When the name “Beretta” comes to mind it’s easy to think of their classic 92FS pistol or the slick over-and-under shotguns that they make.
But another line of entries in Beretta’s lineup that I believe deserves a closer look than is typically given is their Cheetah line of guns. This family of handguns has recently gained a bit more attention as of late due to the release of the new 80X handgun that represents the latest generation of the Cheetah.
In this review, however, we’re going to talk about a somewhat older Cheetah pistol that’s still relevant today: the Model 85. We’ll first go over the Cheetah lineup as a whole, and then we’ll dive into the Model 85.
Overview of the Cheetahs
Imagine taking a Beretta 92FS, sizing it down, and then transferring the safety/decocker lever from the slide to the frame. You’d have a gun that looks a lot like the Model 85F Cheetah, at least on the outside.
The Model 85F looks like a scaled down 92FS, but is much different on the inside.
On the inside, however, the Cheetahs are a vastly different gun from the 92-series.
The first Cheetah pistol was the Model 81, which was a double stack .32 ACP introduced in 1976. The Model 81 was followed by the Model 82 (a single stack .32 ACP), the Model 84 (a double stack .380 ACP), and the Model 85 (a single stack .380 ACP). There are other variants of the Cheetah series as well (including some chambered in .22 LR and others available with tip-up barrels) but the above four models were the most popular. Beretta actually didn’t start calling this family of guns the Cheetah until the early 1990s, and the name has stuck since.
The Cheetahs are compact double action/single action semi-automatic pistols with an exposed barrel much like the 92-series. And while they do definitely resemble scaled down Model 92s, the Cheetahs are actually blowback-operated and therefore more similar internally to the Walther PPK.
The Cheetahs were popular as duty sidearms with law enforcement departments in Europe (where cops packing smaller caliber pistols was standard practice for several decades), and found a niche in the concealed carry market or as backup guns for police officers in the United States.
The original Cheetahs had a rounded trigger guard, a blued finish, and a safety lever only without a decocker (meaning the guns could be carried cocked-and-locked like a 1911). In the late 1980s, Beretta updated the Cheetah series and designated them with an ‘F’ and later the ‘FS’ designation.
The open-slide design closely replicates the 92-series pistols as well, but you’ll notice the lack of locking lugs like the 92 has.
Following the same change in appearance as the larger 92-pistol (which also was redesignated as ‘92F’ and later ‘92FS) the Cheetah pistols were upgraded with a squared ‘combat-style’ trigger guard, a tougher Bruniton finish, and a decocker function added to the safety (so the guns could no longer be packed in the cocked-and-locked condition).
The Cheetahs remained in continuous production up until the late 2010s, when they were discontinued and later replaced with the upgraded Model 80X, but that’s a story for another day.
Enter the Model 85
As indicated above, the Model 85 is the single stack .380 variant of the Beretta Cheetah. The 85 that I purchased is an 85F, and thus comes with a decocker function to the lever, the Bruniton finish, and the squared trigger guard.
In contrast to earlier Beretta Cheetahs, the Model 85F comes with the tougher Bruniton finish, squared trigger guard, and decocker function added to the safety level.
I selected the 85 originally because I was looking for a concealable single-stack pistol that also had a metal-frame and a DA/SA function. I already had a Walther PPK/S in my gun safe that technically fulfilled this role, but I also wanted something that was a little more like a full-size gun in terms of operation (while I love the the PPK/S, the lack of a slide release and different location of the magazine release).
The Model 85, in the above regard, is basically in the same ‘genre’ so to say as the Walther PPK. They’re both blowback operated, metal-frame .380 ACP pistols that are of a similar size and bigger than the pocket .380s you can buy (like the Ruger LCP or S&W Bodyguard).
I considered a Model 84, but ultimately went with the Model 85 due to the thinner grip (even though this meant a reduction in magazine capacity – the 85 holds 8 rounds of .380 versus the 84’s 13).
The 85 has a long double action pull, with a single action pull that while smooth still has a bit of slack in it. The trigger resets audibly. The safety and decocker lever are ambidextrous and on either side of the gun. When you press upwards on the lever, it both engages the safety and safely decocks the gun back into double action, and you’ll hear an even more audible click when it does so.
I found the 85 to be very easy to conceal, and I purchased a nice brown leather Don Hume IWB holster to facilitate concealed carry of this weapon.
A Don Hume IWB leather holster ensured easy carry for the Model 85.
Even more importantly, the 85 was one of the most pleasant shooting .380s I’ve ever encountered. In contrast to the sharp and snappy recoil of my Walther PPK/S and Ruger LCP, the Model 85 was like shooting a
The gun was also incredibly reliable and fed all types of .380 ammo (both FMJs and JHPs) that I ran through it without issue.
There are only two things I didn’t like about the gun. The first was the magazine disconnect safety, meaning the gun will not fire when the safety is not engaged. This is something that could be fixed, but I just never got around to it.
The second was the slide. I have larger hands, while the 85’s slide is a bit small with not much real estate for me to grasp onto. I mainly found that when I would go to rack the slide, my fingers would often collop against the protruding wings of the safety decocker lever.
The grip, however, was incredibly ergonomic and felt much like a scaled-down 92FS. The 92FS is one of my favorite pistols of all time and has always felt incredibly natural to me, and the 85 was no different. The 85 really does shoot and feel like it’s the younger sibling to the 92.
The Model 85 is a reliable .380 that both shoots and carries well.
The Model 85 is a good gun to own and carry if you’re just looking for a dead-beat reliable .380 that’s also easy to shoot and will disappear in an IWB holster under your T-shirt.
It’s the only .380 I’ve ever fired in my lifetime where I didn’t encounter a single jam regardless of the ammunition I fired out of the gun. In contrast, I’ve seen PPKs and small pocket .380s of varying types jams from time-to-time depending on the ammo. The 85 is just plain reliable, and that’s matters most.
Recap: Beretta 85 Cheetah Review
The Beretta 85 is a very reliable .380 automatic that handles and shoots much like a full-size pistol.
While I’m personally not a fan of the magazine disconnect and while racking the slide left a bit to be desired (for me at least, for other people this isn’t a problem), I found the gun to be a pleasant shooter and it’s built to the same level of quality as the 92.