August 12, 2022
Taurus developed its first revolver in the 1940s, so it has been in the game for a long, long time. And while the company’s reputation for building reliable guns hasn’t always been stellar in the past, its recent products have proven to be solid handguns you can count on. We’ve been using Taurus semiautos and wheelguns on our “Handguns & Defensive Weapons” TV show for several seasons and have had zero problems with any of them, and I’ve had the same experience with Taurus guns I’ve reviewed for this magazine.
So it’s fitting that the firm has decided now is the time to take a step forward, as evidenced by the announcement of the new Executive Grade 856. The guns are made in Brazil, and they’re built in a separate area where they receive extra attention by workers who specialize in just this gun. These are bench-built guns. They’re constructed of standard parts, but each product specialist has a checklist the gun’s function must meet. If it doesn’t, the parts are hand-fitted until the gun works as it’s supposed to.
Actually, the story of the Executive Grade program—and it is a program, of which the 856 is a first step—is the story of Taurus itself and what the company sees as its path forward. “It’s really about bringing up quality control, examining manufacturing techniques, and the way to learn that is from gunsmiths on the bench,” Taurus marketing director Cody Osborne said. “The Executive Grade program gives us a playground, a chance to be more reactionary and more agile to be able to come up with new products in response to market changes.”
The Executive Grade guns are being built in Brazil because production at Taurus’ Bainbridge, Georgia, facility is still in its early stages, Osborne said. The Executive Grades are shipped from Brazil to Georgia, and workers here in the U.S. install the grips and do a final quality-control check. “It gives us a chance to get hands-on with these guns,” he said. The 856 traces its lineage to the Model 85 introduced in 1997. That gun was a five-shot snubnose revolver; the “6” in the 856—a model introduced in 2018—reflects an increase in firepower to six rounds.
The Executive Grade 856 joins a stable of exposed-hammer and concealed-hammer 856 revolvers in two- and three-inch barrel lengths. The Executive Grade 856 is a concealed-hammer model, and it sports the three-inch barrel found in the 856 Defenders. The Executive Grade model features a hand-polished satin finish. On my sample it was very well done, with nary a flaw anywhere. On the right side of the frame, you’ll quickly spot the laser-engraved Executive Grade seal: “Executive Grade” atop “Taurus” and surrounding the Taurus bull logo. The gun is stamped “Taurus Int’l Mfg Bainbridge GA” between trigger and cylinder, and the gun’s origin is reflected on the left-side engraving “Taurus Armas Made in Brazil” below the cylinder release.
The three-inch barrel has a full underlug with a slight contour, which looks good and provides weight out front as well as easy holstering. The front sight is a pinned-in black ramped style, and the rear is a gutter machined into the topstrap. The stainless steel cylinder features chamfered charge holes, a special Executive Grade treatment. Chamfers make loading cartridges fast and easy. The cylinder release is nicely sculpted, with checkering on the rear dished-out section for non-slip operation.
Timing on this sample was very good, with only the faintest drag marks showing after about 100 rounds through the gun. Cylinder end shake was 0.005 inch, which is certainly acceptable. The satin-finish stainless steel frame is handsomely complemented with checkered walnut grips from Altamont. I’m a fan of Altamont grips, and this set is really attractive. The checkering is nicely done, and the brass escutcheons look good against the grain of the walnut and the blued grip screw. Two pins in the grip halves, as well as one in the frame, keep them secure. There’s a bevel at the top of the grips—which serves as good thumb rest for improved control while looking sporty—and the seam between the stock halves is nearly invisible, even on the square butt. This is the only 856 with a square butt; the rest are round.
Last but definitely not least, the Executive Grade 856 gets a hand-tuned trigger. Since it’s a concealed-hammer gun, the revolver is a double-action-only, so a good trigger is crucial to shooting the gun well. And no doubt about it, while the Executive Grade is a good-looking handgun, it’s no safe queen. It’s designed to be used. The trigger system employs a coil mainspring, and pull weight on this sample averaged 11 pounds, two ounces. While it’s not competition light, in my opinion that’s a good double-action pull weight. What’s more, there’s almost no stacking; the pull is smooth throughout. Thanks to that, I got good accuracy from the bench, as you can see in the accompanying table, and in practical shooting drills.
