Kel-Tec SU-16CA 5.56 NATO/223 Rem., $890
(GunReports.com)--Florida-based Kel-Tec CNC Industries Inc. has carved a niche in manufacturing small, lightweight pistols which feature simple no-nonsense designs. The SU-16CA follows this same philosophy. The barrel and mechanism are constructed 4140 steel with the balance of the gun constructed of Zytel, a reinforced plastic polymer. Additionally, the barrel is chrome lined for corrosion resistance and has a twist of 1:9. It comes with ½-28 threads, but no flash hider is supplied. Instead, a knurled cap serves as a thread protector. The SU-16CA was by far the least expensive rifle in our tests, coming in at a little more than a third the list price of the Sig Sauer.
When we unboxed our test rifle we found that it came packaged in the box. No pretense was even made in supplying a thin plastic carrying case. Our first reaction when eyeing the gun was not unlike the one we had when holding a Glock for the first time. Gads, there is a lot of plastic on the gun. This combination did make for a lightweight set-up, as our model weighed in at a little over 5 lbs. We did replace the standard folding stock with an optional collapsible version ($120). This bolt-on replacement had an integrated pistol grip and includes the trigger group for the gun. Adding the stock brought the Kel-Tecs weight up to a still-svelt 5.4 lbs. The plastic forend had molded checkering and becomes a bipod by splitting in half, and folding forward. An optional AR-style compact forend ($48) was also provided, but we chose to leave the full-length version in place. We did note the Kel-Tec did a very good job in molding textured areas on the SU-16CA. We found that holding the gun was secure, and found the pistol grip particularly comfortable. Two plastic 10-round magazines are supplied with the rifle, and it can accept standard AR magazines as well.
Once we reconfigured our gun to the retractable version, and made sure to align and tighten the stock and trigger assembly, we took trigger-pull measurements. We noticed a slight clicking sensation as the trigger was taken up, followed by relatively clean break at a slightly higher than advertised 7.1 lbs. The testers all rated the Kel-Tecs trigger as average for a defense-style rifle.
The SU-16CA differed quite a bit from an AR in its control location and operation. The Kel-Tec uses a side-mounted operating handle rather than a charging handle It is made of plastic and has a series of molded ridges on it to assist in grasping it. The lever reciprocates upon firing and acts as a brass deflector. We did note that this surface did become nicked from ejected brass during the course of our testing.
The bolt head is an AR-15 style, and locks open when the magazine is empty. The gas piston system on the Kel-Tec is non-adjustable, and is reminiscent of one found on the AK-47. The magazine release consisted of a plastic rectangular button located just forward of the trigger guard. The safety was a crossbolt configuration located above and slightly behind the trigger guard. It was beveled on the left side and cupped on the right. Firing position is achieved when the bolt is pushed from the right to the left. The bolt lock/release is located on the bottom of the SU-16A adjacent to the mag well. It is not readily detected, and a couple of our testers were rummaging around the gun in an effort to find it.
The sights on the SU-16CA consisted of a partially hooded sight post that can be adjusted for elevation and a single aperture rear peep sight. The rear sight is adjusted for windage and elevation by repositioning the sight up and down the flat-top rail and by using a pair of Philips-head tensioning screws. The sights on the Kel-Tec were by far the hardest to fine tune of our three guns, and the least accurate.
Accuracy testing found the SU-16A to be surprisingly well behaved despite its light weight. It lagged just behind our other two test rifles with all three types of ammo tested, turning in a best average group of 1.4 inches with the Remington 55-gr. MC loading. The piston in the Kel-Tec seemed to moderate the felt recoil and supplied consistent performance with no malfunctions. Empties were thrown slightly forward with some inconsistency in their pattern.
The action testing of our gun proved to be problematic. The first shot elicited a note of surprise from our tester on the firing line and others inside the rifle tunnel of Bass Pro Shops, as a watermelon-sized ball of flame leapt out of the barrel. The iron sights were completely overwhelmed by the fireball, making fast firing at 25 yards all but impossible. We had to move the target to the 15-yard mark to allow us to overcome the flashbulb vision effect to complete our testing. Our Team Said: Despite the operating problem of the fireball, several of our testers came away more impressed with the SU-16CA than their first impression had given them. It was agreed that after a flash hider was added, the Kel-Tec would make a good backpack or in-vehicle rifle.