Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - Dennis Adler

courtesy of Pocket Pistols 2011 Magazine


Ergonomics is most often associated with describing automobile interiors, but in the case of Steyr’s revised M-A1 and S-A1 pistols, it’s a good word to use because it applies to the way this gun fits the hand. At first sight the S40-A1 (compact .40 S&W model) looks ungainly, increasing in proportions from the breech to the muzzle—in other words wider at the front than the back. This is partially an optical illusion because of the trigger guard’s deep contour and a tapered frame that is slanting upward toward the grips. The backstrap is also deeply contoured to place the back of the frame higher over the hand, thereby creating a low barrel axis to help reduce muzzle flip. Once you pick this gun up, wrap your hand around it and take aim down the trapezoidal sights, ergonomic seems to be an appropriate word.

Gone and Back Again

The advanced Steyr Model S auto pistols, chambered in 9x19 and .40 S&W were first introduced in 2000 as a compact variant of the M-A1 series. Both were evolved from the original M series introduced in 1999 and produced through 2002. The M series was Steyr’s first synthetic (polymer) frame semiauto and the first model to use a Glock-type safety system which Steyr calls a “Reset Action Trigger.” In addition to the gun’s unusual shape, the M Series introduced Steyr’s patented triangular trapezoidal sighting system, something that takes a little getting used to. It was an unconventional looking gun, but every feature proved to be exceptional, even the trapezoidal sights. The original M models were updated in 2002 and 2004 (compact S-A1 9x19 or .40 S&W, and M-A1 .357 SIG, 9x19, or .40 S&W), with the addition of a Picatinny rail on the lower frame, a redesigned magazine well, and a more rakish grip angle of 111 degrees. Seeming to fly in the face of market trends, the compact SA-1, with a shorter grip and 3.6 inch barrel (vs. a 4-inch barrel on the M-A1), was withdrawn from the U.S. in 2002 after very limited importation. The absence of the SA-1 and then MA-1, also discontinued in the U.S. market, did not go unnoticed, and calls began coming in asking when Steyr would begin importing them again. The better part of a decade passed before calls to the company’s North American division convinced Steyr management in Austria that there was solid demand for the M-A1 and S-A1 in the U.S. “Almost every day for nearly two years, we received calls and e-mails from customers asking when we were going to bring back the Steyr M- and S-Series pistols,” said Steyr Arms CEO Scott O’Brian. The time is now.

Gun Details

While “compact” isn’t exactly the right word to define the S-A1, it is smaller than the M-A1in grip and barrel length. It is still a fairly large gun, just a bit smaller than a Glock 23, which is also regarded as a compact semi-auto. Ah but the Steyr feels smaller in your hand, maybe not so much in the holster, but a 10-round .40 S&W can only be so compact. Where theSteyr shines (which is hard with a black matte finish) is in how it handles. Unless you have very large hands, the grip angle and high rise frame allow plenty of room to account for all three fingers around the grips; there is also a perfectly contoured thumb rest (ambidextrous), and a very smooth, curved approach angle to the trigger. The one small issue is the magazine release, for right-handers only, and pretty hard to reach to drop an empty magazine without using the off hand thumb, or turning the gun sideways to hit the release with the trigger hand thumb. A slightly larger, angled ambidextrous release would be about the only thing this guns needs.

The Steyr has one additional feature that ranks as unique, an integrated limited access lock that completely disables the firing mechanism and prevents disassembly of the gun. The locking mechanism is located directly behind the large takedown lever on the right side of the frame. The civilian version uses a two prong key (law enforcement models use a handcuff key) inserted into the lock, which is then depressed and rotated 90 degrees to the left. Once the key is removed the gun is in Safe Condition 3. It takes about two seconds to reverse the process with the key and put the gun back into Safety Condition 1, because the action must be cycled in order to lock the gun. The same lock, minus the key, is also depressed to lower the takedown lever and field strip the gun for cleaning. In terms of balance, the S40-A1 is nose heavy and that is a good thing as it contributes to the .40 S&W’s slightly more manageable recoil. Trigger pull on the test gun averaged 5 lbs. 4 oz., with 1/2 inch of take up, including the safety toggle. Weighing 1.5 lbs. empty, 2 lbs. 1 oz. with a full 10-round magazine, the Steyr is not much of a burden to carry concealed. I used a Galco CM610 Combat Master Belt Holster made for the Steyr M9 that works perfectly with the S40-A1. The high rise of the holster keeps the gun close to the side with a slight butt forward cant that places the web of your hand right over the grip frame contour. The gun clears leathersmoothly for a swift draw and presentation. The Galco rig also fits the 4-inch barrel M-A1. Test ammo was Federal 155-gr. JHP, which cleared our ProChrono traps at 1,177 fps. Rapid fire from 15 yards placed 10 rounds in the center body mass of a B-27 silhouette at 4.25 inches; all within the 9, 10 and X. The best 5-round group measured 3.25 inches. Timed fire from 15 yards placed 10 rounds within 3.25 inches, and best 5 at 1.25 inches all within the 10 and X. The Steyr’s triangular trapezoidal sightingsystem is a marvel in bright light and even with the heavy-hitting Federal .40 S&W rounds, which produced more muzzle flip than was anticipated, getting back on target was easy.

Final Thoughts

Considering the 3.6-inch barrel length and weight of the gun, the Steyr S40-A1 packing 10+1 rounds of .40 S&W acquitted itself quite well. Fired off-hand at a distance of 15 yards (45 ft.) and combined with a good belt holster, like the Galco Combat Master, the Steyr would make a first-rate concealed carry sidearm.