(This is a reader gun review contest entry, click here for more details.)
By Paul Jeong
Inside an unassuming white cardboard box lies a rifle so superlative it draws comparisons to the legendary Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle. This is the one rifle to rule them all. At least when you’re talking about AR-15s. The LWRC M6IC is Christmas morning in the shape of a rifle . . .
Terms of Endearment
Six years ago, my wife approved the defense budget for my first rifle. My initial research focused on 16” barreled, direct impingement (DI) AR-15s—the quintessential black rifle. At the time, piston AR-15s started to hit the market from companies such as LMT and LWRC, formerly the Leitner-Wise Rifle Company.
The DI vs. piston debate had yet to reach critical mass on the internet, but the now familiar arguments were already established. The DI system used in M4 and AR-15 rifles was efficient, lightweight, and combat-proven. Piston rifles ran cleaner and more reliably than DI rifles, but were heavier and had proprietary parts that weren’t compatible between manufacturers. And so it goes.
I drank the piston Kool-Aid early. What I couldn’t swallow was the price, which was much higher than similarly configured DI rifles. The first M6 models from LWRC had everything I wanted in a rifle, but at over $2000 MSRP they were out of my budget. After weeks of internal debate, I bought a 16” barreled, mid-length, DI AR-15. It was a great, top-shelf rifle by any definition.
Something’s Gotta Give
At first, life was beer and skittles with my new rifle. I wanted to spend all my time nuzzling it, cheek-weld to cheek. The honeymoon ended when I came home from the range. I spent more time cleaning the rifle than shooting it. I understand a dirty DI rifle can run fine as long as it’s well-lubed, but the obsessive-compulsive in me hated the thought of filthy carbon defiling my Precious.
Eventually my neurotic tendencies and the DI system became irreconcilable. I didn’t want to take the rifle out for a bit of fun because I dreaded what came after—the hours of tiresome cleaning and scraping. And so I gave my DI upper the boot.
I flirted with piston uppers from CMMG and Adams Arms. The CMMG system was robust and accurate, but chunky and lacked refinement. The Adams Arms system was lighter and easier to maintain, but less accurate. I never had reliability issues with either, but something just didn’t click. I was still looking for the One.
As Good as it Gets
After several years and several thousand dollars of uppers and lowers bought and sold, it was time to follow my heart. The stars aligned, assets were liquidated, and I bought an LWRC M6IC. Though this could be considered a classic “buy once, cry once” tale, the years of buyer’s remorse were worth it.
The M6IC is part of LWRC’s Individual Carbine (IC) family, based on the company’s entry in the U.S. Army Individual Carbine program. Started in 2011, the Individual Carbine program was an open competition to develop a successor to the M4. Design requirements changed repeatedly, leading to accusations that the competition favored select manufacturers. Unfortunately, the U.S. Army shuttered the Individual Carbine program in June 2013, stating that none of the manufacturers met the minimum requirements to continue. In the end, the U.S. Army awarded a $77 million contract for 120,000 M4 rifles to FN Manufacturing.
Despite the U.S. Army’s decision to stick with the M4, we can reap the benefits of the Individual Carbine program with LWRC’s IC rifles. IC rifles feature a fully ambidextrous lower with dual controls for the bolt catch/release, magazine release, and safety. Controls are mirrored on each side for consistent right and left-handed operation. Not only is this great news for lefties, but for also for high-speed users who run malfunction drills and train to shoot with their support hand.
The trigger group in the M6IC is mil-spec with a Nickel Boron finish. The finish acts as a permanent lubricant, prevents residue build-up, and improves trigger feel. It also prevents male pattern baldness. Maybe.
LWRC rates the trigger pull between 5.5–7.5 lbs. Mine felt on the lower end of the scale. The single-stage trigger breaks crisply following a hint of creep and resets positively after slight overtravel. It’s easily the best mil-spec trigger I’ve handled. I didn’t think triggers could get much better…until I made the mistake of trying a Geissele. Review testing was done with the LWRC trigger, but I installed a Geissele SD-C afterwards.
IC lowers come with a Magpul MOE+ grip and LWRC polymer trigger guard. The MOE+ grip is rubberized and allows for a secure, you know, grip. The trigger guard is enlarged, which seems to be the de facto standard nowadays. It mates nicely with the Magpul grip to eliminate any annoying gap.
Previous offerings from LWRC came with Magpul, VLTOR, or SOPMOD stocks. LWRC designed their own for the M6IC. LWRC’s Compact Stock is a holy union that combines the cheek-weld of a SOPMOD, the negative pitch endplate of a VLTOR, and the lightness of an M4 stock. Quick-detach sling mounts are built in. The stock rides on a mil-spec tube with H2 buffer.
