Gun Review: Benelli MR1 Tactical Rifle

The AR may be America’s rifle, but the weapon is not without its critics. Some say the system runs too dirty to be reliable. Others aren’t thrilled with the AR’s military demeanor and “assault rifle” rep. Either way, some gun owners choosing a rifle to defend hearth and home find themselves between a rock (traditional bolt-action rifles) and a hard place (AR-15). Enter the Benelli MR1 . . .

The Italian rifle looks like the love-child of a Beretta Storm and a Benelli M2 shotgun; a firearm that somehow bridges the gap between futuristic and familiar without appearing overly tactical. In theory, the Benelli MR1 is an ideal combination: a home defense rifle that blends the latest firing system with Olde Worlde ergonomics. In practice, well . . .  let’s start by looking at what makes this baby tick.

The ARGO (Auto Regulating Gas Operating) system is the MR1′s USP (Unique Selling Point). Benelli originally developed the ARGO system for its shotguns after deciding that the weight of night-vision scopes and other specialized equipment might compromise the effectiveness of their ultra-reliable Inertia Driven system. In both the Marines’ battle-tested M4 combat shotgun and the MR1, the ARGO system uses exhaust gasses to power a self-cleaning stainless steel piston, which operates directly against the rotating bolt.

The blowback occurs in a port just ahead of the chamber, where the gasses are relatively hot and clean. Benelli claims that their ARGO system guarantees “less fouling and more reliable recycling.” The company also says that the MR1′s piston design “eliminates the need for complex linkages found on other, inferior gas systems.”

The Benelli MR1 leaves the factory with a hard chrome-lined 16” barrel with a 1 in 9” right hand twist. The self-proclaimed makers of “the best home defense rifle available” package their gun with a five-round 5.56 mm NATO (.223 Remington) magazine. Just as well that the MR1 accepts full-capacity 20 or 30-round M-16 mags. (More on that later.)

Benelli fits the MR1 with rugged but rudimentary sights, adjustable for wind and elevation. To help us get a sense of the MR1′s accuracy both close-in and way out, Burris provided TTAG with one of their excellent Extreme XTR Tactical riflescopes and a set of rings. The Burris 1.5X-6X-40mm scope is a work of art, with crystal clear optics and ergonomically-sound, common sense controls. [Click here to download the technical notes.]

Mated to the MR1, the XXXL Burris scope looked a little goofy. As would any optic perched atop the MR1′s military-style aperture sights (secured with torx screws and thread-locking glue). Scope the MR1 and you’ll need to practice your chin weld; only extra high rings or an additional riser allows the scope bell to clear the rear sight assembly. It’s a major drawback for AR-lovers who (sensibly enough) heart optics that can co-witness with back-up iron sights, or at least don’t stand quite so proud of the rail.

The MR1′s a solid piece, weighing in at 7.9 lb unloaded. It’s slightly front heavy, which helps keep muzzle flip under control. The MR1′s neoprene pistol grip surface is as grippy as Roger Federer at a UNICEF fund raiser. The Benelli’s synthetic fore-end does a fine job of mitigating barrel heat during rapid fire strings. Though the 16 “ crowned barrel lacks a muzzle device, the muzzle blast is surprisingly tame.

The Benelli’s 5.5-lbs. two-stage trigger is a dream to shoot: easy to control through the slack, and crisp and clean when it breaks. It’s the gun’s single greatest advantage over a standard AR rifle. That said, the MR1′s trigger pull is a bit long. And the ergonomics of the pistol grip place the shooter’s finger down at the very bottom of the trigger, which can degrade trigger control.

Every shooter who fired the Benelli used some variant of the word “fun” to describe their experience—thanks in part to the reduced parts count up front. With less mass heaving to and fro, the MR1 has noticeably less recoil than most AR platform rifles. Not that .223 is a particularly punishing round. But you can shoot the Italian rifle for extended periods without feeling even slightly beaten up.

To that end, ATK supplied TTAG with a stash of high-quality Federal ammo, including 40 and 55-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips, 55-grain Sierra Game Tips, 55-grain Barnes Triple Shocks and 60-grain Nosler Partition bullets. The Benelli ate them up and spat them out without hesitation or deviation, with plenty of repetition. In roughly 300 rounds fired, I experienced a single, mag-related failure to feed.

