Worth the Wait: S&W M&P9L 2.0 Upgrade Benefits from 12 Years of Users’ Feedback

By Todd Burgreen

The S&W M&P polymer-frame striker-fired handguns quickly evolved into an industry leader among duty and personal defense handguns after arriving on the scene in 2005. The M&P lineup of handguns became the greatest market competitor for Mr. Gaston’s Glock here in the US. S&W have recently decided to update their M&P handgun lineup via a 2.0 upgrade. After all, it would smack as arrogant to assume that the customer feedback from more than 12 years of being on the market would not benefit the handgun.

The M&P has always attracted admirers thanks to its ergonomics. For example, its 18-degree grip found favor with many who argued it offered better natural point of aim than the Glock’s 22-degree grip angle. Thankfully, S&W did not change the grip angle with the 2.0 upgrade. Instead, they focused on other aspects, such as the trigger, the extended stainless integral chassis, lowering the grip to bore axis, reducing the beavertail, including four interchangeable backstraps (versus three), the rear sight profile, the new slide serrations/lightening cuts and the grip texture.

It is best to think of the S&W M&P lineup of handguns as a “system” stretching from the Shield, Compact and Standard to the Long slide models. The S&W M&P “secret” to success is minimal operating controls, high cartridge capacity to size ratio, relentless reliability and, to paraphrase a famous political advertisement, “it is the trigger, stupid … .” While the grip size may change, the position of the slide and magazine releases will instantly be familiar. An even better illustration of the S&W M&P “system” would be the similar trigger pull found on all M&Ps. Simplicity should not be confused as a lack of refinement.

The M&P 2.0 used as the test bed for this article’s T&E was an FDE M&P9L 2.0. The “L” designates a 5-inch barrel; something that was only available from the S&W Performance Center before the S&W 2.0 upgrade. The handgun arrived with low profile ambidextrous manual safety and slide release controls. The M&P9L 2.0 has an overall length of 8.3 inches, with the 5-inch barrel and dust cover featuring a MIL-STD 1913 accessory rail. The handgun’s slide is covered with a Flat Dark Earth Cerakote, applied over corrosion-resistant nitride ARMORNITE finish. It is equipped with front and rear cocking serrations, with the external extractor visible along the side. Unlike the rear scallop serrations, the front serrations are only along the bottom of the slide—they do not extend up to the top of the slide. A loaded chamber indicator is located on top of the M&P9L’s slide. The cold hammer-forged barrel features land and groove rifling with a polished chamber and wide feed ramp. The M&P9L 2.0 weighs 27 ounces empty.

The S&W modifications with the M&P 2.0 center on enhancing the handgun’s interaction with the user, especially in terms of placing multiple rounds on target accurately, efficiently and reliably. The M&P9L’s slide mass and shape are engineered to aid muzzle control for double taps or longer strings of fire. The pistol’s low bore axis relative to the shooter’s hand minimizes muzzle flip to maintain a very stable sight picture, regardless of the rate or quantity of rounds fired.

The M&P9L 2.0 was put through beta testing by various members of the S&W competition teams. Their input is evident in the aforementioned details, along with other M&P9L design features. For example, the M&P9L’s hinged trigger with 5.5-pound trigger pull and short reset is another feature that users will favor and further indication of the S&W designers listening to feedback from customers.

The range testing of the S&W M&P9L 2.0 took place at Echo Valley Training Center. Two main T&E priorities were to make sure that the M&P9L 2.0’s reliability was beyond reproach and to ascertain whether the handgun offered something beyond the other polymer handguns on the market. Of first concern, the M&P9L 2.0 handled several types of ammunition without a problem. Firing began with basic drills to get acclimated with the trigger, sights and overall feel. Brass and steel ammunition was used along with various bullet weights and bullet profiles. SIG SAUER Elite, Black Hills, Hornady and Winchester ammunition was used. Accuracy was in the 3- to 4-inch range for five rounds at 25 yards depending on the ammunition used.

