During the past century, one of the most popular pistols in the world has been the Browning Hi-Power. During its storied history, the Browning Hi-Power was used by over 50 different armies and was used by both the Axis and the Allies during World War II. Despite its historic legacy, FN shut down production of the Hi-Power line in 2018. This was due to its high manufacturing costs and perceived waning popularity. But as this was being written, Combat Handguns Magazine got wind that FN is bringing back its Hi-Power.
The Browning Hi-Power Head to Head
There was still a lot of love in the shooting world for the iconic pistol, and it wasn’t long before a few companies stepped in to fill the void. Two of those companies were Turkish firearms manufacturer, Girsan, and Springfield Armory, located here in the United States.
Both companies offered their takes on the classic design. Likewise, both include tweaks here and there to improve both usability and durability while still remaining faithful to the original.
The Springfield SA-35
Springfield Armory created quite a stir in the shooting community when it announced the new SA-35. Since FN held the trademark on the “Hi-Power” name, Springfield came up with its own naming convention. The name is a nod to the pistol’s original date of manufacture, 1935.
The SA-35 offers full parts compatibility with the original Browning Hi-Power while offering a few upgrades to bring the design into the modern era.
The first improvement is the inclusion of a contemporary sight arrangement. It includes a white dot up front with a blacked-out and serrated rear sight. Both sights are dovetailed for drift adjustments, with the rear sight having a 90-degree shelf for one-handed racking of the slide off a boot, belt, post, or other objects.
Another upgrade is the slightly enlarged thumb safety that also offers a shelf for easy activation and de-activation. Though it is not an ambi safety for left-handed shooters. The original Browning Hi-Power had a low-profile thumb safety that was sometimes a little tricky to engage.
Perhaps the most meaningful change in the SA-35 is the removal of the magazine disconnect safety. The original Browning Hi-Power included this safety mechanism that prevented the pistol from being fired with the magazine removed.
Springfield did away with this device which offered several benefits. The pistol can be fired without the magazine, the trigger pull is improved significantly, and the magazine will drop free cleanly when the magazine release is engaged.
The Springfield SA-35 Weigh In
Weighing in at 31.5 ounces, the SA-35’s forged, carbon-steel frame and slide are given a matte black, blued finish that offers a subtle contrast against the checkered walnut grips.
The heart of the SA-35 is the cold-hammer-forged barrel which should offer excellent durability and accuracy. On top of the already mentioned improvements, the craftsmen at Springfield recontoured the hammer to lessen hammer bite for those with large hands.
The pistol also has a 15-round capacity with its one supplied Mec-Gar magazine versus the original Browning Hi-Power’s magazine capacity of 13 rounds.
The Girsan MCP35
With its version of the Hi-Power, Girsan has taken a more minimalist and less expensive approach with the MCP35. Looking quite a bit like the Mark III version of the Hi-Power with its synthetic thumb-shelf grips and ambi thumb safety, the MCP is available with three finishes. It comes in black, two-tone, and the version I received had an FDE Cerakote finish.
The MCP35’s ambidextrous thumb safety is the typical low-profile affair and does not have the 1911-style shelf as found with Springfield’s version. However, the MCP35 does offer drift adjustable sights like the SA-35, with a ramp-style front sight with a white stripe and two white bars on the rear sight.
In keeping with the minimalist approach to changes, the MCP35 retains the magazine disconnect safety. This not only affects the feel and weight of the trigger pull, but also prevents the magazines from dropping freely when the release is engaged.
However, Girsan did re-profile the hammer a bit to reduce hammer bite. Likewise, the edges on the frame are not as sharp as those found on the SA-35, particularly around the beavertail.
The Girsan MCP35 Weigh In
Girsan lists the weight of the MCP35 at 28.8 ounces on its website. However, my sample (with an empty magazine) registered 32.24 ounces on my digital scale.
Though I’m not usually a fan of an FDE finish on my pistols, I like how it looks on the MCP35. The finish is exceptionally clean and consistent on the steel frame and steel slide. Speaking of this area, I was also impressed with the smooth action of the slide. It wasn’t quite as good as might be found on a Beretta 92, but it was close.
Perhaps the biggest selling point of the MCP35 is its low price tag. With an MSRP of $567, it is currently selling at local gun shops for well under $500. Like the Springfield, the Girsan ships with one 15-round Mec-Gar magazine. With what we’ve seen so far, it seems to be an excellent value for the money.
To The Range
When it comes to deciding between the two pistols, pointing out feature differences doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s still a good bit to talk about how the MCP35 and SA-35 performed when a few shooting buddies and I hit the range with both of them.
First, there’s definitely a significant difference in the trigger pulls. The SA-35 offered a very clean take-up with a break at a hair under four pounds of pressure. Conversely, as clean as the slide action was, the trigger on the MCP35 had a very gritty take-up and required almost eight pounds of pressure before the break. Naturally, this gave the SA-35 the advantage as far as shootability, and offhand accuracy goes.
