By Wes Minton
Iconic. Space age. Modern. Yes modern. Despite the fact that it was introduced and adopted by the Austrian Army in 1977, the Steyr AUG (Armee Universal Gewehr) is still one high-tech piece of kit. I intended to be extremely objective writing the review of this sci-fi space blaster, but that was like asking for ice water in hell. Getting behind this gun I feel like every time I pull the trigger I should see a red laser fly out of the front of it. It just feels like the future. The Austrian AUG is a bullpup design . . .
Which means that the trigger is located in front of the action. That results in a shorter overall length for the carbine rifle. That brevity can be beneficial in a lot of ways; maneuvering in vehicles, coming around corners, taking up less space in your safe and — my personal favorite — achieving SBR length without a $200 tax stamp and a nine-month wait. Even with the shorter length, the AUG has a street-legal 16-inch barrel.
Before I start raving about all of the things I love about this rifle, let’s talk about what I hate. First, there’e the trigger. It’s the only trigger group I have ever seen that actively fights back. It’s as if it feels that you have pushed it into the corner and it has to throw down. It gets heavier the more you pull. They way Steyr designed it, the rods attached to the trigger are metal, however the piece they are pushing on is plastic and flexes as you pull toward the break. A straightforward fix exists but I don’t see why Steyr wouldn’t have fixed it themselves if it is so simple.
Then there’s the charging handle. It works wonderfully as long as you don’t have a cumbersome optic mounted on top. (The original Steyr AUG featured an integrated optic 1.5x telescopic sight made by Swarovski.) While searching for the right sight for this rifle, I tried out a Trijicon ACOG red dot. It was a natural fit and felt wonderful on the rifle — until I attempted to rack the action. What resulted were some colorful phrases and some of my DNA being permanently affixed to the optic. After my hand decided to play chicken with the ACOG, I decided that a lower profile sight would be better for both my hands and sanity. Long story short: Choose your optic wisely.
Now for the fun stuff. The rifle points faster than my index finger. Getting on target is a snap. I attribute this to the different balance that’s part of the bullpup rifle design. It’s as if the rifle goes into a vice once you bring it up to your shoulder. All you have to do is turn and the rifle moves with you.
The folding foregrip is comfortable and easily swings out of the way for storage. This is your only option however; there’s really no other way to effectively hold the rifle. I can see how some would view this as a negative. It’s kind of like the old saying “you can hold it anyway you want as long as it’s with a vertical grip”.
Speaking of grips, the pistol grip is also quite comfortable. That’s good because it is the only one you’re going to get. It’s built in to the stock and is not removable.
I have heard people complain about the AUG’s mag-release button because it’s located behind the AUG magazine and you have to push it up to release the mag. Your hand is already going to be going up there to pull the mag out, so you might as well push that button on the way. Once you practice reloading it, you can do something similar to the “AK bump” where you hit the magazine release with the fresh magazine. Once you get it down you’ll feel like a real high-speed low drag operator. The ejection port is reversible with certain tools and a left-handed bolt.
The bolt release is located on the left side of the stock above the mag well. I honestly don’t know how I feel about it. Really all I can say about it is that it just works. Actually, I love the ergonomics of this rifle. I like the way it sits in my hands, I like the way my cheek rests on the stock, I like the cross-bolt safety. Like a TempurPedic mattress it just snugs against my cheek and hands. The molded plastic feels natural and the cheek weld somehow locks into place with exactly the proper eye relief.
A second reason could be that it wouldn’t look out of place sitting in Boba Fett’s hands. This rifle has sex appeal. For a 37-year-old rifle, she has aged extremely well, even next to newer, younger models. It has nice sweeping lines that flow together well enough to make a race car jealous.
There’s enough Picatinny rail space for the essentials and not much more. On the front of the rail there is a sling swivel that swivels 360 degrees. My rifle normally sports a flashlight and some sort of optic. That’s really all the space there is. Then again, that’s all the space I need. You’ll have to leave your night vision, lasers, bayonets, and three vertical fore grips at home.
The gun breaks down into six different groups; barrel, bolt carrier, trigger pack, receiver, stock, and butt plate. Considering how old the piston-system design is, this is a darn impressive disassembly. The quick-change barrel in particular can be taken out at a moments notice. All you have to do is lock the bolt back, depress the release button, and then voila, you can twist the barrel right out. It would be easy to show clear using this method, even though it may look you’re breaking the gun to show it’s unloaded. Cleaning is quick as there are no difficult nooks and crannies to clean.
The Steyr is boringly reliable, whether with steel cased Tula .223 or Federal 5.56. I’ve personally put thousands of rounds of ammo through this gun and I have had one malfunction. I wouldn’t hesitate to trust my life with this rifle. I don’t have a quip about the reliability, the gun really just works. And for a MSRP of $2,099 it better.
Accuracy on the rifle is better than my inadequate rifle skills can muster. For the accuracy test I put a Leupold Mark 4 1.5-4x30mm on the rifle and I was able to do some better groups. Knowing that my marksmanship is akin to an individual with cerebral palsy, I decided to let some of my friends put some groups down and they came up with these:
Accuracy is quite good when you consider how much of a battle the standard trigger gives you. The AUG was designed as a diehard combat rifle, not a precision rig, so the accuracy is much more than adequate for a job like home defense. A small note: the group on the bottom left (above) is three shots; two of them through the same hole. I can’t help but wonder how precise the gun would be with an upgraded trigger.
In conclusion I like this rifle, a lot. If I had to choose one semi-automatic rifle, I would honestly pick this one. There are some drawbacks; worst of all are the charging handle and the trigger. But both can be improved with after-market parts that are fairly inexpensive. On the other hand, the AUG has many advantages, namely a 16-inch barrel in an incredibly short overall package, and a rifle that points more instinctively than extras in a Godzilla movie.
SPECIFICATIONS: (The current version is the Steyr AUG A3 M1)
Manufacturer: Steyr Arms
Action: Short-stroke, gas piston-driven, semiautomatic rifle
Caliber: .223 Rem./5.56 NATO
Magazine: Available with 10-round magazine, 30-round magazine or 42-round AUG mags. (An aftermarket STANAG stock is available to accommodate standard AR-15 magazines)
Weight: 8.15 lbs. unloaded
Overall Length: 28.5 inches
Barrel Length: 16-inch heavy barrel
Rail: Extended Rail, but optional Short-Rails, High-Rails
Optics: 1.5x optics or 3x optics ship separately
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Accuracy: * * * *
With a trigger that doesn’t have teeth I’m fairly certain this would be a one MOA rifle.
Style: * * * * *
This gun screams ‘space age’ and I’m really hoping Disney somehow sneaks it into one of the new Star Wars films.
Ergonomics: * * *
While the stock and foregrip feel great, the charging handle is downright dangerous for an operator’s hands.
Reliability: * * * * *
Not a single problem, nothing more to say.
Customize This: * *
The AUG is fairly exotic and therefore has about as much aftermarket support as a Tesla.
Overall: * * * *
I want to give this gun five stars but just can’t in good conscience do it. The trigger and charging handle ergos demand a one-star ding. Once those are overcome, though, the AUG is a great rifle in a very small space.