I own a Ruger GP100 with a three-inch full-underlug barrel and previously spent a good deal of time with a different three-inch Taurus. The more I shoot them, the more I like revolvers with this type of barrel. And apparently I’m not the only one. Taurus has had huge success with three-inch barrels in both the 856 lineup and that of the .357 Magnum-chambered 605. As Osborne noted, the three-inch barrel length is just different enough from what other makers typically offer to represent a good niche. And the revolver consultants Taurus brought in for the Executive Grade 856 project agreed this was the way to go.
It’s a barrel length still in the sweet spot for carry, but it makes a huge difference in shooting compared to a two-inch snubbie. The three-inchers are just so much more controllable, at least to me, while not being too big to lug around. Like other 856 revolvers, the Executive Grade is designed to handle +P loads, although in this case the only +P I had to try was was Black Hills’ 100-grain HoneyBadger. With such a light bullet it doesn’t generate a lot of recoil, and the Remington Performance Wheelgunner is a light-recoiling target round.
So, I can’t report on the shootability of the 856 with stout loads. But what I can tell you is that the revolver was a real sweetheart with the two standard-type loads I had. You can really pound out the rounds and do it accurately—again, thanks in part to the tuned trigger. This 856 weighs 25 ounces, and its weight out front helps tame muzzle rise. The gun is really well balanced, and even though the sights are minimal, they’re easy to track through recoil and get back on target.
The Executive Grade 856 comes in a Pelican Vault case with a custom-cut foam liner. The Vault is a polyethylene case with two ABS push-button latches. TSA-approved, the case also has twin padlock holes, and these incorporate metal liners for long-lasting security. The hinge pins are stainless steel, and the Vault is O-ring sealed to keep out moisture. A purge vent allows air to circulate—important in a watertight case, especially when flying, which causes atmospheric pressure changes—but keeps dust and water out. If you’re keeping score, Pelican sells this case for $50.
As I mentioned, the story of the Executive Grade is really the story of Taurus and how it plans to move into the future. Osborne said the company hears a lot from firearms trainers and has learned from them that a lot of new folks are getting into shooting with Taurus guns. The goal is to have something for everyone—from dependable plain Jane entry-level firearms to products like the Executive Grade, guns with more flair and extras like the Pelican case. As Osborne said, quality doesn’t cost extra. Taurus wants to be the brand where you can buy a solid, reliable handgun that “you don’t have to spend three months’ pay on,” he said.
That’s evident in this new Executive Grade 856, which retails for less than $700. For what amounts to Taurus dipping its toe into the custom-shop business, that represents a good value. Many production-grade guns cost more than the Executive Grade does, and if you compare custom shop-level guns…well, Taurus is far and away the most economical option in the case of the 856. As for the future of the Executive Grade program, Osborne said they’ll see how it goes. He said the goal for the 856 version is to build 20 per day—a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the thousands of guns that roll off the Taurus production lines every day. While he said they’re not quite up to that level yet, the entire production year of the 856 version is already sold out.
As the company and its employees learn more about quality control from the Executive Grade program, it may one day branch off from offering tuned-up standard models like this revolver to one-off Executive Grade guns in special calibers or configurations. Regardless of what path the program takes, I think Taurus is definitely off to a good start. The Executive Grade 856 is a handsome, well-built revolver and a decided step up from its production-grade guns. It’s a revolver you’d be proud to show off to shooting pals and a firearm I wouldn’t hesitate to carry or use as a home-defense gun.
Taurus 856 Executive Grade Specs
- Type: Double-action-only centerfire revilver
- Caliber: .38 Special +P
- Barrel: 3 in. full underlug
- OAL/Height/Width: 7.5/4.8/1.4 in.
- Weight: 25 oz.
- Construction: Stainless steel barrel, frame, cylinder
- Finish: Hand-polished satin
- Grips: Altamont checkered walnut
- Sights: Gutter rear, serrated blade front
- MSRP: $689
- Manufacturer: Taurus