Smith & Wesson SD9 VE Review: Ultimate Hands-On Guide

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Before starting our Smith & Wesson SD9 VE review, let’s define what SD9 VE stands for. SD: Self-Defense, 9: 9mm, and VE: Value-Enhanced.

How in the world did S&W come up with that mouthful-of-a-moniker? I believe they were just trying to differentiate it from its not-so-well-received predecessor, the Sigma. That pistol had some issues that S&W wanted to fix, so they brought out a different gun entirely. Thus, they came up with the new SD VE line. Here, we’ll look at the SD9 VE model, and see how it performs, so you’ ‘ll know if it’s worth adding to your arsenal. Let’s begin.

Smith & Wesson SD9 VE Pros and Cons

  • Easy to Use: The S&W SD9 has a simple operation. Put a round in the chamber, load the magazine, and fire.
  • Reliable: While all weapons require some break-in time, the SD9 has had little to no problems straight from the box.
  • Excellent Grip Texture an Ergonomics: The slide has front and rear serrations. It also has a strong grip texture, allowing for a solid grasp with no slippage. This is a great feature for a self-defense weapon, especially for people who tend to have sweaty palms when they shoot.
  • Cost: The SD9 VE is available for around $300, which is a bargain for its quality and features.
  • Capacity: You get 16 rounds of fun for the 9mm variant. But if you want lesser rounds, Smith & Wesson also offers 10-round capacity mags.
  • Heavy Trigger: Trigger pull is at 8 pounds, reaching up to 20 pounds. It’s heavy and long for a striker-fired pistol.
  • Slide Lock Issues: Some customers have reported that the slide did not lock back on the last round. Because the slide lock is resistant to such light pressure, the problem may be solved by just resting the thumb on it during fire.
  • No Night Sights: Although it’s marketed as a pistol for self-defense, it doesn’t come with night sights.

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A Little Background About the Smith & Wesson SD9 VE

S&W introduced the Sigma pistol to the shooting world in 1994. It was a gun meant to be sold for less than their top-of-the-line M&P series of semi-auto pistols. Available in several calibers, the 9mm seems to have been the most popular.

Smith & Wesson SD9 VE SW95

The gun used an action pretty similar to that used by Glock. It was so similar that Glock sued S&W over patent infringement. So, in 1997, S&W and Glock settled out of court, with S&W paying an undisclosed amount of money to Glock. At that point, they re-designed the action a little to not tread on the Austrian gunmaker’s proverbial toes again.

The SD/ SW/ Sigma series was not very well received, to be blunt. The gun’s trigger left a lot to be desired, so it was at this point that Apex and other companies began making replacement triggers for these guns. This helped the situation considerably, but the gun was not as popular as S&W had hoped. So, in 2012, S&W redesigned the SD guns and introduced the improved models, the SD VE guns, in calibers 9mm and .40 S&W.

Improvements included the trigger, a more ergonomic grip, and a stainless-steel barrel. This gun felt good in the hand, at least the one I owned did. Decent three-dot sights, that better trigger, and Glock-style take-down tabs and procedure helped improve the situation. Capacities ranged from 14 in .40 S&W to 16 in 9mm. Of course, 10-round magazines were made for those states that required them.

My Smith & Wesson SD9 VE Gun

The gun whose photos you see here once belonged to me. I sold it to a friend who loaned it back to me for this review. I also did, what is called around here a redneck trigger job on it — I got the idea from a video on YouTube that I had seen. That consists of insuring that the gun is totally empty and then dry firing it 500 times.

Since the gun is striker-fired, dry firing is OK. I must admit that this action noticeably smoothed the trigger’s travel and seemed to have lightened it just a little (at least it felt a bit lighter — a trigger pull gauge was not available). It makes sense as all you’re doing is wearing the parts in and rubbing rough spots off the mating steel parts. It did help. And, of course, this wasn’t the first time I overdid the dryfire technique to smooth up a trigger. It was just the first time I’d seen somebody else do it on YouTube with this specific gun.

What I Liked About the Smith & Wesson SD9 VE

For one thing, as I said above it felt good in my hand. It fit. The grip was just right. Grip angle, grip texture were not bad at all. I like a rough grip texture, so I stippled the SD’s grip with a soldering iron. I got pretty good at staying within the molded-in boundaries (I was always good at coloring within the lines, Harry Chapin’s excellent song notwithstanding).

