Best Pistol Caliber Carbines & AR-9s in 2019 [9mm and Other Calibers]

Today I'm excited to cover what I feel are some of the most underappreciated firearms - Pistol Caliber Carbines and AR-9s.

In this guide, I'll give you my picks for the best pistol caliber carbines and the best AR-9s... but first I'll cover why these guns are so awesome.

Preview of the Best Pistol Caliber Carbines

PSA - Best Budget AR-9 Manufacturer

PSA AR-9 Best AR-9 Manufacturer

CZ Scorpion EVO 3 - Best Budget PPC

CZ Scorpion EVO 3 Pistol Preview

SIG Sauer MPX - Best Overall PCC

MPX Carbine Preview

Click Here to Jump Ahead to All of the Best Pistol Caliber Carbines or continue reading about their pros and cons.

The Pros and Cons of Pistol Caliber Carbines

There's a lot to love about pistol caliber carbines (PCCs), though they're not without some faults.

Pros

Here are just some of the reasons I love them:

Cheap Ammo

Pistol caliber ammunition is generally more affordable than rifle ammunition, particularly when talking about 9mm ammo. The cheapest bulk 9mm ammo cost around $0.14 for steel cased ammo and $0.17 for ammo with brass casings. By contrast, the cheapest Remington .223 (AR-15 ammo) costs around $0.20 for steel ammo and $0.28 for brass ammo.

While this may not seem like a huge difference, its a savings of around 40% per round for brass cased ammo. Over 1000 rounds of gun fun, this would save you $110.

9mm vs 223 ammo prices

Readily Available Ammo

9mm and other pistol calibers are incredibly popular and readily available in the civilian market. I can also almost guarantee that you already have a pistol if you're reading this, so you'd be able to utilize that ammo in multiple types of firearms if you owned a pistol caliber carbine.

They Can Use Parts & Accessories You Already Own

Some of the PCCs and AR-9 options that we'll cover below use Glock magazines. Considering Glock manufactures some of the most popular 9mm pistols and handguns chambered in other calibers, there's also a good chance you already have Glock mags and could use them for even more firearms if you get a PCC.

It's like I know all about you, right?

If you're like me and aren't the biggest fan of Glock pistols, there's still a chance you can use some of what you already own. If you go the AR-9 route, a decent number of parts are interchangeable with AR-15 parts you already own. Some typical examples include pistol grips, stocks, pistol braces, and triggers.

Small and Maneuverable

MPX Short

While not a rule, pistol caliber carbines are often shorter than rifles, making them a worthwhile choice to consider for home-defense.

Honestly, a lot of this comes down to whether or not you 1) Want to go through the process of obtaining a Short Barreled Rifle (SBR) or 2) Are fine with a "pistol" (basically an SBR with a pistol brace instead of a stock).

*Remember, (at the time of writing this) the minimum barrel length of a rifle is 16" and the minimum overall length is 26". This applies to pistol caliber carbines, though a pistol brace in place of a stock can circumvent this. THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. ALWAYS BE SURE TO KNOW AND FOLLOW ALL FEDERAL, STATE, AND LOCAL LAWS. We've touched on these legalities more in our pistol brace guide.

Anyway, there are also legitimate reasons PCCs and AR-9s can be shorter than say an AR-15.

I would generally not recommend choosing an AR-15 with a barrel length less than 11.5" (or 10" if you really want to push it). Below these lengths you can run into cycling issues due to too little dwell time or increased parts ware as a result of manufacturers over-gassing AR-15 SBRs to "solve" this issue. Unlike .223/.556, these issues are not inherent to 9mm or other common pistol calibers.

Another reason you can feel fine opting for a shorter barrel is that you're not sacrificing performance when using 9mm or other pistol calibers as much as with rifle calibers. For example, 9mm gets close to its peak muzzle energy around 7-10", whereas the AR-15's .223 is best with a barrel length of 18"+.

Pistol Caliber Muzzle Energy

Easier to Shoot Than Handguns

I've talked a lot about pistol caliber carbines vs rifles, but what about compared to handguns. The same way rifles are easier to shoot than handguns, PPCs also give you the benefit of more stability in part due to more contact points.

