The AR market is more saturated than a Houston suburb (too soon?). Thanks to the AR rifles’ “Barbies for adults” modularity and interchangeability, the platform has become a commodity item. Which leaves Smith & Wesson — and everyone else in the business — with a problem: how can they differentiate their rifles from every other AR maker’s rifles? In this case, Springfield’s finest have mated their Smith & Wesson M&P15T with Crimson Trace’s wireless LinQ system.
The M&P15T’s barrel is fashioned from light contoured 4140 steel, sporting 5R rifling. It’s the same groove cut used by competition shooters and U.S. Army soldiers shooting the M24 Sniper Rifle (see our Remington 700 5-R review). Smith coated the barrel in “Armornite.” In other words it’s finished with yet another version of a nitride finish, which resists scuffing, lowers metal fatigue and adds corrosion resistance.
The M&P15T’s M-Lok compatible hand guard is free-floating. While it’s small enough for a standard-sized hand to encircle, I discovered that the gas port does its job. Firing long strings, the guard got a bit toasty. That’s a good thing. Most AR15 makers grossly over-gas their guns, producing sharper recoil than there needs to be. The M&P15T walks the fine line between enough pressure to cycle common rounds and . . . no more.
A simple bird cage flash hider sits on the end of the M&P15T’s snout. It creates a minor bit of muzzle break effect, but nothing that wouldn’t make a proper break sneer in contempt. The flash hider’s flat screws enable its simple replacement by other muzzle devices. The bolt carrier group (BCG), the “mil-spec” charging handle, and the forged upper and lower receiver set are all pretty standard, with the mild exception of an integrated trigger guard.
The M&P15T’s stock is what has, sadly, become the standard in low-cost AR15s: a rattle-trap six-position stock without a clamp to take up the slop.
I’m constantly amazed that a company will spend money building a better barrel, hand guard or BCG and then fail to provide a proper interface between the shooter’s face and the firearm. The shooter’s position behind the sights doesn’t matter so much with a zero magnification red dot optic with little to no parallax past 50 yards. But it matters a lot when he or she’s behind a magnified optic or iron sights.
The M&P15T’s wobbly stock is particularly bad. When I had a solid cheek/stock weld I could push on the receiver enough to move my eye behind the scope, shifting my point of aim. The only thing that would scream I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING more would be a high-magnification optic in front of a SIG Brace.
As usual, I sprayed Rogue American Apparel’s Gun Lube into the M&P15T prior to the testing, and never opened it up again until I’d fired some 500 rounds through the rifle. I ran IMI’s M193 (55gr FMJ), M855 (62gr Green Tip) and their Mk262 rounds through the gun, as well as Winchester’s 64gr Super X hunting round. I never experienced any problems with any round of any kind. None of the magazines I used — the included 30-round Magpul magazine, a Surefire 60-round magazine and a GI style steel magazine — failed to lock in or eject.
The IMI Mk262 — a 77gr SMK HP — delivered the best accuracy. It scored 1.2″ on average for four five-round groups shot off of bags at 100 yards. I wasn’t surprised; this round has consistently produced the best groups in my test rifles, at least out to the 100 to 300 yard mark.
My best scoring group was right at 1.1″. The IMI’s thin jacket leaves something to be desired for a hunting round, so I’ll stick with the proven (at least by me) 64gr. Winchester soft point round. If I’m hunting pigs with a 5.56mm, or culling deer with it, this is the bullet I’m using (I keep my shots under 100 yards). Scoring an average of 1.4″ groups, it was the worst performing ammunition of the bunch, which shows how consistently all of these rounds fired off the bench.
The M&P15T’s pre-attached Crimson Trace LinQ Green Laser and 300 Lumen white lite sight set this version apart from its ballistic brethren. Compared to many other lights on the market, the 15T’s under-rail mounted light is on the dim side. I hunt with a 775 Lumen Streamlight TLR-1, and I keep one in the truck as well.
But the Crimson Trace light isn’t for spotting game at 100+ yards; it’s for seeing targets inside of 25 yards. It casts a wide spread at that distance; I could easily identify black circles on grey steel targets in the otherwise pitch dark. As for the green laser, well, I’m not a fan of laser targets on pistols or rifles. I’ve drilled it over and over; it takes me more time to spot the laser and put it on the target and fire than just looking down the sights and firing.
