Expanse M4: Colt’s Cheap AR

With major manufacturers like Ruger and Smith & Wesson driving the price of entry-level AR rifles down, Colt responded in 2016 with a new rifle called the Expanse M4. The new rifle is a (very) basic AR-15 that comes in with a suggested retail price of $699.

Colt CE1000

The new rifle is a direct impingement gun with the basic M4-style features. It has a collapsing buttstock, pistol grip and A2-type front sight assembly. A polymer two-piece handguard is standard.

Colt Expanse M4

As is typical for AR-15 rifles, this gun is chambered in 5.56 NATO. It can safely fire both 5.56 and .223 Rem ammunition.

Colt Expanse CE1000 Review

The 16.1″ barrel has a 1:7″ twist that should allow it to stabilize most of the bullet weights commercially loaded for the calibers.

Colt CE1000 Expanse

Colt uses a flattop upper and does not ship with a rear sight. However, the Picatinny rail makes adding one a quick process. Many people will opt to add a red dot like the Trijicon MRO instead of, or in addition to, a rear sight.

Colt CE1000 Review

A single 30-round aluminum magazine ships with the Expanse M4.

Colt states on its web site that these rifles do not ship with a forward assist or dust cover. That’s unfortunate as these items are pretty standard with even budget AR rifles. (Thanks to reader TechnoTriticale for pointing this out.)

Colt Expanse Specifications

Here are the specs for the Colt Expanse:

Model #CE1000
Caliber5.56 NATO/.223 Rem
Magazine Capacity30
# of Included Magazines1
Barrel Length16.1″
Overall Length32.0″-35.5″
Actionsemi-automatic, direct impingement
Stock6-position, adjustable length

In the wake of the Sandy Hook buying frenzy, there was a glut of AR rifles on the market. In economic terms, supply exceeded demand and prices dropped. 

Colt Expanse Price

While there have been a number of smaller manufacturers that have targeted the budget-priced AR market, additional pressure was applied by the introduction of lower-priced models from more prominent gun makers adjusting to consumer expectations of less expensive rifles.

Colt Expanse M4PSA FDE AR-15Ruger AR-556S&W Sport II
Caliber5.56 NATO5.56 NATO5.56 NATO5.56 NATO
Magazine30 round aluminum30 round Magpul PMAG30 round Magpul PMAG30 round Magpul PMAG
# of Included Magazines1111
Barrel Length16.1″16.0″16.1″16.0″
Twist Rate1:7″1:7″1:8″1:9″
Chrome Platingnonobolt carrier, gas keyfiring pin
Finishunknownhardcoat anodized FDEMilspec Type IIIArmornite
Handguard2-piece2-piece Magpul MOE M-Lokeasy removing 2-piece2-piece
Pistol GripA2-styleMagpul MOERuger gripA2-style
Front SightA2-styleA2-stylemilled A2 Style with QD-socketA2-style
Rear Sightnonefolding Magpul MBUSfolding Rugerfolding Magpul MBUS

On a price-to-features comparison, the PSA AR-15 makes the most sense for a budget rifle. You can see my PSA AR-15 review here.

Smith & Wesson seemed to be doing well with it’s budget friendly M&P15 Sport rifles that were selling for less than $700 in many shops. Then Ruger introduced the AR-556 – another entry level rifle that came very well equipped with an MSRP of $749. Both of these rifles allowed a novice AR shooter to buy a rifle from a readily recognizable name.

Colt Expanse Upper

With the Expanse M4, it seems Colt is trying to capitalize on its name to reach new shooters buying their first AR rifle and more experienced hands who prefer the Colt name as a basic platform to build a more custom gun.

Watch for additional information on the Colt Expanse M4 and other new guns at the special 2016 SHOT Show page I have set up.

Last Update: June 26, 2022

By Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson is a gun writer, amateur historian and - most importantly - a dad. He's done a lot of silly things in his life, but quitting police work to follow his passion of writing about guns was one of the smartest things he ever did. He founded this site and continues to manage its operation.

27 replies on “Expanse M4: Colt’s Cheap AR”

What’s funny is if colt sold stock m4s in semi auto for what the government pays for them it would be a win win for everyone last time I looked at my hand recite they go for 560 a pop the few M16 a4 we had where 580

Colt can command a higher price simply because of their name and reputation. So why in the world would they risk their reputation by going after the lower end market. Stupid if you ask me.

This model is a bit misrepresented in the marketing pitch. “…{for} the first-time buyer looking for a starting point on which to build a task-specific carbine.” The majority of buyers are likely to discover this was a distant second best Colt option once they understand all the nuances and have all the data. Colt has released this model out of cycle from a consumer perspective. To get excited about this model it would have needed to come out 12+ months ago. My grievance (and the kiss of death for me) concerning the Colt M4 Expanse is the A2 front site and the fact Colt already released the Colt LE6920-OEM2 in January of 2015. If you want “a starting point on which to build a task-specific carbine” the Colt LE6920-OEM2 at roughly the same price point (within $40) is a much better option as it is already setup with a low profile gas block and free float barrel nut. The Colt Expanse M4 is not much more than a Colt LE6920-OEM1 (which was the A2 front sight variant released in January 2015) that has been finished out with the cheapest most entry level peripherals on the market (that possess minimal resale value). So what you are getting with the Colt Expanse M4 is a finished out Colt LE6920-OEM1 with all budget peripherals at essentially no additional cost. (The Colt LE6920-OEM1 and Colt Expanse M4 are roughly the same price.)

The ONLY 2 good use cases for the Colt Expanse M4 are:
1. You want a true Colt AR-15, finished out as a full and complete rifle, your acquisition needs to be as thrifty as possible, and you intent to leave it as is.
2. You have a custom build use case that necessitate the A2 front site.

Short of that build up your M4 on a Colt LE6920-OEM2.

Colt M4 Expanse Pro’s – It is a complete AR-15 with a Colt M-4 marked receiver.
Colt M4 Expanse Cons – Everything else. It has no rear sight. It is the most entry level Colt AR-15 that could conceivably be built up. It is assembled with all the ‘throw away’ peripherals/furniture. It has an A2 front sight/Delta Ring setup.

While the A2 front sight isn’t the end of the world (it was what my Le6920 m4 came with), why go there now when the LE6920-OEM2 already exists for about the same money? While you are not likely to regret buying a freefloat setup (over the A2) – the same cannot be said of the reverse. Once a shooter understands the nuances of drop-in hand guards vs free float hand guards, the options you’ll be limited to, and that freefloated setups generally result in a more accurate platform; there is a far greater likelihood that you will grow to regret buying the A2/delta ring configuration.

Besides the afore mentioned luxuries this rifle eliminates, lol, I also think it has a Carbine length gas system. Mid length would be better. And I’m sure that the Buffer piston isn’t the heavier H1 or H2 weight.
But really, WTF, no Forward Assist ?
Let me guess, like the original Vietnam M16s, It shoots so cleanly that an FA isn’t needed !

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