Ruger American Pistol: Compact & Ready for Carry — Full Review

Naming your latest handgun “The American Pistol makes a pretty clear statement. Add to that the timing of the launch of this product line amidst the backdrop of a highly contentious Presidential campaign and a continuingly more divided American narrative, and it makes a loud and clear statement. Ruger is an American company that is dedicated to American values and to its American customers.

You think that might resonate with some folks? Bill Ruger was to the marketing side of firearms what Bill Gates was to the PC industry – and it seems the company that bears his name still bears his spirit and his acumen for knowing what people want.

The Name Ruger

In my circles, I know people that were interested in the gun simply because of its name, even guys that were not previously known to be Ruger fans. As for the Ruger fans, they are a brand loyal bunch on par with those that will only buy one brand of American car – ever.

And why not? Sturm, Ruger & Co. has produced some of the most popular firearms of the past century, and you can’t even claim to be a “gun guy” or “gun gal” if you don’t own at least one of them. I’m referring specifically to the 10/22 rifle and the Mark (insert favorite Roman numeral here) pistol. Both available in countless configurations and both as ubiquitous as the .22LR cartridge they fire. And the LCR and LCP products have also been hugely popular and considered by many to be ‘best in class’ for those categories. But it seemed that there was an absence from Prescott, AZ when it came to a legitimate contender for the double-stack compact carry market – which is huge. That ends with the Ruger American Compact.

Ruger marches to the beat of its own drum when it comes to design. The American Pistol is a beat that is bound to form a conga line.

Worn inside the waistband in a thin holster like this Kydex and leather hybrid from Multi Holsters, the 13 shot American Compact easily disappears under your clothes.

The 9mm Demand

The saturation of the 9mm “compact” form factor is a result of consumer demand. For a time, nearly any gun brought to market was guaranteed enough sales to at least break even, but as the supply and demand curves once again come within view of each other, it becomes more a buyer’s market. This means that you need to pay attention to customers’ demands. First and foremost, customers demand a defensive handgun that is going to be reliable beyond question. Next, it has to have capacity – or be so small you can conceal it in a speedo. Big handguns with low capacity are like sub-compact cars that don’t get good mileage – they have no place on this Earth.

We also want good – no – make those great ergonomics. We’re tired of making our hand fit a gun. Sick to death of controls that are out of reach or having our grip feel awkward. Oh, and speaking of controls – they need to work easily. We don’t want to jump up and down on a magazine release button to get the magazine to drop. The slide stop needs to also be a slide release. And finally – it needs to be a shooter.

There is simply no excuse for a 9mm ‘compact’ size gun to have harsh recoil or a painful trigger or a lousy sight picture. Oh, and lastly, I know a number of lefties that are tired of being treated like second class second amendment enthusiasts. No reason a gun can’t have the necessary ambidextrous controls. That’s quite a list, isn’t it? I think it’s the reality of the gun buyer’s expectations. I drafted that list of demands before I tested the Ruger American Compact. Let’s see how it stacked up.

Reliability

I’ll circle back on the reliability question in a bit, when talking about the shooting performance. But so far as the design and build aspects, Ruger has ticked all the boxes. The American Compact holds 12 rounds in its standard magazine (10 for those of you who are infringed upon), and with one chambered that’s a baker’s dozen. People in less restricted states also get a 17 round “full size” magazine along with a grip sleeve that slips easily over the full magazine and mates it nicely to the magazine well, creating a full sized grip. The 12 round mag comes with a pinkie-extension style baseplate but a flush-mount baseplate is in the box if you’d prefer to swap it. Ergonomics is always a subjective topic, but it is apparent that Ruger put in the effort here.

Three sizes of easily changed grip panels helps to get the perfect fit for every hand.

It starts with the shape of the polymer grip, which is aggressively arched and sits at an angle of 70 degrees to the slide (the same angle as the 1911). Ruger provides three sizes of the grip module, which is a U-shaped wrap around piece that includes the backstrap and both sides of the grip. The medium module is installed at the factory, and you can choose between that and small or large. Medium felt okay to me, so I left it. A small ‘Torx’ key must be turned ¼ turn (wrench is provided) to remove the module, then re-tightened when the desired size is installed. Arched back straps are tricky things. I generally like the feel of them, but if the arch is too severe it starts to pull the web of my hand away from the tang of the grip where I need the tightest fit. With the medium module installed, I could feel that happen ever so slightly as I tightened my grip.

The visual cues of all the angles and diamond shapes belie just how natural the American feels in the hand.

