Gun Review: Colt LE901 16S

Even with a rifle as modular as an AR-15, there is still one big decision to be made. Namely, do you want to go the AR-15 route (with the smaller, intermediate 5.56 size magazine well) or the AR-10 route (with the full .308 size magazine well). That decision will dictate what uppers you can buy, what magazines you can use and a whole host of other things. But what if you didn’t have to make that decision? What if you could buy one rifle that used both AR-15 and AR-10 mags and upper receivers? That’s the whole idea behind the Colt LE901 16S . . .

We saw the LE 901 at the SHOT Show this year, where they demonstrated the gun’s ability to swap pretty easily from one set of upper receivers to the other. So we can check the box that it works as advertised. But thanks to the same system that allows the swap in the first place, you’re pretty much stuck with the .308 upper that comes with it.

The reason has to do with two features: the bolt design and the takedown pin placement.

LE 901 bolt, c Nick Leghorn

The bolt face and forward section of the LE 901 is identical to the one on a standard AR-10 rifle. But in order for the rifle do its magic trick, the back of the bolt carrier (the part that slides into the buffer tube) needs to be the same diameter as the AR-15′s. In other words, smaller. An AR-10 bolt will fit, but the gun won’t cycle. That’s because the LE 901 uses the same buffer tube dimensions as the standard AR-15 instead of the larger AR-10 buffer tubes.

You’d think that the smaller rear section would lead to some tilting on the part of the bolt, but because the diameter of the bolt carrier is the same as the buffer tube, life is good. The bolt carrier is almost immediately captured by the buffer tube, and comes straight back.

Unfortunately, this means that any AR-10 style upper receiver you throw on the gun will need the specially shaped bolt carrier. However, thanks to the next feature, not every AR-10 upper will work.

The distance between the takedown pins is longer for the AR-10 and shorter for the AR-15. In order to get everything to line up, the AR-15 uppers need to use an adapter (which didn’t appear to be included with the gun). The adapter grabs onto the AR-15 upper’s forward takedown pin, and then slots into the magazine well. That way, it not only adapts the upper for the longer takedown pins used in an AR-10, but also shrinks the mag well so that AR-15 magazines will fit snugly.

The result of that arrangement is that the forward takedown pin needs to be moved. Specifically, it’s lower than normal by about half an inch. That means the only upper receiver that will fit the thing is the one designed specifically for this firearm by Colt. That’s a pretty big drawback if you bought the LE901 expecting a gun that’s 100% compatible with both platforms.

The good news, however, is that the upper receiver checks all of the usual boxes. It ships with a monolithic upper that sports full-length rails on all sides and comes with ladder style rail covers already attached. The gun has a set of iron sights where the front is permanently attached but the rear is detachable. They feel pretty solid, and they seem to work quite well, so no complaints there. The only problem I have is that the charging handle sucks. Then again the charging handle always sucks when it’s the standard design.

The barrel is a standard 16-inch variety with a pronged flash hider attached. The end user can crank that sucker off and replace it with whatever they want instead, as the prongs have a tendency to vibrate and sound like an annoying tuning fork.

LE 901, c Nick Leghorn

The lower is pretty nifty as well. The controls are almost fully ambidextrous — the safety selector is still one-sided, and you can’t lock the bolt back except with the ping pong paddle. But the bolt release and magazine release can be operated from either side.

The trigger, on the other hand, really sucks. Like all “mil spec” triggers, it’s in that unholy area where it’s not crisp enough to be a single stage trigger, but doesn’t have the smooth first stage to make it a two stage trigger. It’ really fairly awful, and a replacement trigger should be your first modification when you bring this rifle home. There are much better triggers out there, and the wonder of the AR platform is that you can swap out parts until you’re happy.

The real test of the gun, though, is how well it shoots. And I give the LE901 a resounding “meh.”

In terms of reliability, there’s not a whole lot to recommend it. After soaking the damned thing in CLP, I couldn’t get it to run reliably. I’d get about three rounds downrange before I had a failure to feed from the magazine and needed to yank on the charging handle. Annoying on the range, infuriating on a hunt and downright scary in a life-or-death situation.