In a high-pressure self-defense situation, I'd take anything I can brace against my shoulder over a standard handgun.

Cons

Pistol caliber carbines do have a couple of major flaws:

Concealability

Good luck using a PPC as your CCW. While they can serve as a good home-defense gun or even a truck gun, they're not small enough to carry on your person. For that, you'll almost certainly have to stick to a normal handgun.

They can, however, be small enough to easily transport compare to some larger rifles.

Sub-optimal for Long Distances

Pistol caliber carbines were made to be used in close quarters. While you can stretch them out to 100 yards if necessary, anything past that and you'll begin to have major bullet drop and slowed velocity.

9mm 115 gr American Eagle Bullet Drop

Even the AK-47's 7.62x.39mm round that is notoriously crappy at distance can easily stretch to 200-300 yards.

Inferior Stopping Power than Rifle Calibers

There's a reason that rifles cartridges exist. They don't just hold effectiveness better at long distances, but they also have more "stopping power" at any distance. On the plus side for PCCs, handgun calibers are less likely to over-penetrate through bodies or walls, making them somewhat less dangerous for defensive use.

Now that you know why you need one, here are our picks for the best pistol caliber carbines starting with our most affordable recommendation:

Palmetto State Armory Pistol Caliber Carbines - Best AR-9 and AR-45 on a Budget

Rather than just choose one specific firearm, our first choice for the best pistol caliber carbine is anything Palmetto State Armory (PSA) makes in a handgun caliber.

If you've read any of our AR-15 parts guides, you've most likely seen us recommend PSA as a very affordable manufacturer of high-quality products. This extends to their lines of AR-9 and AR-45 firearms (see here and here).

Palmetto State Armory AR-9 Pistols and Rifles

From $549.99 at PSA

Prices accurate at time of publishing

I'm not exaggerating when commending them on the value they offer. In fact, I've recommended buying a PSA AR-15 (which would typically run from $450-$700) to those who can't afford to spend more than $1300.

I've never had any issues with products manufactured by Palmetto State Armory and their attention to quality is what you'd expect from many higher-end manufacturers.

Aside from their quality, the biggest benefits of going the PSA route are the advantages of choosing nearly any AR style rifle in a pistol caliber... But at a lower price than competitors.

  • A number of PSA AR-9 and AR-45 carbine parts are interchangeable with standard AR-15 parts.
  • Feel and function is familiar to an AR-15.
  • PSA pistol caliber carbines use Glock magazines.

There are three main downsides to going the PSA route.

  • PSA AR-9 and AR-40 carbines do not have last round bolt hold open. Without this notification that you're magazine is empty, it can lead to longer reload times and just be a nuisance.
  • Most come with PSA's Mil-Spec trigger which I'd recommend upgrading.
  • It's tough for PSA to keep them in stock. Though this is a result of them being awesome, the availability of PSA AR-9 and AR-40s seems to change daily. If there's a specific model you're set on, you may have to wait until they come back in stock. You can, however, signup for email notifications when a product comes back in stock.

Now for some individual models we recommend:

PSA GEN4 16" 9mm Lightweight M-LOK Classic Rifle

One of their most popular and affordable models is the PSA GEN4 16" 9mm rifle.

PSA GEN4 16 9mm Lightweight M-LOK Classic Rifle

From $549.99 at PSA

Prices accurate at time of publishing

Its 16" 4150V barrel and PSA Classic M4 Adjustable Stock means it's technically considered a rifle. It's also available in a model with a Magpul MOE Stock and pistol grip.

Personally, I'd prefer to go with a shorter option in a pistol configuration, but these models are great for use at the range.

Other Features:

  • A2 Profile 4150V Chrome Moly Steel Barrel with Nitride Finish (1:10 twist rate)
  • 7075(T6) Aluminum Receivers
  • Blowback Gas System
  • Bolt made from 8620 Steel
  • A2 Pistol Grip
  • Comes with a 31 Round 9mm ETS Glock Magazine

PSA GEN4 8" Lightweight M-LOK W/ SBA3 Pistol Brace

I think this option is the best way to take advantage of the AR-9 platform from Palmetto State Armory.

