Gun Review: Robinson Arms XCR-L Rifle

Do you want a rifle that goes BANG every time you pull the trigger or a highly evolved weapon with excellent ergonomics, superior accuracy and endless customization? Yes! Unfortunately, American rifles tend to divide between AK (rough and ready) and AR (hot rod). The underlying assumption: they’re mutually exclusive platforms. Maybe not. Robinson Arms’ XCR-L rifle combines the reliability of the AK-47’s gas-operated, piston-driven system, three-lug rotating bolt, beefy extractor and fixed ejector with the superior ergonomics and accuracy of the AR platform—with a dash of FN-FAL for added finesse. Or does it?

The XCR-L has scars from its past. Alex J. Robinson developed the weapon system for the big Kahuna: the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) SOF Combat Assault Rifle contract. The XCR-L was disqualified on a technicality, relegating the weapon to small military contracts, and law enforcement and civilian sales.

The XCR-L’s headline innovation: maximum modularity. Thanks to the way the bolt locks into the barrel extension, a shooter can swap out the pipe without worrying about head-spacing. Caliber conversions require a hex wrench,  a few minutes of your time and a bit of practice. With a simple barrel and bolt swap, the XCR fires 6.8 SPC, 6.5x39mm and/or 7.62×39.

Instead of having to buy multiple rifles or even multiple uppers (for AR users), you keep the same rifle and change out the barrel, bolt and magazine. Same controls. Same optics, sling, flashlights, etc. New ammo. Hunters can switch from harvesting feral pigs, to distance work on steel or paper to keeping the godless hordes at bay. Rather than spending all your extra cash on parts, you can spend it on ammo instead.

One gun to rule them all? Those who don’t see the point of changing calibers rather than weapons—enthusiasts whose gun safes indicate that they’ve already succumbed to black rifle disease—may wish to see utility elsewhere. How about this? The Robinson has less parts than its competitors. There’s less to go wrong.

And lots of room for stuff. XCR-L sports 1913 Standard Picatinny rails all the way ’round for BUIS, optics, flashlights, lasers, vertical hand grips, etc.  The set up includes a 17” long top rail and 8” long rails in the three, six, and nine o’clock positions. Our test rifle kept is simple: a EOTECH 512 holographic sight mounted to the flat top receiver and . . . that’s it.

The XCR-L’s gas system is adjustable. A shooter can tailor the rifle’s settings for reliable operation with a variety of different ammo loadings (at least in theory). Using the five-setting gas system, a shooter can adjust the rifle to use the absolute minimal amount of gas needed to cycle the action. That means less wear and tear and less fouling come cleaning time. The XCR owner can also shut off the gas system entirely for shooting with a suppressor or single shot operation.

Robinson’s positioned the XCR-L’s non-reciprocating charging handle on the receiver’s left side. You activate the forward assist by pushing in and then forward on the charging handle. The easily-indexed safety controls are ambidextrous. The XCR-L’s bolt release lives immediately ahead of the trigger guard; it’s also accessible from either the left or right.

With the magazine release in standard AR configuration, drop-free mag changes are a cinch. Bonus! The XCR-L accepts standard AR15 magazines and drums, offering serious savings on extra magazines.

Our test rifle sported a 16” chromed lined barrel with a 1 in 9” twist. The set-up hearts everything from standard 55  and 62-grain 5.56 fodder to big ass bullets up to 75-grains.  Robinson ships the XCR-L with a standard A2 flash suppressor, though other muzzle attachments are available.

The XCR-L’s a trigger is two-stage affair that will give AR shooters a bad case of trigger envy. After taking up the slack, the second stage breaks at a clean 3-4 lbs. Shooters used to standard, lawyer-proof single stage AR triggers will find the XCR trigger a tremendous accuracy booster.

Another innovation: a shooter can use the XCR-L’s telescoping and folding stock to adjust the length of pull or reduce the overall length of the rifle, from 37” (stock extended) to just 27.4” (stock folded). It’s a handy option for space-challenged storage or discreet transportation. The XCR’s stock locks-up solidly with no sense of play whatsoever.

The XCR’s brass deflector’s positioned at the rear of the ejection port. Spent casings fly forward to the shooter’s 1 o’clock position—great news for left handed shooters as well as your neighbors on the firing line. Reloaders will appreciate the fact that spent casings relocated themselves predictably. The brass itself wasn’t chewed up in the least.

