Del-Ton makes ARs, and this Evolution model is their top of the line. For those of you with truly short attention spans, the USA Today version of this review is that the Del-Ton Evolution is pleasantly accurate, exceptionally comfortable and perfectly reliable. And lightweight, too. Joe and I shot it fairly extensively and we both came away not just satisfied, but really impressed with its mix of ergonomics and performance . . .
One Small Question
How do you ‘review’ an AR-15? The platform has proven itself and become the most popular single rifle design in America, so what criteria do we choose to judge it by?
It’s kind of silly to wade into the ‘DI versus Piston’ debate unless you’re discussing the added weight and expense of a piston system, which we’re not. And criticizing the AR design because the stock won’t fold is like criticizing a pickup truck for letting your groceries get wet.
At this point, I think it just makes sense to judge an AR against other ARs with similar price points. With that in mind, we’re going to judge Del-Ton’s Evolution AR against other similar ARs: what it gets right, where it’s okay, and where it goes wrong. And here goes…
Del-Ton’s ‘Evolution’ is an standard forged aluminum upper and lower receiver AR-15, but it comes from the factory with a lot of the snazzy components you would otherwise have to shell out a lot of extra Samoleans for. A quick rundown of its features sets it ahead of entry-level ARs: a mid-length gas system, a Samson modular free-float rail and flip-up iron sights, Magpul stock and grip furniture, a very nice two-stage trigger, an MPI-inspected bolt and a thin profile, chrome-lined barrel.
The Evolution isn’t the cheapest AR on the Interwebz, but the $1300 MSRP includes a lot of upgrades from a bottom-shelf ‘Shotgun News’-brand AR.
If you hypothetically started with a $800 optics-ready M4 clone, the Samson Evolution-series rail alone would set you back $200 as an upgrade. Now you’ve spent $1000.
The Samson irons (shown above) would ding you another $200, and then you’d need to throw in another C-note for the Magpul furniture and possibly another $50 if you wanted a two-stage trigger.
You’re already at $1350 now, but you still haven’t paid for the thin-profile barrel that keeps the Evolution’s overall weight down to 6.8 pounds. All in all, the Evolution’s midrange price tag isn’t a bad value for the upgrades that it includes.
Joe Grine helped me out and did the accuracy testing on the Del-Ton. He reports as follows:
I tested the accuracy of the Del-Ton on two separate range trips, using a Leopold LPS 3.5-10 x 42 scope benched at 100 yards. Range conditions varied, with temperatures hovering in the 50s with variable winds from 5 to 15 mph. I shot over 30 three-shot groups using various brands of match ammo (Federal, Hornady, Nosler, Black Hills, and Fiocchi) from 55 grains up to 75 grains.
Groups tended to cluster from between .77″ and 1.14″ using match ammo, and I seemed to get these types of results with a wide variety of bullet weights and types. Approximately half of these groups were sub-MOA. The 1:9″ twist rate is likely the reason behind the rifle’s ability to shoot a wide range of loads accurately, as it represents very middle-of-the-road approach to the issue. Although the Del-Ton did not seem to show a strong preference for any one type of ammo, the best group was a three-shot .61 inch group achieved using Hornady 55-Grain V-Max Match.
When I switched to more available and affordable 55 grain ammo (i.e. XM-193, etc) made by Federal, Remington, PMC, and Remington UMC, groups tended to open up a bit. I shot 20 three-shot groups, and the group size consistently ranged from 1.47″ to 1.94″. The majority of these groups hovered right at 1.5″ and the larger groups probably were my fault to some degree or perhaps caused by wind gusts. As a general rule, I noticed that groups tended to open up a bit once the barrel got hot, but nothing out of the ordinary.
I feel pretty comfortable with the results, since I was able to shoot consistent sub-MOA to sub ½-MOA with my HK SL8-6 and my Steyr SSG-69 on the same day. I would periodically bring these guns to the line to shoot a string or two while I let the barrel of the Del-Ton cool. I like to use this technique as a check on myself to verify that I am not just having a bad accuracy day, or drank too much coffee, etc.
As far as I can tell, the accuracy of the Del-ton represents fairly typical accuracy for ARs in this price range.
So there you have it. Without giving you The Full Foghorn and setting up a spreadsheet with arithmetic means and standard deviations, it’s fair to say that the Evolution does really well for an AR with a pencil-thin barrel. It delivered about 1 MOA accuracy with match ammo, and about 1.5 MOA accuracy with the cheaper stuff.
Times being what they are, we don’t really have the funds to put a thousand rounds through every MSR we test these days. Joe and I came as close as we could, though: I fed it 200-250 rounds of steel-cased Tulammo while blasting cans at the shooting quarry, and then Joe ran about 500 rounds of mixed brass-cased ammo through the Evolution for his accuracy testing. Joe cleaned the rifle after my day at the quarry, but his 500 rounds were fired without cleaning.
