Walther PDPs: Polymer vs. Steel Frame

by
posted on June 15, 2024
Pdp Polymer Vs Steel Fitch Lede
Photos courtesy of author.

In December 2023, Walther Arms began rolling out some more iterations of its flagship handgun, the double-stack, 9 mm Luger, striker-fired Walther PDP. Of these newest releases, perhaps the one that generated the most buzz was its full-size PDP Match Steel Frame (SF) pistol. Walther also released a polymer-frame version of this match gun, with the same slide, slide lightening cuts and the signature flat-face Dynamic Performance Trigger. However, from both of these models, the steel-frame gun has arguably generated the most attention. By the time SHOT Show 2024 rolled around, Walther also released a 4" PDP Compact with this new steel frame. And at the time I write this, the German gunmaker also has a 4.5" PDP Full Size also with its new steel frame. In the world of Walthers, the new steel frame has become "the thing" for 2024.

Compare & Contrast
All Walther PDPs are designed so that each gun can be assembled with a different size slide, barrel, recoil-spring assembly (RSA) and frame and still function. This means that from a pile of top-ends, frames and RSAs, these can all be mixed and matched to end up with a functioning pistol. In any case, Glock enthusiasts these days, for example, have been ecstatic about the launch of Glocks 47 and 49, pistols that can also be mixed-and-matched with their respective slides and frames alongside the Glock 45. The type of modularity in these Glocks is similar to the modularity that had also been built into the Walther PDP family since its original debut. It’s worthwhile to mention that the Walther PDP-F series uses slightly different parts, some of which are not fully interchangeable with the rest of the PDP family.

Walther PDP steel frame vs. polymer frame pistol left right respectively

The question and point that this article seeks to address is the following: with the degree of modularity that’s built-in to the PDP family and the plethora of factory options with various slides, frames and barrel lengths available, how does the newer steel frame compare to the original polymer unit?

The Answer
I’ve actually kept this polymer vs. steel frame comparison in the back of my pocket for a minute. Partially it’s because of the time required using both the polymer and steel frame models in order to give a reasonable take on both.

In spite of every other handgun review I’ve worked on, I’ve been shooting three different Walther PDPs fairly seriously. All three guns use a full-size 18-round frame, two are polymer, with 5" and 4.5" barrels—let’s consider them identical for the sake of this writing—while the third is the full-size 5" Match Steel Frame version, a gun that I reviewed for American Rifleman's sister publication, Shooting Illustrated. Between the three pistols, my round count is somewhere between 3,800 to 4,000, and my time is evenly split down the middle between polymer and steel.

Besides shooting any of these PDPs in nearly every weekend action-pistol club match I’ve had the chance to attend, I’ve similarly focused on bringing these pistols to every pistol course I’ve participated in since last summer; these include Riley T. Bowman’s Pistol Intelligence, Green Ops Advanced Applications Of Pistol Mechanics and Hunter Freeland’s Two-Day Red-Dot Pistol Fundamentals And Performance course. In fact, at Freeland’s class, I made it a point to shoot the 5" steel gun one day and the 5" polymer pistol the second day in direct preparation for this article. In short, I formed my opinions shooting full-size guns, be they polymer or steel. I haven’t yet shot any of the compact standard PDPs.

Walther PDP Match Steel Frame compared to polymer frame slide with optics attached

So what’s my verdict? The Walther PDP series are fantastically modern pistols capable of tremendous performance. Sincerely, I don’t think that the frame material takes away from the PDP’s core. After all, shooting is about hitting the intended target and being able to line up the sights precisely, to then break the shot without disturbing this alignment. This is independent from the substance in a pistol’s frame. The same goes for the way in which the red-dot sight tracks on the reciprocating slide. These guns often get criticized about having a "different" recoil-impulse, but optics seem to track well during shooting. With that said, besides the obvious weight difference or difference in cost, there are nuances to take into account between these two frame materials.

Focusing On The Distinctions
A few sentences above, I mention that shooting is about hitting the intended target with minimal disturbances to the sight picture. I implied that the sighting system and trigger are thus more important than the material of the frame itself. However, where this substance does matter is during the recovery between shots. Life, economics, firearms and everything in between is always about trade-offs.

In the context of a Walther PDP with a steel or polymer frame, one pistol will be heavier, but will “absorb” recoil more easily—the gun moves around less—while the other pistol will be lighter and easier to carry, it will also swing around from target to target more simply. In the context of sport shooting, fielding one versus the other will depend on one’s chosen strategies. There are high-level shooters who want to extract every type of mechanical advantage they can from their gear, including adding extra weight to curb recoil while other similarly high-level competitors want lighter-weight guns that allow them to move and maneuver around a stage or target arrays as quickly as possible.

Walther PDP Match Steel Frame vs Polymer Frame underside trigger housing comparison

Fully loaded, my polymer-frame PDP, with a Holosun HS507COMP sight, weighs 38 ozs. with a full 20-round magazine of 147-grain ammunition. With the same magazine, my PDP Match Steel Frame weighs 53 ozs., except this pistol has a Trijicon RCR mounted atop. Note, the loaded magazine itself accounts for 12.25 ozs. of this total weight. In the context of civilian every-day carry, there’s no contest as to which models would be easier and more convenient to carry around all day. On the other hand, if the gun is primarily intended for home defense and/or sports, recreation, etc perhaps the weight isn’t as big of a factor. In the end, the mission drives the gear.

Other nuances between the two frame materials have nothing to do with the substances themselves, but rather how they’re made and laid out with regards to their respective surfaces. For example, the regular polymer-frame Walther PDP has a contoured and textured grip that accepts individual backstrap inserts of differing sizes. On the other hand, the PDP Match Steel Frame’s frame is machined from one piece of metal and the entire grip constitutes part of the frame. So instead of working with a suite of backstrap inserts, PDP Match SF grips consist of a three-sided-polymer insert that screws down to either side of the frame like traditional handgun stocks. Tweaking any aspect of the PDP Match SF’s grip involves replacing the factory grip insert for a different design.

Walther PDP left-side muzzle slide pistol comparison

The steel frame, compared to its polymer counterparts, has a wider point just ahead of its trigger guard, so when shopping for holsters for Walther steel-frame guns, another degree of verification is needed to ensure it fits. I measured this point on both frames with a set of calipers, and the PDP Match SF is 1.330” wide at this point while the polymer frame is only 1.260”. Depending on the holster, this could or could not be an issue. It certainly doesn’t affect shootability, but it could affect holster selection. Other than length, it appears that all Walther PDP slides are equally dimensional.

The Takeaway
As a modern 21st century design, the entire Walther PDP family has plenty to offer the modern shooter. They’re generally outfitted with excellent triggers, they play well with mounted red-dots and have thoughtfully designed grips and ergonomics. Their barrels tend to shoot accurately, too, and employ stepped chambers and polygonal rifling. Because they’re built off a simplified version of Walther’s older and proven P99 action, their reliability is equally consistent and dependable. In the end, the frame’s material won’t affect an individual gun’s accuracy or shootability. Choosing one frame style over the other is about understanding your overall mission and making a trade-offincluding a financial one.

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