Incremental Improvements of SU16.

The beefed up SU16 still weighs just a shade over five pounds.

Most popular rifles have evolved throughout their service life. Lee-Metford action of 1888 lasted into the 1950s, changing in that time its stock shape, its sights, the method of loading, the safety, the trigger mechanism and even the type of rifling. AK47 evolved from a 7.62mm milled rifle into a 5.45mm stamped AK12 with hundred of minor changes and improvements.

Short Magazine Lee Enfield of 1915 still had a magazine cut-off and long-range volley sights. All those were deleted in SMLE MkIII* of 1916.

Short Magazine Lee Enfield of 1906 still had a magazine cut-off and long-range volley sights. All those were deleted in SMLE MkIII* of late 1915.

Crude in its initial form, the AK platform has incorporated features from other Western and Asian designs to make it a rather more effective and ergonomic weapon. AR15 and the derivative M16 of the 1950s aren’t very similar to the modern AR family rifles on the outside, though the manual of arms and the action remain substantially the same.

The updated SU16A
The updated SU16A

Changes to the commercial arms are as common but often harder to track. The civilian market seldom designates changes in the thorough Mark/Mod. manner of the military. Earlier versions are almost never updated the way military arms are. The A model of Keltec SU16 was the oldest and most humble example of the series, dating back to 2000. The sole long-barreled variant without threaded muzzle, it was superseded by the more glamorous shorter rifles with more options. Certain features of the SU16A, such as the plastic front sight assembly, were viewed as typical of the entry level rifles. It gained a considerable popularity anyway, especially with people who live in restrictive states like California but want a viable defensive carbine. I paid little attention to it, focusing more on the E variant, with threaded muzzle, a pistol grip and a collapsible stock.

The beefed up SU16 still weighs just a shade over five pounds.
The beefed up SU16 still weighs just a shade over five pounds.

Even working directly with Keltec and seeing most of their revisions first hand, I was recently taken by surprise by the evolution of the SU16A. The newest revision of the A variant has an entirely metal front sight assembly. It is available in a variety of durable Ceracoat colors, which both make it cooler in direct sunlight and easier to camouflage. The 18.5″ barrel gives 150-200fps higher velocity than 16″ carbines and a whopping 23.5″ sight radius, nearly 30% longer than an AR15 with the same barrel length. The sight radius is 60% longer than the standard 16″ barreled AK. While Californians cannot legally buy it with 30-round magazines, SU16 can carry two 10-rounders in the stock ready for rapid reloading, giving the total of the same 30 shots if necessary. The whole rifle folds in half at the receiver, making discreet transportation possible. The forend halves even unlock form each other, forming a simple but useful bipod.

The design is optimized for hunting and provides respectable slow-fire accuracy, generally 2MOA with ball ammunition. It’s not designed for sustained fire but can handle 50-60 rounds before becoming uncomfortably warm. Fortunately, few self-defense events require more than half a dozen rifle shots in a row.

About the Author:

Oleg Volk

Oleg Volk is a creative director working mainly in firearms advertising. A great fan of America and the right to bear arms, he uses his photography to support the right of every individual to self-determination and independence. To that end, he is also a big fan of firearms.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (19)

  1. Cool to see CTD writing an article about this rifle. Sad that no one has them to sell. I own the SU-16c and have for almost a year now. Sadly I live in an area where the only place I can shoot the rifle is at the local pistol range with underpowered frangible crap rounds. I bought this rifle because I needed a cheap alternative to the AR-15 rifles, and I needed a light rifle for back-packing, bugging out, carrying in the vehicle, ect. From what I have experienced this rifle is as advertised, an Sports Utility Rifle. I might not trust it to keep me alive through a prolonged firefight, but for everyday use it is optimal. It eats everything I have ever fed it including Tula steel and Remington UMC (Walliworld cheapos!). For my purposes this is the best rifle I could have purchased. I highly recommend it.

  2. Sorry that yours wasn’t reliable. My impression has been entirely different from 16C, two 16Es and now an A — 1.5-2MOA and reliable. I can only write from experience. Oh, and 5.56 surplus ball has worked just fine for me. I probably have 4,500rds through my main SU16E.