We know, however, that the gun runs. We saw it run at SHOT Show, and we’ve been hearing good reports. So I’m pretty happy diagnosing this as a fluke. I get the feeling that a lighter buffer spring would fix it, but I didn’t have one on hand and shortening the one I had wasn’t an option.

Accuracy was similarly “meh.” The best I could manage was a 1-inch group at 50 yards (so…2 MoA), which then quickly widened out to an 8 MoA 5-round group. There was some left to right crosswind (more of a cross breeze), but I’m guessing the fact that the rounds started walking to the left means that wind wasn’t the issue.

In short, what we have here is an okay gun. It works, but it’s not very accurate and the trigger pretty much sucks. These are both problems that can be fixed though, and given the unique properties of the rifle, it would still make me stop and think before I paid for a dedicated AR-10 platform. In the modular world of the AR platform, this certainly does kick things up a notch.

The Colt LE901 16S for this review was provide by The Kentucky Gun Company.

Specifications:

Caliber: .308 Winchester
Sights: flip-up iron
Barrel Length: 16.1″ heavy profile
Length:37.5″
Weight: 9.4 lbs
Capacity: 20 round PMags
Price: $2,599

Ratings (out of five stars):

Style * * * * *
It looks pretty darn good, with all the expected design features.

Ergonomics (firing) * * *
The gun feels okay, but the trigger is terrible.

Reliability * * *
It looks like the LE901 needs some work to make it cycle reliably. It ran fine at the SHOT Show Media day shoot, but I couldn’t get it to cycle reliably. I’m guessing it just needs a little TLC.

Customize This * * * * *
Not only is this as customizable as a standard AR-10, you also get the ability to swap calibers between the AR-10 and AR-15 platform. Which is really nifty, and opens up all sorts of options.

Overall * * *
It’s an okay gun. The shortcomings in terms of ergonomics are more than compensated for by the nifty features. However, if everything worked right out of the box, this would easily become my #1 “under $3,000″ recommendation.

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

37 Responses to Gun Review: Colt LE901 16S

  1. Too Long; Didn’t Read: It’s jack of all trades and a master at none of them.

  2. avatarSeth says:

    Would rather have the 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC, or two rifles (AR15/AR10) for the same or less price.

  3. avatarNelson says:

    For $2,599, with or without the LE boycott, I’d rather buy the CA Fish & Wildlife supplying POF-USA’s P308.

    Or, if Barrett made a .308 version of their REC7, or if the likes of LaRue, Spike’s Tactical et al made an AR10/.308 variant, would buy those in a heart beat.

    Just imagine, ALL this AWB craze at state and federal level would instantly end if Colt, S&W, Sig, FNH, Glock, Beretta, Remington and even possibly Ruger (FU H&K, you’ve always been govt TitF*ckers, nothing more & thus don’t matter in finality) if they all instantly, collectively announced that they too would invoke the “Ronnie Barrett Option” today.

    Do they have the courage? After all, it’s in their financial well-being that they treat the majority of their customers, us in the commercial market, happy, not the politicians & their private security guards.

    At best, aside from probably Colt, Beretta, FNH, & HK, govt sales probably take up no more than 10~28% of each respective manufacturer’s gross biz metric. Frankly, if 30%+ more of your biz is dependent on just SINGLE customer, you should rethink your business model, as it’s doomed to failure.

    Gvt contracts are always intermittent, unless you’re a fulltime wartime supplier like Beretta, FNH, Colt, and HK; you need a constant stream of commercial contracts to justify keeping your assembly line open. This is all Mfg. 101.

    If the ‘Bigs’ stood up, NOW, they wouldn’t even need to relocate.

    The fact is, all of this should’ve been discussed at an open panel (so as to not run afoul of anti-trust ‘laws’) hosted by NSSF at the January SHOT show. These guys ALWAYS seem to be reacting, when the gungrabbers are always on the offensive…

    • avatarWilliam says:

      Couldn’t agree more. These guys (and their ilk) are in a great position to make a huge difference and strike a blow for liberty.

      Instead, they choose to hedge their bets.

      I wouldn’t buy anything whose name starts wit “LE” anyhow. Makes it sound like it’s only for THOSE guys. BAH. I wouldn’t buy it for that very reason if it were half the price.

