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Preview – Sphinx SDP Subcompact

Photography by Kenda Lenseigne

It’s Swiss. Watch…
The Sphinx SDP Subcompact Is Hand-Fitted to Produce One of the Smoothest and Most Accurate Production Carry Guns

In the 1980s, back when trade with the Soviet Union was severely curtailed, laying hands on a genuine CZ 75 in the US of A was a big deal, as it probably came with a colorful story attached. In Europe, things weren’t quite as restrictive, and in addition to the real McCoy, licensed copies of the CZ design were available from the likes of Tanfoglio in Italy, Spitfire in the U.K., and Sphinx in Switzerland. The Tanfoglio guns quickly became a mainstay of IPSC competition, where they formed the basis for full-house custom jobs, as well as comped and dotted Open Class blasters chambered in 9mm major — keeping many gunsmiths busy replacing buggered-up top ends. Eventually, Springfield would import their own version, which sold with their rollstamp on the frame and the P9 legend on its slide. Sphinx also produced competition versions to serve this market, but at a higher quality level and price point.

Familiarity with the Brno design, then, was not uncommon worldwide. Just not here. This of course changed with the toppling of the Berlin Wall, releasing a tsunami of cheap surplus arms from Russia and her satellite states, not to mention access to the original CZ 75.

Sphinx continued to produce its version of the design, adding improvements along the way and evolving the product to the point where the family resemblance is still obvious, but the pistols are very distinctly different. The latest release to the U.S. market, the SDP Subcompact, will no doubt find a ready audience among CZ fans — such as former Delta operator and RECOIL contributor Mike Pannone and those who are looking for something just a little bit different as a CCW piece.

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Grab Hold
On picking up the little Sphinx, the first thing the user notices is the grip. Or rather, you don’t. Despite its abbreviated dimensions, the gun fits the hand very well, lacking any of the uncomfortable square corners or slab sides of many polymer-framed handguns. Molded checkering is likewise unobtrusive, but very effective, covering the areas that need to be sticky and leaving the rest of the frame smooth. One quibble we had with the larger version of this pistol was that, although the grip felt like a natural extension of the hand and was fine for use on the square range, it was a little too slick. The subcompact addresses this and is much more aggressive.

The construction of the frame is an anomaly, consisting of a lower portion of glass-filled polymer mated to an upper section milled from aluminum bar stock. As a result, the slide rides on full-length rails, rather than the steel inserts seen in other plastic guns. Unlike its bigger siblings, the subcompact model does not have any means for the shooter to adapt the grip to their preference through the use of replaceable panels or backstraps. We asked several different-sized users to give us their impressions and all of them found the gun comfortable, so perhaps this is a moot point. Shooters with larger hands found their pinkies wrapping under the magazine’s floor plate, while the majority managed to get all digits onboard.

A reversible mag release caters to lefties and is positioned conveniently in the conventional location behind the trigger guard — while small, it falls naturally under the thumb and is easily activated. Magazines drop free when released, hold 13 rounds of 9mm, and are made in Italy by Mecgar to its usual high standards.

Despite being constructed in two pieces, it’s not immediately noticeable where plastic ends and aluminum starts. There’s no tactile step between the two, indicative of the quality of manufacture and care taken in both injection molding and CNC machining. There are plenty of other makers of polymer guns who are quite willing to let guns with, say, warped dust covers leave their factories, but the Swiss apparently take these things seriously.

The aluminum portion of the frame is home to the fire control components and the controls. Its traditional double action/single action (DA/SA) lockwork is very similar to the rest of the CZ family, though in this case there’s no option to carry cocked and locked. Instead of a manual safety, an ambidextrous decocker is used to safe the weapon for carry — dropping the hammer puts it at the half cock position, lightening the first stage of the double-action trigger pull. Our test gun suffered from a gritty-feeling DA take-up with some stacking before release, which was something of a surprise given the smoothness of the other Sphinx products we’ve shot in the past. The single-action trigger, however, came in at a crisp 4.5 pounds with about 0.25-inch of reset and a bit of over-travel — about perfect for a compact self-defense pistol.

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