Review: Beretta APX
Like slide serrations? Then Beretta APX deserves your attention. Its slide is full of them. Friends on the web have been referring to the slide as “Tactical Toblerone,” which is likely intended as a dig comparing its serrations to the appearance of the cuts on the Swiss-made chocolate bar. Aesthetics aside, I think the nickname is kind of appropriate given that the APX handles and shoots pretty sweet.
When the slide is manipulated, one can’t help but notice that those serrations are positively grippy. It’s confidence inspiring, in fact. Even if the act of clearing a malfunction is fumbled, grab any point on the slide, and it can be easily grasped. It is going to do what you want it to do. Though each serration presents an aggressive touch point, the spacing of each rib keeps them from working together as if they were part of a cheese grater to shred fingers, clothes and holsters.
What is also tactile is the molded 14 lines-per-inch (lpi) pyramid-style checkering between the grip’s finger grooves and on the backstrap. Don’t like finger grooves telling you where your digits should lay? I’m reluctant to call too much attention to them because they are very subtle. And, unlike many of the new pistols featuring removable backstraps, the APX is more like the Ruger American and Smith & Wesson M&P, which also feature interchangeable saddle-like backstraps and side panels. Additionally, the side panels have been given a molded grit texture that is less aggressive than the aforementioned checkering. Though initially sold in black, Beretta will offer other-colored grip modules for around $50 each.
That’s right. The Beretta APX is a new chassis gun. Well, it’s new to us. The project started five years ago when it became obvious that Uncle Sam was hell bent on retiring Beretta’s legendary M9.
“The APX has gone through a number of design changes in the last 1 million rounds,” said John Tamborino, tactical product manager for Beretta USA. “The original pistol doesn’t look like what it does today, and that’s due to the feedback of professionals. We tweaked and tweaked since the first prototypes were tested in mid-2013.”
Inside the APX is a striker-fired stainless steel chassis. Since the U.S. Army’s quest for its Modular Handgun System (MHS) began, striker-fired chassis pistols have become the rage. So, the traditional plastic frame is not the serialized gun. You’ll find that there is a rectangular cutout on the left side of the grip module that reveals the pistol’s serial number that’s been laser engraved to the chassis. This means that Beretta could introduce other options such as different calibers, frame sizes and, oh yes, colors. At launch, the APX will be dressed in black, but we can find grip modules in other three colors: Flat Dark Earth (FDE), Wolf Grey and OD Green. These will be found at dealers and on Beretta’s website.
Thoughts on Disassembly
To access the chassis or switch grip modules, one has to first fieldstrip the APX. Follow Beretta’s instruction manual, and it won’t be a complicated affair for most. However, if you’re trying to look smart at the gun counter, you need to know two things. First, the takedown lever won’t rotate down 90 degrees until you push on its crossbolt from the other side of the frame. Second, you can pull the trigger — or not. Like many companies, Beretta has developed a way to distance itself from Glock by offering a method to remove the APX’s slide without pulling the trigger. Sure, as with the Smith & Wesson M&P for example, we can simply pull the trigger (on an empty gun) and remove the slide or we can grab a tool to deactivate the striker. With the APX, we can use almost any pointed object to press a dimpled button located ahead of the grip’s beavertail below the slide after pulling the slide to the rear about three-quarters of an inch. Voila. You now have a slide that can be removed without the need for pulling the trigger — on an unloaded APX, of course.
To remove the chassis from the grip module, you’ll have to get a punch and lift the leg of the cocking lever spring from the groove on the rear chassis pin. The pin is captured — to prevent it from walking out — by this spring. A second punch is needed to simultaneously push out the rear chassis pin from right to left. After this two-handed game of Twister, the chassis can then be tilted and removed from the grip module. The military would have considered this armorer-level maintenance, but Beretta is confident in your ability to follow its manual’s directions.
The manual also illustrates instructions for an ambidextrous thumb safety configuration, which was developed for Beretta’s MHS submission. Beretta provided no timeline, but you can expect this thumb-safety version to follow shortly.
With the Beretta APX disassembled, it’s fun to look at Beretta’s approach to a striker-fired pistol. Disassembling the striker assembly in the slide is easily sorted for those who’ve taken one apart before, but there is the addition of a safety plunger that interrupts the striker’s forward travel until it is lifted by the actuation of the trigger. It is reminiscent of the firing pin block on Beretta’s 92 series and PX4. What I can’t figure out is why we still need to watch the plunger rise or lower in front of the rear sight as we stroke the trigger through its travel. I asked Beretta and wasn’t provided a real answer; however, a few firearm instructors have told them that they occassionally watch for it as students press the trigger. To me, it doesn’t appear useful in the way a loaded chamber indicator might be, but it did cause me pause as I considered how this would impact milling the slide for a mini red dot sight (MRDS) later. With a sight installed, Beretta’s passive safety system would have to be removed because the plunger would be pushing up underneath a sight’s base, and that wouldn’t work. I’ve seen Beretta’s MHS version of this pistol, and it too featured this plunger and lacked the provisions for attaching an MRDS. The good news, according to Tamborino, is that Beretta is already working on an APX variant that will accept a red dot sight.
