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Beretta M9A4 With Steiner MPS: Old Dog With New Tricks?



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BIG ARMY SAID NO, SHOULD YOU SAY YES?

The 92 series has been around for a long while now, and for good reason. Becoming the US Army’s first 9mm pistol back in ‘85, the M9 series has proven itself on every battlefield since. But here we are so many years later, does it still hold up, or should the M9 go the same way as 80’s hairstyles — something we remember, but not something we repeat?

I love the 92/M9 series, so I was really excited to get to try the M9A4 that Beretta sent out for testing. Can the M9A4 still hold up? Was the Army wrong? Let’s talk about it.

500 YEARS OF HISTORY (BUT ONLY 50 THAT MATTER)

Beretta has been making guns for longer than anyone else in the world. Founded in 1526, Beretta will be 500 years old in just a few short years. While its company history is truly fascinating, it’s only the last 50 or so years that really matter right now.

The Beretta 92 was designed in 1975 and took a lot of design ideas from past Beretta guns like the M1923 and M1951. Sprinkle in some design cues from the Walther P38 and Browning Hi-Power, and the 92 was born as a DA/SA, double-stack, frame-mounted safety, 9mm duty pistol. The 92 sold well for Beretta, with over 50,000 units produced.

In a whole lot of ways, that 92 series pistol is almost what we still have today.

In 1978 the 92S was born with a slide-mounted safety/decocker and was a pretty big hit with Italian law enforcement. 

The 92SB and 92F had a series of small changes made, first for submission to USAF trials and later to US government federal trials. The changes include things like hard chrome for the bore, a squared-off trigger guard, a recurve grip, and a new surface coating. The French adopted the 92F, but the “F” doesn’t stand for “France” it actually means “Federal” because it was designed for US government trials.

Finally, the 92FS. This was Beretta’s big submission to the US Army for the trials to replace the M1911. The FS design includes a larger firing pin and a minor change to prevent the slide from being able to fly backward if it breaks.

The 92FS won those trials and, in 1985, was adopted as the M9.

M9, M9A1, M9A2, M9A3, M9A4

Having won the trials, the M9 was put into service. There was some drama about the SEALs, the government, and Beretta suing the government and winning a boatload of money, but all of that is a little too complex to go into right now.

The M9A1 was adopted in 2006 and was a major upgrade for the M9 family. Finally, getting a Picatinny rail for mounting lights, the A1 also features more aggressive checkering, a beveled mag well, and a better PVD coating.

The M9A2 was planned but never released. 

LTT RDO Beretta 92 red dot slide

While the M9 and M9A1 were official US military pistols, the M9A3 was not. Beretta kept the name, but the pistol wasn’t accepted by the military for use. Instead, the US military decided to hold the XM17 Modular Handgun System (MHS) competition in 2015.

Beretta offered the M9A3 to the government before the XM17 trials were announced, but the government passed. Oddly, the M9A3 was not officially submitted to the trials — instead, the Beretta APX was sent.

The M9A3 was released to the civilian market in 2015 and had 17-round mags, 3 slots of pic rail, thinner and more vertical grips, removable sights, sand-resistant mags, and some other minor changes.

Finally, we have the M9A4. Still not a US military pistol, the M9A4 is the latest of the M9 family. Released in 2021 the A4 has 18-round magazines, a red dot mounting system, night sights, an enhanced short reset trigger, and Vertec-style thin grips. Plus, the improvements made to the M9A3.

SPECS AND FEATURES

  • Action: Single/Double
  • Barrel length (mm): 129.54
  • Barrel length (in): 5.1
  • Caliber : 9×19 (PARA)
  • GripWidth: 1.3″
  • Historical: N
  • Magazine: 10 – 15 – 18
  • Overall height (mm): 137.16
  • Overall height (in): 5.4
  • Overall length (mm): 220.98
  • Overall length (in): 8.7
  • Overall width (mm): 38.1
  • Overall width (in): 1.5
  • SightRadiusIN 6.3
  • SightRadiusMM: 160
  • Weight unloaded (g): 944
  • Weight unloaded (OZ) : 33.4

STEINER MPS ENCLOSED RED DOT

I was excited when Beretta offered to send their Optics Ready package because it came with a red dot I never used before, the Steiner MPS. If you’re wondering why they chose the MPS, it’s likely because Beretta Group bought Steiner back in 2008. 

