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Reviews : Arsenal

Steyr Mannlicher L9-A1 Duty Pistol

In response to the overwhelming popularity of another Austrian-made pistol, Steyr Mannlicher began development of a polymer frame pistol with internal components during the 1990s.

June 25, 2014  |  by Paul Scarlata - Also by this author

Photo: Becky Leavitt
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.

New Features

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.

Accuracy Testing

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

Comments (12)

Displaying 1 - 12 of 12

GAPP @ 6/30/2014 1:28 AM

Steyr is looking only at Police / Military market with this pistol. Barrel length & slide length should have been 4.75 inches plus or 121-125 mm as many States & Countries have a minimum barrel length to be legal for civilian use usually 120mm.
Also even steel magazines fail to drop and at times needs to be manually removed, if there are no cut-outs in the base of the magazine well, it does make it harder to grip the magazine and flick it out, especially if you are in the middle of a tactical reload or lock-back reload and have your reaction hand filled with the spare magazine. Not every shooter has fingernails to catch the top of the magazine base plate. Just my 2 bobs worth

JM @ 7/2/2014 7:30 AM

.45 acp please!!

CB @ 8/6/2014 5:16 PM

.357 SIG Please!!! Who needs .45 ACP when a superior round like .357 SIG is possible.

ST @ 8/12/2014 11:48 AM

It's available in .357 sig but won't be soon as they are going to stop making that version. All that's in USA now is all there will be according to SAI.

gc @ 12/6/2014 10:58 PM

DUMB!! As in you're dumb if you complain about this gun. You don't need any other crap besides 9mm cuz technology has closed the gap in performance and in the end you will need capacity to win the fight cuz I bet your aim sucks. It's built stronger than a glock. The trigger is better.. trigger reset is better. The sights are faster. When you break it down to clean (obviously clear the chamber) --- pull slide back and hold the trigger down while the gun is out of battery, let the slide forward all the way while holding the trigger completely back still, then very slowly pull the slide to the rear about a quarter inch until you feel a click and the recoil spring pull the slide forward

gc @ 12/6/2014 11:04 PM

You will then magically feel the slide disengage and then you may depress the locking button and swing the takedown lever and pull the slide off. There's my super secret tip for you all.

Jug @ 7/9/2015 1:47 PM

Just bought one, love the feel, and seemingly less recoil impulse.

JB @ 10/20/2015 12:21 AM

I love the Steyr's design and feel in my hand, and I particularly like the sights. I carried a Glock for 7 years and never liked it. I would carry one of these Steyrs on duty if I could find a Level III holster that accommodates a tac light. I even considered buying the CZ P-09 with its 19+1 capacity, but like the Steyr, I couldn't find a light-bearing level III holster for it. Until that happens, I'll stick with my FNS 9.

JB @ 10/20/2015 12:22 AM

On a side note, to the person who posted about the .357 Sig...why would you want to carry an exoctic caliber like .357 Sig that costs more to shoot, has limited ammo availability, and causes excessive wear on the pistol? Even in a well-made Glock you start seeing excessive wear after 6,000-8,000 rounds. In 9mm, you can take down the Glock after 20,000 rounds (assuming you're not shooting +P+ hot loads, trying to replicate .357 Sig ballistics) and everything will still look good to your gunsmith.

The .357 Sig has a ridiculous muzzle flash, the recoil is more harsh than the 9mm, .40 or. 45, and is more likely to break down over time than the other three...all of which are negatives when it comes to self-defense, especially in low light conditions. The .357 Sig is just not a practical defensive caliber.

JB @ 10/20/2015 12:22 AM

You can talk about the light bullet weight & muzzle velocity of a .357 Sig all day long, but bullet weight and inertia are every bit as (if not more) important as muzzle velocity when it comes to body penetration depth. A 125 gr .357 Sig is still outdone in that regard by the 147 gr 9mm, the 180 gr .40, and the 230 gr .45 ACP. It is essentially equal to the 124 gr 9mm and 165 gr .40, although all of the rounds achieve the minimum necessary 12" penetration depth:

If you're going for an exotic round, why not spend the money on a FN FiveseveN (5.7x28mm)? It was designed for NATO as a combat round after all, but you can't purchase the armor-piercing rounds as a civilian. You have a 20+1 round capacity and you can buy 30 rd mags for it, the effective range is greater than the 4 aforementioned calibers, the ammo cost & availability is about the same or less as a .357 Sig (they had boxes of 50 rds at Academy Sports & Outdoors for about $23), and muzzle velocity and penetration depth is greater than the .357 Sig at 14":

JB @ 10/20/2015 12:23 AM

Plus, the design of the 5.7x28mm is such that if the hollow point didn't expand, the bullet is likely to tumble and create one hellacious wound channel, and often will bounce around instead of staying on a straight line, doing even more bodily damage. The recoil is light, trajectory is pretty flat in typical combat ranges, and the wear on the gun is minimal.

My department issues .40 cal Glock 22s which is OK, but I made the switch to the FN Herstal FNS 9 because I wanted the extra capacity and I can find 9mm ammo anywhere and it is CHEAP. A 50 rd box of Federal 124 gr aluminum case ammo costs less than $10 at the local Wal-Mart. Dr. Gary Roberts' testing also showed the expansion of 9mm Federal HST rounds to be superior (expansion diameter of .88 in bare gelatin, .69 in heavy clothing) to other 9mm hollow point rounds. Therefore, I carry Federal 147 gr HSTs on duty and have 6 more rounds than I had with the Glock 22.

When it comes to self-defense, I'd still take a .45 ACP any day over any other round and I still keep my Colt 1911 bedside. I haven't seen a better, more accurate defensive round made that has as long of an established track record as the .45 ACP. It just costs more to shoot and again, capacity is limited. Capacity is important for my job, less so in the enclosed confines of my home.

Matt Stacker @ 3/29/2016 6:36 PM

@GAPP are you still having issues with your Steyr? If so, what did you do to remedy them?

I've had similar issues with magazines not dropping free on my L9-a1. It's really great and reliable. I've got about 5k trouble-free rounds through mine since my purchase in October 2015. Recently, I noticed when older magazines with blued finish get wet and muddy from practice, they dont drop free. Not a deal breaker because it takes a finger to assist it out. Was considering having these older magazines electroless nickel plated. The two magazines that came with the weapon both have a nitraded finish and drop free no matter what so far.



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