Ruger Reboot: The American Compact and LCP II

SO, LAST AUTUMN, Ruger invited several of us gunwriters to an event at the scenic FTW Ranch in the Texas Hill Country, west of Saint Tony. The purpose was to give us a preview of the handguns they’d be rolling out between then and the end of the year and to allow us to put them through their paces. In addition to plenty of informal shooting on Day 1 and some casual competition events on Day 3, the second day was entirely devoted to an Essential Pistol class from Dave Spaulding of Handgun Combatives.

While there were a variety of handguns present, the two that were of immediate interest were the new LCP II and the handgun your humble correspondent used to take the Spaulding class, the Ruger American Compact.

We’ll turn our eyes to the American Compact first, what with it being the gun I actually used to shoot the course.

An American Story

The Ruger American line of pistols sprang from Ruger toying with the idea of making a serious run at the Army’s Modular Handgun System contract.

Things have changed a lot since the military sent some guys out into a pasture to bang away with a few Colts and Lugers and Savages and told them to come back with a winner. Modern .gov RFPs (that’s a TLA, or “Three Letter Acronym,” meaning “Request For Proposal”) run to hundreds of pages and, in the case of the Army’s handgun, specify everything from how reliable it needs to be to how many hours it can be exposed to salt air without rusting to dust tolerance to a bunch of other things.

Among those other things is lots of red tape at production facilities, including how ammunition is to be stored in what type of secured bunker and more. Ruger got pretty well into the design before figuring they might as well take what they’d learned, forget about the MHS contract and leave someone else to deal with the DoD rigmarole.

The end result, released at the end of 2015, was the Ruger American. As even the least perceptive person could have guessed, the original full-sized duty pistols have wound up spawning a compact, concealed-carry-oriented offspring.

The American Compact uses the same internal steel chassis as the full-sized guns. This chassis carries the lockwork and forms the frame rails and is the actual serialized part of the pistol, like the SIG Sauer P320. Unlike SIG, Ruger didn’t size their compact to go head-to-head against the Glock 19 (which is the 800-pound gorilla of the market). Instead, it followed the lead of Smith & Wesson and built a gun that size-wise splits the difference between the mid-sized and subcompact Glocks.

These magazines only ship to states without capacity restrictions, of course; for those behind enemy lines, Ruger ships the gun with a pair of 10-round sticks.

As such, the gun ships with a flush-fit 12-round magazine that can be fitted with either a flat floorplate or one with a pinkie rest, as well as a 17-round mag that is compatible with the full-sized gun and comes with a slip-on collar to allow it to blend seamlessly with the contours of the Compact’s grip. These magazines only ship to states without capacity restrictions, of course; for those behind enemy lines, Ruger ships the gun with a pair of 10-round sticks.

Unlike Ruger’s own SR9C, the full-sized mag in this gun drops free when released, without the adapter sleeve getting fouled on the shooter’s hand. The magazines are finished with a nickel-Teflon coating.

The slide stop on the American Compact is ambidextrous, as is the magazine release (and it’s truly ambidextrous, not merely reversible). The gun features a swappable wraparound backstrap and ships with small, medium and large sizes. The backstraps are released via a quarter-turn of a recessed catch using an included wrench.

The pistol is heavy relative to some of its closest competitors. The beefy steel chassis that contains the lockwork accounts for some of this, and the slide seems a bit more massive than the competition too, but Ruger is known for never using an ounce of steel where two will do the job just as well. (This might have something to do with their reputation for durability.)

The American Compact’s trigger features a Glock-type blade for drop safety and weighs in at just less than 6 pounds. Sights are of the three-dot variety, with a front blade narrow enough to leave a lot of light on either side of it in the notch of the genuine Novak rear sight.

Shooter Ready

Between the American Compact’s decent sights and the trigger, which features a predictable rolling break at just less than 6 pounds, I was able to look pretty good in the walkback drill on the morning of Spaulding’s class, despite being a thoroughly mediocre shooter.

Over the course of the class, shooters put between 400 and 700 rounds through each pistol, depending on how carried away they got with some of the drills. At a debrief after the class, only two malfunctions were noted, which is pretty good considering that we’d shot at least 5,000 rounds through all the guns combined, and possibly more than that.

