Review: HK USP 45

Still turning heads after three decades

by
posted on January 8, 2024
Usp 45

In the world of polymer-frame pistols, the Heckler and Koch USP 45 seems like old news. The first HK USP models started shipping in 1993, and the .45 ACP version made its debut in 1995.  Development on the Universal Self-Loading Pistol (USP) family first started in 1989 with the original design built around the .40S&W cartridge. Of course, the USP appears to be a 30-year-old dinosaur compared to today’s designs and can be easy to overlook. The grip isn’t ideal for smaller hands, its accessory rail is non-standard and it’s certainly not optics-ready from the factory. Regardless of this, the USP 45 has a legendary reputation for reliability and accuracy and may just exemplify the pinnacle of 1990s duty-handgun design. Those non-standard dimensions for the accessory rail? It was one of the first handguns to ever have rails as a standard feature in the first place. The USP became relevant during the time when service revolvers started waning and semi-automatic pistol shooters would tirelessly debate whether single action only (SAO) was better than traditional double action (TDA) and vice-versa. The standard configuration of the USP, Version1, gave shooters the best of both worlds: The ability to carry their USP cocked and locked or TDA (with a frame mounted safety, no less). In its three decades, the HK USP has been in a lot of military and police holsters around the world and still shows no signs of slowing down. Today, models of the USP chambered in .45 ACP are still standard catalog items, with seven different configurations available.

HK USP 45 Overview

HK USP 45 muzzleOver the years, Heckler and Koch has sold numerous variants from specialized tactical models to those optimized for competitive performance. This review focuses on the standard .45 ACP Version1 pistol. This gun is a large, full-size, hammer-fired, polymer-frame handgun that operates on the Browning delayed blowback principle. Its polygonal-rifled barrel measures 4.41 inches long, and the standard slide provides the shooter with a sight radius of 6.34 inches. The USP 45 has a standard magazine capacity of 12 rounds, which is released via the original “HK-style” ambidextrous magazine release. The USP 45 V1 comes standard with a single-side thumb lever that serves as both the safety and a decocker. The USP can be carried cocked-and-locked like a 1911 and can also be carried as a TDA with the safety on. Lastly, the USP is easily decocked by depressing this same lever all the way to the bottom. For left-handed shooters, adding a right hand/ambidextrous lever is also fairly easy to do. Switching the trigger-firing modes to any other of HK’s trigger versions, such as “LEM,” is also straightforward.

The cold-hammer-forged USP polygonal rifled barrel is said to be one of the strongest and more resistant pistol barrel designs out there and is manufactured from ordnance grade cannon steel. During evaluations, the barrel of a test-gun was deliberately lodged with a squib bullet. Another cartridge was fired, and both bullets were expelled from the barrel with only a slightly bulged barrel. This slightly bulged barrel was then tested for accuracy at 25 meters and shot 2.5 inch groups. The distinctive square slide of the USP gives it much of its blocky appearance, and it is cut with standard dovetails for both front and rear sights.  

The glass-filled-polymer frame has steel reinforcement plates in load-bearing areas and has an oversize trigger guard for duty use. There is an accessory rail of proprietary dimensions, but remember, this was one of the first duty-grade handguns to ever have this as a standard feature. The grips on the USP 45 really aren’t that wide. However, they do feel “longer,” which is something that shooters with smaller hands should keep in mind. The front strap and backstrap are coarsely checkered, but the checkering isn’t aggressive. Likewise, either side of the grip has fairly mild pebbling. Takedown is very simple and the USP utilizes a dual-spring captured guide-rod recoil system. The USP’s slide has typical front and rear sight dovetails, and while 30 years ago there was no such thing as handguns with slide-mounted red-dots, some current-day shooters modify their USP slides for electronic sights. 

The USP 45 On The Firing Line

Gun and ammoAt 31.3 ounces, the USP 45 has a similar weight to other contemporary polymer-frame pistols. Recoil with 9mm ammunition isn’t really a concern for most people, but with the USP’s high bore-axis and the recoiling push of .45 caliber bullets, the muzzle is prone to flipping if not properly controlled. Success with this handgun requires strong grips and airtight fundamentals. The HK USP 45 is not going to track flat like a modern, tuned 9mm race gun, but nonetheless it’s a very fun gun to shoot. I’ve owned my USP V1 for at least 5 years and I find it surprisingly accurate given how neither its double-action or single-action trigger pulls feel like anything special. I bought mine used with an unknown round count, and several hundred rounds later, it still hasn't skipped a beat. 

For this review, I fired 90 rounds of my 230-grain standard-velocity handloads. Because this is a duty/defensive handgun, I did several reps of “Failure To Stop” with my best run coming in at 2.48 seconds clean. I’d like to mention that under the stress of the shot-timer, I didn’t even notice the muzzle flip or pushy recoil. For accuracy, I tested 60 rounds from three different defensive loads. Two of them were 185-grain JHPs, the Sierra Sports Master and the Hornady Critical-Defense. The other load is a more traditional 230-grain JHP cartridge from Federal’s “Train And Protect” product line. All three defensive loads produced acceptable accuracy in the HK USP 45, but I noticed it favored the 230-grain load the most. This doesn’t surprise me given the gun’s military/tactical pedigree and the fact that military .45 ACP ammunition has always used 230-grain projectiles.  

The Takeaway

I wouldn’t hesitate to call the Heckler & Koch USP 45 one of the finest .45-caliber duty-grade handguns ever made. Besides being classics, they’re accurate, strong and reliable pistols, in addition to being among the first handguns to set the tone for now-standard modern tactical features. If there is ever a gun that people claim they want to have by their side when the world ends, it always seems to be the HK USP. Three decades of service and being a best seller certainly adds credence to that. The two main things that separate this early 1990s duty pistol from the polymer framed .45-caliber contemporaries of today is going to be the fact that it doesn’t have a factory optics-ready scheme and that its grip isn’t as contoured or ergonomic. Otherwise it can still keep up. After all, the USP was the one that set the tone in the first place.        

HK USP 45 Specifications:

  • Country Of Origin: Germany
  • Make: Heckler And Koch 
  • Model: USP 45 V1
  • Caliber: .45 ACP
  • Barrel Length: 4.41inches
  • Action: TDA or SAO
  • Accessory Rail: HK proprietary
  • Length: 7.91 inches
  • Height: 5.61 inches
  • Width: 1.26 inches
  • Weight: 31.29 ounces
  • Finish: Black nitride
  • Magazine Capacity: 12 rounds
  • Safety: Combination thumb safety lever and decocker
  • Sights: 3-Dot night sights
  • Sight Radius: 6.34 inches

25-Yard Accuracy Report

Ammo: .45 ACP

Smallest Group
(inches)

Average Group (inches)

Largest Group (inches)

Hornady Critical Defense 185-grain JHP

1.75

2.06

2.50

Sierra Sports Master 185-grain JHP

1.75

1.81

2.00

Federal Train & Protect 230-grain VHP 

1.25

1.56

2.00

 

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