Ruger American Compact Pistol Review: Big & Beefy

Ruger American Compact Pistol Review

When I set out to do this Ruger American Compact Pistol review, I wondered if a company can be truly innovative after it has established itself and fallen into a predictable pattern. The answer is sometimes yes, oftentimes no.

Established nearly 70 years ago, Sturm, Ruger & Co. is widely recognized as making good quality, durable sporting arms for a range of shooting needs. From hunting to self-defense, Ruger makes a lot of guns – many of which are highly respected for their rugged nature. But, has the company fallen into a predictable pattern of production?

When the new compact version of the Ruger 9mm American Pistol was announced, I knew I wanted to review the gun. The American Pistol line promised a range of innovations, and I wanted to see if Ruger had delivered something unique, or merely an “also ran” in the era of the polymer-framed, striker-fired pistol.

Little Big Gun

I was impressed by the presentation of the new Ruger when it first appeared at my local dealer. While some guns are delivered in cardboard boxes with a dearth of supporting accessories, this American Pistol arrived in an attractive, hard plastic case that was filled with extras.

Even if a buyer isn’t consciously aware of it, presentation matters and has a lasting impact on the customer’s satisfaction with the purchase. Presentation of a new product is something that helped turn Apple into the technology giant it is today, and it is something that Ruger seems to be exploiting for its benefit as well.

Presentation of the Ruger American Pistol Compact

The Ruger American Compact pistol I chose to review is the gun chambered for the 9mm cartridge. The 9mm has been very popular for many decades and is widely recognized as appropriate for self-defense use.

Guns ship with a pair of magazines: a 12-round one that fits flush with the bottom of the grip and the other an extended magazine that holds 17-rounds of 9mm. Both magazine bodies are made of steel and are nickel-Teflon plated. This makes the magazines corrosion resistant and very slick in and out of the gun. Reloads are seriously fast. Also included with the gun is a pinky extension floor plate for the 12-round magazine.

If you live in a rights-restricted state, 10-round magazine versions of the gun are available.

Ruger American 9mm Compact Pistol Review

Disassembly of the gun is very straightforward and does not require depressing the trigger. One simply removes the magazine and locks the slide to the rear. You then rotate the take down lever 45˚ down and remove the slide assembly from the frame. The recoil spring is captive, so you don’t need to worry about anything shooting across the room when field stripping the gun.

Sights

Ruger selected Novak LoMount Carry three dot sights for the American Compact pistol. For many people, these will work fine.

Three Dot Sights

For defensive uses, I prefer a large front sight – preferably of a bright, contrasting color – with a wide notch rear. For me, a bold front sight is easy to pick up – even when focused on the target. In a violent encounter, I’ll take any advantage I can get, and this one seem to work for me.

Three dot sights are pretty standard across the industry, but I’m not convinced they are the best, or even a really good choice, for defensive firearms. But, Ruger is delivering what most people are comfortable with, and I might do the same if I was making the decisions at the company as well.

The rear sight is ramped on the leading edge that theoretically offers a lower chance of snagging on a cover garment when drawing and reholstering. Regular readers know that I like to have a hard leading edge to the rear sight for one-handed slide manipulation.

Sights on the Ruger 9mm Pistol

For the casual shooter, this is not an important feature. For someone who would carry this gun professionally, I consider it to be mandatory. Most readers will fall somewhere between the two extremes and will have to decide for themselves if this is a big deal or not. For purely putting rounds where they need to go, the stock sights are certainly capable.

Ambidextrous Controls

Ruger American 9mm Compact Ambidextrous Controls

Unlike some guns with a swappable magazine release, the Ruger American Compact 9mm pistol is truly ambidextrous. On both sides of the frame, there are a push button magazine release and a slide stop. No need to call a gunsmith, the guns just work out of the box for people of all hand persuasions.

One version of the gun also has an ambidextrous thumb safety. The Pro model, as tested in this article, does not have a manual safety lever.

Grip Modules

With the American Pistol line, Ruger implemented an interchangeable grip system so shooters can best fit the gun to their hands. Unlike the swappable backstrap system that is found on some other guns, Ruger uses a changeable part that covers both the back and sides of the American Compact pistol’s grip frame.

Three basic sizes are used: small, medium and large. The medium grip comes fitted on the gun.

Ruger American Pistol Compact Grip Panels

To change the grips, remove the gun’s slide assembly and find the Torx screw head recessed in the backstrap. With the included Torx wrench, turn the screw 1/4 turn counter-clockwise. The grip can then be taken off.

The grip will be sight to the frame, which is good for shooting. However, it may be a bit challenging the first time you try a different size.

For me, the small grip module worked the best and that’s the one I stuck with throughout this Ruger American Compact 9mm review. The company includes grip module blocks with the gun to ensure the modules are not crushed inadvertently during storage.

