AR-15 pattern rifles are one of the hottest guns on the U.S. civilian market right now. The Modern Sporting Rifle, as it has come to be called, has never enjoyed more popularity, in spite of (or in part thanks to) recent attempts by politicians to severely curtail their availability. You can get an MSR in whatever flavor you like, from high-end competition guns for service rifle, race guns for 3-Gun, rifles for hunting, rifles for target shooting, and rifles for self-defense; you name it there is an AR that has been built for that purpose.
But what if what you want is a work horse? A well-made rifle with quality components that can fill a variety of rolls, from self-defense to competition; hunting or casual plinking.
Enter the Colt Sporting Rifle. This rifle is just the meat and potatoes of sporting rifles, no frou-frou nonsense that you don’t need, just the good stuff that you’re looking for on a sporting rifle.
Colt Competition Rifle (CCR) has built a reputation for making some of the best high-end sporting rifles on the market. Their Marksman and Pro series rifles are popular among three-gunners and other shooters with a need for quality, light-weight rifles with extreme accuracy.
Released in summer of 2013, the Colt Sporting Rifle (CSR) is Colt Competition’s new “work horse” and is designed as a more economic option for those who are looking for a good, quality AR that they can store securely in the trunk of their car, or take out into the field.
The CSR is available in two models, the CSR-1516 and the CSR-1518. Both are .223 Remington-chambered sporting rifles with 16-inch and 18-inch barrels, respectively. The one that we tested in house was the CSR-1516.
WHAT WE LIKE
The CSR-1516 starts its life as the same receiver that you’d get on a Colt military or law enforcement rifle, and then the Colt Competition Rifle team takes over. CCR adds some top end features, like a match grade trigger, 1 in 8 twist match grade chrome-moly steel barrel, and a slick in-house handguard with various spots to place a strip of rail for your light, laser or VFG.
I was looking at all of my other ARs around the house and realized they are all competition varieties and very heavy. I don’t have an AR I can use for rough stuff. The CSR is basically for hard utility use. It is super light. I loved that.” – Anette Wachter, 30calgal.com
It’s the simplicity of it all that makes this rifle so good. No, it doesn’t have a forward assist, and no it doesn’t have a dust cover, but unless you’re using your rifle in a dust-storm trying to chamber cheap out-of-spec ammo, you don’t really need those things. What you do need in a sporting rifle is the ability to mount optics without fussing about, a good factory trigger, and quality construction. The CSR-1516 has all of those in abundance.
It’s also reliable. After initial fire and function tests, the CSR-1516 was tossed in to the thick of competition shooting at the challenging Crimson Trace Midnight 3-Gun Invitational. It performed with flying colors at this match, feeding every round put through it, from Hornady Steel Match .223 to military spec 5.56. The rifle has a chamber designed to accept either type of ammo, so no matter what you happen to have laying around your gun room, the CSR will feed it.
If you could marry a competition rifle with a military rifle – the CSR-1516 would probably be its offspring!” – coltcompetitionrifle.com
Townsend Whelen’s famous quote about “only accurate rifles are interesting” certainly applies to the CSR. Taking full advantage of the free-floated match grade barrel, this test sample shoots sub-MOA with a Leupold Mark AR scope mounted on top. However, shooting off sandbags for tiny little groups isn’t a true test of this rifle’s capability, and our test model was quickly equipped with a Trijicon RMR and set to work on targets from 50 to 150 yards. Even at 150 yards with a 4 MOA dot, the Colt Sporting Rifle put rounds on target every single time. A second test model was used to get hits on steel targets as far away as 400 yards. The CSR is no slouch in the accuracy department.
WHAT WE DON’T LIKE
All glowing praise aside for a moment, the rifle isn’t for everyone. With an MSRP of almost $990, the CSR-1516 isn’t cheap, and other rifles in this price range have features that it doesn’t have. The factory stock and pistol grip leave a bit to be desired, and we’d like to see them replaced on future models with Magpul’s excellent MOE stock and pistol grip. A CSR-1516 MOE would quite likely sell like hotcakes, and would correct the ergonomic issues that some shooters have with the factory equipment.
The A2 style flash hider also leaves a little to be desired. Again, this is a sporting rifle, so the flash hider seems a little superfluous. Since the gun’s intended purpose is a general use, a quality muzzle break would seem to make more sense here than the classic flash hider. One could also make the case that the flash hider makes perfect sense on a general use rifle, and truth be told it’s not really a deal breaker either way.
In truth, the greatest criticism one could level at the CSR is the price. To the layman’s eye, it looks like an entry level rifle. Similar models from competing companies have an MSRP of $200 less, making them much more affordable to the entry level shooter. That, however takes us back to the “C” in CSR, which stands for “Colt.” None of the Colt quality is lost on this gun, and while it may be “just” a sporting rifle, the quality of components and build quality of the gun put it far ahead of “entry level” rifles from other companies. Whether or not that’s worth $200 is a decision only the shooter can make.
When you set out to build a rifle that’s a true jack of all trades, you run the risk of it also being a master of none. A little bit good at some things, but not great at anything. The Colt Sporting Rifle doesn’t fall prey to that. Do you need a rifle for hunting? The CSR-1516 will do that. Want to take your rifle to a 3-gun match? No problem. Taking a carbine class? Bring it on.
The CSR-1516 sets a goal for itself to be a true sporting rifle, something that can be put in any role and succeed. It accomplishes that goal with flying colors. Like any gun, it’s not perfect. But in that imperfection, this rifle has personality. It knows it isn’t a match target rifle, but it shoots great groups. It knows it isn’t a hunting gun, but it’s rugged and reliable. Jeremy Clarkson, when reviewing the Fiat 500 Abarth said he felt like the little city car was saying “I’m only this big but I’m a Lamborghini, I am!” as it flew around their test track.
That’s what the CSR-1516 feels like. It may not be a $2,400 super tactical rifle, but it doesn’t care. It will go out there and do everything that you need it to, and it will feel somehow special while it does.
By Caleb Giddings. Originally published in the November 2013 issue of GunUp the Magazine.