The Smith & Wesson Response: A (Mostly) Polymer PCC

Smith & Wesson Response PCC pistol caliber carbine

In the last 12 months, Smith & Wesson went from having zero pistol caliber carbines in their lineup to now having three. They released the FPC, the Response, and at SHOT, we got our first look at the new-again 1854, a lever action .44 Magnum. That’s quite a leap in the PCC category. The FPC got a lot of attention due to its folding design. The S&W 1854 got a ton of attention for being a lever gun. The Response, though, didn’t seem to get a whole ton of attention, but I think it’s a firearm that’s severely underappreciated.

The S&W Response may not have gotten a ton of attention because, at first glance, it looks like just another AR-15 in 9mm. While at its core that’s true, things get a little deeper than that once we climb under the hood. The lower is arguably pretty far from the AR-15 spec, but is dances the AR-15 jig.

The S&W Response isn’t super-fancy when you read the sticker on the window. It’s a direct blowback design. It feeds from pistol magazines and uses the typical AR layout.

Smith & Wesson Response PCC pistol caliber carbine
The gun comes with GLOCK and M&P magwells

One of the more unique approaches the Response takes is its ability to swap magwells. Not a ton of AR rifles offer you the ability to use multiple magazine platforms. In fact, this is the only PCC variant I’m aware of that offers this option.

The Response magwell is removable at the user level and requires nothing more than an Allen key and two minutes of work. The rifle comes with an M&P magwell, and two 23-round M&P magazines.

Smith & Wesson Response PCC pistol caliber carbine
Switching the magwells is quite easy.

On top of the M&P magwell you also get a GLOCK magwell letting you use ubiquitous GLOCK magazines. At the time of this writing, the GLOCK and M&P options are the only onces available. I imagine the options will grow and in the future we might see compatibility with other pistol platforms (think: SIG P320) or even possibly something like the Colt SMG magazines. It’s promising and impressive in how simple it is.

The Response and the Polymer Difference

Another aspect of the Response is the polymer used in its construction. The upper and lower receivers are both polymer. Polymer receivers have existed, primarily in the lower end of the market for a long time now, so it’s interesting to see a major company use polymer for both the upper and lower. They clearly have some real confidence in the Response’s design.

Smith & Wesson Response PCC pistol caliber carbine
It’s a mostly polymer, blowback-operated PCC in 9mm.

The end effect of using polymer results in two things. First, the Response is affordable. With an MSRP of $799 and a street price of $699 or so, the gun won’t break the bank. And at 5.9 pounds, the rifle won’t weigh you down. That’s light, and who doesn’t want their little PCC to be lightweight?

With that said the use of a polymer upper and lower receiver results in a proprietary design that eliminates the use of standard AR-15 uppers and lowers.

According to Smith & Wesson, you can utilize standard AR-15 drop-in triggers, charging handles, grips, and stocks, but I don’t see a need to swap out the parts and pieces. I’m curious if the polymer upper can take a metal charging handle without wearing out some parts. The included charging handle is polymer.

Breaking Down the Response

The S&W Response utilizes an M&P style grip. As you’d expect, it’s just like the grip on their pistols. It even comes with multiple backstraps to customize the grip size for your hand. I find the stock design adequate, and it’s very grippy and comfortable. The gun comes with a Magpul MOE SL stock, which is a good choice here.

Smith & Wesson Response PCC pistol caliber carbine
The grip is modular and aggressively textured.

Smith didn’t cheap out on the furniture, and this particular stock offers you great cheek support, a rock-solid lock to the buffer tube, and plenty of sling points. Up front, we have a polymer M-LOK rail that’s pretty solid for a polymer rail. The barrel is also threaded for a suppressor or other muzzle device.

Smith & Wesson Response PCC pistol caliber carbine
The polymer upper and lower receiver is certainly a different take.

Out of the box, all you’ll need is a red dot (no irons are provided) and you’re ready to rock and roll. The S&W Response utilizes a special magazine release to interact with the pistol mags and to be easily accessible. This type of mag release has become pretty standard in the AR9 category. The Response comes with mostly normal AR platform controls topped off with a nice flat trigger.

To The Range

Most straight blowback AR9s have a stout recoil impulse. They handle less like 9mms and more like 5.56 rifles. It’s not violent, but it’s usually more than you’d expect. The S&W Response is typical of this. However, you can tell S&W took their time to ensure the bolt and buffer balanced out well. It’s not nearly as harsh as other AR9s or blowback-operated guns in general.

Smith & Wesson Response PCC pistol caliber carbine
The Response is super lightweight and fun to shoot.

That was a nice surprise from such a lightweight rifle. I was impressed by how the gun handled, and it made my long trips to the range all the more enjoyable. It’s arguably the best straight blowback 9mm AR I’ve ever shot in terms of recoil.

Smith & Wesson Response PCC pistol caliber carbine
Blowback guns get awfully dirty awfully fast.

With some basic 115-grain FMJs, I was able to hit the ground running and deliver some pretty nice groups. As a 9mm, you don’t expect 1 MOA accuracy by any means, but at 25 yards, my group was one ragged hole. Out to fifty yards, it was smaller than my palm.

Smith & Wesson Response PCC pistol caliber carbine
At 50 yards the gun performs quite well.

I could hit a 4-inch gong at 50 yards from a supported position pretty easily. That’s as accurate as I need a PCC to be. The flat trigger is a little spongy with some take-up, but it’s really not bad. The reset is forceful and chunky. Overall, it’s a fairly nice trigger for an affordable plastic rifle.

Splitting Hairs

I tried both GLOCK and M&P magazines and didn’t have a single issue with either flavor. They chewed through 500 rounds of Monarch brass-cased range ammo without a problem. The gun does tend to favor M&P magazines with its last round bolt hold open device. When you swap mag wells and use GLOCK mags, you lose that LRBHO feature.

Smith & Wesson Response PCC pistol caliber carbine
The Response is a very reliable and quite affordable pistol caliber carbine.

The ergonomics of the gun are quite nice. The magazine release is easy to reach and press, and magazines drop free. The magwell is nicely flared for quick reloads, and it works well. The AR ergonomics are excellent and translate well to the Response.

The Smith & Wesson Response would be a great entry-level PCC competition rifle. It’s perfect for Steel Challenge, Action Steel, and even USPSA. This little gun runs well, it’s accurate, reliable, and you can use a wide variety of the most popular magazines. Plus, it won’t break the bank. Mount a red dot on the gun, and you’re very good to go.

Specifications: Smith & Wesson Response Pistol Caliber Carbine

Caliber: 9mm
Overall Length: 32 1/8″ (collapsed) to 35 3/8″ (extended)
Overall Weight: 5.9 pounds
Barrel: 16.5 inches
Receivers: Polymer
Capacity: 23+1
MSRP: $799

One Response

  1. Travis,

    Overall, I like the looks (and description) of this firearm (and I think I like its FPC version better), but (and isn’t there always a big “BUT”?) I’ve already got my Kel-Tec Sub2000 (and spent the difference between its MSRP and this one’s, and a lot of hours, installing a full M-CARBO upgrade kit) so I’m not inclined to change. My primary purpose for the Sub2000 was for my truck bag/bug-out bag, and it does the job nicely (now), so I’ll pass, but I’m glad the manufacturers are beginning to innovate. Kel-Tec innovates like crazy on design; I wish they would get their poop in a pile on quality control!!

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