Designed to vanquish all comers to the Army’s XM17 Modular Handgun System competition to replace the Beretta M9, the APX was one of about a dozen designs submitted for evaluation. Although the Army selected the SIG Sauer P320 for its needs, the APX is, nonetheless, a winning new design with very good functional features and an exceptionally solid build. Here’s why.
“AP” stands for “Advanced Pistol”; the “X” is Beretta’s designation for “polymer-framed firearm intended for Military or LE, such as the PX4, CX4, and ARX,” according to the company. The full-sized version was the first out of the gate, but this year, Beretta will launch additional APX variants, including a compact, Centurion, RDO and Combat model. RDO models accommodate red-dot optics, while Centurions have full-sized grips but compact-length barrels. Combat models have threaded barrels and are RDO-capable. There’s even a late-year Target version in the works that has a compensated barrel, adjustable sights and competition trigger.
The APX is made at Beretta’s flagship plant in Gardone, Italy, and is chambered in 9mm Luger or .40 S&W. It is a double-action, striker-fired pistol that uses the familiar modified Browning tilt-up barrel locking system. The striker spring is slightly pre-tensioned after the slide is cycled, and depressing the trigger fully cocks and releases it, as with Glocks, M&Ps and many others.
The 9mm APX holds 17+1 rounds and is 7.55 inches long, 5.6 inches high, 1.3 inches wide and weighs 26.8 ounces unloaded. The 4.45-inch barrel is hammer forged. These dimensions are slightly shorter than the Glock G17, but with near-identical barrel length and a bit more weight from the APX’s more-prominent use of steel instead of polymer.
Like several of Beretta’s polymer-framed firearms, the APX has an appearance that departs from design orthodoxy, with uniquely shaped cocking grooves along the entire slide and a squared-off trigger guard. However, unlike the Neos, PX4 and Cx4 Storm, which were designed by Italdesign Giugiaro (which styles/engineers for Lamborghini, Bugatti and Audi, among others), Beretta designed the APX in-house; and its unconventional appearance seems to spring from functional reasons, not aesthetics, which turned out to be “un-glamorous” to some Americans’ sense of style. The slide allows the shooter to securely grasp it anywhere to manipulate it, and the squared-off trigger guard is intended to provide a solid stop for lights, according to the company.
Beretta intends to sell the APX in every state except California (where the foolish, unproven technology of microstamping is mandated for all new handgun designs) and Massachusetts (because of uncertainty in how the attorney general could reinterpret the law regulating which pistols may be sold in that state). If desired or mandated, the APX can be ordered with a loaded chamber indicator that sits atop the slide, a magazine disconnect safety and/or an ambidextrous thumb safety. The safety levers can be installed where the rear takedown pin is now located without permanent modification of any parts.
The APX incorporates what I consider the future of firearms design: modularity made possible by a removable chassis frame that forms the slide rails and contains the trigger, sear, disconnector, ejector and slide stop levers. The chassis frame is the serialized part, which defines the firearm for legal purposes. Its removability enables the user to configure a single firearm into multiple weapons in different calibers and in different sizes of pistol—and even into a rifle. Essentially, the pullout chassis will enable the APX to evolve for the ever-changing demands of the consumer.
“Like several of Beretta’s polymer-framed firearms, the APX has an appearance that departs from design orthodoxy, with uniquely-shaped cocking grooves along the entire slide and a squared-off trigger guard.”
It also makes a thorough cleaning easier than on some non-modular designs, on which components are attached with pins and a detailed strip is required to clean and inspect them. Beretta offers different sizes of grip frames, slide/barrel assemblies and perhaps a .45 ACP version in the future, but a rifle configuration, such as the shoulder stock and barrel that transformed the Neos pistol into a carbine, is not yet on the horizon. Interestingly, the APX and the SIG P320 were the only truly modular pistols submitted to the Army’s trials, because other designs merely offered interchangeable backstraps or grip panels.