The American Compact has full ambidextrous controls.

Versatility

So, I decided to install the small module and begin my testing with that. I like this new era of multiple configuration options so that shooters can better adjust the fit of the gun to their hand. The texture pattern of the grip is a series of small diamond shaped protrusions on the front and back straps that do a decent job providing a non-slip surface, particularly out front. The rear diamonds look interestingly to me as though they might also be tail feathers of the Phoenix bird that is the familiar Ruger logo. Aside from some decent texturing on the front strap and back strap there isn’t much texturing to the side panels. Once the question of size is settled, some aftermarket grip tape will improve that. The arched back and deep-set grip tang will also greatly help the shooter keep a firm grip.

At just a hair over an inch, the widest part of the pistol is across the ambidextrous slide stop control. There is also a witness hole in the barrel hood to easily spot a chambered round.

The controls of the pistol are also well placed. The slide stop/release lever could be manipulated without adjusting my grip, once I installed the small module. The magazine release required just a smidge of grip twist, but someone with 1/16” more thumb won’t require it. Moreover, both of these controls are ambidextrous as standard, and both function very well, except for the right side slide release (the one lefties would use). This is a common issue on ambidextrous slide stop/release controls when the part is designed like a wishbone but only one side (left) is actually catching and holding the slide. When you push down on the right side lever, the metal linkage inside the pistol flexes and that energy is spent before it is able to move the contact point on the opposite side. This occurs on enough pistols that it is clearly not a design priority for many brands. The magazine release operates smoothly and very effectively from both sides and the magazines drop free perfectly.

SHOOTING THE AMERICAN COMPACT

The only Ruger American Pistol I had fired before taking the Compact 9mm to the range was the full-sized American in .45 ACP. This pistol is, of course smaller, but identical in design and controls. As with its larger stablemate, I found that the ergonomics of Ruger’s design are best appreciated with live fire. And even though I find the texture of the polymer grip somewhat lacking, it stays put in the hand well while emptying a magazine.

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The pinky extension on the standard magazine helps provide that full grip feeling and adds stability. The full-sized mag with grip sleeve also feels and functions great. Ruger gets an A-minus on the controls, all being very well placed and of course, fully ambidextrous. A minor gripe with the magazine release buttons is that they are on the small side. But I had no trouble finding or using them, so my bias is more imaginary than practical – especially considering that this is after all, a carry gun and we don’t want accidental magazine ejections. My legitimate complaint lies with the ambi slide stop control.

Ruger uses a “wishbone” style control, where the two external levers are both part of the same metal part (and kind of wishbone shaped). But, as many gun makers seem to do, Ruger proves the catch on the slide only on one side – the left side. The left side of the gun is where the control that right-handed people use and works flawlessly. The mate to it, on the right side, simply flexes when pressed and the motion does not transfer to the working side of the gun – and so it is essentially just a decoration. I’ll gladly sit at the bar with those of you that would debate me on whether the control should be used – but we won’t slip over that slope here.

The overall best performing group was made by SIG Sauer’s V-Crown defense ammo. It also happens to be the author’s preferred carry ammo.

The sights on the American Pistols are good quality Novak sights, in a 3-dot combat configuration. The rear sight is sloped back in a snag-free profile. The front is a low profile post, and both are steel. Because the grip has a 70-degree angle and a deep tang for the shooter’s hand, recoil management is aided by an aggressive wrist position. The American Compact shoots surprisingly flat, even when delivering full power defense loads.

The muzzle snaps back quickly and the front sight drops right back into place. Finally, the trigger of this Ruger handgun is improved over previous models, in my opinion. The initial take-up is every bit ¼” before you engage the resistance of the wall – which is itself a bit soft. The break is relatively crisp and no over-travel is noticed. My Lyman digital gauge reports the pull weight to be about 6 pounds. The reset is at about 2/3 of the full stroke of the trigger and the feedback is decent, providing a good audible and tactile response. Don’t try to ride the reset on this pistol, or you’ll miss shots. The gun feels good in the hand, shoots well, and was 100% reliable with every round it was fed during testing.

The quality of materials and workmanship can be seen everywhere in the gun, but perhaps most clearly in the heavy duty barrel and beautifully polished feed ramp.

I tested the accuracy at 15 yards using a sandbag rest. Using a combination of good quality hardball and hollow-point ammo, the results were good. Most 5-shot groups stayed inside 3” and several of the best groups of three shots were under an inch. The front sight dot obscures more than 3” of target at this distance, so fine aiming is a challenge. The best performance overall was turned in by SIG Sauer’s Elite Performance V-Crown jacketed hollow point defensive load – specifically the 124 grain. Just another reason that it is my go-to carry ammo.

