Comparing the SIG-Sauer P230 & Bersa Thunder

 

The SIG-Sauer P230 has been around for several years in both blue and stainless versions.  The former uses an aluminum alloy frame while the latter has a steel one.  In today's test, the lighter version was used. These pistols have never been at the lower end of the price envelope for .380 pistols.

 

Bersa handguns are not at the high end on pricing and their Thunder line of pistols seem to be currying favor in the shooting community.

 

Both of these pistols have much in common, but also have some differences and this article will take a look at both.  Information will be provided on reliability, accuracy as well as chronographed velocities from each gun with the same loads. More subjective observations will also be provided.

 

The Guns: Both of these pistols are chambered for John Browning's .380 ACP and both are traditional double-action semiautomatics using single-stack magazines holding 7 rounds.  Both have slight finger extensions on the base plate and both are easily removed for cleaning purposes. Topped off, each is capable of a full 8-round payload. The first shot must be fired DA or the hammer be manually cocked before shooting.  Subsequent shots are single-action for each. Perhaps the most obvious difference in the two is that the P230 has a dark anodized frame while the Bersa's is a light electroless nickel. I'm not sure if the Bersa frame is anodized or not.

 

Both have smooth trigger faces and both have external hammers. Both guns exhibit very little over travel when the triggers are pressed to release the hammer.  The Bersa has a very small trigger stop on the rear of the trigger to accomplish this.   The SIG-Sauer uses an abbreviated spur while the Bersa's is more like the ring hammer of a Beretta.  Neither seems prone to snagging.

 

Both have a rib running the length of the slide and both have usable sights out of the box.  The Bersa's is click adjustable for windage while the P230's must be drifted for correction in the dovetail. It also has the bar-dot set up while the Bersa uses the common 3-dots. The rib on the P230 has longitudinal serrations while the Bersa's is knurled. The blued P230 slide is more brightly polished while the Bersa slide is a fine matte blue.

 

Both the SIG-Sauer P230 and Bersa Thunder have many similarities, but they also have quite a few differences as well.

 

The SIG-Sauer does not have an external hold open or slide release while the Bersa does.  The SIG-Sauer hold open is spring-loaded and easily removed from the frame for cleaning.  It also doubles as the ejector like those in the Walther PP series. The ejector in the Bersa is fixed.  The P230 does not have an external safety, but does have a decocking lever.  The Bersa has a slide-mounted external thumb safety that also decocks the hammer when engaged. The P230 has an internal firing pin lock; the Bersa does not and both have inertial firing pins.

 

When the hammer is decocked on the P230, it is essentially lowered into what would be the half cock or safety intercept notch.  When a double-action shot is triggered from this position the total trigger pull is shorter than that of the Bersa. If the hammer's manually lowered by easing the hammer forward while pressing the trigger, the hammer rests past the half cock notch and has a longer double-action trigger pull.

On the Bersa, engaging the external safety lowers the hammer all the way forward, past the half cock notch and the trigger pull is longer. When the safety is engaged the hammer is not in contact with the back of the firing pin.  If carried off safety, the hammer does touch the firing pin, but it is an inertial pin and not touching the primer.  Though possible to discharge if dropped, the Bersa would have to drop on the muzzle from sufficient height for this to occur.

 

Both pistols have external claw extractors that are spring-loaded and pinned vertically. The P230's is shorter at 0.905" in length but wider at 0.16". It also stands out from the slide when a cartridge is chambered, acting as a tactile loaded chamber indicator.  It has a dollop of red paint on top for visual indication of such as well.  The Bersa extractor is 1.235" long and 0.13" wide. It remains flush with the slide whether or not a round is chambered. Tension feels similar in both.

 

Grips are dull black checkered plastic and offer sufficient purchase.  Both guns use one screw for each grip panel.  The SIG-Sauer does not have an exposed rear grip strap and the grips meet where that would be.  The Bersa has a vertically grooved front and rear grip straps.  The P230's front grip strap is smooth.

 

The Bersa has the magazine release to the rear of the trigger guard while the SIG-Sauer uses the heel release similar to the Makarov and early versions of the HK P7.

 

There is no magazine disconnect ("safety") in the SIG-Sauer while the opposite's true with the Bersa.

 

Both pistols are straight blow back designs and both have the recoil spring around the barrel. They are very close in length and height as well.  The SIG-Sauer measures 6.6" long by 4.7" high while the Bersa gets 6.61" in length and 4.72" in height. The P230 barrel at 3.6" is a tenth of an inch longer than the Bersa's and both use conventional rifling. The German pistol barrel has a more relieved crown than the Bersa. Both barrels are fixed and the aluminum frame makes up the part of the feed ramp system in each pistol. The P230 weighs 17.6 oz. while the Bersa weighs in at 18.87 oz.  Despite the roughly one-and-a-quarter ounce weight difference, I didn't notice any felt difference in handling the loaded guns or in recoil.

