Photo: Becky Leavitt
Introduced in 1999 as the M9, Steyr's answer to the Glock was a hammerless, striker-fired design with what Steyr's marketing team referred to as a "Reset Action" trigger. In layman's terms this means that when the slide runs forward, the striker is held partially cocked until a complete stroke of the trigger draws it back completely, trips the sear, and releases it to fire the cartridge in the chamber.
A continuing product improvement program saw the introduction of the M-A1 and S-A1 in 2004. Six years later the company announced the availability of a high-capacity, compact-slide version, the C-A1. The current version of the full-size Steyr duty pistol, the L9-A1, debuted last year.
Available chambered for either the 9mm Luger or .40 S&W, the L9-A1 has many of the features of Steyr's earlier pistols along with several new ones.
The most noticeable aspect of the new pistol is the greater length of the L9-A1's slide, which provides a longer sight radius and improved balance over its predecessors. In addition, additional weight up front helps to reduce muzzle flip and recoil, while a longer, 4.53-inch barrel allows the 9mm and .40 caliber cartridges to reach their ballistic potential.
Steyr also redesigned the trigger by incorporating a pin beneath the rear sight that bisects the striker firing-pin channel. A small roller on this pin allows for the striker to move smoothly as it is compressed by the trigger stroke and for a "cleaner" break when the striker is released.
Grasping grooves on the front and rear of the slide allow retraction from a number of positions when reloading the pistol or clearing a malfunction, even with wet hands or when wearing gloves.
And the L9-A1 has the most unique sights I have seen in a long time, perhaps ever. The front sight is a triangular blade while the rear is a trapezoidal notch. The manufacturer claims that this arrangement provides faster target acquisition for instinctive aiming. The front sight contains a non-luminescent white triangle contrast element designed to mate with two white rectangles on the rear sight for fast alignment.
Ergonomics and Mechanics
A lot of thought went into the design of the grip frame. The trigger guard is shaped so that a shooter can get a very high grip on the pistol. This and the aggressive texturing provide improved handling and recoil control. A Picatinny rail on the dust cover permits mounting lights, lasers, or other tactical accessories.
Relief cutouts on both sides of the frame permit easy access to the magazine catch, which can be reversed for left-handed shooters. The bottom of the grip frame is scalloped, exposing the magazine base plate so the shooter can drag the magazine out of the grip in case of a malfunction.
The slide reciprocates on four integral lugs of a metal insert in the frame, which also contains the trigger mechanism, sear, and ejector.
The L9-A1 has a trigger safety consisting of a small, spring-loaded inner trigger housed in the wider, outer trigger that prevents trigger movement until it is depressed. In addition, a complete stroke of the trigger deactivates the internal striker and drop safeties.
When the pistol's chamber is loaded a pin extends out past the rear of the slide to provide a tactical indication of the pistol's condition while a small, semi-circular cutout in the barrel hood allows you to visually verify if there is a round in the chamber.
Lastly, the design features an internal safety lock. Using a special key (a pair of which are supplied with the pistol), you push in the cylinder behind the takedown lever and rotate it 45 degrees to the rear to lock the trigger and sear so as to prevent unauthorized firing.
The metal magazines feature extended base pads that increase capacity to 17 rounds, help ensure the magazine is completely seated during reloads, and prevent damage when ejected magazines land on a hard surface.
Breech locking is accomplished by the barrel hood moving up into, and bearing on the front edge of, the ejection port. When the pistol is fired, the barrel and slide recoil together a short distance until the barrel is cammed down, allowing the slide to continue rearward, extracting and ejecting the spent case. The captive recoil spring unit under the barrel then pulls the slide forward, stripping the next round from the magazine and chambering it. When the slide goes into battery, the barrel hood enters the ejection port, locking the two units together.
I found the L9-A1 an extremely easy pistol to disassemble. First, remove the magazine and ascertain there is no cartridge in the chamber. Then let the slide run forward and dry fire the pistol. Using the supplied key, depress the internal safety lock cylinder on the right side of the frame and rotate it 90 degrees to the rear. Grasp the slide with your left hand and pull it forward off the frame. Push the recoil spring unit forward slightly and lift it out of the slide. Then pull the barrel down and remove it to the rear of the slide. Reassemble in reverse order.
Taking advantage of a rare warm day this season, I removed myself and the Steyr to the range to see how it performed. Accuracy testing was performed with 9mm ammunition from Black Hills, Federal, and Hornady at 25 yards from an MTM K-Zone rest, producing well-centered groups running from two to three inches in size. As has been my experience with many 9mm pistols, accuracy improved as bullet weight increased and velocity declined.
The trigger on my test gun had a short amount of take-up before a crisp let-off, which I found very conducive to accurate shooting more so than those on other polymer service-type pistols I have recently tested.
I set up a combat target and ran the L9-A1 through a series of offhand drills from seven and 12 yards. As I did not have a suitable holster, I began each drill with the pistol held in the low ready position. While the "unusual" sighting set-up took a bit of getting used to, once I had the measure of it I was able to put rounds where I wanted them.
Firing the Steyr with both supported and unsupported (one-handed) grips, I was able to put the majority of rounds into the A zone and "head" of the target, chewing a ragged hole in its center in the process.
I should mention that I did not experience a single failure to feed, fire, or eject in the more than 300 rounds that I ran through this Steyr duty pistol in two shooting sessions.
While the L9-A1's grip was extremely comfortable, when I fired the pistol with a supported (two-handed) grip it tended to point high, forcing me to consciously pull the muzzle down. But when fired unsupported (one-handed) it pointed very naturally.
I found the magazine quite difficult to load to capacity, and I would like to suggest that the manufacturer include a magazine loading tool with the pistol.
While polymer frame pistols are extremely common on today's police market, Steyr's L9-A1 has enough unique features to set it apart.
Paul Scarlata has served as an auxiliary police officer and is a frequent contributor to POLICE.
Steyr Mannlicher L9-A1 Duty Pistol Specs:
- Capacity: 17 rounds
- Caliber: 9mm
- Overall Length: 7.4 inches
- Barrel Length: 4.53 inches
- Weight: 28.6 ounces
- Sights: Front: triangular blade with insert; Rear: trapezoidal notch
- Grips: Polymer
- Price: $560