Gun Review: Boberg XR9-S (Part Deux)

The first part of my review of the Boberg XR9-S ended with my sending the slide and magazines back to the factory for refurbishing. You may want to read that as well as my out-of-the-box preview to catch up. After shipping them back to Boberg, I received the slide and magazines along with a new barrel about three weeks after I sent them off. In addition, a spare mainspring and recoil spring were thoughtfully included in the package.  I also got a note saying they had tested both magazines with twelve rounds of ammo and shot 47 rounds of Russian steel cased ammo through the pistol. Since then I’ve shot it a bunch and here’s what I found . . .

Range Session One:

I took the XR9 to the range just to break her in. After checking the approved Boberg compatible ammo page, I ran 100 rounds of Winchester White Box (WWB) and 50 rounds of TulAmmo through the gun. As before, the pistol was very easy to fire and seemingly accurate, at least for plinking. I did short stroke the trigger a few times before I got used to it, but that’s what the break-in period is for.

I experienced two hard primers with the Tul Ammo, both of which fired on the second strike. I had a single stovepipe on the last round of WWB which is a malfunction I haven’t experienced again with the pistol. Interestingly, the excellent Boberg product manual mentions the possibility of a stovepipe on the last round of a magazine.

Disappointingly, I also experienced trouble with one of the two magazines not advancing the rounds again.

This only happened with the WWB ammo, and it happened intermittently. I tested the mag with multiple other ammo types and had no problems with it.

A couple more thoughts from session one: some reader comments on my prior review worried about getting a finger in front of the barrel with that mid-body grip. I held it every which way and never felt like my fingers were in jeopardy. Chamber checks are stupid easy with this gun. You don’t have to move the slide if you don’t want to, and if you want to pull it back a touch, the light recoil spring makes it a breeze.

The gun shoots remarkably easily compared to other small guns of its caliber. But while others have said the Boberg has less perceived recoil than a Glock 19, I have to vehemently disagree. And so does my hand. Perceived recoil is slightly less than my PM9 when shot back to back, but 200 rounds is about all I’d ever want to put through the pistol at any one time.

Disassembly:

After the initial range session, I decided to clean and lube everything before putting any more rounds through it. Taking it apart, the quality of the gun’s machining and assembly is apparent.

Field stripping involves pulling the slide all the way back and turning the disassembly lever from the 3:00 to the 6:00 position to lock open the slide. This gives you the chance to peek in the breech and make sure the weapon is clear.

Once that’s done, turn the lever to the 9:00 position to release the slide which slips off the front.

Below is a photo of the undersurface of the slide with the unlock block on the barrel, and the tongs used to extract the cartridge from the magazine.

The recoil spring simply falls out of the back of the slide

From there, the spring guide comes off the spring easily enough. Remember that for re-assembly, one side of the spring is larger than the other, and you want the guide to go in the skinny end.

Push the barrel and unlock block forward in the slide to remove the unlock block and pull the barrel back out.

 

Once you clean everything up, you can see the barrel is nicely machined and polished.

The lugs on the barrel interact with the unlock block to rotate the barrel and unlock the slide.

Re-insert the recoil guide and spring into its place.


The spring floats fairly freely until the slide is assembled back onto the frame. Just ensure the spring goes into its perch.

Put the slide back on and see that the spring hits the rear perch

Slide the assembly on the gun and lock into place by moving the disassembly lever back to 6 o’clock again. This pic shows the guide rod protruding from the front of the slide which is normal.

Turn the lever back to three o’clock and re-assembly is finished.

The magazines appear to be high quality units. The welding is incredibly small.

Again, there’s no follower with this design.

Range Session Two:

During this session, I shot fifty rounds of 115 grain Brown Bear steel cased, fifty rounds of Aguila 124 grain, 50 rounds Wolf 115 grain WPA, and eight 115 grain Gold dots. I shot at a range where I can move around and I practiced shooting one or two-handed in various positions. Again, I was hit with brass in the face when shooting over my left shoulder, right handed with the gun at a 45 degree to the right. I was hit directly in the glasses with ejected rounds twice. Not a huge deal as this is an uncommon shooting position.

I noted that the magazines now fall free from the frame when it’s time for a swap. They previously didn’t do this.

Malfunctions: one WPA round that took three strikes to touch off. The Aguila ammo again gave me trouble with rounds that would extract from the magazine, but not go into battery.


This malfunction is extremely difficult to clear because the magazine will not drop free and the slide is somewhat locked in a partially open position with a live round suspended in the extractor. It required some force to strip the magazine followed by a very vigorous rack of the slide. If the slide is locked nearly completely open, you just have to pry the round out.

This malfunction only occurred with the Aguila 124 grain and I have to conclude that it’s simply incompatible ammo for this gun despite the crimp, even though Aguila 115 grain is mentioned as compatible on the Boberg ammo page. I also had one instance of the spring popping out of one of the mags (the same mag that had the WWB ammo stick in it).