Our friends at Hornady sent us some of their best .223 ammo for our review. We fired their 55 and 75-grain TAP personal defense ammo, 75-grain match loads and their 55-grain V-max loading. For those who’ve never used the TAP FPD ammo before, it’s too pretty to shoot. But you’ll get over it. The ammo functioned flawlessly. It was also the most accurate ammo we’ve ever tested.

To explore the XCR’s potential, we shot 10-round groups from the bench at 100 yards with each of the four loadings. The XCR’s best 10-shot groups hit the paper in the 3” range with the 75  and 55-grain TAP FPD loads. Remember: this is with a battle carbine using a non-magnified holographic reticle (1 MOA dot surrounded by a 65 MOA circle). Re-fitted with a simple variable power scope, the XCR-L turned in groups just under MOA.

But battle carbines aren’t exactly meant to be fired only from the bench and the XCR really shines when engaging multiple targets at various distances, from improvised positions, under time pressure. It’s a light handling, easy-pointing rifle that shoots soft, hits hard and looks good. The XCR feels great in your hands with plenty of steel, not too much plastic, and a strong sense that its makers were paying attention to the little details that make a rifle fun to shoot.  Our XCR was clanging the steel silhouette targets from 50 out to 300 yards with ease. As and when . . .

Our test rifle was a bit of diva. During the course of putting nearly 400 rounds downrange, we experienced no less than eight failures to fire (FTF) and two failures to extract (FTE). Some of the FTF’s may have been due to a faulty P-mag or our tinkering with the gas regulator settings. But that’s an alarming number of malfunctions for a rifle that should be dead nuts reliable no matter what.

During our testing, we fired a handful of Wolf steel cased .223 ammo through the XCR.  Big mistake. Within just a few shots an empty casing failed to extract. Running the charging handle a few times didn’t budge it from the chamber; this casing was stuck tighter than a chipmunk’s fanny gasket. The XCR’s robust extractor actually ripped through the rim of the stuck case. We tapped the spent casing out of the chamber with a cleaning rod.

The XCR-L only functioned perfectly with top shelf 55 and 75-grain Hornady TAP ammunition. This highlights the importance of sending enough rounds down range to know whether your defensive rifle is utterly reliable or fussy about its ammo. On the positive side, the adjustable gas system really did keep the rifle cleaner during prolonged shooting. The take-down procedures for cleaning the XCR are a simple matter.

As an AR and AK owner, I was actually hoping to find reasons to dismiss the XCR as a mere fad, to better justify my existing black rifles. After shooting it for an afternoon, I had to admit that the XCR-L has far better controls than my WASR-10 and greater modularity. Likewise, I’d never thought of my beloved (7.62×39) AR as suffering from a stiff trigger or having a noticeable kick. After experiencing the XCR’s buttery smooth trigger and mild recoil, I experienced a mild case of buyer’s remorse. Or is that jealousy?

The Robinson Arms XCR-L is nearasdammit the hybrid rifle its makers hoped it would be. But ammo finickiness is its Achilles Heel. If you want a completely reliable gas-operated, piston-driven operated rifle, this isn’t it—unless you feed it a strict diet of the good stuff.

Great cars run on high test fuel only. Why not great guns? And there’s no doubt that the Robinson Arms XCR-L is a great gun. Just not as great as it could be. Yet.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Caliber: 5.56x45mm NATO (.223 Rem)
Barrel: 16.02” Chrome-lined 1 in 9” twist
Overall Length: 37.75” (stock extended) 27.4” (stock folded)
Weight: 7.5 lbs. (empty)
Action: Semi auto, gas operated, piston-driven
Capacity: Accepts M-16 magazines & drums
Price: MRSP starting at $1500.00

RATINGS (out of five)

STYLE * * * * *

A great combination of form and function. It looks cool, handles well and does its job as well as any defensive rifle out there.

ERGONOMICS * * * * *

Very well thought out. This rifle has the best features of both the AR and the FAL. The controls are simple, rugged and intuitive.

RELIABILITY * * *

Uh oh, this is the only question mark hanging over the XCR. It ran perfectly with top shelf ammo, but if that ammo isn’t available, then what?

CUSTOMIZE THIS * * * * *

The XCR comes with plenty of rail space for whatever it takes to make the rifle work for you. Iron sights and/or optics are the main requirement, but after that it’s whatever floats your boat.

OVERALL RATING * * * *

The Robinson Arms XCR comes damn close to offering the best of both worlds in terms of AR ergonomics and accuracy and AK ruggedness and reliability. Watch this space.