Field strip is simple and requires no tools or trigger pull. The dual recoil spring assembly greatly helps the pistol remain flat while shooting.

JUST MY OPINION

My prevailing opinion about the Ruger American Pistol is that it is one of quality. Perhaps the “heavy for its size” 30 ounces is more than necessary, but that heft feels to me like substance. Many subtle details such as the double-cut slide serrations and the heavy duty barrel with polished feed ramp, as well as the top quality magazines that drop effortlessly when ejected and are easy to fill to capacity, make this gun a good value at its price tag of $579.

You should expect to find it at or even below $500 at your local store. Fit and finish is as good as any I’ve seen on the posh European brands, but at a lower cost and made in America.

The 9mm concealed carry market is doubtless the largest in the firearms industry, and while the slim single-stacks may be getting the most attention, there are still a lot of people that place a high value on capacity. The more we learn about the emergency use of firearms and the statistics of gunfights, the more a lot of us are willing to buy the extra inch waist size in pants and carry something that would allow us a chance to finish a fight.

The Ruger American isn’t the smallest of the bunch, but it fits the general dimensions nicely, and the standard 12+1 round count is a huge plus. If you don’t have Ruger on your shopping list for a concealed carry pistol, you doing yourself a disservice.

For more information about Ruger pistols, click here.

***Check out GunsAmerica for your next Ruger pistol .***

{ 23 comments… add one }
  • Brian Fletcher February 5, 2018, 12:18 pm

    Unfortunately the “American” gun is not available to the second class “American” citizens in Kalifornia. Ruger, like ALL the politicians in Washington, including the clown in the White House and the NRA, have forgotten those of us who are forced to live in this oppressive state controlled by liberal subversives who do not respect or adhere to the Constitution on the so-called United States!

    • Jw February 5, 2018, 2:00 pm

      After reading your delusional uneducated comment I think the public is a lot safer that you can’t get one.

      • FirstStateMark February 5, 2018, 9:06 pm

        I couldn’t have said it better!

    • Jim Watters February 5, 2018, 2:05 pm

      After reading your delusional rambling I feel the public is a lot safer do to the fact you can’t get one.

    • Area52 February 5, 2018, 4:52 pm

      Exactly what is the NRA going to do when the majority of CA voters vote for anti gun liberal politicians. What is Ruger supposed to do? Start to manufacture guns with microstamping? The only ones that are forced to live in CA are the incarcerated.

    • Jon February 5, 2018, 6:43 pm

      Please let us know which Kalifornia mental facility did you escape from. There are nice folks who are looking for you and will gladly treat you to the Happy Meals you have been missing.
      And, sorry, you cannot have any firearm or weapons because your court adjudicated status as impaired (you really are a demented Liberal-Marxist at your core) means you are prohibited. Please, take your anger up with your Liberal Kalifornia judge.

    • Mark February 7, 2018, 2:08 pm

      In the chart you have the length of the barrel incorrect for the compact. It is 3.55 inches. 4.2 inches is for the full size American pistol.

    • ejharb February 14, 2018, 8:24 pm

      Can I suggest a fine training product from the nra for you?
      Eddie eagle says”if you find a gun.don’t touch.leave the area.tell an adult” now find something to eat other than lead paint chips

  • Ken Dietz February 5, 2018, 11:02 am

    Just in passing, the specs shown at the top of the article are for the full sized American. 4.2″ barrel, 7.5″ overall.

    • Pandaz3 February 6, 2018, 2:38 am

      3.55″ Barrel, 6.65″ overall length for Compact

  • thomas driscoll February 5, 2018, 8:48 am

    yawn…….. everyone just keeps trying to remake what Glock did in the 80″s sooo boring…

    • buhbang February 5, 2018, 11:06 am

      yea … it’s like a glock, but with a good trigger, sights and even better barrel. and not from a nazi with a long history of fraud and shell companies, wait a minute….its not like a glock at all. go do your homework, and actually learn about glocks.
      if a bunch a videos show up on you tube of ruger american owners shooting themselves in the leg and they have to change the term from “glock leg” to “american leg” then it’s like a glock. But I’m guessing american owners are smart enough to keep their hands off the trigger when drawing their weapon. not like glock owners, i wonder what they think of the trigger safety now? doesn’t seem to work very well does it.

