Opinions seem sharply divided on the Beretta 92. People either love them or they don’t. My Beretta 92FS, for many years now, has been my go-to pistol. While not necessarily the most accurate pistol I own, it has always been 100% reliable.
The Beretta M9A3 is a modernized version of the battle-proven Beretta M9, which is about as iconic as a modern pistol can be. For many people, the Beretta 92 platform is the quintessential 9mm pistol. The M9 has starred in countless movies (check out its IMFDB profile) and has served as a duty gun all around the world.
The gun was designed to compete for the U.S. Army’s new Modular Handgun System contract, but lost out to the SIG P320.
After the Army decided to go in another direction, the improved M9A3 was made available to the gun-buying public.
Despite its extensive duty history the M9 hasn’t aged quite as well as other classics like the 1911. I love the look of my old 92FS with its wood grips, but the M9A3 doesn’t have quite the same panache. I understand that function is more important than looks, but this is an Italian pistol so looks matter.
The most obvious difference between the Beretta 92FS (M9) and M9A3 is the threaded barrel. Well, that and the rail.
Beretta really nailed the threaded barrel on the M9A3. The threads are cleanly done and the textured thread protector is well made.
Most important, Beretta takes the extra step of installing a little red rubber o-ring at the base of the threads. This tiny piece of rubber that must cost a couple of pennies (if that) and should be included on all threaded pistol barrels.
I can’t even begin to guess how many times a thread protector has walked off a handgun while I was shooting. When you tighten the thread protector down on the M9A3, that o-ring keeps the thread protector under enough pressure to lock it in place, but it’s still removable by hand.
All manufacturers should include o-rings. Yes, I can buy them on Amazon, but if I spend $800 or on a gun with a threaded barrel I want a rubber o-ring included.
One of the big gripes people had with the Beretta 92 design was its grip circumference. Shooters with small hands couldn’t get a good hold on the gun and it’s a real stretch getting to the trigger for a double action pull.
As you can see above, the backstrap on the M9A3 is straight on the modular Vertec-style grip, resulting in a noticeably thinner handle and a much better experience for small-handed shooters. If you have big hands and really liked that old oil can-sized circumference, Beretta makes a wraparound grip panel to get you back to the size of the original M9s.
I actually don’t prefer one over the other. They’re both comfortable to me. I like the improved texturing on the rear of the M9A3 as it’s a bit more aggressive than the M9 backstrap. On the other hand, I prefer the texturing of the 92FS wood grips over the new plastic panels on the M9A3. Horses for courses, and there are plenty of aftermarket options if you want to swap them out.
To the entire world was disappointed (though they shouldn’t have been surprised) that the M9A3 combination safety lever and de-cocker is still located on the slide, just like those of its forefathers. This feature never really bothered me as much until I started shooting more types of guns. Shoot enough of them and you understand why this is less than ideal. A slide-mounted safety isn’t a deal breaker for me but it’s (still) a mark against the Beretta design.
The M9A3’s sight are a clear upgrade. Three-dot tritium night sights are now standard. Beretta also increased their height slightly over the M9’s to clear a suppressor (remember that threaded barrel).
The rear sight is fixed and the front sight post is dovetailed and removable. The standard three-dot sights are like the rest of the pistol…an upgrade over the originals, but not particularly outstanding. They work, are very durable and will get you on target.
The magazine on the right is a standard M9 magazine. The mag on the left is the 17-round M9A3 mag, which gives you two more rounds than its predecessors.
The M9A3 magazines also have a PVD coating which is designed to be more sand resistant for the environments troops have increasingly found themselves in over the last few decades. Anything that makes an already reliable magazine more so is a win.
The Beretta M9A3 disassembles just like the M9 always has. Unload the gun and make sure it is safe. Push the slide to the rear, turn the takedown lever and move the slide forward off the frame. Then take the barrel and spring out.
Of course, you could always attempt a faster Jet Li field strip process, but we don’t recommend that and caution you to always ensure you gun is clear and safe before taking it down…no matter what method you use.
Again, the M9A3 isn’t a competition pistol but it’s capable of very acceptable results at personal defense distances. This 10-yard five-round unsupported group is far less than minute of bad guy and that works for me. This is plenty for a duty gun.
It’s also noticeably more accurate than my 92FS which is greatly due to the M9A3’s trigger. It’s a clear improvement over the older 92 series pistols. The updated gun’s trigger is smoother, the break is much more crisp and reset is perceptibly shorter.
The M9A3’s improved trigger is a more important feature to me than the threaded barrel, magazine improvement or even the Picatinny rail. I might even like the improved trigger better than that o-ring.
The Beretta 92 series of pistols are kind of in gun limbo right now. They’re not old enough to be cool and not modern enough to be relevant. Don’t get me wrong, they are very good pistols, but the market is full of good pistols.
Will the 92 series one day be considered iconic as the 1911 is? I think so, but to a lesser extent. This is an excellent design that’s been serving shooters well — both military, law enforcement and civilian, for a quarter century.
I am sure some day, many years from now, I’ll still have at least one version of the Beretta 92. And I’m also sure it will be 100% reliable like every Beretta pistol I’ve shot. And in the end, what more could you want?
Specifications: Beretta M9A3 9mm Pistol
Capacity: 17+1 rounds (three magazines included)
Barrel Length: 5”
Weight: 33.4 oz
Overall Length: 8.7″
Overall Height: 5″
Overall Width: 1.5″
Sights: three dot tritium, suppressor height, non-adjustable
Street Price: about $1000
Ratings (out of five stars):
Accuracy * * *
Its duty pistol level of accuracy is plenty good enough the majority of shooters.
Reliability * * * * *
100% like a Beretta should be.
Ergonomics * * *
The 92 platform has never been wonderful ergonomically. It’s not as comfortable as, say, a Walther, but it is not uncomfortable either. The M9A3’s thin grip is a big improvement as is the flared magazine well, but this is still a large, heavy 9mm pistol. It’s not one most people will want to choose for concealed carry.
Customize This * * * *
It now has an accessory rail, a threaded barrel and, like earlier models, replaceable grips. Beretta was also smart enough to make sure the M9A3 will still fit in most of the thousands of holsters that are made for the M9.
Aesthetics * * *
The updated, slightly slimmed down M9A3 isn’t ugly but it sure isn’t pretty either. You can get one in either tactical peanut butter (AKA flat dark earth) or black. The Beretta form has graced a million gun-free zone signs, but I give it a solid meh.
Overall * * * *
Beretta did some significant work to upgrade the M9 to what we now see in the M9A3. Many shooters who rejected the original model might find this an M9 they can love (or at least get along with). It’s is ultra-reliable, has a good trigger and good duty pistol accuracy. The standard issue night sights are a plus, too. If you haven’t picked up a 92-platform gun in a long time, it’s worth giving the M9A3 a shot.