best pistol caliber carbines - cover

The Best Pistol-Caliber Carbines in 2021

Kenzie Fitzpatrick

Share

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email

Disclosure: Products are selected by our editors. We may earn a commission on purchases from a link. How we select gear.

Increasingly popular in the past 20 years, pistol caliber carbines or PCCs offer a lot of benefits to the user and few drawbacks, making them the go-to choice for many in a wide variety of roles.

From plinking to competitions, these little wonders give you an unreal bang for your buck.

In This Article:

A Comparison of the Best 9mm PCCs

Below is my list of the best PCCs for 2021. I list the best choices in terms of value, performance, design, and cost.

Click on the name to head to the product page, read reviews and check prices or skip ahead to the list of PCCs.

The Best 9mm PCCs Reviewed

1. Best Overall: PSA AR-V PCC

best pistol caliber carbine - PSA AR-V Barrel Flash Can
The fluted flash can is, uh, hot.

PSA continues to give us what we ask for, and their Gen4 PCCs offer reliability and affordability.

Build quality

best pistol caliber carbine - PSA AR-V Upper
I really liked the fit of the upper, barrel, and shroud. It feels like a much more expensive firearm when in-hand.

These come with a 10.5″ chrome moly steel barrel in 9mm with a 1/10 twist with a PSA 9″ Lightweight M-Lok free-float rail and a bird cage style A2 flash hider to keep the unwanted fireworks at a minimum.

Upper is a US-made billet 6061-T6 Slick side AR upper which is nicely hard coated in anodized black, because why not? 

Lower is a forged 7075 T6 aluminum with more hard coat and engineered to use 9mm Glock-style magazines.

Hard value to beat

best pistol caliber carbine - PSA AR-V Bolt
The bolt is a nitride treated, 8620 steel bolt.

As usual, PSA offers great value in their products, and their PA-9 is perfect for plinking, range fun, home defense, or a car gun (if you’re so inclined).

Shortcomings

best pistol caliber carbine - PSA AR-V Bolt Release
There's a lot of "pulling" with the AR-V -- like the mag & bolt release. Not sure why these aren't more conventional "push" buttons.

Anyone with AR experience understands the there are a few conventions you can expect from one AR to another — things like rails, triggers, and control locations & activation. There are a few things that stuck me as a little strange with the AR-V. Why PSA opted for a pull mechanic for both the bolt & mag releases is one. Why not standard buttons? Innovation? I’m personally not a big fan of relearning basic controls for large-format firearms.

Also, the mags aren’t Glock-compativle — but CZ Scorpion 35 Round magazines. I get the aesthetic quality of the curved, thicker mags — Glock mags can certainly feel a little anemic on large-format pistols — but Glock mags are much, much, more popular.

You get 2 more rounds with the CZ mags, but the AR-V is likely the only firearm you’ll own that can use them.

best pistol caliber carbine - PSA AR-V Plate
Would it kill ya to stick a QD end-plate on it?

Call me nitpicky — but given the potential of these kinds of PCCs, why not put a QD end-plate on it? 

2. Runner-up: Sig Sauer MPX

Billed as “industry-leading” when it comes to PCCs, Sig Sauer’s MPX line of carbines has been on point when it comes to competition use and Team SIG’s Lena Miculek has used one to win her last four PCC Nationals championships. 

It is easy to see why these guns are so successful as they have a gas-piston action, 5-position telescoping/folding stock, carbon fiber barrel, and Timney single-stage trigger right out of the box for snappy trigger pull.

For those with a taste for something less high speed, there are bone stock models while the MPX K and MPX Copperhead pistols offer something for those wanting to go more compact.

3. Most Futuristic: Beretta CX4

Introduced in 2003 by the storied Italian gunmaker, the CX4 took the company’s past experience with wildly successful 9mm sub-gun platforms like the MAB 38 and M12 and updated it for the 21st Century.

The compact polymer-stocked CX4 was so futuristic, in fact, that it is often seen more in sci-fi shows than on the range but don’t let that fool you – the fact this it is a solid performer that is both accurate and reliable.

Best of all, it uses durable and inexpensive Beretta 92 (M9) magazines.

4. Best AR-Format: CMMG Resolute

One of the country’s leading manufacturers of AR-15s, it can easily be argued that CMMG has picked up the 9mm AR torch that Colt dropped when the latter company shied away from commercial sales of their SMG in a semi-auto platform and only offered it as the tax-stamp-required LE6991 SBR.

CMMG’s Resolute, in 100, 200, and 300 series models, brings a 9mm AR-style PCC capable of taking either Glock magazines or Sig P320 double-stack mags, all using the company’s radial delayed blowback action.