The removable chassis frame also saves FFL transfer fees and paperwork and allows grip frames to be customized and gunsmithed without fear of ruining the serialized component if the project goes awry. The Beretta online store sells full-sized grip frames in three different colors, each with a matching set of backstraps, for only $50. Users also save the substantial federal excise tax associated with buying a complete firearm. Finally, a custom firearm can be made without the hassle and multitude of legal restrictions that apply to shipping and handling a non-modular firearm.
The chassis frame is made of stamped stainless steel, and the internal parts are attached to it by pins, rather than welds, for easy removal and replacement. The frame is attached to the grip by a single roll pin at the rear and by the takedown lever in the front (it is removable without special talent; but refer to the Gun World website for a video that will save you time).
Reliable engineering and robust construction seem to have driven this pistol’s design, with steel used in places other makers use polymer; this includes the recoil spring guide rod, sights and slide back plate. The steel parts, including the barrel, are Nitride-treated for a harder, corrosion-resistant finish. The barrel is cold hammer forged, making it among the most durable types made and typically outlasts barrels made using other methods. The grip frame is a fiberglass-polymer mixture that is thicker than competitive models in some areas.
A throated chamber ensures reliable feeding of hollow-point bullets, and a wide extractor made of heat-treated steel makes extraction more certain. The APX also uses dual recoil springs that, according to Beretta, “offer the best combination of performance and ease of manipulation without the need for a special progressive rate spring.”
“The APX incorporates what I consider the future of firearms design: modularity made possible by a removable chassis frame that forms the slide rails and contains the trigger, sear, disconnector, ejector and slide stop levers.”
The parts’ fit and finish are very good, with only a hint of machine tool marks between some of the slide serrations; these marks have no bearing on function.
The APX offers very good ergonomics for right- and left-handed operators, starting with three different-sized backstraps designed to provide comfort and a close-to-ideal positioning of the finger on the trigger (although my hands are medium sized, the large backstrap gave me the best grip). Interchangeable backstraps are hardly new, but Beretta’s execution of the concept is far better than most of its competitors’ because the material is flexible rubber, not hard plastic. Plus, the grips add length and width, and the texture affords a good mix of comfort and adhesion. The front of the grip features wide, shallow finger grooves with very good texture; and for those whose fingers don’t fit the grooves, Beretta offers grip frames without them.
The magazine release button sits at an ideal spot for the thumb of the firing hand and is easily reversible to the other side—more so than on some other designs. Slide lock levers are bilateral and accessible with the thumb. Although smaller and sitting closer to the frame than I prefer, the APX’s levers are better than those on Glock and M&P, which are entirely too small and sit too close to the frame to be accessible under stress or if wearing anything heavier than very lightweight gloves. And accessible, easily worked levers are important, especially when the slide should be locked open to readily clear a double-feed stoppage. The APX comes with night sights using the typical three-dot pattern, and the RDO model also accepts reflex optics on the slide. Dovetail mounts allow for drifting adjustments. One of the better, albeit subtle, features of this pistol is the trigger shoe shape, which dispenses with popular notions of what a “combat trigger” needs to be.
Much wider than most designs to reduce the perceived weight of pull, the APX’s smooth-faced trigger shoe gives a feeling of better control than the typically narrower, grooved-faced trigger. My sample had a total pull weight of 6 pounds, 2 ounces, measured with a Lyman electronic gauge. There was some takeup, a significant amount of creep typical of double-action striker mechanisms and some overtravel—which should be removed if Beretta decides to change anything on this pistol.
“Reliable engineering and robust construction seem to have driven this pistol’s design, with steel used in places other makers use polymer…”
One aspect of the APX I did not like was the gradual thickening of the trigger guard near the grip, which made the underside of my trigger finger drag as it pressed rearward on the trigger. It wasn’t drastic enough to be an annoyance; however, it is easily fixed with a Dremel tool. A Beretta rep explained to me that this was added to the design because the fabric on some gloves could become stuck under the trigger without it.