PSA GEN4 8" Lightweight M-LOK W/ SBA3 Pistol Brace

Its 8" barrel and overall compactness make it a great choice for home-defense or to use as a truck gun. This particular model is outfitted with my favorite pistol brace the SBA3 and a Magpul MOE pistol grip.

Other Features

  • 8" 4150V Chrome Moly Steel Barrel (1:10 twist rate)
  • 7075(T6) Aluminum Receivers
  • Blowback Gas System
  • 8620 Steel Bolt
  • Comes with 31 Round ETS Clear Magazine

CZ Scorpion EVO 3 S1 9mm Pistol - Best Pistol Caliber Carbine on a Budget (Non-AR9)

Moving away from the AR-9 platform, let's take a look at the CZ Scorpion EVO 3 pistol in 9mm.

While this thing is cool out of the box, what really makes it awesome is what you can do to it with an aftermarket upgrade or two. I'll cover these below.

CZ Scorpion EVO 3 Pistol

 

From $856.99 at Brownells

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Prices accurate at time of publishing

In its default configuration (shown above), the CZ EVO 3 pistol's overall length is just 16" and it weighs 5 lbs. Its cold hammer forged barrel is 7.75".

This pistol features both an ambidextrous mag release and thumb safety. The non-reciprocating charging handle can also be swapped to either side.

An 11" Picatinny rail runs along the top of this firearm. From the factory, it comes with low profile sights including a rear sight with four different aperture sizes, but you could also mount a red dot sight or holographic sight. There are also Picatinny rails on the front sides and bottom of the pistol.

One potential negative of the CZ EVO 3 is that it uses its own proprietary 20 and 30 round magazines, rather than using something like Glock or Colt magazines. On the plus side, they are pretty affordable from CZ and if you look around you can find some aftermarket options available.

If you want to make the EVO 3 pistol even more awesome, check out this folding SBTEVO pistol brace by SB Tactical.

SBTEVO Pistol Brace

 

SBTEVO Pistol Brace

From $199.99 at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of publishing

You can see a review of the EVO 3 with the SBTEVO brace by sootch00 below.

Before moving onto what's available from other manufacturers, it's also worth mentioning that CZ also offers a carbine configuration with a 16.2" barrel.

CZ Scorpion EVO Carbine 16 in barrel

From $998.99 at Brownells

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Prices accurate at time of publishing

SIG Sauer MPX

SIG Sauer MPX Models are some of the most popular pistol caliber carbines on the market today. They offer a 16" barrel option, as well as two super short pistol configurations.

SIG Sauer MPX Carbine, MPX-K, and MPX Copperhead

From $1,599.99 at Brownells

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Prices accurate at time of publishing

Before jumping into the individual MPX options, let's cover some features that all of them share:

  • Carbon steel barrels with 1:10 twist rate.
  • Easy modular system for swapping out handguard and barrel.
  • Gas piston operating system.
  • Bolt hold open on last round.
  • Ambidextrous fire controls, mag release, bolt release, and charging handle.
  • Functions similarly to an AR-15 and can use many AR-15 parts including pistol grips, charging handles, and even some AR-15 triggers.
  • They use proprietary MPX 9mm magazines which are pretty expensive.

SIG MPX Pistol Caliber Carbine With 16" Barrel

The MPX with a 16" barrel was designed to be a competition ready firearm right out of the box. It now comes with a Timney single stage drop in trigger with a 4.5 lb pull weight.

I'd say they more or less accomplished their goal. We believe it's the best pistol caliber carbine out of the box, especially for those of you interested in competing with it.

Of all the MPX options, this wouldn't be my first choice as a PDW (personal defense weapon), but the folding stock does make it a bit better for storing. It can be fired with the stock folded.