Testing consisted of a standard protocol: establishing reliability first, then exploring field accuracy and handling. Several magazines’ worth of ammunition was spent engaging plate racks and man-sized steel targets. Drills quickly moved past stand and deliver drills to more dynamic drills involving movement, magazine reloads and firing from behind cover. The M&P9L 2.0’s iron sights quickly orient the shooter’s eye to the front sight. Years of training with various entities/instructors, such as Suarez International, Tactical Response, Jason Falla, Robert Vogel, Matt Graham, Pat McNamara and so on, provided a background of what is acceptable performance for a defensive handgun. Rapid engagement of targets was facilitated by the simplicity of the M&P9L 2.0’s operation as well as its artful ergonomics, which position the hand very well upon presentation from the holster.

After reliability was verified, I began manipulating the M&P9L 2.0 from a holster during visits to the range. General holsters, such as Yaqui slides and other similar types designed to accommodate multiple handgun shapes, allowed for the S&W to be tested to its max. Also, more of a point shooting or flash sight picture was utilized along with a one-handed firing grip. The M&P9L’s redesigned trigger combined with other frame tweaks produced accuracy superior to what I had found with other handguns in less time and at greater ranges. The longer barrel/slide of the M&P9L (compared to the 4-inch-barreled M&Ps) provides a sight radius of 7.25 inches. (For comparison’s sake, a full size 1911 has a sight radius of 6.8 inches.) This facilitates more precise aiming. The longer slide/barrel combination contributes more mass, aiding in increased muzzle control for double taps or longer strings of fire.

The original M&P handguns created a cottage industry for aftermarket trigger improvement. The new S&W 2.0 trigger reminded me of other polymer handgun selections with one important nuance. It reminded me of other triggers only after they had experienced custom work from qualified gunsmiths, including aftermarket accessories. That is meant as a compliment to the new S&W M&P 2.0 factory trigger. The new trigger is crisper and has a tactile and audible reset—something previous M&P handguns did not feature. The now standard 2.0 trigger is similar to the type found previously only in the Performance Series M&P pistols from the S&W Custom Shop.

Everyone surely agrees that a high-quality trigger is a great aid to accurate shooting. My own pet theory is that the 2.0’s trigger combined with improved ergonomics further enhances the capabilities of the M&P 2.0. Think about any handgun without a proper grip or adequate purchase combined with a substandard trigger—aim is invariably impacted. The M&P’s combination of good sights and trigger, along with S&W quality control, produces a weapon that can run plate racks at 25 yards with monotony. Along these lines, the M&P9L 2.0 can deliver multiple hits on IPSC-style targets at close range using point shooting techniques within 3–7 yards. This is a testament to its overall design quality.

I have not had enough range time with the 2.0’s predecessor to compare felt recoil between the M&P 1.0 and 2.0. However, muzzle flip and torque in the hand was minimal. Word is that the extended stainless-steel chassis, visible in side cutouts along the frame, was installed to limit the flex and torque in the frame as experienced on the previous M&Ps. S&W has achieved near optimum balance with grip texture—not too aggressive, yet still sandpaper-like to keep the M&P9L 2.0 settled in your hand. Some will appreciate the ambidextrous manual safety found on the 2.0. I clicked it up and down a few times and then left it off. It provided a solid anchor point for my thumb. The M&P 2.0 can be ordered without the manual safety.

With the M&P9L 2.0, the S&W team’s attention to detail is instantly sensed. Crucial items such as magazine release button shape, grip texture, trigger and minimizing the separation between the shooter’s hand and bore axis are seamlessly interfaced between handgun/shooter. The M&P9L 2.0 is one of the flattest-shooting handguns I have experienced. By flattest shooting, I am referring to minimal muzzle flip, with sights tracking smoothly between trigger breaks. S&W’s years of experience around the nebulous concept of “feel” allowed their engineers to make the M&P 2.0 one of best-shooting pistols on the market right out of the box.

Many may ask what the S&W M&P9L 2.0 offers to shooters compared to other polymer-framed striker-fired handguns already on the market. The answer lies more in refining the striker fired concept than anything revolutionary. The S&W M&P9L 2.0 benefits from lessons learned combined with a manufacturer intimately familiar with quality weapon production.




Black Hills Ammunition

Hornady Mfg. Inc.

Echo Valley Training Center

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N3 (March 2018)
and was posted online on February 9, 2018


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