Weight and Size

Picking up the gun for the first time, I was a little taken aback by its weight. The gun felt heavy and a subsequent check of the gun’s vital stats reinforced this belief.

Unloaded, the gun has a listed weight of nearly 29 ounces. For a compact 9mm pistol that makes ample use of polymer parts, I was expecting something 6-7 ounces lighter. By way of comparison, the higher capacity Glock 19 Gen4 weighs less than 24 ounces and the Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0 Compact comes in at 25.9 ounces with a 15 round magazine.

Size of Ruger American Pistol Compact

Although the Ruger American pistols have a distinctly different look, the weights are reminiscent of the company’s P-series pistols from the 80’s and 90’s. The P-series handguns were widely regarded as reliable performers, just a bit on the large and heavy side. Those guns would go through several iterations before being completely replaced by Ruger’s SR-series of handguns.

The weight seems to be up and forward, which makes sense: that’s where much of the slide and all of the barrel are. I suspect that the comparatively heavy weight is partially because Ruger made these pistols to run on a steady diet of +P ammunition. High pressure ammo can cause accelerated wear on a firearm, so I would not be surprised to discover a little extra beefiness was required in the design to ensure long-term durability.

Accessories

Under the barrel, Ruger incorporated a Picatinny-type rail for the addition of a white light or laser. Although this is a compact handgun, there appears to be enough rail space to handle pretty much any accessory you might reasonably want to add.

I had a Streamlight TLR-4 G on hand that worked perfectly with the gun. The advantage to the TLR-4 G is that it gives you both a bright white light and a green aiming laser. Other accessories from SureFire, Viridian and others should also work without any issues.

There are also plenty of companies that are now making, or have plans to introduce, holsters for the Ruger American pistol.

Specifications

caliber9mm
magazine capacity10, 12, 17 (see article)
weight28.7 oz unloaded
barrel length3.55"
overall length6.65"
action/firing systemstriker-fired
sights3-dot
finishmatte black
MSRP$579.00

Range Time

One of the things associated with Ruger is the idea that the company’s guns are built like tanks. Quite frankly, this gun felt a bit tank like, so when I headed to the range, I took no mercy on it.

Shooting the Ruger American Pistol Compact

Since some guns perform better with a bit of a break in period, I will often start a gun with a few hundred rounds of full metal jacket (FMJ) loads. FMJ bullets tend to feed easier that hollow point designs in a semi-automatic pistol.

Although the gun looked and felt like a shooter, there was only one way to be sure. So, off to the range I headed with a pack full of ammo and some testing equipment. My goal was to determine if the Ruger American Pistol Compact would serve as a personal protection weapon. Specifically, I wanted to check to see if the gun was reliable, accurate and easy to operate.

Ruger pistols are built like tanks. Quite frankly, this gun felt a bit tank like, so I took no mercy on it.

Reliability was impeccable. I tested the gun with a range of practice and self-defense ammunition. The Ruger ran it all without any issues. I value reliability as the most important attribute for a self-defense firearm.

Accuracy was also excellent with this pistol. The first five-shot group I shot with this gun measured a bit over 1.5”. Not bad for having never fired the gun before. Once I settled into the feel of the pistol, the groups improved even more. The best of the bunch was with the 124 grain Speer Gold Dot load. With this load, I managed handheld groups of less than 1.5” with the tightest being five rounds into 1.02” hand held.

Ammunition Performance

Even as the day progressed, and my hands became sweaty, the small grip panel’s fit to my hand ensured I had a solid hold on the pistol throughout the day. The undercut trigger guard allowed my hand to get a high hold on the gun, and the texturing really locked my hand into place. A solid grip helps control muzzle flip, and the solid bulk of the gun did its part to absorb recoil as well. Heavy +P loads still recoiled more than lightweight, standard pressure loads, but none approached anything close to being harsh.

As previously mentioned, this handgun ships with a 17-round magazine in addition to the more compact 12-round version. I had no problems running the larger magazine, but truth be known, I’d rather just have a pair of 12-rounders. The more compact magazine better fit my hands and the odds of needing an additional 5 rounds in a personal defense shooting are fairly remote. Of course, your needs may be different. The pinky extension was ideally suited for my hands.

All of the controls were easy to reach. I found the serrations on the slide were particularly good at providing traction for the hand. When manipulating the slide, my hand seemingly locked on to the serrations and did not slip throughout my time with this gun.

Ruger American Pistol Compact slide serrations

I’ve occasionally run into problems with ambidextrous magazine releases from other manufacturers. The release on the Ruger American Pistol worked flawlessly. I reached the button easily with either hand and never accidentally activated it – even when running the gun hard and fast.

Ruger makes a point of highlighting the trigger pull on this gun, using a chart to compare the weight and distance to three other unnamed brands. While I think the trigger has a relatively good pull, I’m not sure if it is clearly superior to all other comers. That is likely more of a personal decision than anything measurable.

