Boberg XR9-L Review

Boberg XR9-L

There are really no new ideas in firearms design today – some of the best and brightest engineers humanity has produced have spent the last 120+ years figuring out every possible mechanism for building self-loading firearms. What we have today in new guns are creative new ways to put together various different design elements in new ways to make more efficient and reliable guns. The Boberg XR9-L (and its shorter companion piece, the XR9-S) is a pretty slick compact carry gun that harkens back to the original monster hand cannon, the Mars Automatic Pistol. What makes the Boberg so interesting is that it feeds cartridges backwards out of the magazine, instead of the standard method of pushing them forward – like the Mars did. This requires a pretty creative feed system, and all for the end goal of getting a long barrel in a short pistol.

Check out the review video for footage of the Boberg shooting, and to see up close how it works mechanically: Boberg XR9-L Review Video

The Boberg XR9-L manages to squeeze a 4″ barrel into a gun with an overall length of barely 6 inches. Why go to all the work of designing an unconventional pistol for that one feature? Well, it lets you get the most possible performance out of the 9mm cartridge. Judging from the data at Ballistics by the Inch, that extra inch of barrel length gets you 100fps more velocity with many brands of ammo – or in another view, it gives you +P performance from standard cartridges, compared to the 3″ barrel in any other pistol the size of the XR9-L. The question is, how much are you willing to sacrifice for that extra velocity?

Before I start drawing conclusions, though, let’s take a look at how the Boberg handles and shoots. It’s really quite nice, the recoil in particular. The grip design and locked breech design really help mitigate the recoil, and the XR9-L is a very comfortable pistol to shoot (unlike many compact handguns). The trigger is long, but smooth, and I have no doubt it will deliver excellent accuracy for any shooter accustomed to DAO pistols (I didn’t shoot it for groups myself, instead using steel plates – which I had no trouble hitting every time as long as I paid attention to my sight picture and trigger control).

Magazine design on the Boberg is a definite departure form what one expects to see. Since it feeds backwards out of the mag, cartridges are held nose-down, and the feed lips are folded down around the nose of the rounds to hole them securely in position. No follower is used in the magazines; instead the magazine spring pushes directly on the bottom cartridge. This seems like it would be a source of problems, but I had no problems with the magazines through my shooting.

What I did have trouble with was ammunition. The backwards feeding of the Boberg is not what cartridge companies expect their ammunition to be subjected to, and that backwards yank out of the magazine puts a lot of stress on the crimp of the bullet in the case. With the first two brands of ammunition I tried (generic factory reloads and Blaser aluminum-case), every third or fourth round would malfunction in a very novel way. The slide would actually pull the case off the projectile, leaving the bullet sitting lonely in the magazine feed lips while the powder fell out and the now-empty primed case either stovepiped on feeding or fed and made a sad “pop” on firing.

Boberg malfunction

When I dropped the mag to clear the malfunction, this is what I found.

To be fair, Boberg doesn’t conceal this behavior – on the contrary, they keep a running list of ammo brands that both work well and are known to malfunction. When I found a brand in my stash that didn’t give problems (Fiocchi), it ran flawlessly. It was accurate, it pointed well, it was comfortable, it was concealable…but I don’t know if I could really be confident in it as a carry gun. The problem is that providing a particularly strong case crimp to hold the bullet in position isn’t really something ammo manufacturers pay a lot of attention to – because no other firearm on the market is putting this type of strain on cartridges. A brand may work fine today, but a change in tooling or process at the plant could result in ammo that would give the Boberg problems, without any forewarning. If I was to buy and carry an XR9, I would want to buy a big batch of whatever ammo I plan to carry, and then run several hundred rounds to test it with the pistol, and then only use that lot for carry ammo, and practice with other stuff. Last year’s Gold Dots may not be the same as next year’s (well, bad example – Gold Dots are on the don’t-use list).

It’s like driving an Indy car that does everything right, except will sometimes just stall out, and require you to bleed the injectors to get it restarted. While it would be a lot of fun to drive in practice where an occasional stall didn’t really matter, would you really want to take a chance on it at a real race?

To make things worse, look at the price. A base model (two-tone) XR9-L lists on Boberg’s web site for $1,095. That’s a lot of money for a pocket pistol. If you want it all the same color, you’re looking at $1,399. I can get a lot of other guns for half that amount, and know that they will be reliable with any decent ammo. Is the Boberg’s extra inch of barrel worth the price and the ammunition issues?

