November 20, 2023
When the U.S. military dumped the 1911 in favor of Beretta’s M9, there were plenty of people who weren’t impressed. It wasn’t the M9’s fault per se, but replacing the 1911 is like pinch-hitting for Mickey Mantle. The M9 was made in Italy, it was a 9mm and it didn’t borrow much of anything terms of looks, operation or ergonomics from John Moses Browning’s flagship gun. The transition was driven in part by practicality—NATO countries used the 9mm—but there were those who viewed the M9 as an interloper treading on sacred 1911 ground.
The M9 eventually won the favor of many who carried it, though, and it proved to be a workhorse until it too was retired in favor of the SIG M17/M18 several years ago. But that doesn’t mean Beretta has put its pistol out to pasture. On the contrary, the company not so long ago released the M9A4 Centurion. It’s well-appointed and stands up well to the latest pistol designs.
The M9A4 Centurion is a souped-up version of the M9 that uses Beretta’s open-top slide design, which traces its lineage back to the Beretta M1951. And while it has an Italian heritage, it’s made right here in the U.S.
Like other M9s, the Centurion is a double-action/single-action semiauto with a decocker lever on current models and a short-recoil operating system with a hinged locking block on the underside of the barrel. It also features a small, rectangular lock that is positioned in front of the rear sight that prevents the gun from firing unless the trigger is pulled rearward, a good safety feature on a combat gun.
The open-top steel slide features thin front and rear slide serrations and the same three-slot accessory rail that first appeared on the M9A3, and the Centurion is equipped with tritium night sights. The metal rear sight, which is dovetailed into the slide and drift-adjustable, has a tactical ledge for one-handed cycling and a glare-reducing textured sighting surface.
Perhaps the most substantial upgrade—at least to many modern shooters—is the addition of slide cuts that allow the owner to mount a reflex sight on the pistol.
Because of the M9’s slide configuration, the Beretta has a slightly different slide cut than other 9mm semiautos. Instead of the traditional one-piece slide cut, there are two separate cuts: a wider one in the front and a slightly narrower one at the rear, both of which come with inserts should you elect to run your Centurion pistol sans optic.
Removing the inserts allows you to attach one of the five available Beretta optics plates. Simply choose the appropriate plate to fit your red dot sight, and Beretta ships it to your door. The plates allow buyers to use most red dots on the market.
The frame comes with checkering on the front- and backstraps and thin 92X textured grip panels. If you aren’t a fan of the 92X panels, Beretta has also included a one-piece wraparound grip and the necessary hardware to swap out the grips in a matter of minutes.
A beveled magazine well pairs with anti-friction-coated magazines for precise mag changes, and three magazines are included inside the lockable hard plastic case the gun ships in. Magazine capacity is 18 rounds, but these guns are also available with 10- and 15-round mags if you live in a restricted state.
Classic M9 features like the slide cuts and flat-front trigger guard remain on this Centurion. The controls will be familiar to anyone who has experience with M9 pistols, and include the ambidextrous decocker and a reversible magazine release button. Takedown is simple, thanks to the rotating takedown lever located on the left side of the pistol.
A short beavertail at the rear of the frame is sufficient to prevent hammer and slide bite. Double-action trigger pull is relatively heavy, as you’d expect. It was about 9.5 pounds on my Wheeler trigger scale. The single-action pull broke at 4.4 pounds.
Compared to the sea of microcompact 9mm pistols that have flooded the handgun market lately, the M9A4 Centurion looks gargantuan, but it’s not that much larger or heavier than comparable full-size pistols. Unloaded weight is just 32 ounces, which is two ounces lighter than the Beretta’s perpetual DA/SA competitor, the SIG P226. The pistol is also about six ounces heavier than most full-size, steel-frame 1911 pistols.
Overall width is 1.5 inches, same as the SIG, and overall length of the Centurion with its 4.8-inch threaded barrel is 8.3 inches.
Volumes have been written about the M9’s reliability, and while the 300 or so rounds I put through the gun don’t constitute a torture test, the Beretta made it through evaluations without a single hitch.
I played something of a dirty trick on the Beretta during the course of testing to see just how effectively it could perform, too. In my office there’s a box of leftover loose ammunition consisting of assorted brands and loads. Following formal accuracy testing, I fed this mixed bag of cartridges through the Beretta. The Centurion shrugged it off, as if to say, “Is that all you got?”
The beefy externally mounted extractor certainly plays a role in the Beretta’s seemingly indifferent attitude toward a mixed diet of ammo. The open slide design offers plenty of space for whirling empty cases to clear the gun. During cycling I also noted the effort required to operate the Beretta’s slide is substantially less than some other full-size pistols.
