Despite being known for its riddles, the role of the sphinx hasn’t ever been the least bit mysterious; the sphinx has always been the guardian of something. And in this case, the thing being guarded is likely very precious to you. Because it is you.
I was extremely excited to see these guns at the SHOT Show back in January, and shooting them at Media Day was a treat. After all, KRISS USA doesn’t put their name on bad stuff. But as I was leaving the Boulder City Rifle and Pistol Club, I wanted some more one-on-one time with the SPHINX SDP Compact, so I shot them an email. Over the past few weeks, Handgun Planet has had the opportunity to run hundreds of rounds through this demo SDP Compact on several occasions, and it proved boringly reliable. When the pistol arrived, we took it out of the box and went straight to the range. We didn’t clean, we didn’t lube, and we didn’t disassemble. We wanted to see if it would perform exactly how it left the factory. The result was 150 rounds in rapid succession without a single hiccup of any kind…not a bad start. We could have fired more, but we figured it was a waste of ammo when it was clear that the gun wasn’t going to fail. Also, we were hungry, so there was that. Ejection was (and remained) perfect, which speaks well for the extractor geometry in this gun. No pings in the forehead, either, which was a nice plus. The SDP Compact is a DA/SA pistol, meaning that the first trigger pull is double action, and it is followed by single action pulls until decocked. The controls are easy to navigate, and an ambidextrous decocking lever is included as standard fare to accommodate lefties.
Although loosely based on the CZ-75 and Tangfolio platforms, the SDP is distinctly Swiss. The machining is immaculate, the ergonomics are great, and the gun is well-balanced when loaded. On top of all that, it runs like a Swiss watch and the black TiAlN (Titanium Aluminum Nitride) PVD finish on the slide gives the gun a sexy all-business look. The SDP is unique in that it uses a modular frame, meaning that the upper and lower portions of the frame can be made of different materials, depending on the model. The SDP Compact Alpha that we received for testing comes from the factory with a fully-machined upper frame (including the rails and the beavertail) and a composite lower frame (more or less just the grip and the trigger guard). Disassembly hearkens back to a Hi-Power or a CZ, and reassembly is a simple prospect. Hand-fitting was very evident as soon as I began taking the pistol apart. The barrel-to-slide fit was perfect, the feed ramp and chamber were polished to a mirror finish, and even the disconnector rail was polished up to ensure smooth cycling. The slide/frame fit is tight and precise, and the wear on the slide stop post from the barrel was very uniform. The attention to detail that went into this firearm is very apparent, and when combined with the fact that any metal parts on the weapon are forged or machined from billet, it makes for a formidable combo: good parts AND good craftsmanship. Before reassembling, I put a thin coat of Wilson Combat Ultima Lube Oil on the rails and barrel, and the SDP was ready for more range time.
As far as features are concerned, the SPHINX has a lot to offer. In addition to the parts quality and the time spent by someone actually fitting said parts, the SDP includes three different grip inserts that affect the width and palm swell, varying from ~1.2″-1.4″. It also shares the characteristic low bore axis and excellent recoil management of CZ-pattern pistols. More uniquely, the frame appears to have an insert in it to help mitigate frame wear. Based on the size, I would expect it to last a very long time, but KRISS appears dedicated to providing after-purchase support for these guns in the US, and I’m sure they would stand behind the product if any issue arose. The upper frame is hard-anodized, and the rail is machined to MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny specs, so just about any accessories you could want will fit the SDP.
We knew that since these guns aren’t too common yet, most readers would probably need some type of comparison, so we took the SPHINX to the range to see how it stacked up next to a time-tested performer, the Sig Sauer P229 Elite Dark. MSRP on both is relatively close, so from our perspective it was a fair comparison. The weight and ergonomics of both pistols is outstanding. The SDP is slightly slimmer, but the feel of the two, especially since they’re both DA/SA, was surprisingly similar. Size was nearly identical. The thinner edge of the beavertail on the SPHINX rubbed my thumb whereas the one on the Sig didn’t, but I have a ridiculously high grip and I don’t blame that on the gun (just like I don’t blame the Sig for my grip making lockback on empty virtually impossible). Capacity was the same, accuracy was outstanding from both (2.5″-4″ off hand groups from 15-25 yards was the norm from either gun with bulk 115-grain ammo), and the sights on both guns were effective. Although the plain black rear on the SPHINX was a little easier on my eyes during quicker strings of fire, some people might prefer the adjustable three-dot setup on the Elite Dark.
