March 15, 2021
The Days of Companies
Simply being able to chop off the bottom third of a pistol’s grip, shorten the magazine and call it a “new subcompact model” are over. These days, any new subcompact developed in response to evolving demands requires a fresh design to stand a chance at success in this competitive category.
The Ruger Max-9 has a retail price of $499 and a magazine capacity of either 10 or 12 rounds of 9mm. Other subcompacts in this scene include the Glock 43X MOS (10-round magazine, $582); HK VP9SK (10- or 13-round magazine, $789); SIG Sauer P365 (10-, 12- or 15-round magazine, $599); Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0 Subcompact (10- or 12-round magazine, $569); and the Springfield Armory Hellcat (11- or 13-round magazine, $569). The Glock 43X, SIG Sauer P365 and Springfield Armory Hellcat can also be purchased with factory optic cuts, which is standard fare on the new Ruger Max-9.
One of the toughest challenges for manufacturers when designing new, large-capacity subcompacts is with the magazine. SIG Sauer secured several patents when developing the P365’s nicknamed “stack-and-a-half” magazine, which limited the initial response for this high-demand category. However, Ruger was patient, stepped back and took inspiration from the Makarov pistol’s double-stack magazine, which wasn’t subject to patent restrictions. (The keyword is “inspiration,” as the new Max-9 does not accept the Makarov’s magazine which was built around a different cartridge, the 9x18mm.)
Ruger also maximized their efficiencies to keep costs low and production high. Since the company already had a reliable and popular 9mm subcompact in the LC9s, development for a the larger-capacity micro pistol began with what Ruger lacked: a double-stack magazine. So began the Ruger Max-9.
The “Max-9” name is fitting considering that Ruger has taken the LC9s’ slim, seven-plus-one capacity to a maximum of 12 rounds of 9mm without the need for long adapters or sleeved extensions. With the flush-fit basepad installed, you get 10 rounds — or in the case of some restrictive states, “legal.” Either magazine configuration keeps the Max-9 easily concealable with natural-fitting clothing, minimizing the risk of printing. The best part? The pistol’s grip didn’t have to be lengthened to a full-size or compact grip, so the Max-9 remains a true-to-form subcompact design.
The Max-9 evokes the profile of the LC9s at first glance, but this is deceiving. Once Ruger had its magazine, engineers got to work on an all-new glass-filled nylon frame to fit the steel-bodied 10- and 12-round magazines. Ruger took advantage of its brilliant engineering team to give the Max-9 double-stack capacity with a single-stack frame thickness. To compare, the single-stack Ruger LC9s has a width of .90 inch. The higher capacity Max-9 has a width of just .95 inch. To my hand, the five-hundredths-of-an-inch difference was barely perceptible.
The grip continues the molded-in checkering pattern seen in newer Ruger pistols, with panels of texture around the grip frame where a shooter’s hands interface. I’d describe it as a medium-coarse texture that works well for control while not snagging against cover garments.
Within the frame is a one-piece, anodized-aluminum chassis. The chassis contains the trigger assembly, the rails and fire control group.
Atop the frame, the Max-9 features a black-oxide coated, through-hardened, alloy steel slide. The front of the slide is tastefully beveled to allow for smoother re-holstering. The slide’s serrations at the front and back are also notable for being wide, deep, and angled. They make the slide easy to rack, and improve the pistol’s appearance.
Inside the slide is a 3.2-inch, black-oxide coated, alloy steel barrel with the usual 1:10-inch twist rate for 9mm. Worth noting is that the barrel in the Max-9 is cold-hammer forged, a manufacturing technique that has proven to be durable and quite accurate in other Ruger guns. The barrel features a deep crown at the muzzle and locks tightly against the slide when the gun is in battery. As with most Ruger pistols I’ve evaluated, I wasn’t surprised when I recorded a little more muzzle velocity out of the Max-9 than I did with many of its competitors using the same loads and similar barrel length.
Sighting systems on subcompact pistols have improved remarkably in the last few years. The Max-9 is offered with two options: The first is a set of fiber-optic and tritium-powered metallic sights, which are useful in both daylight or darkened conditions. The fiber-optic rod is positioned in front of a tritium lamp, so even if you need to use the Max-9 in low-light or no-light conditions, the front sight remains useful. The tritium glow is always working to light up the fiber optic.