For those wanting to go smaller, see the CMMG Banshee, which really shortens things up, no stamp needed.

5. Best Side-Folder: CZ Scorpion EVO 3 Carbine

Side-folding adjustable stock, 16.2-inch barrel, a pedigree that includes one of the coolest modern SMGs, what more is there to say about CZ’s Scorpion EVO 3 Carbine?

Simple and reliable, this 9mm PCC Czechs all the boxes. See what we did there?

6. Budget Option: Hi-Point Carbine

While their handguns get a lot of knocks, Ohio-based Hi-Point has been cranking out a homely but effective blow-back action carbine since 1995 that has won hearts and minds from coast-to-coast.

Hi-Point carbines ready for some action
Hi-Point carbines ready for some action

Updated from an original “Planet of the Apes” configuration to something more contemporary, Hi-Point currently produces them in probably the widest PCC caliber range of any maker including .380, 9mm, .40S&W, .45ACP, and 10mm Auto.

Further, coming in at under $300 with a transferable lifetime warranty, they have been the people’s champ for decades.

Little wonder Hi-Point cranked out 39,500 carbines in 2018 alone!

7. Most Portable: Kel-Tec SUB2000

Florida-based Kel-Tec was best known as a maker of inexpensive handguns until they moved into the rifle market with their SUB2000 PCC platform in 2001.

Now, with the gun in its second generation, the handy little Kel-Tec carbine one of the lightest on the market at just 4.5-pounds and folds in half for easy storage– a feature nobody else can touch.

KelTec SUB2K Unfolded
Fold it up and hit the trails.

While the standard SUB2000 runs 9mm Glock magazines, there are also multi-mag options and an availability in .40 S&W as well.

8. Premium Option: KRISS Vector

With their innovative delayed blowback operating system, the pistol-caliber KRISS Vector looks unusual but has almost no perceived recoil or muzzle climb, with many users comparing it to shooting an airsoft or pellet gun.

KRISS Vector - a fantastic PCC
KRISS Vector - a fantastic PCC

In PCC format, the KRISS Vector CRB with a 16-inch 4140 CMV barrel is offered in four calibers (9mm, .40 S&W, .45ACP, and 10mm) that has a 47-state compliant adjustable stock while still coming in at under 32.5-inches long overall. All variants use Glock double-stack mags for convenience.

On the downside, you have to pay to be the cool guy, with the “good deal” price on these bad boys usually running around $1,300… if you can find them.

9. Best Scout Rifle PCC: Ruger PC Carbine

Ruger stopped production on their Police Carbine offering in 2006 as the company’s companion P-series pistol line was ending.

With their ear to the ground for what the public wanted, however, Ruger introduced an updated Pistol Carbine in 2017, ready to work with either the magazines from a Ruger American pistol or those of Herr Glock’s.

Featureless models are also California-compliant, which is a big deal as there are 13 million gun owners behind the lines in that West Coast state.

What is a PCC?

From the very start of the age of firearms, going back to the days of matchlocks and portable “handgonnes,” early muzzleloaders split into two schools of thought: long-barreled guns best suited for working at range and shorter-barreled varieties small enough to be carried in a belt and used quickly at short ranges.

Where PCCs and rifles diverged

These respective guns continued to evolve into rifles and pistols, with their ammunition evolving along similar, purpose-driven lines that largely made them incompatible with each other as rifles fired heavier bullets with a bigger powder load while handguns, due to their size, typically went smaller on both accounts.

These differences continue today.

A Third Model Colt Dragoon Early Pistol Caliber Carbine Concept
A Third Model Colt Dragoon, one of the earliest concepts of a “pistol caliber carbine”

Handguns meet shoulder stocks

Notably, around the 1840s, the concept of a handgun that could be fitted with a shoulder stock to allow it to be more useful at range while still enabling it to be compact enough for everyday use in tight places under field conditions led to guns such as the Third Model Colt Dragoon and the Springfield M1855 Dragoon.

The “Dragoon” name in the case of these handguns refers to their use by horse-mounted infantry, a popular 19th-century idea to field units of very mobile foot soldiers in the days before the bicycle or automobile.

However, these shoulder-stocked handguns were less than popular, as their percussion-cap firing mechanisms, a short length of pull, and open cylinders (in the case of the Colt at least) often left the user’s face a little on the medium-rare side.

Enter Henry’s .44 rimfire

Nonetheless, by 1870, the widespread use of all-up cartridges started to put the practice of muzzleloaders in the primitive weapon category.

Henry’s .44 rimfire round that year pulled off a neat trick– the ability to be used in either the 15-shot Henry or 13-shot Winchester Model 1866 lever action rifles or the six-shot Smith & Wesson No. 3 revolver.

