USA – -(Ammoland.com)- If you have been a long time reader of Ammoland, you might recall that Mike Searson wrote a review of the Steyr M9-A1 back in 2015, but since the updated Steyr A2 pistols were announced at SHOT 2019, I felt as though the all too often overlooked Austrian pistol might be worth looking at again.
Since understanding why a pistol was brought into existence is always helpful when evaluating its merits, some background on the Steyr M series of pistols is in order. According to the book Encyklopedia najnowszej broni palnej, tom 4 (Encyclopedia of the latest firearm, volume 4 in English) written by Ryszarda Woźniaka, the M series development started in the early '90s with both law enforcement and civilian shooters in mind.
The pistol was ready to be unveiled in 1999 just after SHOT and Steyr showed the new M40 to the public. Later the line was expanded to add 9mm, as well as .357 Sig, chambered service pistols and a pair of compact variants only in 9mm or .40 S&W.
In 2004 with the second generation A1 pistols replaced the original design with much-needed improvements to the frame like improved texturing and an accessory rail. 2010 brought yet another revision and the third generation pistols hit the market with even more enhancements to the pistol, this is the variant that we will be reviewing. The last addition to the Steyr line prior to the introduction of the newest A2 variant was the introduction of the long slide L variant.
All of that said, I have my head squarely in the “this is a service pistol, not a target pistol” arena. I am not expecting tack-driving accuracy, a match grade target trigger, or ultra-precise sights. If the pistol proves to be as reliable as some claim and is squarely in service pistol accuracy territory I feel that is all can reasonably be asked of the Steyr M9-A1.
What Makes The Steyr M9-A1 Special?
There are a ton of choices on the market these days for someone who is looking for a polymer-framed 9mm pistol that is striker-fired. Why should someone consider the M9-A1? Well, if you are one of those people that has to have something that is a departure from more common products, the Steyr M9-A1 might be your gun. But there are several other features about the M9-A1 that set it apart from the other guns on the market.
The biggest standout feature that sets the Steyr pistols apart from all others is the chassis similar to the one found in the P320, except it wasn't until the introduction of the A2 variant that the chassis was serialized.
While the serial number being located on the polymer frame sucks because it limits you to the configuration of the pistol as it was shipped, the ability to remove the chassis for cleaning, upgrades, and service is a welcome change over other designs of similar vintage.
Steyr also fitted the pistol with some trapezoidal sights that are a huge departure from the norm. Some shooters swear by them while others place them in the trash as soon as they can in favor of a more traditional set of sights. I am personally not a fan of the trapezoidal sights and found rapid sight acquisition rather difficult, but I am sure that I could get used to it over time. Realistically I would just replace them with more traditional sights if I were to carry the gun for self-defense, as a range toy the funky sights are more than adequate for my uses.
There are a ton of other things about the Steyr that set it apart from other pistols on the market, so many in fact that I could finish this article out by just talking about how different it is from the competition. Since this is merely a review, I will touch on a few final ones then move on to shooting the pistol. Steyr incorporated a fully supported chamber in all caliber right from the start as well as incorporating a witness hole in the rear of the chamber, a rod that pops up from the top of the slide when a round is chambered, and a bump on the extractor similar to the one found on third-gen Glocks.
The number one thing that makes people think “Woah, this is weird” when they pick the pistol up? The grip angle of 111-degrees.It doesn't feel unnatural, but it is unlike almost every pistol that prospective buyers have picked up.
Shooting the Steyr M9A1
Shooting the Steyr M9A1 is also a very different experience from other pistols on the market. When you level the pistol on the target, you might expect the pistol to present like a Glock with the sights pointed at the sky. Strangely, the pistol points much more like a Ruger Mark series or an old Luger. Getting a refined sight picture was not super easy for me as a result of those wonky sights.
A benefit that people often overlook is how deep the pistol sits in your hands. When that is combined with the angle of the grip it is almost like I am shooting a compensated pistol which is great, but the trigger really stands in the way of making the pistol really sing.
