Sarsilmaz Firearms Corp. may not be the first pistol manufacturer to pop into the minds of American shooting enthusiasts when considering polymer-framed striker-fired 9 mm semi-automatics for personal protection. But that began to change in 2017 when SAR USA, the American importer and distributor for Sarsilmaz products, started spreading the word about the SAR9 pistol.
Located in Istanbul, Turkey, Sarsilmaz has been producing sporting and military-grade firearms since 1880. Today, the company is the only privately held provider of sidearms for the Turkish National Police and armed forces. A few years ago, when the Turkish Army announced it was considering a replacement for the standard issue pistols of the time, Sarsilmaz took up the challenge of producing a pistol that could compete with models provided by well-known brands from Austria, Germany, Belgium, and the United States in a rigorous course of NATO mandated testing.
The pistols were submitted to an extensive set of tests including simulated desert conditions, arctic cold, salt fog, fouling, and drop tests to name just a few. After five years of review and 90,000 rounds of live fire, the SAR9 was the winner of the trial. In addition to being both tough and reliable, the SAR9 has been thoughtfully engineered with creature comforts in mind. The pistols are manufactured using modern facilities and state-of-the-art equipment. I haven't visited the factory myself, but the folks I know who have taken a tour say it can easily go toe-to-toe with the top companies exporting out of Europe. With all of this information in hand, one would expect this pistol to cost more than the suggested retail prices, which start at $449.
The SAR9 is a striker-fired semi-automatic, which is strongly, but not wholly, influenced by Glock design. The result is a few familiar external features including a trigger-mounted safety lever, a relatively square slide with a beveled nose and a polymer slide plate located below the rear sight. Inside, the slide, the striker assembly, firing pin safety plunger and barrel configuration are Glock-ish as well. Like other military pistols manufactured overseas, the slide, the barrel and a steel plate set into the dust cover of the frame all bear matching serial numbers.
This pistol is available with two slide finishes. The matte black carbon steel slide is paired with a barrel that has a matching finish. Since I’m a fan of two-tone pistols, the model tested for this review has a satin-finished X20CR13 stainless steel slide with a high-polish barrel. The glossy finish extends to the barrel's feed ramp, which looks to have the same level of polishing often reserved for custom 1911s.
The proprietary metallic 3-Dot sight system consists of a fixed front sight, secured to the slide by a small 6-sided nut, and a dovetailed low-profile combat sight in the rear. The rear sight can be drift adjusted for windage by loosening a small set screw. The slide features matching angled cocking serrations in the front and back. The ejection port is flared and the spring-loaded extractor claw is oversized for improved function. The 4.40" barrel is cut with traditional land-and-groove rifling, making it safe to fire with lead bullets. The dual-piece polymer recoil assembly is fitted with two round wire springs and steel supports at either end.
The four short rails supporting the slide are extensions of a single-piece, removable chassis set into the proprietary polymer of the frame. Although the trigger and takedown lever are made of polymer, the magazine release, slide catch and ambidextrous thumb safety are metallic with a black oxide finish.
While the thumb safety probably meets some importation or military requirement, it seems a bit superfluous on a striker-fired pistol like this one. The good news is that those customers who want the safety have it and those who don't can simply ignore it. The oblong shape of the magazine release button makes it easier to reach for folks with smaller hands. The frame's dust cover sports a molded-in 2" Picatinny accessory rail for lights and lasers. The generous trigger guard has a textured finger rest along the front edge and plenty of room for gloved fingers.
An outstanding feature of the SAR9 is the modular grip design, which takes its cues from the Walther PPQ. The trigger guard is undercut and rounded where it meets the grip frame for increased comfort. Deep grooves for the trigger finger and thumb reduce the reach to the trigger and magazine release. The frontstrap's finger grooves and the grip’s moderate wrap-around texturing provides plenty of purchase without being abrasive.
