Taurus Model 85 UltraLite Review

As a millennial gun owner, the length and breadth of my life experience with firearms is polymer. The GLOCK 19 is our generation's 1911; after all Tupac sure wasn't bustin' any of John Browning's designs.

If somebody my age says they "prefer revolvers," check their closet for skinny jeans and their fridge for a case of PBR.

I still wanted a revolver though, just for the experience and to diversify my caliber portfolio. I'll be honest; a big part of my decision to buy the Taurus Model 85 was price, coming in at $305 for the Stainless UltraLite model. I disregarded the usual advice of "save up another hundred and get the Smith & Wesson 637/642" because I'm a huge narcissist this wasn't meant to be a heavy use shooter or a carry piece. It might turn out that way though...

Let's start with the packaging and presentation, which matters to the more vainglorious firearms enthusiasts, or millennials weaned on video game collector's editions. Most rifles come in a cardboard box just to keep all the parts together and protected during shipping. Handguns, if you're lucky, come in a nondescript plastic hard case, like power tools. In fact that's the best comparison I can make: when in their respective cases, my Ruger P345 is almost indistinguishable from a power drill (and people wonder why guys like tools so much).

If most handguns are packaged like tools, the Taurus 85 is packaged like a smart phone. It comes in a clean, colorful box with Taurus' aggressively millennial slogan smeared on the side. I mean seriously, do even a fraction of a percent of those who use Keep Calm and Etc. in their daily parlance even know who Margaret Thatcher IS!? [Historical note: this World War II era slogan returned to prominence after the death of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher due to use on social media by the British, and was then co-opted by people even younger than me everywhere else.]

I will say I like the idea behind the slogan. Other gun manufacturers sometimes seem embarrassed about the prospect of their firearms being carried defensively, whether as a concession to the anti-gun lobby, or for liability reasons. The lion's share of Taurus' line-up is carry guns, so I'm glad they're owning it.

Inside the box, the modern, minimalist, cheap presentation continues. A GLOCK comes with a ream worth of paper in manuals and flyers, a proof-of-life empty casing in a hermetically sealed manila envelope, a spare magazine, a loading tool, and some cleaning tools. The Taurus 85 comes wrapped in a silky drawstring bag, with keys for the absurd Taurus Security System I'll never use, and a Carry On decal to put on the back of your MacBook.

The GLOCK comes with paperwork. The Taurus 85 comes with a sticker.

The Taurus 85 UltraLite has an alloy frame, allowing it to shed 4 oz from the steel framed model. It has an exposed hammer, though Taurus does make an otherwise identical with a shrouded hammer called the 850. If there’s something wrong with the Taurus 85, you can’t tell by looking.

Taurus has updated the rubber grips on the 85 more recently than they've updated their website. The old grips weren't bad looking, but the new ones are a definite improvement. They're made of a stickier rubber, and are about half an inch longer which makes them easy to get your whole hand on.

Aesthetically, I’d put The Taurus 85 on par with the Smith & Wesson 637, and give it the edge over the Ruger LCR. Polymer is not a good look for a revolver.

Aside from fears about cosmetic imperfections, I was also wary about build quality. Luckily (should I even have to say luckily?) my Taurus 85 locks up tight out of the box, with an almost imperceptible amount of cylinder wobble, and a stable double action trigger pull. At first the trigger clicked loudly through the stages, but after the first 50 round box of target ammo and some dry firing, it smoothed out leaving only a slight grittiness.

The finish didn't fare as well. I'm a fan of Fobus paddle holsters, so I bought one for the Taurus 85. It was a tight fit, even for a Fobus holster, though that loosened up with a few practice draws.

Unfortunately the smooth matte finish on the Taurus 85's barrel shroud also loosened up, and fell off. I was able to cause this damage in five minutes with a plastic holster, so I can only imagine what a year’s worth of carry and use might do.

Ultimately I don't worry about holster wear because of the Taurus' modest price point and utter lack of collectability.