      • avatarDaniel Sampsel says:

        I admire your principled stance. I feel very much like you, only was unable resist the allure of the system and purchased one. Took an excessive amount of time to acquire the magazine block, but I am very happy with the product, now.

    • avatarneiowa says:

      Right you are. And my considerable experience bidding to gov’t (state/local FD) is lucky to get 5% markup at distributor and the mfg has to make a considerable special discount. To heck with unprofitable sales to cops when the taxpayer will buy 100% of your production, at list price.

  4. avatarJ says:

    $2600.00 for a “boxed” AR is just a little over the top – regardless of caliber. While I am a big fan of the 7.26 x 51 (.308), having fired it for years in competition and having carried it during the first four years of my USMC career, I am also a fan of the AR platform, in 5.56. My “loyalty” to the AR platform in 5.56 has a lot more to do with reliability and accuracy than damage on target.

    And of course I am referring to the A2 and newer variants – not the older design(s). I think some of the rush to “upgrade” the design to .308 (or at least get one in the safe), is a little premature. There are still questions lingering about the long term affect of longer cartridges on the inner surfaces of the upper receiver.

    This is not to say I am not initially impressed with the performance of some manufactured models. I have even seen one in .300 WM, that seemed to be a real dinger all the way to 1000.

    My hope is they will truly work well. In general, I like the platform, but $2500.00 for a gun that can’t stayunder the 1 MOA threshold, is not going to end up in my safe.

    • avatarThomas Paine says:

      “a gun that can’t stayunder the 1 MOA threshold, is not going to end up in my safe.”
      -that settles all arguments. the final word. nuff said.

    • avatarHal says:

      Admittedly not as proven as the AR-15 platform, I think AR-10s have also stood the test of time. I have known OLD Armalite AR-10s (for a long time the only people you could trust to make you a quality one) that are still kicking @ss and taking names, albeit with fixed carry handles and funky brown furniture. What’s more, now there are world-class manufacturers making AR-10 type rifles like LMT, KAC and Larue. The level of standardization (non-barrel parts only swappable between KAC/LMT/JP as far as I know) on AR-10s might not be on par with the AR-15, as noted in other comments. However, these guns ARE built around the .308 cartidge; they are not squeezing .308 power into a frame not designed for it (.40 cal Glocks, anyone?). I don’t think you have anything to worry about in terms of longevity and performance from AR-10s. They will go the distance and their lifespan will be determined by the same factors that affect the AR-15.

      • avatarJ says:

        Hal; Thanks for the first hand experience recs. I have been “eyeing” the .300 WM from NEMO Arms. It has “peaked” my interest, especially given its apparent accuracy.

        As a separate issue, the AR in this piece seems to have some issues, however. It is hard to imagine, in 2013, allowing something to slip off the assembly line with >1 MOA capability – especially given the price tag.

        • avatarHal says:

          Oh yeah I totally agree regarding this particular rifle. It’s too new, too untested, too unreliable and too inaccurate. However, Other AR-10s out there will beat the pants off of it.

        • avatarHal says:

          Holy f*ck beans you’re not kidding… a 300 WM AR… that’s pretty cool…

      • avatarpat says:

        While the Glock 40′s may have had early teething problems, those problems were not NEARLY as severe as those of the AR-15 (a gun you admit is proven).
        Poor analogy.

      • avatarpat says:

        Poor analogy between the AR-15 (HUGE early problems) which you call proven and Glock 40 (nothing major) which is the most popular gun in law enforcement (and feds).

  5. avatarensitu says:

    Yeah, I see no reason to spend heavy cash for a rifle that cannot shoot as well as a $444 dollar BA.
    Slap a 10 rnd mag on a Howa learn how to fire it LH so that you can actuate the bolt with RH and your rate of aimed fire is about the same as a SA

  6. avatarPeter says:

    While interesting in concept, this rifle has an advanced case of AR10 manufacturer lock in, that insidious condition where, once you have plunked down your hard earned cash, you are now stuck with a single source supplier for spare parts or upgrades.
    While I like the concept, I’ll stick with my FAL, all I have to worry about is inch vs metric with that one.

  7. avatarNickbnumbers says:

    Maybe it’s windier in Texas, but out here there is NO WAY wind could push a 308 4 inches at 50 yards. Not without tearing half your face off anyway.

