Smith & Wessonís Improved Sigma 9mm Auto


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn

November 29th, 2004




The Wondernine is back. Not that it really went anywhere, much to the dismay of those who tried to deal it a death blow in 1994 by including a magazine capacity limit on weapons in the now defunct "Assault Weapons Ban". The standard capacity magazines just got more expensive and harder to find.  Many in our government, including our illustrious Pervert in Chief at the time, William Jefferson Clinton, celebrated the passage of that useless piece of legislation as the first step in taking away the rights of citizens to own and carry handguns. 

Ten years later, we have a Congress that recognizes that the citizens of this country do not want any of our inalienable rights alienated. The weapons ban went away, along with the ban on standard capacity magazines. Some people just donít get it. The second amendment to our Constitution has nothing to do with hunting, or even concealed carry. It is there to guarantee that all of our other rights will not be infringed. It does not protect us from a deer, duck, or even a home intruder. The second amendment exists to assure that our rights will not be infringed by our government. Many in our government make a career out of infringing our rights, on a daily basis. Anyway, it took ten years, but we finally got back that little piece of ground, and pistols are again available with their intended magazine capacity.

The term "Wondernine" came into use with the introduction of an influx of high tech, reliable auto pistols that were chambered for the 9mm Luger cartridge, and that held over a dozen rounds in their respective magazines. This was around three decades ago, and much debate arose regarding the pistols and the cartridge for which they were chambered. Many found the 9mm Luger cartridge lacking for social work, but law enforcement, military, and private citizens took to the concept of  the pistol in droves. Before the introduction of the Wondernines, most police officers carried six-shot revolvers, which were very good guns for the purpose, but many were looking for more firepower, and the new 9mm auto pistols were widely adopted. At that time, however, ammunition technology  was somewhat lacking, with the exception of a few pioneering companies such as Super-Vel. The fact was that most 9mm ammunition at that time was not up to the task of quickly stopping criminal action.

Today, that has changed, and we have much better ammunition than what was generally available thirty years ago.  Most of the major ammunition companies now make some very good anti-personnel 9mm ammo. I like the idea of a compact, yet controllable 9mm auto pistol. I like the fact that with between fifteen and eighteen rounds in the pistol, I seldom see the need to carry a spare magazine. I usually carry a five-shot S&W revolver everywhere that I go, but there are certain places that I sometimes have to visit that I feel the need to carry bigger ordnance. At those times, I generally carry a 1911 style .45 auto with a couple of spare magazines, or a sixteen shot 9mm auto, sometimes also with extra magazines, just in case. I like the power of the .45, but I never feel under-gunned with the nine. Modern high performance 9mm ammunition is built specifically for the task of personal defense, and it works quite well. With todayís modern high performance ammunition, the Wondernine is better than ever.

I recently received for testing a new Smith & Wesson Sigma 9mm auto pistol, which fits neatly into the definition of a Wondernine. The Sigma is S&Wís answer to the Glock, which is one of the most successful auto pistols in the world. The early Sigmas had a few problems when introduced several years ago, but Smith & Wesson has addressed those problems, and the new Sigma is definitely a better pistol than those earlier guns. Upon opening the familiar blue plastic case, I was delighted to see that the new Sigma comes supplied with two sixteen-round magazines. The magazine bodies are also made of stainless steel, for many years of durability. Those who have handled a Sigma already know that the similarities between it and the Glock are obvious, and comparisons between the guns are inevitable, so letís do it.

The action on the S&W is very much like the Glock. Both are striker fired, and must be reset by the slide after each pull of the trigger. Both guns are built on the modified Browning short recoil system, in which the slide and barrel are locked together upon firing briefly, and are unlocked by the rear of the barrel tilting downward, releasing the slide to travel rearward, ejecting the empty case, and returning into battery under the power of the recoil spring, chambering a round from the magazine in the process.  Both the Smith and the Glock wear no external safety levers, except for the safety integrated into the trigger itself, which must be deliberately pulled to fire the weapon. Both pistols have internal firing pin blocks, to prevent firing unless the trigger is held rearward. Both guns use a double stack magazine which, depending upon the exact model, carries between fifteen and seventeen rounds of 9mm Luger ammunition. Both guns have a plastic frame, with a slide that is removed by pressing downward on two catches on either side of the frame, just above the trigger guard. Both guns have three dot sights as standard equipment. If you are familiar with the Glock manual of arms, the Sigma will feel right at home. Noticeable differences include the magazines. Glock uses a plastic mag body, while the S&W uses a stainless body. Also, the magazine catch, which locks the magazine into the frame, is steel on the Smith and plastic on the Glock. The trigger safety differs a bit on the two weapons, and there are subtle but important differences in the grip area of the pistols. The S&W seems more ergonomic. In other words, it just feels better, at least to my hand. The closest member of the Glock family to the Smith & Wesson is their model 19. Therefore, for comparison, I will list a few critical measurements below: 