In terms of accuracy . . .

From the bench at 50 yards, the Benelli was putting 10 shots into 2 inch groups. The MR1 performed even better with the 55 grain Nosler Ballistic Tips and 55 grain Barnes Triple Shock ammunition. At 100 yards, the groups still remained around 2 inches—which is more than acceptable for a defensive rifle.

Firing the MR1 offhand from at distances ranging from close in to 150 yards, Big Ben pointed naturally and delivered hits as fast as the shooter could adjust his aim. This is where the MR1 really shines: close-in combat mode. Once you get the Benelli off the bench rest and start marching downrange, gripping that forend and sweeping for targets with the muzzle, the weapon proves incredibly wieldy and perfectly deadly.

Yes, but—the ambidextrous magazine release was a bit stiff. Only the factory five-round mag dropped free reliably. Unlike the fancy scope addition, the aforementioned 20 and 30-round M16 magazines are absolutely essential to the MR1′s main mission. They must function flawlessly going in, staying in, feeding and leaving the rifle.

Truth be told, the MR1 only likes certain magazines. I attribute the MR1′s single failure to feed (noted above) to a Brownells magazine. As Guns & Ammo also discovered, the Magpul P-Mag is not the MR1′s friend, due to its mid-level (rather than baseplate) lip. Anyone considering the MR1 for home defense is well-advised to do some online and in-store mag-compatibility research before purchasing this gun.

While we’re kvetching, the MR1 shares a less than ideal Benelli family trait: a trigger guard-mounted safety. It’s a real stretch for a trigger finger—which makes it a highly inconvenient device for anyone who needs to run and gun (which hand do you take off the weapon?). Also, if you cradle the MR1 too close to the magazine well, the rifle has an entirely unpleasant tendency to bite a shooter’s support hand between the magazine and the receiver. It’s a mistake you won’t make twice.

The MR1 makes some pleasant concessions to southpaw shooters: an ambidextrous mag release, an ambidextrous bolt release (placed directly in front of the trigger guard) and a charging handle positioned on the right side of the bolt. The butt-stock is ready to attach a sling for either right or left-handed shooters. The cross bolt safety was easy enough to index and to disengage.

The single biggest downside for left-handed shooters: the lack of a brass deflector. After just a handful of rounds, the rifle showed noticeable brass dings along the right side of the receiver. And then I started getting hit in the face with hot brass. Eye protection saved the day. But there’s no doubt that hitting your target becomes exponentially more difficult when you’re trying to duck your own brass. (Right handers have nothing to fear from this quirk.)

To field-strip the MR1 for cleaning, you remove the magazine, unload the rifle, unscrew the knobbed fore-end cap, pull the fore-end forward to remove it. With the removal of the gas system nut and its captured spring, the entire piston assembly, bolt and barrel simply slide forward off the receiver. Reassembly requires a steady hand to line it all up correctly.

Not to overstate the obvious, the Benelli MR1 is not an AR-15. Rifle buyers who embrace the AR’s black gun demeanor, “plug-and-play” adaptability and easy access to endless parts, accessories and expertise need not apply. By the same token, the MR1′s inability to accomodate upgraded non-red dot optics without sacrificing the possibility of a cheek weld reduces the Italian rifle’s utility.

Which leaves us with what?

A $1300 funky-looking close-quarters home defense gun with a five-round magazine that handles like a Ferrari, shoots as soft as baby’s backside and hits what you aim at. A beautifully-built weapon that fills a niche perfectly—but only that niche—that would run reliably through a solid year of zombie killing. But whatever it is, the Benelli MR1 is not America’s rifle. Whether or not that’s a good thing or not is a matter of personal taste. And money.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Caliber: 5.56x45mm NATO (.223 Rem)
Barrel: 16” hard chrome lined 1 in 9” RH twist
Overall Length: 37.1”
Weight: 7.9lb (unloaded)
Action: Auto-Regulating-Gas-Operated (ARGO)
Finish: Black synthetic
Capacity: Comes with one five-round factory magazine, accepts all M-16 magazines (some better than others)
Price: MSRP $1299

RATINGS (Out of Five)

Style * * *

The Benelli MR1 is a bit . . . Reubenesque. Doesn’t scope well with friends.