For my part, I found the trigger has a fair amount of take up with a relatively short travel and clean break. Built into the trigger guard is a trigger stop that eliminates over-travel. Reset is moderately long with a small amount of pull again prior to break. While I don’t think the trigger is perfect, it is significantly better than some of the other options on the market and more than good enough for accurate shooting.

Ammunition Performance

Ruger American Compact with 9mm ammunition

 

Velocity

Energy

Aguila 115 gr FMJ

1,109 fps

314 ft-lbs

American Eagle 124 gr FMJ

1,056 fps

307 ft-lbs

Blazer Brass 115 gr FMJ

1,125 fps

323 ft-lbs

Blazer Brass 124 gr FMJ

1,097 fps

331 ft-lbs

Federal 9BPLE 115 gr JHP +P+

1,255 fps

402 ft-lbs

Federal HST 124 gr +P

1,145 fps

361 ft-lbs

Hornady American Gunner 124 gr XTP +P

1,087 fps

325 ft-lbs

Hornady Critical Defense 115 gr FTX

1,122 fps

321 ft-lbs

HPR Ammunition 124 gr JHP

959 fps

253 ft-lbs

Liberty Ammunition 50 gr JHP

1,950 fps

422 ft-lbs

Remington UMC 115 gr JHP

1,069 fps

292 ft-lbs

SIG SAUER Elite Performance 115 gr FMJ

1,100 fps

309 ft-lbs

SIG SAUER Elite Performance V-Crown 124 gr JHP

1,034 fps

294 ft-lbs

SIG SAUER Elite Performance V-Crown 147 gr JHP

929 fps

282 ft-lbs

Speer Gold Dot 124 gr JHP

1,083 fps

323 ft-lbs

Winchester PDX1 Defender 124 gr +P

1,167 fps

375 ft-lbs

Performance measured with a Competition Electronics ProChrono Digital Chronograph at an approximate distance of 15' from the muzzle of the pistol. All measurements are an average of five shots.

Final Thoughts

Is the compact version of the Ruger American Pistol innovative or is the company stuck in an institutional rut?

Personally, I believe the gun is an excellent design with plenty for people to like. The pistol seems to be an evolutionary design that draws inspiration from modern handgun successes while staying true to the company’s roots in making durable, reliable firearms. In other words, it offers great things from both the modern and traditional.

shooting the handgun

The gun may not be the lightest or thinnest pistol in its niche. In fact, it is heavier than I would like to carry – especially considering its relative girth and capacity when compared to other handguns on the market.

Yet, the pistol is within the general parameters people expect in a compact handgun with the added benefit of being ready for years of hard practice. Also, consider that the pistol is easy recoiling. This suggests that the practice you should be doing with your self-defense handgun will not be the chore it can be with ultra-light weapons.

Selecting a pistol for personal protection is a highly personal thing. Fortunately, there are many high-quality firearms on the market from which you can choose. This new Ruger American Pistol Compact is a worthy addition to that group of guns.

If you are interested in this gun, check out the models that Brownells currently offering.

Disclosures

Too many “reviews” of products are bought and paid for by the manufacturer. It is my contention that every reviewer should voluntarily disclose any potential biases and influences that impact the article.

Ruger loaned me this gun specifically for review. I’ve also completed a review of this gun for Concealed Carry Handguns magazine. Some of the material in this article originally appeared in that one. The conclusions in both articles are the same.

Ruger has not offered or given anything to me to publish this article or to write a favorable review. Ruger is not an advertiser, nor are we in any talks for them to be one. At the time of this writing, I have no financial interest in any firearm manufacturer.

GunsHolstersAndGear.com is an independent, for-profit website. I do not charge readers a dime to access the information I provide.

Some of the links on this page and site are affiliate links to companies like Amazon and Palmetto State Armory. These links take you to the products mentioned in the article. Should you decide to purchase something from one of those companies, I make a small commission.

The links do not change your purchase price. I do not get to see what any individual purchases.

If you have any questions about this Ruger American Compact review, please leave a comment below. Your experiences with the gun are also welcome below.

TL;DR

The Ruger American 9mm Compact pistol performed flawlessly with 16 different ammunition loads, including popular self-defense hollowpoints. Although it feels top heavy, its accuracy, mild recoil and trigger pull more than make up for any perceived balance problems. I recommend this gun.

2 replies on “Ruger American Compact Pistol Review: Big & Beefy”

i have the duty 9mm american it the first gun i own in 20years this. gun is easy to shoot a can hit the10 ring most of the time i’ve put 1k rounds and it’s great it ate everything no mis fire they up graded for free it was hard to get the gun hot a American made all profit go to a amerivan company it’s as good as the others or better than many the only thing i had was using the right back get your finger right and no problems

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *