By Austin Knudsen
It isn’t every day that I get the opportunity to shoot a $2,500 rifle. My rifles generally fall more into the gun shop bargain rack category. So when the opportunity to play with one presents itself, I figure I’d better take the time and do it right. The rifle in question is a Robinson Armament XCR-M, chambered in .308 Win/7.62×51. Admittedly, I’m not much of a semi-auto rifleman. I own a couple, but I don’t shoot them all that much. For what I do, a bolt action is usually what the juris doctor ordered. Plus, I’m so careful with my ammo these days that I swear I hear a cash register ringing every time I pull a trigger . . .
I also tend to burn lots more ammo in a semi-auto rifle range session. However, a friend has recently gotten into semi-auto battle rifles in a big way and he asked me to spend a little time with his latest acquisition while he was out of town for a few days. Specifically, he asked me to test his new XCR-M with a handful of different loads, and see what kind of accuracy I could squeeze out of it. How could I say no?
Rather than regurgitate all the history of the rifle’s development here (it’s called Google, folks), I’ll give you my impressions as a certified non-tacticool, non-operator, non-mall ninja shooter. The XCR appears to be an attempt to hybridize the best of the AR, AK, and SCAR platforms. The grip, trigger, safety, magazine system and barrel are AR-based. The operating system uses a gas piston rather than direct gas impingement, a la the AK. The stock, receiver, and forearm are very SCAR-ish, except that on the XCR, these parts are all aluminum as opposed to plastic.
The only new control placement (as least to me) is the magazine release, which is an ambidextrous paddle located on either side of the rear of the magazine well, within reach of the trigger finger. Robinson Armament Frankensteined all of these ‘best-of’ traits together and the result is one very sexy fighting rifle.
Ergonomically, this rifle feels great. It balances well and the two-stage trigger is very good with the initial take-up followed by a fairly crisp 5-6 pound trigger break. It’s no Timney or JP, but it’s a very good factory trigger. I also really like the charging handle. It’s mounted on the left side of the receiver, on a non-reciprocating operating rod. It’s a generous-sized roller-looking affair that allows for an easy grip-it-and-rip-it approach, letting right-handed shooters charge the gun with the non-shooting hand (and without reaching almost as far forward as the muzzle to do it like the CETME/HK 91).
The stock is a well-thought out design that improves on the SCAR, in that it’s made of metal. It’s completely adjustable for length of pull, a feature that I really ended up liking. Whether you want it collapsed completely for close quarters work or fully extended for shooting prone (like me), this is a really cool feature.
My only gripe about the stock is that it’s a side folder. It’s not that I dislike the handy side fold feature, but that when unfolded and locked into place, the stock has just a bit of play to it between the receiver and the stock. This can be felt when shouldering the rifle and then placing a little direct rearward pressure on the grip. The stock will move on its hinge just a bit. Not a big deal, but during shooting the stock did shift in this manner a couple of times just as I was about to shoot, causing me to come off target and have to reset my shot. Again, not a huge deal, but for a $2,500 rifle, I’d expect the folder not to remind me of the $40 plastic side folding stock I put on a surplus SKS when I was in high school.
But my friend didn’t ask me to evaluate the XCR-M’s ergonomics. He wanted me to accuracy test it. I was asked to shoot several different loads through it because frankly, he was unimpressed with its accuracy and he really hoped it was user error.
For my testing, I chose five different loads: two bulk 7.62×51 loads (one American, one Spanish military manufacture), an Ultramax remanufactured 168 grain boattail hollowpoint, an Ultramax remanufactured 168 grain boattail soft point, and a Federal 180 grain soft point .308 hunting load for good measure. All loads were fired at a target 75 yards away, sighted through a mounted Vortex Viper 2.5-10 x 44 mm scope. All shots were fired from the prone position, using a Grip Pod Systems (G.P.S.) forward mounted handle/bipod (side note: I had never used one of these G.P.S. bipods before, but it was really handy and rock solid). Conditions were excellent: 38 degrees, sunny and no wind. A balmy Montana winter day. The beautiful weather and excellent bipod allowed me to get rock steady holds and not worry about the wind blowing me or my shots all over.
So how did this $2,500 rifle shoot?
It pains me to say it, but not worth a damn. I really wanted to like this rifle. I like a lot of things about it. But I have to be honest: after five different loads, I’d describe this rifle’s accuracy as mediocre at best. I can forgive a lot of things about a rifle, if it groups. A poor trigger, uncomfortable stock, shoddy finish: these are things that can be overlooked as long as the rifle produces reliable groups. But I can’t abide inaccuracy. And perhaps “inaccurate” is an unfair word for the XCR-M. “Mediocre” accuracy is probably more, well, accurate. I just kept hoping the XCR-M would pleasantly surprise me It just never did.
The best five-shot group came from the Ultramax 168 grain boattail soft point load. Three shots were great, piling within ¾ of an inch. But two fliers opened up the group dramatically, with the widest spread at 2 ¾ inches, again at only 75 yards. Next best was the Spanish surplus military load, which yielded a 5-shot group size of 2 7/8 inches. As before, three shots were exciting when they fell inside 1 inch, but again two fliers opened up the group.
Coming in third place was the Ultramax 168 grain boattail hollow point, which printed a 3 ½ inch spread. Fourth, the Federal 180 grain hunting load, which put up a 3 ¾ inch group. Bringing up the rear was the American bulk load, which gave a 4 ½ group that looked like I shot the target with OO buck at ten yards. In the final analysis, the best the gun could manage was 2 ¾ inches at 75 yards. Not nearly good enough to get me excited. Extrapolate that out to, say, 250 or 300 yards and what you get is positively awful.
Allow me to respond in advance to the inevitable carping about how “the XCR is a battle rifle — it’s only designed to be accurate enough to shoot man-sized targets inside 100 yards.” Bovine scatology. This is my subjective test and I demand more from a rifle than minute-of-Humvee accuracy. And my guess is that most professionals do too.
I don’t shoot at people, and hope I never have to. I do, however, regularly shoot targets and critters at distances well past 300 yards, and if I’m going to spend two mortgage payments on a rifle, it had damned-well better be accurate. Likewise, it seems to me a professional high-speed low-drag operator would be much more confident in his rifle at 25 yards if he knew it was capable of shooting a decent group at 250 yards.
As far as reliability goes, the XCR-M also suffered three failure to extract malfunctions while shooting my last load, the Spanish surplus ammo. On all three occasions, I had to get up and strike the charging handle against my wood deck to get the case to extract from the chamber. The owner reported that the same thing happened to him while he was shooting it a week earlier. After he was done shooting, he cleaned both the chamber and the bore.
Thus, after putting fewer than 25 rounds through a clean chamber, I suffered repeated FTEs. Yes, it could be the XCR just didn’t like the Spanish ammo. But I shoot that Spanish ammo through a couple of my 7.62 rifles without trouble. And my friend’s FTEs happened while shooting American bulk ammo. The problem would seem to be with this particular rifle’s chamber.
In the final analysis, I wouldn’t purchase a Robinson Armament XCR-M for myself. First, the repeated failure to extract malfunctions from two different shooters using two different types of ammunition with minimal round count should give pause to anyone considering staking their life on the gun. Second — and more important for me — is the mediocre accuracy. This is simply a rifle I have no use for.
Could careful handloading and extensive load development reveal a magic round for this rifle? Maybe. But my guess is that my test was representative of what most shooters out there would do: run several different, readily available factory/military loads through it. So my “mediocre accuracy” label stays.
The XCR may have the CDI factor. As I said, this is a dead-sexy gun that looks badass, especially in olive drab with a nice optic on it. But my days of impressing chicks with my firearms are long gone (if they ever existed). And after a morning of shooting this rifle, I can honestly say I wouldn’t be comfortable shooting a deer at 100 yards with it, let alone a coyote at 400 yards. And if I can’t do either of those things, the XCR-M has no place in my safe.
UPDATE: This rifle has been sent back to Robinson for service. We’ll update this post when it’s returned and tested.
Caliber: .308 Win (also .260 Remington)
Length: 37″ collapsed
Folded length: 30″
Weight: 9.25 lbs. empty
Barrel length: 18.6″ (also 16″ and 20″)
Top Rail Length: 20″
Side and bottom rails: 9.4″
Ratings (out of five stars):
Accuracy * *
Produced 3 – 4+ inch groups at 75 yards. Need I say more? I’ve seen 100 year old iron-sighted rifles do better. For $2,500 (or more), plus high quality optics, I expected this rifle to perform a lot better.
Ergonomics * * * *
An argument could be made that this category deserved five stars. I knocked it down to four because of the loose stock-to-receiver fit. That aside, the ergonomics of this rifle are excellent. It’s well-balanced, the controls are all in the right places and the few controls that are in new places work great. The adjustable length-of-pull stock is a great feature for further shooter comfort. A very good factory trigger rounds out an extremely user-friendly rifle.
After a cleaning, the rifle started experiencing FTEs after only one full magazine of shooting. If it had happened with only one type of ammo, it could be forgiven. But the fact that it happened to two different shooters on different days using different types of ammunition keeps this one at one star. This isn’t a rifle I could trust to take out in the field, let alone stake my life on in a fight.
Customize This * * * * *
A top rail, bottom rail, and rails on each side of the forearm allow you to mount any accessory, optic, or light you can think of. Add to that that you can put any AR pistol grip on it you want, and you have a rifle you can really put your own signature on.
Overall * *
This is a great-looking rifle that has some real potential if the flaws I encountered are addressed. Unfortunately, they’re big flaws. Poor reliability with surplus/bulk ammo used by most shooters, and poor accuracy for such a premium rifle, make for a poor overall rating. Expense did not equal quality in this case.