Designed by FN as a caliber replacement for 9mm pistols and submachine guns in the 1980s, the 5.7x28mm was only recently adopted as a NATO standard. But is it any good?
While we'll save the history of the cartridge for another day, the 5.7 was first marketed by FN in the early 1990s in its P90/S PDW/carbine and Five-seveN pistol. Since then, those guns have been adopted with military and police forces in more than 40 countries and sold widely on the commercial market. This undoubtedly led to its recent NATO standardization – along with its competitor, the Heckler & Koch-developed 4.6x30mm.
However, as the only gun available for the 4.6 NATO is the HK MP7, which is unobtainable on the U.S. consumer market, the 5.7 NATO is the default PDW player today.
Going past FN's catalog items, Ruger's new 57 pistol – which costs about half the amount of the Five-seveN – and large-format PCC-style pistols from CMMG (MK57 Banshee), Diamondback (DBX), and Kel-Tec (P50) offer more variety for the 5.7 user to choose from.
Speaking of variety, Fiocchi-made FN-branded loads abound. These include the blue-boxed 28-grain SS195LF, 40-grain SS196SR, and SS197SR (which use a Hornady V-Max bullet in different velocities) which arrived after the 28-grain SS192 hollow-point was discontinued. Red-boxed Fiocchi/FN loads such as the green-tipped 27-grain SS198LF, are also floating around. Really nice LE and military loads, such as the SS190 AP, SS191 Tracer, SS193 55-grain subsonic, and original SS90 cartridge are so rarely encountered on the consumer market as to be considered unicorns.
Federal makes the American Eagle 5.7x28mm loaded with a 40-grain Total Metal Jacket bullet, and sister company Speer last year introduced a Gold Dot 40-grain personal protection load. Added to this are a range of smaller ammo makers like Vanguard Outfitters (Black Fang-Obsidian Dragon) and Elite Ammunition (T6B/Protector V) who make some high-performance loads that you have to get on a waiting list for.
Further, as a curious side effect of the recent Great Ammo Shortage, is that the price of 5.7 and 9mm/5.56, long a factor in souring people to the FN-designed cartridge, is becoming closer to each other.
So, is it an overrated .22 Mag?
With a similar size, the 5.7 NATO is often derided as just a bigger or more expensive competitor to the more traditional .22 WMR. However, just a visual comparison shows that to be a misnomer.
Moreover, the centerfire 5.7 is, by nature of its priming, more reliable than the rimfire .22 Mag.
In shorter barreled firearms, such as the Five-seveN and Ruger 57 pistols, the performance using standard ammo is arguably similar to the .22 Mag, but the 5.7 still comes out on top. This shifts a bit with better ammo.
The VSO Gun Channel ran a head-to-head matchup between the two calibers, with a 5-inch barreled MK57 Banshee and a Heritage Rough Rider.
Ryan Gresham with Gun Talk Media does a more apples-to-apples comparison, using a Kel-Tec PMR-30 in .22 Mag against a Ruger 57.
For further reference, check out the below dramatic testing by Tim over at the Military Arms Channel on the 5.7 from a Ruger.
In another, meatier test, Paul Harrell rocks the Gold Dot 5.7 in tests on his patented target media, again from a Ruger 57.
With a little longer barrel, the 5.7 shines a bit more. For example, FN SS197SR, loaded with Hornady's polymer-tipped V-Max bullet, when fired from a Diamondback DBX with an 8-inch barrel performed well in ballistics gel. On average, it penetrated 13 to 15 inches of denim-wrapped 10-percent FBI gel provided by Clear Ballistics, shedding the polymer tip in the first few inches of that and producing a 9mm mushroom at the end.
Longer barrels and hotter ammo could produce better results, and the round still falls short of the performance of, say a really well-made 9mm protection load or just about anything 5.56 NATO, but you can't cram 20 rounds of either of those in a magazine that flush-fits in a pistol mag that only weights 7 ounces when fully loaded.