Taking a Look at the FNX 9mm Pistol
The traditional DA/SA autopistol is capable of firing the first shot double-action; i.e., a single press of the trigger both cocks and releases the hammer, or one can manually cock the hammer and then press the trigger to fire in single-action mode. Subsequent shots are fired single-action due to the slide’s rearward movement cocking the hammer after each shot. Double-action use requires a heavier and longer trigger-pull than single-action. Some favor this design due to safety concerns over carrying “cocked-and-locked”, while others avoid it due to the transition between two different trigger-pulls. In any event, the traditional DA/SA semiautomatic pistol has proliferated with no signs of letting up. One of the newer series is from FN and designated FNX. This review will focus on the 9mm version.
As you probably know “FN” stands for “Fabrique Nationale”, a long-respected name in firearm manufacturing. Because this company won a US military small arms bid, it was required to have production facilities within the United States, and the FNX-series of pistols are made here as well. (The classic Hi Power continues to be manufactured in Belgium and contrary to rumor, it has never been manufactured by FN in the US.)
The FNX9 appears to be a “morphed” or evolved FNP. (For those interested, here is a detailed report on the latter: http://www.hipowersandhandguns.com/taking_a_look_at_the_fnp9_pistol.htm )
Weight Empty: 24.4 oz. (with empty 17-rnd magazine)
Barrel Length & Twist: 4”, 1:10” (Stainless steel whether gray or blackened)
Magazine Capacity: 17
Sights: Fixed, Dovetail, 3-dot type
Accessory Rail: Yes
Internal Firing Pin Safety: Yes
External Safety: Yes. Ambidextrous, frame-mounted and also serve as decocking levers. Does allow for Condition One (“Cocked-and-Locked”) Carry
Double-Action Trigger-pull: 12-lb. (Measured just under 12-lbs on one pistol and just over on the other)
Single-Action Trigger-pull: 5-lb. (Measured 4.5-lbs. on two different pistols)
Replaceable Back Straps: Yes. The FNX9 comes with a total of four. Two are flat and two are arched.
The FNX9 slide is of stainless steel (regardless of color) and it sports a now-common polymer frame. These pistols can be had in “Two Tone”, in which the stainless slide and barrel are left “in the white” with dark polymer frame or the stainless slide and barrel can be coated for an all black pistol. One of each was used for this article.
The FNX9 is completely ambidextrous other than the take-down lever and its frame-mounted thumb safety allows Condition One (cocked-and-locked) Carry if desired. DA autoloaders permitting this are sometimes referred to as “Selective Double-Action”. Other examples are the CZ-75 or Taurus PT-92.
The FNX9 is equipped with both ambidextrous controls and interchangeable back straps. Its fixed sights are larger than on the FNP9 and it has forward slide serrations and the seemingly mandatory accessory rail. This pistol uses a full-length guide rod with a captive recoil spring. Both slides shown on the FNX9 pistols above are of stainless steel. It can be had in either “two-tone” or dark.
Differences Between FNP and FNX 9mm Pistols:
The original FNP has only been out since 2006 before being phased out by its FNX successors. The latter’s lineage from it is obvious and it seems only logical to ask how these two pistols differ.
Weight: I believe the FNP’s weight (with empty magazine in place) to be 25.2 oz. compared to 24.4 oz. for the FNX, as listed in the manual.
Sights: Both have fixed, 3-dot sights dovetailed into the slide, but the FNX sights are larger. The FNX rear sight is serrated and “V-shaped” at the bottom of the sighting notch. To my eye, nothing is gained with the “V-bottom” notch, but neither does anything seem to be lost. (I am not sure what the FNX sights are made of, but a magnet is not attracted to either.)
The FNX9’s Novak-style rear sight has both serrations and a shallow “V-shaped” bottom to it. The front sight is not serrated. It measures 0.135” wide x 0.22” above the top of the slide.
Slide: The FNX slide sports forward serrations where the FNP does not and its contours are slightly different. Viewing the FNX from the muzzle, the top of the slide is more “squared off”, but edges are nicely rounded. The slides on both pistols are of stainless steel. The FNP could be had with either a light or dark slide as can the FNX. Both pistols have internal firing pin safeties.
Extractor: Like the FNP, the FNX9 pivoting external extractor is relatively large and can act as a visual and tactile loaded-chamber indicator.
