Sarsilmaz is not a word that rolls smoothly off the tongue for a native English speaker. For that reason, when the Turkish arms manufacturer tried to make a big splash in the U.S. market about five years ago, it went with the name SAR Arms. The company did not have the success it would have liked, but now it's back with a new English-friendly brand name- SAR USA- and a brand-new product: the SAR 9 pistol.
If you don't have any experience with firearms made in Turkey, you might wonder if they're cheap junk. While I've seen a few shotguns coming from there that were a bit sketchy, every Turkish-made pistol I've tested in the last five years has been as well-made and reliable as most American-made pistols I've tested.
Still have doubts? SAR USA's director of marketing Ted Hatfield said the new SAR 9 was adopted by the Turkish military after a 90,000-round comparison test against guns from makers like Glock, SIG Sauer, FN, Walther and Smith & Wesson.
While many Turkish handgun manufacturers focus on making CZ 75 copies, the SAR 9 is a polymer-frame, striker-fired pistol. It is a full-size "duty" handgun with a 4.4-inch barrel, and it weighs 24.8 ounces unloaded, according to my scale. Sarsilmaz lists the weight of the pistol at 27.1 ounces, but that includes an unloaded magazine. It is 7.5 inches long and 5.5 inches tall with a magazine in place.
Officially, this is a 15-shot 9mm, and the numbered index holes on the back of each of the two magazines provided with the pistol go up only to 15. However, I was able to load 17 rounds into both magazines and seat them in the pistol, and that was before the magazine springs had even been broken in. The magazine bodies are steel, with black polymer followers and base pads.
There are only so many ways to design a handgun, and often these days I find myself saying new gun "X" looks a lot like existing gun "Y." Externally, the SAR 9 doesn't seem to be a carbon copy of anything. Its resemblance to other designs is slim. The replaceable backstraps and grip panels in the frame are very HK-like, and in silhouette it vaguely imitates the Beretta APX, but that's about it.
The slide features sharp-edged, flat-bottomed angled serrations front and back, which I really like. The businesslike black oxide finish on the slide is a bit rough, too, and when combined with the aggressive serrations, the slide is easy to rack.
The sights are steel and have a traditional three-dot configuration. The dots are white and big. The rear sight is of the angled, no-snag type, and the pistol points naturally. The top of the slide is flat and helps pointability.
Sarsilmaz lists a barrel life of 50,000 rounds, so it's not like I'm going to wear it out in normal testing- or even in abnormal testing. The barrel uses traditional lands-and-grooves rifling, which means you can safely fire lead bullets through it. The barrels are formed and rifled by a rotary hammer, which is a bit unusual. Most other manufacturers form pistol rifling by broaching a blank tube.
The SAR 9 bore/slide sits a bit higher off the hand in back than some pistols, but it's lower in the front because the trigger guard is seriously undercut. This is important. A low bore height is one of if not the most important factor in reducing muzzle rise in a handgun. This is just simple lever/fulcrum physics. All other things being equal, less muzzle rise means quicker sight acquisition for follow-up shots. The pistol uses a double recoil spring system to help soak up recoil.
Apparently, someone at SAR USA or Sarsilmaz at some point early in its existence put out a press release saying the SAR 9 has a "double action style" trigger pull. It doesn't. It has a quintessential striker-fired trigger pull, which means after a bit of take-up the trigger breaks- at 5.25-pounds on my sample, which is slightly better than your average striker gun- with a plasticky "sproink."
One look inside the pistol, both frame and slide, shows it's a simple design. Simple doesn't just mean fewer parts to break; it means a lighter gun. That's why I made the point that the published weight of the gun includes an empty magazine but that the true empty weight is less than 25 ounces. Lighter guns are more comfortable to carry, and yet because of the low bore on this pistol, it is enjoyable to shoot.
All the parts in the SAR 9's frame are set inside a stainless steel chassis, which also forms the four rail tabs on which the slide rides. The chassis can be removed from the frame if you pop out enough pins, but the manufacturer does not recommend it, and it is not part of normal cleaning. The serial number is in a steel piece bonded to the polymer frame inside the tactical rail.
If my sample came with an owner's manual I managed to lose it on my first trip to the range, but I figured out the takedown procedure on the first try as it is identical to most of the other polymer-framed guns on the market. Remove the magazine, make sure the gun is unloaded, pull the trigger, pull the slide back slightly, and pull down on the polymer takedown tabs on both sides of the frame just forward of the trigger. Keep holding them down and the slide will come right off.
I've tested other pistols with cocked-striker indicators, but the one in the SAR 9 is unique and stupidly simple. Check out the red triangle on either side of the trigger. If you can see the red triangle, the striker is cocked. If you can't, it isn't. There is also a loaded-chamber indicator in the form of a bump on the extractor.
In addition to the safety lever in the middle of the trigger and the striker safety inside the slide, the SAR 9 features an ambidextrous manual safety. It can't be engaged if the striker isn't cocked, and it blocks movement of the trigger.
The safety levers are steel and in a familiar position to anyone who has ever handled a 1911, and in shape and movement it operates the same as a thumb safety on a 1911. I shoot everything with a thumb-high hold, so I like the safety because it gives my thumb a place to ride. I don't know if I would carry this pistol with the safety engaged because the lever isn't quite as wide as I would like.
The frame of the SAR 9 is reminiscent of an HK pistol. It features both replaceable backstraps and grip inserts on the sides. It came with a total of three backstraps (small, medium and large) and three pairs of grip panel inserts. All of them were marked for size, and the grip panels were marked right or left.
The texturing on the grip isn't as aggressive as some pistols I've tested lately, but between the gentle finger swells on the front of the frame and the texturing, the grip didn't move in my hand. Actually, the grip of the SAR 9 fits my medium-size hand like it was made for it, but if you have big hands or thick fingers, you may find the bump at the front of the frame at the bottom is in the wrong spot.
The single-side slide release is steel and serrated on the top, and it's big enough that you can drop the slide on an empty magazine with ease using normal thumb pressure. The reversible magazine release is steel and rectangular, with raised squares for texture. You can also find those squares on the manual safety.
There are cutouts on either side of the frame to strip out stuck magazines. Between the slight bevel on the mag well and the geometry of the magazine, I found this pistol quicker to reload than most of the other competing designs on the market.
When I first took the SAR 9 to the range, I shot it along with five other 9mm pistols. Apart from the compensated Open class race gun, the SAR 9 was the softest-shooting pistol there and was pleasant even with +P ammo- despite it being the lightest gun I had with me that day. I ascribe this to the low bore and nicely shaped grip.
While SAR USA is not an established name, Sarsilmaz has been making guns since Rutherford B. Hayes was president of all 38 United States, when we were still fighting both American Indians and Mexico for territory. The SAR 9 is a reliable, nicely accurate fully modern design made using the latest technology and materials, all for a price less than you might expect.
Suggested retail is $449, which means you're going to see it on the street for under $400. I think it's a heck of a deal, but you may need to be patient. Hatfield indicated that, due to the Turkish military contract for this pistol, supplies could be limited in the United States this year.