The rear sight is blacked-out, which is how many shooters want it these days. It is also drift adjustable for fine tuning and has a wide notch. I have to admit, these are some of the best sights I’ve ever used on a stock subcompact pistol. Ruger did its homework.
All Max-9 slides are milled for the popular Shield Sight RMSc footprint. Unfortunately, the RMSc has an MSRP of $430, and can be difficult to find in stock. However, several micro red-dot optics are compatible with the RMSc cut including the Hex Wasp ($299, hexoptics.com), JP Enterprises JPoint ($299.95, jprifles.com), and SIG Sauer Romeo Zero ($219, sigsauer.com). I evaluated this feature of the Max-9 using a Crimson Trace CTS-1550 ($160, crimsontrace.com). When removing the plate to mount the optic, I found the screws were unfortunately secured with red Loctite. Several Torx bits were sacrificed. I’ll be registering this concern with Ruger in hopes that production samples do not feature red Loctite to secure these screws.
At the Range
Shooting the Max-9 was an interesting experience, something that can’t be said about all full-powered subcompacts. The felt recoil was noticeable, but controllable. While I was shooting it, I remember thinking that the recoil was stout, but the Max-9 allowed me to control the pistol and see accurate splits in the sub-.20-second range. Wow. It enabled incredibly fast follow-up shots. I also learned that I preferred the longer 12-round magazine for comfort and control, but the 10-round mag wasn’t bad.
The model Ruger sent Guns & Ammo was equipped with a thumb safety, and it worked well. Shooters, such as those who conceal carry in the appendix position, who desire a thumb-safety feature will appreciate the execution of this effort. There is also a “Pro” model sans the safety lever.
The Max-9 is typical of a striker-fired pistol in that it features a hinged trigger safety lever within that has to be depressed before the trigger can travel rearward. The trigger’s take-up was longer than I expected, but my downrange results didn’t suffer from too much overtravel. There was no hard “wall” when pressing the trigger though, and it produced almost a rolling feel once the take-up was passed. The trigger measured a consistent 5 pounds, 7 ounces, and I could feel each reset after a short distance.
A combination of familiar ergonomics, a fair defensive-minded trigger, and good sighting systems resulted in what I’d call “service-pistol accuracy” out of the little gun. Most of my five-shot groups measured less than 4½ inches from 25 yards on a benchrest. While these are not numbers worthy of a competition pistol, rounds comfortably punched holes within the 5.54-inch black center of a B8 target. That’s pretty good accuracy from a 3.2-inch subcompact pistol. Shooting the Max-9 on steel was fast was fun. The Crimson Trace CTS-1550 red dot allowed me to reach all the way out to 100 yards against a silhouette-size steel target, too.
As with all pistols I review, I did disassemble the Max-9 (which was easy), inspect it and lubricate the pistol before the day began. In all, I put a total of 350 rounds through the pistol in the first day of practice. I never experienced a malfunction.
The Ruger Max-9 compared favorably to pistols in its category. Other models may produce better accuracy at 25 yards, but what will make the Max-9 a top seller is that it retails for only $499. More than likely, it will be offered in stores for much less. At the counter, people will look at the different options, rack the slide, check magazine capacity and feel the trigger. Then they’ll see the price tag. That’ll seal the deal for most as they consider the Ruger brand’s staying power, reputation for excellent customer service and support among holster makers. With the money one can save, it’s easy to justify purchasing a few extra boxes of ammo, too. In these times of limited ammunition availability and rising prices, there’s no need to pay more to take home a reliable pistol. The Max-9 is a good gun and a great value.
Ruger Max-9 Pistol Specs:
Type: Striker fired, recoil operated, semiautomatic
Capacity: 10 rds. Or 12 rds.
Barrel: 3.2 In., Cold-hammer forged, 1:10-in. twist
Overall Length: 6 in.
Height: 4.5 iIn.
Width: .95 in.
Weight: 1 Lb., 2.5 Oz.
Finish: Black oxide (steel)
Slide: Steel alloy, hardened
Frame: Glass-filled nylon, textured
Sights: Tritium-powered fiber-optic front; drift adj. rear; optic ready
Trigger: 5 lbs., 7 oz. (Tested)
Safeties: Striker-block plunger; manual safety lever; trigger safety lever
Manufacturer: Sturm, Ruger & Co., ruger.com
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