By Chris Dumm
The Taurus PT-92 AF is the railed, fixed-sight version of the Brazilian gunmaker’s longest-running bestseller. This big service pistol is the spitting image of the Beretta Model 92FS (with a few improvements) and sells for $100 to $150 less than the glamorous Italian’s price tag. Cheap is good, but only when it’s actually ‘good.’ To find out how good the PT-92 AF is, we tested it alongside the benchmark Beretta whose decades of military and police service set the bar very high for quality and reliability. The results may surprise you . . .
When Taurus made the first PT-92, they didn’t copy or reverse-engineer the Beretta Model 92F as is sometimes believed. Instead, they bought Beretta’s entire Brazilian factory with its machinery, parts and plans. They even kept Beretta’s trained workers at their stations. Beretta’s and Taurus’ designs have evolved in divergent ways since 1980, and the two pistols now share very few parts in common. But they still share the same lineage and (almost) the same manual of arms.
If you’re not familiar with the basic design, it’s a full-size semiautomatic pistol with a hammer fired, double action/single action lockwork. It has an alloy frame and an open-topped steel slide, and its breech-locking mechanism uses a Walther-style tilting locking block instead of John Browning’s tilting breech design.
It’s a large handgun intended for military and police service, and for normal-sized humans it’s not a realistic choice for concealed carry. Trust me: as a normal-sized human I speak from experience.
Fit and Finish
As soon as I wiped off the gun oil that dripped from the PT-92 AF when I picked it up, I immediately noticed that it exhibited a superior level of fit and finish. Toolmarks are remarkable by their absence from a gun at this price point, and the steel and alloy finishes are deep and even. I found but one small blemish: the left-side safety lever isn’t a perfect visual fit with its mounting pin. Scroll down to the ‘Ergonomics’ section for a closeup: it’s a (single) cosmetic blemish, but not a functional one.
All of the PT-92 AF’s moving parts click neatly and quietly into their places, and all of its controls operate smoothly and positively. In all aspects of its fit and machining, the Taurus is every bit as good as the much costlier Beretta Model 92FS it’s patterned after. The Taurus’ metal finish is smooth and even, although the Beretta’s finish is just a little bit glossier. And I like the Taurus’ stainless-steel guide rod much better than the Beretta’s plastic rod.
The PT-92 AF looked and felt great right out of the box, and it continued to impress me even after several hundred rounds. Familiarity with the PT-92 did not breed contempt because it just got smoother and smoother yet it’s still as tight as the day it arrived.
Our test gun’s QC was one pin away from perfect, but the magazines don’t show anywhere near the same attention to detail. Taurus supplied six magazines with our test gun, and each of them had at least one problem. Notice the flat Beretta magazine on the left? Now look at the one on the right: the shinier Taurus mag’s witness holes are slightly dimpled and the big dent in the bottom of the magazine binds the follower when it’s almost loaded to capacity.
This makes it a real bee-otch to cram the 17th round into these allegedly 17-round magazines. Some of the magazines could hold 17 rounds (and only then with extreme force) while others rejected that last round no matter how hard I pushed. Just one of the six magazines was free from this otherwise-characteristic dent, and it was the only one that I could load up to 17 rounds right out of the box.
Unfortunately this wasn’t the only — or the worst — problem with the magazines. The biggest problem was this:
The followers tilted in the magazine bodies with surprising ease. This didn’t cause any feeding problems, but it likely caused the only meaningful reliability issue the PT-92 AF demonstrated: frequent failure to slide-lock. When a follower noses down this easily, it’s probably not pressing up hard enough to engage the slide catch. I tried this same finger-trick on the Beretta’s magazines, and the follower was much harder to tilt down.
Modern Beretta magazines (made by Mec-Gar) can be modified for use in the PT-92, and their followers engage the slide catch more positively than Taurus’ own magazines do. I didn’t undertake this project myself–and who wants to rely on jerry-rigged magazines anyway? I hope Taurus addresses these magazine issues, because the PT-92 AF is a great gun but it’s only as good as its magazines are.
Mec-Gar also sells magazines for the PT-92, and the newest $40 models hold 18 rounds and fit flush in the mag well. Meg-Gar magazines have an excellent reputation for quality and I use them in other pistols myself, but due to time and costs limitations, I didn’t have a chance to test one.
