At the recent Blue August Gun Writer’s Conference in post-hurricane devastated central Florida (Ok, there was no evidence a hurricane was ever around … I just had to poke fun at the mass hysteria generated by the weather reporters), I had a chance to handle Ruger’s new 9mm American pistol in its full-size guise. While it shot well enough, it seemed to be yet another striker-fired, trigger safety, polymer-framed 9mm defensive pistol. I was a bit underwhelmed. But because the testing time was very limited, I decided to give the new American a more detailed exam, and I’m glad I did. What I found was that Ruger nailed it! To put it succinctly, this is the best defensive pistol they have ever offered both in the full-size and compact version I ordered for testing.
First Impressions — Ruger American Compact 9mm
The first thing I realized out of the box was the resemblance to the HK VP9 striker-fired pistol. Yes, there are differences in the grip style and lack of front cocking serrations (which is a good thing), but the profiles and main controls are very similar. One caveat: Besides being less expensive, the Ruger American is set up to be more operationally friendly than the VP9 for those not used to HK’s magazine release controls.
The second thing I noticed was the solid feel of the American. It is built like a tank, but handles more like a sports car. Weight of the American Compact is 29.2 ounces, while the similar-sized Glock 19 weighs in at 23.65 ounces. Barrel length of the American is 3.55 inches. Both the barrel and slide are matte-finished stainless steel. The extra weight of the American helps to tame recoil (not that there is much in a 9mm) and allows for faster follow-up shots. It’s a good trade-off.
Ruger American Compact 9mm Pro Model Pistol Specs
Let’s look at some other things about the Ruger American that set it apart from the “herd.” The American is an equal-opportunity pistol. It is set up to be totally ambidextrous without any further adjustment or modification on the part of the user. There are dual magazine release buttons and dual slide release levers. The magazine release buttons allow for smart ejection of the nickel Teflon-plated magazines with either hand, while the slide release levers are easily engaged by either thumb. Sights are genuine three-dot Novaks, and there is a section of Mil Standard 1913 Picatinny rail at the front of the grip frame for mounting lights or lasers.
The magazine setup is pretty cool. The 12-rounder comes with a finger rest extension, which can be switched with the included flat baseplate. The other magazine is a full-size 17-rounder. This is the magazine you want for your reload. A sleeve is included to bridge the exposed metal gap between the base of the grip and the base of the magazine. This acts to give the shooter a full-length grip and then some.
The grip itself is well designed with what Ruger calls “purpose-oriented grip frame texturing for enhanced control.” There are also two wrap-around grip adaptors for adjusting palm swell and trigger reach. I didn’t need to try them out, as the grip was perfect for my size hand.
The trigger is very good for a striker-fired pistol with a trigger lever safety. There is roughly a quarter inch of takeup as the safety is disengaged during the pull, then another quarter inch as the sear crisply releases the firing pin.
Testing the Firearm Out at the Gun Range
I took the American Compact to the gun range with some SIG Elite 115-grain FMJ practice ammo rated at 1185 feet per second and some Wilson Combat 115-grain +P defensive rounds loaded with Hornady’s great XTP bullet rated at 1250 feet per second. I enlisted two fellow officers from my department, Lt. Jason Harget and Officer Andrew Patten. Both carry .40-caliber Smith & Wesson M&P pistols as their duty handguns, so I thought they would be good evaluators of the Ruger American.
They both really liked the Ruger American Compact and were quite impressed, although I think they didn’t expect to be. We conducted our test of the American immediately after they completed our 50-round department qualification course. I think they were quite surprised. We tested the American at 30 feet, two-handed standing. Groups were tight all around, and the trigger and solid weight were probably our favorite aspects of the American. The Wilson Combat ammo was noticeably hotter than the SIG practice ammo, but recoil was tamed due not only to the weight, but also to the recoil-reducing barrel cam, low center of gravity and relatively low bore access. The American is a natural pointer and the Novak sights are easy to pick up. The American feels very good, thanks to Ruger’s grip frame texturing, and did not slip in the hand while firing.
Final Thoughts on this Ruger
Ruger clearly has a winner here. While they have a number of fine defensive pistols in their lineup — like the 9E, SR9 and SR1911 — they have raised the bar with the American. Here is a pistol that is fully qualified for law enforcement duty and off-duty carry and is certainly ready for civilian carry and home defense. Very nicely done, Ruger! Spending more time with the American certainly raised my opinion of it. Available calibers are 9mm and .45 ACP. No .40-caliber version is listed as of this writing. Each version is available with an additional manual safety option, if desired. MSRP is $579 for all models. Ruger offers an “American Daily Carry Pro Kit” to enhance the American Pistol. Included is a CrossBreed Super Tuck IWB holster and spare magazine pouch marked with the Ruger Logo, a Columbia River Knife and Tool tactical flashlight and Ruger logo tactical knife, and a Trijicon tritium replacement front sight. The Kit is currently on sale for $299.99, which is a great value. Range Pro and Home Defense Kits are also available.