If you’re reluctant to take the piston plunge, IC lowers are compatible with any AR-15 upper, DI or piston. A polymer buffer under the rear takedown pin eliminates any wiggle with your choice of upper. It’d be a shame to miss out on the advances of the IC lower over some hot air.
The innovations of LWRC’s IC family extend to the upper as well. IC rifles use LWRC’s Monoforge upper. Monoforge uppers combine the strength of a monolithic upper and the adaptability of a traditional upper. The handguard mount, barrel nut, and receiver are machined from a single 7075 aluminum forging to reduce weight and increase strength.
IC rifle barrels are torqued to the same setting because they don’t use a standard barrel nut that requires indexing to a gas tube/operating rod hole in the upper. This ensures consistent accuracy across IC rifles.
The receiver is an A4 flat-top style upper with minor differences to accommodate the ambidextrous controls on the lower. Forward assist, case deflector, and dust cover are on the right side. The upper has mil-spec Type-3 hard coat anodizing, but factory Cerakote options are available at extra cost.
The M6-IC handguard is an 8” version of the SPR-MOD handguard found in LWRC’s REPR rifles. The handguard diameter feels no thicker than a Wiffle Bat. It’s light and easy to handle with the thumb-over-the-top grip that’s en vogue. A continuous M1913 rail runs the top length of the upper and handguard. The bottom and sides of the handguard are smooth and have threaded inserts to mount M1913 rail sections.
The M6-IC comes with two 3.5” rail sections and a 2.25” rail section with integral QD sling mount. Additional rails of varying lengths are available from LWRC. Rail sections are mounted with the provided Torx wrench and screws. Though a Keymod version is rumored, I prefer the non-Swiss cheese look of the M6-IC handguard.
The M6-IC spits pills out of a 16”, full-profile, cold hammer-forged barrel with a 1/7” twist and NiCorr (nitride) finish. Nitrided barrels have greater hardness, corrosion resistance, and lubricity than chrome-lined barrels and are reported to be more accurate. All this to say it’s a great barrel you can shoot more ammo through than the rifle is worth.
Capping the barrel is LWRC’s 4-prong flash hider on standard ½-28 threads. Most retailers have a build-to-order option for aftermarket muzzle devices. Mine came with an AAC 51T Brakeout.
The heart of the M6-IC is LWRC’s short-stroke gas piston operating system. The M6-IC has a mid-length gas system with a two-position gas block for normal and suppressed use. The gas block also has a bayonet lug for when things get stabby. It’s a nice gesture, but I imagine the number of people using it is in the single digits.
The piston system consists of a piston cup that fits over a nozzle on the gas block and a two-piece operating rod that strikes the bolt carrier. A return spring on the operating rod minimizes wear on the system. After years of refinement, LWRC’s piston system is one of the best, if not the best, on the market.
The bolt carrier group is a work of art unto itself. The Nickel Boron coated bolt carrier and key are machined in one piece with beveled edges and chamfers that wouldn’t look out of place on a luxury sedan. The design is meant to eliminate carrier-tilt rather than turn heads at the range. Other than the bolt carrier, all other parts in the bolt carrier group are mil-spec compatible.
Rounding out the M6-IC upper are the charging handle and sights, which received special love from LWRC as well. The charging handle is ambidextrous with meaty latches for easy racking.
The LWRC Skirmish sights function similarly to the venerable Troy back-up sights, but add a host of refinements. The side ears of the HK-style front sight are serrated for easy deployment. Both front and rear sights have serrated back surfaces to reduce glare. The dual apertures on the rear sight rotate rather than flip into place. Unlike other back-up sights, this allows the rear Skirmish sight to lie flat on either aperture.
Out of the box, fit and finish of the M6-IC is immaculate. Ridges and raised areas on the M6-IC have more of a square profile than mil-spec receivers, giving the M6-IC a rugged, industrial appearance. At 7.2 lbs, the rifle is light and snappy. The small diameter handguard makes the M6-IC a joy to handle. However, the added weight of the piston system and full-profile barrel makes the M6-IC slightly front heavy, which gets worse once you add rails and tactical doo-dads.
My M6-IC did have some teething issues. Early IC lowers failed to lock the bolt back on empty Gen 3 PMAGs. Gen 1 and Gen 2 PMAGs and standard aluminum magazines worked just fine. At first, users blamed the problem on the bolt catch being too short to engage the magazine follower. Turns out that early Gen 3 PMAGs were not designed to Colt-spec. Still, LWRC redesigned the bolt catch to fix the problem.
I don’t own any Gen 3 PMAGs, but I sent my lower to LWRC to replace the bolt catch anyway. Inconvenient, but I had my lower back in less than a week. LWRC paid for shipping both ways, too.
