Gun Review: IWI TAVOR SAR

 

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We’ve already gone over the basics of IWI’s newly released (in the United States, at least) TAVOR SAR rifle. So with the tech specs out of the way, let’s talk about how the rifle actually functions in the real world, and how it stacks up against the competition.

The Good

The TAVOR SAR (hereafter referred to as simply “the TAVOR”) is exceedingly compact. It fits in places where only an SBR could previously go, including small trunks and briefcases. Which makes it much easier to sneak the gun in and out of your apartment building without getting the stink-eye from the neighbor with the Obama/Biden ’12 sticker. It also makes the gun more maneuverable, an especially prized feature for close quarters-style fighting. In fact, for that reason alone, this might have sprung straight to the top of my recommendation list for home defense rifles.

I have to admit to spending a good half hour clearing my apartment with the rifle over and over again, and compared to my previous rifle of choice (300 BLK AR-15) it was delightfully sleek and unobtrusive. Having all the weight of the gun behind the pistol grip allowed me to free my support hand to open doors or hold a flashlight without ever really losing control of the rifle. For the first time, this gun allowed me to open a  door and keep the rifle shouldered and ready to fire at the same time. I loved it.

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The rifle’s design, with its easy disassembly and modularity, is excellent in theory as well as practice.

Field stripping the gun for cleaning is easy as pie. One pin and the whole bolt and piston assembly slides free, opening the gun up for maintenance. It’s a welcome change from the complicated dance of the AR-15 and its charging handle, which has thrown many a newbie for a loop when tearing the gun down for the first time. Definitely something that new and experienced shooters alike will appreciate.

With the push of a couple pins and the turn of a couple keys, the gun will readily convert from the current 5.56 NATO configuration to any other caliber that can fit in an AR-15 magazine well. According to the IWI reps, a .300 AAC Blackout conversion kit will be available within the year and a 9mm and 5.45×39 kit are already in production. It’s nice to see a rifle that can be changed so radically with such little work. By comparison, the AR-15 requires specialized tools and more to get the barrels changed out. It’s so daunting a task that I prefer to buy a new complete upper than to swap a barrel myself.

Moving forward on the gun, there are two things I want to point out as particularly excellent.

First, the forward-mounted charging handle. Not only is it non-reciprocating (averting the only complaint about the SCAR I have) so you don’t bash your knuckles, but it falls readily to hand and is easy to operate. In short, it just works.

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The other thing I really liked about the gun was that it comes with a set of iron sights that fold away so neatly into the full length rail that most people don’t even know that they exist. It’s a great touch, especially on a gun that’s meant to be fired using a red dot or similar low power optic. It’s high enough to cowitness with the optic, then goes away until needed again.

Speaking of “there when you need it,” the thing just refuses to die. I used the worst ammunition I could find, the worst magazines I could muster (including some experimental models), and tried everything I could think of to make this gun jam. But no matter what I did, the TAVOR fired reliably every single time.

The Bad

I. Hate. This. Trigger.

I thought the trigger on the KRISS carbine was bad, but the TAVOR’s is quite possibly the worst trigger I’ve ever felt. Not only is it creepier than an uninvited clown at a 12-year-old’s birthday party, it’s exceedingly heavy. My trigger finger was too tired to keep pulling after about 20 rapid fire rounds, sooner than any other firearm I’ve ever tested.

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That trigger translates to terrible accuracy downrange. I took the rifle to the Best of the West range and tried my best to get a good 5 round group at 50 yards, but this was the tightest I had all day. Mil spec calls for a 4 MoA or better spread. This rifle, in my hands, could only muster an 8 MoA spread. For me, if I was going to drop TWO THOUSAND dollars on a new rifle, I would expect at least 2 MoA or better.

Don’t get me wrong, this is fine if you’re expecting “minute of bad guy” accuracy. But it severely limits the usefulness of the gun.

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Long range shooting? Forget it. I could hit the gong at 250 yards most of the time, but the gun was dancing all around the 500 yard steel target. The crappy trigger, combined with the short overall length, means that this rifle is most definitely not intended to leave the realm of the red dot.

Competition shooting? While the gun is maneuverable, the crappy trigger and the short overall length are the gun’s downfall. While 3-gun rifles have been getting progressively shorter, there’s a reason that not a single shooter in the pro series uses a bullpup configuration rifle. The longer overall length allows for more leverage to be placed on the gun to keep it stable, and that’s not possible with the TAVOR.

Hunting? While the 5.56 round is more than adequate for most critters here in Texas (and .300 BLK even more so), the less than stellar accuracy of the rifle makes me hesitant to recommend it. The small size does make it ideal for getting in and out of vehicles to hunt and convenient to carry around, but for the same reasons that it doesn’t do well as a competition rifle I wouldn’t recommend this as a hunting rifle either.

Even with simply firing the gun, it has some issues. The gun uses a combination of direct impingement esque gas tubes and a gas piston to cycle the action, and the point at which they meet is conveniently right next to your face. Which means that after about five rounds, you get as much gas in your face as if you were shooting a suppressed full auto M4 with a 7 inch barrel. For those who have never had the pleasure of asphyxiating on firearms exhaust while shooting before, I can tell you it is not a good time. Add a silencer into the mix on this gun and the blowback would be more than I would find comfortable.

The Ugly (Truth)

At the end of the day, what we have here is a one trick pony. It’s amazing for home defense and will top my list for that purpose from now on, but for everything else you would want to do with a firearm (other than having it as a range toy) it falls short.

Despite the many, many drawbacks, the gun is still fun to shoot. So if you’re looking for a range toy and can drop 2 grand without blinking an eye, then I think you’ll like this gun. But if you’re looking for a gun that will do more than satisfy your craving for a trendy niche gun, this is not the firearm you are looking for.

That said, I still want one. No one ever said that every rifle in your collection needs to have a purpose . . .

Specifications:

Caliber: 5.56×45 / .223 (chamber is 5.56). Conversion kits available for 5.45×39 and 9×19
Barrel Length: Available in 16.5” and 18” versions
Rate of Twist: 1:7
Overall Length: 26 1/8” (16.5” bbl) or 27 5/8” (18” bbl)
Length of Pull: 15.75”
Weight: 7.9 lbs
Trigger Pull Weight: 11.5 lbs
Operation: long stroke gas piston, locking bolt (right or left ejection specific)
Capacity: Accepts AR-15 magazines
Finish: Polymer body available in Black or Flat Dark Earth. All metal parts treated for corrosion resistance
MSRP: $1,999 either color or barrel length. $2,599 in IDF version with Mepro-21 Reflex Sight affixed to barrel (note: this version does not have a full picatinny upper rail)

Ergonomics (Handling): * * * *
When moving around, especially in tight places, the gun excels. But if you’re trying to take a precision shot, good luck trying to get anything close to a stable shooting position.

Ergonomics (Firing): * * *
I had a nightmare about that trigger. No, seriously. A guy was coming at me, and no matter how hard I pulled on the trigger it wouldn’t fire. It just kept creeping backwards and getting harder to pull, until he caught me. And then I woke up. Recoil, however, is extremely well managed and feels much lighter than an AR-15.

Reliability: * * * * *
No issues whatsoever, despite my attempts to the contrary.

Customize This: * * * * *
Switch sides for all the components with ease, change barrels, add gadgets… whatever you want to do, the TAVOR will let you do it. Like taking the “Barbie for men” idea to the next level. The only thing that might make it more customizable is if it were made out of Lego bricks.

Overall: * * *
An amazingly fun range toy that works fantastically well in home defense scenarios, but that’s it. And for $2,000, I was expecting more.