By Robb Manning, Gun Digest
I am a long time user of Colt rifles. As one of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children (USMC) I was issued a Colt M16A2, and that’s what I carried and qualified with for most of my 11-year career.
One of my first personally owned firearms that I purchased was a Colt AR-15 Sporter Match HBAR rifle, which I still own, and is my only experience with Colt since getting out of the Marines. In 2004, the Marine Corps retired the A2, and adopted the M16A4.
Improvements included a flattop receiver with removable carry handle and quad-rail hand guards made by Knight’s Armament Corporation (KAC).
A Colt for Today
Upon learning I would be reviewing the Colt AR15A4, I was curious to see if it would be made like my Sporter. As good as the Sporter was, it had some limitations compared to my old military-issued M16.
My least favorite feature was the pivot pin used instead of a front takedown pin. It didn’t allow for the upper receiver to be completely removed from the upper. It was a different size than standard takedown pins, so it couldn’t be replaced with a proper one either.
The half-bolt carrier group (BCG), made to prevent the gun owner from illegally modifying their AR to full auto, was also a feature of the old gun that I’d never been fond of, not because I ever had any intention of doing that, but because it made it harder to swap it out with standard aftermarket parts to ramp up its performance.
In fact, the old Sporter used several other nonstandard parts, such as the trigger pin and hammer pin that limit its customization using today’s wide variety of AR aftermarket parts.
The AR15A4 comes standard with a 30-round Magpul magazine. Patrick Hayes Photo
Naturally, I wanted to see if Colt was still making their ARs with that forward takedown pin and half-BCG. So upon receiving the rifle the first thing was to look at the front takedown pin, which was in fact not a pivot pin (Colt did away with the pivot pin in the early 2000s). So far, so good.
Next was to open the two takedown pins and separate the receivers, then pull the charging handle and pop out the BCG. It is a standard BCG, and not a half-BCG. It’s a relief to see that Colt has corrected these discrepancies. Further, as of 2009 all pins are standard size.
My first impression is that it is very well made and it can be seen in the details. For example, the selector switch on many ARs has a little bit of play when in the safe position.
The AR15A4 doesn’t have that problem—the selector snaps securely into the safe position with absolutely no play. This is nothing short of a high-quality rifle with all the features you would expect from Colt. One other thing, having become accustomed to AR carbines, it’s been a long time since picking up a full-sized AR, and I have to say it felt good.
The AR15A4 is nearly identical to the M16A4 in every way, with a few notable exceptions. First and most noticeable is the select fire. The M16A4 has burst capabilities for military use, while the AR-15A4 does not.
Second, the selector switch is ambidextrous. Another difference is the AR15A4 has M4 feed ramps, which is not really necessary on a full-size rifle, but it definitely doesn’t hurt, either.
Less noticeable, inside the lower receiver behind the trigger group and hammer is a sear web built in to prevent illegal modifications. Another difference from the A4 issued to Marines is the front handguard.
The Marine Corps issues their rifles with KAC quad-rails, but understandably Colt is not going to equip their rifles with accessories from a competitor, so they went with A2-style handguards.
It comes in two other model configurations: the AR15A4MP-FDE, which is nearly identical except for Flat Dark Earth (FDE) Magpul MOE furniture and an MBUS Gen 2 rear site; and the AR15A4MPFDE, which has all that plus the receivers are FDE coated.
The rifle has a good trigger and trigger reset. It’s definitely not an aftermarket trigger, but feels exactly like a government-issue trigger because it is. Some might complain about that, but this is what a grunt cuts his teeth on, and it works. It’s not the lightest and smoothest, but it’s rock solid and dependable.
The A2-style open sights were on center with just two shots and provided for great off-hand, rapid-fire accuracy. Author photo.
AR carbines have taken the market by storm, but there are benefits to the full-sized AR rifle. The extra barrel length adds weight out front, so muzzle rise is negligible. It’s easy to forget how fast follow-up shots are with the full-length rifle.
Some would argue that the full-length gas system is also more reliable than carbine length. While technically that could be true, carbine-length ARs are still incredibly reliable so it’s almost a moot point.
The longer barrel also means increased muzzle velocity that equates to better long-range performance, which is why the Marine Corps chose it.
Since it is nearly the same rifle issued to Marines, it also functions just as reliably. The rifles issued at training units and regular units have seen a lot of use and abuse. Yet, of all the dozens of M16s I’ve fired in 11 years, I can count the number of malfunctions I’ve had on one hand and most of those were blanks being used for force-on-force training.
The M16A2, and subsequently the A4, are the gold standards of reliability, and I trust them with my life. The AR-15A4 is no different. In the 400 rounds I put through it, I had not one hiccup. That is out of the box with no cleaning, just three drops of CLP.
The ammo used for testing was American Eagle 62-grain 5.56x45mm NATO XM855 and a couple of magazines of Independence Ammo 55-grain AR 5.56 FMJ. The AR15A4 chewed through them like nothing. Sighting in, the A4 performed impressively. At 25 meters, with iron sights, it took two shots to get to center, then shots three, four and five were all touching.
With an Aimpoint PRO, the three five-shot rapid-fire groups could each be covered with not much more than a Kennedy half-dollar.
From a standing rapid fire, at 25 yards, a whole magazine was dumped inside of a plate-size area. Without a doubt this rifle will perform just the same as the M16A4s being issued. That is, at 500 meters all rounds could be placed in the bull’s-eye of a man-sized target.
Shooting the AR15A4 is a pleasure. Not that any 5.56/.223 AR has a lot of recoil, but with the reduced muzzle flip of the longer barrel and gas system, this thing can really rock and roll, and stays on target while doing so.
It’s been a really long time since I’ve fired a full-size AR, and let me tell you, it just felt right. It brought back a lot of memories, and more importantly it reminded me that if tight quarters aren’t an issue, the full-sized rifle is a superior weapon.
Chrome-lined, 20-inch government profile barrel with 1:7 RH twist
A2 front, A2 detachable handle rear
Full-sized A2 style stock