The newest rifle from the oldest firearms manufacturer in the world has hit the shelves. Allow me to introduce you to the Beretta ARX100. Here’s a little background. Hailing from the same era as the American M16, the Beretta AR70/90 series carbines served the Italian Army for over thirty years until Italy decided it was time for an overhaul. As one of the developments of Italy’s Soldato Futuro (Future Soldier) program, 2008 saw the integration of a new battle rifle on the field: the ARX-160. In 2012, a semi-auto .22 LR version of the select fire rifle hit the US market. Here’s a video of me in Beretta’s booth announcing its release during SHOT Show 2012. Two years later, Beretta USA is finally launching the multi caliber semi-auto ARX100 rifle. It has been my pleasure to heat it up at the range. In this review, I’ll discuss the Beretta ARX100’s features, and how it handled through 1,000 rounds of mixed-bag 5.56.
Beretta’s polymer progeny has a number of unique features that set it apart, including its quick change barrel system and completely ambidextrous controls. Let’s break it down.
The ARX100 comes in a quality zippered soft case. The case itself features a embroidered logos, a zippered front pocket, and carrying straps. Within the case, aside from the rifle, is a two point sling and, within an internal pocket, one standard capacity steel magazine.
Both the Beretta ARX100’s upper and lower are made of Beretta’s own technopolymer, which, despite the rifle’s plump shape, results in a light overall weight—sub seven pounds. Both left and right sides of the upper receiver also feature fixed sling mounting points (sorry, no QD attachments). The barrel also has a swivelling ambi sling mount, and another fixed sling mount on the buttstock, which gives you a few options for attachment lengths.
From the factory, in its standard configuration, the Beretta ARX100 features polymer spring-loaded flip up BUIS (Back Up Iron Sights) with adjustable apertures. The release on both front and rear sight is right hand operation only. The rear sight is has pre-marked round aperture settings that, according to Beretta’s website, accommodate 100-800yd ranges. The front sight features a standard AR-style post. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the stock sights, so if I were to get my own ARX100, I’d pop them off for a set of aluminum Troy Industries folding battle sights.
If Beretta’s technopolymer BUIS aren’t what you need, the ARX100 has ample room on its numbered monolithic 1913 Picatinny rail for other optics. In fact, one of the first things I did, once my T&E ARX was in my possession, was to install a Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope onto the full length 16” aluminum rail. Conveniently, the Beretta ARX100’s BUIS co-witness with the Spitfire, but if you are utilizing an optic that doesn’t co-witness, don’t fret; the stock BUIS are removable. In addition to the upper rail, the ARX100 also includes a four inch Picatinny rail section on either side of the rifle. Technically, these rails are removable, but the mounts for the rails are not. The Beretta ARX100 also features a short two inch 1913 rail section under the rifle forend. Behind the bottom short Pic rail is Beretta’s proprietary rail system. On the military ARX160, that rail is where the GLX160 grenade launcher can attach. If only I could have tested one of those puppies…for science.
Quick Change Barrel
Out of the box, the ARX100 comes with a cold hammer forged, chrome-lined 16” barrel with a 1:7 twist, ideal for heavier grain rounds. If 5.56 NATO isn’t your bag, however, no worries, just pick up the 300 BLK barrel to swap in, instead. Beretta has also confirmed that a .308 Win barrel is in the ARX100’s future. To change barrels, the operator need only pull down two tabs with one hand that release the barrel from the receiver. With the other hand, then, just pop out the barrel. It comes free with its short stroke gas piston attached. Check out the video above to see me perform this procedure in just a few moments while in the field. The barrel is also pre-configured for two different gas settings marked S, for standard pressure ammunition, and N for non-standard (low pressure) ammo. The Beretta ARX100’s quick change barrel is tipped with a traditional A2 bird cage, but it is threaded to accept other muzzle devices—or, for some real fun, a suppressor.
The first thing I mentioned when I unzipped the Beretta ARX100’s sleek soft case was how the buttstock reminded me of FN’s own popular polymer 5.56 carbine, the SCAR. The ARX100’s four position buttstock also folds to the rifle’s right, locking into place by means of a catch on the upper receiver face. The stock folds at somewhat of a downward angle, allowing the bolt to actuate freely, whether the stock is folded or shouldered.
The ARX100’s grip is integrated into the lower receiver, so it is not interchangeable. Although the feel is similar to the AR-15 style A2 grip (and yes, it has a storage compartment), I found it somewhat lacking in ergonomic comforts. I’ll expand on that later.
The Beretta ARX100 has a modular trigger group with a polymer trigger. This is my least favorite feature on the rifle. Using a Lyman Digital Trigger Pull Gauge, the pull measured at a hefty 10lbs, 8oz. Not-so-nice. The travel is about what you’d expect from a mil-spec trigger (not exactly brief, but not obnoxiously long, either)—nothing to write home about. The pull is also somewhat crunchy and a touch unpredictable. I wouldn’t call it a deal-breaker, but, it’s not one of the rifle’s selling points.
