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Proper lineage: a review of the Lionheart LH9

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Lionheart Industries is a young company; if the age of other companies can be used as comparison (such as Beretta or Colt) even Glock is still a young kid on the block.  It’s probably a good thing then that I understand time in business is not a sure measure of a product's quality. When I was given the chance to test the Lionheart LH9, I took it, although I knew little of the company and had honestly not encountered a single one of their products outside of SHOT show.

Lionheart may be new to the market, but their LH9 isn’t, at least not strictly speaking.  The LH9 is a modernized version of the venerable Daewoo K5, a handgun that has been in service with the Korean military (South Korean; the North uses sticks shaped like guns or so I've heard) since 1989.  Lionheart has modernized the K5 by making the slide serrations more aggressive, replacing the spur hammer with a rounded, less snag-prone hammer, adding more aggressive grips and lastly Cerakoting the full frame and slide.  In the grand scheme of things, these aren’t significant changes, though sometimes it doesn’t take significant changes to make a noticeable improvement.   As the K5 was largely influenced in design by the Browning Hi-Power and the Smith and Wesson 59 series, I was hoping the LH9 would be the best example of the design lineage.

The ergonomics let the LH9 fit the hand well. Even with the downward swell of the trigger guard, I found that the LH9 presented naturally from the draw and establishing a grip was not a problem; this despite over 5 years and counting of primarily Glock use.   The sights are fixed three dot, not too much unlike those found on more modern Hi-Powers and not much different than those on the Beretta.  The slide release is generous in size (especially important for me, as I am primarily a left-handed shooter) and the ambidextrous safety operates easily (less so when you put it through the abuse I did, but we will get to that).   What about tolerances?   The barrel is a  4.1” chrome chamfered match grade, its fit in the slide is very tight, no rattle, no play.  The slide works with expected spring tension without so much that a grip may be lost or so little it would stutter if filled with carbon or debris.  Of course flawless operation while clean is one thing; we would have to see how it did once it got dirty.

Cowan-Lionheart-LH9-1I have a pretty long history with all metal handguns, having carried both the Beretta 92 and Sig 228/26 as duty weapons; I am also no stranger to the DA/SA mode of operation.  I will say right up front that I prefer striker fired weapons, I like the same trigger pull first round to last and I like that trigger to be short and consistent.  With the LH9 You don’t get a traditional DA/SA mode of operation; you get a trigger system called Double Action Plus.  With DA+ the handgun is loaded and the slide racked/released to chamber the first round.  At this point you can safe the handgun to carry in cocked and locked, manually de-cock to carry in DA (not recommended, the LH9 does not have a decocker) or you can push the hammer forward to place the LH9 in the DA+ mode.  DA+ gives you the same trigger travel distance of double action with the lighter pull of single action.

Given the choice between a traditional DA pull on the first round and the LH9s DA+ pull, I would take DA+ every time. In fact, I find myself wondering why this operation isn’t more common on other DA/SA handguns.

Knowing some of the particulars of all metal guns, my first tests on the LH9 were cold weather tests.  I've carried the Beretta as a duty sidearm in the cold winters of Northern California. I knew that extended exposure to the elements cause the handgun to freeze.  All metal freezes of course, but handguns with metal slide and frame seem to be more affected by it.  I've previously experienced a few range failures with my Beretta due to this fact and have been wary ever since.  I gave the LH9 a dry freeze first for 24 hours, then performed a full functions check.  Aside from a mushy trigger, all features functioned.  The next test was a 24 hour wet freeze test.  I gave the LH9 a solid spray of water to, as best as I could, simulate environmental contact with water (rain or snow) and froze it again.  The magazine release was frozen, otherwise the LH9 functioned fine.


My range testing plan was simple; 1000 rounds of ball ammunition without cleaning, with various environmental tests mixed in with the punishment.  For ammo I chose 500 rounds of 115 grain BVAC and 500 rounds of 155 grain Wolf.  I lubricated the LH9 with Fireclean before the first freeze test and that would be the only lubrication it received during the testing period.


The freeze tests were performed again; 24 hours dry and 24 hours wet.  The dry freeze test resulted in no problems at all. The weapon fired flawlessly.  The wet freeze test was not so; the first round failed to fire, it fired on the second pull of the trigger and every round after that.  The cause of the failure was most likely ice in the mainspring, though it could have been the ammunition as well.  I then left the LH9 submerged in a pond for two hours, no failures experienced.  I ran it wet with mud for over 300 rounds, covered in dirt and mulch for another 200, froze it wet and muddy then put another 200 rounds through.  As the filth built up I expected failures, as aside for the failure to fire during the first wet freeze test I did not see another malfunction until I hit 800 rounds.  During a quick string running on a timer I would be reloading between two magazines already caked in mud from the wet range.  I was literally introducing wet Gerogia clay into a hot weapon via the magazine and it managed to cause a double feed when some of it was wedged into the extractor.  It cleared with remedial action and the only other malfunction I had before the 1000 rounds was one more failure to fire.


I expect every gun to fail at some point, it’s a mechanical device and once that device has its tolerances challenged it can only go so long before a failure happens.  Of course it’s how quickly a failure can be fixed and how far between failures that helps determine a gun's quality to me.  The LH9 is a good balance between precise engineering tolerances and common sense design for a duty weapon.

My tests involved running hollow points through the LH9.  After 100 rounds of ball, mud, water, ice, dirt, random debris and some underhand toss drop testing (one of which saw the Lionheart stick muzzle first in the ground like a lawn dart), the LH9 was as dirty as I had ever seen a handgun get.  Hollow points by design have a shallow ogive, and different rounds have different lengths that can affect feeding. This depends on the angle of the feed ramp and the resistance (or lack of) offered by carbon, dirt or debris.  I used Federal HST, Hydra Shok and Gold dot mixed randomly in the same magazine.  All fed and fired without issue.

Throughout the tests the Lionheart shot accurately.  I honestly shoot better with a striker-fired gun, but managed to pull respectable groups at 10, 15 and 25 yards.  Obviously accuracy is subjective.  The gun will always be more accurate than we, knowing that I can say that the LH9 is going to be more than accurate in anyone’s hands if they do their part.  I managed to pull 120 yard body-size steel hits with it after pulling it out of a pond; I’d say that’s reliable accuracy.

My final opinion of the LH9 is simple: it’s a well built, accurate and reliable handgun that carries well and gives the market an alternative to some higher priced handguns in the same DA/SA category.  The design is simple, the controls large enough to be dependable under stress and it obviously handles harsh conditions well.  If I found myself wanting to carry a DA/SA handgun, the LH9 would be on a very short list of choices.

See some specifics on the video:

Look at the LH9 here on the Lionheart website or on their Facebook page.


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