The Austrian-made Steyr C9-A1 compact 9mm is an often overlooked handgun for Carry and personal protection purposes. Are the C9’s innovative trapezoidal sights an advantage or just a unique eye-catching appeal? Some even compare the Steyr C9-A1 pistol to its fellow Austrian gun, the Glock 19. Is this a fair comparison? Are there similarities other than just the home country of production? What are the some differences and similarities between the two guns and how does the Steyr C9-A1 stack up to the 19?
I was aware of the various 9mm models offered over the years by Steyr, but was not familiar with the C9-A1. So when some readers asked me to review it, I thought what a great learning opportunity for myself and a chance to help folks who might want to consider it for concealed carry or personal protection.
Steyr sent me the latest generation model to review. I had heard good reports about Steyr and admire their innovative and forward-looking ideas, like their trapezoidal sights. Do their “trap” sights really help with quick sight acquisition? Is there a significant difference in using them for up-close tactical distances versus longer distances, say beyond 10 yards? Does it take a steep learning curve to be comfortable enough and effective in using them? Will I spend a lot of time adjusting to them and transitioning from my usual 3-dot sights?
I was anxious to test and evaluate the gun for accuracy and reliability and put the gun and its somewhat unique sights to the test. I want to clarify that I am not on the Steyr payroll, have not been paid to say good things about the gun, have not received special remuneration or favors from them, and want to be honest and straight-forward with my opinions and ideas the way I truly see the new pistol to help folks. I wanted to know certain key things. Primarily, how accurate is it out of the box? What about the trigger press? Is it smooth, crisp, short and soft as several claim? Will there be any malfunctions and stoppages? Is it reliable? Does it have short reset distance for follow-up shots? Is the felt recoil as great as some have told me? Are there parts, accessories, holsters, support, etc. readily available for the Steyr? Since everything has pros and cons, what are they for the C9-A1? Will I recommend it for CC and/or personal protection?
Initially, I want to provide you the Steyr C9-1A’s Specifications and Features. Then I want to give you my 10 criteria that I use to evaluate all guns, so you can be certain to compare similar characteristics and factors. Then, I want to give you my opinions, analysis, and present specific support for each of my criteria. You might be interested in how I rate and rank my Top 21 CC guns in my recently-published book “Concealed Carry & Handgun Essentials.” It includes several other 9mm carry guns. In my review here, I will focus only on the C9-A1. But I want to give you a comparison chart with specifications and features so you can recognize some differences between the Steyr C9-A1 and the Glock 19. As always, do your own research and check my data, information, etc. against your own criteria, goals, and use.
Criteria and Considerations
Here are just 10 of my Criteria and factors I use for evaluating any handgun, so I will use them for the Steyr C9-A1. In addition to my criteria, there are other subjective features that may be appealing for some, like a certain style, mag release location, action, caliber, appearance, number of mags included, type of sights/modifications, bore axis, rail, grip angle, non-porting or porting, included extras like a holster and pouch, customer service, etc. So, I combined these into my last Miscellaneous criterion. I must admit that ALL gun-choice decisions involve tradeoffs, but I really want ALL of my criteria to be met. I assigned a total possible point score of 10 points for each of my 10 criteria for a total possible score of 100 points. You can certainly add your own additional criteria and preferences or subtract any of mine. Here are mine:
There are several characteristics, pros and cons, and criteria to include and consider and you make your own tradeoffs according to your priorities, preferences, and defined needs and use. This review is for the Steyr C9-A1, but I want to offer the following Comparison Chart between the C9-A1 and the Glock 19, since many compare them and some readers have asked about the comparison.