Shooting the M6-IC is even better than looking at it. The mid-length gas system and H2 buffer reduce recoil to a mere suggestion. The AAC Brakeout compensator makes rapid strings and follow-up shots even easier. I felt like I was starring in my own carbine training video. I also learned firsthand that compensators are stupid loud. Use one at the range and you’ll have an audience whether you like it or not.
For accuracy testing, I visited an indoor 100-yard rifle range with electronic target setters that opened nearby. I told my wife to start forwarding my mail there. I shot the M6-IC with the front supported on a rest. Targets were set at 50 yards because I was using an Aimpoint T-1 (2 MOA).
Average five-shot groups were 2” with Independence (IMI) M193 ammo. My best group of the day was .9” with Hornady 75 gr TAP ammo. No surprise that the 1/7” twist barrel favors heavier bullets. Too bad they’re so danged expensive.
I wanted to push the rifle out to 100 yards, but the range charged by the hour. I’m confident that with a magnified optic and fully-supported rest, the M6-IC is capable of even greater accuracy.
After I got home, cleaning, or rather the lack of cleaning, was a revelation. The M6-IC disassembles and field strips like any other AR-15, but because the piston system doesn’t dump a hot mess of gas into the rifle, everything inside stays nearly spotless after a range trip. I wiped some oil off the bolt carrier and ran patches through the barrel, but even that seemed unnecessary.
The piston system can be inspected by loosening two captive screws at the front of the handguard and removing the return-to-zero top section. The only place you’ll find grime is under the handguard where the piston system vents excess gas. The piston system is self-scraping, so there’s no need to mess with it. The parts clean easily enough with a brush and some CLP if you’re inclined.
I’m still putting my M6-IC through its paces, but reliability after 300 rounds has been excellent. Brass ejects like clockwork into a neat pile. No stoppages or malfunctions of any sort, but I’ve been pampering it with mil-spec, brass-cased ammo. A better test of reliability would be to run some lupine and ursine steel-cased ammo through the rifle.
Customization options for the M6-IC are the same as any other AR-15, which is to say mind-boggling. I plan on setting up the M6-IC as my general purpose, zombie apocalypse, SHTF, TEOTWAWKI rifle. The M6-IC would be ideal as a hard-use combat or duty rifle. However, it performs and handles so well that it wouldn’t be out of place as a competition or hunting rifle. The M6-IC is a jack-of-all-trades that excels at most.
MSRP for the M6-IC was $2199 when I bought mine in January 2014, though I paid much less. The price sounds steep, but it’s comparable to high-end rifles with fewer features from other manufacturers. You can find an M6-IC for well under $2000 today. Expect to pay $600 for the IC lower alone, but those are harder to come by. The ambidextrous IC lower is the best part of the rifle and would make an excellent platform for any rifle build.
The performance and features of the M6-IC may be beyond the needs of most casual and even professional shooters. High-quality, accurate, reliable, DI and piston rifles can be had for less, but with an M6-IC, you can sleep easy knowing you have the most advanced production AR-15 available. Don’t blame me if you find it hard to “buy once, cry once.” You’ll want to buy more than one, and you’ll keep on crying…crying tears of joy. It’s that good.
Specifications: LWRC M6-IC
Caliber: 5.56x45mm NATO (.223 Rem.)
Barrel: 16”, full-profile, cold hammer forged, 1/7” twist, NiCorr finish
Weight: 7.2 lbs
Length: 33.5 inches collapsed, 36.5 inches extended
Capacity: 30+1 with standard AR magazines
Price: MSRP $2199 – readily available for under $2000
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style: * * * * *
Smooth, svelte, and streamlined like a supermodel…or a sexy dolphin. Impeccable engineering and attention to detail. The M6-IC is as pleasing to look at as it is to shoot.
Accuracy: * * * * *
Excellent practical accuracy with mil-spec ammo and red-dot sights. Expect sub-MOA accuracy with match ammo and a magnified optic.
Ergonomics: * * * * *
The IC lower is fully and truly ambidextrous. Everything feels and works like a standard AR-15 but better. Light, quick to handle, and easy to control. The shooting equivalent of driving an exotic sports car.
Customization: * * * * *
Compatible with the full cornucopia of AR accessories. The slim-profile handguard can accommodate as many or as few M1913 rails as needed.
Reliability: * * * * *
No malfunctions after 300 rounds. LWRC’s piston system is robust and refined. The rifle internals stay clean and cool even after extended use. Probably won’t need cleaning until I shuffle off this mortal coil.
Overall: * * * * *
It’s expensive and probably more rifle than anyone needs, but the M6-IC is the most advanced AR-15 available today. If you could own only one AR-15, this should be it.