The days of the pistol caliber carbine, or in this case the revolver caliber rifle, had finally been realized.

Pistol rounds find a home in lever action rifles

While the use of the .44 Rimfire soon died out, the concept of chambering lever-action rifles in popular revolver calibers endured and Winchester’s .44-40 and .32-20 centerfire cartridges soon found a home in just about every popular six-shooter and lever gun of the 1880s and 1890s.

A cowboy, lawman, hunter, or rancher of the era only needed a single handy belt or box of cartridges for both their rifle and handgun.

A DWM Luger Carbine from 1902
A DWM Luger Carbine from 1902. Getting closer to today’s PCC concept.

Autoloaders enter the game

Fast forward to the 1900s and autoloading guns became viable options.

As with revolvers in the previous century, there was a concerted effort to simply add a shoulder stock to a .30-caliber or 9mm pistol to turn it into a carbine, and there were numerous models of Lugers, C96 Broomhandle Mausers, Colt Military Models, Browning M1903s and Hi-Powers that could use such a detachable wooden stock.

Once again, this proved less than ideal for several reasons and by 1921 the first dedicated carbine-sized pistol-caliber submachine guns, like the Thompson and Bergmann MP18, were on the market.

Churchill Fires a Thompson
Churchill Fires a Thompson Submachine Gun, one of the first modern PCCs

The gun world branches again

With that, the gun world diverged to a third branch, with handguns, rifles, and now SMGs heading off in their own respective directions for generations.

Then, by the mid-1980s, the sub-gun branch devolved in a sense to give us the modern PCC.

Burp guns arrive

Models of super sexy 9mm burp guns like the UZI, HK MP5, and Colt SMG began to be marketed in semi-auto-only variants with fixed stocks and 16-inch barrels to keep them out of the NFA’s territory and thus, tax stamp free.

The same can be said for Colonel Thompson’s legendary .45ACP “Chicago Typewriter.”

PCCs Evolve

9mm AR Uppers - Upper and Lower Together
Many modern PCCs use the same upper & lower configuration as the popular AR platform

While the federal “assault weapon” ban from 1994 to 2004 put a big crimp on the sale of those early “scary” looking PCCs, new guns took up their slack.

The featureless Marlin Camp Carbine and the Ruger Police Carbine, guns designed from the ground up to use 9mm ammo, .40 S&W or .45ACP and accept commonly-found handgun magazines, such as those for the M1911 or S&W Model 59 in the case of the Marlin and Ruger’s P-series pistol mags when it comes to the Police Carbine.

Since then, the number and types of PCCs on the market have exploded– and for good reason.

Why a PCC?

Best PCC - 9mm Rifle in the woods
Modern PCCs offer a similar level of personalization and performance of larger-caliber rifles with some intereseting benefits as well.

A pistol caliber carbine is appealing for a variety of reasons. Using more compact ammunition than full-sized rifles, a PCC can carry more rounds for the pounds so to speak.

For example, 20 rounds of 7.62 NATO weighs 17.5-ounces while 20 rounds of 9x19mm only hit the scales at 5.2.

1. Trail (and wallet) friendly

In the hands of those lugging such a firearm around camp or the trail, every ounce counts.

Additionally, due to the short length of the cartridge case, most PCCs use a simple straight blow-back action, which eliminates complex piston and gas systems, making the guns both reliable and easy to maintain.

2. Lower Recoil than Rifles

Four very different 9mm FMJs
Smaller cartridges fired fom a carbine-sized firearm give you less felt-recoil. Plus - 9mm ronds are available in a massive array of options.

Further, the smaller cartridges, when fired from a carbine-sized firearm, impart less felt recoil to the user than even intermediate rifle rounds, making quick follow up shots possible– setting up a PCC as an ideal platform for recoil-shy users or novice shooters and making them almost rock-steady by comparison.

This factor sometimes draws snickers on the USPSA match circuit, which has had a PCC allowance for handgun users since 2016, as the ease of use on these guns is seen by some as a “cheat.” 

9mm AR Uppers - Mag Well
There are some things to adjust to -- such as the smaller mag well of a PCC.

3. More accuracy than a handgun

Another bonus when it comes to marrying up a pistol caliber cartridge with a small carbine-sized rifle is that it makes the round inherently more accurate for the user due to the longer sight radius between front and rear iron sights – although not quite as much as a full-length long gun.

While the added inches on the barrel leads to a more optimal powder burn from the cartridge, trimming muzzle blast at the same time it adds velocity to the bullet. 