 

Here you can see the Bersa's extended tang compared to the German pistol as well as the extractors and sights offered on each pistol.

 

The Bersa has an external draw bar on the ejection port side of the pistol ala Beretta; this has caused zero problems in my experience and both pistols use a take-down lever for removal of the slide for field-stripping. The Bersa's is on the right side while the SIG-Sauer's is on the opposite.

 

The Bersa Thunder has a more pronounced rear tang than the SIG-Sauer P230, something I found more comfortable. It also has the hooked trigger guard and the front is horizontally grooved.  The P230's trigger guard is rounded and smooth.  I prefer its to the Bersa's.

 

Neither pistol is new, but the Bersa has been shot more than the SIG-Sauer.  The Bersa's had approximately 2300 rounds while the P230's count is probably under 500.so far.

 

Ammunition:  In this comparison, only factory loaded .380 ACP ammo was tried. Bullet weights ran from 70 to 102 grains and some +P loads were used. Two traditional 95-gr. FMJ loads were included as some people prefer "ball" in calibers like .32, .380, and 9x18mm Makarov. The expanding ammunition used ranges from "old technology" JHP's to newer "designer" rounds in the caliber. The Glaser Silver Safety Slug +P was also tested in both pistols.

 

Ten rounds from each load were chronographed through each pistol and the average velocities, extreme spreads, and standard deviations recorded.   Expansion testing was done by shooting into plastic jugs filled with water.

 

Here are the results. Velocities, extreme spreads, and standard deviations are in ft/sec. The top figure in each category is the figure for the P230 and the bottom for the Bersa.

 

Load:

Average Velocity:

Extreme Spread:

Standard Deviation:

Winchester USA 95-gr FMJ

941/912

33/35

12/13

Magtech 95-gr FMJ

931/893

47/46

16/14

Glaser Silver SS +P

1292/1242

162/108

61/44

Magtech 85-gr GG +P

1045/1001

55/84

22/33

Remington 88-gr JHP

1000/972

79/87

25/27

Federal 90-gr JHP

997/960

23/40

8/14

Corbon 90-gr JHP +P

1082/1050

23/52

9/22

Hornady 90-gr XTP

946/917

32/37

14/16

Santa Barbara 95-gr JSP *

1079/1029

78/50

34/20

Win RA380T 95-gr JHP

930/896

28/34

12/14

Remington 102-gr GS JHP

905/855

86/63

31/29

*The Santa Barbara JSP is not marked +P, but I suspect strongly that its pressures are at least +P.

 

In every case, the 1/10" shorter Bersa barrel delivered less velocity from a loss of about 28 ft/sec to about 50 ft/sec, depending upon the load.  The average velocity loss with the loads fired was right at 40 ft/sec from the Bersa.  Though not always, the P230 showed slightly less standard deviations than the Argentine pistol.

 

Some JHP rounds were fired into water from the Bersa as it provided slightly less velocity than did the German gun. Water is not the gold standard for expansion testing, but expanded bullets do resemble those I've seen removed from actual tissue. In some cases, water will accentuate bullet/jacket separation as the water can more easily get in between the jacket and the bullet than gelatin or tissue.

 

This 90-gr. JHP from Corbon did not expand when fired from the Bersa into water despite being loaded to +P pressure and impacting at well over a thousand feet per second. This is the first Corbon JHP I've seen fail to expand.  The fact that this one didn't does not mean that the next ten won't.  It does show that we cannot always expect 100% expansion at the lower end of handgun bullet speeds.

 

Hornady's 90-gr. XTP did expand, but like most XTP bullets is not so aggressive an expander as some other JHP's. This is intended by the maker to enhance penetration. This one weighed 88.9 grains and measured 0.45 x 0.41 x 0.38" tall.

 

Despite its relatively low velocity, Remington's 102-gr. Golden Saber expanded nicely in water. This one impacted at about 855 ft/sec and expanded to the following dimensions: 0.62 x 0.61 x 0.34" tall.  It lost practically no weight. It is a standard pressure load.

 

This is the Winchester Ranger 95-gr. JHP.  It is a law enforcement load and somewhat difficult to obtain compared to the others.  Like the Golden Saber, it is a standard pressure load.  The bullet shown measures 0.58 x 0.59 x 0.27" tall and weighs 94.1 grains. It impacted the water at a bit less than 900 ft/sec.

 

 

 

Here, you can see the expanded bullets side by side. I consider the Winchester and Remington performance to be near equivalent while the Hornady XTP at the lower right will probably penetrate a bit more and still offers some expansion.

