MICRO 9MM, .40, and even .45 semi-automatics are all the rage these days. They are popular among those looking for a self-defense firearm that can be hidden and carried comfortably all day, yet still pack enough punch to get the job done. They work great for cops looking for an off-duty or backup gun or for civilian concealed carry. The demand is being driven by the fact that all 50 states now have some sort of concealed carry permitting process.
And, according to the laws of supply and demand, choices are wider than ever. When I started my law enforcement career, the basic choices for compact off-duty carry in a gun with a reasonable level of power were the .38 snub-nosed revolver and the .380 Walther PPK/S, with maybe a couple of oddballs thrown in, like the outstanding but now defunct Star PD .45.
We were happy with those choices and calibers back then because the threat level in 1980 (when guns were MORE available than now) wasn’t as high as it is now. Street gangs didn’t exist outside the largest inner city areas, and just like in the movie West Side Story, their weapons really were knives and zipguns. I confess that in those days, I carried a .38 or a PPK/S with just the ammo in the gun, and was comfortable doing so.
Fast forward to today. With magazines holding five, six, or seven rounds depending on caliber, a double-action trigger, and often with a polymer frame, the new breed of micro pistol is more up to defending against today’s threats to life and limb than its predecessors. Magazine capacity is higher than the five-shot .38, and bullets are bigger in the .40 and .45 caliber versions. Designs of most of the current crop of micro pistols all follow the same theme: a variation of the Browning locked breech and some sort of double-action trigger. Most have no manual safety, and most work very well.
When I first heard of the Boberg line of pistols right after the SHOT show, I wasn’t all that excited. In fact, my first thought was something like “Whoopee, another micro 9mm.” However, since my editor had actually seen and handled the pistol at the SHOT show, and was enthusiastic about it, who was I to question him? He told me that the Boberg XR9 had a unique loading and feeding system that was a bit difficult to explain, but that I would appreciate it when I had the pistol in hand. I made the arrangements for the sample to be sent to Vance’s Shooter’s Supply in Columbus, OH and waited. It arrived in short order, and it wasn’t long before I began to understand how unique the XR9 is. In fact, it’s revolutionary!
The XR9 is the most accurate micro gun I have ever fired, bar none, and also has the lightest recoil. It is built entirely in the USA at the Boberg plant in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. The frame is made of aluminum with Dupont Zytel™ polymer grip panels. The slide is stainless steel, and—depending on the model—is either left bright or blackened. My sample was the ONYX model with a black matte coating. There are also Platinum and Two-Tone models available with various amounts of bright stainless visible, as well as the “Long” variants with a 4.2-inch barrel mounted on the same sized frame. The ONYX XR9 has a 3.35-inch barrel. The grip/frame has an exceptionally comfortable shape, feeling like it melts right into the hand. It is extremely ergonomic in design.
The action is double-action only and is double-strike capable. While there is an exposed hammer, it cannot be cocked for a lighter trigger pull. The takedown lever on the left side also functions as a manual slide stop. The slide does not lock back on the last shot. Sights are of a fixed Novak style with the white three-dot pattern. Tritium insert sights are available for an additional $169. The sights are prominent, but don’t snag or hang up. I don’t much care for vestigial sights that are next to useless on some competing designs. Magazine capacity is seven rounds. Construction is stainless steel with a polymer base. They do not readily fall free, which is a good feature for this type of gun, and two are supplied with the XR9. Unloaded weight is 17.5 ounces.
All pretty conventional stuff. But now let’s look at what separates the XR9 from the rest of the pack, making it a truly revolutionary firearm. The first is the rear-feeding magazine system. That’s right. Instead of the slide stripping a round off the top of the magazine and pushing it forward up a feed ramp into the chamber, the XR9’s action pulls the round out of the magazine to the rear and runs it forward in a straight line directly into the chamber, eliminating the need for a feed ramp. The rounds are thus loaded from what is considered the rear of the magazine. They are pushed toward the front rather than pushed from the front to the back. Sounds weird but it works, and it doesn’t take long to get used to.
But why do this? Why divert from designs that are tried and true? Because the design benefits the effectiveness of the XR9. It allows the pistol to have a barrel that is nearly an inch longer than comparably sized micro pistols, while still maintaining the same overall size and length of other small pistols. According to the Boberg literature, when firing 9mm +P ammunition, the extra barrel length provides a boost of approximately 100fps in velocity over other micro-9 pistols, with a concurrent increase in foot pounds of energy (about 50 foot pounds). A boost of 100fps for a 9mm pistol designed for close range defense is no small thing. In a lifeand-death struggle, you need to deliver all the power to the target that you possibly can to end the fight as quickly as possible.
The design benefits the effectiveness of the XR9. It allows the pistol to have a barrel that is nearly an inch longer than comparably sized micro pistols, while still maintaining the same overall size and length of other small pistols.
Instead of the traditional Browning lockup system, the XR9 uses a locked breech, rotating barrel operating system. This is in part what makes the Boberg capable of such good accuracy. While the rotating barrel type of mechanism—most recently seen in common use on Beretta’s Cougar pistol series and the later Stoeger iteration—does not intrinsically make the XR9 more accurate, it helps mitigate the recoil, and keeps the pistol from climbing off target.
Not to be overlooked in the accuracy enhancement department is the trigger. All Boberg pistols feature a resetting “long pull” trigger with a pull weight of six pounds. There is no manual safety. The smoothness of the trigger helps the shooter keep the XR9 locked on target. It is stainless steel and has an exposed linkage that is also one of the lubrication points.
I took the XR9 to the range on several occasions, and found tight groups at varying distances out to 50 feet were no problem. I even ran the XR9 through my ultimate test: six shots standing with a two-hand hold, unsupported, at 100 yards. With full-size pistols like my Glock 17 or Beretta 92, I can generally keep 5 shots in the silhouette, and usually one outside on the paper. The shorter sight radius of the XR9 hampered that a bit—I got three hits on the paper; the others wandered left. My time was limited, but with some patience and drifting of the rear sight to the right a tad, I might have been able to improve that. Still, not bad for a gun that small at a distance that far.
To test the velocity claims, I ran some Hornady Critical Defense 115 grain FTX loads across the chronograph. Hornady lists the velocity for these rounds as 1140fps out of a 4-inch barrel. My average was 1075fps. That matches up just about right with Boberg’s claims of enhanced velocity for the XR9’s size vs. similar sized 9mm pistols.
I am extremely impressed with this gun and its operating system. The Boberg XR9 and its siblings are truly remarkable and they need to be felt and shot to be appreciated.
Overall quality is excellent. But excellent quality comes with a price. The ONXY Black version as tested has an MSRP of $1349. If you are looking for a top-of-the-line defensive arm, Boberg pistols are worth every penny.