Gun Review: Celebrating 40 years of the SIG Sauer P226

By Allen Forkner, Editor

The Legion edition of the iconic SIG Sauer P226 is the pinnacle of the line

In 1984, SIG Sauer saw the market change that was putting double-stack 9mm handguns in the forefront of demand. These new “wonder nines” such as the Beretta 92 and Smith & Wesson model 59 promised higher capacity than the current single stack .45s that dominated the American market.

Still relatively new to the U.S.-handgun consumer, SIG was known for the P220, a single-stack .45 ACP that was first imported as the Browning BDA. The jump to 9mm was more in line with the company’s European roots, and the timing was perfect to introduce the P226.

The SIG Sauer P226 was almost immediately entered into the U.S. military’s handgun trials, as the Department of Defense was seeking a replacement for the venerable 1911 platform. While the Beretta eventually won the deal, based on unit cost, for many in the evaluation process the P226 was a superior pistol.

Despite losing out on the main contract, the P226 was adopted by the Naval Special Warfare group as the Mk25 (and a compact version that became the P228 was adopted by Naval Avation as the M11). It also became the primary sidearm of the British Special Air Service and saw service around the world.

And thus began the legendary story of the P226, which now marks 40 years of service around the world. Since that original Nitron model, the P226 has seen dozens of variations ranging from the heavily practical to the extremely stylized.

One model stands out

Even in this vast catalog, one model has emerged as the pinnacle of P226 evolution. The P226 Legion has been built out with the input of real-world users and is the perfect mix of performance enhancements coupled with a stand-out style.

As part of the original models in the Legion line, the P226 came in two variants, but one has what I consider to be the perfect mix for a defensive fighting pistol.

The P226 Legion SAO (single-action only) combines the base P226 with recommended enhancements from both the special forces and competitive shooting worlds. While that may seem like an odd overlap, consider that both groups are always seeking ways to shoot faster, safer and more accurately under pressure.

Join the SIG Legion

Before we get into the inner workings of the Sig Sauer P226, we need to break down what it means to be a Legion product from SIG Sauer.

Launched in 2015, the Legion was a line of products SIG Sauer introduced to address some of the common requests they would get from users in the field. Product designers also looked at some of the most common modifications people were having done to their handguns for better performance. A few commonalities quickly emerged.

Users wanted better sights than the typical three-dots. Users wanted better checkering on frames and better grips for hard-use. And almost universally, warfighters and competitors alike all wanted the best possible triggers that could safely be used. Finally, once they had a performance package built, many of the end users wanted it to look good.

So SIG took in all the input it could solict from real-world users, then applied it to the Legion program. The P226 (both DA/SA and SAO models) and a P229 were launched in the first wave.

This struck some as odd, seeing as the company was riding high on the new P320 striker gun and the MPX and MCX rifles. Why not feature these in the launch?

Simple, if you go back to the purpose of the Legion, it relies on input from gunfighters and speed shooters. The new platforms were simply too new for anyone to have any legitimate input on at that point.

The best of the best

What makes the P226 Legion SAO the best of the best? There are many reasons, but here are some of my top answers.

Solid foundation: The P226 is an all-metal gun, which means it eats recoil as much as it eats abuse. The extra weight isn’t a huge burden on the belt, and it’s a giant benefit when trying to make multiple shots with minimal split times.

Single-action success: I once referred to the P226 SAO as the budget X-Five, SIG’s nearly impossible to acquire competition models. It shared the same slim line stocks and crisp, sweet single-action trigger.

The SIG Sauer P226 Legion SAO takes this to the nth degree with custom Legion stocks that feel great, grip the hand like Velcro and look smashing with a Legion medallion inset.  But the Greyguns flat-faced trigger is the true core of what makes the Legion SAO special.

Master gunsmith, designer and competitor Bruce Grey designed a flat-faced trigger for the SAO P226 that seriously rivals the 1911 for its absolute perfection. Making fast, accurate shots is almost laughably easy.

Other upgrades

Looking beyond the trigger, the Legion SAO has a number of other enhancements that previously required a trip to a custom gunsmith. The then-new SIG X-ray sights were a leap forward in sighting systems, featuring tritium three-dots for low-light shooting, but the front sight was surrounded by a large green circle, allowing for incredibly fast sight acquisition and shots in daylight conditions.

A super-durable, but visually distinctive, Legion grey PVD finish makes these guns stand out. If that doesn’t send the message, the Legion llamba logo is engraved in the top of the slide. Along with forward cocking serrations, undercuts to the trigger guard and a large beavertail, even the most demanding users have found little to improve on.

Membership has its privileges

With the purchase of a Legion model, owners become part of the club. This opens up access to Legion exclusive products from partners, such as high-end knives, color-matched lights and lifestyle accessories like cigar humidors and lighters.

There are also Legion-only events at the SIG Sauer Academy in New Hampshire and insider access to new launches.

While it’s all very cool, it’s all just fluff compared to the fighting handgun that got its start 40 years ago as a way to take part in the “fad” that was the Wonder Nine.

P226, I salute you, for four decades of service around the globe, dedication to “Hell and Back” reliability and a willingness to evolve to stay relevant in a polymer/striker world.

My P226 Legion SAO is part of the regular carry rotation, and I expect it will be for years to come.

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