4. Better ballistic performance

In widely circulated tests, a 115-grain 9mm JHP picks up an additional 200 fps of velocity when fired from a 16-inch barrel of a PCC versus the more traditional 4-inch barrel of a full-sized handgun and even higher with +P ammo (which should be the choice for personal defense with a carbine) putting a 9mm out of a PCC into the same fps ballpark as a .357 SIG fired from a pistol.

This naturally translates to a significant climb in deliverable energy downrange.  In tests on ballistics gel, the same results are seen. 

9mm luger ballistics chart

5. Smaller size

Finally, PCCs are very compact– usually more so than even a smallish rifle-caliber AR– while providing much more real estate for accessories such as weapon-mounted lights, optics, and active lasers than a handgun in the same caliber, leading the carbine to clock in as a home defense tool for many users.

What to Look for in a Quality PCC

Most people who are looking to buy a PCC already own a pistol, and they want a PCC to give them a little longer range and better handling than a handgun can offer. That also means that those same folks also have pistol magazines.

Magazine Compatibility 

9mm PCCs - Glock Magazines
If you're running a Glock, look for a PCC lower that will use the same magazines.

Thus, it makes some sense to find a PCC that works with the magazines you already have. It’s not generally hard to find several manufacturers that will make a PCC that works just fine with your existing pistol magazines. In particular, PCCs that take Glock, Ruger, and Sig magazines are becoming more popular. This is a good thing for several reasons.

First, it saves you some money. For most shooters, budget is a concern; this is especially true when ammo seems to be getting more expensive by the moment. If you can use magazines you already have to feed your new PCC, it’s a welcome way to save some money to use on things like the aforementioned ammunition or some accessories for your new PCC.

Additionally, it makes your life simpler when it comes to using the PCC. If both your handgun and your PCC take the same magazines, it’s one less thing you have to think about. A lot of folks get PCCs to use for defensive purposes. If, for example, you decide to run both your pistol and your PCC as home defense weapons, then staging magazines on a plate carrier or somewhere else in your home is much easier if the two share common magazines.

Cartridge Compatibility

9mm self defense ammo
If you're running Herr Luger's 9mm elsewhere, you can get a huge variety of ammunition for multiple firearms.

Beyond magazines, the same is largely true of caliber as well. Most PCCs are in 9mm, but it’s possible to find them in .40 and .22 as well as some other calibers, though they are less common. If keeping logistics simple is something that you find important, then having a single caliber used in multiple firearms is a great benefit.

Cross-compatible calibers and magazines will be of special interest to folks who want to use their PCC in competitions: being able to swap magazines between guns can make a rig a lot simpler, and that simplicity will shave seconds off your times during highly technical stages. 

Form Factor

BCG & Charging Handle
Many PCCs use a full-size AR-style form factor, but there are certainly other options.

Pistol Caliber Carbine is a catchall term for firearms about the size of a submachine gun and fires a pistol round. Within that larger category, there are a few different ways to buy and categorize one, each with its own benefits and drawbacks.

Depending on the state, the simplest way to get a PCC is to buy one as a rifle. This will mean that it will come with a barrel of over 16”,  and you’ll be able to put on basically any accessory that you wish. These require the least paperwork, but the downside is that you will have a fairly long barrel, which some people think defeats the handiness of a PCC.

The second kind of PCC you can is as a pistol. The benefit here is that the barrel can be as short as you like, which keeps the overall firearm handy. Instead of a stock, though, these will likely come with an arm brace, and you cannot mount a forward grip on them. Some states also have a waiting period or more strict rules for buying pistols, which can be an additional hurdle.

Finally, you can buy your PCC as a short-barreled rifle or SBR. This requires a fair bit of paperwork with the ATF, but the benefit is that your PCC will be able to have a stock, any accessories that you like, and you can add a forward grip.

In an ideal world, the SBR is the way to go. But, given that the aforementioned ATF paperwork takes a lot of time and money, most people are likely to go with pistol-format PCCs, as these pistol rounds don’t benefit all that much from a 16” barrel, and keeping the overall package of the firearm small is one of the most important things to a lot of folks who are considering a PCC.

Your selection will depend on where you live and the kinds of paperwork and restrictions placed on certain firearms. Some places, for instance, have magazine size restrictions on rifles, but not on handguns: in that case, a pistol makes sense. Others mandate you to be 21 to buy handguns but 18 for rifles. These examples are the sorts of things you’ll have to consider when deciding what classification of PCC you want to buy.

Intended Use

As with most firearms, there is an almost endless variety of PCCs on the market today, so having some overall guiding principle to help you choose what works best for you will help cut through that confusion. The question we’d ask ourselves in buying a PCC is: what will I be using it for?

