By Bruce Flemings
The P-120 is the latest addition to the growing line of TriStar pistols. All TriStar pistols are manufactured by in Turkey Canik 55, a NATO-certified small arms maker that manufacturers small arms for many military and law enforcement organizations. All arms produced by Canik are manufactured to NATO specifications, with all internal parts chrome plated, and each model must pass a stringent 50,000-round durability testing protocol.
Fans of CZ pistols will immediately recognize that the P-120 bears a striking resemblance to the CZ 75 SP-01 pistol. The P-120 is a 9mm full-size pistol with steel frame and slide and an accessory rail, and it ships with two 19-round extended capacity magazines. Unlike the SP-01, all external controls on the P-120 are located on the left side of the frame. Even with this major difference, many CZ parts can be used with the P-120 pistol. The black P-120, reviewed here, has a very attractive MSRP of $489 with actual street prices less than $400.
Admittedly, I’m a fan of the CZ 75 in the same way many folks are partial to the look and feel of the 1911 or Hi Power. In my eyes, it’s a sexy looking pistol, and I’ve always liked the way the CZ 75 behaved while shooting. With all-steel construction, a fully loaded CZ 75 tips the scales at over 3 pounds. The total weight makes the pistol a pussy cat to shoot, but a bear to carry without a stout gun belt and holster. When I learned the CZ 75 had been updated with a full-length guide rod and accessory rail, I have long considering purchasing the newer SP-01 model for night stand duty. I was really curious to see if this sexy Turkish import would allow me to scratch my SP-01 itch at a more budget-friendly price.The P-120 arrives nestled in a lockable hard plastic case with fitted foam insert. Included with the pistol are two 19 round extended capacity magazines produced by Mec-Gar. A basic cleaning kit, cable lock, and Owner’s Manual are also included. The factory also includes a Canik branded slip over magazine loading tool with the P-120, which is very helpful when loading the magazines to full capacity. The Owner’s Manual covers the entire range of TriStar pistols and contains all the required information to safely operate and maintain the P-120 pistol.
Overall impressions of fit, finish, and feel of the pistol were generally good. Externally, the pistol is finished with a lightly textured black Cerakote finish. This gives the pistol a semi-gloss finish. The gripping surfaces of the frame and all controls share a similar pattern of deep grooves cut into their surfaces. The texturing treatment provides tactile feedback that your thumb is in contact with the control, and also aids in operation of the controls. The magazine release, slide stop, and manual safety are all located on the left side of the frame and favor the right-handed shooter. The top of the slide is also grooved to minimize glare between the front and rear sights.
The sight system is a white three dot set with pinned front and drift adjustable dovetail rear. The sights are well rounded and are claimed to be snag resistant. While visually evaluating the pistol, I did notice the rear sight was damaged on the front right edge. Since the gun appeared to be brand new, I have to assume this was done during the assembly process. Luckily, the damage was on the side facing away from the shooter so it didn’t have an impact on the evaluation of the pistol.
A good trigger can make or break a pistol, and I was pleased with the P-120 trigger. The P-120 has a double/single action trigger system. The double action trigger pull weight averaged 11 pounds as measured with a digital trigger pull gauge. There was a noticeable hitch in the double action trigger pull as the hammer progressed through half-cock to full-cock and release. The double action wasn’t very impressive. The single action trigger pull was actually very good. After approximately ¼ inch of pre-travel, the trigger breaks cleanly at an average of 5 pounds 1 ounce as measured with same digital trigger pull gauge. The manual safety locks the hammer and can be applied with the hammer at rest, at half cock, or when fully cocked.
Grips are another important consideration with a steel framed pistol. The P-120 includes a set of hard polymer grips with a very light texturing treatment. The grips aren’t aggressively textured so they are easy on the hands, but I found them to be a bit slick while shooting. The grips are probably ideal if they routinely come in contact with clothing or bare skin when carrying the pistol. I’ve heard that CZ 75 grips can be used on the P-120 so anyone desiring a more aggressive grip should be able to find a multitude of available options.
The accessory rail is a very nice feature to have if you are planning to mount a light or laser on the P-120. It is important to note that not all rail mounted accessories will work with the rail. The rail appears to be standard width, but the notches are very shallow. When I tried to install a Crimson Trace Rail Master, the appropriate rail locking key was too tall for the notch in the rail. I also tried a Streamlight M3X light, which attached easily and securely.