To me…no. Sorry, Boberg. I love mechanically unusual firearms, and the XR9-L really appeals to me for that reason, and it’s beautifully made. If it were something more suited to casual plinking, I’d be willing to overlook the ammo sensitivity. But it’s very much designed to be a carry piece, and I can’t overlook the possibility of a really nasty malfunction occurring when I most need the pistol.

For the record, the gun I shot was purchased new by a friend, and was not a sample gun sent by Boberg Arms.


Ian McCollum

Ian McCollum lives in Arizona, where he spends his time searching out rare, unusual, and experimental firearms for his daily blog at ForgottenWeapons.com. His shooting background is in bullseye pistol, and before becoming a full-time gun writer he worked in the solar power industry.


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  • floppyscience

    Honest review… I feel pretty much the same way. It’s a neat pistol, but not for $1100, especially considering the ammo issues.

    One thing I’d like to mention is that the barrel is 4.2″, not 4″, so our friends in Canada can legally own these.

    • FourString

      4.2″ in that size is pretty neat. Wow, did not realize that upon second reflection.

  • FourString

    It is a rather beautiful looking pistol… Shame its reliability isn’t top notch in all situations, as that is the main requirement for me.

  • Julio

    An interesting review about an unusual gun, but would it have been too much trouble to run it over a chronograph or to compare penetration in ballistic gelatine (or some other medium) with a gun of similar length and conventional design? After all, the ballistic performance is the raison d’etre of the Boberg design, so it seems an odd decision not to evaluate that aspect.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      Real honest to goodness ballistic gel isn’t cheap and it’s a pain to mess with. There are a lot of homemade recipes out there for little money but they aren’t the real thing.
      You’re also talking about a good deal of ammo to do that kind of comparison. You may not be aware but we all buy our own ammo for these reviews. We have to weigh cost vs benefit in supplying information.
      In the future when ammo cost stabilize the kind of test you mention might be worth doing.

      • sianmink

        Try perma-gel. Room temperature, about $200 for a standard size block, plus 40 for the roaster oven to re-use it again and again. Plus it’s clear instead of yellow.

        • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

          That may very well be good stuff and I appreciate the information.

  • RickH

    Is this the only product that Boberg manufactures? If so they are gambling on a unique design.

    • Ian McCollum

      They have two versions, the long pistol here and a short model as well.

      • RickH

        If they are just variations on the same pistol, I think it’s still a gamble.

        • Ian McCollum

          Well, you have to start somewhere, right?

  • gunslinger

    1100? nah.

    would a follower help with the ammo problem? what about a “looser” spring? sounds like the spring is putting too much pressure on the bullet and “feed lips” causing them to hold the bullet while the case is being pulled.

    • Ian McCollum

      A follower wouldn’t make a difference, and a lighter mag spring would cause other feed problems. The issue here is simply a combination of the inertia of the bullet (by far the heaviest part of the cartridge) and the rearward velocity of the slide as it pulls the round from the magazine. I don’t think there is a simple way to fix it, or else Boberg would have done so already.

      • HSR47

        The solution is to slow the slide down. The easiest way to do that, is to make it longer.

        From what I’ve read, the XR9L improves upon the reliability of the XR9S due to it’s longer barrel, and increased slide length.

        A 5-6″ barrel is probably where this design will start to really overcome this issue.

  • AD

    I wonder if it would be possible to slow the speed of the slide to reduce the chance of separating the case from the bullet? Perhaps it would work better with a revolver cartridge like a 38 special? I think switching to a bottleneck cartridge like the 357 sig might help since you can put a proper crimp on the bullet then.

    • GreenPlease

      Agreed, though .357 sig would hurt out of a gun this small!

    • Misternt

      You don’t want to over crimp as it hurts accuracy.

  • GreenPlease

    I second the notion of using a necked round to aid reliability. Perhaps 5.7×28. In a weird way, Boberg might be missing a bigger market: full size duty pistols. Rounds like 5.7×28 benefit disproportionately from longer barrels.

    • FourString

      I think a good approach would be to offer 5″ barrels in the conventional 4″ pistol profile. I would go for a 5.7x28mm in the Boberg form, definitely. Even the price would be on par with the Five-seveN, so that might make it all the more appropriate. You’re onto something here my friend.

      • David Kight

        WHERE IN THE HELL DO YOU GET 5.7X28 ROUNDS,I GOT 1000 ROUNDS OVER A YEAR AGO,AND AFRAID TO SHOOT THEM BECAUSE I CAN’T FIND ANY MORE,THE SAME WITH 22 MAGS.I HAVE A KEL-TEC PR-30 AND A FN-7 JUST CANT FIND AMMO.

    • Gidge

      To sell to the duty pistol market they need to be a proven concept or no one will tough something that different. Starting out with a something like this which is affordable and a little bit qwerky and memorable yet highlights the merits of the design next to it’s competitors is a logical first step.

      After proving and refining the concept a little and gaining some capital they can move onto developing semi compact and full size pistols for duty and competition use.

      I’m thinking .357 Sig in a 6″ match grade barrel with a DA/SA trigger would be one hell of a gun.

      • http://www.facebook.com/john.daniels.9484 John Daniels

        DA/SA can GDIAF, but I think you guys are on to something. As long as the projectile isn’t contacting other rounds in the stack, or the feed lips, the issue of bullets pulling out instantly becomes a non-issue. I think .357 Sig might be a handful in a pistol that size, though.

        • tomaso

          G33 (glock subcompact in 357sig) isnt all that punishing and considering its purpose “conceal carry firearm” the 357sig round out of a 4.2″ barrel is a good match, only down side is round count which is less then 9mm. round count is very important in my opinion…..when is the Boberg double stack long coming out = )

  • Graham 1

    I wonder if the design was inspired by HK promotional catalogues?

    • FourString

      Good one, hah!

  • MOG

    What next, a pistol that fires out the back? Once pistol/rifle reliable function went as far as it was likely to go, then it became a “star wars” game, how tacti-cool can we make it? How much junk can we convince people they need to hang on it? A true concealed pistol that fits on your keychain. A mini .50 that fits in the palm of your hand. All good creative innovative ideas. A good review of a pistol made just because it could be. No used for it though.

    • FourString

      Man, a .50 BMG is basically the diagonal measurement of most peoples’ hands and then some………. what are you even going on about lol

      Now if you’re talking about a single shot .50 AE, then that’d be cool but no way would it be that small.

      • MOG

        Yes, really, I was serious. A little bitty teeny weenie .50 cal.

        • El Duderino

          A .50 GI two shot gun built the same way as the Bond Arms ones wouldn’t be that punishing.

  • TangledThorns

    Boberg’s pistols have some amazing engineering but the final product doesn’t perform like they should, especially for the price.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jack.christopher.54 Jack Christopher

    AVAST blocked a malware file on this site. Be aware and check your PC.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      Avast has a habit of false alerts. I checked nothing hiding on the site.

    • MOG

      If it popped up malware, delete the file. Rerun. Never assume it is a false positive. Every AV has a history of false alerts.

    • FourString

      I’d recommend that you switch over to Microsoft Security Essentials haha

  • Allen Ash Jr

    Junk, just like the Zip 22lr

    • Ian H

      Actually, whatever it’s ‘quirks’, the Boberg is not at all junky. It is, in fact, extremely well made.

  • KM

    Plenty of people carry Kel-Tecs, so no shortage of people who like really cool designs and questionable reliability

    • El Duderino

      Yeah but they cost $250 which is as much as some folks can afford, a BIG step up from the Jimenez/Bryco type POSes. At $1100 you have almost every option outside nicer compact 1911s to chose from in this segment.

  • Gidge

    An innovative little gun. Not without it’s issues but that’s to be expected on the first iteration of something a bit different. If it sells it’ll be evolved and improved into something quite impressive.

    I’d like to see this approach applied to a full sized pistol with a single action trigger. A 1911 sized pistol with a 6″ barrel and a nice trigger is something I’d find interesting and love to compete with.

    • HSR47

      It’d be neat to build up a 1911 with a similar firing mechanism…

  • http://profiles.google.com/1.jim.march Jim March

    Wanna see something much, much weirder? Hit youtube and look for “Maurice the FrankenRuger” – the world’s only magazine fed, auto-shell-ejecting (gas pressure tapped off the muzzle!) revolver.

    • svr

      Someone never heard about the Dardick Model 1500.

      • -V-

        Or of the Metaba semi-automatic revolver.

        • Giolli Joker

          MATEBA (I have one in .454 Casull)
          It’s a self loading revolver (sort of an improved Webley-Fosbery) but spent shells are kept in the cylinder. ;-)

          • http://profiles.google.com/1.jim.march Jim March

            Right, but I can load a 9rd mag on top of 5 in the cylinder and shoot 14 rounds without reloading, in a revolver with a six-shot cylinder.

