By Jay Grazio, Shooting Illustrated
When I heard the news, I probably made the same noise you did. “What? Springfield Armory is releasing an AR-15-style rifle? Well, at least they beat Glock to it.” When even Ruger—long the holdouts given the company’s existing Mini-14—enters the AR-15 market ahead of you, you’re coming late to the party. However, better late than never, or so the cliché goes, and the new Springfield Armory Saint has a host of options as standard equipment to make the wait more palatable.
Obviously, the first question that springs to mind is “Why an AR-15?” Oh, sure, it’s “America’s Rifle” and currently the most popular semi-automatic rifle on the market, but its success is both in part from, and in part responsible for, the huge number of rifles and parts available today. With the number of AR-15-style rifles produced somewhere in the millions and countless dozens (if not hundreds) of distinct manufacturers out there, it’s natural to wonder why a company would tap into the market now.
Springfield Armory’s National Sales Manager Jeremy Rosenberg responded, “This is something Denny Reese has wanted to do for a very long time and finally the stars have aligned and we are now able to do this. It just makes sense for us as the next part of the Springfield Armory legacy. It fits in very well with the existing product line.” He explained further, “We recognize that we’re hitting a crowded market right now, but our customers have been asking for an AR-15 for a while.”
So, what sets the Saint apart? We’ll start with the mid-length gas system. It’s a less-conventional choice than a carbine-length system, but offers greater reliability and controllability over the shorter system. With more and more manufacturers opting for mid-length systems in carbine-size ARs, finding furniture to fit is much easier than it was even a few years ago. Proponents of the mid-length system argue in favor of the longer sight radius afforded, reduced wear-and-tear and less felt-recoil over the carbine system. It’s a sensible choice for a carbine-length AR-15 variant, especially for the Saint’s debut.
Also distinguishing the Saint is Bravo Company’s novel—and currently exclusive to Springfield Armory—Polymer KeyMod handguard covers that enclose the mid-length system. Keeping the Bravo theme, the company’s excellent Gunfighter pistol grip, trigger guard and buttstock grace the lower receiver. It’s an interesting choice, a departure from more-traditional options and leads to a handy, trim carbine.
Internally, there are few surprises on the lower end of things. The trigger is a proprietary, upgraded, nickel-boron-coated Mil-Spec trigger, which offers a smoother pull consistent with the standard Mil-Spec pull weight. It’s a savvy choice for a fighting carbine, offering a steadier trigger pull for more precise shooting, but not lightening the pull to a level that would relegate the rifle to range-only use. All other controls—safety/selector, bolt release, magazine release—are straight out of the Mil-Spec-parts bin. The Saint is decidedly right-handed, and if you’re a southpaw you’ll need to browse the aftermarket.
One addition to the lower receiver that’s not in a standard-parts bin is Springfield Armory’s proprietary Accu-Tite Tension system. This is a nylon-tipped setscrew designed to limit the play between the lower and upper receivers to increase accuracy. A freefloat fore-end would have complemented this addition nicely, and while the Saint has a delta-ring set-up at present, future line expansions could certainly factor in a freefloat barrel that might improve on the Saint’s already impressive accuracy. Who knows, the company might even offer an SPR-based, 18-inch-barrelled version.
In the upper, though, are a few unique items. The bolt-carrier group is branded Springfield Armory, and it uses an M16 bolt carrier for more reliable operation. It’s constructed of Carpenter 158 steel and is both shot-peened and magnetic-particle-inspected to ensure it meets Mil-Spec requirements for durability. The buffer assembly employs a carbine “H” heavy-tungsten buffer to balance felt recoil and reduce wear and on internal components. One deviation from Mil-Spec is the barrel, which is Melonite-finished to further enhance durability; it also employs a 1:8-inch twist rate to stabilize heavier bullets. The barrel also has an unbroken profile, eschewing the cutout for the M203 grenade launcher commonly seen on “M4geries.”
One of the first things I noticed when I picked up the Saint was the weight. It’s listed as 6 pounds, 11 ounces—putting it a few ounces heavier than the Smith & Wesson M&P15 Sport II or the Colt M4 Expanse—but it feels lighter than that. Balance is excellent, and it’s quite easy to maneuver the Saint from target to target on a dynamic range. Perhaps the weight distribution on the Saint is more even than others, or perhaps Springfield Armory has filled parts of the rifle with helium, but the Saint just feels lighter.