Once I got the grip where I wanted it, I next moved on to the action, a process described above. The gun really is a decent concealed carry gun. With two 16-round magazines (or two 14-round .40 S&W mags), you are well set for whatever might come at you.

The gun is comparable to the Glock 19 in size and capacity if you don’t hold the one extra round that the S&W can carry over the 15-round Glock. The sights were decent, and the gun seemed accurate with several loads (one of which was my favorite 9mm handload: a Lee 124-grain RN powder-coated bullet over 4.8 grains of Long Shot powder). Having a conventionally rifled barrel helps, as you have no concerns with shooting lead bullets. I liked the gun, and the reason I sold it escapes me now.

Smith & Wesson SD9 VE Specs

Let’s look at the Smith & Wesson SD9 VE’s specs before we examine some photos and then a target later.

(Items in parentheses are comparable Glock 19 Gen 5 measurements)

Caliber:9mm Luger
Length:7.2" (7.36")
Barrel:4", stainless steel (4.02")
Slide:Stainless steel, with forward serrations
Weight:22.7 oz. (23.6 oz.)
Width:1.29" (1.26")
Capacity:16 + 1, two magazines included. SD magazines are compatible (15 + 1)
Trigger Pull:6 lbs., 11 oz. average of ten pulls
Sights:dovetailed, three-dot. Any M&P sights will fit the dovetails
Safety:striker block, no external thumb safety; loaded chamber view port
Rail:2-slot Picatinny
Real-World Price:~$350-$450 ($550)
(Prices accurate at the time or writing)
Smith & Wesson SD9 VE S&W SD9VE left side
Smith & Wesson SD9 VE S&W SD9VE mag baseplate
Classy baseplate.

Smith & Wesson SD9 VE Review: Frame and Barrel

The SDVE Series is an excellent low-cost weapon that improved upon the original polymer-framed model by removing unnecessary features. It may be lightweight because to the polymer frame and plastic grip, but it’s durable.

Smith & Wesson SD9 VE S&W SD9VE frame side

Polymer frames are extremely robust and can take a pounding for hundreds of rounds without breaking. It’s not metal, so there’s no risk of rust or corrosion, and it wipes clean without difficulty. Its durability is demonstrated by the stainless steel slide and barrel, and it comes with a lifetime warranty from Smith & Wesson.

Smith & Wesson SD9 VE S&W SD9VE frame topside

Smith & Wesson SD9 VE Review: Grip and Ergonomics

Smith & Wesson SD9 VE S&W SD9VE right side

This is a good shot to show how my stippling job on the textured areas turned out. Note the Glock-style takedown tabs. You can see similarities between this gun and other striker-fired pistols.

The SD9VE’s grip features an aggressive pattern on the front strap, back strap, and palm swells. The texturized grip is very pleasant, but to provide a secure and comfortable hold, the front and back straps were made more forceful, and a finger locator was installed. This allows the shooter to have a more secure grip on the weapon and reduces the effects of recoil.

The ergonomic form of the grip also makes it easy to operate the trigger and slide lock while maintaining a secure hold on the weapon.

Smith & Wesson SD9 VE Review: Safety

S&W SD9VE frame warning
Frame warning — there is no magazine safety on the SD9VE. I’m glad to see that.

The SDVE’s innovative safety features are fascinating. Although it lacks manual or grip safety, this firearm is highly secure. It features a Self Defense Trigger safety that ensures the pistol will not fire unless the trigger is fully pulled to the rear. A firing pin block safeguard also prevents accidental discharge if the weapon is dropped.

Smith & Wesson SD9 VE Review: Trigger

S&W SD9VE trigger

Note that its safety feature utilizes a hinged trigger, not the Glock-style bladed trigger. The SD9VE’s unique Self Defense Trigger maintains a steady weight throughout the draw to help minimize jerking the trigger. The constant pull also enhances accuracy, and the 8-pound trigger pull is impressively heavy for a striker-fired handgun.

Smith & Wesson SD9 VE Review: Slide

The stainless steel slide has deep-cut serrations that allow easy manipulation even when wet.

slide left engraving
Slide engraving. Not bad. it tells you what it is without overdoing it.
slide right engraving

Smith & Wesson SD9 VE Review: Sights

Though it’s advertised as a self-defense weapon, the SD9 doesn’t have built-in night sights. Instead, it has dovetailed white dot sights that make target acquisition a breeze. I think these sights are fantastic for all shooters, but especially for those who aren’t as experienced or accurate as others.

