Extar EP-9 And S&W Response: Polymer PCCs

Glock established the role of polymer in weapon design and never let go. Ever since Glock proved polymer was the future, we’ve seen more and more of it hit the firearms market. In the last year, we’ve seen several long guns with polymer receivers. Two very notable examples are the Extar EP-9 Carbine and the S&W Response. After taking a close look at both guns recently it struck me how far polymer has come. Polymer uppers and lowers aren’t new, but historically they’ve kind of sucked. 

A few companies have gotten it right, and both Extar and S&W are in that category. These two rifles have a ton in common. As stated, they both use polymer receivers. Second, they are both 9mm PCCs. Finally, they both take on an AR-like form factor but aren’t traditional ARs in many ways. I’d argue they both slide into the affordable category of firearms. They are direct competitors, and as such, I thought it would be fun to take both to the range and give them a comparative run down. 

Inside the Polymer Pistol Caliber Carbines 

Let’s start inside out. Both guns are blowback systems. The Smith & Wesson Response uses the same straight blowback design that’s very familiar to anyone who has ever fired a 9mm AR-15. It’s the most common PCC system and is well-proven. The EP-9 Carbine uses what they call a mass-delayed blowback system. Most straight blowback systems use a mass delay system if you want to be picky about it. 

Ep9 and response bolt
The stainless steel bolt is for the Response, and the black bolt is for the EP9. Notice the weight sitting on top of the EP9 bolt. Credit: Travis Pike

With the Response, the mass comes in the form of the heavy bolt and heavy buffer. The Extar Ep-9 Carbine uses a weight on top of the bolt. That weight can move just slightly back and forth and features a spring to allow it to move. This system seems very similar to the PC Carbine’s dead blow action. The idea is that the weight moves back and forth to help reduce felt recoil. 

The Response follows the AR-15 in its design. It has AR-15 controls that are nearly identical to any other AR-15. The biggest difference is the magazine release, which is designed to function with pistol magazines. The Extar EP-9 Carbine uses an AR-like layout that uses an AR-like safety and bolt release. The magazine release is very similar to the Response. The biggest difference is the right-side charging handle on the EP-9. 

All About Magazines 

Pistol caliber carbines often use pistol magazines. Both the EP-9 and Response use pistol magazines. The Extar EP-9 utilizes Glock magazines and integrates a last-round bolt-hold open device. The Response differs by utilizing a modular magazine well. The gun comes with two magwells, one uses S&W M&P magazines and the other uses Glock magazines. 

Response and magazines
The S&W Response has a modular magwell. Credit: Travis Pike

Swapping mag wells is easy to do. It requires one Allen wrench and about two minutes of effort. The S&W Response predictably ships with the M&P magwell installed and comes with M&P magazines. The LRBHO only seems to work with the M&P magazines as well. I love the idea of modular magwells and the potential they offer to use all sorts of magazines in the future. 

Ep9 and Glock mags
The EP9 takes Glock magazines. Credit: Travis Pike


Ergonomically, the guns are very similar. They use that famed AR design, and we all know it works. It’s one of the premier ergonomics options and is used by tons of firearms for a reason. Both score high in the ergonomic department in terms of controls. The big difference comes down to the charging handle. 

The S&W Repsonses uses a massive and ambidextrous AR charging handle, while the Extar Ep-9 carbine uses a left-side mounted charging handle. While the Extar charging handle works, it’s really only friendly to right-handed shooters. It’s a little trickier to use as a lefty. The other downside is that it reciprocates. It hasn’t gotten in the way, but it’s worth noting. 

Another big difference comes down to the handguard. The S&W Response uses a nice long M-LOK handguard. It’s also polymer, by the way. The Extar EP-9 originally came as a pistol and had a handguard that covered most of the pistol barrel.

Handguard on EP9 and response
Both guns feature M-LOK handguards. Credit: Travis Pike

The EP-9 Carbine comes with the same short M-LOK handguard as the pistol. It’s shorter than the Repsonse but still functional. Mounting flashlights would force you to deal with more shadow, but it’s really not a big deal. I prefer the longer handguard of the Response, but it is a minor difference. 


A pistol-caliber carbine in 9mm isn’t known for its long-range capability. On a good day, they are 100-yard rifles. I fired the two guns at 50 yards in a rested position. I compared them by firing several three-round groups over and over. I find the differences between the triggers to be minor. You could argue over which is better, but the differences are miniscule. I’d argue the Response has a slightly better trigger, but I’ve also put a few hundred more rounds through the gun. 

Man shooting Extar ep9
The Extar EP9 is one of the most affordable, high-quality firearms on the market. Credit: Travis Pike

What about accuracy differences? Well, there were none. Not really. In measuring my three best groups from each gun, there was no clear winner. Both guns produced groups of around 2 inches, which is pretty standard for a 9mm carbine. I’m sure higher-quality 9mm ammo could clean those groups up, and maybe a magnified optic, but still, the performance would be fairly identical. 


I grabbed a handful of ISPC A-zone targets and a shot timer. I strapped them up, backed off seven yards, and started shooting Bill Drills. The Bill Drill is six rounds into an ISPC-sized A-zone as fast as I can. I used this drill to observe differences in recoil and control when it comes to close-range, rapid-fire shooting. 

Reloading S&W Response
Both guns feature a nice mag well for quick reloads. Credit: Travis Pike

What I noticed was that the Response had more rearward recoil. I could feel the gun impact my shoulder a bit more. The Extar Ep-9 has less perceived recoil but seemingly more jarring recoil. It’s tough to describe, but you can feel that weight moving back and forth. It seems to disturb the muzzle more and results in the red dot of my optic moving a good deal more. 

The Response shot slightly tighter groups and did so slightly faster. The difference in speed was around two-tenths of a second. That’s a pretty notable difference. I didn’t notice the jarring recoil of the Extar until we tried this drill. 


Here is the big one. The S&W Response has an MSRP of $799 and tends to retail for $699. The Extar EP-9 Carbine has a price of $499. The Extar EP-9 cuts out the middleman of retailers and distributors and just sells the gun directly to customers. (Through an FFL, of course.) Two hundred dollars is a significant price difference. 

Extra EP9 and s&w response
Which would you choose? Credit: Travis Pike

Which Is Better? 

Both guns are reliable, accurate, easy to shoot, and ergonomic. I can’t objectively say one is better than the other because it would really come down to a ton of different factors. I can tell you which I would buy. As much as I like the Response, the lower price of the Extar makes it more appealing to me. 

Both are still 9mm PCCs at the end of the day. Their performance is pretty close overall, so it comes down to external factors like price. I tend to prefer Glock magazines, and as a right-handed shooter, I find the left-side charging handle perfect. That’s my pick, but which would you choose? 

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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