Gun Review: Beretta 92A1 (Civilian M9A1)

In 1526, Bartolomeo Beretta received an order from the Venice Arsenal for 185 harquebus barrels, for which he was paid 296 ducats (around $45,992 in today’s money). That original bill of sale is still on film in the company’s archives. Almost 500 years later, Beretta is one of the oldest manufacturing companies in the world,. The storied gunmaker’s getting ready to celebrate its twenty-fifth Anniversary as the U.S. Armed Forces supplier of the M9 Combat Pistol. Today, the company is still owned and operated with a Beretta at the helm.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), muzzleloader barrels are no longer available in the Beretta catalogue. Beretta now focuses on more modern firearms, including rifles, pistols, and shotguns. Beretta is also the parent company for about a dozen other smaller companies (including Benelli, supplier of the M1014 Combat Shotgun). While many clay bird and upland game hunters hold the Silver Pigeon in high regard, Beretta’s bread-and-butter is the well known 92FS semi-automatic pistol.

First Impressions…

The 92FS is a short-recoil based semi-automatic pistol, with DA/SA firing modes. The 92FS is traditionally chambered in 9mm Luger, although .40S&W, 9x21mm IMI, and 7.65mm Luger are also available (Models 96, 98, and 99 respectively). Magazine capacities range widely; our tester holds 17+1.

Leave it to the Italian’s to make a pistol sexy. The 92FS has an open slide top, and curvy lines. The roadster inspired top not only reduces weight, but is supposed to make clearing jams easier. I find this hard to believe, because in the 400+ rounds pushed downrange I had zero jams to clear (more on this later).

Most 92FS pistols come with Beretta’s sturdy and well-checkered plastic grips. The owner of my tester decided to replace the plastic grips with a set of optional factory wood grips. Right answer. There is something about well-checkered wood grips that really sets a pistol apart. All of my SIG’s, 1911’s, and S&W revolvers sport wood grips. The grip, feel, and texture of a wood is unmatched by rubber or hard-plastic (sorry XDm’s – I still love you anyways!).

Beretta uses a proprietary Teflon-based paint finish on their pistols, referred to as Bruniton. While traditional blueing or Parkerizing is a surface-modification, Bruniton is a coating. The finished pistols are flat-black and have little glare – something I’m sure is welcome by soldiers in combat. The pistol coating provides a very durable and corrosion resistant layer. To further inhibit corrosion, 92FS barrels feature hard-chromed bores and chambers.

All M9 and 92FS pistols feature a 4.9” barrel with traditional land-and-groove rifling. One feature unique, although not exclusive to the Beretta, is the locking-block mechanism. The 92FS works similar to an old Walther where the locking mechanism uses a separate block to align and lock the barrel up. There are two locking lugs that engage appropriate recesses cut into the slide’s internal side surfaces. Most modern pistols (e.g. Glock, XD/XDm, M&P) utilize a locking lug that is integrated with the bottom of the barrel.

To cater to a multitude of users, the 92FS features an easy-to-change reversible magazine release. The ambidextrous safety/decocker, located at the rear of the slide, provides a positive “on” and “off”. When applied, the safety safely lowers the hammer, and also rotates the rear of the two-piece firing pin out of alignment, thus making it impossible for the hammer to strike. The safety also disconnects the trigger group, meaning a trigger pull literally does nothing when the safety applied.

Internally, the 92FS features an enlarged hammer pin, extending all the way into a groove in the slide. This is where the “S” comes in 92FS, and was done in response to reported defective slides during US Military testing where, during catastrophic failure, the slide blew off and injured shooters. The Beretta also features an automatic firing pin catch, which is a bar that blocks the firing pins forward movement, unless the trigger is fully depressed. Should this pistol be dropped on a hard surface, this block prevents an accidental discharge.

New Kid on the Block…

Thanks to a good friend, I was able to test Beretta’s newest variant of the 92FS, known as the 92A1. The 92A1 features an integral Mil-Spec 1913 (Picatinny) rail, comes with three 17 round magazines, an internal recoil buffer, captive recoil spring assembly, and the old-style rounded trigger guard. The 92A1 also features a removable front sight; you can replace or upgrade sights with relative ease.