I found the trigger to remind me of the 10-year old PowerShot staple gun that lives in my range bag. It isn't great and there is no real way of upgrading it, but I wouldn't say it is bad either. The Steyr M9 trigger is probably the hardest trigger to describe I have come across to date.
The almost toy-like trigger break is something that you need to experience yourself to understand. I don't feel it to be an asset to the pistol, but I also don't feel like it held me back when shooting.
The texture applied to the grip of the M9A1 is a bit slick by today's standards and I found it to hamper recoil mitigation when shooting on a hot Texas day. After a bit of time in the heat, the amount of sweat on my hands would make the pistol squirm a bit during recoil, not a huge deal but something I am glad they addressed on the second generation of pistols.
Note: When looking at the results of the accuracy testing, there are a few things that you should keep in mind. First, my M9A1 has the wonky sights that I am not used to. Second, this iteration of the M9A1 should be expected to perform about as good as a Gen 2 or 3 Glock 19 based on where manufacturing was at the time this pistol was designed.
At 10-yards, the pistol produced a very respectable 2.604″ unsupported 10-shot group. Had I spent more time getting used to the sights I believe I could have tightened that group up by about an inch.
25-yards I was able to produce a 5.197″ group if the shot I pulled low left is omitted. Again, this is very respectable given the timeframe that the pistol was introduced. The pistol wasn't a fan of the 115-grain Blazer Brass I was feeding it, there were no reliability issues but I feel that accuracy could be improved after finding a load that the pistol likes more.
While the magazine release looks small and hard to hit, I found it easy to access and well placed. I don't think I would call it ideal, I would have liked it to be a touch wider.
The slide release is on the Steyr M9A1 is about as close to ideal as one can get given the time period the pistol was designed. It does become a bit of an issue when you use a more modern high support hand grip but with the more common “thumbs forward” grip I had no problem with the slide locking to the rear. I can't really knock it for the failure to lock back with the high support hand grip since most polymer pistols do the same thing.
With some kinda quirky features, the Steyr M9A1 makes for a unique choice that performed every bit as well as the other Austrian polymer pistol. There are some areas that the Steyr falls flat though, the main one being the aftermarket. As a pure service pistol, the M9A1 is among the best in the world with features in line with just about every other polymer-framed pistol on the market today.
If I hadn't embraced the dot or was issued one of the M9 variants, I wouldn't feel under gunned in the least. But that touches on one of the reasons that the M9A1 has left my collection, the lack of a real aftermarket. The truth is that no pistol comes out of the box optimized for every set of hands out there, that is one of the largest reasons that the two pistol models I carry almost always are the Glock 19 and the FN 509. If I can't address shortcomings with some strategic parts replacement, it probably isn't for me but you may find it works well for you. That is one of the things that makes this industry so freakin' cool, individual tastes are all over the place.
While extra M9A1 gun magazines #ad are available the second downside that resulted in the M9A1 finding a new home was the lack of great holsters. I was unable to find anyone that made an AIWB holster that met my list of wants and sadly Safariland has no fitment for the M9A1 in their ALS line of holsters. No good holster options, no red dot compatibility, no one reputable milling slides for an MRDS, and no real aftermarket means that the Steyr M9A1 just wasn't for me.
That isn't to say it isn't a fantastic pistol, it has some truly great features and has been utterly reliable for the time that I owned the gun as well as for its previous owner.
Look to Steyr Arms' website for more information about the M series of pistols, you can find all of the specs your heart desires there.
About Patrick R.
Patrick is a firearms enthusiast that values the quest for not only the best possible gear setup but also pragmatic ways to improve his shooting skills across a wide range of disciplines. He values truthful, honest information above all else and had committed to cutting through marketing fluff to deliver the truth. You can find the rest of his work on FirearmRack.com as well as on the YouTube channel Firearm Rack or Instagram at @thepatrickroberts.