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The X95 Tavor Rifle

By Oleg Volk

What if one of the world’s best combat rifles got improved with civilian shooters in mind? Starting with a well-balanced, reliable weapon -- the Israeli Tavor SAR, the maker would add a better trigger, more rapidly accessible controls and end up with the X95.

The Israeli-designed X95 Tavor rifle has just become available in the U.S. to supplement the original SAR bullpup. Both are produced by Pennsylvania-based IWI. In the two and a half years since the original Tavor SAR came on the American market, about 65,000 rifles have been sold. While a small number compared to the conventional AR and AK types, it helped to establish the bullpup concept as reliable and functional, more so than the token amounts of similar designs. At a recent carbine course, four of the sixteen shooters had Tavors, with one more running the competing Kel-Tec RDB bullpup.

Developed as a military arm, the X95 offers extremely simple maintenance. One pin gives access to the entire bolt, carrier, and recoil assembly with critical parts kept captive to each other. Two more pins allow the removal of the complete en-bloc trigger group. The rifle runs very cleanly even when sound-suppressed, so keeping it operational is fairly easy. The rifle does not have an adjustable gas regulator, but rather vents the excess gas proportionally in the manner of the AK74. Even with a suppressor installed, gas blowback is minimal. It can be eliminated completely with a GearHead Works Flex swivel cover.

Derived from a select-fire combat weapon, the Tavor SAR had a couple of drawbacks from the perspective of U.S. shooters. The X95, while also derived from a combat rifle, follows newer user interface conventions. The length of pull is shorter, the trigger is lighter, and the magazine releases are buttons in front of the trigger guard, instead of a flapper by the magazine well. The fore-end has been changed to Weaver type rails covered with plastic sleeves; bottom or side rails may be individually exposed to provide attachment surfaces as needed. The proximity of the rails to the muzzle permits mounting of lights far enough front to escape occlusion by the barrel. Instead of sling swivels or loops, the X95 has three quick-disconnect sockets per side for quick reconfiguring of the carry setup as needed.

The basic internal design has changed little between the SAR and X95; both are 5.56mm long-stroke gas operated semi-auto rifles. While the trigger packs are interchangeable, the superior X95 pack with the lighter pull is not supplied with the older design. The winter trigger enclosure of the X95 is retained with a single screw and may be easily swapped for a smaller conventional guard. Cosmetically the X95 looks boxier, and the pistol grip is racked back less. It is the small things that trip up the habitual SAR shooters when transitioning to the X95. I would highly recommend sticking to one or the other for serious use.

The new trigger breaks at about 5-pounds. That is close to half as heavy as the original. Before shooting the X95, I thought that Geissele would have little success with their aftermarket trigger pack, but range time for accuracy testing showed that the standard X95 trigger is still a bit grittier. The difference would be minimal for defensive use, but noticeable for long-range shooting.

The ambidextrous button release for the magazine reflects a change in tactical thinking. Retaining spent magazines makes sense during combat at longer ranges, but not in close quarters. Dropping the empty with the trigger finger while reaching over with a fresh magazine in the support hand is quicker by enough to be significant in CQB. For civilian users, just about all defensive use is likely to be at distances under 25-yards, and few would have teammates giving cover fire during slower reloading with stowed mags. The included Magpul Gen 4 30-round magazine drops free full or empty.

The rail covers are quite rigid and may be slid forward to provide a longer fore-end for better muzzle control. The exposed rail slots may be filled with removable rail cover segments or left as they are. Like most bullpups, X95 has only a little real estate up front, so having rails on all four sides is a big help. Compared to the SAR, the X95 also benefits from the rearward migration of the charging handle. Less reach is now required to operate it, and the handle no longer has to fold forward to be out of the way between uses. The charging handle may be swapped to the right side for use with a left-side bolt. It is preferable to buy right or left handed rifle from the start, as converting the ejection direction would take an armorer upwards of half an hour. The same applies to the 9mm conversion, getting a whole new gun makes more sense.

The bolt release remains in the same place, but it is now lower profile both when engaged and disengaged. The parts feel a lot more solid, thanks to the reduction in possible sideways leverage on it. With the reposition charging handle, it is almost equally fast to activate the bolt release or to pull the charging handle back to chamber a round.

The weight, 7.9-pounds, and the length just over 26-inches remain the same as the SAR. The balance feels fairly similar. The X95 gives up ground to SAR on just a couple of points. Only 16.5-inch barrels are available at this time, without the 18-inch option. The extra finger groove on the pistol grip proved uncomfortable for some shooters; fortunately, the solution is but a file or a Dremel tool away. Moreover, it is available in 5.56mm only, without the 300 Blackout option. On all other counts, the X95 has been similar or superior to the SAR.

In practical shooting, the X95 cycled every type of ammunition we tried. Felt recoil approached zero. Rather than conduct accuracy testing with the built-in iron sights or with a target scope, we set up a typical defensive configuration: Leupold 1-6 x illuminated scope, Gemtech Omni QD sound suppressor. Freedom Munitions 62-grain FMJ, PMC 62-grain X-TAC “green tip,” PMC Bronze 55-grain FMJ, and quite surprisingly, Tula 55-grain FMJ all grouped around 2 minute of angle (MOA). OATH 65-grain plated copper “match” lagged behind at about 3.5-MOA. The barrels 1:7 twist rate favors heavier match ammunition, so it was no surprise that Federal Gold Match 69-grain gave consistent 1.5-MOA groups. Considering that SAR with a target scope fired with match ammunition from a rest got 1.5-MOA at its best, it and the X95 appear to be similar in accuracy. Most of my testing was about consistency rather than match accuracy; after 30 rounds had been fired in a minute, I noticed no substantial change in either point of impact or the group size. What did change were the group centers between different shooters, depending on which of the three testers was behind the rifle, we got nearly 3-MOA of vertical variation. Almost as surprising was the variation in zero between different loads, 55gr FMJ printed nearly three inches left of the 69-grain match rounds. So it would pay to choose one load and stick to it. The main challenge with making long-range shots from a conventional supported position with the X95 is ergonomics common to all short rifles; a little leverage near the buttstock goes a long way. At the same time, the short length allows support very near the muzzle, and that gives both finer control through the fore-end and a comparatively steady platform for firing on the move. With the scope set on 1 x and illumination turned on to approximate a red dot sight, it is very realistic to scope A-zone hits at 25-yards while moving obliquely.

Since X95 comes with excellent folding backup sights, including tritium illuminated front post, I would favor either a quick-disconnect mount for the scope or an unmagnified red dot sight. The downside to the folding iron sights is their relative fragility, as they are primarily meant for backup use. Scopes with BDC reticles should be verified at long range once mounted, as the height over bore is about ¾-inches greater than with the AR-15 for which most optics are calibrated. 

X95 is available in black, Flat Dark Earth (which looks more like butternut) and OD Green. Each rifle arrives with a 30-round magazine and a cleaning kit. Priced between $1750. and $2000. it is not inexpensive but brings a lot of capability in a compact form. It achieves that compact form without requiring a $200 tax stamp and much paperwork for a short barrel. With fifteen years of IDF service record, Tavor has evolved into a very reliable, mature design. In all of my work with SAR and X95, I have never had a malfunction, a claim that I can make for very few other guns. Overall, it is a rifle solidly on the recommended list.

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