Now that I’ve used it, I’m still glad they sent it because now I know I wouldn’t spend my own money on the Steiner MPS.

Introduced in 2021, this should be a pretty new and modern enclosed red dot. And yet, it is missing simple features that it desperately needs.

The good news is that the glass is super crisp and clean, the shorter body really does help reduce the amount of “tunnel” you feel when using it, and the ACRO footprint works really well for mounting.

The meh news is that this dot only has 13,000 hours of battery life on a “medium” setting (8 levels total, so I assume “medium” means 4 or 5), which should still be well over 1 year of constant dot life, and the real dot life is improved by having a 13-hour auto-off. 

The bad news is that there is no auto-on feature. Once the dot is turned off, you need to turn it back on. For a $550 street price, Steiner really should be able to add a feature that $100 Chinese optics have.

But wait, it gets dumber!

You can disable the auto-off feature, and while the battery life isn’t as good as it could be, it should still be fine if you change batteries regularly. But, and I can’t wrap my head around this — if you turn off the auto-off feature, the MPS locks you out of being able to use the highest brightness setting “to optimize battery life.”

It has 8 total settings, 2 NV, and 6 daylight. “Medium” should be setting 4 or 5 depending on how they count “medium.” Level 1 and 2 are for night vision and cannot be seen in the light, that’s normal.

Level 4 is hard to pick up in a well-lit room and totally unusable outdoors. Level 5 is barely visible in the noon sun and is practically still useless. Level 6 is better but still not fast to pick up, and level 7 is the lowest I would accept, but still not as bright as I want.

Without the 8th setting, the dot is still usable on bright days, but only barely. It is not fast to pick up, and it is not easy to track.

Meh (at best) battery life, no auto-on, and disabling the auto-off locks you out of being able to use the red dot effectively. All for the low price of over $500. Yikes.

ON THE RANGE

More or less the A4 is exactly what you would expect from Beretta. Dead reliable and zero malfunctions across testing. Ammo was provided by AmmunitionToGo.com, so a big thanks to them for all the 9mm.

The trigger is much, much improved. I used to have a match trigger in my old 92FS, and the new A4 trigger is better than that. Smoother, shorter, still heavy in DA but ultra crisp in SA.

Of any 92/M9 series pistol, the A4 has the best grips. These are aggressive and lock your hands in tight. 

G-series decocker is a nice touch and perfectly prevents accidentally activating the safety.

The base gun I’m a big fan of. There are some things I’ll bring up in a moment, but from a basic shooting perspective, the M9A4 is one of my favorite guns in a long time. It is also incredibly accurate, something I’ve always loved about the 92/M9 series as a whole.

Something that was odd was that the M9A4 with the MPS on it recoiled differently. A lot differently. The 92/M9 series is a heavyish pistol and has always been great at soaking up recoil, but the M9A4 with the MPS was oddly chunky.

I believe that the weight of the MPS and the mounting plate, made the slide extra heavy. Because of that, the pistol has a recoil that feels like two distinct actions, backward and forward. It feels slow, not only to get back on target but also like you can almost count your heartbeat during the cycle of the slide. 

If you’re trying to be slow and accurate, this is a great feeling. If you’re trying to drill a target and get low split doubles, this feels weird and out of place.

Shooting an iron sight only Beretta side-by-side and the difference in recoil impulse is even more pronounced. 

IS THE 92/M9 PLATFORM OBSOLETE?

I come into this with a bias, I love the 92/M9 series. A 92FS was the first pistol I remember seeing in person, it was the first pistol I shot at about 8 or 9 years old, it was the first pistol I ever bought as an adult. It was the duty gun my uncle carried, it was the gun my brother in the Navy told me stories about.

And it was the pistol of the action heroes I watched growing up, from Lethal Weapon to Die Hard. Behind Enemy Lines to Tears of the Sun, Training Day to The Boondock Saints. The Matrix, Rush Hour, Three Kings, Face/Off, the list is endless. The 92/M9 will always have a very special place in my heart.

But here and now, in the year 2023, with the M9A4… as much as I want to love it still, I find it hard.

