By Jeremy S.
This is only a first impression of the IWI TAVOR SAR – a few rounds sent down range and a bit of time checking it out, handling it, and getting used to the unique manipulation of this bullpup rifle. We’ll take care of all of the measurements, stats, and details here, cover a bit of background and include some comments from ex-IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldiers familiar with the rifle. Expect a much more exciting video a couple weeks from now with follow-up impressions and any updates or changes. It may not be as exciting as these IDF women, but I’ll do what I can . . .
In 2001, the TAVOR TAR-21 (TAVOR Assault Rifle, 21st Century) began limited testing in the IDF. By 2003, it saw a larger rollout and most soldiers were receiving at least some training with it, with quite a few units carrying it. During 2009, it officially replaced the M16/M4 variant rifles, which means many IDF soldiers wrapping up their mandatory 3-year service terms in 2012 or 2013 had never handled an M16/M4 in the service.
Fast forward to a few months ago, and the first TAVOR SAR (Semi-Automatic Rifle) hit the civilian market in the United States. Much to our great joy, this is NOT just some licensed copy farmed out to whatever company that bid highest for the rights to the name and general design. IWI – Israel Weapon Industries – opened up a U.S. branch and IWI U.S., Inc is now distributing and manufacturing the real deal right here in ‘merica. With the exception of the conspicuously missing full auto setting, the SAR has a fully MIL-Standard pedigree, with few if any changes to the IDF weapons.
A rifle designed as a bullpup from the ground up is decidedly cool. But how many are willing to pay for extra that? How much of the TAVOR’s MSRP pays for the novelty – the fact that, unlike an AR, I can’t get something nearly identical from 50 competing manufacturers? Upon first opening the box and inspecting its contents, I realized that the asking price is justified indeed.
As mentioned before, the SAR is truly military grade. This can be seen in its [made in Israel] cold hammer forged, CrMoV, fully hard chrome lined, 1:7 twist, 5.56 chambered barrel, ordnance grade steel receiver, integral flip-up iron sights complete with Tritium front post, and excellent attention to detail in fit, finish, and assembly. All parts are mil-spec and interchangeable. Field stripping takes all of four seconds with no tool needed, and the long-stroke gas piston stays clean of carbon and requires no lubrication. Detail stripping the bolt and the piston system and removing the trigger group takes just a few more seconds.
Also contributing to that healthy MSRP is undoubtedly the best cleaning kit I’ve ever seen with a new gun. Inside the IWI belt pouch is a slotted rod for patches, four cleaning rod extensions – one with a swiveling T handle, a squeeze bottle for lube/CLP/Manischewitz, a chamber brush, a bore brush, a ‘general cleaning’ bristle brush (I said boar bristle in the video but I doubt it’s treif. It’s natural, not synthetic, though, according to my wife’s infinite arts and crafts expertise). There’s also a large brush for cleaning inside the receiver, and a tool for adjusting the front sight’s windage and elevation.
It doesn’t end there, though, as the TAVOR also ships with a pair of extremely high quality QD swivel studs, a nice IWI magazine (a re-branded CAA MAG-17, complete with a very usable round count window and pop-out button in the baseplate to let you know when the mag’s full), and what is certainly the best owner’s manual I’ve laid eyes on. The “Operator Manual” is full of color diagrams explaining everything from lube points to full detail stripping directions, barrel and caliber swap directions, cleaning and other maintenance protocols, parts diagrams, sub-assembly diagrams, etc. Whew.
Leafing through the owner’s manual shows just how versatile the TAVOR platform really is. In a matter of a couple minutes, the rifle can be swapped from 5.56/.223 to 5.45×39 or even to 9×19. The 5.45 conversion requires a new bolt and a new barrel, while the 9mm conversion requires those plus the addition of a mag well adapter designed to accept UZI magazines. You’ll need a special barrel wrench is required to remove the factory barrel and lock in a new one, and a wrench is included with either of the caliber conversion kits.
Southpaw? No problem, as the TAVOR is fully ambi. As it arrives to you, two QD swivel mounts are located on each side, the charging handle can be swapped to either side, the safety can be swapped to either side, and the magazine release is already right in the middle and perfect for righties or lefties.
