By: Austin Knudsen
A few months back, TTAG was kind enough to post a review I did of the Robinson Armament XCR-M rifle in .308 Winchester/7.62 x 51 mm. The review was not flattering; the sample rifle, owned by a friend, had serious accuracy and reliability issues. Cosmetically and feature-wise, I was very impressed by it. However, after putting several different factory and bulk loads through the rifle, I ended up giving it only a 2-star rating. I added the caveat at the time that Robinson Armament had agreed to ship the rifle back for diagnosis and service. The rifle is now back from Robinson Armament, and, true to my word, here’s a second look at this controversial rifle . . .
My initial review of the XCR-M generated a number of reader comments, some of which offered constructive criticism. Complaint #1: I didn’t use any “match” ammo in my initial test. True, and point taken. In my second shooting session the owner and I included the only factory match ammo we could find- a Hornady Match offering loaded with 168 grain A-Max bullets. Complaint #2: I shot my initial groups at 75 yards, not at 100. True. All groups in this second review were fired at exactly 100 yards. Complaint #3: I didn’t check my scope or mounts. Come on, really? It’s the first thing I checked when the rifle didn’t group. I chose not to write about it in the first review because, honestly, I figured it was so obvious it didn’t merit mentioning. Complaint #4: user error, or the reviewer can’t shoot. All I can do on this one is assure the TTAG readership that I am a fairly proficient and prolific amateur rifle shooter, that I am a long-range rifle competitor who shoots iron-sighted rifles at ranges up to and past 1,000 yards, and that I am fairly good at it. I am not one to toot my own horn, but honestly, shooting a scoped rifle for groups at 100 yards really isn’t that tough of a proposition for me. Take that for what it’s worth.
So, let’s get down to nut cuttin’- this rifle had serious issues, and Robinson Armament took it back for service. What was the deal? First, a word about Robinson Armament’s customer service department. Robinson Armament has an internet gun forum reputation for… shall we say subpar customer service. This also came up in the comments of my first review. Following his experience with Robinson Armament customer service, however, the owner of this rifle assures me this bad reputation is completely undeserved. His experience was extremely positive, and communication was excellent. The turnaround time took a little longer than he would have liked, however, with a smaller company like Robinson Armament, I believe this can be forgiven, especially given what was found wrong with the rifle and Robinson Armament’s solution.
So what was wrong with the rifle? I quote an email the owner received from Holly Halverson with Robinson Armament customer service:
The engineer just came into my office and let me know what was wrong with your rifle; stripped/cross threaded barrel lock bolt. The barrel extension was under sized which was also causing accuracy issues. What we did to fix it: made the barrel accurate, replaced the upper receiver, re-painted upper and lower. It is ready to be shipped back out to you. We will get it boxed and packaged and get it out to you today.
So, two serious issues were found with the rifle, the barrel lock bolt (shown in the 2 pictures above) was stripped out, which meant the barrel was not properly aligned in the receiver and was probably loose during initial testing. This obviously caused the extraction/reliability issues and certainly contributed to the rifle’s poor accuracy.
The customer service email also states the barrel extension was undersized. This is the rear-most portion of the barrel located inside the receiver that the bolt locks into when coming into battery. If the barrel extension was undersized, it would be slightly loose in the receiver and possibly allow the entire barrel to wobble a little bit. Obviously, this would have a hugely detrimental affect on accuracy. In any event, Robinson Armament says they fixed it as well.
What impresses me most about Robinson Armament’s customer service in this case is that rather than mess with re-machining or attempting to weld (aluminum weld, no less) up and tap new barrel lock threads into the old upper, they replaced the entire upper and repainted the entire rifle, at no charge to the owner. This to me shows that Robinson is taking customer complaints seriously and is willing to take care of problems. Whatever their old reputation may have been, in this case I’d say their stock went up. Now, I admit I don’t know what she means when her email says they “made the barrel more accurate” (did they lap the barrel? Re-crown it? Cryo treat it?), but what I can tell you is that the proof is in the pudding. Whatever problems this rifle had, they are gone. We spent the better part of an afternoon putting rounds through this repaired rifle, and not only did it never malfunction, it put up some pretty respectable groups.
For the accuracy testing, the owner and I selected 4 different commercially available (read as “what we could find for sale”) loads:
A Spanish surplus NATO 147 grain full metal jacket, a Russian TulAmmo steel-cased 150 grain full metal jacket, a Hornady match 168 grain A-Max, and an Ultramax 168 grain boat tail hollow point. All testing was done off a bench at exactly 100 yards. As stated before, the accuracy issues this rifle had previously are gone. I did discover this rifle definitely prefers heavier bullets. The best 5-shot group came from the Ultramax 168 grain load, which put up a very respectable 1 ½ inch group.