Also visually peculiar is the dual-coil recoil spring assembly. It’s a captured design, but one coil is loosely shrouded over another. After 1,140 rounds, I’ve yet to experience a malfunction with the APX, so I have no cause for concern; it just looks haphazard.
“From an engineering point of view,” Tamborino said, “it will last four times as long as a conventional spring assembly. Take, for example, the [Beretta] 92 uses a spring good for at least 5,000 rounds. In the course of shooting hundreds of thousands of rounds through many APXs, we’ve determined that the APX will last 20,000-plus rounds before that spring assembly needs replacement.”
Lastly, I’m a little frustrated by the manner in which the backstraps are removed from the grip module. I realize that most people who shoot the APX won’t fiddle with removing and replacing the factory-installed backstrap to try another. However, I like to go to the range and experiment with these sorts of features. To remove the backstrap, those who don’t read user manuals will find that it’s easier to remove the slide first. You can get more leverage from over the frame (which you’ll need) with the slide removed. Use a small punch to push on the internal backstrap retainer, which is a long flat rod that weaves through the grip module and two slots within the backstrap. The top of the retainer rod, which looks like a hook, has to be pushed to the right before it can be pressed down. Also, the bottom of the retainer serves as a pistol lanyard. For changing backstraps, I found the lanyard worked as a second point of leverage by pulling at the bottom while simultaneously pushing down at the top. It takes a bit of effort to remove the retainer the first time; once done, it will make you think carefully about which backstrap you actually prefer before deciding to put yourself through the process again. I was left wondering why Beretta didn’t take a page from SIG Sauer’s notebook and offer different-sized grip modules rather than having us mess with changing out backstraps. Backstraps are necessary for pistols when the chassis isn’t easily removed.
When pressed on the subject, Tamborino stated, “Backstraps are offered with the APX at the point of sale. We’re not asking customers to spend more money to try adjusting their grip with different modules.” Good point.
The grip module design is clean, well proportioned and well laid out. Controls are easy to reach, and the magazine release is reversible. There’s even an undercut at the back of the triggerguard that affords a comfortably high grip. The underside of the triggerguard, however, begs for some texture to prevent the support-hand index finger from slipping during recoil.
An engineer must have spent a lot of time working the magazine well. There’s a lip that sweeps forward at the front of the grip that blends with the magazine’s basepad and gives a ledge to rest our pinky. On the inside, this works like a funnel.
“Magazine changes are the most stressful and botched part of handling a gun under stress,” Tamborino said. “I was adamant about making the magwell wide and as smooth as possible.”
The APX comes with a pair of brilliant (no weld marks), slick, blued 17-round magazines made in Italy. I applaud the effort behind this mag. Soon after the APX appears, I’m told, there will also be 21-round extended magazines available.
The trigger isn’t bad either. It’s not too light and not too heavy for a pistol designed for gunfighting. I measured a 10-pull average of 6 pounds. There was about 3 pounds of initial resistance followed by another 3 pounds to release the striker. After that, an integral overtravel stop prevents the trigger shoe from contining to travel rearward, and the reset only takes 3mm, which makes follow-up shots extremely fast and predictable. Apex Tactical is already working on an aftermarket trigger for the APX, but the factory job enabled me to squeeze out tight groups with speed.
At 25 yards on a benchrest, I found the APX capable of 11/2-inch five-shot groups with almost every quality load, and just 21/2 inches with range ammunition. Rapid-fire drills at closer distances illustrated the same. If you miss, it’s because the sights weren’t aligned.
Beretta’s barrels are cold-hammer forged and proofed in Italy. Favor them or not, it’s hard to argue that Beretta pistols haven’t earned a reputation for accuracy, and I credit the barrel and its fitment.
And then there are the sights. The APX will initially be delivered with drift-adjustable front and rear white-dot sights, but night sights will be optional. These aren’t plastic dovetail
protectors as we find with a Glock; Beretta’s are metal and tough.
The Beretta APX was designed for military and law enforcement users, and it has been put through extensive testing at the professional level for the last three years. Even for its conundrums, I like the APX. It exudes Italian quality and performs like an experienced American veteran. The APX may look like a bar of Toblerone, but we have to remember that Toblerone is Swiss, and the Swiss know how to make great chocolate.
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