    • avatarJ says:

      Absolutely. I failed to bring that up in my note. Wind shouldn’t be much of a factor until you are beyond 200 yards and if it is, there are other factors to consider like whether you can control the bloody rifle in a wind that is knocking a 168 – 200 grain bullet “off target”.

      That “8 MOA” group is due to one or two reasons; poor marksmanship or a very questionable platform (hardware). I am, of course, assuming the ammo had nothing to do with this.

  8. avatarJon R. says:

    …or you could buy both a AR-15 and a AR-10 from someone other than Colt for less…

  9. avatarMr. Lighter says:

    So, it costs more than an M1A and an average AR-15 put together (well, at their preban crises prices) and it doesn’t do anything as well as either? Pass.

  10. avatarjwm says:

    Oh look, another AR review.

    • avatarMOG says:

      Yep, wonders never cease. But, these reviews reenforce my determination to never buy one. (Full disclosure: I hated the M16 from git go, everything after has been hate from association with M16 breed). A mediocre rifle for a mediocre America. I am more than a little sad over that.

      • avatarJason says:

        What are you talking about? I spent 6 years in the Marines (1987 to 1993). I never had a problem with my M-16. I heard some stories of jams and problems when at desert training (29 Palms) but never saw it. I shot 9 out of 10 bullseyes at 500 meters with iron sites. I made 1 windage & elevation change and then 9 in a row. I’m sure there are more accurate guns out there, but I don’t think it is worthy of all your trash talking.

  11. avatarHal says:

    If you want an AR-15, get an AR-15. If you want an AR-10, get an AR-10. If you have true, no BS fiscal constraints and still want both this might be an option if they work out reliability issues.

    Otherwise, nut-up and get both. Can’t go wrong with an MRP and MWS combo and you won’t spend time converting each time you need to switch. Dedicated long range power and fast 5.56 handling both on tap the moment you need them. If you’re in a state that allows it, a 5.11 double rifle case also does the trick for vehicle carry.

  12. avatarJWhite says:

    .308 is a great round, but for an AR platform, and half the cost you can use .300BLK

    Having a lighter rifle that is fed with the same cartridges my AR15 spits out, is fine by me. If I wanted to go .308 I would skip the AR-Money-Pit (AR10) and start out with a Rem700. It’s scary how much more AR10 parts cost compared to their intermediate counterparts.

  13. avatarCT resident says:

    Good luck on trying to find one of these . I’ve had a Colt Match Target on order since the day after Election day,and still don’t know when I’ll get it . Dealer(Delta Arsenal in Meriden,CT ) said the distributor can’t/won’t give him a delivery date . I just hope I can get it before the Democrats in Hartford ban it .

  14. avatarAgitator says:

    I don’t understand how this and the SCAR 17S both got 3-star ratings from Nick despite the latter’s apparent superiority in accuracy, reliability, weight, etc., while having a comparable MSRP.

  15. avatarFuzzyPickeles says:

    I don’t think I would recommend this gun for someone looking for a .308 AR due to the limited upper selections. By the time someone is looking for a .308 AR they usually already have an AR-15 or they have no interest in 5.56 so the “niche” of this gun is lost on them. However, if the gun was say $1500ish and came with a 5.56 upper it might make a good first AR. That way a new user could get a gun to practice adding a trigger to, modifying to make reliable, and eventually have the option to swap in a .308 upper if they desire.

  16. avatarAfghan Vet says:

    .308? Get a FAL. Much better than an AR platform. (It beat the original AR-10 and M-14 in trials multiple times.) Sub MOA accuracy, Better durability, More reliable, adjustable gas system, less expensive for a high end FAL than a high end AR-10. During the .308 era of NATO arms the FAL was used by 91 allied countries. DSA arms is built with the original STG-58 tooling and is probably the best FAL made today. Another system to look at would be the Robison XCR system which has evolved from the Stoner 63 & 64 systems. It incorporates the best features of the AR & FAL systems without the drawbacks from either.

