Sarsilmaz may not be a house-hold name in the United States, but they are not new players in the global firearms scene. Based in Turkey, Sarsilmaz has been building and refining firearms since 1880 when the Ottoman Empire ruled the eastern Mediterranean. Given this longevity, they've built a reputation for building exactly what their customers specify. And that reputation continues with their latest offering: the SAR 9 pistol.
Made in Sarsilmaz's state-of-the-art facility in Beköy Beldesi-Düzce, the SAR 9 is the pistol Glock would make - gasp - were Glock listening to the American market. The SAR 9 is a full-sized, polymerframed, striker-fired pistol that's chambered in 9mm and is expertly engineered. Best of all, it's available with a very affordable sticker on its box.
G&A acquired two SAR 9 pistols for testing. One was all-black, and the other had a bare stainless steel slide. They came each in a lockable case, with a pair of 15-round steel magazines, three custom backstraps and panel sets (like the HK VP9), a lock, cleaning gear and an owner's manual - all the expected goodies.
I have to confess, as I opened the box the guns arrived in to checked to verify that they were unloaded and check the serial numbers for booking, my first thought was, Oh, another polymer pistol. Ho-hum. As I pulled the first gun out of its case, those thoughts changed to Whoa, that's a nice-feeling grip!
Let the examination begin.
The SAR 9 pistol feels good in my large hands and points well. But that trigger? Yuck! As with a lot of polymer-framed, striker-fired pistols, the new out-of-the-box trigger pull squeaked and presented hitches in its gait. These things sometimes work themselves out in dry-firing and test-firing. Sometimes you have to fire a pistol more than 1,000 rounds before there's a perceptible change in its trigger press. The second sample had a better trigger. So, try before you buy.
Looking at the SAR 9, you'll notice the not-so-unexpected angular slide, and its cocking serrations fore and aft. The sights are steel with a Glock-style front post attached by the familiar hex screw underneath and a Novak-style rear notch producing a clean, three-dot aiming pattern. The right side of the slide displays a hefty extractor and both sides have front and rear serrations.
The barrel lock-up resembles John Browning's tilt-lock design, which is a good thing.
I noted that the serial number appears three times on the SAR 9: on the frame, slide and barrel. That's not too surprising since such redundancy is common on firearms made overseas. Though the internal chassis is removable and suggests SIG Sauer P320-like modularity, the serial number is laser etched to a plate that's riveted to the Picatinny-railed dustcover of the polymer grip frame. The takedown crossbar is positioned just behind the rail and works like one on the Walther PPQ. It's used by pressing on each side of a pair of recessed polymer tabs that's flush with the frame, above the trigger. Like a Glock, with the slide slightly drawn, you have to pull the trigger before the slide assembly can be removed forward off of the frame. Behind the takedown crossbar is the slide stop, which is a steel tab protected by a molded fence.
The feature that jumped to my attention was the thumb safety. Yep, that's right, a thumb safety - on a polymer-frame, striker-fired pistol. Even better, it's an ambidextrous lever. How long have users of striker-fired polymer pistols been asking for a thumb safety? It's an option on Smith & Wesson's M&P series as well as some SIG Sauer P320s. Uncle Sam even called for one to appear on each candidate for the MHS contract, as well.
The magazine catch is not just a button on the SAR 9. Rather, it is a narrow, rectangular tab located behind and slightly below the trigger. On the far side, it is shielded from your hand by a raised rib in the grip contour. It is easy to hit when you want to, and highly unlikely to be pinned by your hand on the far side.
For those who want it, the front of the triggerguard is squared off a bit, and the front face of it is ribbed, also. Those who shoot with your other index finger on it - like G&A's Craig Boddington - can appreciate this feature. I don't, but some do.
The frontstrap is contoured for finger grooves. I've never found a groove arrangement that actually corresponded to my fingers, but unlike some, I did not find these to be objectionable. They were there, but once I got to shooting I never noticed them.
The top of the frontstrap is lifted, the curve there going higher than many pistols, which allows our hand perhaps the highest hold on a frame.
At the bottom, the frame flares out to both provide a magazine well funnel, and to create a finger lock against your grip's smallest finger. If your hands are large enough, this lets you lock your grip against the triggerguard and the bottom of the frame. Not that you need it to deal with the ferocious recoil of the 9mm, but the more-solid your grip, the better you will shoot and manage recoil effects.
Now we get to the absolutely fabulous replaceable backstraps. As with consumer demand these days, we can adjust the size and shape of the grip. But wait, Sarsilmaz didn't just include a set of backstraps, but added palm-filling side panels to the kit, too. Yep, you can swap out the backstraps and sides of the grip in any combination you want. Just drive out the retaining pin on the bottom back of the frame, pull off the backstrap and panels, and replace them with what works for you. Then reinstall the pin.
The magazines that the SAR 9 uses are steel and hold 15 rounds of 9mm. The tubes have slight creases down the sides, which appear to be adjustments to allow the tubes to work with 9mm ammo. This usually is an indication of the tube being originally proportioned for .40-caliber rounds, and then were altered for a skinnier cartridge.
Building A Relationship
The SAR information that came with the guns explains that the trigger system is not like a usual two-stage striker system, with a lighter takeup and a heavier finish. The design is intended to offer a clean double-action (DA) feel all the way through the pull. It's supposed to be lighter than traditional striker-fired systems, too. It may well do that, but right out of the box neither of ours were all that smooth.
In spite of the rough triggers, test-firing the SAR 9 was easy. Felt recoil in any full-sized 9mm pistol is not something to worry about, but neither sample failed to feed, fire or eject, or to lock open when the magazine ran dry. Even the hot loads were comfortable to shoot, which is why many of us desire full-size pistols.
I've said it before; every firearm is a law unto itself. If you want to get the most accuracy out of one handgun, you really need to test it. Just because a given load is the most-accurate out of your buddy's pistol, that doesn't mean it will be out of yours. The recorded velocities were within 20 to 30 feet per second (fps) of each other, and around 1,100 fps, that's a couple of percentage points different. One or the other was not always the faster of the pair I tested.
With the preferred ammunition chambered, each SAR 9 was more than capable of printing groups that were no larger than the apparent width of the front sight. You could win more than your fair share of matches with a pistol this accurate.
The triggers did ease up, but they never did settle to a clean trigger press. In that regard, I suspect that all gunwriters are a bit spoiled. Spending entirely too much time with tuned, slicked-up and competition-oriented firearms, I sometimes forget that a new pistol might benefit from more time breaking it in.
Is it a Glock buster?
Why did I start out this read by suggesting this is the pistol Glock should be making? Let's start with the thumb safety. Want it or not, the SAR 9 is available either way. Secondly, this is a pistol intended to undermine a Glock 17, I have no doubt.
Thirdly, there are replacement panels on the SAR 9. On the Glock frame, you have the choice of grabbing big or bigger. (This is a feature that we find on a more expensive HK pistol!) Interchangable grip panels means that the SAR 9 offers you more ways to make the pistol shoot right for you. Here's an idea: If you want something different, take the spare panels and experiment on the set that least-fits your hand. Next, dry-fire the heck out of it, and learn to get its trigger under control. Not only will it be an accurate pistol, but one you can shoot quickly. You will find that the SAR 9 is both self-defense ready and suited for practical competition stages.
If you purchase a SAR 9, you'll get a solidly-engineered pistol that's made on similar modern CNC machines you'd find in any modern industrial enterprise. And then there's the price. Suggested retail is $449, meaning SAR 9s are priced at that or less. When was the last time there was this much pistol for so little money?