As good as the SDP Compact is, no gun is perfect (or there wouldn’t be any other choices). Its weight is one potential negative. Weighing in at 28 ounces unloaded, it’s only about 4 ounces lighter than a full-sized 1911 with an alloy frame (also unloaded), or 2 ounces lighter than a loaded Glock 19. However, with that being said, it also weighs 4 oz less than the comparably-sized Sig P229, so the weight is just a component of it being a larger compact pistol that’s more metal than it is plastic. Capacity of 15+1 is good, and the weight helps make it an extremely soft shooter, but also makes it a better option for nightstand duty than concealed carry, in my personal opinion. Here are just a couple other areas that we thought left a little room for improvement:
- Trigger: The shape of the trigger is very nicely contoured, but the double action pull was heavier than I remembered. The Lyman trigger gauge we used to measure the single action pull (which was nice and broke at about 2.5 pounds or about 5.5 including the pre-travel) went up to only about 12 pounds, and it wouldn’t take a measurement on the double action pull. Part of that is the gauge design, but if we had to estimate the weight on the DA pull, we would guess that it’s somewhere around 13-14 pounds. If you’re used to DA/SA guns, it isn’t too much of an adjustment, but it is something to keep in mind if you haven’t spent much time behind a double action trigger. For the DA pull, we have to give the nod to the Sig Sauer, which was closer to 10 or 11 pounds, but the SPHINX DA pull remains smoother than the one on just about any H&K pistol.
- Controls: I preferred the SDP’s controls to those of the P229, which is saying something because I like Sigs enough to carry a smaller Sig P239 a lot of the time. I like that the configuration is closer to that of a 1911, with the slide stop being in much the same place, and the location of the decocking lever corresponding to the location of the thumb safety on a 1911. The controls have “steps” machined in them to assist with manipulating them; however, one critique I have is that they could have been extended slightly further because I noticed that my thumb was prone to slip off of the slide stop while reloading once I started sweating in the heat. It certainly isn’t a deal breaker, and this configuration (as I already mentioned) is preferable to me over the Sig because my strong hand thumb holds the slide stop lever down on a Sig P-Series gun almost without exception. But an optional configuration with a little more width on the controls would be something that might help with reload speed and decocking efficiency (especially if you were to use the SDP in competition). Similarly, although the rubber grip inserts were nice and tacky when dry, the lack of more abrasive texture made the gun a little bit more difficult to hold onto than it could have been when shooting with sweaty or wet hands. It wasn’t as if I was going to drop the gun, but it did mean I had to re-position my grip at times where G10 or checkered rubber might not have required it.
- Magazines: The magazines included with the gun appear to be the most recent generation of mags put out by Mec-Gar (they have the characteristic “made in Italy” stamp as well as the same look). Finish is very smooth (perfect), follower design is rock solid, and the quality is fantastic. Our concern would be with availability because of how new the guns are in the US (we couldn’t find them online anywhere excepting one magazine on Gunbroker). With that said, Handgun Planet tested the SPHINX SDP Compact with similar magazines designed for the CZ-75 in both compact and full-sized variants. While the current CZ-75 Compact magazines will not lock into place because the mag catch cutout is in a different spot, the full-sized mags locked in AND functioned in the SPHINX. So there are other options for replacement magazines (17+1 capacity) as long as you don’t mind them extending beyond the bottom of the grip.
Overall, The SPHINX SDP Compact is a very nice pistol. It devoured every type of ammo we shot through it, from Winchester and Federal 115-grain bulk packs to 147-grain defense loads from multiple manufacturers. Of note, there were ZERO malfunctions of any kind in about 600 rounds downrange. This isn’t the “zero” where you blame the magazine, or “zero” where you blame it on your grip. We could not make the gun jam regardless of how bad we limp-wristed it or how fast we shot it. So if you’re looking for a reliable home-defense weapon (or if you regularly carry a double stack and don’t have a problem concealing it), the SDP should be on your list of things to consider. Holsters are becoming more available from places like Bravo Concealment, so while they won’t be on the shelf at your favorite big-box store, they do exist. We put enough rounds through the SDP over the course of the T&E period to confidently say that we would trust it to go bang every time should it ever be called upon. So when it comes to the SPHINX SDP Compact, there’s no mystery as to whether it’ll perform. The only mystery is whether it will fill the empty space in your gun safe or the niche in your nightstand. HP
–Colt Driver; SPHINX SDP Compact Alpha MSRP $1295 (Street Price ~$995)
For more info on the SPHINX SDP, or to find a dealer near you, check out www.sphinxarms.com.
I posted a similar response on FB, so this is mostly the same answer: I’d liken your question to the “What does a custom 1911 get me that my stock Colt doesn’t?” question. The answer there is usually a few more refinements, better attention to detail, and better accuracy. I’d say in this case, the Sphinx gets you all machined small parts, hand fitting in some areas, and tighter barrel lockup. I also prefer the decocker shape and the sights on the SDP. Tighter tolerances on the Sphinx require more attention to detail so that they don’t come at the expense of reliability. The SDP probably also provides a little more accuracy at range (although CZs are no slouch). Ergonomics are about the same (although the SDP gives you a couple of grip insert options), but the CZ is going to have a big advantage when it comes to magazine availability (and cost) as well as aftermarket options. You don’t NEED to spend the extra coin here, just like no one NEEDS a custom 1911, but there are some differences. Whether it’s enough to give up an extra CZ is entirely personal preference. Nothing wrong with getting both!