That’s not to say I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with a laser sight, just never during the daylight. I’ve spent countless hours looking through my NVG’s on patrol with my AN/PEQ-2 and AN/PEQ-15 lighting up targets of interest. At night, or in very low light, a laser is a useful tool, although I do prefer the invisible variety.
For those of you who prefer a visible laser, the Crimson Trace version works extremely well. I could see it clearly against a black, blue, or grey target all the way out to 50 yards even outdoors during the day, although it did take a bit of searching at that distance. At 25 yards, especially indoors, it jumps right out at you.
Since the AR15 has so little recoil, I could use the laser to shoot a target without my cheek touching the stock, or the stock contacting my shoulder, and still get reliable body mass hits at 25 yards, even at night. Now that’s handy.
Even better: LinQ system worked flawlessly. All I had to do was install the included batteries. Unfortunately, there are two different types — one for the flashlight, and a different type for the handle actuator. So no interoperability there.
The M&P15T’s laser/light operates with an on-off toggle switch inside the bottom of the pistol grip. At no point did the grip actuator button fail to communicate with the laser/light combo. If it had, I could’ve reached forward with my support hand and hit the manual button on the back of the laser/light. Smith claims a two-hour battery life, I got at least that using it on a pig hunt near my property. (No pigs were harmed in the making of this review, sadly.)
Unfortunately, the actuator’s size and placement negated all the benefits of the otherwise well-designed laser/light combo. The button laser/light is too small, too low, and too difficult to activate.
Like many shooters, I’ve found that a good, consistent hand position — one that places my hand high on the grip (top image) and presses up into the trigger guard — helps me manage recoil. Positioned “properly,” my fingers don’t sit on top of the M&P15T’s light/laser button. I can’t turn it on no matter how hard I squeeze.
If I drop my hand into a worse position (bottom image), my hand moves around onto the button, making activation intermittent. It’s on for the first shot, maybe not for the second, maybe for the third. Shooting controlled pairs, one round has a laser pointed on the target, the next doesn’t. (Note: several other shooters who tested the gun experienced the same difficulty.)
Putting on work gloves compounded the problem; laser actuation became even more intermittent. Cold weather gloves created a more consistent result: I couldn’t push the button at all. Smith & Wesson should’ve installed a pad instead of a button, one that extends higher up the handle, closer to the trigger guard. Shooters sharing my frustration will be glad to head that the M&P15T ships with a standard single-finger-groove AR15 pistol grip.
If you want a laser/light mounted to your AR15 for target identification and acquisition, the M&P15T Tactical M-Lock is a suitable solution. The devices are installed on a good rifle, and you save money by buying the laser/light together rather than separately. Just be aware that you will likely have to use the laser/light manually instead of with the LinQ grip if you want any consistency. Of course that assumes you don’t already have a good AR. Or two. Or three . . .
Specifications: Smith & Wesson M&P®15T with M-LOK® and Crimson Trace® LiNQ™ System
Caliber: 5.56mm NATO/.223
Safety: Manual Safety on Lower
Barrel Length: 16″
Overall Length: 32.0″
Front Sight: Folding Magpul® MBUS®
Rear Sight: Folding Magpul® MBUS®
Action: Gas Operated Semi-Auto
Stock: 6-Position, Telescopic
Grip: Polymer with Crimson Trace® LINQ™ System
Weight: 107.4 oz / 3,044.7g
Barrel Material: 4140 Steel
Barrel Twist: 1 in 8″ 5R
MSRP: $1,499 (found online for much less)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance * * * 1/2
The M&P15T is about as standard an AR15 as you can buy in 2017. It boasts a higher-quality-than-usual finish and a trigger guard integrated into the lower receiver.
Customization * * * * *
It’s an AR, the last word in rifle modularity. The M&P15T gets an extra star for the laser/light/LinQ package, as well as the second grip for those who can’t get on with the LinQ handle. The easy-on and easy-off flash hider is also appreciated.
Reliability * * * * *
It ran perfectly with any ammunition. There should be an extra star for not over-gassing the gun.
Accuracy * * * *
A tad better than a standard M4, but it never quite reached the MOA mark.
Overall * * *
The rifle itself is a four-star gun at this price. But the problems I had with the LinQ button knocked a star off an otherwise above average performer.