During Glock's incredibly successful first quarter-century of existence, I paid relatively little attention to the pistols. This had nothing to do with a lack of respect; from day one I have quietly acknowledged this polymer handgun has redefined the basic service pistol. Lightweight, simple and totally reliable with a capacity of 17 rounds of 9 mm ammunition, the Glock G17 has all the characteristics one could want in a defensive handgun.
My lack of attention was more a matter of shopping for an item and not finding one in a size that fit me. For example, if I purchase a hat that's a little too large, I can put some paper in the hatband until the inside diameter fits my pinhead. If a pistol's basic frame size is too large for my hand, the solution isn't quite that simple. Enter the new Gen4 Glock G17 and G22 with three interchangeable backstraps of different sizes. Voila! Mr. Pinhands becomes Glock's newest, devoted fan.
About a year ago, I went through a Gunsite 250 Defensive Pistol class with Glock's then-new Gen4 G19—a compact version of the G17, holding 15 rounds instead of 17. Like all the Gen4 Glocks, the test gun was delivered with a smaller backstrap installed than on earlier models, and it fit my hands perfectly. However, there were no alternate backstraps available to increase grip size. The new Gen4 G17 (and G22) full-size pistols are shipped with a small backstrap installed, but they also come with medium- and large-size backstraps in case you have gorilla-size paws. As with the earlier G19, I liked the feel of the factory-installed, smaller backstrap.
Gen4 models have two other features different from older-model Glocks. First, they're equipped with a pair of nested recoil springs, which should prove more survivable (and hence more reliable) than a single-spring system. Given Glock pistols' great reputation for reliability and the no more than 2,000 or so rounds I've fired through them, however, I'm not in a position to comment on that theory. In addition, the nested-spring assembly should soften felt recoil, making follow-up shots faster. I couldn't feel a difference with the mild-recoiling 9 mm pistols, and having no experience on Gen3 pistols chambered in .40 S&W, I put the G22 in the hands of three different instructors who have carried that model both on and off duty. When they really concentrated, all three agreed they could feel a small difference in felt recoil and recovery time with the Gen4 G22s. Whether or not you're able to feel a worthwhile improvement, my test subjects verified there is a slight difference.
The second change is on the external extractor. In addition to the extractor lip that grasps the rim of the fired case, the front, outer edge of the extractor also has a lip. At first glance, it makes you think the extractor is symmetrical and could be installed with either edge facing toward the chamber. Although it's not and it can't, the design does have a purpose. When a round is chambered, the lip on the outer edge of the extractor extends slightly and is no longer flush with the surface of the slide. Theoretically, the extended surface can be seen in good lighting by those with better than 20/20 vision and felt by those with the sensitive touch of a professional safecracker. This provides a "visual and tactile indication of a loaded chamber" according to the Massachusetts Attorney General, and the feature is required on guns sold in the Bay State.
I have two strong opinions on this. First, the new extractor does not relieve you of the duty to perform a proper chamber check, during which the slide is retracted far enough to see and feel whether or not a round is actually in the chamber. Second, Massachusetts, like California, pursues its blatant anti-gun agenda under the guise of improving public safety. You must remember all guns are always loaded, and your gun is solely your responsibility.
There were no surprises on the Gen4 Glock's external controls. The slide-stop lever is small enough that I could not accidentally go to slide lock while firing with rounds in the magazine. However, it is large enough to permit easy manipulation when I wanted to lock the slide back. The magazine catch is reversible, but since the pistol was delivered set up for a right-handed shooter, I didn't fuss with it.
The frame on the Gen4 pistols has an integral light rail, which could be a real benefit during any life-threatening encounter occurring in low light. Square-shaped, raised dimples on the sides of the frame, frontstrap and backstrap provide a secure grip and excellent control while shooting. The dimples may not be as pretty as the checkering on handguns with metal frames, but for me they are just as effective. Chalk up another cost-effective solution to Glock. I'm not sure I like the finger grooves on the frontstrap, but given the Glock's unusual grip-to-frame angle and the fact I've not had any experience with modifications designed to be more effective, I'm remaining relatively silent on this attribute.
I can't, however, remain silent on the Glock's classic "forward hook" trigger guard shape. Perhaps there are some shooters who wrap their support-hand trigger finger around the front of the trigger guard, but such a position is not normally taught. It compromises the integrity of the shooter's grip, particularly for those of us who don't have exceptionally long fingers. The hook also poses a potential hazard when reholstering by providing something that could hang up during the process. If you've just been involved in a life-threatening encounter, especially one involving an exchange of shots, and have to put your gun away, your nervous system will be running at warp speed. This is not a time to increase the degree of difficulty on what can be a very simple act.
At the risk of incurring the wrath of the entire Glock organization, to me the trigger guard looks as though the mold was initially rushed into production before the proper personnel got a look at the finished product. A power grinder rounded off the trigger guard on my G19, and I will repeat that process if I keep either of these pistols.
Either triggers are getting better on the current generation Glocks or I'm just getting more used to them. Striker-fired pistols don't rival the trigger pull on 1911s, but on new-model Glocks, the take-up distance to remove trigger slack on the first shot seems shorter than before. Once the slack is gone, trigger resistance increases slightly and remains consistent through the minimum remaining travel distance until the striker is released. Trigger reset after each shot is excellent.
Sights on the Gen4 G17 and G22 are the same as on my G19: The fixed front blade has a white dot, and the rear has a white outline around its notch. The white areas greatly accelerate the acquisition of the sights in dim light. Having only one white dot on the front sight eliminates the confusion sometimes encountered on the more common three-dot system as to which of the three dots gets placed on the target. On the G17 and G22 I received, the front-sight dot is perhaps mounted a fraction too low on the blade for attempting a longer-range shot in dim light. When the bottom of the dot touches the white line on the rear sight, the top of the front-sight blade sits slightly higher than the top of the rear-sight notch. Since you're using the white markings as your reference, you'll end up shooting high.
On a defensive pistol, I prefer highly visible sights I can rapidly acquire as opposed to a set of sights designed for precision shooting. As ambient light dims, a time will arrive when you will be unable to see the front sight's white dot. At this point, if you do not have a flashlight with you, some kind of serious "glow in the dark" night sight will be necessary. Short of relatively complete darkness, Glock's factory-installed sight system works well.
The Gen4 updates, particularly the interchangeable backstraps, have made a family of solid pistols even better. The G17 and G22 are now even more, shall we say, "fitting" for self-defense.