Picking it up at the gun store, I thought I was in love again. It was like laying down in your own bed, on your own pillow, after a few weeks of traveling and sleeping in hotels. It felt right and perfect on an almost spiritual level.

But then I took it home, and I spent the next couple of weeks doing dry fire drills and taking it to the range. I shot USPSA, Steel Outlaw, and a 2 gun match with it. And the more I use it, the more I shoot it, the more the problems show up. 

Part of this is Beretta’s fault. I don’t think the M9A4 is as much of an update as they claim and is missing a couple of things they really should have done but didn’t do.

One problem that can’t really be fixed is that because of the M9’s design, the optic plate sits kind of high. Combined with an enclosed dot that sits a bit high, and the red dot feels weirdly high. This can be mitigated with a different red dot, but I think will still feel a little high either way. Not the end of the world, but something to think about.

Mounting any red dot takes such a chunker of a plate that it adds a noticeable amount of weight to the slide. The recoil impulse isn’t bad, but it is definitely different.

The good points are that the checkering on the grip is amazing, and the Vertec grips are awesome. Front serrations on the slide are aggressive as well and make racking easy, even with a red dot. And this latest generation of trigger is simply sublime.

Five Things To Hate

Maybe “hate” is a little strong, but hear me out.

A weird choice is the normal hight sights on the M9A4 optics-ready package. I just… why? Cost saving? A lot of guns come with suppressor sights as the standard with or without a red dot, but Beretta slapped normal-sized sights on the gun that comes with a red dot mounted. Combined with the fact that red dots sit high on this gun to start with, I think we deserve sights from the factory that are able to co-witness. This feels like a huge miss.

While the M9A4 has the beveled mag well that was added to the A1, I don’t think they’ve made it better since then. Flared mag wells aren’t totally standard yet, but they are pretty common these days. I think the A4 would really benefit from that. Coming off of about a year of using pistols that have one, going back to this feels icky.

Big rounded trigger guard makes sense if you’re trying to target a market that almost exclusively wears gloves, like military contracts. But it’s too big. A double undercut would make the grip feel a lot better and add some control.

The same day I picked up the M9A4 from the gun store, I also picked up a 92X Performance Defensive, Beretta’s IDPA-specific competition gun. That gun has a takedown lever with a small gas pedal built in. It’s awesome, I love it, and this should be standard on all of the 92/M9 guns. The 92X is newer than the A4, but still. 

The 92X also features frame-mounted safeties. Frankly, the slide-mounted safety/decocker (or decocker only in my case) needs to die. It has always been a feature that no one loved, and the frame-mounted version on the 92X is just so, so much better.

Judgment

I like the M9A4 for what it is. On its own, it is a great gun. It feels good, shoots well, and is (for now) the pinnacle of the M9 design.

However, when I look at it in comparison to what else is out there, I can’t help but see that the M9A4 is a modern gun missing several modern features. While the same can be said for some of the other “modern” guns out there, especially the P320/M17, the M9A4 is limited in what you can solve on your own with the aftermarket. On the other hand, there is almost nothing you can’t change about some other modern guns.

For nostalgic reasons, I think the M9A1 is the M9 I would recommend. If you want a gun that is mostly the same thing but with some modern upgrades, the A4 is great.

But if you want the best pistol you can buy with your money, I don’t think the A4 is the best choice. 

Maybe Beretta will introduce an A5 model that incorporates some of the 92X design features into the M9 family. Or maybe this is the end of the road.

Only time will tell.

LOOSE ROUNDS

I feel like I’ve been harsh on the M9A4, but it comes from a place of love. While other pistols I cared less about might get a pass in some respects, I hold the M9A4 to a standard that is set because of how much I love the 92/M9 pistol. 

The M9A4 is undoubtedly a great pistol. I love shooting it. The new trigger has an SA pull that is almost 1911 crisp, the grips are perfect, and the durability of the system is almost unmatched. The MPS is, to me, a waste of money, but I don’t fault Beretta for that.

Overall, I’m torn about the M9A4. The collector and M9 lover in me wants to send my credit card information to Beretta right now. The practical shooter in me recognizes that I have other pistols that offer the same and better what the M9A4 does.

My final verdict is mixed. If this is a pistol you want, I think you’ll be very happy. If you’re looking for this to be the perfect 92/M9, I think it has at least one more generation to go before getting there.

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