When the Tavor SAR rifle hit the market several years ago, it caused quite a stir. The famous bullpup rifle from Israel made a big splash with American shooters, and it continues to be very popular in this country. But the question many had for IWI US was “When will we see the X95?” Fortunately, shooters did not have to wait long before the new gun was released.
In this IWI Tavor X95 review, I get the rifle out on the range to see if it is as much fun to shoot as it looks. (It is.) More importantly, I report on its reliability and comment on its usefulness as a defensive weapon.
The Tavor X95 is not your standard rifle, but that much should be plainly obvious at first glance.
Although it is a normal semi-automatic rifle, it is based on the select fire X95 rifle that entered service with the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) in 2010. In the hands of the brave men and women of the IDF, the X95 proved itself to be a capable rifle, and it continues to serve today. In 2015, IWI US made the select fire X95 available to law enforcement customers in the United States, offering a compact yet full-length barrel rifle option for SWAT and patrol officers.
It is that compact nature that gives the gun a great degree of appeal to many people. This rifle is short. A carbine length AR-15 has an overall length (OAL) of about 32” with a collapsed stock. With a 16.5” barrel, the overall length of the X95 is a hair over 26”. A lot of tactical teams and home owners are looking to lose about 6” from the OAL of their rifles for increased maneuverability.
Leaving out the time and cost investment by a private citizen when getting government approval for a short barrel rifle (SBR), opting for a 10.5” barrel on the AR-15 significantly decreases bullet velocity while substantially increasing muzzle blast. When shooting indoors – such as during a hostage rescue or defending against a home invasion – that additional muzzle blast from the SBR is akin to a flash bang distractionary device. With the X95, the shooter gets the benefits of a full length barrel, but with the same OAL as an SBR.
For a modern 5.56 NATO rifle, the X95 tends toward the heavy end of the scale, weighing in at 7.8 pounds. Interestingly, the gun does not feel like it is that heavy.
I credit the relatively light feel to how the gun balances. Rather than having the weight of the gun forward of the pistol grip, the X95’s balance point seems to be directly behind the pistol grip and over my wrist. As anyone who has opened the stuck lid on a jar of peanut butter can tell you, the muscles are stronger close in to the body than they are when extended. Although the gun is objectively heavier, the balance point makes the gun more comfortable to hold for long periods of time.
Unlike the typical AR-15 design that many of us are familiar with, the X95 uses a long stroke gas piston system. A piston system will often add weight to the overall design, and I suspect that is why the X95 is nearly 8 pounds.
Using a piston system offers the very real benefit of a cleaner running, and frequently more reliable, gun. Long stroke piston rifles have been in service for many decades in guns like the M1 Garand and AK-47 and have proven themselves combat capable.
The stock is made of a high strength polymer that feels very solid in my hands. There are multiple sockets on both sides of the rifle that accept push button, quick detach sling swivels. IWI US includes two swivels with the rifle so you can immediately get an existing sling up and running with the X95.
The top of the rifle has a single piece Picatinny rail for adding optics. Built in sights fold down into the rail keeping them out of the way unless needed. The rear sight has a single small aperture, while up front is a tritium post for use in all lighting conditions.
Three integral panels on the forward handguard remove to expose Picatinny accessory rails. The covers are extremely well integrated with the rest of the stock with a hand stop on the bottom rail. This hand stop helps prevent you from moving your support hand too far forward and in front of the muzzle. The panels slide on and off without tools using a slick pivoting latch.
I’ve got mixed feelings about the pistol grip assembly. In the standard configuration, IWI US uses a handguard instead of a smaller trigger guard. I like that from the standpoint of protecting the hand against impacts from any number of other things that you could encounter during the stress of combat.
However, with my trigger finger alongside the frame of the rifle while moving, my hand had a strong tendency to slide up the grip. This would move my index finger partially behind the trigger, blocking its rearward movement when I brought the gun up to fire.
IWI US offers a kit that allows you to swap out the handguard system for a more traditional pistol grip and trigger guard. This would likely be my preferred configuration, although I did not have a kit on hand to test.
