SIG's P232 in .380 ACP Aces Test without a Hitch 

by Phil W. Johnston
Handgun Editor

The SIG-Sauer P232 joined the SIG line in 1997, replacing the P230, which got its start in 1976. Designed as a straight blowback, pocket-style semi-auto, the design is classic and SIG's execution is flawless.

The P232 is the smallest firearm in the SIG lineup.

Chambered for the .380 ACP (9mm Kurz/9mm short), the P232 is based on a vintage design which calls for the barrel to be pressed into the receiver while the slide recoils along its length. The recoil spring is of a captive design and winds around the barrel. The design is popular for similar sized pistols that are chambered for relatively tame cartridges.

During the firing cycle, the pressure of the round is contained by spring pressure and inertia of the slide until the bullet has left the barrel. Once the pressure has dropped to an acceptable level, the slide recoils to extract and eject the empty cartridge and pick up a fresh round from the magazine, as it returns to battery. The system is about as simple as it gets, and pistols based on this design always seem to work, well.

The P232 features only two operational controls in addition to the trigger. The decocking lever is located on the left side of the receiver, high on the grip frame, and the magazine release is at the bottom of the grip frame behind the magazine. In keeping with basic simplicity, while the slide is locked open following the last shot from a magazine, the slide must be manually pulled slightly to the rear and then released to chamber the first round from the next magazine. The P232 magazines hold 7 rounds and the pistol may be safely carried with the hammer down on a loaded chamber-Condition Two-extending the capacity to 7+1. The P232 features an open hammer and an effective hammer block and an "automatic firing pin lock" that prevents the pistol from firing unless the trigger is pulled.

Flawless Finish
The P232 is made in Germany and German quality is evident throughout. The finish is flawless, conservative and attractive. The blue steel slide features semi glossy sides, while the top of the slide features a matte finish to reduce glare. The aluminum receiver is finished in an attractive matte black that matches the slide. The grips are likewise black and constructed of plastic, but wooden grips are optional. We'd stick with the plastic grips.

SIG says in the excellent owner's manual that the trigger breaks around 3 pounds single-action and just a tad under 10 pounds, double-action. While our trigger weights can't handle over 5.5 pounds, we did verify that the single-action trigger is as claimed. There is some takeup and over-travel, but the single-action trigger breaks like ice, making this little semi-auto a pleasure all the way. The double-action trigger is reasonably smooth and easy to use, as well.

The magazine release is designed to be depressed with thumb pressure using the non-shooting hand and once released, the magazine must be pulled from the grip frame. We prefer a Colt-style magazine release that drops a magazine cleanly but like anything "different," it's basically a matter of getting familiar with what you're shooting. The P232 magazine release system is such that inadvertently dropping a magazine is likewise, highly unlikely. The 232 does not feature a magazine safety or disconnect and remains fully functional with the magazine removed.

Since the design is so simple, it would stand to reason that takedown is simple as well. In that light the pistol may be field stripped in seconds, sans tools. With the magazine removed and an empty chamber, one simply rotates the takedown lever downward and then pulls the slide back and up, lifting it from the receiver. Putting it back together is likewise quick and painless. Slip the recoil spring into the muzzle of the slide and pull the slide to the rear while applying slight downward pressure. The slide will drop into place on the receiver and return to battery when pressure is released. Flip the takedown lever up and you're ready to rock and roll, once again.

Sight System
The 232 features good, semi-fixed sights. The package includes the familiar three dots and they offer a good sight picture. Although fixed, the rear sight may be drifted in the slide for windage changes. SIG also offers several replacement rear sight packages to regulate elevation, should it be necessary. The pistol is shipped with the "N" sight installed.

The rear sight is held in place in the slide by an Allen headed screw. Should the pistol print too low with the preferred ammo, SIG offers "+." and "+" replacements as well as "-" and "-." to lower the point of impact. The sample pistol was spot-on out of the box, however, putting everything where it would count, regardless of the chosen ammo.

