STI Sentinel Premier 45 ACP
No pistol in current production has evolved into as many variations and price points as John Browning’s 1911. Gun Tests Magazine has looked at some entry-level models (July 2009) costing around $500. Then they looked at a 1911 that occupies the upper tier of the factory-gun category. It represents one of the top-end production models of the company, offering significant upgrades to a standard 1911, but is normally available as off-the-shelf stock. The test gun had a 5-inch barrel and featured niceties such as front- and back-strap checkering, adjustable sights, a stainless-steel match-grade barrel, front and rear slide serrations, skeletonized triggers, and hammers with cocking serrations.
The STI International ISPC- and USPCA-legal Sentinel Premier hard-chrome model came in at a wallet-draining $2413. Here's what they had to say:
STI International Sentinel Premier 45 ACP, $2243
Testing was conducted in two locations. Our first stop was the indoor range at Bass Pro Shops in Grapevine, Texas. There we conducted our team inspections of the gun and our accuracy testing. A second and third round of reliability shooting, along with our chronograph work, was performed at the Arlington Sportsman’s Club, www.ArlingtonSportsman.com, one of the largest member’s-only clubs in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
We started our evaluation at the time we opened the case, checking off what accessories were (or were not) included with our pistol. Next, we field-stripped the gun and lubed and prepped it for use, noting the ease or difficulty of this process. Once the gun was ready for use, we fired some initial rounds to get some break-in time for the weapon, and to get a feel for the gun. We used three types of ammunition for our testing: Winchester USA 230-grain FMJs, Monarch Brass Case 230-grain FMCs, and a Winchester USA Personal Protection 230-grain JHP load. Our choices were limited to what we could scrounge off the shelves after visiting a number of sporting-goods and gun stores in the area.
Also, we ran a few hundred rounds through the gun in an effort to get some sort of malfunction. The gun ran smoothly, exhibited good accuracy, with zero malfunctions.
The gun came from Georgetown, Texas-based STI International. STI has built quite a reputation in competitive shooting, and their pistols have become a frequent sight at events throughout the country. Their Sentinel Premier is the flagship model and carries both USPCA and ISPC certification.
Our test gun gun arrived in a smallish plastic case. We found it contained our pistol, some small wrenches, plastic bushings, and a bushing wrench. We also found a single, but very nice, stainless steel Wilson Combat Elite 8-round magazine, which had viewing slots on each side of it. We personally believe that any gun, particularly in this price range, should have at least two magazines. After a small amount of grumbling, we began the inspection of our gun.
The Sentinel Premier comes fully loaded with only a couple of options available. Our gun had one of them; hard-chrome plating which added $300 to its price tag. All of the metal components featured this finish, except for the sights. The sides of the slide were polished bright, with the frame a dull matte finish. Ambidextrous safety levers are also available for $45 as well, but much to our lefty tester’s dismay, our gun had only the single-lever version. The thumb lever was extended in length, and the edge had been smoothed to eliminate any sharp edge, with serrations on top to aid in its activation.
The STI has a ramped, fully supported barrel held in a place by a match-grade bushing. We noted that the muzzle of the Sentinel Premier was crowned to fit flush with the bushing, giving it a very clean appearance and also helping protect it from edge damage. The STI had both front and rear cocking grooves which were smartly formed, allowing the slide to be worked easily. The mag release button protruded far enough from the frame to be accessed freely, but not so much to be a magnet for accidental activation. The bottom of the grip frame had been ramped to act as a magazine guide to assist in reloading. There was 30-lpi checkering adorning both the front strap and mainspring housing, making for a very solid gripping area. The grip panels were checkered black G10 polymer and emblazoned with the STI logo, giving the gun a clean appearance, our testers said. The Premier Sentinel also had a high beavertail safety, and we noted that material under the trigger guard had been relieved to allow for a higher grip on the pistol.
The sight picture on the STI had received extra treatment as well. The top of the slide had been flattened and grooves had been cut lengthwise to reduce glare from the bright finish. A fully adjustable Dawson/STI rear sight was coupled with a ramped STI/Trijicon front. Both sights had Tritium inserts, making it suitable for low light conditions, and were mounted low to reduce the risk of snagging. This combination of features proved to be very effective, and our testers all agreed that the STI provided the best overall sight picture of the three guns tested.
Disassembly of the Sentinel Premier proved easy to perform. Pulling the slide back to the disassembly notch allows the slide stop lever to be pushed out and removed. The slide can then be removed from the frame. The Recoilmaster guide rod/twin recoil spring assembly is removed as a single unit through the use of a provided plastic bushing that snaps in place to captivate the parts. Keeping track of extra parts is not our strong suit, but we did like the ease in which the gun could be broken down. Now that our gun prep and inspection was complete, we set about measuring the gun’s performance.
It was evident upon the first time we racked the slide that the Sentinel Premier was a well-fitted gun. Its assembly and recoil spring design allowed an easy cocking action. The trigger pull on the Sentinel Premier was a light and crisp 4 pounds. Overall, its action was precise, smooth, and refined, attributes we would expect from a gun in its price point.
The Sentinel Premier did not disappoint at the range either, racking up the best overall accuracy numbers with each ammo tested, including an average 0.8 inch group size with our Winchester 230-grain FMJ loading. Our testers felt the sight picture afforded by the STI allowed them to accurately line the gun up with the target. The light and responsive trigger also contributed to these results. Recoil was very manageable even though the STI was the lightest gun in our tests. The Recoilmaster spring assembly is claimed to help reduce felt recoil, and did seem to help in this regard. We also found the gun easy to put back on target during our rapid fire tests, finishing second to the significantly heavier TRP. We were able to be aggressive with the gun while still maintaining good accuracy.
Reloads were assisted by the funnel-shaped mag well. We noted that rounds were ejected consistently, but at a slightly flatter angle than our other guns. This caused an issue with Lefty, who had a particularly high grip on the pistol. Several rounds nicked his thumb when they were ejected, causing a bruise.
Gun Tests Said: In our final grading, the testers were unanimous in their praise of the Sentinel Premier, with the only dissent coming from slightly dinged-up Lefty. We found that the STI delivered a high level of performance, and was very capable as both a competition and carry gun. Our only qualm about the gun was its high price, which starts to reach the level of a custom-grade gun.