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Beretta's 80X Cheetah CCW Pistol: Best Backup .380?

The Beretta 80X Cheetah pistol is large for a .380 ACP handgun, but that gives it great magazine capacity and makes it fast, accurate and highly shootable.

Beretta's 80X Cheetah CCW Pistol: Best Backup .380?

Beretta’s 80X Cheetah is a modern, improved version of their veteran double-stack .380 carry gun. It’s now optics ready, with a rail. 

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Back in the day, Beretta .380s were considered the standard in concealable pistols. While they weren’t the smallest, or the cheapest, you could count on them to work in an era where most small pistols were jam-o-matics. Officially/technically this is known as the “Series 81” line, but they are far more well known as the Beretta Cheetah, and various models were available in .22 LR, .32 ACP, and .380 ACP, fed by single- and double-stack magazines. The .380 ACP versions were the most popular in the United States, and the Cheetah was produced from 1976 to 2017. CCW pistols were huge sellers at the time they were discontinued in the US, but its design was a bit dated when they stopped producing it. There were a number of reasons the Cheetahs weren’t selling well when they were discontinued. Everyone was moving to sub- and micro-compact polymer-framed 9mms, whereas the Cheetah is darn near a mid-size pistol, with a heavier aluminum frame, with an old-school DA/SA operating system, and chambered in “just” .380 ACP. But it also didn’t have any modern features—the front sights were machined all one piece with the slide, the gun had no accessory rail, and compared to more modern pistols the trigger pull was quite heavy.

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While “only” a .380 ACP, the 80X Cheetah has all the controls of a full-size gun and is big enough to shoot like one. It has classic looks and style, and from a distance looks like a Beretta 92. The frame rail allows you to mount a weaponlight to the 80X, like this Streamlight TLR-7. Tarr thinks lights on CCW guns are an affectation, but this is handy if you want your CCW piece to pull double duty as a home defense gun.

The Beretta engineers went back to the drawing board to modernize the Cheetah, and as they were doing that…something interesting was happening in the market. People started actually shooting those tiny 9mms they’d bought, and discovered it wasn’t fun or easy. Soon, many companies were introducing versions of their small 9mms chambered in .380 ACP—when chambered in this less powerful cartridge, the gun was easier and more pleasant to shoot, and it could be equipped with a lighter recoil spring, making the gun more user-friendly if you had grip strength issues. Introduced this year is the new Beretta 80X Cheetah, a modernized version of the discontinued Beretta 84F/84FS, a 13+1-shot .380 ACP. Beretta has reworked just about everything on this pistol from the sights to the frame—the barrel is longer, the slide is shorter, the frame has a completely different profile, the magazine has been tweaked, etc..

Currently, there are two versions of the Beretta 80X Cheetah, the all-black version seen here, and an otherwise identical “Launch” model with a bronze anodized frame and silver Inox barrel that looks a bit fancier/classier to my eyes, but you pay for it, as that model is $200 more. This pistol has a 3.9-inch barrel and is 6.8-inches long, 4.9-inches tall, 1.4-inches wide (at the safety, the grips are 1.25-inches wide), and it weighs 25 ounces with an unloaded magazine in place (according to Beretta, but my scale put it at 24 ounces). This pistol has an aluminum frame and a DA/SA operating system, but the trigger system is a bit unusual, so let’s talk about that. First, the trigger pull on the new 80X is much lighter and smoother than on those older guns. The heavy DA trigger pull was one of the main complaints about the original Cheetahs, and through a lighter hammer spring and improved geometry the trigger pull has been vastly improved. Beretta calls this their X-treme S trigger, and in addition to a lighter hammer spring, and skeletonized hammer, you get an adjustable overtravel stop where you can reduce reset to 1mm (according to Beretta). As it came from the factory the reset on my sample was about a quarter inch, which I find perfectly acceptable for a compact CCW piece. The face of the steel trigger is vertically serrated. The substantially lighter hammer spring means the slide is easier to cycle by hand as well.

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The new 80X on the right, compared to Tarr’s 84F on the left (wearing G10 grips from LOK Grips). You’ll spot all sorts of differences, from improved sights to forward cocking serrations to a frame rail to the flat-backed Vertec-style frame.

