Rich in firearms tradition, Steyr Mannlicher has been designing and manufacturing firearms since the 1800s. Yet the traditions of the company go much farther back than that.
The recognized founder of the company, Josef Werndl, came from a family and region steeped in the tradition of weapons making—perhaps as far back as the 1200s. That sense of family and tradition carry forward to today as the company continues to produce exceptional weapons for military and citizens alike. Steyr Arms, the U.S.-based importer of the company’s guns, sent me a compact S9-A1 pistol for review. As I expected, the gun was a top-notch performer.
A polymer-framed gun, the S9-A1 uses a striker-fired system that allows for a consistent trigger pull from shot to shot. The gun has no external safeties per se, but it does use a trigger safety that is naturally deactivated when the trigger is intentionally pressed. Compared to the trigger safeties on other pistols, Steyr uses a center lever that is wider than most. It feels surprisingly good and does not pinch the finger at all. A 10-test average showed the trigger pull weight right at 5 pounds.
The gun has a low bore axis, meaning that the hand is able to grasp higher on the gun in relationship to the barrel. There is quite a bit of debate on how much this helps with controlling the gun while shooting, but I found the gun had little muzzle flip when firing.
I have sometimes found that guns with a low bore axis also have a short slide height. Compared to some other guns, the same is true for the S9-A1. However, I found that the slide height was still tall enough to get a good grip for slide manipulation. Helped by the slide serrations, working the slide at speed was not a problem.
Steyr includes an accessory rail on the underside of the frame. This allows a shooter to add a supplemental aiming device or lighting source like the Streamlight TLR-2 HL G combination unit that pairs a 720-lumen light with a bright green aiming laser.
Steyr uses a sighting system referred to as trapezoidal sights. With this system, the front sight is a large, white triangle. The rear sight has a similarly angled notch with two white lines designed to outline the two upper sides of the front triangle when properly aligned. The rear sight has a ramped front edge to reduce the possibility of it hanging on a cover garment, but the slope does preclude the use of the sight for one-handed slide manipulation.
I would describe the S9-A1 as being a bit heavy on the front end. The gun weighs just under 27 ounces, which makes it somewhat heavier than many compact pistols and on par with the duty-sized Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm pistol. While that might sound like a negative on paper, in the real world, a few extra ounces can help soak up recoil without adding an appreciable burden on the body while carrying.
Whenever possible, I try to run at least 10 different loads through a pistol I am reviewing. I want to make sure that a gun will run a broad range of ammunition reliably if I am going to give it a thumbs-up. With the Steyr, I ran 15 different factory loads on the range. Nine different manufacturers were represented, with bullet weights ranging from 50 to 147 grains. Both standard and +P pressure loads were used, as were loads with different bullet designs—frangible, FMJs and hollow points. The Steyr was 100-percent reliable with all of them. I selected three loads for accuracy testing.
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Winchester’s 124-grain PDX1 Defender +P load was an admirable performer. I’ve had a chance to test this line in a variety of handguns recently. It has been reliable in all of the guns I’ve shot, and it tends to turn in very good groups. With the S9-A1, it gave me the best five-shot group of all the loads I tested at 1.6 inches at 7 yards unsupported. Most of the other loads ran around 2.5 inches for five shots at the same distance.
Muzzle flip and felt recoil were very mild in this gun. For the most part, 9mm is a fairly easy-shooting cartridge. Nonetheless, compact pistols can exhibit harsher recoiling characteristics than their larger cousins. However, I found the S9-A1 was very easy to keep on target during rapid shooting. The front of the gun had little flip when held with a solid two-handed grip, and the large front sight was clear in my vision for confirming I was still on target.
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I’m all for new sight designs so long as they actually try to solve the problem of getting accurate shots on target quickly. I’ve seen far too many sights introduced that are more gimmick than useful. Frankly, when I first looked at the trapezoidal sights on the Steyr pistols, I was somewhat concerned that Steyr had gone for a gimmick rather than true performance. I’m happy to say I was wrong.
The trapezoidal sights were surprisingly good. The front sight jumps into the field of view and draws the eye’s focus. The rear sight is visible but slightly out of focus. The two bars on the rear sight naturally box the front sight in confirming that you are on target. These sights seem to cause the eyes to do naturally what many firearms instructors try to train their students to do: Focus on the front sight.
I was very impressed by the S9-A1 pistol. The gun performed admirably and offered no problems throughout the testing. Recoil was light and the sights were remarkably instinctive. Running the gun hard and fast, like would be done in a fight for your life, was easily accomplished.
There are many good self-defense pistols on the market currently, and the Steyr S9-A1 is clearly one of them. Does this gun make sense for your needs? Only you can make that determination, but it should be on your list for consideration.
For more information, visit http://www.steyrarms.com or call 205-417-8644.