Gotta hand it to ’em
Walther’s PDP is their best effort yet, says Rod Pascoe
In the mid-1990s German arms manufacturer Walther was one of the first of the established European gunmakers to embrace the technological changes made across the border by a relative newcomer to the firearms industry – Glock.
Very little had changed in pistol design and operation until the 1980s when Gaston Glock, an Austrian, made a giant departure from the traditional handgun manufacturing process and introduced injection-moulded polymer pistol frames, a striker-fired mechanism with multiple internal safety devices without the need for a manual safety catch and a nitride treatment to metal parts to resist corrosion. He also reintroduced the polygonal barrel first seen years earlier in firearms such as the Lee-Metford and Arisaka rifles.
Walther began developing the P99 in the 1990s to cash in on the extraordinary success of the Glock pistol, especially for military and police applications, a market in which Walther had a reputation. They’d previously used aluminium alloys in the P1 and PPK pistols as a way of lightening the frame but with the P99 went for injection-moulded glass fibre reinforced polymer instead. Apart from the design and mechanical technologies, the other thing built into these new firearms was a lower production cost without sacrificing reliability and safety.
Glock went on to secure several substantial military and police contracts while Walther’s P99 also had success in the security, concealed and open-carry self-defence and home-protection markets for years, though we didn’t see much of it in Australia because of its short barrel. The PPQ followed the P99 in 2011 by enhancing features which worked so well in its predecessor and removing those that didn’t (considerable time and energy was spent mainly on improving the trigger and ergonomics). Walther also added a 5” barrelled version to extend to markets where barrel length was an issue and to attract the target shooting community, the steel frame version of the PPQ launched later in 2019.
Walther’s designers and engineers continued working overtime too, not only to improve their current models but to adapt to customers’ changing demands, at the same time remaining viable in the market by being competitively priced. Last year Walther released another advancement on the popular PPQ model, the Performance Duty Pistol (PDP) now available to Australian shooters in 9mm Luger with 125mm barrel, 10-shot magazine and a choice of two grip lengths. Essentially Walther stuck to the striker-fired, polymer-framed, polygonal-barrelled concept but incorporated a new trigger – the Performance Duty Trigger (PDT) – along with changes to grip design and texture that resembles the style introduced on the PPQ Steel Frame grip.
This is the first time Walther has made a full-size polymer-framed gun as until now their pistols were only available in ‘compact’ dimensions, light weight and concealment being the priority. Australian distributer Frontier Arms offered Australian Shooter the chance to put a ‘full-size’ PDP to the test, the difference between the two essentially just in the height of the grip ‑ 8mm longer in full-size ‑ and therefore the length of the magazine (the compact model takes the same magazine as the PPQ).
While we’re limited to 10-shot magazines here, our consideration is not one of magazine capacity but of comfortable gripping especially for those with larger hands, three replaceable backstraps offering a choice not only of grip comfort but trigger finger and mag release thumb reach. The finger grooves on the PPQ polymer-framed pistol have been ‘ironed out’ to more subtle humps just on the side of the grip and deep chequering on the frontstrap, matching that on the front of the triggerguard.
Comparing the compact-sized grip of a PPQ Steel Frame to the full-size PDP, I like the way the longer grip curved to fit my hand. It put the little finger of my supporting hand at the bottom of the grip rather than under it, giving more feeling of control. The magazine release is reversible while the long slide release levers are on both sides of the frame. The PDP barrel is essentially the same as the PPQ at 127mm with polygonal rifling and a step in the chamber to reduce the gas blowing back towards the breech which provides extra accuracy and more velocity. The recoil spring and guide rod assembly is one unit and because Walther wanted this gun to be as modular as possible, spring assembly and barrel in the compact are the same as in the full-size model so it’s easy to swap barrels and slides between frame sizes.
It’s fair to say the major improvement to the whole system over Walther’s previous models is the trigger and to a pistol shooter this is the centre of the universe and the first thing tested for appraisal. The Performance Duty Trigger and firing mechanism have been refined to where the take-up has been shortened to produce a crisp and precise break and a shorter and smoother than expected trigger reset, all this still weighing just under 5lb. I believe the trigger is backwards compatible with the PPQ as well as the square-faced Dynamic Performance Trigger on the new line of custom shop PPQ Steel Frame models.
The slide of the PDP is almost the same as the PPQ internally but externally is a different story. Walther calls the slide serrations ‘SuperTerrain’ and are on both front and rear and deep, providing an excellent surface for working the slide while offering a wider platform for mounting a red dot. This makes the slide slightly wider than the PPQ which means your PDP won’t fit a PPQ holster though Walther has been working with manufacturers and, by the time you read this, several of them will have holsters available.
Talking of after-market parts and accessories Walther has standardised, for want of a better word, many PDP parts such as springs and sights used in other pistol brands. Of note is Glock pattern sights fit the PDP meaning choice of sights is huge from aftermarket traders. The slide has been cut to accept a wide range of reflex dot sights, a feature that’s become almost mandatory on today’s pistols. Unlike the PPQ and some other brands, Walther has elected to keep the open rear sight on the frame when the optic cover plate is removed and dot sight added. While the dot and open sights are not co-witnessed, the front sight is clearly visible in the bottom of the sight picture which means you can install taller iron sights to co-witness with a dot if desired.
Mounting plates are available for almost every reflex optical sight and can be ordered individually at time of purchase. The plate is attached to the slide with screws and optic then attached to the plate (if you prefer to run iron sights, just keep the slide cover in place). This plate also has serrations which match those on the slide, offering enhanced grip when racking the slide. Frontier also supplied a Holosun HE507C open reflex sight for review with the PDP, this having the added feature of a solar cell to give the battery a break when the sun’s out. It also sports a green 10 Minute of Angle (MOA) inverted chevron or arrowhead as opposed to a dot. I didn’t mind this feature but, as with anything, it’s something you must get used to. There’s also the option to switch on a green 250 MOA circle which surrounds the arrowhead, offering a way of quickly locating the centre of the sight.
I found that with some practice of drawing the gun or bringing it to the firing position from below, it was easy to find the arrowhead and align it on target without needing the illuminated circle. As with any such reflex sight it’s parallel-free and has unlimited eye relief, making it suitable for barrel mounting on rifles or shotguns for instance. There are 10 daylight and two night-vision compatible brightness settings adjustable by the plus and minus buttons on the side, the same buttons also controlling the 250 MOA circle as well as the whole unit. If there’s no movement of the gun for 10 minutes the unit will power down and wake up when movement’s detected.
On the range
Starting with a clean bore and dob of oil on the metal-to-metal contact points, I loaded the magazine without the supplied tool, easy enough when only loading five rounds at a time. Sadly, during a pandemic there wasn’t much factory ammunition available but what there was worked flawlessly in the PDP, though results varied. Best performer by far was the 150-grain lead Syntech from Federal, this round also reducing muzzle flip which is handy in a polymer-framed gun.
A close second was the PPU 124-grain jacketed hollow point which not only produced a 57mm group but printed all shots in the 10 and X-ring of a standard Service Pistol target, fired from a barricade at 25 yards. Strangely the worst performer was the 115-grain version of the Federal Syntech, yet all but one shot landed in the 10-ring at 25 yards. Other brands tested included Geco, Winchester and Sellier & Bellot in various bullet weights and shapes. I found the grip angle suited my natural aiming position with both open and reflex sights, probably because I’ve grown familiar with the PPQ’s grip angle over time.
Walther’s use of ‘Duty’ in the PDP title and advertising – ‘It’s your duty to be ready’ ‑ makes clear its target audience but the PDP will attract much wider appeal. This is Walther’s best effort yet to not only deliver an overall superior firearm but build a pistol incorporating all the features for an accurate shooting club gun. For years we’ve treated most polymer-framed striker-fired pistols as just another Glock – not any more as the market has decided price isn’t the only criteria. The PDP is ahead in terms of accuracy with factory-loaded ammunition but for the money it fits in with other polymer-framed pistols.
It’s hard to say which version of the PDP will be most popular in Australia. In the US the choice comes down to better concealment with the compact model versus extended magazine capacity (18) in the full-size, neither of which are considerations here, so it’ll probably be a matter of which feels best in the hand in terms of fit and balance. On a final note, the Walther PDP received the much-coveted ‘Handgun of the Year 2021’ award from renowned US magazine Guns & Ammo after numerous newly-released handguns were tested according to strict criteria.
Only the most innovative, reliable and durable products were admitted to the months-long practical testing and as summarised in the Guns & Ammo press release: “While many brands shifted the focus to developing micro-compact pistols, Walther reinvented its polymer-framed, striker-fired full-size and compact offerings. There were many new handguns introduced in 2021 and the fact several qualified and were considered for this award makes this win a particularly significant achievement for Walther.”
PDP Full-Size (reviewed)
Magazine capacity: 10
Barrel length: 127mm
Overall dimensions (L/W/H): 215/34/143mm (compact 135mm)
Weight with empty mag: 780g (compact 775g)
Sight radius: 188mm
Barrel, twist rate: Polygonal rifling, one in 250mm (19.9”) right-hand twist
System operation: Short recoil modified Browning locked breech, striker-fired
Trigger weight and travel: 5lb/9mm (identical for every round)
Safeties: Trigger, striker, disconnect safety, loaded chamber indicator
Slide and barrel: Tenifer-treated carbon steel
Frame: High-strength polymer
Distributor: Frontier Arms, Adelaide