FN Herstal has a long history of weapons manufacturing and design dating as far back as 1889. Its innovations are used by law enforcement and military personnel around the world. FN’s pursuit of new innovations in weapons and ammo gave birth to the 5.7x28mm round used by its Five-seveN® pistol and P90 bullpup rifle. The Five-seveN pistol, though not new to military or law enforcement, is a pistol with a unique cartridge and some ingenious design characteristics.
The Five-seveN USG (United States Government) was my first experience with the round and the weapon. I had heard and read the hype in which some referred to the 5.7x28mm ammo as a “hopped up .22 Long Rifle round,” while others referred to it as a “cut down .223 Rem round.”
I was ready to draw my own conclusions on this unique cartridge. I have shot plenty of .22 rifles and pistols. This review is about the pistol, but what makes the pistol unique is the round. That’s obvious by the name Five-seveN, which is based solely on the ammunition it fires.
This is far from a hopped-up .22 round! With an effective range of 200 yards, the ballistics suggest it is more like a .223 round in velocity, although the energy is less than a .223 round. In practical terms, the 5.7mm round will produce about the same stopping power as the 9mm, and penetrate body armor while doing it.
The Five-seveN came in a large, black plastic case that was lockable and well built. The case included three 20-round magazines, a gun lock, an owner’s manual and the Five-seveN USG.
The Five-seveN USG we fired was black with fixed three-dot sites on a front post and a rear V-notched sight setup. Adjustable sights are optional as well on the Five-seveN. The Five-seveN comes in two other colors: FDE (Flat Dark Earth) and ODG (Olive Drab Green). It uses the delayed blowback operating system and a double-action-only trigger mechanism.
The first thing you notice about the Five-seveN is the weight. Even though this is a full-frame, full-size pistol, it weighs just 22 ounces empty and just 26 ounces fully loaded. The 5.7mm cartridge weighs half of a standard 9mm round. The stamped steel slide further cuts weight. Compared to my current full-size polymer .40 S&W duty gun with a milled steel slide, the Five-seveN feels like almost half the weight.
The second thing you notice is the magazine capacity. The 5.7mm rounds double stack much like a .223 rifle magazine. At 20 rounds per magazine, it’s like having an extra magazine without having to store it or its weight on your gun belt.
The third best thing is the safety. The safety is mounted on the frame right above the trigger. I know that’s totally different from any other pistol with an external safety, but it makes sense. The tip of your trigger finger rests right on the safety while you are practicing good safe handling techniques. As you move your finger into the large square trigger guard, you are easily and effortlessly flipping off the safety. The safety is ambidextrous with a lever on both sides for left- or right-handed shooters. This allows you never to have to switch your grip to engage or disengage the safety.
The magazine release is located just to the rear of where the trigger guard meets the handle. It is reversible and comes set up standard on the left side of the pistol. The handle has a tightly checkered pistol grip. I do not have huge hands; I can squeeze them into a medium search glove, but it’s tight. I found the handle adequate, but not too large. I could activate the safety release with my right thumb comfortably, but a person with smaller hands may have to default to canting the firearm slightly in his grip to use his right thumb, or just use his left thumb before reaching for the next magazine to reload.
The Five-seveN has a slide release located on the left side of the frame just ahead of the safety. It was easy to use and even easier to reassemble. While holding the Five-seveN in my left hand, I was able to activate the slide release with my index finger while using my right hand to pull back the slide. Once the release was all the way back, I released the slide back forward, and it effortlessly came away from the frame. Just set the slide back on top of the frame, pull back one half-inch, and it’s locked back on.
The Five-seveN has a polymer frame with an integrated M1913 accessory rail. The overall length of the pistol is 8.2 inches with a 4.8-inch barrel length. The width of the handle is 1.4 inches despite the double stack magazine and has an overall height of 5.7 inches.
The handle depth from front to back was longer due to the length of the 5.7x28mm ammo, but it still felt very comfortable in my hands. This gives the Five-seveN pistol the impression of a large, heavy, full-sized duty weapon, but that is not the feel you get when it’s loaded. After shooting the Five-seveN with several magazines, I added a tactical light to the rail, which seemed to give it a little more balance and improved the recoil even more.
Firing the Five-seveN was a dream. With limited recoil and muzzle climb, target reacquisition was quick and smooth. The recoil of the Five-seveN is more than a .22 Long Rifle pistol, but considerably less than a 9mm pistol. The report from the muzzle is louder than expected, but not to the level of a .40 S&W handgun.
The pistol itself is a great weapon. The debate continues about the stopping power of the ammo. The Five-seveN pistol drives the 31-grain FMJ bullet from the SS190 round to 2133 fps, which is an energy of 313 ft-lbs. In comparison, the standard 9mm produces about 340 ft-lbs of energy. (The 223 Rem generates about 1200 ft-lbs.) The SS190 penetrates Threat Level IIIA body armor at 200 yards.
The velocity of the round is not the question. It is the performance of the bullet after it enters the target. It is designed to tumble, and not to expand. The SS190 penetrates between 10.5 and 13.5 inches of calibrated ballistic gelatin. In comparison, the dual-core M855 5.56mm ammo penetrates between 17 and 22 inches of gelatin.
On impact, the SS190 bullet tumbles base over nose one time, coming to a rest base-first. This transfers energy and limits over-penetration. The bullet starts to tumble after about 2 inches and completes the tumble at about 9 inches. The 5.7mm SS190 produces a wound cavity about the size of a 9mm +P+, except the peak occurs deeper inside the target than the 9mm.
We were given SS198LF and SS195LF ammo to fire. This is the commercial-grade, law enforcement-only ammo available from FNH USA. The SS190 is the military grade ammo with a slight jump in velocity from the SS195, with a reported 2133 feet per second over the 2040 feet per second of the SS190.
At ranges of 50 to 100 yards, the flat trajectory of the 5.7x28mm was very apparent from point of aim versus point of impact. Combined with the excellent trigger offered by the Five-seveN, I could see a drastic improvement from these ranges over other larger caliber duty weapons. Granted, most gun fights are close quarters statistically, but it is nice to have some range from a handgun in case that distance opens up, and the Five-seveN offers that without question.
I know that larger calibers can hit from these distances, but aiming over a target’s head to try to hit the chest doesn’t feel nearly as reassuring. At normal qualifying ranges, I could see my groups pull in from my normal quality of shooting, and I actually caught myself trying to slow down even more than normal. The Five-seveN’s faster target acquisition combined with its excellent trigger mechanism had me shooting quicker than normal, which felt unnatural. I even found myself wondering when the magazine was going to be running dry.
Magazine changes were quick once I got a feel for the Five-seveN. The exterior design of the polymer magazine and the lip of the magazine well had me catching it slightly. Maybe if the jagged, pointy edges at the top front of the magazine were rounded slightly it would eliminate some of the issue.
The Five-seveN is double-action-only and has no exposed hammer. The trigger has a large grooved surface, which gave a better feel. The extra-large trigger guard made shooting with gloves a breeze due to the extra space between the guard and the trigger. The Five-seveN has a nice medium-length trigger pull with a crisp break. The reset is very short, and I found I preferred to utilize the full trigger pull as it was just slightly more than the reset.
I find that with long trigger pulls, inexperienced shooters become impatient. The “go off already” attitude takes over, which inevitably results in the inexperienced shooter rushing his trigger pulls. The Five-seveN has a consistent, smooth trigger pull that is a joy to shoot. Combined with the low recoil and the magazine capacity, as well as the innovative safety, it gets high marks. Don Munson is a deputy with the Benton County, Ind., Sheriff's Department, and he is point man with his multi-agency response team. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.