On the left is the FNX extractor as it appears with an empty chamber. On the right, we see it with a chambered cartridge.
Recoil Spring /Guide Rod Assemblies: Early FNP recoil spring guide rods were of aluminum and readily displayed scratches, although I have not heard of this causing any problems. Nonetheless, they were replaced. FNX recoil spring guide rods are steel and exhibit no deep gouges or undue scratching. Like the FNP, the FNX guide rod/spring assembly is captive.
Frames: Both pistols have polymer frames with replaceable back straps. The FNP has two and they are attached via a screw. The FNX has four, two arched and two flat. One of each is checkered while the other has lateral ridges. The FNX uses flexible polymer tab to retain the back strap being used.
Here is the tab that is depressed via a hole in the back strap for changing it. I am not sure if I trust this arrangement for use with a lanyard even though each back strap is drilled for them.
The FNX frame has more texturing than the FNP, though either provides more than adequate purchase in my opinion. I agree with the commonly-heard assessment that the FNX’s texturing is more “aggressive.”
The FNX9 grip area is shown with the arched back strap having lateral ridges. I found the checkered one that came on the gun just too “aggressive” and uncomfortable during longer shooting sessions. Swapping back straps is no problem, but as has been noted by others, some vertical movement is frequently present in the back straps. The maximum gap between the top of the back strap and frame measures 0.022”. Though this never caused any problems, I remedied it by applying 5 layers of 3M Tartan vinyl electrical tape (7-mil) to the flat area of the frame ahead of the flexible tab. These layers total approximately 0.0348” in thickness and resulted in a tight fit without altering the pistol.
Accessory Rails: The dust cover on the FNP has an integral accessory rail with a single notch. On the FNX, it is the customary Picatinny rail having 4 notches.
Slide Rails and Block: On the FNX, the frame’s steel slide-rails and block on which the barrel rests are removable and replaceable.
The barrel rests lower in the frame on the steel block of the FNX than in the FNP. I do not believe that this is a significant lowering of the bore axis; but generally speaking, the lower the bore axis, the less muzzle-flip. From the bottom of the tang which is the highest point at which the hand contacts the pistol to the center of the firing pin (center of the bore line) measures approximately 1.2”.
Thumb Safety Levers: On the FNX, they are extended, ambidextrous and constructed of polymer. They do permit cocked-and-locked carry. Pushed all the way downward past the “fire” position, they safely drop the hammer, decocking the pistol. My FNP used a steel stamping for this part and served only to decock the pistol. (I think that there was a version which did allow for Condition One Carry.) On the FNP, the stamped levers are removable during the detail-stripping procedure. On the FNX, the polymer levers must be destroyed in order to be removed and then must be replaced by FNH personnel. In other words, field-stripping is as far as individual owners can go. Replacement of internal parts is almost certain to require sending the pistol to FN.
The FNX9 thumb safety levers are extended and ambidextrous. The thumb safety is engaged when pushed upward as shown here. When the thumb safety is engaged, the trigger moves freely and only against trigger-spring tension. It is not in contact with the hammer assembly until the safety is in the “fire” position. The safety doesn’t block the sear or trigger. It disengages the action.
The slide can be hand-cycled with the thumb safety engaged. Unlike some selective DA/SA autoloaders, the thumb safety can be applied with the hammer cocked, all the way forward or in the sort of “half-cock” position it falls to when decocked using the thumb safety lever.
On the left, we see the hammer in the position to which it drops when decocked using the thumb safety. On the right is the hammer all the way forward. In both photographs, the safety is in the “off” position. It could just as easily be in the “on” position. On the FNX9, regardless of hammer position, the safety can be applied.
Slide Release Lever: Though shaped slightly different on FNP and FNX, both are of stamped steel construction. On the FNX, they are ambidextrous, but not on the FNP.
Shown above is the polymer FNX9 magazine follower in contact with the hold-open/slide-release lever tab. Note that this steel tab is relatively wide, preventing unnecessary wear of the softer polymer which would result in failures to lock the slide rearward when the pistol is fired until empty.
Take-Down Lever: It operates the same on either pistol and is only on the left side of the frame when viewing the pistol from behind.
Triggers: These appear to be the same on both pistols. They are smooth and just over 3/10” wide. The lower portion that actually contacts the trigger-finger does not attract a magnet and appears to be of polymer. There is an integral “dimple-like” trigger stop but a small amount of overtravel still occurs.
