Gun Review: SIG SAUER 1911 Nitron

More than 100 years after God delivered His pistol design to John Moses Browning, the 1911 semi-automatic pistol is still as popular as Moran Atias at a pool party. Not to miss a trick, SIG SAUER is churning out several versions of the venerable handgun. The 1911 Nitron is the gunmaker’s “standard” model (i.e., the one with the fewest bells and whistles). As a SIG fanboy, I had no qualms about exploiting my position at TTAG for some serious trigger time. What I discovered may astound you . . .

From the moment you open the box, you realize that this isn’t just a carbon copy of John Moses Browning’s masterpiece. The SIG SAUER Nitron looks like the love child of a USGI 1911 and a P226 — coincidentally my two favorite handguns.

Externally, the Nitron’s all very 1911-esque. The slide has some standard SIG SAUER modeling on it; the horizontal ledge along the slide’s reminiscent of their P series handguns. Everything else could have been designed in . . . wait for it . . . 1911.

SIG’s made some minor mods: a skeletonized hammer, beavertail grip safety, external extractor and an adjustable trigger. All of which you’d expect to find on a gun that retails for around a grand. Missing from the “Greatest Hits” of high priced 1911s: a bull barrel. SIG opted instead for a precision machined barrel bushing.

There’s a Novak-like cut in the Nitron’s slide that allows for some better options in the rear sight department (e.g., target sights). SIG’s done the right thing, installing some first rate night sights. They’re as bright as an Oxford scholar — for now, that is. Unlike Bill Clinton’s appeal to the Democratic base, tritium decays. With a half life of 12 years you’ll need to replace them sometime before the Obama tax cuts expire.

The insides are where everything goes all SIGgy. The Nitron boasts a firing pin safety similar to the one in the P226, which keeps the thing from going forward unless the trigger is depressed. There’s also a strange protrusion at the back of the slide. I have no idea what it does, other than getting in the way of re-assembling the gun. I wasn’t able to take a good picture of it, but rest assured it’s quite annoying and not standard for a 1911.

The Nitron has the overall look and feel of an extremely well-polished piece of machinery. It has the same soft finish as the P226, which is as pleasurable to handle as Ferrari shift knob (back when they used to have them). The Nitron’s aggressively checkered front and backstraps make the grip grippy, without sacrificing the gun’s ergonomic sensuality.

The acid test, though, is how well the gun shoots. And the answer is mixed, to say the least.

When the gun runs, it’s a beautiful thing. Thanks to the five-inch barrel, the Nitron’s recoil is manageable if not enjoyable. The trigger is absolutely positively excellent, combining a short take-up with a fine, glass-like break. It’s as accurate as you wanna be; I could pop eight rounds very nearly through the same hole at 10 yards all day long.

But (and as a SIG fanboy, this hurts me to say it) the gun doesn’t run. I’ve tested a lot of guns in my tenure here at TTAG. None of them have had as many malfunctions as I’ve had with the SIG SAUER 1911 Nitron.

All of the failures were either failure-to-chamber or failure-to-feed. In 1911s, FTC and FTF issues usually indicate a bad magazine. Nope. I tested the handgun with the two standard-issue factory mags. Both had failures in equal proportions. So I grabbed some of the fullsize Wilson Combat magazines I had lying around and ran them. Same results. \

I tried changing the ammunition, switching from Winchester White Box 45 ACP to Hornady’s 230gr 45 ACP. Same issues. Some other reviews have mentioned that hollow point rounds failed to feed in the Nitron. I didn’t even attempt it given the terrible round nose performance.

Could it be the shooter, then? I may not be the best shot in the world, but after tens of thousands of rounds downrange this year with my own handguns (including a 1911) and not a single malfunction I’d think that I at least was shooting it properly. Nevertheless, I handed the SIG Nitron 1911 to a green shooter as well as a seasoned veteran. They experience the same malfunctions.

The progression is predictable. For about the first magazine after the gun has been stripped, cleaned and lubed, the gun is fine. Usually. There were one or two times where the gun would malf straight away, but for the most part it ran fine. Then, after loading the second magazine, it started to have issues stripping rounds from the magazine.

My theory: the internal components’ tolerances might be a little too tight. Tight tolerances make for accurate guns, but as Mikhail Kalashnikov has taught us, tight tolerances also lead to malfunctions. An accumulation of grime from firing the gun adds friction to the operating parts and decreases the available force to slip the rim of the brass under the heavy external extractor — which would exactly explain the problems I experienced.

When I contacted SIG SAUER to tell them about the “challenges,” they said I was the only person having these problems. So it’s entirely possible that I just got a lemon and everyone else is having a grand old time with their super-reliable 1911 handguns. But this wouldn’t be The Truth About Guns if I didn’t truthfully and accurately report exactly how this gun ran. Or, in this case, didn’t run.

SIG SAUER is sending me another 1911 Nitron to test, a different flavor this time. Watch this space.

Caliber:              45 ACP
Barrel:                5″
Overall:              8.65″
Weight:              40.3 oz
Capacity:           8 +1
Price:                 $835 (Bud’s)

Ratings (out of five stars):
All ratings are relative to other similar guns, and the final score IS NOT calculated from the constituent scores.

Accuracy: * * * * *
What you’d expect from SIG.

Ergonomics (Handling): * * * *
The grippy panels will be a little too grippy for some, but I’m used to them from my Wilson Combat 1911.

Ergonomics (Firing): * * * * *
Crisp clean break of the trigger, reasonable recoil and easy-to-see sights. The holy grail.

Reliability: *
It ran . . . sometimes. When it felt like it.

Customization: * * * *
The gun takes standard 1911 parts for the most part, like the barrel and the safety, so you can upgrade if you want. The Novak cut on the slide also makes installing aftermarket sights much easier. But there’s a model with a 1913 rail on the bottom of the gun, and honestly I’d much prefer that.

Overall Rating: * *
I can’t go a hair above two stars due to the reliability issue I experienced. Everything else about the gun is great, except the fact that it sometimes refuses to work.