Review: Ruger 22/45 Lite Rimfire .22 Pistol

   05.14.15

Review: Ruger 22/45 Lite Rimfire .22 Pistol

The progressively refined Ruger Mark I, II, and III line of .22 semi-automatic pistols have been staples of the Ruger portfolio since their introduction, and they are without question the most popular .22LR semi-auto pistols in history.

A few years ago, Ruger answered the requests for a 1911-style grip by introducing the 22/45 models, which feature a restyled polymer lower receiver modeled after the 1911 all married to the tried and true Mark III upper receiver. The only real differences between the legacy MK III model and the 22/45 were the grip frame, mainspring, and magazine base plate. Otherwise the 22/45 and MKII can swap parts.

In later 2012, Ruger again offered a few new options to the 22/45 line, including a few tactical threaded barrel models to address the huge growth in suppressors. Whether buyers are intending to purchase suppressors or just add competition muzzle brakes, the 22/45 threaded barrel models have been a very hot product for Ruger.

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Back in 2013, Ruger introduced the new “Lite” line of 22/45 pistols to offer something different and grab a little of the sales occurring around the customization of their Ruger MKIII and 22/45 .22 pistol models. The Lite model was the lightest 22/45 ever and immediately became a hit, proving itself as a fun gun and extremely accurate all thanks to the lightweight tensioned match style barrel.

Ruger began the Lite 22/45 line with a golden anodized model and change the barrel fluting color each year since to constantly offer something new, different than the last version. Currently the offer a Cobalt titanium color version with a hole fluting and the blue version. Blue is my favorite color, so I had to have the newest Blue Lite version.

Fit, Finish, and Feel

Ruger is one of my favorite production manufacturers of all time simply because their products work and are all brutally tough. I already have a few Mark II/III versions but previously have never really warmed up to the 1911 style grip. Typically, Ruger introduces a “limited edition finish” model and then later just defaults back to a basic finish. This was my expectation back when the 22/45 Lite version was introduced, but they have really kept updating the line with new colors.

The initial release was a limited edition golden anodized finish, then a standard black anodized, and then other colors. This year’s version includes a stunning cobalt blue with a large unique fluting, which exposes the otherwise hidden tensioned stainless barrel. Along the way Ruger has been changing the fluting in addition to the barrel finish. This is a pretty unique idea from a large production manufacturer to offer an extremely current modern competition style barrel as a factory model.

From a fit and finish perspective, the 22/45 Lite features the same high quality as any other Ruger 22/45 models, with the exception that it features an aluminum sleeved and tensioned barrel with a stainless steel liner. This is where the feel comes into play.

The pistol is light, freaky light, which may for some shooters be too light. The 22/45 Lite is 23oz vs the 32oz steel barreled 22/45, or the 43 ounces of an equivalent Mark III with a steel bull barrel and steel receivers–definitely a huge weight savings.

I certainly have a number of lightweight aluminum sleeved barrels for 10/22s, but in this 22/45 format the feel is more of a toy than mentally what you expect the 22/45 Lite to weigh. On the other hand, this extraordinary light weight makes for a perfect gun to throw in your pack or carry all day long. Regardless of the freaky light weight and my affectionate “squirt gun” nickname, it is a great shooting gun.

Features

Like the rest of the Ruger 22/45 line, the Lite model accepts the 22/45 magazines, but not the standard Mark II/III magazines. As you would guess, the magazine bodies and feed angles are the same, it is just the base plates on the magazines that are different between the 22/45 and Mark III models.

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By sharing the same upper as the Mark III models, the 22/45 Lite model’s controls are all in the familiar positions as the updated Mark III models but feel more positionally correct due to the 22/45 lower receiver.

The main attraction of the 22/45 Lite is the lightweight aluminum sleeved barrel with a threaded muzzle. Everyone has been screaming for factory threaded muzzle models from Ruger to attach suppressors and muzzle brakes, so Ruger assured standard 1/2″x28 threads tipped the muzzle all protected by a spring washer and knurled thread protector. The 4″ barrel was selected due to customer demand simply because a 4″ pistol barrel is considered optimal to assure even high velocity .22LR rounds remain subsonic, which in turn means potentially less noise with or without the addition of a suppressor. The 4″ barrel has also been especially popular with hunters who want a smaller more compact trail gun for all day carry or as a finish gun for trappers.

The barrel itself is similar to Tactical Solutions PacLite barrel line, and in fact I would argue the Ruger Lite barrel is actually way cooler looking. Ruger decided it was time it offered its version with a tensioned stainless barrel liner, aluminum outer sleeve, and upper receiver. In theory, a tensioned barrel will deliver higher accuracy and the aluminum sleeve will aid in heat dissipation to further increase accuracy, but Ruger has not used a “Match spec chamber” like the premium match aftermarket barrel. Of note, the Lite’s barrel is pre-tensioned and non-adjustable, so you cannot “tune” the barrel yourself. Tensioned barrels basically apply tension or lightly stretch the barrel at each end of the barrel to increase barrel strength, reduce harmonics, and in the end increase accuracy.