If, for example, the thing you’re going for is to get as close a copy as your favorite military submachine gun as you possibly can, then you might be willing to forgo a lot of the advice given here so far. For example, a Thompson submachine gun copy will be relatively heavy and takes proprietary magazines. But, if you want a Thompson, that won’t matter much to you.

If, on the other hand, the thing you’re looking for is a weapon with which you’re familiar so you can defend yourself, then other options open up. Nowadays, lots of gun owners are really familiar with the AR platform in its 5.56mm versions. But the AR comes in 9mm as well: having the same controls and handling on your PCC as your rifle is great if you think you may have to use the gun under duress.

Finally, if you think of the PCC as more of a backup firearm, then some of the lighter-weight options might do well for you. For instance, the Keltch Sub200 is extremely light and folds in half for storage. This kind of PCC won’t have all of the accessories and features of the larger models. Still, if you are, for example, backpacking, having something with a little more range than a pistol — that also takes your pistol’s magazines — is a great thing to have for peace of mind in a backpacking kit.

These are just a couple of examples, but with PCCs, the options are getting more diverse daily. Instead of getting overwhelmed with too many choices and either buying no PCC at all or ending up with one or more that you’re not happy with, take some time and think about how you’d use this firearm. If your answer isn’t clear cut, then something that does several things well, or can be used in different roles with different accessories, might be just the ticket for you.

Accessorization

Side-by-side Handguards
Whatever rail system you use, make sure it's common across your other rifles.

Stemming from the point about intended use, it’s also wise to consider what kind of accessories you’ll be able to get on your PCC once you have it and have decided what you want to do with it. Here, there are some legal considerations as well. For instance, you cannot put a stock or a forward handgrip on a pistol. If you want to have those accessories, then a rifle or an SBR is the way to go for you.

Second, we’d think carefully about optics mounting. While many PCCS nowadays come with standard Picatinny rails for mounting optics, some, including older variations of the MP5 and its clones, did not and thus have to use other styles of mount that can be a bit of a hassle to find; let alone install.

From there, some pistol PCCS come with braces: these are a great option for folks who want to use their PCC braced to get something shorter than a rifle would allow. Others do not come with the brace, and you’d have to provide it: figuring what you’d need to get a brace on the gun before buying it will let you know exactly what you’re in for once you do buy it.

Finally, some sling mounting points, whether included in the firearm or added by you afterward, will make a ton of sense for most people: PCCs tend to be used as either competition or defense guns. In both situations, being able to transition to another weapon quickly might be something you need to do, necessitating a sling.

A lot of the accessory-based advice is centered around more contemporary designs: it’ll be a little more difficult to get an optic or a sling on older reproductions of military SMGs, but in those cases, people generally know exactly what they’re getting into. If you want a ton of accessories on your firearms, then the more up-to-date PCCs will almost certainly offer what you need in terms of rail space and mounting points.

For most people, being able to get an optic and a sling, at the very least, on their PCC will help to make them shoot a lot better with these handy carbines.

Sources

  1. SSUSA Staff, Miculek Wins 4th Consecutive USPSA PCC Championship, June 24, 2020
  2. USPSA, PCC is not a crime, June 18, 2020
  3. Ballistics By The Inch, 9mm Luger Ballistics

The Latest firearm Reviews:

S&W M&P M2.0 Compact cover

In-Depth Review: M&P Shield 2.0

Is Smith & Wesson’s second-generation M&P Compact one of the best polymer-framed handguns on the market today? I put this striker-fired pistol through its paces

111-SC-1537A - US Marines in France, Telescopic Rifle Sight sniper M1903 111-SC-001537A-ac

The Best .30-06 Rifles in 2021

What is the .30-06 cartridge and what keeps so popular? We examine this .30-caliber military classic, break down why it has endured for over a century, and provide a selection of great “Aught Six” rifles.

angled foregrips cover

The Best Angled Foregrips

Whether you’re in the process of building an AR-15 or are looking to accessorize one you already own, an angled foregrip can be a helpful

17 HMR Cover

The Best .17 HMR Rifles

What is the .17 HMR and what makes it exciting? We look at this tiny rimfire round, break down the features, and provide a selection of great .17 HMR rifles.

4.6/5 - (5 votes)

Checking our work.

We use years of experience, deep research, and hands-on testing to scrutinize our product recommendations and provide you with as close to objectively accurate results we humans can muster. If you’ve found different results in your own testing, think we missed something important, or otherwise need to adjust our work, please let us know. If it’s noteworthy we’ll consider integrating your feedback into our article. After all, it takes a village. 

Email the editor

Read more gun & gear reviews: