Created in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War by Česká zbrojovka Uherský Brod (which translates into English as "Czech Arms Factory") and designed by the brothers Josef and František Koucký, the CZ-75 was created to be a modern, double-stack 9 mm pistol using design elements from the Browning Hi Power, SIG Sauer P210 and other guns. Conceived and built behind what was then known as The Iron Curtain, the design of the CZ-75 was not able to be patented in western countries and has therefore become one of the most-copied pistols available to gun buyers in the United States and elsewhere. The TriStar Arms P120 is one of the many pistols that builds upon the proven CZ-75 design.
Built by the Turkish manufacturer Canik, it is a solid, all-metal full-size pistol that uses the same grips, magazines and sights as the SP-01 version of the CZ-75. The P120 also shares the same rough shape as the SP-01, which greatly increases the available holster options compared to similar guns and stands in distinct contrast to similar guns. Out of the box, the P120 comes equipped with three-dot sights. The white dots in the sights were a bit small for my liking, but fortunately—because the P120 uses sights that fit the CZ-75—other pistol-sight choices abound if you also find that the sights on the P120 might need an upgrade.
The ergonomics of the TriStar Arms P120 are an improvement over the stock CZ-75. The manual safety is wide and easy to reach with the right thumb, and the slide lock release lever and magazine release buttons were right where you'd want them to be.
All controls are located where expected, but do note that the safety is not a decocker.
The P120 ships in a hard plastic case and comes with two 17-round magazines and a speed loader, along with a cable lock, instructions and cleaning brush. At the range, I was pleasantly surprised when the magazines from one of my CZ 75s slid right into the gun and worked just as well as the magazines supplied with the gun.
Pistols based on the CZ share a common design element inherited from the Sig P210, where the slide fits on rails that reside inside the frame of the gun, rather than moving outside of the frame like most semi-automatic pistols. This allows for a tighter slide-to-frame fit which tends to make CZ-pattern pistols a bit more accurate than similar guns. I'm happy to report that the TriStar P120 continues that tradition of accuracy. I was able to achieve 1.2 inch groups shooting off a rest at 25 yards with Federal Premium American Eagle 115-grain FMJ ammunition, and similar results were achieved with Tulammo 115-grain, steel-cased FMJ and Speer Lawman 147-grain ammunition. The gun ran through 200 rounds of ammunition from Remington, Federal, Tula and Speer without any hiccups at all, something that doesn’t always happen with an inexpensive gun from overseas.
MecGar 17-round magazines keep the P120 fed, and +2 extensions are available for even more fodder.
With a 6-pound, single-action trigger pull, the TriStar Arms P120 was easy to shoot and very controllable. Recoil was easy to manage, and the gun quickly returned to a clear sight picture after firing. Like the CZ it is based upon, the P120 can be fired single action using the safety, or, with the gun pointed in a safe direction, the hammer may be gently lowered, allowing for a 12-pound, double-action trigger pull for the first shot.
The model I tested came in the chrome finish and includes a short section of Picatinny-compatible rail on the frame of the P120 in front of the trigger guard. This allows mounting of all manner of aftermarket accessories such as lasers, lights and other gadgets. The weight and width of the P120 might make it a bit harder to carry on a day-in, day-out basis, but with a laser or light mounted on that short section of rail on the pistol and 17 rounds in the magazine, it would make a very handy home defense pistol.
Full-size pistols are expected to have rail space for lights and/or lasers, and the P120 is no exception.
With an MSRP around $500 (the Chrome finish is $510, while the Black Cerakote is $490), the TriStar Arms P120 won’t break the bank, but what it will give you is a solidly built, accurate, full-featured 9mm pistol that offers you a wide range of accessories and options compared to other guns in its price range, along with the proven reliability and history of its CZ 75-based design. There are other guns out there that might offer more features at higher prices, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one that beats the value that the Tristar P120 provides.