The P232 is a small package, weighing just over a pound, empty, and measuring just a tad over 6.6 inches in length. The pistol is about 1-1/2 inches wide at the widest point-at the top of the plastic grips. The pistol is roughly 4-1/4 inches high, measured from the bottom of the grip to the top of the slide. The littlest SIG is smooth and rounded and just begs to be carried.

This brings up an interesting point. Carrying a handgun concealed, routinely, gets to be a pain, if you don't mind a pun. Too big, and the rig tends to get heavy and bulky fast, although possibly capable of generating a bunch of foot-pounds (FP) at the same time. Too small, and the pistol may be a pleasure to carry, but these neat little packages tend to be chambered for lighter cartridges, often compared to pipsqueaks for lack of a better term.

What's the middle ground? These days it tends to include pistols chambered for the .380 ACP cartridge. Better than the proverbial stick to be sure, the .380 cartridge isn't often capable of exceeding 200 FP of instrumental energy and some loads don't even get close to this mark. Typical of most semi-auto pistol rounds, selecting a .380 for a backup or as a mainline rig demands that one pay careful attention to what the handgun is loaded with.

Ammo Choices
We'd put our bets on any of the frangible ammo available from reputable manufacturers, including Glaser, Mag Safe, or the Bee Safe line from Cor-Bon. There's also the great Cor-Bon 90-grain +P JHP load that exits this stubby, 3.6-inch barrel doing an honest 1,000 feet-per-second (fps), generating 200 FP of instrumental energy when things are rounded off. So loaded, the .380 should give a good account of itself when the chips are down, assuming that marksmanship is good. We'd also recommend that if one must shoot on the street or at home, one keep shooting until hostilities cease or the ammunition supply is exhausted.

In addition to giving the P232 a workout in the Ransom Rest, we took the time to grab and hang on for some informal work on a B-27 silhouette target. Regardless of the load, the little SIG 232 just kept on ticking with nary a glitch. Keeping all 8 in the X-ring of the B-27 was duck soup at 7 yards, and when we backed off to 25 yards it proved only slightly more difficult. At 25 yards, we managed to keep everything inside the 9-ring.

Out of the Ransom Rest, the P232 averaged just over 3.5 inches, center-to-center, at 25 yards. The best accuracy took place when the pistol was stuffed with Hornady 90-grain XTP JHPs. Our supply of the Hornady ammunition was limited, and we only managed to fire two 5-shot groups with this ammo, but these two groups averaged 2.4 inches, center-to-center. These loads are on the mild side, exiting the muzzle at 891 fps, generating 158.6 FP of instrumental energy. Next in line were the Cor-Bon and Winchester 95-grain SXT JHPs, both averaging 3.0 inches, center-to-center, but the Cor-Bon load generates 22% more energy because of the higher muzzle velocity.

The P232 is a little gem in all respects. Throughout several days of test shooting this smallest SIG didn't miss a beat, regardless of the load. It shoots to point of aim and is designed to be easy and pleasant to carry. Carrying a suggested retail price of $505, this one deserves a good look.

For more information about the P232 or other great SIG offerings, drop them a line at SIG Arms Inc., Exeter Corporate Park, Dept. GWK, Exeter, NH 03833; phone: 603-772-2302, or look them up on-line: www.sigarms.com.

Be sure to tell them that we here at Gun Week sent you.

SIG P232 .380 ACP
Load Velocity/ES/ED
at 15'
Energy at 15' Average 5-Shot Group at 25 Yards
COR-BON +P
90-Grain JHPS
1,000/143/36 fps 199.8 FP 3.0"
Federal BallistiClean™
60-Grain SP
1,022/80/18 fps 139.1 FP 4.8"
Hornady Custom
90-Grain XTP HP
891/52/16 fps 158.6 FP 2.4"*
Remington/UMC
95-Grain FMJ (Ball)
893/65/18 fps 168.2 FP 4.7"
Winchester
95-Grain FMJ (Ball)
898/88/25 fps 170.0 FP 4.3"
Winchester
95-Grain BEB (brass clad)
870/90/20 fps 159.6 FP 3.1"
Winchester
95-Grain SXT HP
879/82/18 fps 162.9 FP 3.0"
* Note: Only two 5-shot groups were fired with this ammunition.


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