It’s like shooting a Glock, only better. Sometimes, you just look at something great and decide that with a few minor modifications, it can still be improved. That’s what the good people over at Shadow Systems did when they took a wildly popular and reliable pistol platform and made it that much better.

When you look at the Shadow Systems MR920L, you know immediately where the inspiration came from. Internally and externally, the major components of the pistol appear to be influenced by you-know-who. I mean, there is no way around it. Just look at the gun.

But when you look closely, a few things are a little bit different — just different enough to give you pause. For those of you really familiar with the Austrian-made guns, you will notice that the MR920L has a bit of a different profile. The grip frame is the same general size as a Glock 19’s, but the slide and barrel are the same as a Glock 17’s. This means you get the concealability of the smaller gun with the longer sight radius of the larger gun. The longer barrel also helps to put more weight out front, thus reducing muzzle rise during recoil. And that is just the start.

Now that we have started in on a closer look at this pistol, lots of subtle differences and enhancements begin to jump out. These are little features that sometimes make a shooter smile and say, “Nice touch.” It can be difficult to know where to start, so — being methodical — let’s start at the bottom of the grip frame and work our way up and forward.

From the Bottom Up: Shadow Systems’ Magazines

You will notice that magazines supplied with the Shadow Systems pistol are made by Magpul. These are solid, well-built mags worthy of Magpul’s well-earned reputation. They are much easier to disassemble and clean than the OEM magazines, but there is one thing to note about them: The baseplates of these Magpul units are not interchangeable with the original Glock baseplates. So if you are one of those people who likes to add an aftermarket baseplate here and there, you will have to go with OEM or other aftermarket mags that accept such. That said, any mag that will work in a 9mm Glock pistol will also work in this gun.

The grip frame is (of course) polymer, and that allowed the manufacturer the chance to mold in a removable magazine-well extension. These extensions became all the rage for competition shooters who used 1911 pistols back when Methuselah was a boy. For those narrow little single-stack magazine wells, an extension was a godsend when it came to quick reloading. I don’t see much need for a magazine-well extension on a gun with a big, fat double-stack magazine, which is why I love the fact that this unit is removable. If you like it, great. Use it. The thing is quick and easy to install or remove. If it is comfortable for you to carry and shoot, go for it.

Interchangeable Backstraps

Speaking of quick and easy to remove and install, three interchangeable backstraps ship with this pistol, and they can be swapped so quickly and easily that I didn’t even need to read the directions. Push out the pin. Slide out the backstrap. Slide in the new backstrap and insert the pin. The cool thing is that right there in the directions, the folks from Shadow Systems explain that each backstrap will give your gun a different feel. Insert the narrow one and it feels more like a double-stack 1911. Insert the medium one and you get the feeling you are holding a Smith & Wesson M&P. Use the largest insert and the gun feels like a Glock. The descriptions are pretty accurate, and I love the fact that the builders have paid homage to other gunmakers.

A little bit higher up, you’ll find a nicely sculpted beavertail that offers protection to the web of your hand but is clearly designed to be as snag-free as possible. This is a really nice touch that adds comfort and functionality to the pistol. The lines of the beavertail allow for a good, high grip for better control, and the feel of the gun resting in the web of the hand is fantastic.

A Fork in the Road: Focusing on the Slide

We could probably keep going upward and start talking about the rear sights, but I think it’s better to keep the focus on the slide and thus start moving forward to review the other features that make this frame special. Here we go.

There is a nice little molded ledge surrounding the slide-lock lever. There is just enough material to give you tactile reference and keep the lever snag-free, but not so much as to make things uncomfortable. The magazine release is right where it should be — no surprises there — but the bottom of the trigger guard is interesting.

The manufacturer’s website describes this area as “double undercut,” which means you get a large undercut area at the back of the trigger guard which, especially when combined with that high beavertail, allows for an even higher grip on the frame. But the bottom center of the guard is relieved as well. This makes for a very comfortable grip even during extended shooting sessions. The front of the trigger guard is squared, but don’t put your finger over it. That is not a proper grip, and it could pull your shots off-target. It looks good, and it ensures that the gun fits in holsters made for its Austrian counterpart.

Shadow Systems’ Trigger

The drop-safe, flat-faced trigger is aluminum and has about a 5-pound pull weight. The break is crisp and the reset is clear.

Moving forward to the dust cover, you’ll find a small ledge on each side of the pistol, and above each ledge is a stippled rectangle. The rectangle works great as a place to index your trigger finger while maintaining good trigger-finger discipline. That’s nice, but it is the ledge that is really cool. Just that little ledge provides you enough purchase with your off-hand thumb to help maintain muzzle control during recoil. Some might say that a shooter must beware not to push down too hard on this little ledge for fear of throwing shots low, but I never found that to be a problem during testing. I did find that with my thumb on the rest, there was a clear reduction in muzzle rise during rapid-fire. The ledges are subtle and don’t get in the way of anything, and they work.

If you have field-stripped a Glock, you’ve seen the takedown levers, and the gun does have an accessory rail.

The slide-lightening accomplished through various cuts reduces felt recoil, as a lighter slide cycles with less force.

Since We Are Here: Shadow Systems Muzzle and Back

The Shadow Systems slide is a thing of functional beauty. Machined from 17-4 stainless steel, the slide features directional serrations designed to provide aggressive gripping surfaces while also reducing friction when the gun comes out of the holster. These angled serrations are down in shallow recessed areas on the slide for a thinner feel.

The MR920L is part of the Shadow Systems Elite Series, meaning the slide also has serrations on the top of the slide and weight-reducing cutouts on the sides. By reducing the mass of the slide, sight movement during recoil is minimized. Elite Series slides also come standard with an optics cut and filler plate.

The sights are big, bright and easy to pick up. You will notice there are no dots on the rear sight. This is intentional and really makes picking up the front sight faster and easier. If you are used to the old-fashioned three-dot sights or the standard Glock notch, you might question the idea of eliminating the reference points on the rear sight. Don’t knock it until you try it. Your eye goes right to the front sight where it belongs, and there is no confusion about sight alignment or sight picture.

Taking a Look Inside

Inside the slide, the Shadow Systems barrel is machined from 416 stainless steel and equipped with traditional rifling with a 1:10 twist. You will immediately notice the milled spiral grooves on the outside of the barrel. These not only reduce barrel weight but also allow any dirt or other gunk that might get inside the slide to fall away more quickly. And they just look cool too. The MR920L’s barrel is coated with Titanium CarbonNitride (TiCN). That gives a nice bronze color and offers incredible toughness and corrosion resistance.

I didn’t break out the micrometer for this story, but the manufacturers claim the lug geometry and barrel hood make for slightly tighter fit than what is standard on a conventional barrel. In testing, I could see no impact on reliability. The pistol locked up tight, fed and fired every time, and was easy to take down and reassemble.

Wrapping It All Up

It is a fighting pistol that is built for performance.

The Shadow Systems MR920L is a great-looking (dare I say “flashy”) pistol that is designed to maximize the good qualities of an established and reliable design. If Glock had not been focusing on the Austrian Army contract back in the 1980s, they might have added a few bells and whistles to its design back then.

Still, with decades to understand where the original could be improved, the folks at Shadow Systems have done things correctly when it comes to this magnificent upgrade. It is a fighting pistol that is built for performance and just happens to have a healthy dose of good looks. Of course, these features come with a price tag. The guns are selling in the $1,000 range from a couple of different online retailers. All of the features make this a pistol any dedicated shooter should look at closely.