other. This pistol kept rounds impacted dead center in the middle regardless of shooter. I think this had a lot to do with the controllable recoil ,ambidextrous grip, and short trigger travel regardless if I am shooting strong or weak handed.

As Clint Steele pointed out, the ambidextrous forward swept slide lock was very comfortable for a left-handed shooter. I completely agree as it made the pistol easier to operate when I ran the gun through a few “weak hand only” drills. By giving the slide stop a forward swept, it prevents the shooter’s hand from riding up and inadvertently engaging the lever thus locking the slide back during shooting. By having an ambidextrous slide stop, the shooter does not have to change techniques or grip when switching hands, only mirror the motions of each hand. In his opinion, Clint stated the pistol was the first example he has seen of SIG’s acknowledgement of left-handed shooters. With roughly 15% of the world’s population being “wrong handed” as Clint likes to point out, the firearms industry has traditionally over looked these fine folks.

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Craig Reinolds added the sights took some getting use to due to their height in relation to natural point of aim. Despite the learning curve, even Craig’s first five round grouping at five yards was one jagged hole in the dead center X of the target. Craig’s final thoughts on the pistol were very encouraging. Craig felt the SIG was very well designed and comfortable to use even for a diehard loyal Glock fan.

Final Thoughts

As the 120 day testing period expired, I was pleasantly surprised with my new outlook on the SIG P320 series. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed testing the SIG Sauer P320 X-TAC pistol. The redesign of the “X” frame combined with the subtle changes made to the slide and frame address the items I was not originally found of in the standard P320. If I had to pick one specific change that really made the difference, it would be the X-trigger. While most of the changes were either cosmetic or weight reducing, the trigger change from the standard P320 helped keep tighter groups and make for an overall more comfortable range session.

SIG sets the MSRP for the P320 X-TAC pistol around $918, which is almost $300 in difference from the standard P320. For those who may initially be turned off from the price gap, consider a few items before even looking at what the actual price under MSRP can be found for. The upgraded trigger is around $200, and the enhanced frame would cost hundreds of dollars to recontour from an aftermarket company. In addition, the set of V-TAC brand sights that usually run for $150 – $ 175. For those who enjoy recontour and two tone look of the Cerakoted FDE slide, consider the $300 – $400 mill work and $80 – $100 cost from an aftermarket supplier for refinish. For most factory custom pistols of this degree, prices commonly exceed the $1200.00 mark.

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If you are in the market for a duty size 9mm pistol with a wide array of extras, I highly recommend the SIG SAUER P320 X-VTAC. This variant of the standard P320 is miles ahead of the original and straight out of the box, out performs most guns in its class. In my opinion, X-VTAC is well on its way to winning the hearts and minds of shooters on ranges across the country. Before I close, I would like to extend a special thanks to the amazing staff at On Target Sports in Orange Park, Florida for hosting another great experience testing guns and gear.