I'm not an experienced revolver shooter (stop the presses), but the Taurus 85 was accurate in single action mode and workable in double action. Bench resting a snubnosed revolver is like putting your Prius on the dyno; you know the results are going to be disappointing, and it doesn't matter anyway.

The basic fixed sights are silver on silver, and my crummy eyeballs have a hard time getting the front blade into focus. You could paint the front sight blade for better accuracy, but as a carry revolver it works out of the box.

The Taurus 85 is compatible with HKS model 36 speedloaders, but the angle of approach is obstructed by the rubber grips. You can still get it in there, it just isn't as speedy as the name of the device would have you believe. I also tried loading from Tuff Quick Strips, which are easier to carry but not as quick, though still an improvement over loose rounds in every conceivable way. They also clear the rubber better than the speed-loader.

I shot a few types of ammo out of the 85, including a box of Remington +P Semi Jacketed HP. Maybe it's the new rubber grips, or maybe it's because I'm gigantic, but I found recoil perfectly manageable. I didn’t find myself missing the extra 4 oz of the steel framed model.

The Taurus Model 85 is an enduring design, so just about everybody makes a holster for it. I got a Fobus paddle holster, even though my concealed carry instructor told the class to NEVER EVER USE A FOBUS, but I think they're comfortable, so what does he know? It's not like they teach you anything about holsters in SWAT.

For when I'm not in the mood for OWB, or "obvious carry" as it's known, I also got a Galco Stow-n-Go inside the waistband holster. It's a decent fit, even though it's designed for almost all 2" barrel revolvers. I recommend against most Kydex holsters for the Taurus 85, since some are designed for the older steel frame models. The differences between the steel and alloy revolvers are very minor but still cause fitment issues. I tried a Blackhawk paddle retention holster which was a total bust for the UltraLite version.

Taurus sells a huge variety of aftermarket wooden grips on their web store, as do Hogue and Altamont, among others. You can also get Crimson Trace or Laserlyte laser grips. However, the new model of Taurus 85 UltraLite, with this style of grips is not designed to have the grips removed. I ordered this set of wood grips from Taurus after asking their customer support staff on two separate occasions if they were compatible with the new model of UltraLite. Taurus assured me that they were, but when the grips arrived it was pretty obvious that was a lie. The roll pin on the bottom of the frame is too large for the grips to fit onto it, and the included grip screw was about twice as long as it needed to be.

I contacted Taurus again, and this time they told me that the factory grips should not be removed from the Taurus 85 at all and doing so could damage the revolver and void the warranty. Well too late, idiots. I drilled out the locating hole on both grips so they would fit over the roll pin, and filed a few millimeters off of the grip screw. I'm not sure my custom hack job will hold up, but these grips are exceptionally good looking. The design is pretty much a ripoff of the Smith & Wesson 638 Talo edition wood grips, but hey. Taurus aims high.

So that whole experience was disappointing. Disappointing that Taurus customer service couldn't give me a straight answer until the third try (when I basically gave them the answer and asked them to confirm it), and disappointing that you can't switch the grips on the Taurus 85 without drilling, filing, hammering, and voiding your warranty. The stock rubber grip is a good grip, but it grabs clothing and speedloaders, I find the wood grip more hand filling and more comfortable to carry under a shirt.

What the Taurus 85 represents is value. Not as cheap or chancy as a Charter Arms, and not as shiny and spendy as a Smith & Wesson. The Taurus 85 is a good choice for a first revolver, or an only revolver.

In terms of quality alone, I don't think the Taurus 85 quite stands up against the Ruger LCR or a Smith & Wesson 637. In terms of value, Taurus knocked it out of the park. I know the quality of Taurus guns is suspect on the wild world of web but it seems unfair to criticize Taurus quality based on unsubstantiated bullshit from the internet. The Taurus 85 is solid out of the box, and has been completely reliable for me so far.

Taurus’ reputation is the Sword of Damocles over your head, but it’s been up there so long, is it ever really going to fall?

I’ll let you know if it does, and if I’m still alive.