When the Tavor SAR became available to the civilian market in 2013, I wanted one—badly. I shot one at my local range, and I had the money in my hand at several gun shows, but for some unknown reason, I never “pulled the trigger” on the purchase. I never lost interest, however.
Three years later, at the 2016 SHOT Show in Las Vegas, I came face-to-face with the next generation of the Tavor SAR: the X95. This time, I may not have the same self-restraint, especially after reviewing it.
IMI 101 HISTORY
Israel Military Industries (IMI) began firearms production in Israel in 1933, and their goal was to develop the most technologically advanced small arms based upon the demands of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), who were fighting in urban areas and harsh environments. The results yielded the development of some of the most innovative and legendary firearms in the world, such as the UZI, Tavor, Negev, Galil and Jericho.
In 1995, the small-arms division of IMI spun off and became Israel Weapons Industries (IWI) Ltd.
IWI continues to work with the IDF to develop and produce small arms, based upon the threat of global terrorism and the resultant need to keep pace with changing and challenging applications of small arms by those police and military agencies tasked with fighting the War on Terror. Working with those agencies allows IWI to continue to innovate and optimize existing and new products.
In 2012, IWI U.S., Inc. brought the first Tavor SARs to the United States. In 2014, IWI started its Law Enforcement Division in the United States, and the Tavor SAR was adopted by the first law-enforcement agencies.
When 2015 rolled around, the UZI Pro and Jericho pistols were introduced to the U.S. civilian market, and the Negev LMG and X95 were introduced to the law-enforcement market.
Now, in 2016, the Tavor X95 semi-automatic bullpup—the next generation of bullpup design—has been introduced to the U.S. civilian market. The military version of this X95 is currently used by the IDF in the defense of the state of Israel.
OPERATION & SPECIFICATIONS
The gun I tested for this article is an X95 XB16. It is calibered in 5.56 NATO, but it is also available in 9mm Luger Parabellum and .300 AAC (Blackout) calibers.
The bullpup design places the action behind the trigger, and allows for a shorter overall length for a given barrel length. This helps maintain muzzle velocity while improving maneuverability and reducing weight. All of this must be accomplished within the requirements of the National Firearms Act (NFA). When the X95 was modified for U.S. civilian use, the butt pad was lengthened to meet the NFA 26-inch overall length requirement, and the barrel was lengthened to 16.5 inches to meet the NFA 16-inch barrel length requirement.
The X95 XB16 operates using a closed rotating bolt, long-stroke gas piston system. When a round is fired, the bullet passes a gas port as it travels down the barrel, which allows some of the high-pressure gas following the bullet to enter a cylinder housing the operating piston. This forces the piston to the rear of the cylinder. The piston is permanently attached to the bolt carrier, causing it to also move rearward. A helix milled into the bolt causes the bolt to rotate against the bolt-guiding pin, and unlock from the barrel extension once the pressure has decreased to a safe level.
As the bolt carrier and piston assembly travel rearward, a recoil spring is compressed, and the spent casing is ejected. The recoil spring then forces the bolt-carrier assembly forward, stripping a round out of the magazine, chambering it, and locking the bolt lugs into the barrel extension.
“The Tavor X95 is an extremely well-designed and well-built rifle. It is serving the IDF extremely well in combat conditions.”
The 16.5-inch long barrel (not including the A-2-style flash suppressor) is cold-hammer-forged from chromium-molybdenum-vanadium steel and is removable using a special barrel wrench tool (available as an accessory). The bore is chrome lined, and the right-hand rifling has a 1:7-inch twist rate.
The stock is molded from polymer and has an integral steel frame. The handgrip is removable and can easily (one bolt, like an AR-15) be replaced with a more traditional AR-style pistol grip/trigger-guard assembly that is available as an accessory. A steel 14.5-inch long MIL-STD 1913 rail with front and rear integral folding, spring-loaded backup sights is attached to the top of the stock to allow for the installation of the optics.
MIL-STD 1913 rails approximately 3.5 inches long are molded into the foregrip at the 3-, 6- and 9-o’clock positions for the attachment of various accessories. These rails are covered by individual removable rail covers, which slide forward for removal, and can be locked in place with a spring-loaded latch when installed.
Five quick-detach (QD) sling swivel receptacles are provided: one on each side of the buttstock, one on each of the rails on the foregrip at the 3- and 9-o’clock positions, and one at the top of the stock, above the front of the magazine well. This receptacle can be switched from one side to the other.