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The 22/45 Lite comes packaged with two magazines and lock, and it features target adjustable sights, 1911 style grip panels, and thumb actuated magazine release. On my first two Mark III pistols, originally I loathed the chamber indicator, which only seemed to deliver jams, double feeds, and failures to eject, but based on my testing I believe Ruger has worked through these problems from the initial first generation Mark III release. I didn’t have any of these issues with the Lite 22/45 model.

Actually, to be fair this pistol is no different than the original version I reviewed with the exception of the barrel fluting and finish. The one single difference is the addition of a beautifully milled and finished picatinny rail factory installed on the pistol. Of note the rail does not interfere with the factory adjustable sights. This is not just an ugly picatinny slipped on the receiver, but one that matches the finish quality of the barrel and provides a simple attachment option for optics.

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Function and Accuracy

This Ruger features the now standard magazine safety on every Mark III and 22/45, including this Lite model. The original concept was designed for law enforcement who like to carry a round in the chamber and could protect them from being shot with their own gun if the magazine release was hit during the gun take away.

My main issue is that the gun will not fire if the magazine is ajar or missing, which in my opinion becomes a metal paperweight simply because the magazine button has been accidentally pressed. Yes, this occurred previously while reviewing the first gen Lite model and made me miss a perfectly good shot on a destructive varmint that had every right to die. Unfortunately the varmint was far quicker than my tap and rack. For this reason, I have actually removed this magazine safety on my other Mark III pistols. Search Youtube; there are a number of videos that show this relatively simple process step by step. One of the easiest ways to remove the safety is to just install a Volquartsen Mark II hammer kit, which effectively removes the safety disconnect. Rants aside, the magazine safety is not a deal killer because it is removed easily enough, but I think it is a dumb idea in the first place.

Generally, Ruger .22 semi auto pistols all require a fair amount of break in before they start humming along–generally a couple thousand rounds. I was surprised and pleased with the 22/45 Lite that we only had a couple issues in the first 500 rounds of Winchester M-22 and 555 bulk ammo. After that it zipped along like any of my other Ruger rimfire pistols.

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From an accuracy perspective, the Ruger 22/45 Lite seemed to be about the same as my Gen 1 Lite pistol and similar to any of my other Mark III pistols and not substantially more or less accurate. The pistol powered with my Winchester 555 and M-22 ammo delivered regular 1″ groups at 25-yards off of sand bags with open sights. This is very good accuracy from my perspective, which is plenty accurate for a pistol with this intent. Comparatively my Ruger Mark III pistols carry 5.5″ and 6.7″ slab-sided target barrel, so similar open sight accuracy from a 4″ barrel version of the same gun seemed pretty impressive.

Generally with less weight comes less offhand shooting stability, and this was the case with the Lite model. Shots I could make with my heavy models weighing in at twice the weight were far easier than with the Lite model. There is a trade off for weight: off-hand stability.

Unlike the Tactical Solutions upper barrel unit, the Ruger Lite model does not have a match or enhanced match chamber, which means although similar looking to the Tac Sol PakLite barrel, it will not deliver the same 1/2″ at 25 yard accuracy. I have personally shot a few of the PacLite or Volquartsen equipped Ruger Mark III pistols, and they can indeed deliver substantially better accuracy that what I was able to produce with this 22/45 Lite model. All that noted, keep in mind that you would have about $200-$300 more invested in a pistol with the Tactical Solution upgrade than with the factory Lite model, which I am not sure is worth is for a trail pistol or just for a host pistol for a suppressor.

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Final Thoughts

The magazine safety aside, the Ruger 22/45 does deliver everything we as consumers asked Ruger to deliver. A super light 22/45 1911 grip style format, which allows us to do some low cost practice with a 1911 analog in cheap to shoot .22LR caliber. Ruger added a lightweight threaded barrel, and all for a street price around $450. Add in that Ruger has continued to keep the Ruger 22/45 Lite model current with new colors and barrel fluting treatment, and it truly is great little piece of kit.

SPECS

  • Catalog Number: P45MK3ALRPFL
  • Model Number: 3903
  • Caliber: 22 LR
  • Material: Aluminum
  • Finish: Black Anodize
  • Front Sight: Fixed
  • Rear Sight: Adjustable
  • Barrel Length: 4.40″
  • Capacity: 10
  • Length: 8.50″
  • Height: 5.50″
  • Width: 1.00″
  • Weight: 23.00 oz.
  • Grip Panels: Replaceable Black Laminate
  • Grip Frame: Zytel┬« Polymer
  • Twist: 1:16″ RH
  • Grooves: 6
  • MA Approved & Certified: No
  • CA Approved: No
  • Barrel Style: Threaded
  • Suggested Retail: $499.00
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