Looking for a great handgun at a fair price? This polymer import may be your ticket.
by Bob Campbell
I test a lot of firearms and try to give each one a fair shake. While individual handguns must stand on their own merit, company history and past experience play a part in the overall impression of the firearm. Among the modern handguns that I have fired extensively are products from the Turkish maker Sarsilmaz and offered in the U.S. through SAR USA. The full-size SAR9 is a service grade 9mm handgun that has enjoyed extensive military acceptance in Turkey. A NATO standard handgun cannot be dismissed on the basis of reliability and ruggedness.
So far as one person is able, I have tested the pistol over a period of several years and found the SAR a useful and reliable handgun. This original test and favorable impression had some bearing on my decision to evaluate the SAR9 C. The SAR9 C is a compact version of the original pistol. Both the slide and handle are shortened. The action, sights, and handling are the same while the pistol is downsized to allow easier concealed carry. The original pistol featured a manual safety that is absent from the SAR9 C.
The SAR pistols are similar in performance to FN, GLOCK, HK, S&W, and Walther pistols. There is little that may be done with one tactically that cannot be accomplished with the other. When you spend enough to realize an improvement over another striker-fired polymer frame pistol, say with the FN Tactical or Walther Q5 Match, you have spent nine hundred to one thousand dollars. The workman-like SAR9 C retails for less than four hundred dollars, yet the pistol functions well and has good ergonomics. The SAR isn’t a GLOCK clone save in the sense that it is a striker-fired polymer frame handgun. If the SAR9 pistol resembles any other handgun, it is the Walther line. As an example of the closeness of design, the SAR9 C features interchangeable backstraps similar to most polymer frame handguns but also side panel inserts that may be changed, something held in common with the Walther pistols.
The slide is nicely machined with well-polished flats and beveled edges. The muzzle end of the slide is slanted to make holstering easier. The pistol features forward cocking serrations. The sights are standard white dot outline types. The barrel locks up by butting the barrel hood into the slide. There is little lateral play in the slide-to-frame fit, most noticeable aft of the barrel.
The frame is polymer and black, expertly matching the slide. The handle offers adjustment to different hand sizes by using the interchangeable backstrap and textured changeable side panels. There are shallow finger indentions, not true finger grooves, in the front strap of the pistol. Indents in the frame leading to the trigger shorten trigger reach. A roughened pad is molded into each side of the frame as a finger rest. This is a good feature. We should keep the finger off the trigger until we fire, not when we think we will fire, and these pads make for a good resting spot for the trigger finger. There is a generous undercut at the rear of the trigger guard. This helps center the handgun in the hand and materially lowers the bore axis. The closer the center line of the bore to the hand the less leverage for muzzle flip. The frame features a rail for mounting a light. The SAR9 C is supplied with two steel fifteen-round magazines. These magazines are nicely finished and feature plastic bumper pads.
The pistol comes with takedown levers that are wider, larger, and more easily manipulated than the GLOCK type. In common with the full-size SAR pistol, the SAR9 C’s takedown levers were stiff when new. There is plenty of leverage, though, and they loosened up after some use. There is no manual safety, only safety features. The SAR9 C features an internal striker block, or drop safety. A blade-type safety is situated in the face of the trigger and must be pressed to release the trigger. When the trigger is ready and the striker prepped, a red safety warning tab is visible in the trigger. The action is contained in an internal steel chassis. The pistol features a typical striker-fired action. When the slide is pulled back, the striker is partially cocked, or “prepped,” as GLOCK refers to the system. Pressing the trigger moves the striker to the rear, breaking the striker against spring pressure and firing the pistol. Trigger compression is a measured 5.75 pounds.
The SAR9 C offers no surprises in firing. Control the trigger, keep the sights on target, and you have a hit. The pistol’s trigger is controllable and offers good accuracy potential. Concentrate on the front sight and let the trigger take care of itself as you manage the trigger press. When fast shooting, getting on target, and getting a hit, the SAR9 C performs in a manner similar to the GLOCK 19. Most will probably fire the SAR9 C better than the GLOCK 19. It takes more money and a superior pistol such as the Shadow Systems 9mm or perhaps the Walther PPQ to seriously outperform this handgun.
The pistol was fired with a wide variety of ammunition. The SAR9 C digested a variety of FMJ ammunition from the major makers — Federal, Remington, Speer and Winchester — and economy loads from Armscor, MagTech and ZSR. The pistol never failed to feed, chamber, fire, or eject.
I also proofed the pistol with modern personal defense ammunition. Ammunition isn’t inexpensive but not proofing a defense gun can have ugly results — like ending up in a cold morgue with a toe tag. I selected a few representative loads from my treasure trove: Hornady Critical Defense 115-grain FTX, Speer Gold Dot 124-grain, and Remington 147-grain Golden Saber. The pistol proved reliable with all bullet weights. Recoil is lighter than most pistols of this size and weight. SAR understands how to design an efficient recoil spring assembly. Recoil is mild even for a 9mm pistol.
Testing absolute accuracy is the least important part of testing a defensive handgun. Just the same, we like to know if the sights are properly regulated. The pistol proved to be well regulated, striking to the point of aim with 124-grain loads. I used the Federal American Eagle 124-grain FMJ and the Speer Gold Dot 124-grain loads, firing five-shot group at 15 yards from a solid benchrest firing position. The pistol will group five shots into 1.8 to 2.5 inches at 15 yards. That is accurate enough for any foreseeable chore.
The SAR9 C is a reliable handgun and handles well in combat-type shooting, and it is among the best buys in a defensive pistol. It is well balanced and conceals easily under a light covering garment. The SAR9 C is a bargain and standout in a crowded market.
What I Like
- The pistol is reliable — the bottom line for personal defense. Plus, it is affordable.
What I Don’t Like
- The trigger is manageable but not the best striker-fired trigger out there. The price, though, comes into play and you get what you pay for.
- The SAR9 C shoots as well in my hands as the GLOCK. I like it better than the other budget-grade 9mm handguns but the Taurus G3 and the much more expensive Walther guns out-shoot the SAR9 C. And they should for the price.
SAR9 Compact 9mm Pistol Specifications
- Action: Striker fired
- Frame: polymer frame
- Overall Length: 7.2 in.
- Weight: 26.9 oz.
- Barrel Length: 4 inches
- Average Price: under $400