The double action pull on my sample was 6.25 pounds, and the single action was 4.75 pounds, which is not much of a difference. To compare, I have an original 84F (that I love) and bought new in the early nineties. After I don’t know how many pulls of the trigger it offers an 8.75-pound DA trigger pull and a 4.75-pound SA pull. And a brief aside as to why I love my 84F, and why you’ll probably love the 80X—this is a somewhat heavy .380 that is big enough for you to get your whole hand on, with a low bore. It is easy to shoot fast and accurately. In fact, it’s fun to shoot, something that can rarely be said about the modern tiny and ultra-light carry guns. And modern .380 ACP ammunition performs better than the 9mm ammo of the 1980s, so with a 13+1 .380 you really shouldn’t feel undergunned. Now back to the trigger pull: The weights don’t tell the whole story. This pistol has a bilateral safety that also works as a decocker. It is a frame-mounted safety, and if you click it up to the first position, so the lever half-covers the red dot on the slide, the safety is engaged, and pulling the trigger does nothing. You can thus carry this pistol cocked-and-locked. However…

Beretta says that this is a two-position safety, either all the way down (off) or all the way up (engaged), with no middle position. And there is no middle position if the hammer is down. But if the hammer is cocked there is a definite click/detent in the middle of the safety range of motion, and not just on my sample, but all of them. Beretta said the same thing about the 84 (no middle position), but the safety on that also has that weird middle position when the hammer is cocked, which would work for cocked-and-locked carry, EXCEPT that safety lever only needs a tiny bit of pressure to be deactivated in this position, and this could happen accidentally, so I don’t recommend it. Pushing the safety all the way up decocks the pistol, but you’ll see it doesn’t drop the hammer all the way down, only about three-quarters of the way down. But that’s a huge and important difference.

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Original Cheetahs had front sights milled all one piece with the slide. The front sight of the Beretta 80X Cheetah as seen here is dovetailed into place. The rear sight is a simple notch, and all one piece with a removable plate. You can buy optics mounting plates from Beretta to stick a red dot on the 80X. With the 80X you get the controls of a full-size gun, but well-thought out for a smaller CCW piece. Note how the magazine release is inset to prevent accidental engagement.

That quarter-cock notch (as I’ll call it) shortens the double action trigger pull by nearly half. It doesn’t lighten the DA pull, but it makes it so much shorter it’s closer to the trigger pull length you’ll find on a striker-fired gun than that of a normal double action pistol. Combined with the reduced weight of the DA trigger pull (6.25 pounds), effectively with the 80X you get a gun that has the trigger pull of a striker-fired gun for the first shot, and a single-action trigger pull for subsequent shots, until you use the decocker. You can’t pull the hammer back by hand to that quarter-cock notch, you can only get the hammer there by cocking it fully and then using the decocker. You can leave the decocker up, and thus the safety engaged, or you can drop the safety. On the older Cheetah, the front sight was machined all one piece with the slide. On the 80X the front sight is dovetailed into place. The rear sight is machined as part of the optics cover plate, which you’d remove to mount a red dot to the slide using various mounting plates available from Beretta separately. As I write this, they have two available, one to mount a Shield-pattern red dot optic, and one to mount a Holosun 407K. Go to the Beretta website, click on the Gun Accessories tab at the top, then go to the Kits & Parts section to find your mounting plate.

beretta-cheetah-80x-005
Beretta sells a number of holsters which fit the 80X, including this Civilian model, which comes with both a belt loop and a paddle.

The sights are somewhat low profile, but you’d expect that on a pistol meant for concealed carry. The sights provide a pretty standard three-white-dot sight picture. For the new 80X, Beretta has added forward cocking serrations to the slide. As this is a straight blowback gun, even with the reduced weight hammer spring the force required to cycle the slide is about what you’d find with a 9mm. From a distance, or if you’re only looking at pictures, the 80X might appear to be a full-size 92 Vertec, as it features the same design, including the open-top slide and flat backstrap. It’s only when you get it in your hand that you see how much smaller it is. Still, this is not a pocket gun, and you’ll need a good holster for it. If you’re looking for a .380 you can stuff in your pocket and forget it’s there, this isn’t the gun for you. Due to the frame rail, most holsters meant for the older 84F won’t fit the 80X, but Beretta already has a number of IWB and OWB holsters available on their website. They sent me one of their Civilian holsters for this gun. This polymer holster has a carbon fiber-like finish and comes with a paddle and a belt loop with spacers that accepts belts between one and two-inches wide.

You’ve got great controls. The slide stop is big enough to function as a slide release.The bilateral decocker/safety can be worked well with a thumb. The magazine release is a round steel button that doesn’t quite stick out as far as the grips, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally dumping a magazine. The frame has a two-slot rail for mounting lights or lasers. I can see a laser having some utility on a CCW pistol, but I’m sure some hard-chargers will be wanting to slap weapon lights onto this pistol as well. In fact, this test sample came to me with a Streamlight TLR-7 attached, which is a fabulous light, and having the ability to mount a light to the gun is always nice. However, this is a compact gun, meant for concealment, and short-range encounters. If you want to use it as a home-defense weapon, putting a light on it makes sense. If you just want a light on your gun because it looks cool, or reduces recoil/muzzle rise, or simply “just because,” go for it. But please, also, think—as a private citizen, explain how you’d use that weapon-mounted light, on a loaded pistol drawn from concealment, without violating one of the four basic rules of gun safety. Explain it like you’re in front of a judge and jury.