 

Some opine that the problem with the smaller calibers using expanding ammo is that either you get penetration and no expansion or visa-versa. If I remember correctly, most expanding JHP bullets penetrate about 7 1/2 to 8" in 10% ballistic gelatin and are expected to do about the same thing in tissue. The XTP will penetrate a bit deeper as it doesn't expand quite as aggressively. As the focus of this article is not on "stopping power", I'll just say that I think any of these rounds are "enough" for straight-on frontal shots assuming no intermediate barriers like arms get in the way. If you favor the best expansion, the choices are obvious.  If penetration is king, go with ball.  Perhaps, the XTP is a good compromise load in .380? I've also had good luck with Federal 90-gr. "Classic" JHP.

 

Shooting: Neither of these pistols are intended as target guns so not much shooting was done slow-fire for group.  I will say that both are capable of surprisingly good accuracy and tight groups out to at least 25-yards.  I have not seriously fired one of these farther distances.

 

Using the Bersa and low-cost Magtech standard pressure FMJ, 4 sets of doubles were fired. Each set was fired beginning at a low-ready position and using a two-hand hold. The shot to the lower left was the first double-action shot.

 

The same drill was fired using the SIG-Sauer pistol and equally satisfactory results were obtained at the same distance.

 

Here are some representative groups fired at 15-yds. These were all fired single-action using two hands and in slow-fire. Either pistol is capable of very good intrinsic accuracy. Using the red spot as the aiming point, I found windage perfect in both pistols. The SIG-Sauer's sights appear set for a 6 O' Clock hold while the Argentine pistol's are about dead on. At the lower right, you'll see a shot out of the group and high.  This is my fault, not the pistol's, and I knew I'd fired when unintended when it happened.

 

Observations: Both pistols performed well and neither experienced any malfunctions.  Ejection was positive with both and feeding, flawless. Being .380 pistols, neither was their lightweight a problem with regard to recoil or being able to get off a fast second or third shot.  A subjective view is that to me, the Bersa is the more comfortable of the two. I experience zero hammer bite from these pistols, but the P230 did "try" to give a bit of "slide bite," but nothing compared to the Walther PP, PPK, etc.

 

I don't think either offer any differences in ease of concealment and both are plenty light enough for constant carry should that be a consideration.  Both handle quickly.

 

So which is best?

 

I suspect that as is the case with most things in life, you get what you pay for. The P230 does cost more and is probably the more precisely built of the two. That said, the Argentine pistol held its own against the more expensive pistol. Aluminum frame pistols are not usually intended as guns for folks firing a thousand rounds per month and most .380's never see that much shooting in a lifetime. I have no idea which would last longer if we just fired them until one broke. One might assume that the P230 would outlast the Bersa, but I'm not sure such is actually the case.  The frames are very similar in size and construction. It might very well be that individual examples of one or the other might last longer. For most of us, this is a moot point as little pocket guns like these are not shot nearly so often as other handguns.

 

The lightweight Bersa Thunder does have one weak point compared to the P230 used in this test.  When much blunt JHP ammo is used, I do see some scuffs and dings on the feed ramp.  This Bersa's had well over 2 thousand rounds fired through it and quite a bit was blunt JHP such as the Corbon. If you have a Bersa Thunder and prefer a JHP that is blunt that you limit its use to testing for reliability or self-defense duty and use ball or JHP's with rounded ogives for the bulk of your shooting.  I do not have near that many rounds through the P230, but no dings were noted on its feed ramp.  I think a really good change that Bersa could make with their lightweight .380 Thunder pistols might be a one-piece steel feed ramp which would eliminate this concern entirely.

 

I do think the Bersa is an extremely good pistol for the money spent and one that will hold up fine for the vast majority of shooters. Again, I prefer the feel of this pistol to that of the SIG-Sauer, but others might feel just the opposite.  I personally have no regrets in my experiences with the Bersa and recommend them. Both guns were reliable, but feeding on the Bersa did seem a bit "slicker" than on the SIG-Sauer.  In other words there was no hesitation in chambering and it was actually difficult to tell that the slide was pushing a loaded round from the magazine into the chamber.  It seemed like an empty gun!

 

The P230 has been replaced with the P232, essentially the same pistol with the most obvious external changes being in the grips and the slide serrations. It's my understanding that a few internal changes have been made as well. SIG-Sauer has a very good reputation in the shooting world.  If you have the money and have concerns about reliability or durability of less well-known makers like Bersa, I suggest going with the German gun. There are no savings if you are constantly nagged with concerns about durability or quality. I personally believe that either will serve very, very well in the role most often called upon for the .380 ACP.

 

Best.