The X95 is available in three different calibers: 5.56 NATO, 300 BLK and 9mm. IWI US offers conversion kits that allow you to swap calibers. For this review, I had a 5.56 model with an OD green stock. It took standard AR magazines and shipped with a 30 round, third generation Magpul Pmag.
|magazine capacity||30 rounds standard, STANAG compatible|
|sights||folding - front blade with tritium insert and rear aperture|
|finish||hard coat anodized black barrel, OD green furniture|
The Hartman MH1 Sight
Around the same time this X95 arrived at my local gun shop, I received the new Hartman MH1 reflex sight in the mail. The MH1 is a red dot sight conceived by Lt. Col (ret) Mikey Hartman, the founder of the Israeli Defense Force’s Marksmanship and Sharpshooting School. Matching the MH1 sight to the IWI rifle for this review seemed to be kismet.
The Hartman sight has a number of features that will pique the interest of many shooters including a customizable interface, wide field of view, night vision compatibility, auto-activation when the gun is brought to the shoulder and a wireless remote to make adjustments without removing your head or hands from the rifle.
It is powered by an internal Lithium battery that is recharged via a USB port. This allows a police officer to recharge the sight in his patrol car, and a homeowner can ensure a full charge anywhere there is an open electrical outlet. Backing up the rechargeable power supply is a CR123 battery.
Attaching the MH1 to the X95 was dead simple because the sight has a quick attach mount. The version I tested had a single locking lever, while another version has two for additional strength. It attached easily to the X95, and initially provided a secure fit on several other rifles that were in my safe.
Although it seemed to be a great optic, I cannot recommend it for the reasons I detail below.
On the Range
Eager barely scratches the surface of my feelings when it came time to get to the range for this IWI X95 review. I had a chance to do some limited shooting of the Tavor SAR previously, and was impressed by it. To me, the X95 seemed to offer many of the same benefits but in an improved design. Boy, was I ever right.
Recoil was very modest with this gun. The 5.56 NATO round is not a high power, hard kicking cartridge, and this is even more evident in the well balanced Tavor X95. Some piston system rifles have more felt recoil than others, but this gun seemed to have no more than any gas impinged AR. Muzzle rise was minimal.
The built in sights worked well, and with the small rear aperture, they were adequate for precision and longer range shots. For close in work, I found the rear sight was difficult to use quickly as compared to the wide aperture found on many AR rifles. However, this is where the Hartman MH1 sight really shined.
Working from the bench, I quickly got the Hartman dialed in at 25 yards using a graduated target provided with the sight. A few clicks up and left got me right on with the green box Remington 55 grain FMJ load I used for much of the testing.
The sight has multiple brightness settings. In the full sunlight of the Florida sun, I used a setting near the brightest level, and had no problems picking up the aiming point when bringing the gun to bear on a target. Throughout a day of shooting, the sight performed exactly as I expected with no malfunctions, power loss or other concerns.
The sight appears to be close to a true 1x magnification optic without the minor magnification sometimes seen with other sights. The field of view is excellent, as good or better than any red dot that I have tested recently. When I stopped for a water break around noontime, I left the sight in the full sunshine for 30 minutes to let it heat up. When I began to shoot again, I did not observe any visual artifacts.
Transitioning between targets was swift and sure, with no over travel. While the AR in carbine form isn’t bad, the longer and heavier the barrel, the greater the tendency is to swing past the second target. I found that the bullpup design with its more neutral weight balance pointed very naturally and transitions were easy.
Accuracy with the gun was very good. Shooting with a rest, I was able to keep five rounds of HPR Ammunition’s 60 grain .223 Rem load inside of one inch at 100 yards. The other loads stayed under 2” for five-shot groups. Since the barrel has a 1:7” twist, it would be interesting to see if the groups could be even tighter with a heavier bullet.
Functioning was flawless throughout the day. As I stated, IWI US ships the X95 with a single Magpul 30 round magazine. I also tested the gun with polymer Troy Battlemag and Lancer L5AWM magazines. All of them fed and dropped free like you would expect.
Perhaps because the magazine well is so close to the body, my mind seemed to accept the gun as a part of my own body. Inserting a fresh magazine was as fast and natural as touching my nose or scratching my ear. I did not feel any impulse to visually find the well before snapping in a new magazine. I doubt that my spatial perception is any better than any other average shooter, so I expect that most people will be able to adapt to this magazine well placement easily.
With the charging handle on the side of the body, you can manually operate the bolt without needing to break your contact with the stock. Since the X95 is so well balanced, it is easy to perform all of the gun’s operations with the support hand while the rifle is mounted on the shoulder.