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The 80X is quick and easy to disassemble. The barrel is fixed, and doesn’t move during the recoil cycle.

Let’s talk about the frame, as that’s where you’ll see another big change. The older 84 and 85 (which is a single-stack with an eight-round magazine) had vertical serrations on the front and rear of the frame, and the frame had that distinctive Beretta hand-filling hump on the back. With the 80X, a lot of things have changed—First, the back of the frame sports large checkering. The top half of the front strap is checkered, and the bottom half sports vertical serrations. To reduce the size of the grip, Beretta went with a Vertec-style frame, which means they flattened the rear of the frame, eliminating that hump. The grips are also thinner than on the original 84, and the end result is a pistol whose grip frame is a bit smaller and thus more concealable. However (and you might have suspected you were going to get one of those), in handling this pistol I am reminded of a conversation I had with Ernest Langdon. He is the most well-known customizer/upgrader of the Beretta 92 design, and most modern Beretta pistols including the 90 series and this pistol, sport improvements that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for his efforts over the last 30 years. Langdon told me that a lot of people like the looks of the flat-backed Vertec grip, but when they start shooting those guns, they immediately notice the lack of a hand-filling hump at the back—and miss it. I was curious to see if I’d experience the same thing, with the plan to shoot the 80X beside my beloved 84F and compare/contrast.

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There is a significant difference in recoil between various .380 ACP offerings. Tarr found the 80X was completely reliable with every load tested. The most accurate load tested in the 80X was Hornady’s light-recoiling Critical Duty JHP.

The 80X almost uses the same magazine design as the 84F/84FS. The earlier guns had magazine disconnect safeties, and so their magazines have a cutout to work with that. As a result, 84F magazines will work in the 80X, but the new 80X magazines won’t work in older guns, as they don’t deactivate the magazine disconnect safety. The magazine well of the pistol is modestly beveled, and two 13-round blued steel magazines are provided (10 rounders also available). There are numbered index holes at the back of the magazine—4, 6, 8, 10, and 13. While I carry my 84F a lot, it’s been a while since I’ve shot it, and enjoyed shooting it side by side with the 80X. Because of the low bore of the design, recoil is as much straight back as anything, with minimal muzzle rise. Because this is a straight blowback design, if you’re shooting spicy rounds the recoil can get a bit sharp, but there is a big difference in recoil between various .380 ACP loads, and you have to decide what you want/are comfortable with.

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Beretta’s 80X Cheetah is a bit big for a .380, but that means you can shoot it fast and accurate. It’s actually fun to shoot, unlike most micro .380s.

The gun has a fixed barrel, and I found it was very accurate for its size. With softer ammunition this gun is just a hammer, and I could do pie plate-sized groups at 12 yards as fast as I could pull the trigger. Try that with an LCP. It was just about as easy to shoot as a full-size gun, while having less recoil (with certain ammunition). I did find that while I was able to shoot the 80X just fine, I did prefer the hump-backed frame of my original 84F. Your experience, as they say, may differ. There are dozens of .380 ACP loads on the market which offer amazing performance. My two favorite .380 ACP loads are polar opposites—Federal’s 99-grain HST is a heavy-for-caliber traditional JHP. A LE version of this (loaded 100 fps faster than the standard 950 fps commercial loading) actually passed the FBI Protocol. Back in the 1980s, no 9mm round could pass the FBI Ammunition Testing Protocol. Recoil with this load is sharp, but manageable. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Black Hills Ammunition’s 60-grain Honey Badger. This copper solid bullet is not designed to expand, rather the flutes shove the tissue out of the way as it penetrates. It will do every bit of the 1,150 fps advertised while having noticeably less recoil than a standard .380 load. If you’re looking at this pistol for someone with a compromised grip, a softer-shooting defensive load might be the ideal choice. Yes, the Beretta 80X Cheetah is the size and weight of many 9mm pistols with the same capacity. So why would you choose a .380 ACP over a 9mm? If the looks, classiness, and Beretta name on the slide aren’t enough to convince you, how about this—the Beretta is actually much more fun and controllable to shoot.

Recommended


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Beretta 80X Cheetah Specs

  • Type: DA/SA semi-auto
  • Caliber: .380 ACP
  • Capacity: 13+1 rds. 
  • Barrel: 3.9 in. 
  • Overall Length: 6.8 in. 
  • Overall Height: 4.9 in. 
  • Width: 1.4 in. 
  • Frame: Aluminum
  • Grips: Polymer
  • Slide: Steel
  • Barrel: Stainless steel
  • Sights: 3-dot, steel, optics ready
  • Trigger Pull: 6.25 lbs. (DA), 4.75 lbs. (SA) (tested)
  • Safeties: Decocker/manual safety, firing pin block
  • Weight: 24 oz.
  • Accessories: two 13-round magazines
  • MSRP: $799 (tested)
  • Contact: Beretta

If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.




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