Review: Steyr L40-A1

Review: Steyr L40-A1

The Steyr L40-A1 has such sci-fi looks that Tarr's children kept asking to shoot it, and such a low bore that the recoil of full-power .40 S&W loads were no problem.

I freely admit that I am a child of Hollywood, and first became aware of the iconic Steyr AUG due to its huge presence onscreen in the hands of Karl (Alexander Gudonov) in Die Hard. My first awareness of Steyr pistols is due to Hollywood as well.

You never get a good look at Burt Reynolds' handgun in Sharky's Machine (1981), but I spent a lot of time with my nose in firearms catalogs and after a lot of research had pretty much convinced myself it was a Steyr GB, a pistol I'd never even heard of before (it turns out I was wrong, but I was only 13 and as this was before Al Gore invented the internet, my research options were limited, so cut me a little slack). So when it popped up again in Charlie Sheen's hand when he co-starred with Clint Eastwood in The Rookie (1990) I immediately recognized the distinctive round nose profile of the Steyr.

The L40-A1 is the largest, duty-sized auto from Steyr, following the M and S (medium and small) series. The latest model is chambered for the .40 S&W cartridge.


Then as now, a lot of gun enthusiasts aren't even aware Steyr makes pistols, and that is a shame, because in their own way they are still as distinctive as anything else on the market. One of the company's offerings is the Steyr L40-A1, its full-size L-A1 chambered in .40 S&W.


When I first picked up the Steyr L40-A1, it seemed very familiar to me, and not because of any movies. I soon realized that was because it reminded me of the Caracal, which I reviewed in these pages several years ago. That resemblance is not accidental — Wilhelm Bubits was on the design team of the Caracal, and he designed the Steyr M, the precursor (and style trendsetter) to the Steyr L40-A1.

Felt recoil for a plastic-framed .40 was not bad, thanks to how low the bore sits above the shooter's hand. Look at how high the backstrap of the pistol is.

The Steyr M was introduced in 1999. The S model came out about five years later, and now we have the L series. S, M, L€¦you guessed it, they stand for Small, Medium, and Large. The Steyr L40-A1 is the biggest and most powerful of the Steyrs. It is manufactured by Steyr Mannlicher in Austria and imported by Steyr Arms.

Every size pistol made by Steyr is offered in both 9mm and .40 S&W. Dimensionally, the Steyr L40-A1 is 188mm x 136mm x 30mm. For those of you who live in America and know that the metric system is stupid, that's 7.52x5.44x1.2 inches. It has a 4.53-inch barrel and weighs just over 28.5 ounces. The Steyr features a barrel with traditional lands and grooves, so use of lead bullets isn't a problem like it is with the polygonal rifling found in Glocks.


Whether you're in the habit of choking up on your handguns or not, the Steyr's grip tends to force it on you, and the end result is less muzzle rise and recoil.

I am a fan of full-size autos, as that is what I carry 51 weeks a year. To be honest, the Steyr L40-A1 seems sized better for the 9mm cartridge than the .40, as the L-A1 holds 17 rounds of 9mm, whereas the Steyr L40-A1 holds but 12+1 rounds of .40 S&W. Then again, a number of states don't even allow their subjects to own magazines which hold that many rounds, so I guess perspective is everything.

Like so many other pistols on the market, the Steyr L40-A1 uses a Browning short-recoil method of operation. The linkless barrel drops down as the slide moves back. The barrel is ramped and polished for more reliable feeding. The Steyr has as aggressive a grip angle as you're going to find on anything this side of the Glock. Personally I like it, but then I like Glocks.


The forward cocking serrations really help, as there isn't much slide above the frame to grab. The Steyr features a barrel with traditional lands and grooves.

Just like the Glock's, the bore of the Steyr L40-A1 sits very low in the hand. As a result, the slide has a rather low profile. Nearly half of the slide's length is taken up by very effective flat-bottomed serrations, so working the slide isn't a chore. The top of the slide is very flat, and very wide. I daresay even without sights this pistol would be pretty easy to aim just looking down the top of the slide.

The Steyr L40-A1 doesn't have a slide release, it has a slide stop. If you try to release the slide by pressing down on that minimalist piece of metal, you will not be successful. Reload by inserting a fresh magazine and then racking the slide. The pistol has a full-length polymer recoil spring guide rod and uses a captured flat wire recoil spring.