  S&W Sigma Glock Model 19
Barrel length 4 inches 4 inches
Weight, empty 21.4 ounces 21.1 ounces
Trigger pull 9.1 pounds 5.2 pounds
Magazine Capacity 16 rounds 15 rounds
Overall length 7.125 inches 7 inches
Slide width 1 inch 1.05 inches
Height 5.375 inches 5 inches
Trigger reach 2.67 inches 2.845 inches
Grip thickness at web 1.092 inches 1.168 inches
Grip thickness at palm 1.228 inches 1.154 inches

These are the objective measurements, which shows that the two pistols are very close in critical dimensions. The Glock does have a lighter trigger pull, which is smooth and even on both guns. Some people prefer heavier trigger pulls, but I like them lighter. The S&W grip feels better to my hand, having a thinner web area and a slight palm swell. Both guns have textured grip panels, and the Smith has a slight thumb rest on each side.  Both guns have heavy duty spring loaded extractors and fixed blade ejectors.  Objectively, the guns are very close. Subjectively, I like the feel of the Smith better, except for the heavier trigger pull, which can most likely be lightened by a good gunsmith, as I have had done to my Glock model 19.  This is enough of the comparisons between the Glock and the Smith & Wesson, except for one important difference, which I will save for later.

The most important factor in evaluating any personal defense weapon is reliability, with accuracy secondary. For evaluating the new Sigma, I assembled a variety of high performance 9mm ammunition. All loads tested were of hollowpoint design, except for some excellent Geco ball ammo that I always like to include in any 9mm pistol test. While the majority of defensive pistol scenarios are best served by a good hollowpoint, occasionally a barricade must be penetrated. The best penetrating 9mm round available to my knowledge is the Geco ball cartridge. Every brand and type of ammunition tested functioned perfectly in the Sigma. There were no failures of any kind. Accuracy was also good for a defensive pistol of its type. The Sigma would keep a full magazine of ammo inside the kill zone of a standard silhouette target at 25 yards, rapid fire. From a rested position, most ammo would group just under three inches at the same range. This is good combat accuracy.

While every type of ammo tested worked perfectly, I really like the performance of the Cor-Bon PowRBall. The PowRBall is a 100 grain polymer tipped hollowpoint that screams out of the Smithís four inch barrel at an average of 1572 feet per second as recorded on my PACT chronograph, set up at twelve feet from the muzzle. This is almost 100 feet per second faster than the advertised velocity of 1475. I have tested the PowRBall ammo before, and have a deep respect for the terminal performance of this bullet.

The new Smith & Wesson SW9VE is a reliable weapon that is well suited for personal defense or police work. It is accurate enough to fulfill its intended purpose, and feels great in my hand, and to those others that tried the weapon. The last great thing about this pistol is its price. The suggested retail is just $369, but I have seen this gun retail for around 280 bucks. That is about half the price of a new Glock. The Smith comes with two magazines, a lockable hard plastic case, instruction manual, a cable lock, and Smith & Wessonís lifetime warranty.

Check them out online at:

To purchase Cor-Bon PowRBall ammo online, go to:

Jeff Quinn


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Click pictures for a larger version.


Smith & Wesson's new Sigma "Wondernine".



The very affordable retail price of the S&W Sigma includes a plastic case, lock, manual, and two stainless steel 16-round magazines.



S&W's Sigma 9mm compares very favorably with its natural competition, Glock's Model 19, and at about half the price.



The new Sigma features a very comfortable and well-thought-out grip design.



Sights are snag-free and of the popular "three-dot" configuration, with drift-adjustable rear sight.



The S&W Sigma features (top to bottom): chamber witness hole, spring-loaded extractor, trigger pivot safety, integral accessory rail, Glock-style takedown latch, full-length composite guide rod, fixed blade ejector, and flat-coil recoil spring.



Internal lockwork is simple, rugged and reliable.



The 100% reliability of the test gun is due in part to S&W's design of the feeding system. Cartridges in the magazine are perfectly aligned for straight-line feeding into the chamber.



The S&W Sigma performed superbly with a wide variety of ammunition. Jeff's favorite 9mm load, Cor-Bon's PowRBall, really stood out from the crowd with perfect reliability, good accuracy, and velocity almost 100 feet per second above advertised velocity.



With its excellent ergonomics, reliability, combat-level accuracy, and 17-round capacity, the Smith & Wesson Sigma 9mm truly heralds the "return of the Wondernine"!