Ergonomics * * *

The MR1 feels good in your hands; you can shoot for extended periods without fatigue. Southpaws beware; some of the empty brass may have your name on it.

Reliability * * * * *

Definitely 5 out of 5. Benelli has a winner with the ARGO system and this rifle did a splendid job of gobbling up every loading we fed it. Nice and clean when we broke it down.

Customize This * *

Benelli offers an attachable Picatinny tri-rail for the fore end to enable the use of flashlights, lasers, etc. In this AR Lego world of ours, the gunmaker needs to make it easy (i.e. possible) to remove the standard iron sights.

Overall Rating * * *

An innovative weapon system that doesn’t offer a killer app compared to more user-friendly defensive rifles—that cost the same or less.

Federal Premium supplied the ammo for our testing.

23 Responses to Gun Review: Benelli MR1 Tactical Rifle

  1. avatarJD says:

    Good job on the review Bryan! Here's my assessment of it.

    Everyone I know who owns an AR uses it for hunting everything from prairie dogs to deer. 2" groups @ 100 yds ain't gonna cut it for anyone I know who hunts Pdogs or yotes, maybe deer @ close range.

    It looks cool and it probably runs a bit cleaner than my AR's but it's gonna take something a lot more accurate and modular for me to ever put down my AR's.

  2. avatarDetlef says:

    This was an excellent review. More of these please from this author, Robert.

  3. avatarTTTACer says:

    It sounds like it does everything the AR does, only slightly worse. Though I suspect it is a better SHTF weapon with a much higher tolerance for abuse. American Rifleman had similar accuracy numbers, a typical AR out of the box will cut those groups in half. I wonder if there is any tuning that can be done. One more thing, the design of the AR makes it impossible to have a folding stock, but I think this thing could arrange the pistons like a Para FAL, so why don't they?

  4. avatarDDD says:

    Thanks for the review! I can’t get past the 2″groups and $1300 price tag.

  5. avatarjoehunter says:

    I have a Mr1 and a colt ar-15 with the H-bar, I have had the colt to jam on me before but the mr1 never has jamed. if my butt is on the line I’ll grab the Mr-1.

  6. Great artical!
    I would have saved myself some grief if I had read it sooner!
    Available with a 20″ barrel and as a Non Restricted rifle here, I bought myself one for Christmas andI took it to the range yesterday after wasting several hours trying to find a scope to fit this gun and look and feel good! It is a bit of a nightmare!
    He’s right about the sight hight and the way the gun fits , at the end of it all and just put on a red dot. It shot so well that now I really need a scope. With the 20″ barrel and a simple red dot sight, in a strong wind at -6c, benched but not bagged with 64 gr. Winchester 3 shots were touching each other at 50 yards. Cheap 55 gr. FMJ shot 1/4 to 1/2 inch.

  7. avatarDoug Smith says:

    I just purchased an MR1. It shoots crisply with minimal recoil, feels good albeit a tad portly and is user friendly. From the bench with the iron sights and my poor vision I could put in two inch groups at 50 yards. I see optics in my future.
    However, the MR1 is a proper bitch to re-assemble. After a frustrating two hours I returned to the dealer to see what I was doing wrong. The staffers had an equally hard a time with re-assembly. The manual that accompanies the rifle needs an editor with more than English as a second language and pictures that illustrate the copy on the same page. Even You Tube couldn’t save me.
    Had it not been lust at first sight I may have opted for the girl next door instead of an Italian lover. Strip her before you buy, then decide if you can live with her.

  8. avatarrooster says:

    the canadian version is offered with a 20″barrel,which may tend to be a bit more accurate.a.r.’s are restricted in canada so our options for semi auto varmint are limited to ruger junk or cz858.my problem is to get the second cyote in line,i get the first one but miss the second,with a bolt. think the benelli might take care of this problem.im going to give one a try.i also want to buy one before the greens up here ban the benelli too.to my american cousins,be happy you dont have a liberal government like we have where all black guns are bad because an algerian freak went on a rampage and we are all held to blame.