With a Leupold DeltaPoint Pro mounted on the corresponding optic plate, the Beretta managed a few five-shot groups under two inches at 25 yards when fired from a Caldwell Pistolero rest. The norm was around 2.5 inches. The double-action trigger pull is smooth and manageable, and it’s far better than some other DA semiautos I’ve tested. When firing single-action the trigger has a light take-up and a smooth break.
Off the bench the Beretta is a manageable pistol to shoot, and accuracy for slow-fire drills from 10 yards on an IPSC-style target was excellent.
I’ve voiced my disdain for miniaturized pistol controls before, but that’s not an issue with the M9A4 Centurion. On the contrary, the control design and layout make clear that this gun was designed for combat. The decocker is easy to access and control regardless of whether you’re a lefty or a righty. The oversize magazine release button is much easier to find consistently for reloads than the smaller releases on other pistols.
I swapped out the standard issue panels for the one-piece wraparound grip and found that I liked the latter more. But even if you’re fickle about which grip you like best, it’s not a chore to change them out so long as you have a 2mm hex wrench close by. It’s worth noting that when swapping to the one-piece grip you’ll need to pay attention so the grip does not slide over the mag release button, which it tends to do if you slide the grip into position hastily.
But the grip fit is excellent, and while you’re swapping them out you’ll have a chance to closely inspect the inner components of the gun. Fit and finish, even on the inside of the pistol, are excellent, as you might expect from a pistol with a $1,200 price tag. While it’s certainly spendy and out of the price range of some shooters, the Centurion is a masterful take on a classic pistol.
It’s rare these days to see companies invest in new models of DA/SA semiautos, especially since striker-fired, polymer-frame guns have come to dominate sales. But there are still plenty of Beretta fans, and the Centurion does offer some advantages over its myriad polymer-frame counterparts.
For starters, the Beretta provides a measure of added safety with the DA/SA design, decocker and passive safeties. For those with large hands who lament the trend toward smaller, thinner grips, the Beretta will be a welcome departure. There’s plenty of real estate even for those with extra-large mitts.
The M9/Model 92 is a polarizing gun. Many people—especially those who carried it while deployed or on duty—love it, but there are shooters who do not. For some, the Beretta signifies the missing link between the 1911 and today’s striker-fired pistols.
Yes, it feels like a gun from a different era, but it works. It’s a gun that is mechanically sound, and I like the easy-to-operate controls. It’s a broad-shouldered pistol that may feel wide to some shooters, but that’s a matter of taste.
My only real complaint is not with the gun but with the water-resistant case in which it comes. It’s designed like an ammo can, and there’s room in there for the pistol—but not room enough to close the lid with the optic in place. I did swap to the one-piece grip and could then slide the red dot sight into the cutout designed for the extra grips, but who wants to uninstall/reinstall optics? Sure, it’s better than the cardboard boxes most guns come with, but a slightly larger polymer box would be better.
Is the M9A4 a concealed carry pistol? I know two retired police officers who carry full-size M9s concealed every day—the reason being that both their departments issued these guns, and they are familiar with and trust them. While the 92X grips are thin, and this does make the Centurion more concealable, I don’t believe that most people who purchase this gun will choose it as a carry pistol.
However, as a home-defense 9mm it’s a solid option. A light mounts securely, and with the addition of a red dot and the night sights it’s well-suited for home defense. And, of course, there’s the M9’s stellar reputation for reliability. It’s a service pistol that performs well in a broad range of temperatures and when exposed to dust and dirt, and there are accounts of M9 pistols with lifespans exceeding 30,000 rounds.
And since reliability should be a major concern to anyone who owns a pistol for personal defense, that makes the M9A4 even more attractive. Speaking of attractive, it’s fair to say that this is the best-looking M9 ever to bear the Beretta name, and it’s well-appointed with features serious shooters want.
Those who carried it as members of the military or law enforcement community will no doubt have a special attraction to this gun, and it’s a fitting tribute to all the M9 pistols past. Even those who never carried this gun as part of the job can appreciate the rugged design and stylish good looks of this warhorse.
BERETTA M9A4 CENTURION SPECIFICATIONS
- TYPE: DA/SA semiauto
- CALIBER: 9mm Luger
- CAPACITY: 18+1 (as tested)
- BARREL: 4.8 in.
- OAL/HEIGHT/WIDTH: 8.3/5.6/1.5 in.
- WEIGHT: 32 oz.
- CONSTRUCTION: Flat dark earth Cerakote-finished steel slide and frame; 92X grip panels; extra one-piece grip included
- TRIGGER: DA pull, 9.5 lb.; SA pull 4.4 lb. (measured)
- SIGHTS: Tritium 3-dot; drift-adjustable ledge rear; optics-ready slide
- SAFETIES: Decocker, passive
- PRICE: $1,199
- MANUFACTURER: Beretta USA, beretta.com