Steyr C9-A1 v. Glock 19
Steyr C9-A1 9mm Range Test
I shot about 400 rounds of the following diverse types of ammo to thoroughly test the C9-A1 pistol:
- Federal Premium 124 grain Hydra Shok JHP
- Federal Premium 135 grain Hydra Shok JHP
- Federal Premium 150 grain HST JHP for Micros
- American Eagle Syntech 115 grain TSJ
- Sig Sauer Elite 124 grain V-Crown JHP
- Sig Sauer Elite 115 grain V-Crown JHP
- Sig Sauer Elite 115 grain Ball FMJ
I have set about 500 rounds as an arbitrary number of rounds for me to shoot thru any gun, so I can feel good about evaluating the gun (without having ANY malfunctions or stoppages) for reliability and accuracy purposes for using the gun for carry and/or personal protection use. Although I want to shoot more rounds thru the C9-A1 for these decisions, I believe shooting these rounds gave me a good grasp of the gun’s performance. Below are my evaluations for each of my 10 criteria for my concealed carry/personal protection purposes. I wanted to check the gun for malfunctions and performance with quality JHP and FMJ ammo of various weights. It performed well with all this quality ammo and did especially well with the Federal 124 Hydra Shok JHP and the Sig 124 V-Crown JHP.
This C9-A1 pistol was fun to shoot. I was honestly amazed at how smooth the recoil was while shooting it, compared to my many other 9mm pistols. The recoil was very easily managed and I had no problems whatsoever with muzzle flip. Because of the full-size grip with the compact length and frame, it was comfortable to grip and felt like I was shooting a larger-framed gun. I had no dangling pinky finger. It has great ergonomics and the grip texture was not too aggressive and just right. Because of the great grip angle and high beavertail-like top of the backstrap, I had a sturdy grasp of the gun and was able to reach the controls easily and control it well.
The slide was easy for me to rack and the all-steel recoil spring was a plus. I was glad the gun did not have a magazine disconnect and it fired even when the mag was out. Be careful– Safety First Always! Well, below I will present my ideas for each of my criteria after my range testing, but want to mention up front some important things to me. Some factors that concern me initially (for any gun) and which I had to check at the range were:
- If the trigger press was soft and short
- If the trigger reset was short when shooting
- What is its accuracy
- What about its reliability?
Overall after my brief range experience, I was really impressed with the C9-A1’s low felt recoil, its low bore axis, its full-size and comfortable grip, its accuracy, and its great trigger. It handled and shot better than my Glock 19, third generation and I had no malfunctions or stoppages.
At the range shooting the gun for the first time, I shot 15 rounds rapid fire at 7 yards and all but 2 hit in the 7 to 10 rings. The two outside hits were my first two fired with the trapezoidal sights. At first, I felt uncomfortable with these unique sights, since I am use to my 3-dot sights. But, after only the first two rounds, all my subsequent hits were in the black rings. I was surprised at how quickly this old codger could adapt and get the great hits. I must say that now I really do like them, especially for my closeup shots. My subsequent slow-fire shots were mostly in the 8 to 10 rings. You should shoot it for yourself to see how you can shoot the trapezoidal sights and make your own decisions. Below are my rapid-fire hits on my first target at 7 yards with the C9-A1 pistol.
Range Test Results for Each of my 10 Criteria:
1. Accuracy and Reliability – Score: 10
The Accuracy of the Steyr C9-A1 was very acceptable for me at distances of 7, 10, and 15 yards, given my aging eyesight. My groups at each of the distances were about 3.0 inches or less for the first time I ever fired the gun. The low recoil, full-size grip, and excellent trigger press combined with the great Sig Sauer and Federal Premium JHP and FMJ rounds for great performance and stellar results.
2. Trigger Press – Score: 10
The Trigger Press averaged a fantastic 4.9 pounds with 10 readings from my Lyman Electronic Trigger Pull Gauge. This was well below my expected press for most of my new guns. I enjoyed the short and light press and the gun’s low recoil. The gun had plenty of rounds through it and I was excited about my results. I prefer that my carry and personal protection guns have a max. of 6.5 pounds press or less, so this exceeded my expectations. The 4.9 average trigger press was crisp and smooth and among the lightest of several of my 9mm guns. I analyze and compare 21 other 9mm guns in my recent book. The trigger press was very crisp and easily identifiable.
3. Trigger – Score: 10
The Trigger had a tactile and very identifiable click and short reset. The short reset was among the shortest of my 9mm guns. On reset, the trigger moved a very short distance and was pronounced. My shots were consistent each time and I could easily recognize the reset point. I really enjoyed shooting it.
4. Barrel Length – Score 9
The 3.6-inch Barrel with its all steel recoil assembly helped control muzzle flip and the recoil. The full-size grip frame and compact length with shorter barrel and slide combined for excellent results and concealability.
