The most prevalent design feature of the Tavor is its bullpup configuration, which differs from conventional firearm design in that it feed and ejects from behind the operator's shooting hand. This allows for more efficient use the otherwise wasted space in a weapon's stock, creating a shorter weapon that still allows for an extended barrel length to allow optimal bullet velocity
Manticore Arms does make a folding charging handle for the Tavor, and that is on my wishlist, because the forward placement of the factory charging handle makes it appear easier to knock the gun out of battery. This is probably less of a problem than I'm making it out to be, because the G3 series of rifles have forward-based charging handles, and they've been reliable for military and law enforcement for decades. It would bring me more peace of mind for the charging handle to be more out of the way. Also, I would probably be more comfortable with the charging handle location if the Tavor had a forward assist. A lot of shooters don't use the AR-15 forward assist, but I find that it makes it easy to do press checks and verify the status of your weapon without having to eject a round. You can still press check with the TAVOR and have reliable return to battery with only a partial charging handle pull because of the stiff return spring, but it's still not as fluid and effortless as doing it on the AR platform. Gear Head Works did come out with a TAVOR forward assist, but you have to file serrations into your bolt carrier for it to work, which is something I'd like to avoid doing. But again, I've probably devoted too much time to talking about the Tavor charging handle, because you will have no problems most of the time, provided you are aware of where it is when shooting around corners or cover. Also, don't have something in the way of the charging handle when closing the bolt.
The AR-15’s barrel is secured to the upper receiver with a barrel nut torqued down to at least 35 ft-lbs, from which the handguard also attaches. Even with a handguard that doesn’t contact the barrel past the barrel nut, the AR-15's barrel cannot be truly free-floated either, because you have additional contact points with the barrel from the gas block, and thermal expansion of the metal from rapid fire can lead to additional pressure on the barrel. But again, point of impact changes of successive shots should remain consistent enough to keep the gun accurate enough for real world practical ranges of the 5.56 cartridge.
The charging handle’s location, mostly behind the bolt carrier, is a unique feature to AR-platform rifles, as most other modern autoloading rifles charge closer the front of the bolt carrier. AR-style charging handles are more awkward to manipulate than some more forward-based charging handles like on HK G-series rifles or the ACR, but the handle is very thin, light, and doesn't require the additional weight of linkages. Aftermarket charging handle upgrades, like the POF charging handle I’m using, have made it easier to charge while shouldering the rifle. The main benefit, and the original purpose of the AR-15 charging handle design, was to make make it non-reciprocating. Also, the rearward location makes it less of a snag hazard, reducing the probability of inadvertently knocking the bolt out of battery.
The rifle cycles the next round with a mechanism called direct gas impingement. After the cartridge’s powder ignites, the expanding gas pressure builds behind the projectile and funnels into the gas tube until it reaches the bolt, pressuring it to unlock from the breech face and drive the carrier toward the rear of the rifle, where the recoil buffer catches the carrier. Once the carrier has reached the limit of its travel, the recoil spring drives the carrier assembly back toward the breech face, where it picks up a round from the magazine before the bolt locks into place and the rifle’s trigger resets to fire the next round. Direct impingement actions allows for lower weapon weight because you do not need another dedicated piston assembly outside of the basic bolt carrier group and very thin gas tube. You also have greater weapon stability for successive shots, because of the lower reciprocating mass compared to a full-fledged gas-piston based action. However, direct impingement is a double edged sword. There are drawbacks associated with the advantages.
Another downside to the AR-15 design is that in the base configuration, the AR-15 cannot have a folding stock and still cycle, because the bolt carrier has to travel into the receiver extension tube. This is because the carrier needs to be long enough to have material to trip the auto-sear in the M16. Since this design feature is not relevant for AR-15s, some manufacturers, like Rock River Arms and Sig Sauer, have developed a proprietary carrier and buffer system that allows the AR-based rifle to have a folding stock and still cycle.
At the end of the day, both rifles will deliver outstanding accuracy capabilities within the effective range of 5.56. However, the AR-15 will win the accuracy comparison, especially at the same price range as the Tavor. Keep in mind, though, that unless you are building an SPR to be topped with a high magnification scope, both guns were not designed for benchrest precision. As long as the rifle can consistently hit a torso-sized target at 600 yards with a hot barrel, it is well within the performance standards of the modern infantry carbine.