The Walther P-38 was the first successful single-action/double-action automatic pistol. It began the long history of DA/SA service pistols (recently overtaken by striker-fired pistols in many armies) but it also started the habit of DA/SA service pistols having really shitty triggers. My wartime P-38 has an atrociously heavy trigger pull, and it’s not so much a firing control as a 20-pound manual safety which can only be disengaged by cocking the hammer. It really helps if you work out at the rock-climbing gym for a few months before you try to shoot it, and use lots of ice and Ibuprofen afterwards. Trigger-finger tendinitis sucks.
Why am I talking about the Walther P-38? Because the Beretta/Taurus design largely copies the ungainly P-38’s DA/SA trigger, slide-mounted safety/de-cocker, and tilting locking block mechanism. Berettas and their Taurian cousins have always been elegant-looking pistols, and their sleek good looks disguise this mechanical ancestry. Beretta dramatically improved the trigger pull (along with everything else about the P-38) for their M9 prototype, and the result was good enough for the U.S. military to buy millions of them.
The M9’s trigger was ‘good enough’ for our military, but the PT-92 AF’s trigger is damned good in anybody’s book. It’s a delightful surprise on a $450 pistol, and one of the best SA/DA triggers I’ve ever felt on a production pistol at any price. The double-action pull is long (0.7 inches) but at 9 pounds it’s also fairly light, and it only stacks a little bit just before the break. Our test gun’s trigger was both lighter and smoother than our benchmark Beretta’s trigger.
In single-action mode it delivers pure shooting bliss: it’s short, light (exactly five pounds) and crisp. Like the double-action pull, the Taurus’ single-action trigger was slightly better than the Beretta’s. There’s no grit, no creep and almost no overtravel, and the short 3mm reset lets you throw down double-taps like an AN-94.
This was a tricky thing to test because too many shooting ranges have idiotic ‘one shot per second’ rules. I had to disguise my double-taps from the rangemasters by waiting until other shooters unleashed covering fusillades of simultaneous gunfire.
Just like its Italian ancestors, the PT-92 AF has an integral front sight blade that’s part of the open-top slide. Our front sight blade had a dimple machined into its face, but the dimple was completely filled with schmutz when it arrived for testing. I didn’t know it was actually a white dot until I drilled out the crud with a sharpened Q-tip shaft. If you don’t need true night-sights it works fairly well, but it could be very difficult to replace with tritium or fiber-optic since it’s part of the slide.
The above photo shows how hard it can be to modify these integral sights: the Model 92FS on the right is customized for suppressor use, and lifting the sight axis above the top of the can required some serious mods.
The rear sight is a drift-adjustable notch with two tiny white dots that do absolutely nothing for visibility in dim light. We shot it from unlit covered shooting stations on heavily overcast and rainy days, and under these gloomy lighting conditions the dots simply vanished. The Taurus’ sights were difficult to pick out against any kind of dark target. Our test gun also shot slightly but consistently to the left with the ammo I was shooting; the rear sight needed to be drifted slightly right for perfect regulation.
If you don’t love the PT-92 AF’s rear sights, you don’t have to put up them forever. Aftermarket rear sights are available from several manufacturers and Beretta-style replacement sights will fit, but the Taurus’ rear dovetail is reported to be slightly smaller than it’s Italian cousin’s. This requires some gunsmith fitting work, and that ain’t cheap. Cheap bastards like me can always goop up the rear sight with some Tru-Glo sight paint, and I’d definitely do this if I owned this gun.
Taurus suggests an easier remedy for any sighting deficiencies the PT-92 AF might have: buy a Taurus PT-99 instead. It’s the same gun, but with higher-profile adjustable sights that let you avoid this whole headache. The price difference between the two models is negligible, and I’d probably go for the PT-99 myself.
I may not be nuts about the PT-92 AF’s sights, but as you’ll see later on they still let you wring some pretty good accuracy out of the pistol.
Field maintenance of the PT-92 AF is absurdly simple. After dropping the magazine and verifying that the gun is empty, simply push the takedown button on the right side of the frame.
With the button pressed, rotate the takedown lever counterclockwise from 3:00 to 6:00…
And pull the barrel/slide assembly forward and off the frame. These pictures show that I forgot to lower the hammer. This doesn’t interfere with the disassembly process, but you can damage the frame if you drop the hammer with the slide removed.
