Gun Review: The KelTec Sub2000 Gen3 9mm Carbine

by Vern Evans
KelTec Sub2000 Gen3

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The KelTec Sub2000 has been met with wide acceptance in the shooting community. This neat little 9mm is affordable, useful and reliable. The 9mm carbine makes a lot of sense as a home defender. Everyone doesn’t  have the time, funds and determination to master a handgun. Even those who do will find they are a better shot moving faster and getting more hits on a combat course with a 9mm carbine.

The shotgun terrifies some shooters. The harsh recoil of a shotgun can be mastered, but it takes more effort. A rifle offers more muzzle blast and more expense in most cases.  For many of us, the 9mm carbine is ideal for home defense. As for myself I cannot criticize 9mm AR-type carbines as the ergonomics are sound and the AR carbine handles well. The Ruger PCC is reliable, and so is the Beretta Storm. The KelTec Sub2000, however, is very light at just over four pounds. The KelTec neatly folds over into a compact package, and it accepts Glock magazines. But is there nothing not to like? Sure, there are always some shortcomings depending on what type of performance or function we are expecting from a particular firearm.

The KelTec Sub2000 Gen3 proved accurate and useful. Michael Irwin Collins Photo

To start, the original carbine did not accept optics well. The fold-up sights are OK and get the job done, but more and more today, many shooters want an optics-ready carbine.

The new Gen3, however, offers plenty of space for mounting optics or combat lights. Another shortcoming of the overall design—only noticed after red-dot sights became more widely accepted and if you were able to mount a red dot on the original carbine—the folding mechanism would fold right over your RDS.

You could have a red dot but you gave up the folding option. (Mcarbo.com offers a well-designed RDS mount that solves these problems if you own a pre-Gen3 Sub2000.) The new Gen3 carbine, however, does not feature back-up sights and the rail easily accepts red-dot sights, something that makes the design more utilitarian for a broader audience of today’s shooters.

Meanwhile, the grip and forend make for an excellent hold when firing.  The carbine accepts 9mm Glock pistol magazines, which is a big plus. Being able to use the most reliable pistol magazine on the planet simply makes sense with the design.

The new folding mechanism required some redesign without changing the barrel and receiver, but KelTec’s engineers achieved that. The carbine still folds on itself. Simply, unhinge the action by pressing forward and down on the trigger guard. The barrel rises up and then folds over the receiver. A latch on the buttstock captures the barrel. The difference in the Gen3 is that the forend moves to one side under hand pressure as the stock is folded. This neatly moves the RDS  and any accessories out of the way as the carbine is folded.

The KelTec Sub2000 Gen3 is a neat folding carbine with well thought-out features. Michael Irwin Collins Photo

The detail changes in the Gen3 are well thought out for sure. The carbine retains the original 16-inch barrel (which keeps it compact and legal), crossbolt safety and blowback action of the Gen1 and Gen2 carbines. The trigger action breaks cleanly at 5.2 pounds. KelTec claims to have lowered the cocking force needed to rack the bolt. This is a blowback action with a heavy spring. I cannot tell the difference in performance, but then I don’t have an original Sub2000 to compare.

Shots Fired

I loaded up a number of magazines for the initial firing tests. Glock 19, Glock 17, Glock +2 magazines and of course one of the reliable and useful Glock 33-round magazines. I added one of the new MagPul 21-round magazines. The MagPul proved completely reliable and is just the right size for some types of duty. I used a mix of FMJ ammunition.

Every Sub2000 I have fired has been reliable, no surprises there. The KelTec was topped with a SIG Romeo 5 RDS. I found this red-dot sight in the used case at a local indoor range. It was like new with a few scuffs on the mounting screws, but it worked well with the KelTec, offering good adjustments and speed on target. A 9mm carbine with an RDS is very fast and accurate on man-sized targets. Keep both eyes open and follow the dot to a hit.

I sighted the carbine to fire slightly high at 25 yards with a look toward later doing some 50-yard testing. It shot well.

All of the weights of 9mm I tested were reliable, including 115-, 124- and 147-grain loads. The accuracy came in as expected. At 25 yards, it isn’t difficult to tear apart the X-ring and make one ragged hole. Recoil isn’t even a consideration. The differences in the point of impact with a carbine are not too severe as bullet dwell time in the barrel and muzzle lift follow different rules than a pistol.

A 33-round stick magazine is good to have. Michael Irwin Collins Photo

Ammunition Performance

I fired a number of groups, shooting three-shot groups at the 25-yard bullseye with four different loads. Twenty-five yards isn’t much of a challenge with this gun, I admit, but it is longer than the usual home-defense situation. It is perhaps getting into fox or coyote in the henhouse range. The results were very good as I had expected.

Load                                                            3-shot group, 25 yards

Federal 115-gr. Train and Defend                   .95 inch.

Federal American Eagle 124-gr. FMJ               .8 inch

Federal Hydra Shock 124-gr.                          1.0 inch

Speer Gold Dot 147-gr.                                  1.1 inch

More importantly, the carbine handles well when addressing multiple targets in speed drills. A gang or a takeover robbery are sadly concerns in this day and age, and the KelTec carbine offers real speed and accuracy against multiple targets. I fired several drills with solid results. I also collected a couple of carbine-specific loads for evaluation.

The 9mm Luger does not develop a startling amount of velocity in a carbine compared to a pistol. The 9mm uses fast burning powder and makes for a full powder burn and efficiency in handguns. Velocity increase in a carbine is useful at 100-150 fps on average. In comparison, a .357 Magnum loading may exhibit a velocity increase of 600-700 fps in a carbine. But that is a cartridge using large charges of slow-burning powder.

Firing an original Sub2000 the carbine was fast and reliable. The new gun is even better. Michael Irwin Collins Photo

A concern voiced by some is that a load that offers good expansion and penetration in a pistol barrel may over expand or fragment in a carbine. Not in this generation of defense and service loads. On average, loads such as the Federal HST or Hydra Shock and Speer Gold Dot will expand slightly more (.002 to .004 more) and penetrate a couple extra inches. Actually testing ammunition helps discover different conclusions than guess work.

I determined to test fire the KelTec at 50 yards. I used the Federal Syntech 130-grain carbine load. Intended for competetion use, this load clocks 1190 fps in the KelTec. I also tested the new Speer Gold Dot 135-grain Carbine Dot. This load has great promise. I am looking forward to more ballistic testing. The load clocked faster than advertised at 1238 fps.

I settled down on the MTM Caseguard Simple Shooting Rest and clocked the SIG Romeo 5 down to its smallest dot. I took careful aim at a 50-yard target. The Syntech load put three shots into 2.2 inches, the 135-grain Gold Dot load went into 2.25 inches, probably all I am good for with a 9mm carbine. For home defense and area defense, even for defense against some dangerous animals, the KelTec Sub2000 Gen3 offers a meaningful improvement, while keeping the price at what knowing shooters will consider reasonable.

Rapid fire control is excellent, and Speer’s 135-grain Gold Dot special carbine load proved accurate and reliable. Michael Irwin Collins Photo

Specifications

  • Manufacture: KelTec
  • Model: Sub2000 Gen3
  • Weight: 4.2 lbs.
  • Magazine Capacity: Glock Magazine, 10 to 33 rounds available
  • Overall Length (Extended): 30.45 in.
  • Overall Length (Collapsed): 29.25 in.
  • Length (Folded): 16.15 in.
  • Barrel Length: 16.15 in.
  • Twist Rate: 1:10 in.
  • Trigger Pull Weight: Approximately 5 lbs.
  • MSRP: $458

 

Rating

Reliability        *****  Faultless and expected from this humble blowback action.

Accuracy         ****    In the 9mm carbine league, this gun delivers plenty of accuracy.

Handling          *****  This is a fast handling and effective carbine.

Concealment   *****  We don’t usually rate carbines on concealment. But a 4-pound carbine that folds easily is a neat trick to store in the home or truck.

For more stories and gun reviews by Michael Irwin Collins click here.

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