Smith & Wesson M&P 380 Shield EZ
Long story short: this may be the best gun of 2018.
The EZ has the same basic profile as the more common Shield models, and you’ll feel right at home if you’re already used to the M&P line. The notable differences are the chambering in .380 ACP (previously the only Smith .380 offering was the bodyguard), the backstrap safety (just like on a 1911), the magazine with a built-in thumb follower (like on the Ruger Standard), and the very light recoil spring that makes the slide very easy to manipulate.
.380 ACP has maintained its share of the marketplace, mainly because pocket semi-autos can be made a shade smaller in .380 than their 9mm counterparts. And while Glock doesn’t bring the 25 into the United States because of our wonky import laws, it does bless us with the 42, which I believe is the best sub-compact on the market. But the EZ takes a different approach: a slightly gentler round that makes a larger-than-sub-compact gun much more manageable. My big mitts have no problem racking the slide on a Government sized 1911, but the EZ made tap-rack-bang drills a lot easier.
First, the trigger. I clocked it at an entirely respectable 5½ pounds. As is the case with all of the M&P 2.0’s, the break and the reset are both crisp and audible, with none of the squishinesses that plagued the original M&P’s. Interestingly, the actual trigger on the EZ doesn’t have the articulated safety that the other M&P’s do. Many would consider this an advantage. I’m still a big fan of the Apex trigger that I fitted on my full-size M&P 1.0, and that has an integrated trigger safety, so I’m not opposed to them. The EZ’s solid trigger does eliminate the vagueness, though, and I was surprised at how tack-driving accurate this gun was out of the box.
Speaking of safeties: this gun foregoes the articulated trigger safety, and the particular gun I got also doesn’t have a thumb safety. It seems like a fair trade that Smith instead gave this gun a grip safety, à la 1911. Some will lament this, but the grip safety doesn’t bother me in the least. If one draws with proper purchase on the grip, the grip safety should go nearly unnoticed. And given that drop accidental discharges are a thing right now, the lawyers are probably feeling a bit skittish. The grip safety on the EZ has a bit more travel than the hammerless (aka lemon squeezer) grip safeties of yore, but I quickly forgot that it was there and was reminded when I field stripped the gun to clean it.
The slide is easy to rack, and as I mentioned before this will benefit anyone that likes to practice tap-rack-bang drills. Curiously, the breech face is pinned into the slide as a separate piece, and others have speculated what this means. I guess it’s merely a nod to ease of manufacturing (the slide itself is probably stainless steel, while the breech face is almost certainly an MIM part), but at this point, it’s anyone’s guess. S&W is mowing new grass with the EZ, and time will tell whether this is a one-off or the beginning of a new platform.
The flat shape of the magazines made reloading at speed a bit more of a challenge than I anticipated, and the edges around the little loading knobs were a bit sharp. That said, the magazines fed fine and seem to be well made. And, for once, I wasn’t reaching for my BabyUpLula.
The EZ is a reasonably light gun, and this meant that the felt recoil was a bit more than I was expecting. Not in any way unpleasant or unmanageable, but a novice shooter transitioning from a .22 pistol to the EZ will feel the difference. That said, a hundred rounds of the Fiocchi 95 grain FMJ ammo didn’t leave me fatigued in any way.
I’ve long loved the M&P’s bright, crisp sights, and the EZ didn’t disappoint here. I have reliably put lead on paper at 70 yards with the stock sights on my full-size M&P, and the sights on the EZ perform just as well. Between the front and rear sights is a chamber flag; discrete but present, and very tactile.
Smith has a winning combination with the EZ; one that could simultaneously draw new shooters into the world of compact centerfire pistols, and more experienced shooters into a smaller gun that makes shooting drills more manageable.