The slide has been shortened to make room for installing new sights if you want to replace them. If you’re looking for a little bit extra for your gun, Smith & Wesson included a standard Picatinny-style rail in the design.

S&W SD9VE rear sight
Sights, rear/ front/ sight picture. Not bad. These are interchangeable with aftermarket M&P pistol sights.
S&W SD9VE sight picture
(The red dot was mine — it comes from the factory white).
S&W SD9VE rail
Picatinny rail, 2 slots.

Smith & Wesson SD9 VE Review: Magazine

S&W SD9VE magazines
Smith & Wesson SD9VE mgazines.

The SD 9VE comes with two chrome-finished, smooth-firing magazines. The SDVE magazine system is just incredible. You know exactly how many rounds left you have, a very nice touch. Older SD mags will work, as well.

Plus, the 16-round capacity of the regular SD9 VE is reliable, and the mags function properly. If you want something smaller, the low-capacity variant holds 10+1 rounds. 

Shooting the Smith & Wesson SD9VE

Since I had owned this gun, I knew roughly how accurate it was with different loads. When I owned it previously, ammunition was readily available, so I tried it with several loads. For this review, however, ammo is plain not available, or, to clarify, is available at $1/round or more.

I used my tried & true handload. In case you missed my description in previous 9mm reviews, it consists of a 124-grain Lee hard-cast round nose bullet, powder coated, over 4.8 grains of Long Shot powder. This current ammo situation might create some new handloaders, but components are hard to come by, as well.

Since I’ve been handloading for over 40 years, I have powder, primers and cases. Since I make my own own bullets, that’s just one less thing to have to find. At any rate, I was outside today for a brief time. It seems that winter has finally decided to visit our neck of the woods, with hazy, 24-degree conditions today.

I am not used to cold yet (and I know that 24 degrees ain’t really cold!), but the older I get, the less I like it. Hence, the one target. I might’ve done a bit better, but three factors worked against me: the weather, the lack of factory ammo (as I mentioned above), and the 6-pound-plus trigger.

Smith & Wesson SD9VE Trigger Woes

When I owned this gun before, I didn’t have access to a trigger pull gauge. Now that I own the Lyman version of that instrument, my eyes are opened continually every time I check a gun. You tend to get good at guessing trigger pull weights if you’ve done much shooting.

I was not too far off with estimating this gun’s pull weight. I had guesstimated the weight to be around 6 and a half to 7 pounds before. SoI checked it this morning, and I was close — it averaged 6 pounds, 11 ounces.

Now, that would not be cause for concern if the trigger broke cleanly with no creep, etc. But, such is not the case here. The pull seems very long (probably due to the pull weight). Hence, there is a lot of creep before the striker does its thing. The weight seemed to stack as I pulled the trigger slowly, which magnified the hard feel. This target was the result.

I’m not claiming that the trigger was the only reason I didn’t put all my shots in the orange square, nor were the weather and lack of ammo as mentioned above large factors. I won’t make excuses, but those things sure didn’t help contribute to accuracy. As for the trigger, I would venture to bet that, if this gun had a smooth, 5-pound trigger pull, more of these holes would be gathered towards the middle of the target.

At any rate, it is what it is. The advantages of this gun far outweigh the trigger situation. With the installation of an aftermarket trigger, this gun would be good to go.

Smith & Wesson SD9VE Review: Accuracy and Reliability

The SD9 has shown to be incredibly dependable, thanks to its tough design and safety features. Although all firearms require a break-in period, I had a few troubles with the SD9 right out of the box.

As mentioned earlier, the trigger determines how accurately the SD9VE fires. The SD9VE is great for me since it is comfortable in my hands and gives me a natural point of aim. However, if you replace the long, hard trigger, you can rely on its accuracy. If not, then I think you’ll have difficulty shooting it accurately.

One of the only enhancements they made to these striker-fired handguns was to reduce recoil. But it has poor accuracy out of the box, and in my experience, it worsens when the fire rate increases. After changing the trigger, training with the gun is crucial before relying on it for self-defense.

Smith & Wesson SD9 VE: Taking It Apart

S&W SD9VE field stripped
Field-stripped and the barrel/ captive recoil spring.

The Smith & Wesson pistols, in general, are easy to disassemble and reassemble, and the SDVE is no exception. You can disassemble the SDVE with little effort. Here is a step-by-step guide.

  1. First, you need to pull the slide backward.
  2. Then, wriggle the takedown tabs to remove them before sliding the slide forward.
  3. Finally, take apart the barrel and recoil rod to clean them thoroughly.

