Tavor SAR-16: Tax-Free SBR

By Chris A. Choat

Not too long ago, rumors sprang up that a new bullpup was going to be produced in the U.S. The new rifle is called the Tavor SAR Semi-Automatic Rifle and is produced by IWI (Israel Weapons Industries). IWI also produces the Uzi submachine gun, the Galil line of rifles and the Negev machine guns. The Tavor SAR actually started life as the Israel made, select-fire rifle called the Tavor X-95, which has been produced in Israel for over a decade. The X-95 was developed in close cooperation with the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), which needed a weapon that could be mission configured to a wide array of scenarios. The rifle had to be able to be used as a sniper rifle, a carbine and even as a submachine gun. The major requirements for the new gun were that it had to be extremely durable and be the ultimate in reliability. Hence the X-95 was born.

Now a semiautomatic only version is being produced here in the U.S. at IWI USA in their new facilities located in Harrisburg, PA. The new Tavor SAR is assembled in the U.S. with both Israeli and U.S. produced parts (to make it 922r compliant). In fact it must have just the right amount of U.S. made parts, as there is a card inserted into the operators manual that states if you use a non-U.S. made magazine, muzzle device, trigger, hammer piston or sear you may be in violation of 922r.

The Tavor features a long-stroke piston type operating system and is, as stated before, a bullpup design. The rifle has Mil-Spec 100% interchangeability of parts and uses any AR-15/M16 magazine. It has a Mil-Spec, chrome-lined, cold-hammer forged barrel with a 1 in 7 RH twist. It can be ordered with either a 16.5- or an 18-inch barrel. The 18-inch barrels are equipped with a bayonet lug. The Tavor is available in either a flat-top version or the IDF version that includes a Mepro-21 reflex sight already affixed. The gun can be ordered in either black or a very good looking FDE (flat dark earth) model. The Tavor is completely ambidextrous with cocking handle, ejection port and safety able to be changed from side to side without additional parts. A left hand bolt is available as an option to complete the transformation.

The barrel on the Tavor has a relatively quick change feature that enables the gun to be changed to different calibers very easily. Caliber conversions for both 9mm and 5.45x39mm should be available by the time you read this. The 9mm barrel will have a 1 in 10 twist and the 5.45x39 barrel will have a 1 in 7.5 twist. With the gun being shipped in .223/5.56x45mm one can only hope that a conversion for 300 Blackout would be the next logical choice.

The main body of the Tavor is made from a high-strength impact modified polymer. All the metal parts on the gun are treated for corrosion resistance and are finished matte black. Overall weight of the gun is 7.9 pounds and the overall length is just 26 1/8 inches.

The gun received for testing was the black, flat-top rifle with a 16.5 inch barrel. The gun is shipped with one 30-round IWI USA produced magazine, a very detailed full-color operator’s manual and a very nice cleaning/accessory kit tool pouch, which includes a 4-section cleaning rod, bore brush, chamber brush, dust brush, receiver brush, cleaning patch tip, oil bottle, 2 sling push button type sling swivels and a sight adjustment tool. The flat-top model comes with folding front and rear back-up sights that are built right into the Picatinny rail. When the sights are folded down they look like part of the rail itself. The front sight on this model also has a tritium insert for low light/night use. While the gun’s top and side rails are billed as Picatinny they are not machined to exact Mil-Spec M-1913 specifications as they have a slight depression that runs down their center. That said, Mil-Spec M-1913 accessories fit and lock on perfectly.

The Tavor, when held by its pistol grip, tends to feel muzzle light or buttstock heavy. But as with most bullpup rifles, it seems to feel well balanced when shouldered. The buttstock features a rubber buttpad that keeps it securely positioned when the rifle is shouldered. The trigger on the Tavor test gun broke at 10 pounds but did not have the mushy feel that most bullpup firearms are plagued with. Suffice it to say, this is a combat trigger; not one designed for target shooting. The safety on the gun is positioned in the normal position right above the pistol grip and travels 90 degrees from safe to fire positions. The charging handle is positioned right above the firearm’s forearm and is reversible and non-reciprocating. There are slots on both sides of the gun to receive it. The slot that the charging handle rides in will also accept a 6-inch Picatinny rail that comes with the gun. This rail can be installed on the opposite side from the charging handle to accept accessories such as lights, laser designators or whatever the shooter requires. To change the charging handle from the left to the right side the forearm has to be disassembled. The magazine release on the Tavor is decidedly different from any other firearm. It is a vertical lever positioned at the front of the magazine well. Pushing it rearward releases the magazine. Most magazines drop free of the receiver when the magazine release is pushed. The gun has 4 sockets, 2 on each side that will accept push-button sling swivels. These are limited rotation sockets that keep the sling from becoming twisted. The two sling swivels that are supplied with the gun are finished in a matte black that matches the gun’s overall finish.

