I, along with several other People of the Gun, loathe the National Firearms Act (NFA). I am completely against registering any of my firearms with the government. I reluctantly purchased a suppressor that has an NFA tax stamp and is registered with the ATF because there are fewer regulations on suppressors. I also realize it is a relatively simple task for the ATF to change the regulations regarding shouldering pistols with braces.
If it were not for the NFA, I would have purchased an AR-15 with an 11.5 inch barrel for home defense. Instead, I utilized an AR-15 with a 16-inch barrel and a suppressor for home defense. This set-up is not very conducive for home defense or any type of close quarters battle (CQB), for those who perform those types of tasks. After conducting significant research, I decided on an IWI X95 in 5.56 NATO.
On paper, the X95 meets all my requirements. It is a non-NFA firearm that has an overall length of 26 inches and has a 16.5 inch barrel. It comes with back-up iron sights. The safety and magazine release controls are similar to an AR-15. The fore end has removable panels that cover picatinny rails on the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions. There are multiple qd points for sling attachments.
One thing on paper that far exceeded my expectations, in a bad way, was the price tag. MSRP for the X95 in 5.56 NATO is $1,999 on the IWI website. Another was the weight or 7.95 pounds.
Another issue which came to light was the infamous accuracy issue. Several gun reviewers showed this at distances of 100 yards. My desire was for a home defense rifle. My home is not 100 yards. My home is not even 25 yards. With that in mind, I took plunge on an X95, which I found on sale for $300 less than MSRP.
I have previously zeroed my X95 at 50 yards with defensive use ammunition. I decided my first step in this review was to conduct an accuracy test the X95 at 50 yards from the prone position. For this test I used a Federal 55 grain FMJ and Federal 62 grain tactical bonded round. I utilized the Meprolight RDS, which is designed for the X95 for this test.
The 55 grain FMJ grouped at 2 inches. The 62 grain tactical grouped at 1.75 inches. Neither is MOA. The criticism of accuracy is legitimate when taking into account an MSRP of $1,999. For some, however, the benefits of mobility and non-registration with the ATF outweigh this negative. The key is finding the correct ammunition, which can be said of every single firearm.
Since my needs are for home defense, I decided to test the X95 with various drills at distances from 3 yards to 25 yards. I normally conduct these drills with hostile QIT targets. Unfortunately I did not have any and used numerous bullseye targets instead.
The X95 shoots lower than an AR-15 at close distances. I learned to always aim approximately an inch higher than what I aim at with an AR-15. The X95 requires a higher point of aim. This was evident with the bullseye targets. I am not certain it would have been as evident with a hostile QIT target.
An interesting observation was that I shot lower with backup iron sights than I did with Meprolight RDS. I have no explanation for this other than the shooter.
With either the iron sights or optic, the shooter will probably need to make more of an adjustment than with an AR-15.
The trigger on the X95 is about as smooth as a striker-fired pistol tirgger. I did not have a trigger weight scale to conduct an accurate measurement. It is not horrible, but it’s not a Geissele trigger either. Geissele does make an aftermarket trigger and trigger pack for the X95. I find the X95 stock trigger to be more than adequate for home defense purposes and do not plan on upgrading. Again, it is not an unreasonable complaint that a rifle with an MSRP of $1,999 has only an adequate trigger. The only real defense is the X95 is a bullpup. Even the most expensive bullpups have reputations for far worse triggers.
As I previously stated, the safety and magazine release are located in similar places as an AR-15, so utilizing these controls was rather simple. The magazine release is ambidextrous, while the safety can be moved to the right side of the rifle. The bolt release was at the rear of the X95 just behind the magazine well and is ambidextrous be default. This is different from an AR-15. However, I found the control quite intuitive during magazine reloads.
The charging handle was located on the left side of the gun. It is big, obvious, and very easy to use. (There is a definite joke with that statement, but my mom might read this someday, so I’ll leave it up to your imagination.)
I have read many complaints that not every magazine will drop free from the X95. I had the same experience. I used Magpul PMAGs M3 both with and without windows. I also used translucent Lancer magazines. The Lancer magazines dropped free every time. The Magpul PMAGs with the windows also dropped free, where the PMAGs without windows did not. All 3 types of magazines functioned flawlessly during fire.
The recoil impulse on the X95 is different than an AR-15. It is not better or worse, just different. Both are extremely manageable.
The weight of the X95 is not as noticeable as it should be. A shooter could get tired from handling a 7.95 pound weapon, with additional weight from a light, optic, and magazine. Since the X95 is compact, there is a lot of weight in the rear of the rifle. Shooting the X95 one handed accurately is very easy, due to this fact. I have shot piston driven AR-15’s with 16 inch barrels one handed. I will take the X95 over those rifles.
The only time the weight was an issue was when I attached a suppressor. When comparing it to an AR-15 with a 16 inch barrel, the X95 is still easier to maneuver and handle. A closer comparison to maneuverability and handling is with an SBR.
Another negative of the X95 is the gas blowback. Since the bolt and ejection port are closer to the shooter, the gas blowback is more noticeable, especially if shooting suppressed. The ejection port is also reversible, which can allow gas to escape right in front of the shooter’s face. As a gun smith once said, “The gas has to go somewhere.” Is it so bad as to be unshootable? No.
Disassembling the X95 for cleaning is relatively easy. Push out the pin at the top of the buttstock and swivel it down. Remove the piston and bolt carrier. Push out the pin on the bolt carrier to remove the bolt and firing pin. To remove the trigger pack, push out 2 tins right above the magazine well and remove the trigger. To reassemble, reverse the process. The firing pin and pin holding the bolt carrier do need to positioned just right.
IWI includes a cleaning kit with the X95. This is a great feature that other rifle manufacturers need to start duplicating. The most interesting, to me at least, piece in the cleaning kit is the wide brush used to clean interior of the firearm.
Considering no firearm is perfect, is the X95 worth the price? The issues with accuracy at 100 yards, the trigger that can only be described as adequate, the inability of every magazine to drop free, the weight, and the gas blowback are all legitimate concerns and criticisms.
However, the maneuverability, built-in backup iron sights, and, most importantly, lack of registration with the ATF are very significant positive aspects. Yes, one could argue to just get an AR-15 pistol, but that’s not always an option. Furthermore, with the X95’s 16.5-inch barrel, there is less likelihood of a reduction in ballistics. As I stated before, the ATF can always change the regulations regarding shouldering pistols with braces. The X95 is not affected by these regulations.
This is a rifle the Israel Defense Force relies on. It may not be perfect, but the X95 is an outstanding option for someone needing a home defense rifle. (Brownells link here).