  • Overall Length 35.25"
  • Weight 6.63 lbs

SIG Sauer MPX Carbine 16 in Barrel

From $1,749.99 at Brownells

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Prices accurate at time of publishing

SIG MPX K

Next up is the MPX K with a 4.5" barrel. They were first released years ago, before being temporarily discontinued. Now in 2019, they're coming back and better than ever.

New MPX K models have the same Timney trigger as the 16" shown above, a M-LOK handguard, and a folding SIG PCB pistol brace. Again, the MPX K can be fired with the pistol brace folded.

This gun is around 18" with the brace folded, making it small enough to keep in a backpack or conveniently conceal in a variety of locations. This combined with how soft shooting it is makes it our top choice for the best pistol caliber carbine PDW.

Because new models are just coming out, you may have to wait a bit to find one of these bad boys available.

SIG Sauer MPX-K Pistol

From $1,829.99 at Rainier Arms

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Prices accurate at time of publishing

JP Enterprises GMR-15 9mm Carbine - Best Overall AR-9

Though budget AR-9 options like those from Palmetto State Armory can certainly get the job done, I'm sure some of you want a super high-end pistol caliber carbine out of the box.

This brings us to JP Enterprises GMR-15 series of AR-9 style firearms.

JP Enterprises GMR-15s

From $1,499.99 at Brownells

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Prices accurate at time of publishing

JP Enterprises is known for making both ultra-high quality parts and complete rifles with an emphasis on competitive shooting. For instance, we've featured their low mass bolt carrier group in our guide to the best BCG.

If you buy a firearm from them, chances are you won't feel the need to upgrade or replace anything.

JP Enterprises GMR-15 Pistol

JP Enterprises GMR-15 AR-9 Pistol With SBA3 Brace

 

$1,999.99 at Brownells

+ Compare Prices and Availability

Prices accurate at time of publishing

As a fan of shorter firearms, my favorite option from JP Enterprises is the GMR-15 pistol that has a 10.5" barrel.

This thing is good to go out of the box. Check out its features:

  • Blowback Operating System with JP 9mm EnhancedBolt and JP 9mm Silent Captured Spring
    • Last Round Bolt Lock Back
  • 10.5" JP Supermatch Cryogenically Treated Barrel with 3-Port Compensator
  • 9.125" JP MK III Rapid Configuration Handguard with Rail Piece and Hand Stop
  • Overall Length of 26" and Weighs 6 lbs
  • JP Enhanced Reliability Fire Control Package with Single Stage Trigger Pull of 3.5-4 lbs
  • Hogue Pistol Grip
  • SBA3 Pistol Brace (Our Favorite at GunPros)
  • Flared Magwell
  • Uses Double Stack Glock Magazines
  • Ambidextrous fire controls

With the 3-Port Comp and JP's blowback system, this is the AR-9 with the least felt recoil.

Honorable Mentions

There are a lot more pistol caliber carbines out there. We chose the options above, however, because we thought they were either better performers or brought more value. With that said, here' some honorable mentions you may want to check out:

Conclusion

Well, that wraps up our list of the best pistol caliber carbines and the best AR-9 options.

The decision of what to get ultimately comes down to how much you're willing to spend.

Our top overall choice is the SIG MPX 16" barrel carbine for competition and range shooting or the MPX-K for a personal defense weapon. With that being said, they are neck and neck with the JP Enterprises GMR-15 line of AR-9s.

The CZ Scorpion EVO 3 is an awesome option if you want to get something that's not basically just an AR-15 in 9mm.

Last up for those on a tight budget, Palmetto State Armory's AR-9s are a great way to enter the pistol caliber carbine world.

SIG Sauer MPX Carbine, MPX-K, and MPX Copperhead

Product Name: SIG Sauer MPX

Product Description: SIG Sauer's MPX line of 9mm carbines tops our list of the best PCCs. The 16" MPX PPC is the best out of the box competition ready carbine and the MPX-K is perfect as a personal defense weapon. All of the firearms in the MPX line are extremely high quality and soft shooters. The only major downsides to them are their prices and the prices of MPX magazines.

  • Quality
    (5)
  • Reliability
    (5)
  • Performance
    (5)
  • Value
    (3.5)
4.6

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