The only real frustration I had with the system was with the bolt release location during bench shooting. If I was using a front rest only and adjusting the stock’s elevation at the toe, I would occasionally hit the release unintentionally. It is a minor nitpick, I know. When shooting from the shoulder, I had no such problem.
As mentioned above, all of the ammo I tested was reasonably accurate with the IWI X95. The smallest group was obtained with the 60 gr HPR. But none of the rounds exceeded 2″ at 100 yards with a 5-shot group.
Shooting was done with a non-magnifying optic from the bench. Mixing in my rather pedestrian rifle shooting capabilities, I was pleased with the performance.
Here is what I measured from the different loads:
|Federal American Eagle 55gr FMJ|
|Hornady TAP 55gr|
|HPR Ammunition 60 gr V-Max|
|Liberty Ammunition Civil Defense 55 gr JHP|
|Remington UMC 55 gr FMJ|
Performance measured with a Competition Electronics ProChrono Digital Chronograph at an approximate distance of 9' from the muzzle of the pistol. All measurements are an average of five shots.
Additional Range Time
Before sending the gun back to IWI, I wanted to spend more time with it on the range. For clarification, this data was gathered after my article I wrote for Athlon Outdoors. Consider this an updated version of that information.
Over two additional range sessions, my enjoyment of the IWI X95 increased. The more I shot it, the more it felt like a natural extension of my body. While I thoroughly enjoy the AR platform, I can’t help but be amazed at how quickly I took to the X95 rifle.
The gun continued to be 100% reliable throughout the testing for this IWI X95 review. It showed no problems at all, and it continued to offer very good accuracy.
Unfortunately, I was not pleased with the performance of the Hartman MH1 sight on future range trips.
Through initial testing, the MH1 sight seemed to be an excellent optic. However, during the second range trip, the sight suffered from two failures. The first was that the mounting system loosened and had no way that I could find to be re-tightened. The second problem that came up is that the internal battery appeared to die would not recharge.
For the rest of the X95 shooting, I attached my Trijicon MRO sight to the gun and had no problems.
After getting home, I checked the loose fit of the optic on multiple rifles, and it was loose on all of them. I again checked to see if there was a way that I could re-tighten the mounting latch, but I could not find any. No mention of this was made in the owner’s manual either.
Even though this was a demo unit, I was not able to get any feedback from Hartman on these problems. I sent it back and never heard a word from them since. I’ll have a full review of this sight in the future.
The IWI X95 is a top shelf rifle that can go toe to toe with most any AR style rifle on the market. Without any doubt, the X95 design is different and, depending on the amount of experience you have with another rifle system, may take you some time to adjust to it. However, the benefits may well be worth the effort.
In my testing, the X95 seemed as accurate as any of the AR rifles I have shot recently, with the potential for sub-1” groups with the right ammo and shooter. Reliability was also impeccable.
The system’s obvious benefit – overall length – is likely to appeal to anyone working with tight spaces. However, I think the weight distribution of the gun is just as important. I found the gun very easy to work with, and people with shorter arms or lacking in upper body strength will likely appreciate it even more.
Based on a battle proven design, the IWI X95 has the credentials for employment in nearly any assignment you can gin up for it. These guns are not cheap, but you can get one at a discount from Brownells.
It is my firm belief that you deserve to know all potential biases that might influence how I write my reviews. I just wish all publications had the same opinion.
As I mentioned above, this IWI Tavor X95 review is based on an article I originally wrote for AR Rifleman magazine published by Athlon Outdoors. As many of you know, I have written for a number of gun magazines in the past. This article is based on one of those freelance jobs. However, this article has been substantially updated with more information not included in that one.
The Tavor X95 was provided on loan by IWI US. The gun was returned at the end of the testing period. The Hartman sight was also on loan. It was returned at the end of the evaluation period, and I never received any word on the problems I identified with it. The HPR Ammunition and Liberty Ammunition (both companies appear to be out of business at the time of this writing) contributed ammo for me to use. The other ammunition was provided by me.
While I prefer to purchase my own guns and ammunition for review – it offers you an evaluation with less potential bias – I will still point out flaws and weaknesses in a product. If I say something is good to go, then that’s my honest opinion. For example, in this article I gave thumbs up to one product and suggest avoiding another.
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