This isn’t to say that the Tavor doesn’t perform reliably. It does- even when it has the fouling of half a dozen magazines in a range trip. It just happens to have an operating mechanism that makes it excessively dirty, even when using a long-stroke piston. The rifle plows through the dirt and fouling. Like AK design philosophy, the clearances are wide enough to allow functioning even when dirty. The piston is over-gassed on purpose to help the bolt carrier clear fouling on its rearward travel, and the recoil spring is extra stiff to ensure clearance of fouling on the forward stroke, reliably locking the bolt into battery. The longest I’ve gone without cleaning the Tavor is after 300 rounds unsuppressed, which, granted, isn’t that much, but I’ve had no problems with reliability in that span. However, if Eric from IV8888 wanted to do a full-auto run-it-until-it dies test, I would predict that you will begin to see feeding problems around the 400 round mark, with the extreme heat creating clearance problems through all the fouling that stays in the rifle.
When shooting suppressed, all bets are off. The rifle gets easily 5 times as dirty per round. I’ll take you for a look at the rifle after only about 2 magazines suppressed. Being stuck with the unadjustable overgassing, everything gets obnoxiously dirty- the bolt, the carrier, the magazines, and even the unfired rounds. The most common problems I have when shooting suppressed are extraction failures that look like double feeds. Like clockwork, I begin to have problems with double feeds around 120 suppressed rounds. One possible cause is there is so much filth around the extractor or the cartridge groove that the the extractor can’t get a firm grasp on the case. I still enjoy shooting the Tavor with a suppressor, but the rifle’s dirty action doesn’t lend itself well to consistent performance after multiple magazines without cleaning. Another distraction to shooting a bullpup with a suppressor is that you feel hot gasses from the ejection port, because it’s so close to your eyes.
The widely perceived issues with direct impingement are, at their worst, overstated. The AR’s bolt carrier plows through accumulated fouling almost as well as the Tavor and the AK. Most of the fouling accumulates in areas that are unlikely to interfere with action clearances.
There are manufacturers who build ARs based around a piston operating system, but even they have their limitations. Adding a piston to an AR isn’t a guarantee of increased reliability across all conditions. It also adds more points of failure. Many military trials show high quality direct impingement ARs outperforming even the HK 416 and 417 rifles, which in many circles is considered the pinnacle of the piston AR design.
The AR-15’s performs reliably even in hostile geography. The action is also tightly closed off to the elements, provided you remember to close the dust cover. Because the gas pressure acts directly on the bolt and carrier, it helps unstick frozen or dirty actions arguably better than a piston-driven mechanism can, because you also get a blast of hot air through the receiver with each shot.
In the end, both of these rifles are sufficiently reliable across a variety of conditions, but the AR-15 is more reliable than the Tavor by a noticeable margin.
Functionality- SAWC, POU, Upgrades, and Accessories
In the factory configuration, the 16.5 inch” barrel Tavor weights about 7 pounds, 14 ounces, give or take, and the 18 inch barrel Tavor weight about 8 pounds, 2 ounces or so. Just for laughs, my Tavor with all the aftermarket upgrades and the scope, weighs 11 pounds, 4 ounces loaded. However, because of the balanced weight distribution, the rifle shoulders like a 8 pound AR-15 with a scope.
So with the same optics and attachments, you can expect an AR-15 to weigh a pound or more lighter than the Tavor.
The AR-15 is the most modular rifle platform on the planet. You can make it fire any caliber from .17 to .50. In any given week, more accessories are being developed for the AR-15 than will EVER be developed for the Tavor. With a smorgasbord of stocks, grips, and rails to choose from, you can modify your rifle in any way to complement your shooting preferences.
