IWI Tavor TSB16 5.56 NATO, $1999
Gun Tests magazine did a one-gun Special Report on the Tavor TAR-21 Bullpup in the September 2013 issue. This hot new rifle in 5.56 NATO costs a pretty penny — around $2000 rollout in most places — but we see some reasons why it may be worth the money. Following are excerpts from that test, used with permission:
IWI Tavor TSB16 5.56 NATO, $1999
Starting in 2001, the IDF (Israel Defense Force) began testing the Tavor TAR-21 (Tavor Assault Rifle, 21st Century). In 2003 it had a larger roll out, and most Israeli soldiers were receiving at least minimal training on the platform. By 2009, the Tavor had officially replaced M16-style rifles in the tiny country’s defense armory. Now the Tavor, as a semi-auto civilian rifle, is available for sale in the USA. The manufacturer, Israel Weapon Industries (IWI), has opened up a U.S. branch (IWI US) and is manufacturing and assembling the gun in this country. We were able to get our hands on the popular new IWI Tavor SAR-21 in 5.56 NATO. It will accept any standard AR-15/M16 magazine, and the Tavor is available in black or flat dark earth with an MSRP of $1999. The owner of our loaner test gun paid $1850 for his in April 2013.
There’s a lot packed into the Tavor TAR-21 bullpup: a handy length, great ergonomics, accurate and reliable operation. It’s also ambidextrous,but going full lefty requires an optional bolt kit to eject to this side.
The Tavor had a 16.5-inch barrel and an overall length of 26.2 inches, which gives the operator the ability to maneuver quickly and shoot with the accuracy of a longer rifle. It weighed just 10.2 pounds with a 30-round magazine and an EOTech XPS2-2 Holographic Weapon Sight aboard. Along with the gun, IWI included a belt pouch that contained four cleaning-rod extensions, a squeeze bottle for gun lube, a bore brush, a chamber brush, a general cleaning brush, a large brush for cleaning the inside of the receiver, and a windage/elevation adjustment tool for the front sight. Also, there were a pair of QD swivel studs, a IWI branded magazine, and the owners manual.
The Tavor was ripe with awesome features, starting with the design of the gun. Every piece of polymer on the gun was ergonomically designed and felt great, our shooters said. There are optional conversion kits that would allow the gun to shoot either 9mm Luger or 5.45x39mm. It is 100% ambidextrous with a separate kit, which contains optional left-handed bolts. Sights include built-in back up irons with a tritium-tipped front post.
The barrel on our test gun was chrome-lined and fitted with a standard flash suppressor. The hammer-forged CrMoV (chrome-moly-vanadium) tube had six grooves and a 1:7 right-hand twist. The charging handle was non-reciprocating. A Picatinny rail ran along the top of the gun, which was great for mounting optics. It also comes with an rail on the right side of the gun. The body of the gun was completely made of one solid piece of polymer. The safety was mounted right on the pistol grip. The magazine release was ambidextrous and a little on the large side, we thought. When we first started testing, we were pretty sure that the location and size were going to cause a problem for some shooters, but, ultimately, we did not have a single issue loading or unloading magazines from the gun.
The take-apart process was surprisingly easy. Depress a pin on the back side of the gun near the buttstock, and the stock folds down 90 degrees, whereafter you can remove the bolt assembly from the gun.
We used a series of live action and static tests, primarily looking to compare the Tavor to other bullpups (Steyr AUG, FN FS2000 and MSAR STG-556) we wrote about in the September 2010 issue. Now, as then, to test the gun in an action situation, we posted an IPSC-P target at 7 yards. The test was to engage the target with two shots to center mass (a 5.9 by 11-inch rectangle) followed by one shot into a 4-inch-wide by 2-inch-tall rectangle at the top of the target. The goal was to run 10 three-shot strings, landing all shots inside of the target zones. The starting position was low ready, with the gun already mounted on the shoulder. We used the Surefire ShotTimer app for the iPhone to record the times. We used Fiocchi 62-grain full-metal-jacket boattail 223C ammunition for the test. Short version: We were able to land 30 shots inside the required areas, with our fastest group consuming just over one-and-half seconds. We didn’t shoot clean strings with any of the other bullpups in the 2010 evaluation.
Because most of the Tavor’s dry weight is located on the back half of the gun right around the pistol grip — even farther back with a loaded magazine inserted — it was easy to hold the rifle on target. Even if you had to hold the gun for long periods of time without your front hand, we think it would be relatively easy with this gun. The 1-inch-thick rubber buttpad on the butt of the gun gripped really well and provided the right amount of cushion on the shoulder.
Later, we found a six-point contact system was being utilized by IDF soldiers. Commonly referred to as “The Israeli Grip,” the six contact points the shooter makes are as follows: One is the foregrip with the support hand. Two is the front of the trigger guard, wherein the shooters is instructed to lay the forearm along the front on trigger guard. This creates a very stable firing platform. Three is the pistol grip. Four is the strong-hand forearm against the magazine. Five is cheek weld. Number six is the buttpad against the shoulder. Using this grip style took some getting used to, but once we got the hang of it, the gun fit our shooters solidly and no one was chicken-winging it. The six-point contact set up also slims the shooter’s profile in a tactical situation.
A feature notably different than other rifles was the location of the mag release and bolt release. With some practice, we were able to change the magazine quickly with one hand, all without taking the strong hand off the gun. Even without the front hand on the gun, the shooter could shift his shooting-hand thumb back and bump the mag release, dropping it free while the support hand was grabbing the next one. Once we had a fresh magazine and were ready to insert it into the gun and lock it in place, the support-hand thumb was ready to hit the bolt release. The bolt release can also function as bolt catch if you don’t have an empty magazine to leave the action open. It is an awkward process, but if you pull down on the back side of the magazine release and ease the charging handle forward, it will lock the bolt open.
For accuracy testing, we shot the Tavor off sandbags using standard Magpul AR-15 magazines. We noticed that because of the way the spent shells ejected from the gun, if necessary, a left-handed shooter could operate the right-handed version of the gun and not eat any brass. We shot all accuracy at 50 yards with the EOTech XPS2-2 Holographic Weapon Sight mentioned earlier in the story. The Tavor delivered average group sizes at 50 yards (three shots) of 1.4 inches with the HPR rounds, 1.4 inches with the Fiocchi, and 2.0 inches with the Brown Bear.
Our Team Said: This is a solid bullpup rifle. It fired flawlessly, was light weight, and had great ergonomics. The only thing that we did not like about the gun was the trigger. The trigger pull came out to 11.75 pounds, which is heavy, but not uncommon for a rifle that is built on this platform. Shooters who own this gun have found a quick fix for the heavy trigger by removing a spring inside of the trigger group. If you remove the trigger group from the gun and pull the sear forward, you will notice there are two springs inside the trigger group. The second spring allows the gun to function even in battlefield conditions. To remove the spring from the sear, release the trigger by pulling the sear forward. Take a pair of needlenose pliers and pull the circular piece of ringed steel off the sear. On the backside of the trigger group, there is a roll pin which holds the bar that holds the spring. If you tap out the roll pin, the spring will come out with it. Performing this trigger mod lowers the trigger pull to about 7 pounds, but it also voids the warranty.