  9. avatarPeppergun says:

    I too bought the MR1. I only shot 20 rounds out of it so far. Upon cleaning it I noticed it was marked 223Remington. I was expecting to see 5.56 Nato/223 Remington. When I contacted BenelliUSA they told me the warranty would be void if I used 5.56 Nato in it and the barrel could blow up . I did my homework on these two different calibers and found out that the 5.56 Nato is slightly longer then the 223 Remington. But as the weapon is advertised it is a 5.56 Nato/223 Remington. I did asked BenelliUSA and they said something to the affect the weapon had to be marked [223 Remington] that way for shipping reasons. If I would have known this before I bought it I would have saved a few hundred dollars and got an AR-15.

  10. avatarNoRightsInNY says:

    I have owned this gun for about a year and I wish that I had never bought it. It’s been a nightmare ever since I got it. Trying to find a scope (more than 1x) and rings that would fit over the rear sights and feel comfortable was a pain, as noted in the review, what should be cheek weld turns into chin weld; even if you had a chin like Jay Leno you still wouldn’t be comfortable. I put a cheek pad on my stock and the scope is still too high. Then there is the ever present 5.56x45mm, (as advertised by Benelli in ALL of their ads, plus the seductive Madison Ave. videos about the MR1 on their website), and the .223 Remington (as stamped on my barrel) question. I was even told that it was a 5.56mm when I asked a gun store owner about it. To this day this HAS NOT been clarified by BenelliUSA
    I emailed Benelli the day after I received my MR1 having field stripped it and noticed the “.223 Remington” stamped on the barrel under the front cover and was first told that it was .223 Rem. ONLY. After SEVERAL emails & phone conversations I finally told them I wanted my money back and was ready to file a complaint with the Attorney General because of false advertising. They then told me that the Customer Service Reps were mistaken and that is how they stamp the barrels in Italy and it is OK to fire 5.56 x45mm ammo through it (I saved and printed the email…just in case)…HUH?? They have stamps for 2’s & 3’s in Italy but not for 5’s & 6’s???
    From what I understand, you CANNOT fire, sorry…It is UNSAFE to fire 5.56mm ammo in a firearm chambered for .223 Remington, even though the 2 are similar in size, the 5.56x45mm has a higher chamber pressure when fired and could damage the firearm as well as possibly cause injury to the shooter. A .223 Remington round can be fired in a firearm chambered in 5.56x45mm safely.
    Will it fire every time you pull the trigger? So far, YES it will, its been very reliable, but I don’t live in Kabul and won’t be putting 1000 rounds a day through it to save my life, so if that is it’s only selling point…its not worth it. At about $1100 this gun is not worth it, not for what you get nor for what it does.
    The barrel on it measures .550” in diameter at the muzzle and .672” in diameter just behind the ARGO system, how many rounds will it take for this barrel to heat up? I can tell you not many and it happens quickly. My .22 LR barrel has a larger diameter.
    The guns finish is easily “scuffed” making it look unsatisfactory after several uses and I treat my firearms with great care, yet the finish has “scuffs” in several places. How they got there I do not know.
    Just a note for reloaders. This thing will ruin your brass, not all of it but a large portion of it. As seen in the review the brass hits the receiver when ejected and the case mouth of the brass comes away with a good sized dent right at the opening of the mouth of the case. When you re-size the brass it will either buckle in or crack.
    I bought this gun because I was not a fan of the AR platform…well guess who just got a new RRA?
    To be fair. I like the way it feels, it is well balanced and it has a nice trigger pull. But for the money there should be more, like accuracy. This IS NOT the gun for me, but maybe you will like it. But I suggest that you handle it, fire it, dis-assemble it and look it over before you buy to see if it will meet all of your needs, I feel like I was taken. Just trying to help.

  11. avatarAdam says:

    Hi guys,

    I’ve got an MR1 with several thousand rounds through it. I like the design but the accuracy is sub-par and there’s minor erosion in the piston. As for the 5.56 vs .223, the rifle can definitely fire 5.56. Many European rifles are labeled the same way and all can fire 5.56 safely. After all, .223 isn’t exactly a common European rifle round. Something seems to get lost in translation.