Although the TAVOR, thanks to ejecting forwards out to about the 1:30 position (with 5.56 ammo), can be fired from either shoulder without suffering brass-in-the-face, it can also be configured to eject from either side of the receiver. To swap from right- to left-hand ejection (or vice-versa, as you can order an out-of-the-box fully left hand TAVOR), though, you’ll need a new bolt. Since the barrel has to come out to complete the L/R switch, IWI ships replacement bolts with a barrel wrench. MSRP is $109 for the kit. The ejection port and brass deflector are then easily moved across to the opposite side.
If we have to compare it with the venerable AR platform (and we must), the TAVOR has a couple of shortcomings. Perhaps most obvious is the fixed stock. Length of pull is not adjustable, and there isn’t a whole market full of stock options like you may be used to. Similarly, the pistol grip is an integral part of the body and can’t be replaced. At first glance I was worried that it might be too skinny, but I find it to be absolutely acceptable. Maybe not as nice for me as the properly-sized, ergonomic grip on my AR, but it’s still comfortable and certainly just as functional. It even has built-in storage, as does the stock (the stock’s is quite limited, but it’s there).
A full-length aluminum picatinny rail runs along the top and a shorter, polymer, 45 degree offset portion is next to that at the very front of the body. If you prefer to mount every accessory known to man on your AR, you’ll find the TAVOR lacking in real estate. A small rail section is sold separately for the front dustcover/foregrip, and would be handy for mounting a vertical grip, bipod, or light. The barrel is threaded in standard 1/2×28, so any AR muzzle device or suppressor will work on the TAVOR.
This 16.5” barrel TAVOR (SAR-B16 – B for black) is only 26.125” in overall length. That’s the same as a 10” barreled AR-15 SBR with its adjustable stock fully collapsed. It gives you the ballistics of a rifle in the overall length of an SBR. Its versatility exists in having a platform that’s comfortable in close, tight quarters but also capable of reaching out there with rifle accuracy and velocity. The compact size is great for easy transport and carrying or deploying it from a vehicle. But despite its extremely short overall length, the TAVOR won’t leave you all hunched up in the shoulders with its normal – maybe even slightly long – 15.75” length of pull. When shouldered it feels like an adult-sized rifle, but it doesn’t balance or swing like one.
The bulk of the TAVOR’s weight is centered behind the pistol grip. In fact, the actual balance point is between the front of the mag well and the top rear of the pistol grip (that’s with no mag – add a loaded magazine and the balance point shifts even farther back). This makes the rifle easy to hold nice and steady, even without your support hand on it, for extended periods of time. The rubber butt pad is grippy enough to allow your shoulder to hold much of the gun’s weight, leaving your hands free to concentrate on control and aiming.
To use a car analogy, handling is usually better when the front wheels steer and the rear wheels drive. Ask the front wheels to do both simultaneously and each function suffers. Compared to a typical AR-15, which has significantly more weight out there in front of the pistol grip, much of the ‘driving’ on the TAVOR has been shifted to your shoulder leaving your hands free to ‘steer.’
IDF soldiers are apparently trained to utilize six points of contact on the TAVOR. One is the foregrip with your support hand. Two (less obvious) is the front of the trigger guard. You’re supposed to lay your forearm along it. This creates a very stable firing platform. Three is the pistol grip. Four – also easy to overlook – is your strong hand forearm against the magazine. Five is your cheek weld and number six is the butt pad against your shoulder. I must say, the gun is really locked in and stable when you do all of this as taught. It feels fairly natural (and very much prevents ‘chicken wing’ from either elbow).
A common bullpup complaint is awkward magazine changes. Not only is the TAVOR pretty smooth in that area, but I think it’s even better than an AR. Part of this is the balance – it’s just so very easy to hold and control the gun with only your shooting hand on the pistol grip. The other two notable assets are an ideally located, large magazine release and an ideally located, large bolt release. Even without your support hand on the gun, you can shift your shooting hand thumb back and bump the mag release, dropping it free while your support hand is grabbing the next one.
You can also very easily perform a tactical reload (retaining the removed mag) by grabbing the magazine near the top with your support hand and simultaneously squeezing on the mag release with your index finger. This is extremely natural and easy to do. Now, as you seat a new magazine in place, simply flick your mag-holding-hand’s thumb (it’ll be your support hand) back to bump the bolt release and you’re back in business. The same bolt release operates as a bolt catch, if you don’t have an empty mag to do it, by pulling down on the back of it and easing the charging handle forwards (it’s a bit awkward, as seen in the video).
