What? Metal-frame striker-fired pistols? Think about that for a moment; metal-frame pistols are slowly disappearing. Sure, the 1911 platform uses a metal frame, and so do other older hammer-fired designs from SIG, Beretta, and CZ, but nearly every striker-fired pistol uses a polymer frame. Gun nuts did a double take when Rock Island Armory (RIA) debuted the STK100 striker-fired 9mm in 2021. It looked like just another Glock clone, except for one significant design difference. The STK100 uses an aluminum frame. There are other features that make this Philippine-made pistol stand out, but the metal frame is unique. This sent us on a quest for metal-frame striker-fired 9mm pistols. Are these guns just unicorns, or are there others available to buy?
We tested the Walther Q5 Match Steel Frame a few years ago and thought the steel frame helped mitigate recoil and allow for a fast follow-up shot. But that was a competition pistol, not a defense pistol. One gun that came to mind was the Kahr K9. Kahr built its reputation on the compact metal-frame K9 pistol, so we acquired a Model K9, which features a stainless-steel frame and smooth trigger-cocked striker-fire mechanism.
Another gun is the new metal-frame variant of the SIG P320 called the P320 AGX Pro. As you may recall, the P320 pistol system allows the user to drop the trigger mechanism into any size polymer frame, and now a metal frame as well.
It’s usually interesting to know where gun designs originate, and here, the original 9mm metal-frame striker-fired pistol is a Luger P-08. As you know, the 9mm cartridge debuted with the P-08. While the P-08 in its day was an effective weapon, they are expensive and finicky with ammo. Luckily, one of our staff has a Luger, an Interarms P-08 model, and we wanted to experience the original P-08 and put it into context with current guns, so we ran an the Interarms during the test, but we concentrated our evaluation on the modern variants.
While they are all striker-fired, the trigger design was different on all four, and all felt different when firing. The P-08 uses a pre-cocked striker, so it is actually a single-action trigger pull, similar to the XD models made by Springfield Armory. The other three guns have a longer double-action trigger pull. RIA and SIG pre-load the striker, so there is a bit of mushiness in the trigger. The Kahr uses a trigger-cocking DAO that is super smooth and has a super-long stroke.
We also wanted to judge if the added weight a metal-frame pistol provides is a net pro or con. Does a metal frame help with recoil control? How does the pistol balance in hand? Does it make the pistol more difficult to carry concealed?
We fired both training rounds and defense rounds with different bullet weights and types to see if a pistol favored one cartridge over another. Ammo included Defender 115-grain full metal jackets, Armscor 124-grain FMJs, and Remington Golden Sabers with 147-grain bonded jacketed hollow points.
We tested for accuracy using our range bag as a rest, then ran a Mozambique Drill (also called a Failure Drill) at 10 yards — two to the body and one to the head — on cardboard silhouettes to evaluate ease of use in speed and precision shooting. We also fired a Failure Drill at 5 yards, starting at low ready, and all three shots must be fired between 3 and 4 seconds. In the end, we experienced four very different 9mm metal-frame striker-fired pistols.
Gun Tests Grade: D
We started the test at the beginning of the design. This Luger is a post-WWII model manufactured by Mauser and imported by Interarms in the 1970s. There is more value for NIB (New In Box) specimens, but this one has been fired, so its owner uses it as a shooter. We have tested Lugers in the past, and they have a checkered résumé in these pages.
|Action||Semi-auto, recoil-operated toggle action, striker fired|
|Overall Length||8.7 in.|
|Overall Height||5.5 in.|
|Maximum Width||1.4 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||33.7 oz.|
|Weight Loaded||37.1 oz.|
|Barrel||4.0 in.; 1:10-in. twist|
|Toggle Retraction Effort||16.0 lbs.|
|Frame Front Strap Height||3.6 in.|
|Frame Back Strap Height||3.2 in.|
|Grip Thickness (Maximum)||1.1 in.|
|Grip Circumference (Maximum)||5.2 in.|
|Rear Sight||Fixed notch|
|Trigger Pull Weight||5.7 lbs.|
|Trigger Span||3.0 in.|
|Safety||Manual lever, grip, striker block|
The Luger exudes intrigue and elegance, but in our experience, it is a high-maintenance pistol. Our past experience says to use full-power round-nose FMJ ammo to avoid feeding issues. Low-power ammo can trip up a Luger. Our hope was that the Defender and Armscor ammo would make this Luger run like the Kaiser intended. We assumed the Remington Golden Sabers, with a blunt-nose bullet shape, would choke the iconic toggle action faster than a piece of schnitzel.