  12. avatarDen says:

    Has anyone left handed used this and whats the verdict

  13. avatarDave says:

    For me if they cleared up the .223/5.56 controversy, made controls like the ARX160, and fattened/lengthened the barrel a bit it would be more appealing for the price.

  14. avatarDisenfranchisedinNJ says:

    The Benelli R1 was a hunting rifle sales flop. It was ugly, bulky, and no one would be caught dead with one in an elk or deer camp. This model just might be as well except maybe it will get legs from the mall ninja’s and the SHTF crowd who feel they need the latest and greatest because this one looks “tactical.” But some of the comments here are distressing. Here is a rifle someone wants as a “home defense rifle” yet they can’t reassemble it and YouTube isn’t a help to them either. Geez. And all these acronyms like SHTF worry me. Imagine the S really HTF? The world is coming do an end, or there is a natural disaster, you have no internet acccess, and you can’t access YouTube to figure out how to put your MR1 back together again. Most disturbing.

    The sight arrangement on this rifle appear to be an abomination in an effort to be sturdy. A sturdy set of irons like the H&K diopters would be more ideal. And looking at this rifle, I feel that the old M1 carbine is still a better example of a short handy rifle for extreme conditions. And it’s been tested in real battle, something this plasticky-looking example hasn’t. Too bad they are banned in N.J.

    Want a great little “home defense rifle” that won’t scare the neighbors or police? Get a simple Marlin or Winchester carbine in .44 Mag. Possessing a 9 or 10 shot capacity; it’s a potent round that can handle a variety of situations out to 150 yds. Add an XS, LPA or Brockmann peep sight and you can hit targets with precision from a good distance off. Not a faster “tactical” rifle to reload, but WHAT are you really defending yourself against in reality? Zombies, hordes of attackers who want to oust you from your McMansion? Come on, get real.

  15. avatarChuck says:

    I just got my MR1 and had no opportunity to strip in the store. At home, following the manual I had no problem with reassembly. I have a Marine Magnum by Remington for “cleaning out” the hallway. I bought the MR1 for defensive purposes between about 12-15 yards, and about 25-30 yards. I want to be able to intercept the mob coming down the street burning houses, and looting. I have no illusions of dropping a Griz at 4 miles with a 55 grain round. I’m a Vietnam vet (Army Infantry) and don’t have much to say about the AR 15 – though I will admit we didn’t have $2,500.00 uppers and $1,500.00 lowers. Someone mentioned the softness of the finish – that seems correct, mine had a few rubs and scratches on it from the store – and they got me a 20% discount off an $1,199 window sticker.

  16. avatarTom says:

    This is an interesting rifle it looks alright but when I held it it was absolutely italian, stuffed with the newest design that is “in” this year and made to be fast elegant and perform well, but like everything Italian made falls short, the only exception is the M9. Basically if you don’t want an AR get a mini 14 or the 30. There is a reason I have a bushmaster the ar isn’t perfect but its a hell of a gun, just look at all of the “new” tactical rifles they are ARs with new guts. It’s a proven design and one that is too established to be replaced by genetically defective shotgun that accidently tripped and landed on a rifle barrel, and then got dipped in plastic

  17. avatarpeter says:

    i live north of the border…been looking for a legal, good, all round defense and zombie takeover..(plus fun and affordable to shoot)..(asking for too much?)…thought this one was maybe it…looks like i need to keep looking.

  18. avatarScott says:

    I have to comment here to follow up on the R1 “Flop” comments.
    You may not choose to purchase quality but the R1 is a superb hunting rifle that I have and will proudly carry into any Deer or Elk camp. I own one in 270WSM.
    “Ugly” – Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but what do I care what a firearm looks like, I care how it performs.
    “Bulky” You HAVE got to be KIDDING compared to what? The R1 is the nicest balanced smoothest swinging and steady on target semi that I have ever held and/or fired. I tried to find something that cost less than $2,000CAN really I did. Every other USA made common brand was front heavy with the approximate forestock diameter of a baseball bat and with an nonadjustable stock with about as much drop as as an old English side by side. Not everyone wants their face 2 inches over the barrel.

