FN’s Fast and Tiny Five-Seven Pistol

The FN Five-Seven is a full-sized pistol that fires micro-sized 5.7x28mm ammo. it's loud, has no recoil, and is stunningly accurate.

Imagine the 9mm versus .45 ACP argument on steroids. In the 9 v. 45 debate, most arguments boil down to whether fat and slow are better than skinny and fast. With the FN Five-Seven pistol’s 5.7x28mm caliber, what is thin and fast is completely redefined.


The Five-Seven pistol uses teeny, tiny centerfire cartridges labeled 5.7x28mm on the box. They’re not new – the cartridge was developed back in 1989 as a potential submachine gun alternative that would be capable of defeating body armor when using appropriate ammunition. It was originally intended for the FN P90 personal defense weapon. Later, the FN Five-Seven pistol hit the streets. While never adopted in broad scale by NATO, it has found homes in agencies and protective details around the world.

The safety is above the trigger. It takes getting used to but helps keep your trigger finger out until ready to fire.

The safety is above the trigger. It takes getting used to but helps keep your trigger finger out until ready to fire.

The pistol isn’t small. It’s a full-size polymer model (8.2 inches long, 5.5 inches tall, and 1.4 inches wide) that packs 20+1 of the diminutive cartridges in the grip magazine. It’s a single-action pistol with an enclosed hammer. The safety is unusual as it’s placed above the trigger, so you’ll need to get used to operating that with your trigger finger. You can also manage it with your support hand thumb if you prefer. Controls are ambidextrous.

The 5.7x28mm looks like a shrunken rifle cartridge, perhaps because it was originally designed as a submachine gun round.

The 5.7x28mm looks like a shrunken rifle cartridge, perhaps because it was originally designed as a submachine gun round.

So What?

The “so what” discussion of this pistol boils down to the performance of its cartridge. While the diameter of its projectiles is the same as standard .223 Remington at .224 inches, the weight is a lot less, usually between 28 and 40-grains. From a short pistol barrel, the bullets won’t achieve the velocity required to tumble and fragment like those from an AR rifle. I measured the speed of American Eagle 40-grain projectiles at 1,624.5 feet per second. So, for self-defense purposes, while you get a lot of bullets per magazine, they’re going to make relatively small holes.

I did fire the FN SS197R Sporting Cartridge tipped with a Hornady V-Max bullet into a gel block just for kicks. It penetrated 20 inches of Clear Ballistic Gelatin and plowed into an old bulletproof vest I was using as a backstop. The bullet had just barely started to expand and fragment. It really needed a couple of hundred feet per second additional velocity to perform as the V-Max should. I suspect it would have worked perfectly when fired from the longer barreled P90.

The V-Max bullet barely started to expand and fragment when fired from the pistol into gel blocks.

The V-Max bullet barely started to expand and fragment when fired from the pistol into gel blocks.

As for accuracy, the Five-Seven is a tack driver. Again, using the American Eagle ammo, I shot five different five-shot groups from 25 yards. All were less than two inches, and the average was just 1.65 inches. That’s pretty darn impressive.

All in all, I loved shooting this gun. It’s loud, has no recoil, and is superbly accurate. I’d like to own one, because, well, why not?

Tom McHale is a committed learning junkie always seeking a new subject victim. As a lifelong student of whatever grabs his attention on any particular day, he thrives on beating rabbit trails into submission. In between his time as a high-tech marketing executive, restaurant owner, and hamster cosmetology practitioner, he’s published seven books and nearly 1,500 articles about guns, shooting, and the American way.

  • Billybob63

    This article makes it seem like the 5.7×28 round isn’t very effective when fired from the FN 5.7 pistol. The terrorist nadal hasan used the FN 5.7 to go on a shooting rampage at Ft. Hood, Texas in 2009. Within a matter of minutes he killed 14 people and injured another 30 or so. I’m guessing the survivors might tell a different tale about the effectiveness of the round.

    FYI, this was another instance where military/police/government were forewarned and failed to act to prevent a tragedy.

    • http://netzero.com/ SomeJackAss

      Thanx for jogging my memory about that evil bast*rd – and the inadequate available punishment prosecutors have for him – and the dysfunction within USA that enabled him in the first place – and the injustice that persists today. But, I digress.

      Back the the 5.7 review, I did not get the same impression you got reading this review. The author did not diminish the formidable killing potential of this round, he merely compared it with venerable, tumbling .223 round. I do believe also that the 5.7 defeats barriers such as car doors and most body armor which is why it is chosen by special protective agencies around the world.

  • Kevin

    Tom, What is this article supposed to accomplish??? First off, its short, not very informative and doesn’t really tell the reader anything. You say the round (only one?) fired into ballistic gel penetrated 20″, but the photo shows 12″, which is probably correct for this round. The whole point of this round is two fold; first penetrate soft body armor, which begs the question, why was the body armor in front of the gel block, instead of being used as the backstop?

    The 2nd reason this round exists, is to be a personal defense weapon for non-frontline troops. The ammo weighs around half of what a 9mm NATO round weighs, meaning a soldier can carry less weight or twice as much ammo. Also, if you tried it, you would find that obtaining hits with the Five-Seven pistol at a 100 yards is not hard to do. Shooting the P90 to 200 yards is also quite easy.

    By the way, you used the worst performing ammo for this gun. The good stuff is legal to own, the Black Tip SS190 Duty Round, as well as the more common Green Tip SS198 round. Both will defeat LVL II and LVL III soft armor. This is important, as more and more bad guys are wearing armor.

    Also, you stated that the pistol is full size, which is true, however a fully loaded FN Five-Seven pistol with a 20 round magazine weighs about the same as a Glock 26 with 10 rounds of 9mm ammo. So having the ability to defeat body armor and engage man size targets to 100 yards, in a package that weighs the same as a sub-compact CCW gun, sums up the “Why” behind the 5.7x28mm cartridge and FN’s pistol.

    P.S. If you editor reads this, yes I would love to have a job. 🙂

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  • Paul Hopwood

    First of all it’s pretty obvious the author is ignorant to the FN pistol and knows NOTHING about available ammo. He picked the the slowest and least effective (not to mention dirtiest) ammo to chronograph. He should have put some denim or other material in front of the sr197 before shooting into gel. I just fired the 27gr green tip hollow point thru two level 3 vests and it expanded quite well after the 2nd. the round is designed not to over penetrate in soft tissue and is ideal for home defense. The reduced recoil of the round allows you to stay on target and as Billybob63 said just check out what the gun did to military personnel if you doubt what it can do! I hate to bring up that shooting but it does show what the pistol is capable of.