Once the barrel/slide is removed you can remove the recoil spring/guide rod and then remove the barrel for cleaning. The tilting block takes some jiggling to remove and re-install, but it didn’t get very dirty during our testing.
There are two crucial words to remember when considering the PT-92 AF’s ergonomics: Size Matters. This sucker is big: not Yosemite Sam big, not even Desert Eagle big, but still big. It’s 8.5 inches long and 1.5 inches thick and weighs more than two pounds empty.
Carry ergonomics are great, as long as you don’t mind wearing your PT-92 AF in a chest rig, paddle or service holster. IWB carry (my personal fave, although I’m in a minority around here) is a nonstarter, and I speak from personal experience here. After I’d shot the heck out of the PT-92 AF and proven its reliability, I carried it in a Versacarry device for a few days.
How did that work out? Epic Comfort Fail; Borderline Concealment Fail.
The long barrel poked me painfully in the right gluteus maximus and the receiver ground into my hipbone while the full-size grip printed through most mild-weather cover garments. An OWB pancake holster would have been less painful (and might have concealed better) but trying to CCW a service pistol is like using a BMW M3 to haul firewood.
You’ll never really try to conceal a gun this size, but all that mass and gripping area does an excellent job of negating the less-than-fearsome recoil of the 9x19mm cartridge. Despite the Taurus’ fairly high bore axis, I didn’t even notice recoil or muzzle flip unless I was shooting one-handed, and even then it was very mild.
The shooting ergos are absolutely excellent, as long as you don’t have small hands. The trigger reach from the backstrap to the middle of the slack trigger measures nearly three inches, and the grip is 1.5 inches thick. Small-handed shooters might have a hard time reaching the trigger, much less pulling it properly. This is not the gun for them.
For my just-about-average hands, though, the PT-92 AF was haptic heaven. Hammer and slide bite simply don’t happen, and limp-wristing is nearly impossible because the gun is heavy enough that it provides its own recoil inertia. Unlike the Beretta Model 92F’s awkward slide-mounted controls, the Taurus PT family has always worn the vastly superior frame-mounted safety/de-cockers shown here. I’m not a card-carrying fan of manual safeties on any handguns, but Taurus does these so well that I think they add function and value to the gun. DA/SA pistols need de-cockers, and these ambidextrous levers are perfectly positioned so you can flick them up to ‘safe,’ down to ‘fire’ or farther down to de-cock the hammer with a quick and deliberate sweep of your thumb.
The safety never activated itself accidentally on my watch, which is one of our perennial complaints about manual safeties. The placement of the PT-92 AF’s safety/de-cocker makes it almost physically impossible to accidentally activate when you use a ‘high thumb’ grip, because your strong-hand thumb will sweep it off as you take your firing grip.
The magazine release isn’t ambidextrous, but left-handed shooters can reverse it without any tools other than a pointed stick. In fact, the only control that left-handed shooters won’t like is the slide release: the design of the gun’s trigger bar prevents it from being ambidextrous or reversible. The slide release is located perfectly for righties (well rearward from the 1911’s position) but it sucks for left-handers, and they’ll want to use the slingshot technique for their reloads.
And so will you, as it turns out, because of something else I’m just about to talk about…
Touchy-feely is all well and good, but a gun is all for crap if you hear ‘click’ instead of ‘BANG!’ when you pull the trigger. This is especially true for a home defense or service pistol, whose business is much more serious than a 3-gun trophy, a trophy whitetail, or bragging rights at the brewpub.
As we usually try to do, I tested the PT-92 AF with a variety of ammunition, both factory and handloaded, both steel and brass-cased. After about 150 rounds of steel Tulammo, 100 rounds of handloads and 200 rounds of brass-cased factory ammo, the total breakdown of less-than-perfect functioning stands as follows:
- Zero failures to feed;
- Zero failures to eject;
- Zero failures to fire with brass-cased ammunition;
- 12+ failures to ignite with steel-cased Tulammo, which all fired properly on the second strike;
- 50% failure to lock the slide back on an empty magazine, regardless of which ammunition or magazine was used;
The PT-92 AF’s steel allergy was a uniquely personal bummer for me, since I’ve got a 9mm steel stockpile that would keep the survivors of The Walking Dead swimming in bullets for years. That doesn’t mean it’s a bummer for you or anybody else, however, because Tulammo is only minimally cheaper (three cents a round, Mr. Scrooge) than the cheapest brass-cased FMJs, and any flavor of 115-grain FMJ would be your last choice for self-defense ammo anyway.
