How did one of the oldest corporations in the world make a big splash at the 2014 SHOT Show? Beretta announced that their next-generation combat rifle would be available for the U.S. commercial market as the ARX-100.
The ARX-100 is the semi-automatic civilian variant of the ARX-160, which was released in 2008 and intended to replace the aging AR70/90 pattern rifles in use by the Italian military. Designed from the ground up to be a truly ambidextrous rifle, the ARX is a lightweight, handy, and extremely shootable 5.56 carbine that’s ready to go as a home defense or sporting rifle.
So what makes the ARX-100 different? Why in a world of ubiquitous AR-platform rifles should anyone drop two thousand plus dollars on the ARX-100? The first and obvious answer is if you’re left-handed; the ARX-100 is completely ambidextrous, right down to the ejection pattern. It can be completely switched to allow left or right side ejection, and all the controls are fully ambidextrous as well.
If you’re not a southpaw, the ARX-100 still offers a compelling feature set. First, in a departure from its AR70 predecessor, the ARX-100 takes STANAG magazines. If you have a stockpile of P-Mags in your desk, the ARX-100 will run with those. The ARX-100 has a telescoping and side-folding stock, a cold hammer forged barrel, and operates on a constant contact piston system. One of the neat features is the quick change barrel system. Remove the standard barrel without tools, and replace with the length of your choice. The gun is multi-caliber compatible, meaning that a change to .300 Blackout would be as simple as a barrel swap. Other caliber swaps are possible with a bolt change. In fact, the select fire ARX-160 is in use by the Special Forces of Kazakhstan chambered in 7.62×39.
Beretta brought the ARX-100 to Media Day at the Range at SHOT 2014 where we were able to shoot the rifle and gain first impressions of the gun.
What We Like
First off, it’s important to note that 10 rounds at Media Day isn’t enough trigger time to offer a real review. But it is enough time to gain an initial impression of the gun, and the ARX-100 has a lot of positive traits to it. One of the big complaints about non-AR-15 rifles in .223 is that they have an unusual recoil impulse, a trait not shared by the ARX-100. The stock rifle uses a standard birdcage style flash hider, but even with only that the recoil impulse is straight back. The rifle doesn’t porpoise and flex when firing, but delivers the recoil in a linear impulse straight back to the shooter.
The control layout is done in a thoughtful manner. Unlike some “ambidextrous” controls which are slapped on as an afterthought to left-handed shooters, the ARX-100 displays an attention to detail and simple manipulations that other rifles would do well to adopt. The gun is also light – coming in under seven pounds unloaded without optics. Seven pounds is often used as the target weight for “lightweight” AR-15 rifles, Beretta has built a rifle that hits that goal out of the gate.
While it may be a little shallow, we also like the looks of the ARX-100. Yes, how your gun looks isn’t as important as how it functions, but the ARX-100 looks futuristic and modern without crossing into toy-like silliness. Its appearance is one of a serious fighting rifle that was designed this century with an eye towards function and form. That function is important and shows itself in field-stripping and maintaining the ARX-100. The entire rifle can be stripped down to the bolt carrier without the use of tools or driving out pins. It’s functional and elegant in its simplicity. The rifle doesn’t sacrifice ruggedness, and the select-fire ARX-160 has seen considerable battlefield service and development from deployments in Afghanistan.
What We Don’t Like
We have to get this small gripe out of the way: the rifle costs at or more than $2,000. That’s a lot, especially when you can get a high quality AR-15 for half that. But, now that we’ve offered that objection, we need to defend the rifle’s price point a little bit.
Part of the reason you can get a great AR-15 for $1,000 is because the development costs of the AR-15 have long been absorbed. If a company wants to build a decent AR-15, they don’t need to do anything new and innovative. Just buy quality parts and put them together with attention to detail. That’s it.
To build an entirely new rifle from the ground up means that Beretta has incurred tremendous research and development costs in this rifle. Capitalism is a harsh mistress, and so a portion of those research and development costs must be passed on to the consumer. If Beretta wins a major military contract for the ARX-160, then the price of the civilian version will likely decrease somewhat. If the AR-15 was introduced today as a new rifle, it would probably cost north of $2,000 as well. We forget sometimes that the AR-15 is an extremely mature design – the platform will celebrate its 57th birthday in 2014. So yes, while the price on the ARX-100 is higher than an AR, it also makes sense.
On the feature front, the ARX-100’s handguard could stand to be longer. It’s abbreviated length leaves minimal room to mount a light and a handstop while still allowing for a thumbs-forward grip. The pistol grip is also the standard A2 style, which retains the pointless finger bump in the top one-third of the grip. Because of the nature of the rifle’s design, the grip can’t be changed to something more comfortable like a Magpul MOE grip.
The Beretta ARX-100 is a thoughtful design with considerable attention paid to shootability and user comfort. The quick-change barrel is an excellent feature for shooters looking to keep multiple calibers on hand for different uses. The gas-piston system will lend itself well to suppressed uses, without the minor annoyance of gas blowback that happens with AR-15 pattern rifles. It remains to be seen, however, if with its price point the ARX-100 will be able to make a dent in the extremely crowded U.S. market.
One possible area for the ARX-100 to make in-roads is in the 3-Gun community. Beretta now joins Remington and FNH-USA as the only companies that produce all three guns necessary for 3-Gun shooters. Beretta’s 1301 Competition Shotgun, a 92A1 pistol, and the new ARX rifle would make a great complete kit for anyone looking to get into 3-Gun shooting without having to shop all over the place for different guns and gear.
Will the ARX-100 be able to sway the American gun buying populace away from their beloved AR-15 rifles? That remains to be seen. Our initial impression of the rifle is positive; and it is quite obvious that Beretta has put a tremendous amount of thought and effort into designing what they hope will be the modern sport rifle of the future.
Originally published in the March 2014 issue of GunUp the Magazine.