The SDVE strangely doesn’t seem to accumulate dirt, so I can’t picture you having to disassemble and clean your firearm very frequently.

S&W SD9VE barrel recoil spring
S&W SD9VE barrel feed ramp
Barrel feed ramp, nicely machined and polished.

Check out this tutorial video I found below for the assembly and disassembly of this gun.

The Poor Man’s Glock 19?

Speaking of shooting this gun, it puts me in mind of the Glock 19. I am certainly not the first to associate the SD9VE with the most popular Glock out there. The two guns are within tenths of an inch in length and height, weight and width.

The S&W goes the Glock one better with its 16-round magazine capacity versus the Glock’s standard 15-round magazine. I’m not going to argue over a one-round difference between the two, but you start to get my point, I assume. Given the fact that the S&W is a very reliable and well-built gun, you might feel that it would be alright to invest an extra $45-$55 for an aftermarket trigger as opposed to paying almost as much again as the S&W cost to buy the Austrian model.

This is not a knock on the Glock 19 — that gun is the best-selling Glock, for good reason. I’m just saying that, if you can’t afford $500 or so for a pistol, you have an alternative. I never once had a failure of any kind with this gun when it was mine. It digested my reloads as easily as it did the factory stuff. That says something for a pistol.

I would rather have a gun that may not put all its shots in the 10 ring but would feed whatever rounds you stuck in the magazine any day. That 10-ring business can be addressed, but I will not suffer an unreliable pistol gladly. I will just move on. That was not the reason I sold this one.

I remember, now, why I sold it. My friend was looking for a 9mm but didn’t have time to go to the local gun shops around here (a very demanding job). He went to our church, which was where we talked about his needs. Long story short, he ended up with this pistol and was happy.

target shot with S&W SD9VE

Wrap Up

To sum up, I like this pistol. I obviously did really like it once upon a time, since I was the original owner and shelled out the bucks for it. Does it have areas that could be improved? Of course — what doesn’t? My point is that, the trigger’s pull weight notwithstanding, it still is a good buy.

Since triggers are available from other companies, you might consider picking one of these up. If you are a .40 S&W fan, it is available in that caliber, too. It is easily carried (check out our article on concealed carry insurance), with nothing to snag on the draw.

Add in all the aftermarket sights designed for the M&P series of pistols that you can install on this gun and you start to see just how useful these guns can be. For around $350, you can have a Glock-19-sized 9mm pistol with 32 rounds in both magazines available, on your person.

Even with the stock trigger, you could certainly do worse. Add in its reliability and very serviceable three-dot sights, and you have a carry pistol that you can depend on. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it is a product of Smith and Wesson, a company that will go to the mat for you with its very good customer service (at least they did for me). Add it all up, and you have a winner.

Please let us know below if you’ve had experience with one of these pistols. As always, stay safe and keep them in the black.

Other readings you might also enjoy:

  1. I like the SD9VE so much that I have 2 of them. I am going to put a trigger in them. And the main thing is no failures of any kind.

    1. Chuck, yeah, these guns are very reliable and a great way for someone to get a good gun at a very fair price. With new triggers, they would be even better. Thanks for writing!

      1. I will tell you. I fell out of a boat in 8’ of water. My SD9ve spent 5 days under water before I could get a diver to find it. Got it home clean it up real good. Still shoots the same.

  2. A S&W SD9VE was my son’s first pistol he purchased at that time in his life (OK Job, but not great pay). At this time, neither of us had much experience with striker fired guns. We both like the SD9VE, for many of the same reasons you listed, but the trigger wasn’t impressive at all. He kept it for a number of years until his income improved, then he promptly sold it and bought a higher end gun (I don’t recall which one). Now with his PO job he uses a PPQ for duty, and a PPS for off duty carry.
    So my views on the SD guns is based around shooting one a fairly frequent number of times, but I never owned one (a Beretta 92FS was my main semi until I bought a PPQ in .40 in 2013, It took me a while to warm to striker fire).
    So to me, the SD series fills a niche. It gets someone into the shooting sports for well under the $500 mark. It’s well made and functional. The trigger’s not the best, but it’s far from the worst I’ve handled. The one my son owned fed factory and handloads without a hiccup, and that is a huge plus IMO. I’ve owned a number of finicky guns, and owned (past tense) is the operative word.
    At that price point, it’s one of the better guns on the market.