The non-reciprocating charging handle is located at the front and has a bit of a swivel/detent that keeps it in place. When you grab it, it swivels out and can be brought backwards, cycling the action to the rear. The safety is in the same relative location and works the same way as an AR-15’s. The single aperture of the rear peep sight is about the size of the standard small AR rear sight aperture, and the height of the sights is about the same, which means they’ll co-witness with optics at the same height as on your AR.
I won’t personally comment on reliability, as I’ve only put a few [flawless] rounds through my TAVOR so far. I can tell you that, in speaking with three ex-IDF guys at work, they all independently tell me that the TAVOR was significantly more reliable for them than the M16 (all three served during the transitional period and trained on and used both platforms). Whereas they had each dealt with or personally witnessed many dust-, dirt-, and mud-caused stoppages with the M16, they had seen next to none with the TAVOR.
It operates soaking wet, full of dirt…you name it. Two of them mentioned that swapping the foregrip for the version that allows for mounting a grenade launcher makes the gun susceptible to jamming due to dirt and other debris, which accounted for the very few stoppages they had seen. I specifically asked all of them for any ‘dirt’ on the gun, any negatives, any quirks that we Americans probably haven’t found yet, or any common little ‘modifications’ that soldiers make immediately upon being issued a TAVOR. Crickets. They like the thing. A lot.
The TAVOR’s brass deflector is smaller and more flush than an AR’s, but still very effective. It kicks .223 out at 90 degrees (3 o’clock) or just forwards of that, and it kicks more powerful 5.56 farther forwards at about 45 degrees to the bore (call it 1:30). Your empty brass will bear a bit of a penalty for this, though. The deflector dents the body and the case mouth consistently and with surprising uniformity.
Trigger pull is fairly short, with a bit of creep before a crisp break. Reset is highly tactile and audible. The TAVOR’s trigger pulls on a trigger bar/rod rather than pushing on one, which helps with the feel compared to most other bullpups. On the negative side, the TAVOR’s trigger measured 11.5 lbs. and it feels every bit of it, or more.
Maybe because I’m so used to rifle triggers being significantly lighter and, on pistol triggers that are similarly heavy, I’m used to lots of travel. The TAVOR’s trigger feels like you’re pulling against an engaged safety until click – it fires. There are no aftermarket replacements or other upgrades that I’m aware of, at least not yet. That said, I got used to it quickly and it doesn’t bother me for most shooting. It doesn’t do the gun any favors for accuracy testing, though.
Back on the plus side, the TAVOR accepts basically any AR-15 magazine. Some 10-rounders don’t fit well, apparently, but I didn’t have one to give it a try. The Thermold 20-round mag I have worked fine, and even locked the bolt back consistently despite not usually doing that on most ARs. Worth noting is that Magpul Gen 2 PMAGs fit a bit snugly and don’t typically drop free. They function fine and are easy to insert and remove; they just don’t remove themselves when you hit the mag release. Gen 3’s, although I didn’t test one, are supposed to fit with sufficient wiggle room. The included CAA-made IWI mag worked great, as did a Troy Battlemag. Basically, any STANAG mag should work fine.
So far so good. Better than good. Highly maneuverable, accurate, great balance, easy to control, easy to carry, easy to operate, military grade…in short, cool. I can already tell this is one gun I will not be selling.
Caliber: 5.56×45 / .223 (chamber is 5.56). Conversion kits available for 5.45×39 and 9×19
Barrel Length: Available in 16.5” and 18” versions
Rate of Twist: 1:7
Overall Length: 26 1/8” (16.5” bbl) or 27 5/8” (18” bbl)
Length of Pull: 15.75”
Weight: 7.9 lbs
Trigger Pull Weight: 11.5 lbs
Operation: long stroke gas piston, locking bolt (right or left ejection specific)
Capacity: Accepts AR-15 magazines
Finish: Polymer body available in Black or Flat Dark Earth. All metal parts treated for corrosion resistance
MSRP: $1,999 either color or barrel length. $2,599 in IDF version with Mepro-21 Reflex Sight affixed to barrel (note: this version does not have a full picatinny upper rail)