SiG-SAUER P-220R Pistol
By David Tong
Over my decades-long interest in the semi-automatic self-defense handgun, I have owned and shot the majority of designs, from the late 1890's to the early 21st Century. While unapologetic in my fondness for the Browning-designed 1911 pistol as “the ultimate gun fighting handgun,” mostly due to a trigger system that makes it easy to shoot accurately and repeatedly, I have also often wondered if a manufacturer could negate some of the downsides of the 1911 design. These include a lack of adherence to the original blueprinted design dimensions by different manufacturers, often making necessary the hand-fitting of parts to ensure proper function, the need to memorize a field strip procedure that requires the removal of and accounting for small parts that can be lost or replaced incorrectly and concern over the pistol’s weight, which many find a burden for concealed carry.
I first became aware of the P-220 design in the mid-1980's, when a colleague of mine invited me to a range session to compare it to my Colt Government Model. While I was able to shoot the 1911 better and faster, the P-220 appeared to address the other observations in being more easily maintained and lighter. I filed this information away for over 25 years.
I recently acquired a current P-220R, this letter suffix meaning the pistol has a proprietary accessory rail for the fitment of lights and lasers. It also came equipped with factory SiG-Lite night sights with tritium elements.
When shooting my friend’s P-220 all those years ago, I noticed that the pistol had “lost” a bit of the slim feel that the single stack 1911 had. The reach to the trigger for that first double action shot and the width of the grip meant that I had to adjust a fair bit to become acclimated to it. Back then, the P-220 came only one way, with these larger stocks and a thick trigger blade.
Nowadays though, the pistol can be ordered with slim stocks (with notably more aggressive stippling) for better grip, as well as a thinned trigger blade, which also did a pretty good job of mimicking the single action feel and reach of the 1911 when shot in SA mode. Here are some specifications for the P-220R:
Such was the case with the P-220R. While there was no marking on the label of the factory black box that suggested the fitment of the slim grips and trigger, I certainly appreciated their inclusion for my size medium hands. The company website offers these parts at well under $100 shipped, so if there are any 1911 shooters out there who have been curious to give one of these pistols a try, they aren’t prohibitively expensive.
Many of the European-designed autos have a take down latch incorporated to simplify the dismounting and cleaning. This feature is easily the biggest time saver. One only needs to drop the magazine, rack the slide to lock, rotate the lever down 90 degrees clockwise and pull the top end off the receiver group.
More than that, when the slide is further stripped, one needs only to grip the recoil guide rod and spring, withdraw same as a unit and lift up and rear on the barrel. With that, you have finished normal stripping for routine cleaning. This eliminates the need to account for a separate barrel bushing, slide stop and recoil spring plug, in addition to the barrel and spring assembly shared by both.
Reassembly is in reverse order, and one doesn’t have to align the swinging link with the hole in the receiver to accept the slide stop pin, or correctly rotate the barrel bushing into place after placing the barrel in the slide. Mind you, this is no big deal for a "1911 person," but it is part of the ritual and probably more importantly, the possible consequences of lost parts if one has to do this under timed duress, such as combat, is greatly reduced.
This is fine, but if the pistol doesn’t shoot, all the convenience in the world does not matter. Well, when the Swiss-German consortium designed the pistol, they probably had little idea that their use of a squared-barrel locking abutment using the forward edge of the ejection port as a simplification of the Browning style tilt lock action would become the prevalent type used by makers of semi-auto pistols world wide.
The reasons are simple. First, it is far easier to ensure the dimensional accuracy of the barrel’s seating within the dimensions of the ejection port for headspace control, for eliminating side to side and end slop. Secondarily, this system is somewhat more self-cleaning than the annular grooved locking lugs of the Colt 1911, Browning Hi-Power and Czech CZ-75 designs, in that the breechblock itself acts as a crud cutter and scrapes powder and dirt away during normal recoil cycling of the action.
Finally, eliminating the slide stop’s need to govern the tilting of the unlocked barrel and the barrel link simplified the action, plus it also largely eliminates the impact loads the frame must endure when the recoiling barrel strikes the slide stop pin on an aluminum framed Colt Commander. The SiG design uses an internal steel chassis, housed within the P-220s aluminum frame, which regulates the timing of the unlocking sequence.
Most shooters who have experienced both designs would agree that the P-220 works more reliably and shoots more accurately than a stock 1911. However, the P-220 does not have the same low geometric bore center as the earlier arm and it flips more on recoil. Neither does it have quite the same straight back, short stroke, minimal take-up/release/over travel feel to the trigger.
SiG-SAUER is aware of this latter issue and offers a short reset trigger conversion for roughly $100 that is promised to provide a 65% reduction in the reset distance for fast single action shots. However, due to the designs use of a trigger that pivots around a frame cross pin, there is no chance they will be able to duplicate the straight-line action of the 1911.
Shooting wise, my particular example first time out placed all rounds of generic PMC 230 grain hardball into one ragged hole at 20 feet, just a bit left of point of aim, but completely within the black of an NRA 25-yard slow fire pistol target. With some slight minor drifting of the rear sight, I suspect that this pistol should do good work out to 50 yards or so, which is probably as far out as one should use a service pistol, anyway.
Speaking again of the accessory rail, for some reason SiG-Sauer deemed it necessary to create a curved rail system with a unique crosscut section. This means that the P-220R may be a non-starter in the periodic requests for proposal by DoD for a new .45 ACP service pistol, as any design submitted must use the far more prevalent Picatinny rail design used on virtually all U.S. military small arms, up to and including the M2 .50 heavy machine gun.
SiG is not alone in doing this and other manufacturers, including Beretta, Glock, Heckler & Koch and Smith & Wesson have all had to shelve their proprietary rails for the more-ubiquitous Picatinny. While I have also purchased the factory’s GTL-900 light/laser device, its plastic construction may not be as robust as some other designs in heavy use.
In short, I think a 1911 person can peacefully co-exist with a SiG P-220. They are reliable, shoot straight and heft about like a Colt Commander for concealed carry. Far from being a burden, the capability that the P-220R brings to the table, in a more refined, compact and lighter package, is quite attractive.
NOTE: This review is mirrored on the Product Reviews page.
Copyright 2011, 2016 by David Tong and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.