Field stripping the P-120 is a simple process that is fully explained in the Owner’s Manual. After removing the magazine and visually verifying the pistol is clear of all ammunition, the hammer is drawn back to half-cocked position. The slide is pulled back to align the witness marks on the frame and slide while the slide stop lever is pushed through the frame and removed. The slide, barrel, and recoil spring assembly can then be pushed forward and off the frame. The recoil spring assembly and barrel are removed from the slide to complete the disassembly procedure.
With the slide off the frame, I noticed a few quality concerns with the pistol. The guide rod was really rough around the seating surface that contacts the barrel lug. The frame, including the area of the rails, had many casting marks and voids in the rail surfaces. I also noticed the hammer was not straight in the frame and had noticeable finish wear on the half of the hammer making contact with the slide during cycling. I was curious to see if these build quality concerns would have an impact on the pistol during firing, or if they were purely cosmetic.
After giving the P-120 a thorough cleaning and lubrication, it was time to head out to the range to get acquainted with the pistol. On the first trip, I fired a 100 round mixed lot of 115 grain FMJ range ammunition from Federal and Winchester. During this trip, I had one incident with sluggish return to battery on the third round put through the pistol. The rest of the trip was uneventful, and the pistol functioned perfectly through a mix of weak, strong and two-handed.
After another cleaning and lubrication, I was back out on the range the following week to check the accuracy and run more rounds down range. With better weather conditions, I set up the portable bench and fired some 10 shot groups at 10 and 25 yards for accuracy.
According to the Canik 55 website, all pistols must pass a benchmark accuracy test before leaving the factory. Their accuracy benchmark is 10 rounds fired at 25 meters (27.3 yards) must all fall within a 16 cm (6.25”) circle. They have a video on their website showing the test fixture they use and an example test. As you would expect, it’s much more sophisticated than our test rig. To mimic this, I tried 115 grain FMJ and 124 grain +P 10 shot groups at 25 yards. All shots fell within a 3.5” group, regardless of the ammunition used. I think the pistol definitely has more accuracy potential than the test targets show.
I ran through 250 additional rounds on the second range trip. 100 Rattlesnake Tactical 115 grain TMJ, 50 Speer Gold Dot 124 grain +P JHP, 50 Federal HST 124 grain JHP, and 50 Remington HTP 115 grain +P JHP. Unfortunately, I experienced four failures to eject on the second trip. I caught three of the four failures on camera and included the photos below. I also experienced one stuck on feed ramp failure with the Federal HST. The only ammunition that didn’t have an issue was the Remington HTP.
I had standard capacity CZ 75 magazines from CZ and Mec-Gar on hand so I tried them as a possible quick fix for the ejection issues I was having. The magazines worked in the P-120, but I still had a failure to eject problems while using the standard capacity magazines. The worst part of problems like this is they don’t repeat exactly the same way every time. This makes diagnosing the root cause very frustrating for both the novice and expert.
Returning home from the second range trip, I field stripped and cleaned the pistol again. I also inspected the ejector to make sure it wasn’t worn or broken. The pistol appears to be fine, so I’m at a loss on the cause of the ejection failures. Fortunately, all TriStar pistols are backed by a one-year warranty, so a call to customer service should get the problem resolution process started.
I had high hopes for the TriStar P-120 as I started the review process. Even before running the first rounds through the pistol, I was thinking it would make a great IDPA competition gun after swapping out the sights for a fiber optic front sight and adding some aggressively textured grips. Alternately, adding a weapons light and night sights would make the P-120 an awesome 19+1 capacity night stand or car console pistol. In exchange for the budget friendly retail price, I was willing to overlook the quality issues discovered with the pistol as long as it functioned reliably and delivered satisfactory accuracy. While I some really minor issues with the reliability, such problems aren’t uncommon for new guns. And the TriStar performed well in every other way. At this price point, we expect to see some cosmetic and build issues. Guns at this end of the price spectrum can be rough, which is why they’re so inexpensive. Yet despite its issues, the P-120 has some serious potential. If you want the capacity and accuracy, but don’t have the cash for something a bit more polished, the TriStar is a great place to start.