In contrast to the “nothing to write home about” trigger, I love the ambidextrous features. Yeah, ambi safties, bolt and magazine releases are common enough, but as a left eye dominant shooter, what really gets me is the ability to swap charging handle and ejection left or right, sans tools, in only moments. Just pull the bolt partway backward, pull outward on the charging handle, and—presto—it’s free to move to either side of the rifle. Just make sure the bolt head is moved just enough to allow clearance for the charging handle, because to move it from side-to-side, the charging handle must pass through the ejection port (you can see what I mean in the video). When you’ve chosen the handle’s new location, give it a firm tap and it’ll lock forward into place. Switching ejection sides is even easier. There’s a small, round opening to the rear of the ejection port. Within it is a metal bar. Press on the metal bar with the tip of a 5.56 round (or similar pointy tool) til it clicks over to the other side. Done.
Reliability & Perceived Recoil
This is where the futuristic-looking Beretta really stands out. Once I started feeding it rounds, I couldn’t help myself—I gave the ARX100 a beating. Over the course of a couple range trips, and several brands of 5.56, including Freedom Munition, Federal, American Eagle, and Winchester, I burned through over 1,000 rounds with nary a single malfunction of any kind—all without any additional lubrication or any cleaning. Several times, I shot the til the barrel started smoking, and then fired some more. The heat dissipates with remarkable efficiency. Even with the barrel smoking, the handguard, if a little toasty, was still cool enough to operate. The perceived recoil is soft, making sustained fire smooth and accurate, even for my lightweight younger sister. Despite its prowess on the range, the ARX100 is not without its quirks.
One of the Beretta’s peculiarities is in magazine pickiness. It won’t accept just any old 5.56 mag. The ARX is particularly choosy about Pmags; Gen 3s won’t seat at all, but it likes Gen 2 mags just fine. Although I don’t personally own any extended capacity Surefire magazines, it has been documented that the ARX100 doesn’t feed with either 60 round or 100 round. Nor does it fit the X Products drum mags. However, I do have a couple of Bulgarian IK-520 40 round mags that fed just fine. The only hiccup with them was they didn’t always drop free. If this is starting to sound limiting, don’t worry too much—it feeds milsurp mags as well as its own steel magazine: like a charm. I used battered GI mag refugees from wars overseas, brand new aluminum 30 rounders, and well worn mil-spec hand-me-downs from friends’ ARs, and each fed smoothly and dropped freely.
Another kink in the Beretta ARX100 design is in its ergonomics, or lack thereof. For someone with smaller, weaker hands, the controls are stiff and awkwardly positioned. For example, despite the ambi safety, I struggled to find a convenient way to flip the switch without compromising my grip. Thinking it might just be an issue of stubby fingers, I coerced my dad, my brother, my sister, and another male range goer (not a whole ton of arm-wrenching was required) into putting some rounds downrange. All of them, including the normal sized adult males (with hands larger than mine), and my sister, had the same opinion I did with the safety. If the grip angle were better, or if the selector itself were longer, it would be more convenient to manipulate.
Aside from the grip, I found some of the ARX’s takedown controls to be stiff and somewhat awkward to operate, namely the ambi bolt release (stiff), the quick change barrel release levers (stiff), and the takedown position on the safety (cumbersome). The video above has a complete illustration of the Beretta ARX100’s peculiar takedown process. Suffice it to say that those with smaller or weaker hand strength may find difficulty with removing the barrel and separating the upper and lower receivers. And dudes with burly bear paws oughtn’t have any trouble with the operation, once they’ve learned the unique process.
Charging Handle Comfort
The last issue I have with the ease of operation would be difficult to remedy. Because the rifle is made to easily convert the charging handle to left- or right-sided operation, it has been made small enough to fit through the narrow opening through the rifle’s upper receiver. Aye, there’s the rub. The charging handle is too small to be comfortable after prolonged use. It’s not a big bother for a box or two of plinking, but after running a couple hundred rounds through the rifle, that tiny metal spike starts becoming less and less enjoyable to wrench backward to send a round into battery, or to pull out of firing position to switch sides. I’ve learned that on heavy shooting days with the Beretta ARX100, my hands may be well served by having a stout pair of shooting gloves along for the trip.
This may be the deciding factor for many buyers. Beretta’s new baby is not a bargain beater rifle. To walk home with a slick new ARX100, you’re going to have to cough up some serious cash. MSRP on this rifle is currently set at $1950. While not quite so hefty as nearly $2700 price point of the FN SCAR-16S, it’s still not the kind of purchase this college-debt-ridden shooter can fork over without some considerable planning and penny pinching.
In the technological leap forward from the aging Beretta AR70/90 designs, the ARX100 takes the reliability of an AK and puts it into a quirky, fat-bodied AR. While the quirks noted above shave a few points off of its overall score, the rifle compensates with its range performance. Its comfortable to shoot, lightweight, and eats 5.56 like a monster. The fact that it looks like it jumped out of one of my favorite sci-fis is icing on the cake. I’ve always been something of a classicist when it comes to firearms. However, in the case of the Beretta ARX100, change is good.
Caliber: 5.56 NATO/ .223 Rem Weight: 6.9 lbs (unloaded) Barrel length: 16” Gas system: Short-stroke gas piston Capacity: 30 round MSRP: $1950
Featured image courtesy of Beretta.com