The trigger on the test gun broke at an average of six pounds, 13.5 ounces after approximately 0.1 inches of take-up and 4.5 pounds of pull in the first stage. To determine the trigger pull, I used a Lyman digital trigger pull gauge. Geissele manufactures both a replacement sear pack and trigger, and Timney manufactures a replacement sear pack for the Tavor SAR/X95.
The magazine release is ambidextrous and is located above and slightly in front of the trigger. This release is a short-lever, not a push-button as on an AR-15-style rifle; therefore, it has a slightly different feel to it.
The safety/selector switch is located above the pistol grip, and comes from the factory with the operating lever on the left side for right-handed shooters. It can be changed from left side to right side or, if you purchase another safety lever, you could replace the pivot cover with it and have a lever on both sides for fully ambidextrous operation. The only way that I could remove the safety lever or the safety pivot cover was to have the safety lever pointed halfway between “F” and “S”—rather than in the “F” position, as described in the Operator Manual.
The non-reciprocating cocking-bar assembly can be changed from one side to the other after the simple removal of the handgrip assembly and the foregrip group (one bolt each). The bolt lock/release is located on the bottom of the rifle, just behind the magwell, so it is inherently ambidextrous.
By pushing out two captive pins (right to left), opening the bolt-stop lever and pulling the sear pack out of the rifle, you can remove the sear mechanism.
You can do pretty much anything you want on this rifle with a 2mm punch, a No. 2 Phillips screwdriver, a 3mm Allen wrench and a bolt wrench. The bolt can be removed from the bolt carrier without any tools. It is a bit tricky to put back together the first time, but section 14.2.1 of the Operator Manual explains the procedure in detail.
Upgrades, Enhancements from the Tavor SAR
- New fire-control pack with 5- to 6-pound trigger
- Repositioning of the ambidextrous magazine release to an AR-15-style location
- A forearm with MIL-STD 1913 rails at the 3-, 6- and 9-o’clock positions
- Removable rail covers
- Relocated charging handle to above the trigger
- Modular Tavor-style pistol grip that is removable (replaceable with a traditional AR-style pistol grip and trigger guard); it also has a less-severe angle
- Lower-profile bolt release button located behind the trigger guard
MODELS & ACCESSORIES
The Tavor X95 is available in three colors: black (XB16), flat dark earth (XFD16) and olive drab green (XG16).
Accessories include caliber conversion kits, cases, slings, spare parts and tools. The caliber conversion kits will allow any caliber X95 to be converted into any other caliber. Conversions between 5.56 NATO and .300 AAC (Blackout) require a barrel and bolt only. Conversions to 9mm Luger Parabellum require a barrel, a blowback recoil assembly, a magazine-well adaptor, a barrel wrench, a deflector and a 32-round magazine. I’m sure you will want some extra 9mm magazines, too.
AMMUNITION & MAGAZINES
During range testing, I used ammunition produced by various manufacturers in full-metal jacket, hollow point and boat-tail, hollow-point configurations. Bullet weights ranged from 40 grains to 77 grains. All ammunition functioned without any problems. Approximately 600 rounds were fired during testing.
Three different types of magazines were used during testing. These included Magpul PMAG Gen M3 with window, C Products Defense and some used, beat-up GI magazines; all functioned properly and dropped free. One PMAG of an earlier generation functioned properly but did not always drop completely out of the rifle.
For accuracy testing, I installed a Nightforce SHV 4-14×50 F1 riflescope, using Nightforce’s 30mm Ultralite Unimount 20 MOA rail mount with a bubble-level top-half ring. I also used a Bushnell DMR 3.5-21×50 Elite Tactical riflescope with a LaRue Tactical 20 MOA PSR QD scope mount (model LT112), to verify the results that I obtained with the SHV.
For tactical work, I mounted an EOTech model 512 holographic sight on the top rail. If I were using this rifle full-time as my tactical weapon, I would probably use the EOTech with laser (in battery case) and a 3x magnifier.
CLEANING & FIELD STRIPPING
Prior to cleaning or field-stripping the X95, make sure that it is unloaded, that the magazine is removed and that there is no ammunition in the area.
The X95 is very easy to field strip. Release the bolt, push out the captive pin that holds the butt pad in place, rotate the butt pad down, and remove the recoil mechanism. This assembly includes the piston, bolt carrier, bolt and recoil spring. Since this rifle is piston-operated and not direct-impingement operated, there is very little to clean. Just clean the end of the piston with some cleaner, wipe down the bolt and carrier, and lube everything as shown in Section 12.3 (Post-Firing Maintenance) of the Operator Manual. Clean and lubricate the bore as you would any AR-style rifle from the breech end.