  3. I purchased my first SU-16A (the one with 18.5 inches barrel) almost 7 years ago, thus I can be considered an experienced Keltec user :)). Well, what can I say? There are only two good things about this rifle: it’s legal (so far) in Commifornia and the manufacturer provides a lifetime warranty which is really important. The rifle came with plastic front and rear sights which were totally off. Being ex-military I know a few things about rifles, but believe me: there was no way it could be sighted in using those cheap plastic sights. I sowed the front one (it was way too big) off and installed a red dot. With the red dot the rifle produced quite an acceptable level of accuracy for a civilian commercial rifle. However, the long (18.5 inches) but THIN barrel is never a good idea when it comes to such matter as accuracy, good grouping, sharpshooting and so on.
    The rifle lasted for about 3000 shots, after that some problems started. I sent it back to Keltec for a warranty repair and I have to admit they did it very fast with no charges applied. However, a few months later I had to fedex it to Keltec again for another repair, and then again and again. They finally sent me a brand new rifle (!), same model, but with iron sights 🙂

    Bottom line: affordable, light but inaccurate and unreliable rifle for plinking, home- and self-defense chambered for .223 Rem (not 5.56 NATO!!! it’s a big mistake to think so. It CANNOT shoot the NATO ammo)which accepts M-16 mags and has Picatinny rail which you’ll definitely need if you want to shoot a target farther than 100 yards.

    P.S. I’m not sure about the “affordable” part anymore. Seven years ago I paid for a brand-new SU-16 somewhat about $450. I heard that now it cost twice as much (at least in Cali).

  4. K-T is expanding with several newly aquired adjoining buildings. I live & work nearby, and have noticed the expansion. Hopefully, this will alleviate supply chain problems 🙂

  5. I purchased a P3AT a couple years ago & brand new it had a feed problem. I sent it to Kel-Tec & it was fixed & returned in a reasonable amount of time. I haven’t had a problem with anything since & I can shoot any ammo (so far at least) I’ve fed it. I own a few Kel-Tec’s & I’m pleased with all of them. It’s a bummer that we can’t get the newer models though. They need to expand.

  6. The Kel Tec rifle is super reliable light weight and affordable. Mine feeds perfectly on any AR mags. It will also feed steel 5.56 ammo wich makes most ar’s choke. Overall a great piece of kit!

  7. John, a folding stock (model 16C) would make it illegal. A folding receiver on a rifle without a threaded muzzle or a pistol grip does not. SU16 is entirely legal in California.

  8. too bad because the su16 folds making it an assault weapon. illegal in several states, including mine. it’s to bad because that eliminates thousands of potential buyers.

  9. This is my truck gun stored in a tennis racquet case. I need to grab it quickly at times when hogs are spotted on the ranch and have yet to find a good replacement pin for locking the stock. The one supplied takes awhile to install and is a pain to find in the bag. There have been several instances where I had to swing the stock open and just start firing. I wish there was an aftermarket solution for this.

  10. It’s another Kel-Tec product that K-T doesn’t have the production capacity to produce enough to satisfy the demand.
    K-T comes out with a new or improved product every 6 months or so.
    Dealers can’t order them from their distributors because the dists. claim they can get them from K-T. I’ve had SU2000 rifles on order for 3 years and haven’t received one yet. I finally cancelled the orders (multiple distributors). Right now I have multiple orders in for the PMR-30 with multiple distributors these have been languishing for over a year. NRA Foundation had a few January 2012 all were gone by March 1, 2012. The Foundation hasn’t gotten any more since. The Foundation was assured by K-T that it could supply the Foundations’ needs. I had the same experience with the PF-9 also.
    I don’t consider stocking K-T products in my shop anymore.

  11. I promote designs I like. My house rifle is a sound-suppressed SU16E with a red dot/light/laser on a Red Lion forend. My backup rifle is a lighter, unsuppressed SU16E with a shorter Red Lion forend. They’ve worked well enough for me to rely on them for myself.

  12. I’ve owned six SU16s so far. All were fed primarily from the 20 and 30 round magazines, and all worked reliably. I only used the Keltec 10-rounders for testing. They even fed from 150rd Armatac drums, but you better spread that much ammo over several minutes to avoid overheating. If your SU does not feed, that’s abnormal and should be resolved with a call to Keltec customer service.

  13. But will it reliably feed from AR magazines? The last two I tried wouldn’t…. 🙁

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