A reliable handgun at a fair price requires research and understanding of the manufacturing process in order to obtain the correct handgun for your needs. As an example, it just isn’t possible to offer a quality 1911 handgun at the same price as a polymer frame striker-fired handgun. However, due to the latest polymer frame technology there are good choices in self-loading pistols at less than $400. These handguns are well made of good material that go bang! every time you pull the trigger. Among the best buys on the market, and one I personally trust, is the Smith and Wesson SD 40.
The SD 40 is a striker-fired polymer-framed handgun that appears similar to other Smith and Wesson self-loading pistols, but stands alone in a number of design details. The pistol offers a good range of features for the price.
Let’s get caliber out of the way first. I chose the .40 caliber version because this is a gun I intend to keep and carry. The SD 9 (The SD 9, in 9mm Luger, is much the same handgun as the SD 40.) would have been easier to fire for test purposes—the ammunition is less expensive and I will not sugar coat the issue; the .40 kicks more than the 9mm. In a 23-ounce handgun, recoil is a factor. However, having found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time more than once and observed the effect of handgun calibers I prefer the larger caliber.
The laws of physics cannot be changed and the .40 caliber cartridge offers superior wound ballistics. Recoil tolerance is personal, related to many factors not always including muscle and brawn, and the 9mm might be the better choice for most shooters if your practice schedule is occasional, and that is understandable in today’s busy world. That being said, I have never favored high capacity over wound potential. But just the same, 14 rounds of .40 S&W ammunition in a 23-ounce package is a good choice. I simply prefer the .40.
Fit and Finish
Fit and finish of the SD 40 is good. The magazines are all-metal and seem durable. They lock in place solidly. The stainless steel slide features an attractive design with forward cocking serrations and nicely etched markings. The SD 40 locks up in the SIG fashion, with the barrel hood butting into the slide. The well-designed recoil spring and guide rod seem durable. The sights are dovetailed in place. They may be changed out for TruGlo sights from Cheaper Than Dirt! if desired. An Apex Tactical trigger spring kit is also available for those preferring a lighter let off.
The polymer frame fits the average hand well. Even better is that the grip is not over sized and does not stretch my average-sized hands. There is stippling on the flats of the handle and checkering on the front strap and rear strap. The frame features a slight concave to help with trigger reach. An upraised portion of the grip frame protects the magazine release. All who handled the pistol commented favorably on the grip frame. Another comment was that the SD 40 isn’t the typical blocky, angular polymer-frame handgun.
Some noted that the slide lock and magazine release are not ambidextrous. On an economy handgun, at about $335 at the time of this writing, I cannot gripe about the lack of an ambidextrous slide lock. Left-handed shooters have learned to use the forefinger to actuate these controls. There is a cutout in the barrel that acts as a loaded chamber indicator. Disassembly is Glock-style with two levers.
Firing the SD 40
The firing test is where the rubber meets the pavement. I lubricated the barrel hood, barrel at the point it meets the slide, and the cocking block. I began the firing evaluation with the affordable SIG Sauer Elite FMJ ammunition. I have familiarized myself with the SD 40’s trigger during dry fire. I begin every test with a few rounds at seven yards to familiarize myself with the trigger and to confirm size regulation. The result was two bullets in the same hole and one nearby for the first three shots. Not a bad start.
The SD 40 trigger action is a double action only partially prepped by the slide. It is different from the Glock and not as smooth as the Smith and Wesson Military and Police, but useful. The double-action trigger requires the shooter to understand how to fire, allow the trigger to reset, regain the sight picture, and fire again. Firing in a rapid cadence, firing as quickly as I could regain the sight picture after recoil, results were good at 7, 10 and even 15 yards. I would not hesitate to trust this handgun in a personal defense role.
Moving to a personal defense loading, I used the Hornady American Gunner 180-grain XTP ammo. This load gave excellent feed reliability. I also fired a magazine of my handloads, using the 155-grain Hornady XTP and enough WW 231 Powder for 1,000 fps. There were no failures to feed, chamber, fire or eject with any load. As for absolute accuracy, firing from a solid bench rest and managing the trigger, I fired several groups with the SIG Sauer Elite loads as well as the American Gunner. At 15 yards, I recorded groups of 2.5 to 3.2 inches. This is plenty accurate for a personal defense handgun. With more time on with the trigger, I could probably do a little better.
The SD 40 is a credible choice for personal defense. In my estimation, this handgun is among the best buys among personal defense handguns. The SD 40 combines reliability, combat accuracy and power into a compact package. Best of all, it is backed by the name and warranty of one of our oldest makers.
|Barrel Length||4 inches|
|Overall Length||7.2 inches|
|Weight Unloaded||22.7 ounces|
|Sights||Dovetailed, 3-dot white|
|Capacity||10 and 17 rounds|
|Frame||Black polymer frame|
9mm or .40 S&W? Would you prefer Smith and Wesson’s SD 9 or SD 40? Share your thoughts or experiences in the comment section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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