            Of course, a 9rd mag is a foot long, so I have a 2rd carry mag for 5+2 capacity starting out…and it’s CCW street-practical. I now have a working 2-mag (9rd each) carrier and I finally, FINALLY have the latches perfected so that the mags retain their ammo in the carrier 100% reliably. That turned out to be trickier than expected :). Had to set up something like a “grenade pin” round release trip plus twist it 90deg. to release. Video coming…soon!

            Other oddities…I have to carry it hammer-on-empty so that I don’t gas-eject a live round on the first shot. That means with the first shot I fire, the gun retains the shell just like any other revolver. But that same gas-shot that didn’t spit a shell out triggers the upper stage of the loading gate, flipping it down so that shot #2 auto-ejects the shell from shot #1. And so on. This thing doesn’t auto-eject the firing round, it ejects the shell from before the firing round.

            What else…once any mag runs dry (2rd, 9rd, whatever) the follower goes forward into the cylinder and ties the rotation up, telling me it’s time to reload! This also keeps the “timing” right so that the first round out of the reload mag auto-ejects the last shell in the sequence from the previous mag.

            When the cylinder runs dry and the first of the 2rd mag bullets slams forward into an empty cylinder chamber there’s a distinctive “click” telling me I’m down to the last two rounds. This click happens on cocking, not on firing. So if I cock it at that point, it’ll advance that round to the firing position and slam the last round out of the 2rd mag into the cylinder. I can then, if I want, do a tactical reload to the 9rd mag topping the gun off to 11rd capacity: one under the cocked hammer ready to fire, one in the cylinder position behind that, 9 rounds lined up in the mag. Way cool.

            I’m practicing my reload speeds and already approach the speedloader guys doing between 2 and 3 seconds in competition. With 7rds in the gun and a pair of 9s I have 25 rounds on my belt, enough to clear a SASS stage if they’ll let me as a joke, or do most (all?) Steel Challenge stages with two reloads instead of three.

            Oh yeah. This is working. Hell yeah…if there’s a title for “weirdest carry gun in America” I think I’m a shoe-in…

          • Giolli Joker

            Hi Jim, I’ve searched about your awesomely weird auto-revolver… why don’t you send all to TFB? It’s sure worth its own post… ;-)

    • randomGunnitor

      “Gas pressure.” Ole Jim here is just tooting his own horn, and rightfully so! Seriously, go YouTube that!

  • Zermoid

    So, for one price you get both a gun and a kinetic bullet puller!

    Sweet!

    Seriously though, I’d prefer an inch or so less barrel to that ammunition handicap….

  • Tyler

    I didn’t know TFB got forgottenweapons to write reviews. Great move, Ian’s is probably one of the most interesting writers in the industry. Few writers concentrate on the mechanics and history of the firearms they write about. Bravo!

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      Thanks he is a staff writer. We sure are glad to have him! I read his site myself. I’m an old guns nut anyway:-) More to come!!!

      • ST4

        More unusual firearms articles? Yes plz.

  • http://twitter.com/GunsandDrugs Guns Drugs Bad Ideas

    I agree, a very honest review. I love the 4.2″ barrel

  • Laserbait

    I never saw that failure with the Boberg S models that I’ve shot. Use WWB and Remington FMJ… I wonder if this is unique to the L models.

  • Giolli Joker

    I wonder if a polymer magazine could solve the issue by giving less stress on the round doring loading… yet I understand that manufacturing a metal sheet magazine is much less expensive for a small company than a polymer one…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000321692567 Leigh Rich

    Silly. My Boberg has been great for the self defence pistol it is. Most small package micro 9s are ammo sensitive. It likes +P. If you go to the Boberg web site there is an extensife list of ammo not to use and ammo to use.

  • phamnuwen

    Another problem is that the slide protrudes rather far to the rear of the grip. So the slide and the upper receiver probably isn’t that much shorter than those of standard handguns with similar barrel lengths.
    Effectively what they’ve done is move the grip forward rather than make the whole gun substantially smaller. Now it’s of course possible this still has some advantages in carry, but overall seems like a lot of complexity for a limited advantage.

  • Chris

    I’ve never had any issues with mine, but then again, I follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Plus, why would you spend $1k on a gun and run anything but what’s on the approved list? There is much to choose from on that list, so there’s really no excuse, right. However, what really galls my rails is a “professional” review that ignores the basics of any firearm. Know what you’re shooting! Just a few minutes on the phone or one the website would reveal you’re ready to screw up. So basically, you’ve said “no” because ‘you’ screwed up and you want to save face and blame the design. If you would have used approved ammo, the review would most likely have been completely positive. Or… what this entire review just a backdoor ruse to make your ‘ammo’ point.