Cheaper Than Dirt! at the Range: Tristar Arms S-120 9mm

In this economy, shooters are looking for a reliable, affordable pistol. One such pistol might be the $439 Canik 55 S-120—a full-size 9mm CZ-75 clone with a 4.7-inch barrel, a 17-round capacity, and a dry weight of 2.26 pounds. Long recognized for its quality shotguns at value prices, TriStar Sporting Arms, imports the Turkish-made S-120 line.

Cheaper Than Dirt! recently had a chance to shoot a loaner S-120 TriStar provided on a test-and-evaluation basis. Cheaper Than Dirt! currently does not carry this model, though we do list another Canik model imported by Century International Arms. For 2013, TriStar is importing several more Canik 9mm Luger and 40 S&W pistols for personal defense and target shooting. The Canik (widely pronounced cahn-EEK) pistols are available in blued, brushed chrome, or polymer finishes and come in a variety of series based on frame, length, and weight variations. All are double/single action semi-autos with snag-free rear sights mounted in dovetails and blade front sights pinned into the slide. Like other pistols in the line, the $439 S-120 comes packaged with a black hard case, an extra magazine, a safety lock, and a cleaning kit. TriStar offers all pistols with a one-year warranty.

The maker, Canik 55, is a division of Samsun Yurt Savunma, one of Turkey’s biggest defense contractors. The company’s logo is a small dolphin symbol. However, none of our test pistol’s exterior or accouterments were branded with the dolphin logo. Cheaper Than Dirt! lists a TP-9 (imported by Century Arms) by the same maker that prominently displays the dolphin logo, though it’s currently out of stock.

According to Tristar, the S-120, a CZ-75 clone, is the heavier version of the L-120 9mm, which weighs in at 1.75 pounds, or about a half-pound lighter than the S-120. The L-120 gets its weight savings by employing a steel-alloy frame. Our test pistol’s frame is listed as steel as is the slide. A magnet did react to both parts of the gun.

Capacity is listed as 17 rounds, which when we counted, came out to be 16+1. The blued-steel Mec-Gar mags had plastic bumper pads to protect the bodies, which were staggered double-stack designs that narrowed to single-stack blue-plastic followers at the top. We found it difficult to fit more than 14 rounds into the magazine unless we used a plastic push-down loader to help. During our function, accuracy, and chronograph testing of about 300 rounds, we didn’t have any malfunctions or stoppages of any sort, due, we believe, to the well-made magazines feeding into a ramped, fully supported chamber.

In operation, the S-120 works like a traditional DA/SA pistol with an exposed hammer. When you load the pistol and release the slide forward, the trigger moves all the way forward, a span of about 2.25 inches from the deepest part of the backstrap to the middle of the trigger face. Some smaller-handed shooters may have trouble getting a positive pull on the trigger as a result.

A light pull on the trigger moves it about a half-inch, then stops. Further pressure moves the trigger to its break weight of 5.8 pounds. The final part of the trigger stroke was reasonably crisp and predictable, in our opinion. When decocked, the trigger stays at the forward most position. There, the shooter can press it for a long DA pull of about 11.6 pounds, according to a Lyman digital trigger-pull gauge.

We chronographically and accuracy-tested three brands of ammo in the Canik. All-in-all, we fired 200 rounds apiece of 9mm Winchester USA 115-Grain FMJ Q4172 (50-round box, CTD #2-WNQ4172BX), Federal American Eagle 147-Grain FMJ Flat Points AE9FP (50-round box, CTD #9-15402), and Hornady Steel Match 125-Grain HAP Bullet 90275 (50-round box, CTD #2-H90275).

In our test gun, these selections generated smaller velocities than the manufacturer-supplied readings. The Hornady 90274 was rated at 1110 fps at the muzzle, and over a PACT chronograph with infrared screens, we saw 1019 fps. In a 4-inch test barrel, the rated muzzle velocity for the American Eagles was 960 fps; we got 878 fps. And for the Winchester USA 115-Grain FMJs, the factory muzzle velocity was 1190 fps, and our reading was 1048 fps.

Accuracy and points of impact were substantially different at 15 yards. The Winchester 115-grain FMJs were by far the most accurate and regulated to the sights. Best choice: the Winchesters shot an average 2.25-inch group size at that distance, and perhaps more important, the point of impact (POI) in the center of the target corresponded to a 6 o’clock hold.

The Canik’s sights are black polymer, and we suppose the rear is drift-adjustable for windage in its dovetail, but we would be very careful pushing the plastic sight to avoid breaking it. The front sight is pinned, so replacement Meprolight front blades or sight sets, or other aftermarket blades could conceivably be inserted to change POI elevation for a favorite load. Three inserts on the sights are mildly and temporarily visible in low light as yellow-green dots.