The next best group came from the Hornady match load. Honestly, this should have been the best group, but my fifth shot was a called high flier on my part. When I sat back in for a sixth shot, it went right where it was supposed to with the rest of the group. If we disregard the flier, this load gave a very nice 1 3/8 inch group. For the sake of journalistic integrity (and at the expense of my pride), if we include the flier, the group opens up to 2 ¼ inches. Again, the flier was all shooter error, not the rifle or the load.
The next best group was the TulAmmo 150 grain load, which came in with an approximately 2 11/16 inch group. Nothing to get too excited about. Here is where we started to see that the rifle seemed to prefer heavier bullets.
Bringing up the rear (and I mean waaaay rear) was the NATO 147 grain load. This load put up a dismal 4 3/8 inch group.
The most interesting about the accuracy test was that it went exactly like you’d expect it to: the more expensive ammunition shot the best, while the cheap stuff shot the worst.
The other big problem with the XCR-M in my first review was reliability, or more to the point, the lack thereof. When I first reviewed the rifle, the chamber had just been cleaned and within 20 rounds, it started to suffer failure to extract malfunctions. These continued throughout the rest of that test. I now know that was a result of a loose barrel that was out of alignment with the bolt as a result of the stripped barrel lock bolt. In any event, this issue was resolved by the trip to the factory. So, after the accuracy testing, the owner and I decided to dump a few magazines full of the Spanish NATO ammo through the rifle to see what would happen. Nothing happened. Well, we shot up a lot of ammo really fast and were grinning like idiots. That happened. But the rifle never malfunctioned.
Another interesting note. To ensure reliability this time out, we turned the XCR-M’s adjustable gas system to its maximum setting.
After I shot a few groups, we decided we’d better police up all of the spent brass. Only, we couldn’t find any. It was like the rifle had ejected them into a tear in the space/time continuum. The rifle’s owner was watching my groups through binoculars, so he couldn’t see where the brass was flying. It was only after firing a shot to see where the brass went did we learn why: the XCR-M was flinging brass 30 yards. That’s 90 feet for those of you who aren’t into bowling. So a heads up- if you take this rifle to a crowded range, you may want to turn your gas setting down or you are going to piss off all the other shooters to your right who aren’t keen on being pegged with hot flying brass.
I said in my first review that I was very impressed with the ergonomics and controls on the XCR-M, and that if the accuracy and reliability issues were resolved the rifle would have real potential. Well, I potentially may have to purchase my own XCR-M. With heavy bullets, this rifle shoots very well. Equally pleasing was the fact that the remanufactured 168 grain load shot nearly as well as the expensive match 168 grain load. It also appears that cheaper, lighter loads should be used in this rifle only when you’re shooting at ranges inside of 100 yards or when you just want to waste some serious money by pulling the trigger really fast.
It turns out my sample rifle was a lemon. Either the previous owner or the factory had over-torqued or cross threaded the barrel lock bolt, which stripped it out and caused the barrel to become loose, causing accuracy and reliability problems. However, when returned for service, both the accuracy and reliability issues were addressed. Beyond that, the customer service experience was excellent, according to the rifle’s owner. Replacing the entire upper, repainting both the upper and lower, and “making the barrel accurate” (whatever that means) at no cost to the owner (who is not even the original owner) proves to me that Robinson Armament is serious about customer service and treating their customers right. Based on my second experience with this rifle and the owner’s experience with the company, I now may have to make room in my safe for a Robinson Armament XCR-M.
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 * * * *
1 ½ inch groups at 100 yards. Not too shabby for a battle rifle.
Ergonomics * * * * *
I had previously knocked this category down to four stars because of loose stock-to-receiver fit of the folding stock. This was also fixed at the factory. The ergonomics of this rifle are excellent. While a little heavy, it’s well-balanced, the controls are all in the right places, and the few controls that are in new places work great. Love the non-reciprocating charging handle. The adjustable length of pull stock is a great feature for further shooter comfort. A very good factory trigger rounds out a very user-friendly rifle.
Reliability * * * * *
We experienced zero malfunctions with this rifle in an afternoon of shooting. Granted, we didn’t put 1,000 rounds through it, but compared to the previous experience with this rifle, reliability was outstanding.
Customize this * * * * *
A top rail, bottom rail, and rail 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 badass looking rifle that now has performance to match its looks. It’s going to cost you more in ammunition if you want to shoot precision with it, as it prefers heavier bullets not typically found in bulk or imported fodder. Accuracy was very good at 100 yards with 168 grain bullets. When mated with a quality optic, the XCR-M just may be the ultimate “one rifle” to suit all a shooters needs: sport, hunting, and personal defense.