At round 297 since I re-started testing, this happened:

I correctly diagnosed a broken mainspring. Now I knew the reason for the spare included with my returned slide.  Mainspring replacement is amazingly simple and covered again in the Boberg Manual (p30). I did the repair in about five minutes at home:

All fixed:

I asked Arne Boberg about the mainspring failure/issue. Here’s his reply:

“The current mainspring has a larger transition radius and no forming mark where the old spring was breaking. We had to get a new supplier because the old one was not willing to remove the forming mark, which on some springs was actually a notch that caused breakage. We stopped using the old mainspring as soon as we got the new ones.”

He noted that current production mainsprings should last the life of the pistol. The original in my frame lasted around 400 live and 500 dry trigger pulls. I lubed up the pistol and headed to the range again:

Range Session 3

I went to an indoor range for some marksmanship work and this time I fired 80 rounds Wolf WPA, 50 rounds TulAmmo, 7 rounds Federal Hydrashock 135 grain and 8 rounds Winchester Ranger T +P. Malfunctions all occurred with TulAmmo and included three hard primers – which fired on a second strike – and two failures to feed similar to that experienced with the Aguila 124 grain.

I don’t blame the gun for a 2-3% hard primer rate on Russian ammo and appreciate the double strike capability of the design in these instances. In the photo above, that is a single hit and is appears plenty deep enough. A heavier mainspring is available for those addicted to hard primers, but you should expect a heavier trigger pull in return.

Toward the end of the shooting session, the spring came out of that same problematic magazine again. This didn’t cause a malfunctions and reseated easily.

Accuracy exceeds the ability of the shooter:

The gun appears to be sighted so that the front sight is placed over the top of the desired target. I prefer a six o’clock hold, but adapted to it pretty quickly. Accuracy was maintained at the level of my ability as the range increased.

Rapid fire accuracy was also acceptably within a minute of bad guy.

That isn’t a keyhole, the paper tore from my handling.

So what are my impressions at this point? The XR9-S is an innovative, extremely well made, nice handling, nice shooting pocket pistol that runs well when fed ammo it likes. The gun has ongoing, and in my opinion, minor developmental issues. Its inventor eagerly stands behind his product and takes feedback seriously and positively.

I would not recommend it to anyone as their first firearm. I would certainly not use it for defensive purposes until I had extensively tested my carry ammo with it. I think the overall concept is sound and had no problems at all with the parts of the gun unique to the pull-you, push-me feeding mechanism that weren’t ammo related.

This gun is probably a must-have for mouse and pocket gun collectors with disposable income. If you own a Rohrbaugh, just get yourself on the list for a Boberg. The XR9-S outshoots and outshines the equally ammo-sensitive R9 in every area except smallness/pocketability. Plus it’s cool and you know you want it.

When faced with a choice between a Kahr PM9 and the XR9-S, for carry, though, the decision is more difficult. Both are terrific shooting small guns. The Kahr’s conventional design, in my experience, is more reliable and has broader aftermarket support for holsters, etc. I favor the Kahr trigger by a narrow margin.

All that said, the XR9-S holds more rounds and throws a bullet about 100 ft/sec faster than any firearm of comparable size. The question is, how important is 100 ft/sec and one extra round in the scheme of things? I don’t think the question is answerable without back to back ballistic gelatin tests of several brands of ammo and that’s beyond my capability.  The bullet might penetrate deeper, or it might expand more and penetrate less.

If I wanted another gun for the safe, I would keep the XR9-S, find ammo it really liked (Brown Bear and any quality self defense ammo apparently) and keep working through its issues. I went back and forth about returning it, but in the end decided I’d rather have my money back to use for something else. I’ll keep the PM9 in my pocket.

Reluctantly, I stripped, cleaned and oiled the XR9-S for the last time before sending it back to Boberg Arms. Arne’s response to my email expressing my findings and decision to return the pistol:

“Thanks for not holding back – we are constantly working on improving our products and look forward to getting your gun back so we can test it and go over it with a microscope – everything we learn will result in QC improvements, possible design changes, and better customer service.

When we get your gun back, we are going to go through it completely and resolve all the issues, then we are going to send it out to another gun writer – we have quite a few chomping at the bit to get their hands on this thing.”

What’s not to like about that response? Just remember you read it here first on TTAG.

Specifications:

Caliber: 9mm
Capacity: 7+1
Barrel Length: 3.35″
Overall Length: 5.1″
Height: 4.2″
Width: .96″
Weight: 17.5 oz. (with unloaded magazine)
Price: $995

Ratings (out of fiver stars):

Accuracy  * * * * *
Better than this shooter.

Ergonomics  * * * * *
The XR9-S is the comfiest pocket pistol I have had my mitts on.

Reliability  * * 1/2
Broken spring, ammo sensitivity, magazine issues with one magazine (the other ran perfectly), one return to the factory. I think the gun is potentially reliable, but be prepared to tune it a bit to be sure. And don’t be surprised if it requires a trip back to the factory.

Customize This  *
Fuggetaboudit. Holsters available from Remora and a few other holster makers.

Overall  * * * *
Despite the reliability issues, I really liked the gun. If you enjoy fine pocket pistols, get a spot in line, pay the price and take your chances.