The differences between the M9A1 (military version) and the 92A1 (civilian version) are minimal but worth mentioning. M9A1 and 92A1 both have the standard “92” grip frame, both being able to utilize any 92 grip panel. The 92A1 grip frame is serrated while the M9A1 is aggressively checkered. The 92A1 has the buffer assembly developed for increased durability in pistols chambered in .40S&W (Model 96A1), where the M9A1 does not (probably overkill for a 9mm anyway, but +P load shooters may benefit). The M9A1 also features a more aggressive bevel in the magazine well.

The biggest difference: the magazines. The 92A1 comes with stainless-steel 17-round magazines. The M9A1 on the other hand, comes with PVD-coated 15-round magazines. The coating is proprietary, but is likely a nitride of some sort. I hear people talk about PVD as being the actual coating, but this is a common mistake. PVD (Physical Vapor Deposition) is actually the process used to coat the magazines. The PVD-coated magazines are designed to better withstand the talcum-powder like conditions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

On magazine choice alone, I prefer the increased capacity of the 92A1 over the M9A1. Both the 17-round stainless and the 15-round PVD coated magazines feature a dirt “rail” – a slight indentation on both sides of the magazine. The purpose is twofold; the valley on the outside of the magazine acts as a trough for dirt to collect. The peak formed on the inside of the magazine is designed to keep cartridges away from the walls of the magazine, and thus away from dirt, oil, and other foreign materials that may get trapped inside.

Shooting Impressions…

The 92A1’s ergonomics are fantastic, My grip naturally fell into place on each string. The pistol points well, and shoots where I aim. While I had no problems, others find the grip fairly large. Even with the plastic grip panels in place, I will admit that the 92-series of pistols are probably one of the chunkiest around.

While certainly not a world-class target gun, the 92A1 can keep a grouping well within MOI (Minute of Intruder). The weight, which tips the scales at 34.4oz unloaded, may be a bit heavy for some to carry all day. However, the increased heft makes the recoil next to nothing, especially for those accustomed to shooting polymer-framed guns.

The 92A1 comes with 3-dot sights, which are my favorite on a combat pistol. I would prefer something tritium-lamped, but the Beretta’s are easy to see and pick up, even in bright daylight. The advantage of the 92A1 over the M9A1 is that owners can choose to replace the sights if they so desire.

When I first started shooting pistols some time ago, I had a big problem with the slide-mounted safety. I came from being an avid rifle and shotgun shooter, and expected safeties to be quite and easy to get to. However, it didn’t take me long to get over my grievances with the 92. Why? Well, I simply don’t use the safety on any DA/SA pistol. For me, I simply refer to the safety/decocker as the decocker. After loading a round, rotate down to decock, rotate back up to the fire position, and holster. There is an advantage of the Beretta-style decocker over a SIG-style decocker . . .

Regular readers know that the Rabbi [vehemently] suggests that all reloads be done by grasping the rear of the slide (from slide-lock), pulling back and releasing. While I certainly see his point, I have large hands and fat fingers, and thus prefer to use the slide stop to release the slide. Those familiar with SIG pistols know that the decocker and slide release are similarly shaped and are in close proximity of each other. Having the decocker high on the frame means the likelihood of depressing the decocker instead of the slide release is eliminated. Is the Beretta-style better? Well, that’s a personal decision but ikt’s food for thought for those looking for a DA/SA pistol.

The 92A1’s trigger is my only grip—I mean gripe with the 92A1. I can deal with thick grips (especially since the 92A1 points so well) and standard sights on a combat pistol. However, the 92A1’s DA trigger is horrendous. It’s smooth with little stacking. The trigger’s rated at a 12-pound pull. It feels more like 20. Perhaps I’m spoiled. All of my SIG pistols are newer SRT models. They have a smooth and true 10-11 pound pull in DA. My S&W revolvers, are, well… Smith & Wesson revolvers (the yardstick by which all DA triggers are judged).