The pistol arrives with a total of three interchangeable backstraps that provide three different degrees of curvature and front-to-back distance. But the company includes an additional modular grip modification that most companies have overlooked. The grip's side panels are interchangeable as well with three sets in different thickness packed in the storage case. Before heading to the range, I spent some time trading out the various backstraps and side panels. The perfect fit for my somewhat smaller hands was the thickest panel on the right (palm) side of the grip, the thinnest panel on the left and the smallest backstrap installed. The combination of these interchangeable grip components with the fixed features resulted in a just-for-me fit that feels like the grip of a more expensive gun.
The SAR9's trigger exhibited a split personality at the shooting range. The complete trigger stroke (from the fully forward position to the back of the trigger guard) is somewhat mushy and has a noticeably gritty feel to it. With a tested trigger pull weight of 5 lbs. 11 oz. it's certainly not too heavy, but it's not all that light either. It does have a red insert which provides a clear visual indicator when the trigger is in the Fire position.
But the story changes when using the trigger reset. The trigger moves forward slightly to the reset position with an audible and tangible click, as one would expect. But the return stroke is noticeably short and light, so much so that I double tapped the pistol a couple of times while getting a feel for it during the informal warm up. About half pressure was needed for firing from the reset position than I would have expected based on the weight of the full trigger stroke. Once mastered, it's fast and handy during defensive drills.
This pistol ships with two magazines, but I was able to work with a total of four. They are listed as 17-round magazines, but they have numbered cartridge windows along the spine that only go up to 15 rounds. I called the company and they verified that they are indeed 17-round magazines, even though the numbers say otherwise. The 17th round is a tight squeeze with new springs but it does fit. I had a total of two failures to feed within the first 50 rounds fired. After that, it was smooth sailing with a mix of practice and defense-grade ammunition. The controls operated properly resulting in no mechanical issues throughout the informal and formal testing process. The thumb safety is easy to operate, but it does not exhibit a distinctive “click” when pressed into the Fire or Safe positions.
Formal accuracy testing was conducted from a bench-rested position using the factory iron sights with paper targets set at 25 yards. This pistol printed more five-shot groups under 3" in size than I would have expected for a pistol in this price range. Hornady Critical Duty 135-gr. FlexLock loads produced a best five-shot group of 2.89" with a five-group average of 3.13". NovX 65-gr. ARX +P printed a best group of 2.84" with an average of 3.02". Sig Sauer's Elite Performance 124-gr. full-metal jacket yielded a best group of 2.71" with an average of 2.90".
Early duty-sized, striker-fired 9 mm pistols with polymer frames quickly became popular because of their unique construction, reduced weight and reliability, despite the fact that cosmetics and ergonomics were not at the top of the design priority list. However, this proven pistol technology has been in service for more than three decades now. Today's pistol buyers are looking for more bang from their shooting dollars. The SAR9 is a top-notch value with a level of reliability, accuracy and shooting comfort that sets it in a class well above it's under $500 price tag. Now that I've finally had a chance to work with a Sarsilmaz product, with solid results, I'm looking forward to learning more about what the other models in the company's line-up can do.
Specifications: Manufacturer: Sarsilmaz Firearms Corp., Istanbul Turkey Importer: SAR USA Model: SAR9 Action: Striker-fired Semi-Automatic Caliber: 9 mm Slide: X20CR13 Stainless Steel, Natural Satin Finish Frame: Proprietary Black Polymer Grip: Interchangeable Backstraps and Side Panels Trigger: Double-Action Trigger Pull: 5 lbs. 11 oz. (As tested) Sights: Metallic 3-dot Barrel Length: 4.40" Overall Length: 7.50" Height: 5.50" Slide Width: 1.0" Weight: 27.6 oz. with empty magazine Capacity: 15+1 rounds Twist: 1:10” RH Rifle Grooves: 6 Accessories: Foam-lined hard case, 2 magazines, 3 backstraps, 3 sets of grip panels, grip tool, cleaning rod, bore mop, lock, Owner's Manual MSRP: $499 Stainless Steel Slide, $449 Matte Black Slide