Our specimen has a straight Swiss-Style grip, which means the grip front strap is straight and does not have the curved front grip strap as do other Luger models. Originally, this grip style was specified for Swiss military and police dating back to 1900.
The Interarms contained precise machined parts. We can’t even begin to think of the cost of producing this gun today, even with modern CNC machines and MIM processes. The finish is a beautiful deep blue. The trigger, manual safety, take-down lever, magazine release, and ejector has a contrasting straw finish. The grips are walnut with sharp checkering. It is a great-looking pistol.
The P-08 included a grip safety and manual safety lever on the left side of the frame. This safety is not easy to use with the firing hand, which is a practice we have become used to in modern pistols. The sights were small, a thin front post dovetailed into the barrel and shallow fixed notch in the top of the toggle. These sights were cutting edge back in the day, but by today’s standards, they are difficult to use for those accustomed to big front-sight dots and fiber optics.
The single-stack magazine was made of steel and held eight rounds. It featured a checkered button on the side that is used to slide the follower down to load cartridges. Loading a single-stack P-08 magazine takes almost as much time as loading a modern double-stack magazine. The thumb magazine release was familiar, though the shooter needs to change his grip to press the large checkered button.
In hand, the 110-degree grip angle made the Luger a natural pointer. The weight of the pistol sits at the web of the hand and feels very comfortable. The curved trigger was wide and smooth, with a fairly crisp break at 5.7 pounds.
We gave a young member of our test team the Luger and asked him to load it and make it ready. We assessed that he would have had the same expression on his face if we had handed him a rotary-dial telephone to make a call. His expression said it all: How do I work this thing?
Going hot, we found the eight-round magazine took a bit of effort to accept all eight rounds. The magazine loads like one for a 22 LR pistol. If we pulled back on the magazine button, a round could fall into the magazine incorrectly.
Going hot, the P-08 choked on all the ammo in the test, with a number of failure-to-feed (FTF) malfunctions, irrespective of bullet-nose shape or velocity. When we did get the pistol to run, we found a well-balanced piece with a crisp striker-fired trigger. Recoil was straight back, and there was little muzzle flip. The bore’s center axis sits low in the hand, and the grip angle is 55 degrees when measured off square, so it is similar to a Ruger MK IV or older version. Weight sat just above the grip. The Luger naturally points well.
The sights were small and hard to use, but we were able to get decent accuracy out of this relic. Our best groups measured 1.5 to 1.6 inches with the Remington Golden Saber and Armscor ammo. With the Defender ammo, we shot a best group that measured 2 inches. We tried running the Failure Drill with the Luger, and at times, we could get it to fire three shots in a row. Most of the time, we could get off two shots, and we would have then thrown the pistol at a bad actor advancing on us, in lieu of the third shot because the gun malfunctioned with an FTF so often.
Our Team Said: The P-08 is definitely a bucket-list gun, and it gives us a sense of where metal-frame striker-fired pistols started. Several readers have told us that we’ve not given the Luger its due in the past, but we were happy to move on to newer designs here. If we could afford it, we would certainly buy a Luger to say we had one, then take our time to resolve its finicky performance.