    My issues with the R1 is choice of calibers. When I got mine years ago, it was only available in ‘magnum’ calibers (if you consider WSM a Magnum) and 30-06. I now know there is a 308 in wood only and there seems to be a 243 available. If it is true my Wife and Son will have one to share before the end of the year. Ideally being a European manufacturer I would love to see an R1 is 6.5X55 or in order to appeal to the US even a 260 Rem. Or best yet create the 260WSM. ANYTHING to get a 6.5mm projectile down range.

    This is how I stumbled onto this site as I look about for a small lightweight but still useful (i.e. not 223) Benelli rifle.

  19. avatarRichard Pierson says:

    I have owned my MR1 for two years, and several thousand rounds! I have put a Valdada fixed 4.5 tactical scope on it. The scope fits perfect; like it was made for this rifle. Groups at 200 yrds. are 4 inches; some better! It is easy to clean, and yes; the brass does leave marks on the receiver. Yes; it will bite your hand if to close to the magazine. Yes; make sure that you use a compatible aftermarket magazine. I have Benelli MR1, R1 300 wsm, and Vinci Super Sport. They are not forsale! My gun buddies love to shoot them all.

  20. avatarJeff Kim says:

    I own a MR1 Comfortech it is a sweet piece. I’ve never been that big of an AR platform person even though I use them a lot (Hooah). It shoulders great and putting rounds on target all the way from “in your face” distance to 100 plus yards is way too easy. The accuracy is exceptional considering the somewhat thin appearing and short barrel. Several reviews say that it is accurate to only 2-2.5 MOA WITH .223 cal. Using 5.56 NATO this carbine shoots 1-2 MOA consistently with a hot barrel. This rifle is chambered for and can fire 5.56 NATO which I use all the time. My boys love their ARs but they also love my MR1. Its fun and amazingly comfortable to shoot and it never EVER JAMS unless you use crap magazines, but that’s with any gun. Cleaning is a breeze and takes at most half an hour. I’m not saying that its the perfect rifle ( high MSRP of $1469 but I got mine for $1200,minimum level of customization, throws brass all over and not the most scope friendly) but it is a sure keeper. It is NOT a top line hunting rifle. It is built as durable and reliable defensive carbine and it fulfills that role exceptionally.

  21. avatarMatthew Blomer says:

    Does anyone know why Bellini is no longer importing these rifles Into the United States? I just had my rifle purchase that had been sitting in the “Backordered” category for around 10 months (since January 3rd, 2013) cancelled and refunded back to me.

    The company I had ordered with was http://www.eurooptic.com. They have had a good reputation with everyone I know who has purchased anything from them, and upon calling them, they said that their distributor is no longer importing these rifles from Europe. I have no bad blood with them.

    I was just on the Bellini website in the past month, and was looking again over the specs of the rifle, longing for its arrival…. Low and behold, the Benelliusa website no longer has the rifle listed. In this politically charged climate, I have to believe that the current administration had something to do with that, but as Forrest Gump said: “that is all I have to say about that.”

    Every review I have read online noted some of the drawbacks of this rifle, but I was quite looking forward to adding an Anti-AR semi-auto to my collection. It is a real shame If this rifle has been completely discontinued in the states, Pistolgrip or not! Does anyone have any news or insights as to the Possibility of purchasing one? Hopefully new, but used is just as good.

    Regardless…thank you for the time to do the review… this website was a great wealth of information when I decided to purchase the rifle originally.

    • avatarJ Earle says:

      I have been trying to find out why the MR1 is no longer available.
      Benelli response was: Thank you for contacting Benelli USA. We have discontinued this gun due to ATF regulations.
      No other info anywhere… must have scared the FEDS.

  22. avatarMartin Mwenda says:

    Hi all,
    I have had my Benelli MR-1 for 2 years now. I installed the fore-tri rail to fit my fore grip.
    I have fitted the aimpoint T1 MOA 2 red dot sight and it’s awesome.
    The trigger that comes with piece is so smooth.

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