The Evolution’s functioning was about as exciting as the live C-SPAN coverage of a House rules committee meeting. It digested 700-750 rounds of mixed brass and steel ammo with monotonous perfection, so there’s really not much to report.
When a rifle is accurate and 100% reliable, it leaves you a lot of time to pay attention to how it handles. Joe and I compared notes on the Evolution’s handling, and we independently noticed the same (good) characteristics.
- Two-stage triggers aren’t every shooter’s cup of tea, but the Evolution’s happy switch is an exceptionally nice one. It has basically zero creep, a clean break and almost no overtravel, and it contributed to the Evolution’s solid accuracy at the bench. We apologize for misplacing the trigger gauge, but we both agreed that the trigger is just slightly heavier than a true ‘target’ trigger should be.
- Some railed fore-ends are like cheese graters, but the Evolution’s Samson modular fore-end will leave your support hand pleasantly undamaged. It’s solid and comfortable, and it lets you attach just as much rail as you need. It’s a huge ergonomic improvement over stock AR handguards, since you can put your support hand anywhere you want. You cannot burn your hands unless you’ve got gorilla arms and try to grip the rifle by its naked barrel.
- The Evolution’s H-buffer really softens the rifle’s recoil impulse. My personal AR is a mid-length just like the Evolution but it jumps noticeably more, and I’m seriously considering putting the same H-buffer in it.
And what about the negative things we noticed? Well, basically, there weren’t any. It’s not necessarily an ergonomic issue, but we were both worried about the heat stability of the pencil-thin barrel. Despite our worries, firing quick strings had only a modest effect on accuracy.
Is it the perfect-handling AR? Not quite. There are some competition-ready components that Del-Ton could have thrown in at this price point, but didn’t. Ambidextrous operating controls would have been a nice touch, but the Evolution is optimized for right-handers.
The finish is fairly pedestrian – just the standard anodized aluminum and parkerized steel you see on a typical AR. The finish work on the buffer tube was a little rough, and it looked like this after only 700-750 rounds. This isn’t a major beef, and certainly shouldn’t be a deal-killer for anyone who’s considering this rifle, but it’s not quite up to the fit and finish of the rest of the gun. Which was first-rate, in case you can’t tell from all Joe’s fabulous pictures.
The gas key bolts were very nicely staked, which is something I check for ever since we had a gas key come loose on us a few years ago.
We were a bit surprised to see an A2 flash hider on this competition-ready rifle. The Evolution was very soft-shooting for an AR, but it did produce more recoil and muzzle climb than a tricked-out race gun. Anyone using it in 3-Gun will likely swap the flash hider out for a muzzle brake or compensator, competition rules permitting.
There are a zillion different ARs out there, and they’re all basically the same rifle. The difference and the devil is hidden in the details: the trigger, the recoil, the reliability and accuracy.
Del-Ton has done very well with these details, and the result is a well-balanced and comfortable rifle. It functioned flawlessly and accurately with a wide variety of common 5.56x45mm ammunition.
As a bonus, the Evolution is also a tiny bit lighter than a bone-stock M4gery with A2 sights, and that’s something of an accomplishment for a mid-length AR with a foot of free-float rail hanging out there.
If the Evolution’s OEM accessories are the goodies you’re looking for on your AR, this rifle could be a good choice at a fair price. If you want a more traditional AR, or something space-age with carbon fiber, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.
Update (October 2014):
Joe Grine here. Since this review was published, I ended up purchasing the Del-Ton T&E sample featured in this review. Accordingly, I have had the opportunity to run another couple thousand rounds through this rifle. I would like to report that the Del-Ton has continued to meet my expectations for a rifle at this price point. I have experienced no malfunctions of any kind, and accuracy continues to be consistent with my earlier findings. Although I had no first-hand experience with Del-Ton prior to this review, I can say – based on my time spent with this rifle – that Del-Ton is definitely a company that I would add to my list of recommended manufacturers of quality ARs at a reasonable price.
Caliber: 5.56 NATO
Barrel: 16 inches
Weight: 6.8 Pounds
Capacity: Ships with 1×30 round magazine
Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
All ratings are relative compared to the other weapons in the gun’s category. Overall rating is not mathematically derived from the previous component ratings and encompasses all aspects of the firearm including those not discussed.
Accuracy: * * * *
MOA or better accuracy with match ammo, and 1.5 MOA with the cheaper stuff. Pretty good from a pencil barrel, huh? We’re not supposed to give half-stars any more, but this is really 4.5-star accuracy.
Ergonomics: * * * *
Solid, smooth controls on a gentle-shooting rifle with a fantastic free-float rail.
Customization: * * *
It’s an AR so you can change anything you want. YMMV, but I would only want to add a muzzle brake and an ambidextrous selector switch. The only reason it only gets three stars for customization is that it’s already pretty well customized.
Overall Rating: * * * *
A solid performer that’s worthy of its mid-range price tag.