9mm Luger Range Data
|Defender Remanufactured 115-grain FMJ||RIA STK100||SIG Sauer P320 AXG Pro||Kahr K9||Interarms P-08 Luger|
|Average Velocity||1115 fps||1153 fps||985 fps||1114 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||318 ft.-lbs.||340 ft.-lbs.||248 ft.-lbs.||317 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||1.49 in.||0.90 in.||1.55 in.||2.05 in.|
|Average Group||1.59 in.||0.96 in.||1.72 in.||2.36 in.|
|Remington Golden Saber 147-grain BJHP||RIA STK100||SIG Sauer P320 AXG Pro||Kahr K9||Interarms P-08 Luger|
|Average Velocity||1014 fps||1016 fps||900 fps||1013 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||336 ft.-lbs.||337 ft.-lbs.||264 ft.-lbs.||335 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||1.30 in.||0.65 in.||2.45 in.||1.50 in.|
|Average Group||1.52 in.||1.40 in.||2.69 in.||1.51 in.|
|Armscor 124-grain FMJ||RIA STK100||SIG Sauer P320 AXG Pro||Kahr K9||Interarms P-08 Luger|
|Average Velocity||1067 fps||1090 fps||910 fps||1068 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||314 ft.-lbs.||327 ft.-lbs.||228 ft.-lbs.||314 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||1.88 in.||1.65 in.||2.00 in.||1.62 in.|
|Average Group||1.84 in.||1.85 in.||2.13 in.||1.64 in.|
Value Guide: 9mm Luger Handgun Rankings
|SIG Sauer P365 365-9-BXR3 9mm Luger, $599||Dec. 2021||A||Our Pick. Small enough to fit in a pants pocket. Carries 10+1. Felt recoil is less than with a 38 Sp.|
|Ruger MAX-9 No. 3500 9mm Luger, $544||Sep. 2021||A||Our Pick. This is a sophisticated pistol. No fault with the magazines, capacity, or general accuracy.|
|Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield Plus 13246 9mm Luger, $553||Sep. 2021||A||A step up from a previously 9mm Shield. The new pistol has an improved trigger and greater capacity.|
|Taurus GX4 1-GX4M931 9mm Luger, $398||Sep. 2021||A-||Best Buy. The Taurus is the most compact, and the Taurus is the only pistol with a changeable backstrap.|
|Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield EZ 12437 9mm Luger, $479||Feb. 2021||A-||The Shield EZ9 was easy to manipulate and soft to shoot, but the sights needed to be calibrated better.|
|KelTec PF9 Blued-Black 9mm Luger, $358||Feb. 2021||B+||An inexpensive pistol that functioned flawlessly. It reminded us of a good 38 Special snubbie.|
|Taurus G3C 1-G3C931 9mm Luger, $306||Feb. 2021||B+||Best Buy. The Taurus G3C pistol is an inexpensive offering that functioned flawlessly and shot well.|
|Springfield Armory Hellcat HC9319BOSP 9mm Luger, $550||Mar. 2020||A||Our Pick. An 11+1 pistol, this small Springfield might be the most versatile pistol in the group.|
|Walther PPS M2 2805961 9mm Luger, $649||Mar. 2020||A||Best Buy. A smaller pistol with grips that will not abrade tender hands.|
|Ruger Security-9 Compact Model 3818 9mm Luger, $309||Feb. 2020||B||The pistol is adequate for the task of self defense and will not break the bank.|
|SIG P365 Nitron Micro-Compact 9mm Luger, $465||Feb. 2020||B||The SIG costs more than the Ruger Security-9 without overwhelming advantages.|
|Springfield Hellcat Micro-Compact 9mm Luger, $500||Jan. 2020||F/A||Hellcat #1 failed when the trigger wouldn’t reset (F). Hellcat #2 worked perfectly (A). Best accuracy.|
|Glock 43X Ameriglo Night Sights PX435SL301AB 9mm Luger, $542||Jul. 2019||A||Our Pick. Firing grip is superior to the G43 and allows better shooting with little compromise.|
|Mossberg MC1sc 89001 9mm Luger, $365||Jul. 2019||A-||Best Buy. The Mossberg 9mm gave up little to the Glock designs. Reliability was never a question.|
|Taurus G2S 1-G2S931 9mm Luger, $204||Nov. 2018||A||Best Buy. The Taurus pistol was reliable and controllable in rapid fire.|
|Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield SW180021BW 9mm Luger, $400||Nov. 2018||A||The Battleworn Shield is reliable, accurate enough, and compact enough for EDC.|
|Bersa BP9MCC 9mm Luger, $295||Nov. 2018||A-||Reliable, feels good in the hand, and offers excellent handling in fast-paced drills.|
|Honor Defense Honor Guard HG9SCF FIST 9mm Luger, $400||Nov. 2018||A-||The FIST option is viable. We tested it against barricades with excellent results.|
|Ruger EC9s 3283 9mm Luger, $231||Nov. 2018||B-||Most accurate handgun of the test, despite its light weight.|
|Kimber Micro 9 Desert Tan (LG) 3300168 9mm Luger, $659||Oct. 2017||A||The laser grip complements the large sights on this micro pistol. Edges are smooth for concealed carry.|
|SIG Sauer P938 Emperor Scorpion 9mm Luger, $639||Oct. 2017||A||With large sights, a crisp trigger and toothy grips, this was easy to shoot and control.|