By: James Tarr
With all the hoopla and kerfluffle over the new Glock 43, I thought it might be prudent not just to remind readers that it is not the first compact single-stack 9mm pistol to hit the market, but actually review a very similarly-sized pistol that has not garnered a lot of attention: the Walther PPS.
There have been a lot of companies that have “been there, done that” with small single-stack 9mm autos long before the Glock 43 came along, and the Walther PPS is one of the early ones. Introduced in 2007, the Polizei-Pistole Schmal (Police Pistol Slim) was designed for plainclothes law enforcement and (of course) found a welcoming market in the U.S. among CCW holders.
Most Americans tend to think James Bond and the venerable PPK when they hear the name Walther, but Walther makes a wide variety of modern handguns.
The Walther PPS is striker-fired with a polymer frame, chambered in 9mm and .40 S&W. For this article, I obtained a 9mm version. While there will always be die-hard big bore fans out there (“if the caliber doesn’t start with a four, don’t bother me”) but the fact of the matter is that sales of .40 S&W guns are dead because modern 9mm rounds have been shown to be just as effective.
Now that the .40 and .45 fans have left the room screaming, “Heresy!” let’s get on with the review.
Like most every other compact 9mm, the Walther PPS is a little big and heavy for the standard pocket, but it is eminently concealable. Weighing in at 19.4 ounces, it is 6.32 inches long and 4.4 inches tall. Walther states the pistol is just .9 inches wide. I read a review of the pistol stating it is 1.1 inches wide, which is a big difference. Per my calipers at the slide release (the widest point) my sample was 1.03 inches wide. The rest of the pistol was about .95 inches thick, which is rather flat.
These specs put it an ounce and a half heavier and a hair larger in every dimension than the Glock 43, but for those perceived disadvantages it does have a definite advantage. The Glock 43 is only sold with six-round magazines, while the Walther PPS is offered with flush, medium and long magazines with six-, seven- and eight-round capacities (respectively). A medium and long magazine (both of which have some extended grip surface) were provided with this pistol.
The PPS has some modern Walther style points, but seems a little squarer than its larger handguns. It looks and feels very flat, however. The pistol features a 3.2-inch barrel with a rectangular slot cut into the hood which functions as a loaded chamber indicator.
The barrel has traditional lands-and-grooves rifling. Unlike a lot of polymer-framed pistols, the Walther PPS actually has a steel feeding ramp set into the frame. The barrel has a very short ramp that mates to the steel ramp. Both of them are smooth and appear to be polished.
The Walther PPS’ slide features an external claw extractor and narrows slightly at the top. It is very comfortable to rack using the wide flat-bottomed serrations at the rear. Personally, I like forward cocking serrations as well, but there’s not really room enough for them on a gun this size. The pistol has dual recoil springs in a captured assembly that absorb recoil forces but also make the slide harder to rack.
When cocked, the rear of the striker is visible at the back of the slide. It is marked with red paint. As you pull the trigger, it protrudes slightly from the frame. The frame has a one-slot tactical rail for mounting lights or lasers, something many pistols this size do not offer.
The Walther PPS is manufactured in Germany and imported by Walther Arms in Fort Smith, Ark. You’ll notice a lot of markings on the barrel and slide right beneath it. The CIP over the N on the barrel and slide and frame is the mark of the proof house, as is the stag antler. The stag antler is the symbol of the Beschussamt Ulm C.I.P. accredited Proof House which pressure tests all the Walther and HK firearms in Germany.
The serial number on the internal steel frame can be viewed through a cutout in the polymer above the trigger guard. That serial number is also etched on the slide and the barrel. Oh, and if you want to know what year your Walther PPS was manufactured, that’s there as well.
On the slide you’ll see a DE, indicating the pistol was made in Deutschland (Germany). To the right of that is a BE. Using Walther’s number system where A=0 (and B=1, C=2, etc) BE=14, meaning this pistol was manufactured in 2014. The Germans are nothing if not meticulous record keepers.
The steel sights on the Walther PPS are of the three-dot variety. The notch in the rear sight is wide and provides a visible amount of daylight around the front sight when aiming. The front sight is square and rather low to the slide. The front sight is held in place by a set screw in the bottom, similar to the Glock.
The front sight was marked unobtrusively with a 4, and the rear sight with a 2, which tells me that there are most likely various height sights and that the pistols are probably test fired at the factory, although a test target was not provided with my handgun.