5. Sights – Score: 8
The trapezoidal Sights took some time to get use to, but after just a few shots I got the hang of them. In fact, after a while I enjoyed them and they were very acceptable to me. I still prefer my green fiber optic front sights and have not yet decided if I prefer the trap sights to my 3 dots. I need to use them more. They did seem to work well up close at tactical combat distances better than at longer distances. Again, I need more practice with them. For me, they were not a problem.
6. Proper Gun Weight – Score: 9
The overall about 27.2 ounce unloaded weight was acceptable but near my limit for a carry and personal defense gun. It was just a little heavier than I prefer for carry, but certainly OK, especially with the 17 rounds.
7. Caliber – Score: 10
It was easy and comfortable to shoot my preferred 9mm Caliber. Felt recoil was very low & easy for me to control. It digested the various types and weights of ammo easily without a single malfunction or stoppage.
8. Capacity – Score: 9
There were two 17-round metal magazines included. I wanted a third, but there are tradeoffs for the price. The 17-rounder works well for personal protection. There are no 15 rounders included & I was told the manufacturer does not make them. They would help for carry purposes. With the full-size grip, my pinky finger did not dangle.
9. Ergonomics – Score: 9
The Ergonomics of the C9-A1 were very nice. The full-size grip was very good, but was a little long for carry purposes, but workable. Its narrow width and contours worked for me and fit my medium-sized hands well. The grip texture was not too aggressive and was not too smooth, but just right for me to have a firm and solid purchase. I could easily reach all the controls, without turning the gun or adjusting my grip.
10. Miscellaneous – Score: 8
As always before shooting any new gun, I disassembled, lubed and cleaned, and re-assembled the C9 before I shot it. The fit was tight and the function was smooth. I did have to press the trigger to disassemble it, like the Glock. No problem, just disciplined training. The slide release locked back after the last round was fired. The lockable hard case was solid. There was not an Owner’s Manual included when I received the gun and case from Steyr, but after a phone call they sent me one. So, I want to explore parts availability and customer support follow through. Remember, for most guns you can buy them at about $80-$100. or so less than MSRP, so this gun is very reasonably priced at less than $500. Checking their website in February, it could be bought from Steyr for about $80 less than MSRP. It does not include accessories like some have, e.g. a holster, mag pouch, third mag, loader or other accessories. But, there are several nice features for the gun. I had trouble finding a holster designed specifically for this gun, but finally did.The warranty is a Limited 1 Year Warranty.
Total Points = 92 out of 100 Possible.
I RECOMMEND this handgun for strong consideration as one of your personal protection guns, especially because of its outstanding trigger and reset, full-size grip, low bore axis, great up close accuracy, 17-round mags, and no mag disconnect. After a brief experience with the trapezoidal sights, I got familiar with them, but need more time with them to be totally confident.
The same applies to its reliability…. I just need more trigger time with it, although there were no malfunctions nor failures in my short-run trial. I was sincerely impressed with its ergonomics and low felt recoil.
Understand, overall the pros definitely outweigh the cons and I want to shoot it more before my final reliability decision. I want to be fair and as objective as I can be to help folks with my personal perspective and opinions. It may be a little heavy for carry, but doable. Steyr does make a Model S9-A1 with a shorter grip that holds 10 rounds in 9mm. These are just my opinions and ideas, so handle and shoot the C9 for yourself.
I hope this review of the Steyr C9-A1 9mm pistol has helped you gain some information you did not previously have. Consider that this is just my point of view with limited live-range fire and shooting myself only about 400 rounds of ammo. Like always, I recommend that you shoot any handgun yourself before you purchase it. Decide on your criteria, how you will primarily use the gun, and what features are important to you and you are willing to pay for ahead of your range time. Then critically evaluate the gun YOURSELF per your criteria and purpose, with standard drills (several mentioned in my book), with various ammo types and brands, over an extended break-in period of about 500 rounds. Remember, Safety First Always.
Bessemer, AL 35022
Federal Premium, American Eagle, & Syntech Ammo
Anoka, MN 55303
Sig Sauer Elite V-Crown JHP-FMJ Ammo
Newington, NH 03801
Photos by Author.
* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
© 2017 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at [email protected].