In the hand, the CZ-75-inspired design is easy to understand and operate. The low-profile slide has a two-position thumb safety located on the left-hand side, with the Safe position being up, and covering a red dot on the slide. In this Safe position, the hammer is locked back as well as the action. With the safety lever down, the gun is set to Fire. We thought the lever operated smoothly and positively with an appropriate amount of thumb pressure up or down.

The lack of texture on the backstrap and the slick brushed-chrome finish allow the grip to move around if the shooter has wet or oily hands. The full-size, thick grip offers a suitable amount of purchase for a large hand, but shooters with smaller hands should hone in on how the grip feels and make sure they can reach the trigger at the double-action trigger position before buying.

The obvious appeal of Tristar Sporting Arms’ S-120 9mm is value. For around $439, the shooter can buy a new full-size pistol with a reasonable trigger, plenty of capacity, and in our limited tests, perfect reliability. It would be easy to spend twice as much for comparable performance.

Tristar Canik 55 S-120 Specifications
Overall Length 8.1 in.
Overall Height 5.5 in.
Barrel length 4.7 in.
Weight Loaded 43.6 oz.
Action SA/DA Semi-Auto
Slide & Frame Steel, Brushed Chrome Finish
Grips Textured Black Polymer
Sight Radius 6.0 in.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (10)

  1. Drats! Mine has the “dolphin” logo (no offense to dolphins I just don’t want one on my freaking gun anymore than I want flowers or the like).

    That said, I agree with the review that this is a perfectly acceptable (debatebly preferred) substitute for the legendary CZ 75.

    There are three foreign manufacturers of firearms (small-arms in general) of which quality/performance is ensured as I see it:

    1) Eastern Europe (specifically Serbia[Zastava] and Bulgaria)–AK’s from Russia of course before BHO nixed it
    2) Turkey as I have several not good but very-good-to-great Hatsan shotguns and SAR and or Canik pistols
    3) ChiCom before politics once again nixed it. Still can “legally” purcahse a few ChiCom super affordable/reliable/quality firearms such as their 870 Clone distributed via IAC still I believe


  2. I own two cz75b I sold them both was happy quality control witch Cz putting out there lot machine mark in slide barrel get scratched up some how when used them both. The finish on both Cz75b was very durable prone be scratched off compare some other handgun out there more durable finishes. I want get Tristar S-120 in chrome hear finish better than what Cz75B blue finish is that quality Tristar S-120 slightly better than Cz75B for price point. I hope find out soon when own one.

  3. For the person asking about tristar t -120 grips..i have a t-120 and bought a wrap around with finger grooves Hogue grip for a cz75 and it fit great. You will have to stretch it around to get the other side to ” snap in place” but it fits nice and tight and uses same holes and screws

  4. I have an L-120…replaced the grips with factory CZ rubber grip panels….had to enlarge the screw hole about .5mm towards the trigger…and it fit perfectly. I have also heard VZ grips fit with mods…

  5. hey guys & gals – I am thinking seriously about the T- 120 Tristar for Christmas but would like to put better / different grips on it nobody makes a Tristar T-120 grip other than the factory model OEM grips that come on the gun ! Hogue says that The Babay Desert Eagle grips will not Fit as the Screw holes are in the wrong spot ! The Full size CZ-75 Grips May work says Hogue but May need to be modified slightly maybe and that would void hoguess warranty ! Anyone Bought a T-120 and swapped out the grips ? what did you swap them out to and what did your new grips cost ? thanks y’all

  6. I actually own the T-120 which is identical to the other models but is has a tactical rail on it. I only paid $350 for mine at a gun show *yes it was brand new* Remarkable price for this handgun. Love the SA trigger, the DA is slightly heavy, but I’m sure it will brake in with time. Have only fired 50 rounds through it so fare, but did not experience one malfunction. Just to let you know if you have the slide back and load a loaded mag in, slide will close automatically without have to even touch the slide release. I don’t mind this since I’m left handed. This series guns also accept CZ-75 mags.

  7. I would very much love to have this apparent gem (always regretted not purchasing a CZ-75 but I have a few hi-cap 9mm’s and I could never really justify another). Because I have several Turkish made guns now including a Regent 1911, SAR K2 and Hatsan Escort shotgun, I have no doubt that the Canik 55 S-120 would likewise be a great hi-quality affordable firearm.

    1. Completely agree with the comment concerning the empirical high-quality (in particular for the price-points) of Turkish small-arms. I too have the Hatsan Escort, Regent, Canik S-120, SAR K2 etc.. Consequently, when I see the Turkish firearms priced to move I will consider them just as I wood a S&W, Ruger, Colt etc..

      And for now at least, Turkey is one of only a few countries in that Region that is “stable” relatively speaking (member of NATO as well) so I know it’s CNC factories are not being shelled or the like…Israel is another Country I would consider when I’ in the market (would love to find a nice Jericho pistol)…Look at the success of their Tavor developed in-house and ultimately replacing the longstanding AR’s/M-16 which for so long was the standard issued Rifle for the IDF…

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