...of recent memory. We've reviewd about 400 handguns and most of them are good at what they were intended for, but some stand out for one reason or another. In this piece we'll take a look at some of the best we've reviewed. Exclusion from this list does not mean that a handgun isn't great, it's just not in recent memory. Additionally it's important to remember that with time and experience our tastes change. What was great in 2019 is likely still great, but our attention has been drawn elsewhere.
By Category, and in no particular order, here are some of the best we've handled, categorized by application as we see it. Options for higher and lower budgets deliberately chosen. Primary firearm link is to our compelte reviews, but prices listed here are current as of the date of publishing. For more information about a particular firearm I recommend opening the full review link in another tab.
Wow on the Range
High Value Proposition
Comfy Carry Options
Wow On The Range: These are the pistols you absolutely enjoy on the range and that others are likely to ask about and want to try. Depending on your own personal preferances they may serve other rolls, but a universal trait is that they make for incredible range sessions.
BUL Armory SAS II TAC 4.25 This pistol makes shooting silly-easy as long as you can handle 1911-style operations and accept that they need more maintenance more often than the polymer striker-fired guns we've all grown lazy with. Bonus points if your range partner is proud of his Stacatto and learns you spent much less for a pistol with more features and is also reasonable for concealed carry.
Grand Power X-Calibur Less recoil than the common Bronwing action, a fluted rotating barrel, and made in a country that most Americans can't find on a map. An exotic experience from an exotic firearm. When the Mk23 models finally make it to the US they'll also be optics-ready.
General Purpose: This is a tough role to fill because the gun must have balance between traits that make them great for the range, or carry, or bedside.
Canik METE SF all of the METE line features, but in the classic 4" barrel, 15-round capacity size made famous by the Glock 19. Teya just used this at the Guardian Conference because it was close enough to her carry MC9, but a little softer to shoot and fit a basic Canik holster. Teya ran the METE SF with the Shield RMSC optic.
Grand Power K100 This has been a carry, training, and range favorite of mine for years though the 4.25" barrel may make it a little long for some to carry. No flutes on the barrel, but all of the amazing features that make Grand Power pistols so awesome to shoot. The single action may be a bit on the light and short side for some, but unless we get a wave of people demanding the decocker models we're unlikely to see them on the US market.
SIG P365 X-Macro While undeniably carry sized, this development of the P365 is also great on the range. The extra noise from the compensator is a factor to consider if you want ot carry it (LOUD indoors), but the good news is if you already own a P365 you can take advantage of the modularity to swap grips or slides to fit your needs for less than the cost of a new firearm. Our has been modified with the Sharps Bros grip module and a Holosun micro dot and really handles more like a mini race gun now.
As a complete pistol:
Bedside Blaster: It needs to have a rail for a light, and preferably a DA/SA trigger to keep things safe, but ready. Size is not as much of a factor, nor is weight, but reliability can not be questioned. Generally I prefer "house guns" be larger as that tends to afford better control and higher capacity. These options also serve well on the range.
Arex Zero 2S It's like a Sig P226, but with enhanced ergonomics and controls. These are beautifully built guns with that critical DA/SA capability. Their mass and size soaks up recoil for excellent control.
Bersa TPR9 Offering a little more muzzle velocity that the Arex, and with ambidextrous controls, the TPR9 has been one of our beside choices for years.
Extar EP45 while large-format pistols may not often come to mind, having something easy to handle with high capacity and plenty of rail space is a great option. Why 45acp? Thought more expensive for range time, once you have your defense ammo let it sit. 45acp has less chance of over-penetration, and out of a longer barrel like the EP45 the extra velocity helps ensure that hollow point is going ot expand to the maximum.
High Value Proposition: What gets you a great gun at a competitive price? What can you buy without regretting cost or what you get out of it?
Tisas PX-9 Gen 3 Duty Overall size is the only thing that keeps this from being a cary option as I know many of you prefer to carry something smaller. The PX-9 Gen 3 is one heck of a pistol, especially at its price point. This pistol was also in our list for Best Striker Triggers. The PX-9 Gen 3 Duty could also serve well in the "general purpose" category.
BUL Armory Axe C Cleaver Imagine a $1,200+ custom Glock 19 from 2017, then make it better, then offer it for less than the cost of a basic Glock 19. All the improvements one mgiht want to make the Glock platform done well and at a very reasonable price.
Arex Delta M The Delta M is also a good carry option, but the real treat of this pistol is that it's also a chassis-system pistol meaning that grips and slides can be swapped out to transform the same "firearm" into other sizes. The Delta is also slimmer and lighter than most of its competition. This might make for slightly more recoil, but also more comfort in carry.
Ermox Defense X-Fire A newcomer to the US market, I bought one taking a chance and was very impressed with performance, even more so for the low price. The barrel and magazines are interchangable with Gen 3 Glocks. That's great news for magazine availability, but I wouldn't dare downgrade the barrel with a swap. The X-Fire is heavier than I care to carry, but is a spectacular range gun and the uniqueness could warrant it a spot elsewhere on this list.
Comfy Carry Options: Of course comfort and what one desires in a carry gun can vary greatly, but these picks fit a range of budget and tastes. Ammunition and Firearm manufacturers seem to want us to forget that 9mm loading specifications assume a 4" barrel. If you opt for something shorter I suggest seeking either +p ammo or that which is specifically formulated to perform at lower speeds.
BUL Armory SAS II UL 3.25 I carried this all summer because it's lighter weight and surprisingly has higher capacity than my K100. If you can train to run a 1911 (and maintain it) this is a great option that shoots like a bigger gun than the weight and 3.25" barrel would have you expect.
Canik METE MC9 A favorite of Teya's, this "micro compact" is practically a sub-compact, but that also means it's a lot more enjoyable to shoot. Acceptance of regular Canik magazines is a bonus for anyone who already owns a Canik pistol. As with most of the Canik line the price is competitive, but the kit that comes with it offers more. Holster selection was the reason Teya chose the METE SF over the MC9 for the Guardian Conference.
Lone Wolf Arms Dusk 19 With more than two decades of aftermarket Glock parts experience it only makes sense that Lone Wolf would offer a complete pistol. The Dusk 19 incorporates all of the things folks want done to a Glock and some that can't be done. The end result is a shooting experience unlike any Glock and a profile that is slim and sculpted well to melt behind clothing for carry use.
Mossberg MC2SC Easily one of the most under-rated pistols on the market, and unfrotunately as a result also under-served with holster options. The Mossberg line of pistols are all incredibly comfortable to shoot and handle, plus their melted lines should make for a great carry option if you can find an appropriate holster for it.
What Other categories are you looking for? What has been your best find, or even what you ended up with in each category? I realize that as reviewers we have the opportunity to try more guns than most local shops even carry, let alone that a regular consumer can try. If your pick suits you then there's nothing wrong with it, the list above is simply curated based on our experiences and the ability to consider different options.