The DA pull of the Beretta makes the trigger of a stock S&W J-frame feel like one on a precision rifle. Luckily, the single-action trigger of the 92A1 is significantly better. There is a fair amount of take up (it is a combat pistol afterall), probably in the 0.5” range, and also a slight stack towards the end. The stacking is minimal (likely from the firing pin block). While most polymer-gun shooters will never notice, I would wager that many 1911 and revolver shooters will. Even so, the stack is easily accustomed to and grouping did not suffer.

Final Thoughts…

Through my day of testing, I put just over 400 rounds through this pistol, mostly Winchester White Box 115-gr FMJ. On my way to the range, I also picked up a few boxes of Federal 124-gr FMJ, Remington UMC 115-gr FMJ, and a box of Winchester PDX1 124-gr +P JHP, and Winchester PDX1 147-gr JHP.

Accuracy with all loads was excellent. The Federal 124-gr grouped the tightest hand-held at 33 feet. Both the 124-gr +P and the 147-gr PDX1 ammo performed flawlessly. Throughout the day, not a single FTL, FTF, or FTE occurred, limiting my ability to make a conclusive statement as to whether or not the open-top slide actually makes clearing jams easier.

After a day of shooting, I was happy to see that the 92A1 breaks down very easily. The button on the right side of the frame gets pushed in, allowing the breakdown lever to be rotated down. The slide then moves forward and can be removed. After cleaning, the slide only needs to be put back on the frame and racked back. The breakdown lever returns back to its “locked” position automatically, so there is no need to rotate the lever again.

The owner of this pistol changed the factory plastic guide rod to an OEM steel unit. I do the same in my newer SIG pistols. There’s been discussion here on TTAG about the durability of plastic guide rods (I mentioned it in my SIG P220 Elite Review.) Most of us would agree that they typically hold up just fine and can withstand thousands upon thousands of rounds of use. However, for less than $15, swapping in a steel guide rod, particularly one that may be subject to +P rounds, is easy enough. It guarantees that you’ll never have any guide rod failures. For me, it is money well spent.

No question: the 92A1 is a great pistol. While I have issue with the DA trigger, I can easily overlook them. The Beretta is heavy, but solid – think 1971 Cadillac DeVille. This pistol feels like it is going to last forever. At a rated 30,000 round lifespan, it is unlikely that many 92-series pistols will ever get worn out. This is certainly one of those guns that you’ll want to give you kids, and likely one of those guns that your kid will actually look forward to getting.

Unfortunately, this pistol has to go back to its owner. To make matters worse, I now have been bitten by the Beretta bug. Upon purchasing my first SIG, I can tell you that these “infections” are serious and can rarely be cured. The acquisition of multiple pistols never kills the virus; it merely keeps the symptoms at bay.

Needless to say, a 92-series pistol of some sorts is on my “Objects of Desire” list. With a little boy expected at the end of March, I can only hope that my buddy will lend me his beautiful pistol from time to time, so that I can at least keep the virus squelched long enough to save up enough cash to buy my own.

Special thanks to J.B. for letting me break-in his beautiful combat pistol

SPECIFICATIONS:

Caliber: 9mm Luger
Barrel Length: 4.9”
Overall Length: 8.5”
Weight: 34.4 oz
Action: DA/SA with safety/decocker
Finish: Teflon-based Bruniton Black
Capacity: 17+1
Price: MSRP $690.

RATINGS (out of five)

Style * * * *
Probably the best looking modern combat pistol around, rivaling even the much-loved 1911.

Ergonomics * * * *
Fantastic ergonomics, near as good as my XDm pistols. The pistol points well and comes to target quickly.

Reliability * * * * *
No problems at all, including +P loads.

Customizable * *
It has a rail, but so do a lot of pistols. If you’re going to use this pistol as your CCW, find a nice, sturdy holster. If new owners prefer, get some tritium-lamped sights.

Overall Rating * * * *
Plain and simple – I want one!