Editor’s note: the Task & Purpose gear team is reporting from SHOT Show 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with what you want to see.
The Hi-Power — known as the Browning Hi-Power, the Browning Automatic Pistol, the Grande Puissance, P-35, Pistole 640(b), and so many other names — is arguably the most widely-used military handgun of all time. Present in historic conflicts from both sides of the toughest battles of World War II to the Iranian embassy siege in London that made the British Special Air Service a household name, this single-action semi-automatic pistol was unbelievably innovative for its time, boasting a number of features that made it truly higher power than other options of the day.
Now, 87 years after it was first introduced to the world, Belgian gunmaker Fabrique Nationale (FN) has reintroduced the Hi-Power for the modern shooter, unveiling the company’s new 9mm ‘High Power’ pistol at SHOT Show 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“The High Power is such an iconic design, and synonymous with FN really. We recognized the gravity of reintroducing this newly redesigned pistol with such a storied history,” FN America president and CEO Mark Cherpes said in a statement. “Rather than introduce a clone of the original, we had to deliver much more than other brands, knowing the FN High Power would be held to a higher standard. FN pays homage to the prolific design, while modernizing the ergonomics, functionality, and operation. We respect what this pistol has meant to generations of FN collectors and feel the new FN High Power dovetails perfectly with the rest of the FN pistol line, carrying a future-forward design to the next generation of shooting enthusiasts.”
First introduced in 1935, the Hi-Power was designed by John Moses Browning, the legendary gunmaker renowned for his design on the ubiquitous 1911 handgun, the M2 machine gun, and other household names in the firearms world. When it arrived on the market, the Hi-Power stood out from its competitors as a safe, reliable, and accurate pistol that had nearly double the capacity of competitor firearms. It came chambered in 9x19mm Parabellum, also known as 9mm Luger, 7.65×21 Parabellum, and even .40 Smith & Wesson in later years. At the time, having 12 rounds in a magazine was considered incredibly high for a standard-size handgun considering that many contemporaries like the Luger and 1911 topped out between six and eight rounds in 9mm, a feature which gave the Hi-Power its distinctive name.
The relatively high-capacity magazine, combined with an ergonomic and user-friendly design that made it reliable, durable, and comfortable to shoot meant that the Hi-Power immediately became popular with militaries around the globe, serving with the American, British, Canadian, and Free French forces during WWII — as well as Germany after Nazi forces captured the venerable pistol’s factory. For decades after the close of the war, the Hi-Power saw action in other conflicts, from both sides of the Chinese Civil War to the hips of elite British SAS commandos as they stormed the Iranian Embassy in London in 1980. In its more than 80 years in circulation, nearly every nation from the United States to North Korea has used a version of this pistol in some respect.
Despite its relative ubiquity, the Hi-Power wasn’t a perfect sidearm. When FN ended the original Hi-Power production line in 2018, shooters who wanted the handgun had to trawl the used market, often pay a premium, and then further modify the weapon to make it comfortable to shoot — or worse, purchase a dodgy Turkish clone. For the longest time, vintage-styled versions suffered from drawbacks like an extremely heavy trigger, poor sights, the hazard of the hammer “biting” the shooter’s hand upon being cocked by the recoiling slide, and complex takedown procedures — and this is all besides the fact that in the modern landscape of firearms, 12 rounds in a full-size handgun just isn’t all that much. Even the most recent iteration, the Hi-Power Mark III, featured a number of outdated drawbacks that made it something for the historical enthusiast rather than the practical shooter.
FN has decided to address all the shortcomings and then some with this year’s release of the High Power, which is so radically different from its progenitor that it might be better described as a spiritual successor rather than a reissue.
“FN conducted a thorough historical design study into the classic High Power design to identify what truly makes High Power what it is,” FN America product management director John Ryan said in a statement. “These features set the design apart from other metal pistols in the market and were extremely important for us to include in the modern evolution of the new FN High Power so as to pay respect to the significance of Browning’s original design.”
The most appreciable difference about the FN Highpower is the trigger pull, which is a crisp, smooth 4.5 lbs with only a little bit of slack, as opposed to the pull of the original iteration, which a British Royal Marine once described to me as a trigger that “you have to stand on to make it go off.” The sights are another improvement, made in a similar profile to the original sights, while also mounted to the slide using FN 509-style dovetail mounts — meaning that any pair of FN 509 sights will work, including things like tritium and fiber-optic sights. The pistol also controls much better in general, now being fully ambidextrous, barring the magazine release, which can be swapped to one side at a time.
The magazines are another improvement, adding an extra five rounds to the 12 round magazine of the original to give the shooter a more modern 17 rounds plus one in the chamber. These magazines are completely new and are not compatible with legacy Hi-Power magazines or current FNX or 509 magazines, according to FN’s representative at SHOT Show 2022. The top of the slide has been cut out over the ejection port to allow the High Power to eject rounds with less fear of failure-to-eject malfunctions.
FN has updated the finish as well, offering black, stainless, or flat dark earth colorways, with further customization possible using the easily swappable G-10 polymer grips should you prefer something like wood. The barrel is cold hammer-forged, meaning that it will last a lot longer than a standard barrel, and will maintain accuracy over a longer period of time. Disassembling the pistol is now refreshingly simple, breaking down into five parts if you count the spring and guide rod separately. Finally, they’ve opted for a ring hammer and a modified beavertail to all but eliminate hammer bite for even the meatiest-handed shooter.
All of these features make this pistol look like a Hi-Power, but it is in fact far more practical than its predecessors. However, it’s not a simple clone or a reissue just trying to cash in on nostalgia with very little effort put in, either. Reintroducing a classic all-steel single-action pistol onto a market awash with polymer striker-fired options with mounted red dot optics represents a bold move for a well-established mainstream firearms company like FN, and the new High Power does raise an important question: who, exactly, is this weapon for? It’s an all-steel pistol, so it’s naturally going to be much heavier than alloy or polymer frame pistols that are popular today, which is great for recoil management but may make carrying it less comfortable.
Then there’s the price: $1,250 for black and flat dark earth (FDE) and $1,369 for the stainless variant. While they are absolutely in line for the price of a quality steel-frame pistol that’s made in the United States by a reputable brand, these price points are going to be another issue for many purchasers considering that this is still very much a pistol for the enthusiast who wants a classic-looking sidearm with modern features.
The new and improved High Power may end up being a fantastic pistol for people who want vintage style, but not vintage limitations, giving a practical shooting experience with a timeless charm. I’ll definitely jump at the first chance that I can get to shoot one of these and see how this pistol actually performs.
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