      • Jon February 5, 2018, 6:38 pm

        OK, you are a Glock hater.
        But you reveal yourself by your ignorance to be either a demented Siggy lover and/or Ruger fanboy.
        Surely you can recall all of the documented reliability problems Rugers and Sigs have produced? And how about all of those Negligent Discharges on YouTube with Rugers and Sigs. Dumbasses are dumbasses as the NGs show. Some of the worst are the ones where law enforcement shoot the perps with their Sigs (sympathetic pressure) while they are trying to handcuff the perps.
        You prove that as long as their are “humans” there will be NGs.

      • Pandaz3 February 6, 2018, 2:36 am

        My Ruger American Compact Pro is trigger safety only…okay it has more but the trigger one is the only one I touch, so it is just like a Glock

    • FirstStateMark February 5, 2018, 9:09 pm

      Yea, but they even screwed that up by not putting in a black barrel. Black guns with silver colored barrels are hideous looking.

  • William February 5, 2018, 8:25 am

    This gun has a similarity with MP S&W Shield 9mm or 40 mm. The differs is the magazine capacity. So, if you have S&W MP Shield stick with it because they are the same only different manufacturer.

  • Lou February 5, 2018, 6:28 am

    Our Ruger Rep came in last week and admitted they use some overseas material.
    Not as American sd we had hoped.
    Bt they are a big company and we know the media needs to support them.

    • Justin Opinion February 5, 2018, 10:14 am

      Ever see the parts list for your Ford? Your Chevy? Your Dodge? Your John Deere? You’re very naive if you think “American Made” means every molecule in the product came fresh out of American soil. But the majority of the product is domestic, and made by the hands of American workers, in an American town. Lighten up, Francis.

  • Pandaz3 February 5, 2018, 5:05 am

    I was a early adopter of the Ruger American Compact Pro (no external safety) While I generally agree with the review, I do have some differences of opinion or experience. It is a bulky gun for the class, and heavy like mentioned, pretty top heavy would be a more accurate description. A lot of angles have been shaved and I like that. I used the smallest backstrap in deference to my wife, also she like Talon rubberized grip tape. I used their ‘Moss’ color which is close to FDE. Gives the gun a little contrast. (I installed the tape after the Gun’s short trip back to Ruger)
    My magazine button takes a healthy push to release a loaded or partially loaded magazine, but it is a little better with a empty magazine. Once released the magazine almost shoots out of the well. They have a Teflon like coating on the compact magazines. The extended, or regular Ruger American magazines fit into the Compact gun with an available sleeve to fill the gap. That done, the extended magazine feels a little loose until you assume a firing grip, then it is fine. I like with no sleeve just about as well.

    I had problems with mine after 20 rounds. Admittedly I was using new manufactured “budget’ ammunition. Anyhow it stopped shooting and the slide would no longer fully function. I was able to get it open enough to clear it, but I was unable lock the slide back to be able to disassemble the gun.
    Ruger Customer Service was good, they did not actually tell me what was wrong, just that they replaced the slide assembly. I don’t know what that actually means. The did say they fired six magazines of QUALITY BLACK HILLS AMMUNITION. Now why would they say that. When I got it back a week or so later I fired another 80 rounds of that ‘budget’ ammo. I also shot a box each of Federal and Remington while I was at it. Seems fine now.

    I like the gun well enough and will keep it.

    • Lou February 5, 2018, 6:29 am

      Budget ammo?
      Ammo is the biggest culprit we see in firearms not performing.
      A couple extra pennies and your frearms will work much better.
      Just my opinion.

      • Pandaz3 February 6, 2018, 2:07 am

        I got the “Laser Spec” ammo as part of a promotion where I received 1000 rounds of 45 and 1500 of 9. I have three Charter Arms “Pitbull” revolvers in 9, 40 and 45 ACP. I guess I’ll shoot them plenty.
        I thought it was good to go till I used some.

  • Robert Smith February 4, 2018, 10:04 pm

    The American is not a bad gun, but it just does not stand out in a field crowded with other poly striker pistols. M&P 2.0, G19, P320, VP9, PPQ, APX and probably a dozen more. They are all good. I think Ruger knows it too, hence the bargain-priced Security-9. Ruger can still win on price, as long as they can keep the quality decent.

    • Pandaz3 February 6, 2018, 2:13 am

      I like my LCP II on which the Security 9 based a lot of features, I might like the Security 9 better than my American Compact, but I have a goodly number of Ruger American magazines and the Security 9 has a different proprietary designed magazine.

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