By Louis K. Bonham
I was excited in 2013 when a civilian version (the SAR) of IWI’s iconic TAVOR finally went on sale in the US. The Bullpup 5.56 rifle (note shown) offered long stroke piston action, a non-reciprocating side charger, standard AR mags, super-simple field stripping, gunsmith-free barrel, caliber and opposite hand changes; and combat-tested pedigree and reliability. At a $2k it was pretty pricey, but quality doesn’t come cheap. When finally got to I try one . . .
I was mildly disappointed. As Nick pointed out in his review , the TAVOR’s trigger was a mess: long, heavy and mushy. It made cheap AR milspec triggers feel good by comparison. The magazine release was located in front of the magazine — a configuration that seemed especially inconvenient in a bullpup configuration. The way it shouldered and pointed just didn’t click. While the SAR was fun to shoot, solid as a Mercedes, and did what was expected of it, I wasn’t going to be dropping two grand on that one.
IWI hasn’t been sitting still. They developed the second generation TAVOR, the MTAR-21 (a.k.a., the Micro TAVOR or the TAVOR 2), which the IDI began to deploy as its standard issued infantry weapon in 2013. Earlier this year, IWI USA released the civilian version: the TAVOR X95, a semiautomatic with a 16.5” barrel and extra-thick buttplate to make it NFA-compliant.
The X95 retains most of the celebrated features of the SAR (including the best back-up iron sight implementation anywhere) while a number of mission critical improvements.
The Trigger From Hell™ is no more. In its place: a much improved trigger pack (which will also fit in your SAR if you want to change). I don’t have a trigger gauge, but it feels to me to be about a 5 lb. pull. There’s a fair amount of take-up and a bit of creep, but it breaks cleanly and has a very positive reset. No one is going to mistake it for an Elftmann or other premium AR trigger pack, but it’s a major improvement over the old one. It was more than adequate for sending rounds downrange and on target.
The X95 now sports an ambidextrous magazine release above and forward of the trigger well, comparable to that of an AR. It’s a well-ventilated all-polymer unit, with integral Picatinny rails beneath easy-off covers at the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock locations.
IWI moved the charging handle rearward, improving ease-of-use it and freeing up space on the hand guard. More of the weight has been moved to the rear, and the size of the buttstock is slightly enlarged. The bolt release remains in the same location (behind the magazine), but it’s more recessed. The buttplate angle and pistol grip are slightly more vertical. If you dislike the “cutlass” style grip and trigger guard, it can easily be replaced with a more traditional version.
The solid-as-a-rock X95 has a much more ergonomic feel than the equally rock-like TAVOR SAR. Whether due to the weight redistribution, the different grip and buttstock angles or the combination thereof, the X95 shoulders and points much more naturally, especially when moving.
For testing, I removed the factory “birdcage” flash hider and installed a Sig Sauer QC flash hider so that I could use a Sig suppressor (SRD762Ti-QD). I shot about 800 rounds of 55 grain FMJ ammo (PMC Bronze, PBR Value Line, and even some ancient (circa 1980) American Munitions Corp. ammo), half unsuppressed and half suppressed.
While the T&E gun came with a new Magpul magazine (Gen3), I used an assortment of USGI, Remington, Magpul, Lancer, and Thermold magazines, and an EOTech 512 holographic sight. I ran a variety of drills and courses of fire from both strong and weak sides, occasionally switching to a similarly sized SBR for comparison.
Shooting unsuppressed from the strong side (i.e., right handed), the X95 is probably the softest shooting 5.56 I’ve ever handled. Follow-up shots from prone, kneeling, sitting, standing (supported and unsupported) and moving positions were virtually automatic. The X95’s ergonomics are nothing short of sublime, especially in comparison with the similarly-sized SBR. And unlike the SAR, there was no exhaust in my face, even after long strings of fire.
Shooting a side-ejecting bullpup from the weak side is a bit unnerving; the brass was being ejected right into my beard and the exhaust goes right into your face. Overall it was not too bad and the gun performed as expected. (There’s a user-installable conversion kit available for lefties.) Shooting suppressed was a slightly different story, with noticeably more recoil and exhaust. Individual shots from the strong side were no real problem, but mag dumps or other long strings of fire definitely had me gasping for breath.
The problem: the unused left side ejection port — blocked when configured for right hand operation — leaks exhaust into your face with the increased backpressure from a suppressor.
(Aftermarket gasketed covers reportedly solve this problem.) IWI’s .300 Blackout conversion kit will include an adjustable gas block that should allow the user to tune it for suppressor use, but I really wish IWI had included this feature on the standard model.
Shooting weak side suppressed was no fun: every shot had me choking and wondering if my beard was on fire.
On the very first (Magpul) magazine, I had failures-to-feed after the first and third shots. I later had one double feed when shooting suppressed, likely due to the magazine (an old Thermold). Other than that, the X95 fired and cycled perfectly, even after long strings of fire that had the barrel smoking.
The new magazine release works great; USGI and other all-metal magazines always dropped free with no problem, as did brand new Magpuls. However, many of the polymer magazines (Lancer, Thermold, and used Magpuls) wouldn’t reliably drop free when empty. Quick shakes wouldn’t dislodge them. It took only the slightest touch to strip them, but it was definitely a consistent issue.
Obviously, shooting with an unmagnified holo sight and cheap ammo isn’t a fair way to assess the accuracy of a gun, especially with old eyes at distance. The X95 was clearly delivering well within “minute of bad guy” in the drills I was running, and indeed better accuracy than my SBR. Other reviews have reported about 2 MOA groups under ideal conditions. I’ll be doing followup testing with some decent glass and match ammo to see what I get.
The X95 is a big improvement over the “old” gun. It’s shorter and more ergonomic while retaining the weildability that made the TAVOR the bullpup of the moment. Why would you buy the previous model instead of the X95? Why indeed.
Specifications: IWI TAVOR X95
Caliber: 5.56×45 / .223 (chamber is 5.56). Conversion kits will be available for .300 Blackout and 9×19
Barrel Length: 16.5”. 18” and 18.5” barrels are also available
Rate of Twist: 1:7
Overall Length: 26 1/8”
Weight: 7.9 lbs
Operation: long stroke gas piston, locking bolt (right or left ejection specific). 9mm conversion is blowback operation
Capacity: Standard AR Magazines
Finish: Polymer body available in Black, Flat Dark Earth, and OD Green. All metal parts treated for corrosion resistance
Ratings (out of five stars):
Ergonomics: * * * *
Shoulder it, and it feels like an extension of your arms; superb for moving around. Magazine release, charging handle, and bolt release are convenient and intuitive. Unsuppressed, recoil is extremely well-managed. The trigger is much improved, but still could be better (aftermarket accurizing triggers from the usual suspects are available).
Reliability: * * * *
While I suspect that the minor issues I encountered may have been magazine-related, they were still there and keep me from giving it five stars.
Customize This: * * * * *
Nick gave the SAR five stars here, and the X95 has even more options. You can trick out this this bullpup pretty much however you want.
Overall: * * * *
IWI has definitely improved things. Add an even better trigger, an adjustable gas block and a better seal on the unused ejection port and it would be perfect.