  17. avatarMike says:

    Afghan vet you don’t know WTF you are talking about. The M14 beat the FAL in head to head tests and beat the AR10 as well. The M14 beat the FAL in terms of accuracy, reliability, and parts breakage during the U.S. service rifle trials in the ’50s. Not only that, the M14 kicked that FAL’s ass in cold weather testing. I never have understood why FAL fans think an adjustable gas system is some great feature? The M14 has a self regulating system with no adjustments to fiddle with. Aside from the detachable magazine, the M14′s gas system is really the biggest upgrade over the Garand. As far as the AR10 goes, it wasn’t ready for prime time. Armalite used a stupid aluminum barrel with a steel liner that ruptured during torture testing. The AR10 might have been a good rifle, but it wasn’t thoroughly debugged. The U.S. picked the most thoroughly capable rifle of the three they were testing. Stating otherwise is just sour grapes.

  18. avatarRP says:

    I purchased one of the first LE901 available last year mainly because i’m left handed and fall for anything that’s ambidextrous out of the box. However I’m beginning to think I’ve fallen victim to smoke and mirrors….cant find the 5.56 lower adapter. While gun writers all over the internet are hailing this cool concept…cant find the 5.56 lower adapter. I know it must exist because the gun writers seem to have access to it during the reviews…just not the guys buying the guns. In fact it is not mentioned anywhere on the colt website, phamplets, or owners manual. Colt refers to the weapon as modular and therein the bait is set and gun writers start to drool and suckers like me are hooked. Shame on colt and irresponsibly and poolry informed gun writers and reviewers!!

    • avatarDaniel Sampsel says:

      I am in complete agreement with you regarding the at best , deceptive and at worst, fraudulent marketing of the Colt LE901′s “modular” capability. Bull****! The only folks with access are gun writers for the high gloss firearms porn rags. Not a single one has bothered to hold Colt accountable for their failure to release an advertised component, promised since the rifle’s release, more than one year ago, to the unwashed masses.

  19. avatarJim says:

    I purchased this rifle in June 2013. It came with the adapter, extra buffer and spring. It’s true the lower is a cheap out of the box part; but by the time you add a $250 trigger and after market stock of your choice, the lower isn’t that cheap anymore.

    I was quite pleased with the fit and finish of the rifle. The interchangeability of the upper receivers is a snap and there were no malfunctions with either the 7.62 or 5.56.

    With the factory iron sights I was 1″ moa. With a Leupold 3-9 VX-R and a box of 149 grain fmj, I was 1/2″ moa. I’m by no means an expert marksmen, but I’m no FNG either.

    This gun is a shooter and I’m very pleased with the purchase.

  20. avatarJeff M says:

    Had started calling this the rifle with the “stealth adapter”. I have had two on order since the start of the year, both fully paid for. While there were a few available at very high prices, none included the magwell adapter/buffer tube to allow for the modular use of the rifle. Early in the year, Colt started marking their boxes 2013 Config; but still did not include the adapter kit. Then Colt announced that all units produced after April 1st would include the adapter kit. Believed this was Colt’s attempt at an April Fools Day joke, since it appears none were produced.

    Finally, a witness that claims they received an actual rifle with the adapter kit included in June. Have three questions – When was it ordered? Will you help me pick some lottery numbers? Are you related to any executive that work at Colt?

    • avatarJim says:

      @ Jeff M

      1st. I didn’t order it. I paid to much retail at a Cabela’s. They just got it in stock. I was standing there when they put it on the shelf. When I saw it I snatched it up like a hungry fat kid eyeballing a bowl of candy.

      2nd. You don’t want me to pick your lottery numbers as you will lose. I generally have terrible luck.

      3rd. I’m just poor white trash. No relation to anyone at Colt.

      The guy at the counter didn’t even know about the magwell adapter. I had to send him to the back twice to check for it. I didn’t get the second mag or cleaning kit that is said to come with the rifle.

  21. avatarJeff_M says:

    Colt now has the magwell / buffer adapter kit available on the Colt Mfg website, not cheap at $300, but the shift is taking place from stealth gun to actual hardware. Gun backorders are still rediculous, must be producing 1 or 2 per month. My dealer has a 11 gun backorder going back to late 2012 and from what I hear from other dealers they have never seen a real gun, just pictures. By the time some of us receive the gun we have on order, the laws in our states will have changed or we will be to old to drive to the range.

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