Commensurate with the excellent weight distribution, handling is exceptional. Talking about AR-15-style-rifle furniture is often unnecessary, given the modular nature of the rifle—if you don’t like the furniture that came with your carbine, it can quickly and easily be changed. Take 5 minutes, and presto! Your carbine now sports a completely new look. In the case of the Saint, though, the choice of Bravo Company furniture is an excellent one; the buttstock, pistol grip and fore-end complement the rifle and add significant utility.
Springfield Armory’s Rosenberg explained the rationale behind the mix of Mil-Spec and non-traditional parts. “We have to save something for V2! It was important for us to hit a sub-$900 price point. Keeping the A2 front sight and delta-ring-handguard helped keep costs down.”
The MSRP on the Saint is slightly higher than an entry-level AR-15, but not precipitously so. While sub-$500 variants exist, models from major firearm manufacturers tend to run between $750 and sub-$1,000, so the Saint’s $899 falls comfortably in that range. With an upgraded trigger, furniture and chrome-moly barrel with Melonite finish, it’s not hard to see the slight increase in price over other companies’ offerings is more than justified in what comes in the box.
The handguard may be one of the more controversial items. It’s a polymer unit, not surprising in and of itself, but it has KeyMod-attachment points, which are far more common on aluminum fore-ends. Traditionally, the breakdown has gone more to M-LOK on polymer handguards (although there certainly are metal versions out there) while KeyMod handguards are overwhelmingly made out of aluminum. The Bravo Company PKMR handguard is a slim-contour, two-piece design containing a heat shield and allows attachment of lights, lasers or foregrips at the 2-, 6- and 10-o’clock positions.
For the sake of completeness, I mounted a vertical foregrip and a Crimson Trace Railmaster Pro to the Bravo Company PKMR handguard. Throughout testing, the rails to which both the grip and the light/laser were attached did not require additional tightening, and the laser’s point-of-aim did not shift to any noticeable degree. Bravo Company built the PKMR right, and Springfield Armory made a shrewd, unique choice for the Saint’s furniture. Of course, should your furniture preference differ, replacing all items takes minutes and an entire industry revolves around filling that niche.
Preliminary testing proved vexing. Operation was smooth, save for a lone, unexpected trouble spot. A quick call to Springfield Armory revealed that a pre-production model had inadvertently been sent for testing (our protocols require production firearms whenever possible). Once the correct model was received for testing, however, the Saint proved to be quite boring. In more than 500 rounds of quite varied ammunition, no failures of any type were experienced. It simply fed, fired and ejected everything from 55-grain FMJs to 77-grain BTHP Match ammo, with a slight preference for heavier bullets in regards to accuracy. When describing how a firearm functions on the range, boring is good. If you want something more exciting, take up base jumping.
Since the Saint is intended as a near-entry-level carbine, it made sense to weight testing toward more common practice fodder. Multiple 55- and 62-grain FMJ variants were chosen as likely candidates to be most-often fired through such an AR. Also, magazines can also be a source of frustration, so multiple brands were tested in the Saint alongside the standard Magpul PMag that comes with the rifle. Polymer magazines from Mission First Tactical, Hexmag and Daniel Defense and steel magazines from Brownells and Okay Industries were all tested. No discrepancies were observed, and the Saint had no discernible preference between polymer or steel magazines.
I even grabbed a handful of honest-to-goodness “pre-ban” magazines left over from when I lived in Massachusetts and ran a few sets through these as a “worst-case” scenario. If the Saint worked with ancient, used-and-abused metal magazines of unknown origin—which it did—I figured it would work with just about anything. Not too many people concern themselves with “pre-ban” magazines these days, but there are, ahem, frugal folks who might still have some Reagan-era magazines still kicking around. No worries; they’ll work just fine.
At the end of the day, the Saint is a pretty standard AR-15-type carbine. It has a few upgraded parts and a host of smart choices that more than justify the slight increase in price over entry-level AR-15 offerings. Function is superlative, handling is—dare we say it in light of the name—divine and Springfield Armory has just opened up a brand new product line in which it can expand to meet customer demand. This Saint is a winner.