The X95 was cleaned and lubricated prior to any shots being fired. Throughout testing, except during the tactical portions, the rifle bore was cleaned and lubricated after every 15 to 20 shots. After cleaning, one or two fouling shots were fired to maintain consistency from one type of ammunition to the next. After each of the three tactical sessions, the X95 was thoroughly cleaned and lubricated.
AT THE RANGE
During accuracy testing, 12 different loads were tried to determine which ammunition the X95 “liked.” Five different loads were fired at 100 yards for accuracy and velocity.
Accuracy for these loads was determined by firing three five-shot groups for each. I originally thought that with the 1:7-inch twist, heavier bullets (69 grain to 77 grain) might shoot the best. As it turned out, the 53-grain Winchester X223RH performed the best, with the 55-grain PMC 223A a close second. Many of the five-shot groups showed good three- or four-shot clusters from well under 1.0 inch to 1.5 inches. However, each of those groups included one or two “fliers,” which opened up the groups considerably.
Of the five loads shown in the table, the best three-shot group was 0.55 inches (Federal Premium GM223M 69-grain BTHP), while that five-shot group measured 2.93 inches. The bottom line is that this rifle is not a designated marksman rifle; it is a close-quarter battle rifle. As such, it just needs to meet the minimum accuracy requirements of the DOD and the IDF.
During one range session to break the gun in and two tactical 3-gun matches, the X95 performed flawlessly. It handled well, was quick on target and made headshots when I needed them at 15 to 40 yards. It even produced a 3-inch, three-shot group at 100 yards for one stage.
“(In) two tactical matches, the X95 performed flawlessly.”
The only problem I encountered was one the Operator Manual (Section 8, General Description) warns the user to avoid. That is, shooting the rifle from the left-hand side when configured for right-hand operation. Due to the location of the ejection port in the stock, hot brass is ejected into the shooter’s face in this situation. This was especially problematic when I was forced to shoot side-prone from the left side, in order to shoot under an open car door. I’m just glad that I didn’t have a beard to catch on fire. I only wish the shoot house was operational so that I could have tested the X95 in its element. I’m sure that it would have performed extremely well.
One thing that I did find out was when using a two-point QD sling, it is best to attach the sling to the opposite side of the buttstock, instead of the side closest to you. This gives you greater flexibility with the short stock, and allows you to switch to the weak side more easily.
NOTES: Bullet weight measured in grains; velocity is the average of 10 shots, in fps, measured 10 feet from muzzle; accuracy is in inches for the best five-shot group at 100 yards.
The Tavor X95 is an extremely well-designed and well-built rifle. It is serving the IDF extremely well in combat conditions. I’m sure that it can take anything that you—the casual or competitive shooter—might throw at it.
“The X95 was designed as a CQB weapon, and it does that job very well.”
As in all things, nothing is perfect. Everything is a compromise to some extent. The X95 was designed as a CQB weapon, and it does that job very well. However, it is not a precision rifle that will shoot 0.5 MOA groups all day long. If you are looking for a home-defense weapon, the X95 probably is better than a full-length AR-15 for most people. If you participate in matches that include clearing a house, this may be the weapon for you.
Even if you don’t need it for any of the above reasons, it is just plain fun to shoot. Also, it’s a good bet that the guy next door doesn’t have one yet. I already have several AR-15s in my safe to choose from, but I may just have to make room for an X95.
IWI X95 SB16
Chambering: 5.56 x 45 NATO (tested); also available in 9mm Luger Parabellum and .300 AAC (Blackout)
Action: Semi-automatic, gas-piston operated
Magazine: Magpul PMAG Gen M3 w/window, 30-round provided; accepts standard AR-15/M16/STANAG magazines
Overall Length: 26.1 inches
Barrel Length: 16.5 inches (17.8 inches with flash suppressor)
Weight: 7.9 pounds (unloaded)
Sights: Integral folding, spring-loaded backup sights in the top rail; front sight has a tritium insert
Stock: Reinforced polymer bullpup configuration; Tavor-style pistol grip standard, standard AR-style pistol grip with traditional trigger guard available
Muzzle Device: A-2 birdcage style
Handguard: 14.5-inch MIL-STD 1913 rail on top; 3.5-inch sections provided right/left/bottom on the tri-rail forearm; the tri-rail forearm is covered by 3 removable vented rail covers (right/left/bottom)
Barrel: 5.56 NATO detachable/interchangeable cold-hammer-forged, CrMoV, chrome-lined, 1:7-inch right-hand twist, 6 groove rifling (1:10 right-hand twist, groove rifling for 9mm version)
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the November-December 2016 print issue of World of Firepower Magazine.