Takedown of striker-fired pistols with pre-tensioned strikers often requires pulling the trigger, which allows the slide assembly to move forward off the frame without catching onto the sear. That can create a hazard for the careless and ignorant, who don’t always check the chamber for a round (is anyone still around who would do that?). This hazard can be avoided with the APX, because it can be disassembled in two ways: One involves pulling the trigger, and the other involves disengaging the sear from the striker. The latter method is time-consuming and requires dexterity, and I suspect it won’t be used that often as a result. With this method, retract the slide slightly and hold it. Then press a small, spring-loaded button (the “striker deactivation”) on the right side of the frame inward with a nail or pen point. Depress the takedown lever leftward, rotate it down, and pull the slide forward, off the chassis rails. The simpler method is to verify the chamber is clear, press and rotate the takedown lever, keep the pistol pointed in a safe direction and pull the trigger, allowing the slide to be removed. Removing the magazine is required as step one in either procedure.
I tested the APX for accuracy by shooting three different loads at 20 yards from sandbags and then for reliability with three more. My sample pistol shot 1 to 2 inches lower than point of aim, because the sights were regulated to place the shot under the white dot of the front sight, instead of just above the front sight’s top edge. This is consistent with how SIG Sauer pistols are sighted, and Beretta sells two types of adjustable sights with fiber-optic inserts for those who prefer a different sight picture (I intend to buy one for mine and use an MGW Sight Pro Tool to replace them). The APX did not deliver the type of accuracy I expected—but neither is it an inaccurate pistol. The average-sized group of eight attempts for each load fired from a rest at 20 yards ranged from 2.28 to 2.57 inches. Off-hand performance might be improved by replacing the stock trigger with Beretta’s competition trigger and by removing the trigger’s overtravel. Reliability was flawless, with zero stoppages in more than 300 rounds tested.
“One of the better, albeit subtle, features of this pistol is the trigger shoe shape, which dispenses with popular notions of what a “combat trigger” needs to be.”
Beretta’s attention to crafting the APX’s grip design resulted in a pistol that is extremely easy to point and easy to control. The wide radius of the trigger guard’s undercut, shallow finger grooves with texture on the front strap, along with a broad backstrap, all worked in unison to reduce muzzle rise, making perceived recoil feel as if I were shooting a less-powerful caliber. One-handed shooting was also far easier than with many other pistols I have tested. This makes the APX a pistol you can spend lots of time shooting without experiencing any degree of hand
fatigue from recoil. Although the smaller slide lock levers had me concerned, I could manipulate the dominant-side lever, even when wearing medium-weight gloves. Plus, judiciously bending the levers slightly outward improved accessibility. Fully loaded magazines locked in place easily, even with the slide closed, making tactical reloads on the move more fluid.
BERETTA GOT IT RIGHT
I would have liked better accuracy, better-regulated sights and a trigger without overtravel (which the APX competition version might provide)—but that didn’t stop me from buying two APXs for my range. Beretta got many design aspects correct and succeeded in crafting a duty pistol that won’t be outdated soon. Yes, the Army preferred the SIG Sauer P320 for its requirements, but the APX could be ideal for yours, as a result of its good ergonomics and exceptional comfort and control during live fire. Its heavy-duty construction promises durability over the long run that will likely eclipse other polymer-framed pistols when shooting a steady diet of the +P NATO loads for which it was intended. Its modular chassis is the wave of the future, with benefits that will become obvious as Beretta rolls out different slide/barrel assemblies and perhaps even totally new platforms in which it can be used.
Finally, with an MSRP of $575 and a street price of about $500, the APX is extremely competitive, given its quality and features.
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NOTES: Accuracy was measured using eight five-shot groups fired at 20 yards from sandbags and measured center to center. Velocity was measured 15 feet from the muzzle with an Oehler 35P chronograph.
CALIBER: 9mm Parabellum
OAL: 7.55 inches
HEIGHT: 5.6 inches
WIDTH: 1.3 inches
BARREL: 4.25 inches
WEIGHT: 26.8 ounces (unloaded)
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the May 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.