Magazine Release: They are ambidextrous and shaped like a horizontal teardrop on the FNX but single-side and round on the FNP. They are of steel and retain the magazine via a raised spot on the front of the magazine tube. FNP magazines were retained via the usual cutout in the magazine.
The magazine is retained via the raised area shown here on the front of the magazine body. In early FNX pistols, the magazines sometimes had to be pushed forward when seated to be retained. This has been corrected. Six magazines in two different FNX9 pistols seated normally and without fail.
Magazines: In 9mm, the FNP9 magazine is bright stainless holding 15 rounds. The FNX9 magazine is also stainless, but coated to be somewhat darker and holds 17 cartridges.
FNX9 magazines appear well-made and have witness holes along the rear of the magazine body. These double-stack magazines disassemble in normal fashion by sliding the polymer floor-plate forward after depressing a tab on the bottom of it. I initially found getting the last couple of rounds in them a tough proposition, and considerable extra force is required to seat a fully-loaded magazine into the pistol with the slide forward, as when “topping off the pistol” for maximum cartridge-capacity.
Besides ammunition/firearm compatibility, how well a given firearm can be shot depends upon the skill-level of the shooter along with the firearm’s practical and mechanical accuracy. A poor shot won’t have the ability to shoot precisely and a firearm that is difficult or uncomfortable to use is described as having poor practical accuracy even though its mechanical or built-in accuracy might be first-rate.
Consider a hypothetical handgun. Assume it mechanically capable of repeatedly shooting 1” groups at 50 yards from a rest. In the hands of someone who has never fired a handgun before, I would not expect to see much precision. Now give the same pistol to a skilled shot and results will almost certainly improve; but if we add a twenty-pound trigger-pull to the mix while leaving the mechanical accuracy the same, group-size will probably increase as will the time between shots in rapid-fire exercises.
But what do we mean by “accuracy” with respect to the FNX or handguns in general and how much is enough? The answer is that it means different things to different shooters depending upon intended use. A competitive bullseye shooter wants a handgun capable of repeatedly producing as tight groups as possible and with light loads. A five-shot group at 25 yards measuring 4” or 5” is “all over the paper” in their world. Such handguns may or may not be reliable; I have seen and shot both, but in pure bullseye matches, malfunctions do not usually penalize scores and maximum target accuracy is rated number one. A light, super-smooth trigger-pull along with lighter-than-normal-strength springs, precisely adjustable sights and large target stocks are to be expected.
Service-style handguns such as the FNX, Glock, M&P, 1911’s, Hi Powers and Beretta 92’s are almost never mechanically capable of producing as tiny cluster of holes as target pistols, but it has been my observation that most are able to provide better groups than their shooters can achieve. (This includes me.) Reliability is rated higher than greatest-possible-accuracy for weapons which may be called upon to save their users! Generally speaking, most “combat accurate” handguns are capable of dropping their shots within about 3 ½” to 4” at 25 yards. Individual pistols and ammunition might do a tad better or worse, but all should be easily able to keep their shots in the vital areas of a human being at that distance. (Many can do it at considerably greater distances.)
After four range sessions with two different FNX9’s, I am satisfied that these pistols possess very acceptable service accuracy. Both pistols grouped about the same when shooting from a rest, had nearly identical trigger-pulls, and the sight picture on each produced the same POI for POA. I think that this speaks well for FN’s ability to consistently maintain tolerances during the manufacturing process.
This single-action group was fired using the two-tone FNX9 from 15 yards with my wrists braced on sandbags. It was done in slow-fire and is fairly typical for groups shot in this manner in both pistols. Point-of-Aim in this photo was at the bottom of the 2” gray bullseye; i.e., a 6 o’ clock hold. FN advises that the gun is sighted-in at 20 yards for a dead-on hold. In other words POA = POI.
These 10-shot groups were also fired with wrists braced on sandbags with the dark FNX9, but with the top-half of the dark bullseye visible above the front sight. Like the two-tone pistol, this one shoots to the sights. At this distance, hits will be to the paper covered by the front sight’s white dot. All shots were fired single-action.
This 25-yard group was also fired from a rest in single-action using a two-hand hold with wrists braced on sandbags. The shot to the extreme left was “called” and my fault.