From looking at it, you might think the grip is shorter than it is and that an overlong magazine is fitted with a grip extender, but it's conventional.

The magazine release button has a very unusual profile, long and skinny, but it works just fine. It is steel, as are the magazines. I wish the magazine well in the bottom of the frame was larger, as it is barely larger than the magazine itself, and fit was very snug. There is not much margin for error, and reloading with any speed will take quite a lot of practice.

This is a typical trigger for a striker-fired gun — it pivots at the top, and has a mechanical safety lever in the center of the trigger. Trigger pull on my sample was excellent, which is exactly what I found with Bubits' later endeavor, the Caracal. Pull weight was just 5.5 pounds. After a short takeup, movement to break was very short, not much more than .2". Reset was about the same, although hearing and feeling the reset was very difficult, as it was not overly positive.

Tarr says the flat top is almost a sighting plane, and would make it easy to point the pistol even if it were not equipped with its unusual sighting system.

Officially Steyr calls it a "Reset Action" trigger, and it functions as the Glock does: with the trigger at rest, the striker is slightly compressed. Pulling the trigger compresses the striker spring further, and then it is released.

After its overall space age appearance, the next thing you'll notice about the Steyr L40-A1 are the unusual sights. The front sight is a white triangle: I think it's a little too wide at the base to be equilateral. The rear sight has a no-snag body and features an open-topped trapezoid for an aperture, with two white lines on the upper edges of the aperture.

This sounds weird — heck, it is weird — but it isn't slow. The big white front sight is easy to pick up at speed, and the way it fits into the rear aperture allows for precise shooting. Both front and rear sights are made of steel.

The sights on the Steyr are unusual. The rear aperture is an open-topped trapezoid with white lines on the upper slopes.

I don't know if the triangle-inside-a-trapezoid sights are faster/better than traditional sights, but after using them for an afternoon I can honestly say they aren't a handicap. The Steyr L40-A1 can be ordered with different sights if nothing but traditional rectangular sights will do for you.

The front of the frame has a standard dimension rail for attaching any lights or lasers. This is already a full-size gun that is larger than what most people are going to want to or be willing to carry even before you clamp on a light, but it is perfectly sized to be a duty weapon or bedside table gun.

The front sight on the Steyr L40-A1 is triangular.

The Steyr L40-A1 has an integral safety lock on the frame just behind the takedown lever. Push it in with one of the two provided keys. If, when you engage the lock, the striker is cocked, you will be unable to pull the trigger. If the striker isn't cocked when you engage the lock, you will be unable to work the slide — pretty ingenious. This is not a lock that can be accidentally activated, you have to push it about a quarter-inch into the pistol, and it's too small to be pushed in by a fingertip.

It's undeniable that the pistol has futuristic looks, from grip angle to trigger shape to sights. And that's not just the opinion of a middle-aged man — I took my two boys with me to the range when it was time to fire the Steyr and several other test guns, and my teenagers kept asking to shoot what they called "the sci-fi gun" — the Steyr.

Recoil of the .40 S&W cartridge can be snappy, even abusive. On the whole, most people find it less pleasant to shoot than the .45 ACP — the .45 is a thumper, whereas the .40 has a lot of torque and flip.

accuracy-a1-l40-steyr-review-pistol-10

Then again, a lot of pistols chambered in .40 are small light 9mms upchambered to .40. One way to reduce the felt recoil of a handgun is to add weight; the other is to move your hand as high up on the gun as possible. The full-size Steyr L40-A1 has some weight to it, but what really helps tame the recoil of the .40 in this gun is the very high grip. Steyr has taken the advice "choke up on the gun" to a whole new level.

Shooting the Steyr L40-A1 was not unpleasant at all, and for a polymer handgun chambered in .40 S&W, that's not easy to say. I would honestly say the Steyr had about the same felt recoil as an all-steel 1911 Government Model chambered in .40, simply because of the lower bore height.

The suggested retail price of the Steyr L40-A1 is $560, which makes it very competitive with the other polymer-framed striker-fired guns on the market. One thing the Steyr doesn't do, however, is blend in with the crowd.

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