Though not a familiar name on this side of the globe, Sarsilmaz has been manufacturing guns since 1880, when it opened as a small producer of shotguns. Today, in its fifth generation of family ownership, the factory has massive CNC machining capabilities and other modern equipment. It is also the only privately-owned gun factory in the country, as well as the only company supplying pistols for Turkish law enforcement and military use.
I was fortunate to get my hands on one of the first 50 SAR 9 pistols imported from Turkey by SAR USA—the American division of Turkish gun and aerospace manufacturer Sarsilmaz. The Turks know a thing or two about making firearms—especially ones that are dependable and affordable. In my opinion, what Turkish producers do best is replicate the most useful features of existing models; most often cranking out products that mix traits of familiar American or western European brands to create a unique firearm that costs a bit less than their predecessors. The SAR 9 is an example of this approach to gun design.
This duty-size pistol is chambered in 9mm Luger. The sample in this test has two 15-round magazines; SAR USA lists 10- and 17-round mags as options. Mags have a generous floorplate that would’ve facilitated double-feed clearances had any occurred. They drop free from the well without help whether loaded or not—a trait that’s on my list of “musts” for a defensive pistol.
It has a 4.4-inch barrel, and a recoil sprint with captive guide rod. As expected with a modern polymer-lower handgun, there’s an accessory rail and textured grip. The trigger has a Glock-like safety lever, and drop-safe construction is included inside. On both sides of the slide, there is a thumb-operated safety. Overall, the SAR 9 is 7.5 inches long, 5.5 inches tall, and 1.4 inches wide. It weighs 26.4 ounces unloaded.
Atop the rail is a pinned front/dovetail rear, three-dot sight setup. According to a SAR USA representative, the sights aren’t interchangeable with any other major brand, putting the SAR 9 behind the curve in comparison to some of its Turkish brethren, such as the Canik, which finally adopted interchangeable sights, albeit different brands front and back. Nevertheless, the steel sights are well made, highly visible, and the rear one is windage-adjustable.
As a great candidate for home defense, it would be nice to have to option to upgrade sights on the SAR 9. Its owner’s manual, currently in draft form, indicates tritium and holographic sights may also become available. The absence of any mention of milled slide options casts doubt on whether the latter will be a reality in the foreseeable future.
Operating the SAR 9 is mostly a pleasure. It has a ready striker indicator on the rear, reminiscent of the Springfield XD or Canik TP9 series. The grip comes with three sizes of backstrap and side inserts, making the grip fully customizable, a la HK’s VP models. The front of the trigger guard is textured, and there are cocking serrations on both the rear and front of the slide.
The ergonomics continue with a deep thumb groove, allowing for the firmest of grips for nearly all hands. Sarsilmaz got radical with the sculpting on the trigger guard too; it’s perfectly thinned and upswept right at the base, allowing the strong middle finger to be that much closer to the bore. The effect is better recoil management.
Some designer at Sarsilmaz must read lots of gun reviews, because they solved one of the most frequent complaints—a mag release that’s hard to reach. This one protrudes well, has a surface that provides plenty of traction, and is big enough to not cause pain or imprinting on the thumb. Other pistol makers should take note of the way this design resolves a common frustration.
Not being a fan of thumb-operated safety levers—especially ambi ones that can potentially be moved unintentionally from the outward-facing side of the holster—I really wish this were an option rather than standard. I respect that some folks derive substantial peace of mind from having a mechanical safety. I view it, and have experienced it, as an annoying detail that’s easy to forget in a high-stress moment. The lever is textured and easy to operate, however.
The trigger, along with fabulous ergonomics, makes the SAR 9 a great first handgun. There is slightly longer travel than in a Glock or Springfield XD series. The trip is a bit grainy, and the wall is found with a consistent and solid feel. The break, at about five pounds, has a slight rolling effect, approximately 1/16 of an inch. Reset is clear, palpable, and again, the feel from shot to reset is grainy. Of the semiautos I’ve handled, the SAR 9 trigger is closest to that of the Smith & Wesson SD VE series.
These comments on trigger operation aren’t criticism. The point, it’s a trigger system that’s ideal for learning proper technique on a modern semi-auto. The grainy feel can help a new shooter be conscious of how far, and at what pace, the trigger is being pressed. The reset is far enough forward to develop a great feel with less risk of an unintended follow-up shot—something I see most often in new shooters trying to learn reset with a match-grade trigger.
2017 will see the importation of more than the current crop of 50 SAR 9s on U.S. soil as of this writing. SAR USA has speculated other color schemes are forthcoming too, but no promises are made about that timetable. With an MSRP of $495, look for real prices to hit at a very affordable point for this quality, enjoyable pistol. Here’s hoping Sarsilmaz will step up like some other companies have and produce a custom Kydex holster for this gun. Access to safe and fitted holsters should make the SAR 9 soar in popularity. It deserves to.