On the left is a target with no clear aiming point, just a 7 ½”-diameter circle. Against a timer, I drew and fired one shot double-action using a “flash sight picture”. Shooting was at 10 yards using my strong hand. Average time per shot was 1.3 seconds. The hand-drawn target on the right was shot at the same distance using Winchester Ranger 127-gr +P+ ammunition. The target shows the results of 4 “Failure-to-Stop” drills, starting from a low-ready position. The FTS drills averaged approximately 2.3 seconds each. Drawing and firing two shots (DA followed by SA) averaged a shade less than 1.5 seconds with the dotted circle in the chest area being the target and was repeated 3X. I think that the vertical spread is due to no definite aiming point more than anything else. Horizontal spread is relatively small, which I attribute primarily to its comfortable (for me) trigger-reach.
Both FNX pistols were fired with the following commercial ammunition:
Winchester USA 115-gr FMJ
DAG 124-gr FMJ
Geco 124-gr FMJ
Remington 115-gr JHP +P
Remington 124-gr Golden Saber +P
Speer 124-gr Gold Dot Hollow Point +P
Fiocchi “Extrema” 124-gr XTP Hollow Point
Winchester Ranger 127-gr +P+
Remington 147-gr Golden Saber
Speer 147-gr Gold Dot Hollow Point
Approximately 300 rounds were fired through the two-tone FNX9 and 700 or so from the dark-colored one for a total of 1012 shots between both pistols. There were no failures to fire, extract or eject. Fired cases exhibited no unusual swelling nor were they dented during the ejection process. Primer strikes were relatively well-centered.
The two-tone FNX9 was neither cleaned nor lubed before firing. Checking to make sure that the barrel was clear of any obstructions, it fired all 300 shots as it came from the box. I cleaned the dark FNX9 after about the 400-rnd mark. There were certainly no signs of impending malfunctions, but I was satisfied that the pistol was reliable and am just used to cleaning them after each use.
Observations & Conclusion:
In my opinion, there is much to recommend the FNX9, but it does have some features I really wish were not present.
1. Reliability: Though not an exhaustive test, the FNX9 appears to be extremely reliable. This is a “must” for any service or defensive arm. Hand-cycling JHP ammunition did not result in slowed or erratic feeding into the chamber. Both pistols smoothly fed and chambered all ammunition tried. Though it varied with the load being used, ejected cases usually landed about 8’ to my right.
2. Sight Picture: Subjective to be sure, I like the sight picture. I found it satisfactory in slow and rapid-fire, easy to find in a hurry; and I appreciate the sights’ no-snag design, but am not sure what the sights are constructed of. IF they are plastic/polymer, I hope that they are durable and that the front does not exhibit undue holster wear. I do not like the 0.007” gap between the bottom of the sights and the top of the slide, but don’t really think it hurts anything.
3. Trigger-Pull: Both double and single-action trigger-pulls were better than expected. The double-action exhibited a tiny bit of “stacking” at the end of the pull and there is minor overtravel with the single-action, which is not at all unusual in this genre of handgun. I found the smooth and rounded trigger very comfortable. Reset is positive and only about 2/10”.
4. Trigger-Reach: With either flat or arched back straps in place, I find the reach on this pistol very comfortable, allowing the first joint of my trigger-finger to naturally rest against the right side of the trigger. This allows me to easily provide the pressure required for a double-action first shot. From the top of the back strap (above the insert) to the front of the trigger with the hammer dropped measures 2.8”.
5. Frame Grip Texture: I like the feel or “traction” provided on the FNX frame. With (purposely) wet hands, I was quite able to get a very solid hold on the pistol. This remained true whether using checkered or ridged back strap inserts.
6. Back Strap Inserts: My admittedly subjective preference on this pistol is for the arched insert having lateral ridges. I found the checkered version (came on the pistol) too sharp for comfort during shooting sessions over 150 rounds even with the 9mm’s mild recoil. I do not like the manner in which inserts are secured to the frame. Though the small amount of movement proved to be of no consequence, it just doesn’t “sit well” with me. Depressing the polymer tab to change inserts is certainly quick and easy and there’s no screw to lose, but I question how secure this method will prove if much force is applied via an attached lanyard. I think that FN could have done better on this feature.
7. Slide-to-Frame Fit: This is better than expected with very little lateral movement and less vertical. Several pistolsmiths have written that this has considerably less to do with intrinsic accuracy potential than how precisely the barrel fits the slide.