When I tested my writer’s sample gun at home, I only encountered two reliability issues. First, the nickel-Teflon coating on the magazines does not play well with the polymer coating on steel-cased Russian ammo, causing it to bind in the magazine body. Second, an extremely under-powered lot of CCI Blazer ammunition was causing problems with failures-to-eject. And when I say “under-powered,” I mean 115-grain bullets that averaged about 1,050 feet per second.

All in all, I think Ruger’s abortive attempt to build a military pistol has resulted in probably their most solid and cost-effective 9mm handgun for the civilian marketplace since their original P-series autos debuted in the 1980s.

Second Helping

Do you know who I don’t envy? The guy who had to pen the replacement for Ford’s wildly successful first-generation Mustang. That must have been a tough job. How about the guy who had to figure out who the Broncos were going to draft to replace John Elway? Or the dude who had to fill out the Yankees lineup card the season after Babe Ruth left?

Most people don’t realize what a success the LCP has been, not just for Ruger but for the entire concept of concealed carry in general. To put this in perspective, quoting something I wrote a few years ago:

“According to BATFE manufacturing data, Ruger made almost 177,000 pistols in .380 caliber in 2011. The only .380 they made in 2011 was the LCP, and they made enough of that one model to arm every man, woman and child in Knoxville, Tennessee, or Providence, Rhode Island.

“That’s a lotta guns. That’s as many LCPs as all .38 revolvers manufactured by Smith & Wesson in all frame sizes plus all P-3ATs made by Kel-Tec plus all Diamondback .380s. That’s a lot of guns.”

I’ll say Ruger got it mostly right; where the LCP was genuinely annoying, the LCP II is only moderately unpleasant.

That’s darn near enough guns to let every member of the United States Marine Corps drop a .380 in the pocket of their MARPATs for a rainy day, and that’s still just one year’s production of LCPs. They’ve had five more years to churn them out since then.

So what do you do for an “Elsie Pea Too”? The first thing Ruger did was change it to a single-action setup, instead of the quasi-double-action of the original. This drops the trigger weight considerably — to about 5 pounds in my test example. A Glock-type blade safety in the trigger allows the gun to pass SAAMI drop tests, the stricter California drop tests and Ruger’s own in-house drop tests, which are more rigorous than either.

The sights on the gun, while still integral to the slide, are slightly larger than on the original LCP. In this respect, Ruger preferred a snag-free draw to an ideal sight picture, a compromise deemed relevant on a gun intended for pocket carry. (And speaking of pocket carry, the LCP II ships with a reasonably decent pocket carry holster.)

The LCP II has a last-round holdopen feature, unlike its predecessor. It will also use original LCP magazines, although they won’t lock the slide open when empty.

The LCP II has a last-round hold-open feature, unlike its predecessor. It will also use original LCP magazines, although they won’t lock the slide open when empty.

I’ll say Ruger got it mostly right; where the LCP was genuinely annoying, the LCP II is only moderately unpleasant.

Conversely, the LCP II is slightly bulkier than its forebearer, since the backstrap of the new gun is slightly fatter in service of spreading the recoil force across a broader surface of the shooter’s palm. In this respect, I’ll say Ruger got it mostly right; where the LCP was genuinely annoying, the LCP II is only moderately unpleasant. A 50-round box can be easily disposed of in one sitting, but your correspondent was looking for something else to do about halfway through the second box of .380.

The LCP II has a last-round hold-open feature, unlike its predecessor. It will also use original LCP magazines, although they won’t lock the slide open when empty.

I also discovered that there must be some minor variation in geometry between the LCP and LCP II magazines, because the LCP mags had issues running Winchester 95-grain flat-point FMJ in the LCP II; the top two rounds in the magazine would nosedive into the feed ramp every time. They worked fine with every other brand of ammo I tried, and they worked fine when loaded with only four rounds of the 95-grain flat-point FMJ, so there you go. Avoid that one kind of ammo and your legacy magazines will work dandily in your new gun.

Sold!

The original LCP will continue in production at its current aggressive price point, or at least that’s what I was assured, but the splendid trigger and better sights of the LCP II make it a tempting alternative, even for a few dollars more. I know I’m planning on sending Ruger a check instead of sending their gun back.