However, even with a stable platform at the bench, the Springfield still handily outdid the Girsan with regard to accuracy. With loads from Federal and Hornady, the MCP35 averaged in the range of 2 inches or more at 15 yards. However, the SA-35 averaged 1.25 inches with a best group of just 0.84 inches with Hornady’s 115-grain Critical Defense load.
Also, the Girsan’s sights weren’t particularly well regulated either. To hit an 8-inch plate at 20 yards, we had to aim about an inch below the plate. On the other hand, we were easily and consistently popping 4- and 8-inch plates with the SA-35 at the same distance.
An additional issue was the sight setup on the Girsan. The long white bar on the front sight got muddied up with the two shorter bars on the rear sight. It was a little difficult to differentiate the sights, particularly against white targets with snow on the ground.
Reliability and Comfort
Where the Girsan did outperform the Springfield was with reliability. After two different shooting sessions and a few hundred rounds with range loads and premium defensive ammunition, the MCP35 experienced no malfunctions of any kind.
However, after the first hundred rounds fired, the SA-35 started having extraction problems. On a few occasions, the extractor did not pluck out the spent shell from the chamber. The slide would continue back and then attempt to load another round from the magazine but be blocked by the shell that was still in the chamber. This would bind things up, and the magazine had to be removed to completely clear the pistol.
Another advantage that the MCP35 had over the SA-35 was comfort during extended shooting. The Springfield had fairly sharp edges on the frame, particularly around the beavertail. With prolonged shooting, those edges started to gouge more and more into the hand. The MCP35’s frame edges weren’t quite as sharp and didn’t have that gouging problem. As a result, it was more comfortable to shoot for longer periods.
Fit and Finish
Both companies did a good job with re-profiling the hammers. I was expecting the dreaded Browning Hi-Power hammer bite as I’ve experienced in the past. I didn’t completely escape the hammer with my meaty hands, but results with both pistols were just a faint red spot in the web between my thumb and forefinger.
That said, everyone, including myself, favored the improved thumb safety on the SA-35, despite it not being ambidextrous. While the MCP35’s ambi safety was easy enough to flip off, we weren’t able to easily flip it back on after shooting without contorting our hands just a bit.
Similarly, the SA-35’s lack of a magazine disconnect allowed the magazines to drop free cleanly for faster mag swaps during our drills. After finishing a mag in the MCP35, we’d have to stop mid-swap to pluck out the magazine. This wasn’t always a quick and fumble-free effort.
Finally, while I found the finish on the SA-35 attractive, it just wasn’t very robust and started showing wear and small dings right away. The FDE finish on the MCP35, at least the sample I received, was much more resistant to knocks and bangs. That was much more reassuring to me that it could protect the pistol from corrosion down the line.
When it comes down to it overall, I think I preferred the Springfield SA-35 despite the hiccups and a couple of other minor issues. It was exceptionally accurate, very soft shooting, and had a great trigger for a production Hi-Power. The ability to shoot without a magazine inserted and having the magazines drop free cleanly cinched the knot.
Some things need to be fixed, though. The extraction problem definitely needs correction. Also, it would be nice if Springfield radiused the edges on the frame a bit more. Those two things would make the SA-35 a definite must-buy for me at an MSRP of $699.
But to go a bit further, it would be phenomenal if Springfield did a little more work and offered a custom shop model for a few hundred dollars more.
The upgrades I’d like to see include the high visibility U-Dot Tactical sights like on the XDM Elite or Hellcat. I would also like to see an extended beavertail. Throw in a couple of magazines and a much more robust finish like DLC or some kind of nitride offering, and I’d be a buyer all day long around the $1,100 price range.
Even with all of that, the Girsan MCP35 is still a pretty astounding value in its own right. With its steel frame, ambi safety, clean finish, and excellent reliability, it’s hard to reconcile that you can get one for under $500 in the year 2022.
For the budget-oriented shooter that likes to tinker, the MCP35 would be an excellent base pistol to start with. You could do some tweaks along the way, like swapping out the barrel, improving the trigger, or sorting out that disconnect issue.
Both pistols have a lot to offer. Whether it’s design tweaks that improve on the original Browning Hi-Power or just good old-fashioned bang for the buck.
Despite the $150 difference and the fact that each has its own advantages, both pistols have tremendous potential to serve as your next favorite carry gun.
Girsan MCP35 Specs
Barrel: 4.87 inches
Length: 7.75 inches
Weight: 32.24 ounces (empty)
Height: 5.07 inches
Width: 1.46 inches
Sights: White dot/bar
Action: Single action only
Springfield SA-35 Specs
Caliber: 9 mm
Barrel: 4.7 inches
Length: 7.8 inches
Weight: 31.5 ounces (empty)
Height: 4.8 inches
Width: 1.37 inches
Sights: Front dot, blacked-out rear
Action: Single action only
This article was originally published in the Combat Handguns July/August 2022 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions at OutdoorGroupStore.com. Or call 1-800-284-5668, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.