Gun Review: Bushmaster ACR

The ACR’s designers didn’t exactly start with a blank piece of paper, but they addressed many of the AR-15′s platform’s perceived flaws. The ACR sports ambidextrous controls. It’s rid of the buffer tube. It moves away from direct impingement. It offers a consistent cheek weld. The end result: a reliable, low-maintenance rifle with sensible fire controls. And yet all is not entirely well in Bushmaster’s world. Let’s go straight to the range  . . .

Even though the ACR’s boasts a polymer receiver, the rifle weighs-in at a beefy eight lbs. without ammo. Adding forward grips and optics adds another pound. Initially, the rifle’s “extra” weight is no big deal.

After zeroing the Bushmaster ACR at 25 yards, I shot four controlled pairs from low ready. The ACR’s recoil was no more onerous than that of a well-sorted AR-15. Holding and guiding the Bushmaster ACR via the MOE handguard was as easy and comfortable as shooting a well-loved 1911. Even with the stock Magpul BUIS, my hits gathered at center mass. Once I started repeating longer strings of five rounds, fatigue set in; my groups spread out faster than kids at an Easter egg hunt.

Firing off of the bench rest, my hits were touching each other. At 100 yards from the bench, hits were good enough within 2 MOA with the EXPS-2. While I tested 55gr and 77gr ammo at 100 yards without any problems, Bushmaster’s 1-in-9 twist barrel made me hesitant about accuracy at greater distances.

The Bushmaster ACR’s single-stage trigger isn’t bad for a stock unit; the break’s Iceberg crisp at around eight lbs. (as measured by my finger). There’s an initial bit of grittiness as the trigger takes up pressure. Once the hammer drops, that’s the end of the ¼” of travel distance. An audible click announces reset—without ear protection. With ears (‘natch), you have to rely on feel, of which there isn’t much.

The Bushmaster ACR’s fire controls make a lot of sense. If you hold the grip and extending your index finger forward, your fingertip sits above the bolt catch. By angling you index finger upwards you can reach the ACR’s magazine release.

Loading a new magazine and releasing the bolt using two hands feels faster than it does with an AR-15. The fact that one part of this motion happens out of view (on the other side of the rifle) is initially disconcerting. I’m not sure if the system’s an improvement. On an AR, a shooter’s support hand’s thumb normally reached the bolt catch by the time the magazine is fully seated. FWIW, the ACR’s set-up makes support hand operations consistent with strong hand operations.

The ACR’s user manual recommends that shooters run the rifle dry. At the same time, the manual includes instructions for lubrication. I wasn’t brave enough to follow the former advice. A quick wipe down with CLP—a truncated cleaning regimen I’d never dare use for an AR-15—and the ACR performed without a hitch. After 600 rounds, there wasn’t much to clean up. Carbon fouling on the bolt carrier group was minimal; cleaner than any AR I’ve ever shot. I ran a bore snake through the ACR’s barrel and wiped off the bolt. Done.

Disassembling the Bushmaster ACR is simple. Push a few pins with a bullet tip or your thumb and the rifle’s hand-guard, barrel and stock come apart like a coke-crazed celebutard. SHTF fans note: the ACR breaks down into a pile of parts small enough to fit into a backpack. You remove the Bushmaster’s barrel by turning a permanently attached ratchet. There it is, that double pronged thing underneath the barrel in the photograph below.

Ratchet and clank? First, the ACR’s ratchet adds weight; the rifle has enough of that already. Second, removing the barrel results in a loss of zero. Third, the ratchet handle interferes with the rail segments on the MOE hand guard.

The ratchet handle runs into the MOE rail segment washer. Because of the handle’s length, the rail slot closest to the receiver is unusable. A shorter ratchet handle would have been perfectly serviceable.

The ACR’s plug-’n-play components make the ACR is a multi-role rifle. Switching from a tacticool zombie apocalypse configuration to stock for photos was a trivial exercise. Push one pin and slide the handguard out to switch and she’s ready for her closeup.

To capitalize on the ACR’s adaptability, Bushmaster offers two different handguards (MOE/tri-rail), two different stocks (collapsible/fixed), and two different colors (black/FDE). AR platformistas will laugh—especially when they learn that ACR buyers can have any barrel length they want as long as it’s 16″.

The ACR’s rails enable all the usual modern sporting rifle gadgets. But not without complications. Thanks to ACR’s charging handle location, mounting wide accessories on the monolithic top rail is a real issue. For example, positioning an EOTech EXPS-2 above the magazine’s position on the rail trapped my thumb between the charging handle and the EOTech’s battery compartment. That wasn’t fun the first time. Or the second.

An alternative: pull the charging handle towards the stock with the palm of your hand instead of gripping it with your thumb and index finger. Bonus! You no longer need your fingers to operate the charging handle.

TACR’s barrel and handguards are a disappointment. For a rifle with an MSRP cresting two Gs, I expected a 1-in-7 twist barrel. After all, the ACR’s the new fat kid on the playground. And a rifle for the civilian market doesn’t need to support a grenade launcher.

Due to the ACR’s barrel ratchet handle placement and the heat shields’ location, you can’t use the furthest back 6 o’clock rail slot on the MOE handguard. The alternative to tri-rail hand guards is significantly shorter, with a swivel slot at the front—reducing the amount of usable rail-estate. For weight and length reasons, the MOE handguard is clearly the better option between the two handguards.

Magpul designed Bushmaster’s ACR. The new rifle successfully addresses [what they saw as] flaws in the AR-15 platform. Truth be told, the ACR’s ergonomic improvements don’t count for much. Buying an ACR over an AR would be like replacing your existing car with the latest model just to get Big Gulp-compatible cup holders. At the end of the day, it’s the same car with a bigger cup holder.

Worse, the ACR introduces new shortcomings. All of which can be fixed. You can have the ACR’s barrel re-profiled. You can cut down the barrel ratchet handle. Remington already makes better handguards. Unfortunately, they aren’t not available to the civilian market at this time. And all these changes cost cash money.

Here’s something I’ve learned in getting products to market: if you design something and give someone else responsibility for getting it into the customers’ hands, they will screw it up. Bushmaster’s ACR was originally designed by Magpul (as the Masada). Bushmaster now manufactures the rifle. Bottom line: ACR buyers looking for Magpul innovation end up with Bushmaster quality at HK prices.

Caliber: .223 / 5.56 NATO
Action: Semi-automatic
Weight: 8 lbs.
Overall length: 37 ¼” with stock fully extended, 28 ¼” fully collapsed
Finish: Phosphate
Price: $2343

RATINGS (out of five)

Accuracy: * * * *
Within 2 MOA at 100 yards. Possibly more accurate in more capable hands than mine. 1-in-9 twist rate may be troublesome at longer ranges with heavier bullets.

Ergonomics: * *  ** ½
Ambidextrous designs with sensible placement of firing controls. Non-reciprocating charging handle; my support hand is thankful. Weight is a problem.

Reliability: * * * * *
Minimal maintenance requirements. One jam of epic proportions in the third magazine during my testing of the rifle. A rubber mallet was required to free the bolt in order to remove a stuck cartridge. Otherwise, flawless operation.

Customize This: * *
Anything that will fit on rails and Bushmaster handguards  and stock. Remington’s handguards are not available to the civilian market. Disappointing. Aftermarket triggers are available. Would love to get a different barrel profile.

Overall Rating: ***
Heavy. Simple to shoot. Simple to configure. Simple to maintain. Lacks the beloved customization options commonly found on the AR platform.