Many excellent guns shoot Tulammo just fine, and many excellent guns hate it. Your opinion may differ, but I don’t consider ‘doesn’t like steel ammo’ to be a meaningful demerit for any pistol. I do consider it absolutely worth mentioning, since we pride ourselves on telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing –except puns, metaphors, similes and alliteration– but the unvarnished truth about guns.
The frequent failures to slide-lock are more troublesome, because they trick you into dropping the hammer on an empty magazine and they slow down your combat reloads slightly. As I said above, I blame the magazines.
So here’s the scoop: if you stick to brass-cased ammo your PT-92 AF will be perfectly and monotonously reliable, although the slide-lock issues will force you to adopt a slingshot technique when you reload. Maybe this is why they tell us to always use the slingshot technique after all, but I’ve just been too spoiled and lazy to pay attention.
We didn’t ‘test’ our benchmark Beretta for reliability, but it’s worth noting that it had zero failures of any kind during our limited shooting time with it.
The PT-92 AF repeatedly produced groups like this: under 3 inches at 25 yards from a padded rest, with dirt-cheap ammo. At the more realistic DGU range of 8 yards, my offhand groups averaged 1.6 inches with factory ammo and 1.9 inches with my cheap handloads. This is more than accurate enough for defensive use, service carry, or 3-gun competition.
I think I could have shot the Taurus even better if it had better sights to work with, but the PT-92 AF’s intrinsic accuracy has nothing to apologize for. Three-inch groups at 25-yard from a bench is better than many pistols can do from a Ransom Rest at that distance.
And for the record, the Taurus was slightly more accurate than the Beretta during our brief comparison.
The Taurus PT-92 AF has demonstrated itself to be well-made, comfortable, accurate and reliable. With a street price of $450, it’s also a very good value. I’ve enjoyed testing it much more than I’ve enjoyed testing other pistols with much fancier pedigrees and much higher price tags.
It’s a solid gun, even though it can’t be all guns to all people. Some shooters will want a heavier-hitting caliber than the 9×19, and to them I’d suggest the .40 caliber PT-100. Other shooters won’t have a need for any pistol of this size, and others simply won’t have big enough hands to shoot it comfortably.
There’s one area where this gun needs improvement: the magazines. Factory magazines should hold the number of rounds they say they’ll hold, and their followers should positively engage the slide lock when they run empty.
My earlier Taurus test of the .45 ACP 24/7 G2 introduced me to a promising new handgun with great handling but spotty reliability, and I confess that I came to this test with a bias: I really wanted the PT-92 AF to be good.
SPECIFICATIONS: Taurus PT-92 AF
Type: Short-recoil locked-breech semi-automatic pistol
Caliber: 9×19mm (also available in .40 S&W as the PT-100)
Action: Hammer-fired DA/SA with manual safety/de-cocker
Barrel Length: 5″
Magazine Capacity: 17+1 with factory magazines
Sights: 3-dot configuration with integral front and dovetail rear
Weight: 34 oz. empty.
Street Price: about $450
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Accuracy * * * *
Three-inch groups at 25 yards are definitely better than average, and better than most of us can shoot offhand anyway.
Styling * * * *
The elegant and iconic looks of the Model 92F/M9 are even better with a frame-mounted safety.
Ergonomics * * * (carry) * * * * * (shooting)
Too zaftig for CCW, but its comfortable controls, excellent trigger and minimal recoil make it an absolute joy to shoot. Definitely try one out before purchasing, if you’ve got small hands.
Reliability * * * * 1/2
100% feeding, ejection and firing (with brass-cased ammo) through more than 450 rounds fired. It doesn’t like steel-cased ammo, but we don’t care. Deduct half a star for the failure to slide-lock.
Overall * * * *
A damned fine pistol and a great value. After comparing and shooting the Taurus and Beretta side-by-side, I would choose the Taurus first.