Steyr S-A1 Compact .40 S&W Pistol

posted on August 18, 2014

In the early 1990s, the Austrian gun manufacturing company Steyr Mannlicher International began development of a polymer-framed, striker-fired pistol intended for military, police and personal-protection applications. Its first version of the pistol, the M9, chambered to fire the 9 mm Parabellum cartridge, was officially released in 1999. The M9 (the M demarking the pistol as having a 4-inch barrel and a 17-round magazine), was soon followed by the M40 in .40 S&W and the M357 in .357 Sig. The lineup continued to expand with the addition of compact S versions fitted with 3.62-inch barrels and shorter grip frames.

In 2004, Steyr replaced the M and S pistols with the updated M-A1 and S-A1 models. The A1 features included a Picatinny rail molded into the frame and a redesigned grip with an improved stippling. Not long after they arrived, the A1 models vanished from the U.S. market as Steyr went through a reorganization of its distribution network. In 2010, the pistols were re-introduced in America with a few more changes, including a revised slide profile. This review looks at the compact Steyr S40-A1, chambered for .40 S&W.

The size and weight of the S40-A1 is similar to other popular compact striker-fired .40 S&W pistols on the market today, including its big brother, the full-size L40-A1, Springfield XD, Smith & Wesson M&P and Glock G23. However, its sleek lines, generous trigger guard, and ergonomic grip configuration make it stand out from the crowd. The steel slide is treated with a surface-hardening Tenifer finish and is topped with Steyr's proprietary metallic triangle/trapezoid sight system.

Removing the slide reveals a steel insert within the polymer frame that provides the action with additional support at key friction points. The 3.62-inch cold-hammer forged barrel features six-groove conventional rifling, a fully supported chamber, and a witness hole for use as a loaded chamber indicator. The recoil assembly consists of a flat recoil spring captured on a steel guide rod, and the frame's dustcover has a tactical rail for lights and laser modules. The low-profile, oval-shaped magazine release button is located on the left side of the frame, and the generous trigger guard has a textured face that can be used as a finger rest.

The double-action-only trigger is fitted with a safety system, not unlike the Glock Safe-Action trigger, that Steyr calls a Reset Action Trigger. It tipped the digital trigger gauge at 5 lbs. 5 ozs. The short, smooth, crisp trigger stroke feels lighter and easier to operate than the digital gauge indicates. The slim textured grip is positioned at a 111-degree angle to the rest of the frame. The barrel has a low bore axis in relation to the shooting hand thanks to a grip back strap that allows for high grip placement and a generous indentation for the web of the thumb. The result of these design choices is a pistol that feels natural to aim, comfortable to hold, and provides noticeable reduction in recoil.

The Steyr S40-A1 used for testing demonstrated Steyr's commitment to quality craftsmanship. The fit and finish of the steel and polymer components was excellent and the pistol was free of the mysterious internal rattles that show up in some modern pistols when given a shake. The pistol was perfectly clean inside and out, so all it needed was a little lubricant in order to be ready for the range.

Disassembly of the S40-A1 is accomplished by first removing the magazine and verifying that the pistol is completely unloaded. With the slide in the closed position, press the trigger, and then press and hold the button located next to the large take-down lever on the right side of the pistol as you pivot the lever down toward the trigger guard. Pull the slide assembly forward off of the frame, then remove the guide rod and barrel from the slide. By the way, the button used to release the takedown lever also contains an integrated locking system. When engaged, it disables the firing mechanism and prevents the pistol from cycling. It can be quickly disengaged using the provided two-prong key.

Although the Steyr A1 pistols have garnered a healthy following amongst some American shooters, they have yet to become as popular as other makes and models. As a result, it's not so easy to find a good holster for them. With a bit of online searching, I found an excellent tuckable inside-the-waistband rig with a matching magazine pouch from Cleveland's Holsters.

The Cleveland holster employs a set of six adjustable screws fitted with leather grommets (instead of rivets) to hold the leather, steel, and Kydex components together. This allows the user to tighten or relax the holster's retention level to meet their individual needs. The open-ended Kydex sheath is extended to protect the pistol’s muzzle and trigger. The 14 placement holes for the two steel belt clips allow the holster's cant to be fine tuned. The wide leather backing stabilizes a loaded S40-A1, and proves to be a very comfortable holster combination. Not only is this a rugged and comfortable holster system to use, the Cleveland product’s materials, components and construction are all made in America.

Handling the S40-A1 without a loaded magazine makes it feel a little top heavy. However, when a magazine is inserted, the pistol balances out nicely. The weight in the slide plays an important role in managing recoil. Some polymer-framed .40s can feel snappy, punishing the shooter's hand and wrist. But the S40-A1’s grip shape, grip angle and slide configuration all work together to successfully mitigate what could otherwise be a stout level of felt recoil.

Using Steyr's unusual trapezoidal sight system takes a little getting used to. For those shooters looking for long-range target shooting or hunting sights, this is not the system for you. However, with a bit of practice, the sights proved to be useful for quick target acquisition at self-defense distances.

Whether it was fired from the bench or in two-handed drills, using practice or defense-grade ammunition, the S40-A1 proved to be a reliable and accurate pistol. Along with the two blued steel 10-round magazines shipped with the pistol, an additional pair of factory magazines where included for testing. All four of the magazines snapped firmly into place and dropped free of the grip when the magazine release was pressed. The only malfunction of the entire test, including practices and defense-grade ammunition, was a single failure to feed during the first 25 rounds fired. Since this occurred well before the recommended 200-round break-in period was complete, the SA40-A1 proved itself to be a reliable pistol.

Formal accuracy testing consisted of bench-rested shots fired at 25 yds. The best single group of 2.39“, and the tightest group average was produced using Hornady's Critical Duty 175-grain Flexlock ammunition. Double Tap's 135-grain Nosler jacketed hollow points yielded a 2.84" average, followed by HPR Hyperclean 180-grain jacketed hollow points at 2.99”.

As someone who has run a variety of polymer-framed striker pistols, it seems odd to me that the Steyr S40-A1, along with the other A1 models, doesn't get more attention. The American shooters who have adopted the platform love it. Unfortunately, the A1s left the market place to find it replete with similar products upon its return. However, the S40-A1 successfully tames the recoil of the .40 S&W cartridge, has a comfortable non-blocky grip, and the trigger is better than many of the other off-the-shelf options available. This pistol offers all of these desirable features at a fair price. All things considered, it deserves careful consideration as a defensive pistol option.

Technical Specifications

Manufacturer: Steyr Arms
Double Action Only
.40 S&W
Matte black
Grip Frame:
Triangular front, trapezoidal rear
Barrel Length:
Overall Length: 6.69”
  23.9 ozs. (unloaded)
10 rounds
: $560


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