    1. Bemused, good points. The trigger is bad but not the worst – I agree. Sounds like both you and your son have things figured out, with your Beretta and his Walthers. I know a former deputy who appendix-carries a PPQ with a light on it and trusts it implicitly. He’s a skinny guy. I couldn’t do that, for sure. Both the 92FS and Walthers are good guns, and you are right – the S&W is a great way to get someone into shooting. Thanks for writing again!

  3. Glad to see that you commented on one of the WORST triggers out there. If i had to keep it I would not want this thing for free. I hated it..

    1. Just Me, yeah, the trigger leaves a lot to be desired but for $50 or so it can be replaced. The rest of the gun is decent. Thanks for writing!

  4. Good Review Mike, as always you go into details and that is awesome. I own 3 S&W firearms and love it. Would you consider doing a review on a S&W – M&P – 9mm Shield / M2.0 ? I recently purchased one, So I will share my views. Installed a Stream- Light Tach Lite with Red Laser. After a few rounds down range, break in time. With being a compact the barrel length is 3.675″ so it has its snappy recoil, I like the double safety feature. 8+1 mag capacity. Fairly accurate using the 21ft rule. So now is the time to zero in. I use a barrel style laser of which works great. Used my gun vise to secure the firearm, spotted a target about 25′ with the barrel laser on the target, I adjusted the Stream light laser. Okay, to the range. My first go was with FBI target. 1st @ 15′ -3 rds / 2nd @ 21′ -3rds / 3rd @ 21′ -5rds, 4th @ 21′ – 10 rds. The FBI targets I add in two extra targets, so I have 4 in one target. Now my laser is dead on and my accuracy has improved very well. Now I went out to do a 60′ with the laser pretty good. Of course I will continue with those type of drills. Over all my opinion is with the S&W 9 Shield is excellent. No stove pipe, failure to feed, No issues, I have fired about 400 rds with all good. Another good feature is internal hammer fire. Easy to clean up. Note do not use +P+ loads. +p defense loads okay. 115 gr rounds good for target.
    Thanks, Jim

    1. Jim, no need for me to review the gun – you just wrote a great one! Sounds like you have it figured out. i did review a Shield a good while ago – it’s listed in the gun reviews. I owned one for a good while. I didn’t dress mine up like you did yours, but the point is you CAN dress one up if you want to – the options are there. Great results on your end – keep us posted as you discover new loads, etc. that really work. Thanks for writing!

  5. I have owned a S&W SD9VE for about 3-1/2 years now. I don’t get to the range much so I have maybe 500 rounds through it. I really like the SD9VE for the most part, but the trigger was a disappointment. Not too longer after purchasing it I installed an Apex trigger and springers Kit and it really improved the trigger. I believe the pull before modification was well over 6 lbs…after installing the trigger kit it averaged just over 5 lbs with 5.25 being the high and 4.75 the low. I also installed a TruGlo Fiber Optic Sight Set. I believe I paid $299 plus tax at Dunham’s…a great self-defense pistol in my opinion.

    1. B., yeah, you’ve really “dressed your gun up” so to speak. The improvements are huge when you change out a trigger and sights – it’s like owning a different gun. The trigger sure sounds much improved, to be sure. Thanks for writing!

  6. I had a no frills full size Smith and Wesson 9mm a few years back. shot flawlessly, felt good in the hand, and was inexpensive. Not sure of the model. As you say here, these great guns exist on the cheap and will meet your basic needs. There is no needs to overspend to be protected.

    1. Bert, too true. Some guns are just plain good buys. The SD guns are sleepers, in my opinion. I enjoyed mine when I owned it. Thanks again for writing.

  7. I completely agree with your assessment of this pistol, I bought one of first production models, as it was (at the time), exactly what I could afford, and it was a brand I knew I could trust. I’ve fired about 2000 rounds through it over the years, and it’s never malfunctioned, and really shows very few signs of wear. I installed an Apex trigger about a year ago, and that completely transformed it’s personality from just a utility gun, into a true joy to shoot! BTW, I really enjoy reading your articles! Thanks for featuring this very underrated pistol!

  8. Mike, thanks for another excellent review. I own a S&WSD9VE and my daughter has a Glock 19. I haven’t changed the trigger yet but it’s on my list. Have you corrected your article on the best 9mm pistols, where you listed the SD9VE as being in a smaller category than the Glock 19? Clearly these two are nearly the same size..

    1. Tom, no, I haven’t corrected my other piece yet but I will – I forget what I write and depend on readers to keep me honest – thanks! Sounds like you and your daughter are well-armed!

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