I’ve been a fan of the FN/Browning Hi-Power for years. At one point in time I had both a Browning MKIII and an Israeli surplus FN, and I enjoyed shooting both. However, due to cash flow issues, I had to sell both years ago and with the discontinuation of the Hi-Power (at least the original) by FN, the price for FN Hi-Powers has risen significantly. So when I heard that Springfield Armory was bringing back the Hi-Power as the SA-35, I was honestly really excited. I managed to get my hands on one and get it to the range for an initial review.
I’m not going to get into the history of the Hi-Power. There are a ton of resources out there if you want to explore it. I will go ahead and throw some heresy out there by saying that I prefer a Hi-Power to a 1911 any day of the week. Fight me.
I’ll caveat ahead of time that I only put 200 rounds through this pistol, but there are several things that I think Springfield Armory got right and also several that I think they cheaped out on that they shouldn’t have. And yes, I’ll keep shooting and keep you updated.
First, let’s get Springfield’s description:
It’s had many names in its century-old history and today, we reimagine this renowned design for modern use. Based on one of the most prolific and popular pistols in small arms history, the Springfield Armory® SA-35 gives today’s shooters a modern take on a revered design. Featuring subtle but significant upgrades to John Moses Browning’s original P-35, the 9mm SA-35 captures the appeal of the “wood and steel” era of arms making while offering the upgraded enhancements of today’s defensive pistols.
Made in the U.S.A., the SA-35 features rugged forged steel parts for strength and durability, improved ergonomics and enhanced controls, modern sights, an improved feed ramp design, and an increased 15-round capacity. Configured without a magazine disconnect for a drop free magazine the SA-35 features a factory-tuned trigger with a smooth pull and crisp, clean break.
Call it a legend, call it an icon, but whatever you do, don’t call it a classic.
As I said in the beginning, there are several things Springfield really got right with this model. Probably the best thing they did was to get rid of the the magazine disconnect. That simple removal alone drastically improves the notorious Hi-Power trigger pull. Guns and Ammo said they gauged the trigger around four pounds. I’d have to say that’s accurate, at least based on the felt weight, and it feels surprisingly crisp.
The second thing they did well was the sights. Hi-Power sights almost always required upgrades, whether they are the original military sights or the MKIII sights. The SA-35 sports a white dot up front with a U-shaped all-black rear. In my opinion, this helps to draw the shooter’s attention to the front sight and is much easier to acquire than either the stock all-black or the weird 3-stripe MKIII sights.
Third, the hammer is advertised as a “no-bite” hammer. The Hi-Power has a reputation for the stock hammer pinching the back of the web of the shooter’s hand when the gun recoils, especially for those of us with big hands and a high grip. The improved hammer seems to be well-designed, as I had no issues with bite during my initial range session.
Fourth, the left-side safety is a dramatic improvement over the stock Hi-Power safety. There were two safeties in the Hi-Power’s history. The first, the stock military safety, was so small as to be borderline useless. The second, an ambi safety found on the MKIII, was bulky and uncomfortable. The SA-35’s safety is a good compromise. It is large enough to be easily manipulated but not so bulky as to be uncomfortable.
Finally, the SA-35 ships with a 15-round magazine. For those of you who are familiar with the Hi-Power, the stock magazines are 13-rounds because of the strange spring system they installed to allow for easier ejection. Because the magazine disconnect is removed, this spring system isn’t necessary, so the magazine can hold its full capacity. Since most modern full-size handguns hold at least 15 rounds, this is a positive development.
While I think Springfield did some solid work on improving the stock Hi-Power, I also think they missed some key points in making this a “modern take.”
First, the safety. While the left side is a dramatic improvement over the old safeties, the vast majority of “modern” guns with a manual safety have ambi safeties. Honestly, I’m really not sure why Springfield decided to forego an ambi safety. It wouldn’t have been that hard to do and it would have made it far more functional. I consider this a serious miss by the company.
Second – one magazine. One freaking magazine. No one sells a modern gun with one magazine. Except, apparently, Springfield Armory. But hey, you can buy more for $38.99 each…
Third, for a “modern” gun, the grips aren’t. I can appreciate the nostalgia that wood grips bring. Perhaps that’s a solid part of their marketing plan. Their website certainly leans that way. And don’t get me wrong – the walnut grips are beautiful and adequate. But they could have easily upgraded with some Micarta grips and made it truly modern.
Overall, I do really enjoy the SA-35. I think it is well-executed, although it’s currently a niche item catering mostly to nostalgia for the FN/Browning Hi-Power. To be fair, that’s one reason I wanted to lay hands on it, but I would love to see it become its own line with a more modern railed version and perhaps a compact similar to the FM Detective model. Metal framed guns continue to be popular, even with the move towards polymer guns. For reference, Beretta, Sig, and CZ still produce their metal pistols and they apparently continue to sell well. Sig even came out with a metal grip module for its popular polymer P320 handgun system. Whether Springfield decides to move into this realm is another question entirely, although they’ve certainly done it with their 1911 line. I’d also love to see them work with Mec-Gar on a 17-round magazine…
You will notice that one thing I didn’t discuss was the accuracy of the handgun. There’s a reason for this. For most handguns, they’re more accurate than the shooter. Guns and Ammo tested accuracy and said they found it capable of less than two inch groups at 25 yards. I’ll take their word for it, as most shooters couldn’t do that if they wanted to and I felt no need to waste ammo finding a theoretical group size.
I’ll continue shooting and testing. I want to get it to at least 1,000 rounds before I draw any real conclusions, and I’m only at 200. But, the fact that the sights and grips didn’t shoot loose in the first 100 rounds (I’m looking at you, $1,200 pre-CZ Colt) is always a promising sign.
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