Gun Review: Boberg XR9-S Update

First, a couple housekeeping items from my preview post.  After I received the Boberg XR9-S, I read the entire manual and field stripped the gun. It was clean and nicely lubed from the factory, so I re-assembled and did nothing else. One thing I didn’t mention in my prior review is that the Boberg doesn’t have a slide lock or a slide release. It simply is not possible given the way the gun is designed. Once empty, the only way to load it is a re-rack.  I didn’t realize this when I bought it, but it’s not really a deal killer to me since I often ride the slide release with my thumb and my typical routine at the end of a mag is a quick failure drill. Plus, I always load my guns from a rack motion, never a slide release.  In other words, I don’t count on the slide locking back and can take or leave the that feature. About that off-center barrel issue . . .

I sent an email to Arne Boberg that was answered within 24 hours. Here’s the reply I received:

Eric,

None of our barrels are exactly on center due to the fact that they were made on 5-axis lathes (the outside was held by the collet).  This should have no effect on accuracy since the bores tend to be parallel to the outside.  Our new Gen 2 barrels (on order) are machined on centers and will look better.  I will send you one free of charge if you like, when we get these in.  In the meanwhile, I would shoot the heck out of the barrel you have.
Arne

I thought this was a pretty decent offer and a fast response to a customer issue. He didn’t know I write for TTAG when making the offer.

For pocket use (which is how I intend to use the gun), I cut down an old leather PM9 pocket holster and the Boberg fits it well. While waiting for a chance to get out to the range, I carried both the XR9-S and a Kahr PM9 as a comparison test. I put the PM9 in one front pocket and the XR9-S in the other.

The result: I prefer how the Boberg carries in pocket despite its one ounce weight penalty (22.50z with holster 20.5 without).  I believe this is due to the ammo weight in the grip being more forward on the gun making the XR9-S ride lower in the pocket. For whatever reason, the Boberg just feels better.

It was with great anticipation that I took the Boberg out to the range. I have three types of ammo laying around in quantity, so I decided to start with that and add others as I got the  chance. I started out with Aguila 124 grain crimped. First shot: jam, failure to go into battery. The round just sat there in the tongs but would not advance. This identical malfunction occurred multiple times throughout a box of ammo, at least once a magazine and in no particular pattern.

Finally it jammed so badly, so far out of battery I couldn’t cycle the slide by hand to remove the round. I had to gently pry the unfired round out. Inspection revealed the bullet had separated from the case slightly. I suspect the Aguila was separating a bit, but not enough to fully pull the bullet out of the case, increasing the overall length and choking the gun.

When the gun fired, it was very comfortable to shoot and naturally went to point of aim. But my irritation level was starting to grow. Ah well, Aguila is crap ammo anyway – on to something a little higher on the quality scale.

Plan B: Speer Lawman 115 grain ammo. This is uncrimped. First shot: Jam. Inspection reveals the next bullet in line had completely separated from the case.  I tried one more time and had an identical malfunction.  Case open, gunpowder….somewhere. Bullet rolling around. Okay, so Lawman is absolutely no-go in this pistol, too.

Time for plan C. I broke out my uber low-end steel cased Wolf WPA ammo. I didn’t have high hopes but hey, it liked it. I had my best strings of fire with this ammo and zero case/bullet separations. “Russian ammo break gun, gun not break ammo.”

Unfortunately, that was about the time magazine issues began to crop up. On one mag, the spring started to come out the top and had to be reseated frequently. There is no follower with the Boberg design.

This mag actually functioned fine, but I got tired of re-seating the spring every time I shot it. The second mag wouldn’t advance the rounds if I had more than two or three loaded.  They were obviously catching on something in the magazine or the spring was catching on something – either way, it was a no-go.

Sigh. A couple more observations from my limited time shooting: the mags don’t drop free when released, requiring me to grab the and pull to remove them from the pistol. I’m OK with that since I retain mags while re-loading.

What I’m not OK with is the three casings that ejected directly into my face (or bounced off the bottom of my hat bill, then into my face). Each mugshot happened when shooting right-handed toward my 9:00-10:00 position. In this stance, the gun is angled 45 degrees to the left and somewhat closer to my face than in a typical Weaver position. I had no facial ejections in other stances.

After about an hour in 90-degree temps, my frustration level was high and I’d had enough of troubleshooting the gun, mags and ammo after about 100 rounds. Time to work with the Kahr.

Switching between guns, I have to say I like the Boberg sights a bit better, but after a mag or two had adapted to the Kahr and was pinging things very nicely. The PM9 is an accurate little bugger. I also noticed that the Kahr has distinctly more felt recoil than the Boberg. But what I noticed most was that I shot the Kahr for 150 trouble-free rounds with whatever ammo I wanted to feed it.

“A dog returns to its own vomit.” This is the appetizing proverb I quoted to myself and RF when I called him on the way home from the range. I have an irrational liking for small pistols, but I also seem to have the worst luck with them. Is it luck or is it simply the physics of too much power in too small a package?

There’s no doubt that most of my issues were magazine- and ammo- related and I certainly fed the thing some cheap stuff for the most part. I don’t like to send dollars downrange until I’m sure the cheap stuff runs. Given the problems I had, though, I felt I was done with the gun and simply wanted to return it.

I had several communications via email with Arne Boberg describing my issues with the XR9-S and my desire to return it. He was professional, cordial and prompt in his replies.  He immediately offered to refund my purchase no questions asked before he knew I was writing for TTAG. At the same time, though, he strongly felt he had a fix for every particular problem exhibited and requested that I ship him back the mags and slide on his dime and give it another chance.

I was pretty set on returning the gun and calling it done, but he is such a cool, direct, straightforward and honest dude it’s hard not to let him try to make it right. I shipped the slide and mags back via UPS today. He does know I’m writing for TTAG at this point, BTW.

Arne pointed out that there’s a running list of compatible ammo at the Boberg web forums. I had not known about this prior to my range session. Speer 115 grain Lawman is a known bad actor. Aguila 124 grain isn’t mentioned and Wolf 115 grain FMJ surprisingly is considered good to go.

Writing a negative review is hard because Arne Boberg seems like a great guy who tries hard, is clearly smart and passionate about his product and servicing his customers. I also love to support little guy entrepreneurs who makes things happen. That said, I simply don’t care to spend $1000 and then have a gun I need to “tune.”

Guns – especially expensive guns – should run well right out of the box with minimal futzing. Whenever I hear about a gun that needs special ammo or fluffs and buffs to run, I fear that particular gun will be a constant drama queen. That may be fine for range use and amateur gunsmithing, but it’s completely unacceptable in a self defense firearm. It has to go bang every time.

There are plenty of glowingly positive XR9-S reviews out on the interwebs that greatly contrast with my experience so far. I cynically have to wonder at people’s motivation and/or honesty. These guns are rare and sell for a 30-50% mark up on Gunbroker.  I saw at least one reviewer bought three guns and had nary one negative word to say about the XR9-S in his review. Hmmm, is he keeping all three?

I see other gun websites that never publish a negative review of any gun. Everything they write about seemingly runs perfectly all day long with any ammo. Really? Do they get free or low-priced guns out of the deal? Do they get ad sales for their website from the company? Are positive reviews confirmation bias because the reviewer really wants to like the gun he he just paid $1000 for? I don’t know. I do know that I have no profit motive involved, I just want a great-shooting 9mm pocket self defense gun that I trust, shoots well, and is durable.

Where is that pool of vomit again?