8. Barrel-to-Slide Fit: With effort the barrel can be pushed downward, but when tension is released, it firmly moves back into the position it was before. In short, barrel-to-slide fit is excellent and I noted no lateral movement. This undoubtedly contributes to the better-than-expected service accuracy seen in both pistols.
9. Safeties: I did not find the internal firing pin safety to negatively affect the trigger-pull as I’ve experienced on a few other make handguns. The thumb safety levers were comfortable to me, but I do not use the “high thumb” shooting grip. Their shape, width and contact angle just does not appear to lend them to that type hold. With enough downward pressure, the thumb safety will decock the hammer, something to keep in mind if carrying the FNX cocked-and-locked. Some have written that their hand-position on the grip prevents this from occurring and I believe them. For me, it was not the case. About half the time, when I energetically disengaged the thumb safety as would be the case in a deadly force scenario, I also decocked the pistol. Each shooter needs to decide what is best for him or her. My own belief is that if I want to carry an autoloader in Condition One, I might be better off buying a single-action semiautomatic from the get-go. On the other hand, the FNX9 does offer “double-strike capability” for folks deeming this an important consideration. I distinctly dislike that the thumb safety levers are not removable without being destroyed and that this is by design. The FNX9 cannot be disassembled further than field-stripping without sending the pistol to the factory. I understand that this limits unauthorized alterations as well as reduces potential lawsuits. I strongly prefer being able to swap out springs or replace parts on my handguns at home, as I can on my Hi Powers, 1911s, Makarovs and Glocks. Some people will have little if any problem with this aspect of the design..
I prefer the somewhat attenuated manner in which SIG-SAUER’s pistols’ decocking levers lower their hammers. The FNX hammer drops at full-speed when decocked via the thumb safety levers. It may be safe, but I find it a little unnerving. I normally fully depress the thumb safety with one thumb and ease the hammer down with the other when possible. This is just personal preference and I have no doubt that FN has engineered the FNX decocking system to be safe.
FNX safety levers move through an approximate 10-degree arc from the “safe” to “fire” positions. Using a trigger-pull gauge, I measured that a force of slightly less than three-pounds is sufficient to accomplish this. I leave it to the individual to decide if this is enough tension for cocked-and-locked carry. I would consider it if using a thoroughly-tested holster but not just stuffed in the waistband.
10. Field-Stripping: This is extremely quick and simple and mimics the SIG-Sauer P-Series.
I really like the “feel” of the FNX9. To me, this pistol is best described as a cross between a Glock 17 and SIG-SAUER P225. The result is an 18-shot DA/SA autoloader that feels like a Browning Hi Power with thin grip panels when using the arched back strap insert. Purely subjective, the FNX9 is one of the most comfortable semiautomatics I’ve ever owned bar none and regardless of price. Though obviously not designed primarily for concealed carry, it is smaller and lighter than some other service style handguns and can serve for both home protection and carry with but little effort in clothing choice.
The magazines are initially a bit tough to completely load, but this eases with use. I have read of one account in which the interior coating on one shooter’s FNX magazines was flaking off, but I did not witness this with any of the six magazines tried.
I recall reading that the FNX-line of handguns should routinely be sent to FNH every 2500 rounds to make sure that all is as it should be. I emailed the company about this and was told that they’d never heard of this, and it is not necessary. Will the FNX establish a track record for long-term durability commensurate with Glock’s? That I don’t know, but reportedly Beretta’s PX4’s are developing a reputation for toughness and like the FNX9, have more internal parts than the Austrian pistol. If Beretta’s polymer-framed DA/SA autopistol can do it, I would expect the same from a high-quality company with the history of FN for manufacturing quality firearms.
Here is the FNX9 compared to the Glock 17. Many will prefer its grip angle to the Glock’s. I am hoping that it will prove as durable for thousands and thousands of rounds. The FNX9 grip and magazine-capacity reminds me of the Glock 17, but the slide is more the length of the very popular Glock 19.
I find more positives than negatives with the FNX9 and will probably keep this one. Though pictured in Condition One, this one probably will not be carried that way. I just have not found this pistol’s transition from DA to SA to be difficult.
I will continue to shoot my FNX9 and report what I observe, be it positive or negative. In short, I’ll “let the chips fall where they may”…but I have my fingers crossed that this pistol continues to perform well over the long-term. Hopefully, more folks will report their observations as well. If the FNX9 proves durable, I would sure like to see a 5” version!