As with most firearms of this type, the Tavor can be disassembled without the need for tools. The only thing needed is the tip of a bullet or even a small stick. A captive push pin at the upper rear of the stock is pushed out that releases the buttpad to swing down. Once this is done the piston, bolt group and recoil spring, which is all one assembly, is slid out of the back of the gun. By pushing out two more captive push pins just behind the magazine well, the entire firing mechanism, which includes the hammer, sear, disconnector and related spring and parts, can be removed out of the bottom of the rifle by swinging the bolt release paddle out of the way. All of the firing mechanism parts are contained in a polymer housing that comes out as one unit. One only needs to have taken apart other firearms that have separate springs, rods or pins that always seem to go to never-never land to appreciate the way this rifle comes apart in contained subassemblies. You can tell the designers had input from end users here.

The gun was tested with various type of .223/5.56 ammunition and consisted of whatever could be located at the time. The testing was done when .223 ammunition prices were through the roof and availability was very limited. It did consist of some Tula, in both FMJ and hollow point styles, Black Hills Ammunition 75 grain Match Hollow Points, Independence 55 grain FMJ, Wolf 55 grain FMJ, American Eagle 64 grain Tactical Tracer and some ASYM Precision Solid Defense X ammunition loaded with Barnes copper TSX bullets. The Tavor was also fed some of the author’s 55 grain FMJ reloads.

The Tavor digested any and all ammunition that was fed into it. It didn’t matter what brand, bullet style or type of ammunition was used in the rifle – it fed, fired and ejected it with relentless reliability. Over 300 rounds were fired on the first outing with the gun and not one single malfunction was seen, observed or encountered. At the time this article is being written, the gun has had over 600 rounds through it and still no problems. The gun was taken out of the box and put to work with no lubrication and still continues to run the same way. While the testers did not subject the test gun to the rigors that IWI has put its test rifles through we didn’t baby the gun either. If you want to see how IWI and the IDF test the Tavor go online to the IWI Weapons channel on You Tube.

The Tavor was fired with both open sights and with optics. One of the optics that was chosen was a Trijicon ACOG (Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight) 4x32 with a red chevron .223 ballistic reticle. This no-nonsense optic is built every bit as tough as the Tavor itself. For those out there that have never used an ACOG, this model is a fixed power compact scope that has a tritium/fiber optic illumination BDC (bullet drop compensating) reticle that can be used in bright sunlight or even no light conditions. It can be used either with one or both eyes open, are waterproof to 100 meters and have been combat proven for many years.

Accuracy of the test gun was very good once the shooter got used to the heavy trigger pull. The gun would easily shoot into 4 inches at 100 yards with open sights and under 2 inches with the ACOG. The 1 in 7 twist barrel favored the heavier 75 to 77 grain bullets with some groups inside 1 inch from a sandbag. Recoil of the Tavor is like most all .223 AR style guns, almost nonexistent. The gun is very pleasant to shoot with a straight back recoil and no muzzle rise. Empty brass was positively ejected into a small pile about 6 feet from the gun at the 4 o’clock position.

As the Tavor uses standard AR-15/M16 type magazines, we tried all brands that we had on hand. This is not to say that the IWI magazine that comes with the gun is inferior, it isn’t. In fact this author thinks it is a very good magazine. It is lightweight, has gripping ridges and windows on either side to show round count. It even has a small button on the baseplate that protrudes when the mag is fully loaded so the user can tell even in the dark. We just wanted to try others to see if any would cause unexpected problems. They did not. We tried MagPul MAGPUL PMAGS, Lancer L5 Warfighter mags, SureFire 60 and 100 round magazines, Cammenga Easymags, Thermold mags and plain GI aluminum mags. All of the magazines fed and functioned fine and locked the bolt open after the last shot.

There is one other feature of this gun that should be covered. It seems like today there is a new rage that is sweeping through the firearms world. The SBR or short barreled rifle. This author is the first one to admit that the little short barreled AR-15’s or for that matter the super short M16 rifles definitely have somewhat of a sexy look or have the so called Hollywood “cool factor.” While the pros and cons of the little guns can be the subject of heated debates by the online commandos, the short 7 to 10 inch guns will still reach out and touch someone or something at amazing distances. Also for vehicle or CQB work they are hard to beat. Back when the law was written that rifles with barrels shorter than 16 inches had to be classified as SBRs and taxed to the tune of $200 per gun that sum was a lot of money. It is still a considerable amount but shooters that spend over $2,000 for an AR style gun or between $500 and $700 per thousand rounds of ammunition to feed it don’t think twice about paying for this $200 tax stamp. Most AR manufacturers are now offering versions of their most popular rifles as factory SBRs. During one of our test outings we happened to have an SBR with us and it and the Tavor were laid side by side. I guess that it had never dawned on me but when I saw them there together the light bulb came on. I got a tape measure and lo and behold the Tavor has an overall length of 27 inches. The author’s 7-inch barreled SBR measures 28.5 inches with the stock extended. In this author’s opinion I would rather have the increased range and velocity of the gun with the 16.5-inch barrel and not have to pay the $200 tax. Maybe we should keep this to ourselves and not let the “powers that be” in Washington know about it.

In conclusion, I highly recommend the IWI USA Tavor. It is a well built rifle that exhibits the ultimate reliability and durability and is not the lease bit ammo sensitive. It works with any AR-15 style magazine and the accuracy exhibited is as good, if not better, than most AR;-style rifles out there. Plus you get a kind-of tax-free SBR. What more could you want?

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V18N1 (February 2014)
and was posted online on November 15, 2013


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