When I brought this pistol out at the range one day, one of my acquaintances asked if it had the same trigger system as the Walther PPQ. Unfortunately, no. The PPQ has one of the best trigger pulls of any striker-fired gun on the market, but the trigger system on the Walther PPS is styled from their larger P99.
Don’t fret; instead of having a much better than average trigger pull for a striker-fired pocket-sized gun, it just has an average trigger. Trigger pull on my sample was a screamingly average 7.5 pounds.
Unlike many guns this size, the Walther PPS had an interchangeable backstrap. Two sizes were provided with the pistol, a medium installed at the factory and a larger one in a foam cutout in the case. Replacing them is simpler than you’ll find with just about any other pistol, and requires no tools: remove the magazine, and press the spring loaded tab at the bottom of the backstrap. The backstrap then comes right out.
The pistol disassembles in the same manner as a Glock: remove the magazine, ensure the pistol is unloaded, pull the trigger, retract the slide slightly, and then pull the takedown tabs downward. When you release the slide, it will come forward off the frame. A look inside the frame reveals a very familiar configuration to anyone who has ever looked inside a striker-fired handgun.
With the seven-round “medium” magazine in place, I can get all my fingers on the gun. With the short magazine, everyone is going to be two-fingering it. The eight-round magazine adds extra capacity, but does affect concealability. Personally I prefer the seven-rounder, as it provides the best combination of controllability and concealability.
At the range, I found that it was possible to shoot this pistol almost as well as a full-size model. I experienced the same thing while shooting the S&W Shield, a similarly-sized 9mm, but not the Glock 43.
As they are all about the same size, I think the difference is the weight: both the Walther PPS and S&W Shield are heavier than the G43. Bigger, heavier guns are easier to shoot, but a little harder to conceal. Life’s full of compromises. Because the pistol is so flat, it tends to point very naturally.
The frame is textured in various patterns: horizontal grooves, tiny vertical squiggles, even raised dots on the side. In addition, there are finger grooves on the front of the fame and magazine basepads. While none of the texturing is very aggressive, the combination of them plus the proportions of the gun keep it secure in the hand during firing.
Perhaps the main reason the Walther PPS isn’t as popular as it could be is its European-style mag release. Instead of the traditional American button-style mag release on the frame just to the rear of the trigger guard, it features and ambidextrous paddle that runs along the bottom of the trigger guard.
We all like and want what we’re used to, but for all practical purposes, the type of magazine release a firearm has is much less important to its utility than being familiar with its controls.
There are those who will argue that the American-style mag release allows for a faster (or the fastest) magazine change. Some time ago, I learned a technique to work these European-style mag releases, and with just a little practice, the technique is as quick as using an American-style mag release.
Ironically, I learned it from someone who carried a Walther PPS: Mike Allen, an Iraq vet who works at my local gun store, Double Action Indoor Range and Gun Shop in Madison Heights, Mich.
When your pistol has an ambidextrous lever mag release, trying to drop a magazine with your thumb usually is a non-starter: you just can’t reach unless you twist the gun completely sideways in your hand. And trying to hit the paddle on the other side with your index finger doesn’t work either: the finger is in the wrong spot. Again, you have to completely move your hand off the grip.
Mike showed me that hitting the right side of the lever mag release with your middle finger is the way to go. I know, it sounds slow and tortured, but trust me. As you finish shooting and your index finger comes out of the trigger guard and goes up, move your middle finger up as you keep your ring and pinkie finger on the grip (and your other hand goes for the spare mag). The tip of your middle finger will then be right on the lever and it is easy to depress.
This mag-changing technique is a bit easier with a full-size gun than a compact like the PPS, but everything is easier with a full-size gun except concealing it. I first practiced this technique with the original Walther PPQ (with paddle mag release) and in less than five minutes’ time, I was running at 95 percent of the speed I could with my Glock.
However, that PPQ didn’t sell too well, and Walther soon introduced the PPQ M2 with American-style mag release. The PPS is not a full-size duty gun, however, but a CCW piece, and speed reloads are less of a concern than concealability.
I’m not saying you might not have to, but if you’re planning on having to do a mag change on your CCW piece during a gun fight, perhaps you should rethink your approach to the subject. The lever mag release definitely helps keep this pistol slim.
European-made guns tend to be more expensive than similar models made in the U.S., and the PPS is no different. Suggested retail of the Walther PPS is $735, which means I see it being sold for around $550.
While that not as inexpensive as other guns on the market, the pistol is reliable, concealable and uncommon. And don’t forget that it says Walther on the slide.