Review: TriStar T-120 9 mm Pistol

posted on November 15, 2013

In 1975, Ceská zbrojovka Uherský Brod (CZUB) of the Czech Republic successfully launched the original CZ-75 series of semi-auto pistols. Lauded for their reliability, high ammunition capacity and user-friendly design, the CZs have inspired a variety of clones from several different gun manufacturers. One company that has a reputation for providing top quality CZ-style pistols for an affordable price is Canik 55 of Turkey. Recently, Canik 55 teamed up with TriStar Sporting Arms to import the T-120 9 mm into the American shooting market.

The TriStar T-120 is a full-size, short-recoil operated, locked-breech, center-fire double-action/single-action 9 mm pistol. Its outward appearance is inspired by the Israel Weapon Industries’ (IWI) Jericho 941 version of the CZ-75. The beveled slide is constructed of matte-black finished steel, featuring scalloped, rear slide serrations. The full-length guide rails of the slide ride inside of the frame, instead of wrapping over the frame like many other modern semi-autos. The three-dot sight system consists of a pinned blade front sight and a no-snag dovetailed windage-adjustable rear sight.

The 4.7-inch barrel features traditional six land-and-groove rifling, which is safe to use with lead bullets. A full-length, steel guide rod is supported by a single round-wire recoil spring. The frame of the T-120 is constructed of a lightweight steel alloy sporting the same matte-black finish as the slide. The unloaded pistol, with an empty magazine inserted, tips the scale at 30 ounces, making it a relatively lightweight carry option for a full-sized pistol.

The trigger guard features a flat, serrated finger rest along the front edge. The comfortably shaped grip frame provides plenty of room for a full three-finger grip, even for large hands. The grip's backstrap is smooth while the frontstrap has a series of straight-cut serrations to provide improved traction. The thin, lightly textured polymer grip panel features the TriStar logo on the left side. A beavertail grip extension protects the shooter's hand from being bitten by the exposed skeletonized hammer, and a milled-in accessory rail supports the addition of light and laser sighting modules to the frame of the gun.

The pistol's controls are located on the left side, including the slide stop, magazine release and the thumb safety. The square-shaped thumb safety can be engaged with the hammer forward for a double-action trigger pull on the first round fired, or with the hammer cocked-and-locked to start firing with a light single-action trigger pull. The steel bow trigger proved to be smooth and heavy (12 pounds) in double-action mode, and crisp and clean with 5 pounds, 8 ounces of pressure in single action. Some companies cut corners by only providing a single magazine with the gun. TriStar provides two blued steel Italian-made Mec-Gar 17-round magazines, which is a nice touch.

Field stripping the T-120 for maintenance starts by removing the magazine and verifying the pistol is completely unloaded. With the hammer in the forward position, pull the slide back until the disassembly notches located on the left side of the slide and frame are aligned. Hold the slide in this position and remove the slide stop. Pull the slide forward and off of the frame. Remove the recoil assembly from the slide and then lift out the barrel. That's as far as the pistol needs to be disassembled for routine cleaning, and it goes back together just as easily as it comes apart.

For concealed carry, the T-120’s full-size profile was a good match for testing the new BLACKHAWK! Diversion Carry Sling Pack. While some concealed-carry bags clearly present a military or law enforcement profile, this single-strap bag has been specifically designed to blend into the crowd with a common sports bag shape and color scheme. Its fully ambidextrous design and adjustable holster allow for quick access to a variety of defensive handguns from either the right or left side of the body without having to remove the bag. Additional pockets can be used to hold spare magazines, cell phones, keys or other small every-day items. It was comfortable to wear during outdoor activities and no one ever gave it a second look.

Having handled and tested an IWI Jericho 941 pistol in the past, I was curious to see how the less expensive Turkish T-120 would behave on the range. The pistols that fall into the $400 real-world price group can be a mixed lot. Some are great investments, while others have a rather lackluster level of performance. It was good to see that the T-120 falls into the first category with excellent fit, finish and top-notch accuracy.

The slide-to-frame fit was slick and tight. The full-length rails and clean machining made the slide smooth to cycle right out of the box. The thumb safety snapped crisply into the on and off positions and the magazine release consistently dropped the magazines free without any hang-ups or stickiness. The grip shape and low bore axis of the T-120 made for comfortable shooting with a wide variety of 9 mm rounds.

The T-120 was test fired with ammunition ranging from less-expensive practice loads to high-end +P defensive rounds. Although the pistol can be safely fired with +P rated ammunition, the manufacturer does not recommend using increased velocity loads on a regular basis. The pistol proved to be reliable with all of the ammunition tested, producing no malfunctions of any kind over the course of formal and informal testing.

Formal accuracy testing consisted of firing five, five-shot groups from a bench rest into targets set at 25 yards. The results were impressive because not a single five-shot group exceeded 3 inches in size. The best single five-shot group of 2.1 inches was produced using Winchester's Supreme Elite PDX1 147-grain bonded jacketed hollow-point load. This ammunition also produced the best five group average of 2.32 inches, followed by the Barnes TAC-XPD 115-grain +P all-copper hollow point at 2.65 inches and the Hornady Steel Match 125-grain HAP load at 2.68 inches. I have to be honest here. When I can squeeze an out-of-the-box test gun group down to around 3.5 inches in size, I know I'm doing my job correctly. When the shot groups stay at or below 3 inches, it’s definitely the gun and the ammunition doing the talking.

The full-size TriStar T-120 9 mm pistol provides shooters on a budget an excellent balance of form and function with a level of accuracy that exceeds the affordable price tag. This pistol's grip and controls should be accessible and easy to operate for most hand sizes, and the moderate level of recoil will prove to be agreeable with new and seasoned shooters alike. Reliable, lightweight and comfortable to shoot, this is a pistol that folks will be willing to practice with on a regular basis. It's nice to see that once in a while gun buyers can get more than they pay for.

Manufacturer: Canik 55, Turkey

Distributor: TriStar Sporting Arms;

Model: T-120

Action: Double Action/Single Action

Caliber: 9 mm

Finish: Matte Black or Satin Chrome

Grips: Textured Black Polymer

Sights: Fixed three-dot

Barrel Length: 4.7”

Overall Length: 8.16”

Height: 5”

Width: 1.35”

Weight: 30 ozs.

Capacity: 17+1 Rounds

Rifle Grooves: 6

Accessories: Two Magazines, Cleaning Kit, Hard Case, Lock, Owner’s Manual

Suggested Retail Price: $439 Black, $459 Chrome


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