The Tavor comes in a virtually one size fits all configuration. You can’t change out the pistol grip. The rifle’s length of pull is longer than an AR’s with the stock fully extended. As far as I know, changing to the Manticore Arms curved buttpad is the only stock adjustment you can make, outside of modifying the factory stock. You have to be careful not to shorten the stock too much, or you could inadvertently create a firearm with less than 26” overall length. There are some other aftermarket optics rails if you feel the factory rail is too long, or you want a raised height rail to use with AR-height optics. There are some aftermarket metal handguards, but they are all too thick for my taste. The factory handguard has some wiggle to it, so attaching anything that needs to be zeroed, like a laser, is a no-go. The side rail also has back and forth play, so lasers on it are a no-go. It’s a much better idea to mount any lasers of the optic rail, if you have space, which you see here, I don’t, so if I ever end up a DBAL or something, I’d have to mount it on the scope, which would make the gun unnecessarily tall. Speaking of which, the Tavor may be a short rifle, but its is not small by any standard. It is thicker and taller than the AR in most areas, which as mentioned previously, can cause problems if you are trying to shoot through a narrow opening.
The Tavor is currently convertible to 9mm, and 300 blackout will soon be available, but the IWI has flaked on making the 5.45 conversion available. They have neither confirmed nor denied a 7.62 Nato long action Tavor (which is a confirmation of sorts), and they have not confirmed the set launch date X95 Micro Tavor reaching the United States civilian market. [APRIL 2016 Update: The first batch of X95s have shipped to consumers! There may be one for sale at your local gun store right now now!]
The Tavor performs at its best when shooting offhand at close range targets from 0 to 50 yards. The compactness and superb balance of the rifle allows for better shooter mobility around obstacles, vehicles, cover, staircases, and corridors. This is why the IDF prioritized having a bullpup rifle for their soldiers- the IDF predominantly fights in mechanized units in an urban environment. They deploy from and fight around vehicles, and they need to maneuver around typical obstacles and barricades found in an urban setting.
For all other situations, though, the AR-15 performs just as well as the Tavor. If you’re shooting more than 50 yards, chances are, you’re on the ground or behind cover, negating the advantage of shooting the Tavor offhand. The AR-15 is very comfortable to shoot around barricades and in the foxhole fighting position because of how much handguard real estate you have to work with. There are extended handguards for the Tavor, but again, all of them are too thick for my taste. When shooting prone, you can reload both rifles without needing to shift the rifle or your body position.
It’s not that the Tavor is not well-suited to medium and long range shooting. It can effectively fill the role of a DMR or SPR, which is exactly how I have my Tavor configured. I went against the grain in customizing my Tavor SPR, because I wanted to reach a full spectrum of practical uses of the rifle for my review.
So for me personally, if I had to choose only one, which rifle would I keep? If you watch a lot of fancy nuts, you might be familiar with the phrase “go to war.” What is your “go to war” rifle? If you watch a lot of IRAQVETERAN8888, you might think of your favorite rifle as your “life and liberty” gun. If I could only have one, it would be a high-quality, direct impingement AR-15. What really sells me on having the AR-15 be my fighting carbine of choice is the overall reduced weight, the adaptability, and the increased reliability over the Tavor.
So at a comparable price range, what rifle would I recommend to a someone first stating out with tactical shooting? I would recommend a high-quality, direct impingement AR-15. You have a lot more flexibility in getting the perfect rifle configuration to fit your shooting style. There are many manufacturers from whom you can’t go wrong with building your rifle using their parts- Daniel Defense, BCM, Geissele, and Noveske, just to name a few. I know there are more, but I’m trying to wrap up this review.
But it’s not to say that you can’t get a Tavor as your first semi-automatic centerfire rifle. It is a fantastic choice- it’s just doesn’t get as high of a recommendation from me as a high-quality AR-15, especially where value is concerned. You have to spend a significant amount of money for a trigger upgrade for the Tavor to get it to shoot like an AR-15 with a high-quality trigger, and most custom ARs with upgraded triggers will still come in at a lower price than the online price for a Tavor.
A reason to choose a Tavor over an AR-15 is if you know you will do most of your shooting offhand in close quarters or around vehicles. A Tavor is also an excellent rifle alternative if you’re just really burned out from the AR-15 saturation in the current market. I’ve only been shooting for 2 years, and I’m already tired of so much of today’s tactical market being devoted to AR-15s and AR-15 upgrades. Also, if you’re an all-around firearms enthusiast and are intrigued by the bullpup design, the Tavor is arguably the most accessible and affordable choice to get your introduction to a bullpup platform.
In the end, both rifles are battle-proven, and you can trust your life and your family’s life to them. Nevertheless, based on accuracy, reliability, functionality, and value, the AR-15 is still the rifle to beat.